Five by Five – Michael Cage

The next contributor to the Entrepreneur Edition of the Five by Five is Michael Cage.  Michael writes about “Small Business Success, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship” at his blog.  Here are Michael’s responses:

I was thrilled when Matt asked my to contribute to this edition of Five-By-Five. As a lifelong, parallel entrepreneur I’ve had more than my share of dealings with attorneys. My role has been as client, adversary, and occasional small business-to-business marketing “hired gun.”  I’ve often found myself thinking, “finding a great attorney who understands my business just shouldn’t be so hard.” Alas, it is. And, I’m still looking. Hopefully my answers will get you thinking at a minimum, and jump-start some changes at best. I haven’t pulled any punches, nor have I been polite. I hope you’ll appreciate the intention behind this: I’m telling you what entrepreneurs think, but often don’t say, as they are walking out your door.

1. Don’t make the mistake of thinking entrepreneurs know all you can do for them. It took me years and numerous businesses to fully appreciate the ways a good attorney could help me, and I’m not alone. This is both a disservice to your clients and a profit-killer for your business, and it can be traced back to the general fear and total misunderstanding most attorneys have about marketing. Good marketing does more than bring clients in the door, though that is the standard by which it should be judged. It also teaches and educates about exactly how you can help businesses, why you are uniquely qualified to do so, and the dangers lurking around the corner if you are consulted you too late. How many times do you say, “If you had only seen me sooner?” This should not happen, and, frankly, you have only yourself to blame when it does. Get off the high horse and embrace marketing as a way to help both your practice and your clients.

2. I’m not hiring you to bring the apocalypse. All too often entrepreneurs see attorneys as the place where deals go to die. A close friend of mine, a millionaire many times over, once completed the negotiations for a substantial deal. He said the next step was to take it to his attorney, where he’d have to fight and argue for hours to get the deal OK’d. It shouldn’t have to be that way. Yes, I know your job is to keep me and my business out of trouble. I do appreciate it. But you can’t lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, entrepreneurs hire you to keep their businesses out of trouble AND make it possible to grow. When proposed deals and contracts do not make your first cut; pro-actively give an alternative way to make it work.  Realize entrepreneurs are driven by questions like, “How can we make this happen?” instead of “How many ways won’t this work?” Cut the cynicism off, and work with your clients in a pro-active and positive way to make the deals happen. Then go from being perceived as “deal killers” to being known for understanding entrepreneurs and having the disposition to work with them.

3. Small business owners want specialists. Small business owners believe their business is unique. There is some, though not much, validity to the belief. The important thing to realize is that if you take the time to become familiar enough with your clients’ businesses to grasp the unique aspects, you will be rewarded with a unique selling proposition no generalist competitor can touch.  The reverse is also true. If you do NOT take the time to understand what makes your client businesses tick, they will defect to the first “more specialized” attorney who comes along. Specialization can be as simple as have a specific set of marketing campaigns for a specific type of business. I’ve seen response increase by as much as 72% by taking a generic marketing piece and making a single change — calling out a specific type of business in the headline and delivering it to a targeted audience of those businesses.

4. Spend less time focusing on your peers and more time focusing on your clients. I’m fortunate to count three extremely good, prominent attorneys among my close friends and associates. All three are master marketers, and understand how their clients want to be communicated with and marketed to. They share another commonality. All three have been brought up on downright silly ethics charges because of their marketing. The real reason? Up-tight peers who adhere to an antiquated set of “marketing rules” that benefit only those lazy, apathetic, and fearful of competition. As an entrepreneur, an attorney afraid of competition is of no use to me. As a potential client, I want comparative advertising allowed, I most definitely want to see testimonials in advertising, and I sure as heck would love to see an attorney use a guarantee. Taking it a step further and shifting gears, I’ve yet to meet a successful business owner of ANY kind who spends more time worrying about what their peers do than what their clients want. Loosen the death grip on marketing standards, and everyone who is worth their business license will benefit. (Those who aren’t? They die or go work for someone else. As it should be.)

5. Entrepreneurs WANT to be marketed to. Once we do business, do not take me for granted or cease communicating with me. Thinking I will come back to you or refer business when I haven’t heard a peep from you or your office in months is a very poor assumption to make. At the same time, don’t mail off a newsletter produced outside of your practice and think it’ll do for maintaining our relationship. It won’t. If you want me as a client and a great source of referrals, you had better show you value my business by communicating with me on *at least* a monthly basis. The more relevant the content is to my business the better. And, above all, do not commit the cardinal marketing sin of being boring. Throw the tiresome, professional voice out the window and really communicate to me. Person to person. Just like you would a close friend who asked for your advice over a couple of whiskeys at the local bar.  Remember, people complain endlessly about big, dumb corporations. Yet most professional service providers, and almost all attorneys, go out of their way to sound just like them. Take the time to learn how your clients like being communicated with, and the language they like to use.

I’ll leave you with this final thought: Be bold. If all else fails, observe what your colleagues are doing in terms of marketing and service delivery and do the opposite. Your peers might snipe at you, but your clients will love you. Think about it

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