Monthly Archives: May 2006

What Color is Your Waiting Room, and Your Business Card, and Your Letterhead, and Your …

Have you thought about what your marketing materials’ color says about you?

In North American mainstream culture, the following colors are associated with certain qualities or emotions:

Red — excitement, strength, sex, passion, speed, danger.
Blue — (the most popular color) trust, reliability, belonging, coolness.
Yellow – warmth, sunshine, cheer, happiness
Orange — playfulness, warmth, vibrant
Green – nature, fresh, cool, growth, abundance
Purple — royal, spirituality, dignity
Pink — soft, sweet, nurture, security
White — pure, virginal, clean, youthful, mild.
Black — sophistication, elegant, seductive, mystery
Gold — prestige, expensive
Silver — prestige, cold, scientific

Market researchers have also determined that color affects shopping habits. Impulse shoppers respond best to red-orange, black and royal blue. Shoppers who plan and stick to budgets respond best to pink, teal, light blue and navy. Traditionalists respond to pastels – pink, rose, sky blue.

 

Who Can Your Potential Customers Call?

Ethics considerations aside for just a moment, can anyone imagine a law firm doing this?

Here are over 100 people from around the world that know our software better than anyone else (except us of course). Feel free to ask them about our software, our service, tech support, anything you like. There is nothing better than getting an answer from someone like you!

Via Church of the Customer.

Your Customers Don’t Want to do Business With You

Mark Cuban said something Friday that really struck home for me.  Writing about the struggles of promoting movies through traditional newspaper and magazine channels, he tells those industries:

Each of us is looking for the  holy grail of promotion.  A way to leave you as a customer.

How scary is that ? A huge customer of your industry would prefer not to do business with you.

I think the same can be said for most people who deal with lawyers.  If there is a real alternative to using lawyers, how many of our clients would jump at the opportunity?  What are we going to do about it?

Mark’s advice to the magazine and newspaper businesses:

So its time to buck up. You either squeeze what you can and cry when it happens, or you step up and create cost effective alternatives.  The days of a movie review and the ad for the movie wont cut it for much longer. 

So those of you in the entertainment sections and sales groups of newspapers and magazines have two choices, come up with new ideas, or a new version of your resume…

I have some more thoughts on this issue and will share them soon.

links for 2006-05-31

Why Blog?

Christopher Carfi pointed me to this essay by Chris Brogan titled Cavemen at the Fire that captures the essence of the “why” of blogging for so many of us:

But the truth is, I’m getting value. I get value in talking with you. I’ve met so many engaging people, and every time one of you risks delurking and sending me an email, I meet a new friend….  I feel that every day I post something new is another micro resume. I’m telling people out there what I stand for, how I think, what matters most to me. Some days, that’s probably not going to land me a job. Other days, it’s something that people might relate to.

Be Ready to Leave Your Best Message

Here’s a great tip to keep in mind next time you call a client:

Prepare for every telephone call expecting to get voicemail. This will help you focus your message and prevent rambling. You should treat your voicemail message as a short presentation, thinking it through ahead of time, not during the recording…

From this 1999 Report, via 43 Folders

A Lesson For Lawyers … and Buick?

Here’s a piece from The Truth About Cars arguing that GM should abandon its desire to lure younger buyers to Buick, and instead position Buick squarely as “The Pensioner’s Best Friend.”  Like the piece on Ford I’ve already highlighted, this article contains some pretty radical advice that should not be ignored by lawyers looking to find their elder-law niche.  For example:

With a little development, Buick is the logical choice. “Beyond precision” lies simplicity: a brand offering vehicles with cost-effective innovations and equipment levels. Cataract-friendly gauges at the heart of basic instrumentation. Oversized switchgear. Heated, cooling, massaging seats that swivel to ease entry and exit (remember those?). Extra wide door apertures with reinforced hinges to ease entry and exit. OnStar. Electric everything, with power sliding trunk floors for easy loading and unloading, and power pedals within a Rockport’s reach. Adjustable warning chime/turn signal volumes. Electronic medication reminder timers. Run-flats. Oversized sunglasses bins for granny’s favorite set of Terminator shields. Two words: Rascal storage.

Every possible safety feature should be standard, from lane-departure warning systems to self-parking. Electronic nurses? Loads: SRS + ABS + EBD + DSC + ASR + BA = AARP. The ordering and purchasing experience must be simplified as much as possible. This author has railed against illogical options bundling, but the geriatric niche is one segment where simplified trim levels actually make sense. If higher-end features like satellite navigation are deemed a marketplace necessity, so be it— but designers must ensure that they’re simple, intuitive designs, preprogrammed with relevant waypoints— drug stores, casinos, cat hospitals and Cracker Barrel restaurants, say.

If you were building a firm from scratch to only serve a certain population, where would you start and what would you do?

links for 2006-05-28

links for 2006-05-26

Four Eyes for Clients

Ever have clients come by your office who need to read documents?  Get a load of this tip (for waiters and waitresses) from Tricks of the Trade:

Keep a pair of reading glasses at hand. At least once every few days you’ll get a customer who forgot their glasses and are unable to read the menu. Produce your spare pair and a good tip is secure.

Reading glasses are cheap at Wal-Mart, Target, etc.  Grab a few pairs and your clients will “see” what a great lawyer you are.  I know, bad pun.

links for 2006-05-24

links for 2006-05-23

links for 2006-05-21

Soulard Idea Market

Since I returned to St. Louis, I’ve been living in the Soulard Market Lofts, next door (as the name obviously suggests) to the 160 year old Soulard Market.  I floated the idea at a recent St. Louis bloggers lunch for a regular LexThink-ish brainstorming, networking, and fun event to be held every month here in Soulard

I’m working on some basic details, but if you are in St. Louis, and want to connect with some cool, interesting people to discuss business and technology issues, the Soulard Idea Market may be for you.  If you are interested, e-mail me at matt @ lexthink.com or leave a comment.  We’ll try to get the inaugural one set for late June.

Know What You Don’t Know

Ben Folds, from the song “Bastard” on Songs for Silverman:

“Why you got to act like you know when you don’t know?”

How many of us are afraid to admit to a client that we, “just don’t know” the answer?  Ben Folds would suggest:

 “It’s OK if you don’t know everything.” 

It really is.  Next time you don’t know, say you don’t know.  Your clients may appreciate your candor.

links for 2006-05-19

Legal Widget

How about a dashboard widget (like this one) for tech-savvy clients to request a call/e-mail/im chat from their equally tech-savvy lawyer?  Kind of like a legal Bat-Signal.

Edit Your Dictionary

Here are four words to take out of your vocabulary:

I have removed several words from my own “client relations” vocabulary through the advice of friends, colleagues and books I have read over the past few years. These words tend to put the client on edge, and especially for a new client, can form a barrier across the relationship that you are trying to form with them.

The words:  Just, Honest, Simple, and Actually.  Check out the post for the reasons why.  Here’s what the author has to say about simple:

The great thing about the word simple is that it almost always can predict that the future of your statement will be anything but. To say something is simple, implies that it is too small for the client to worry about, but what really ends up happening is that it is usually this item that the client will fixate on because you have tried to downplay it. This word also comes in the synonyms of easy, no problem,and likity split. Yes, I’ve really heard a colleague say that last synonym before!

What words should lawyers take out of their vocabularies? 

Why is making a small change so difficult?

Next time you pull out your hair because your spouse, friend, or coworker (or you) can’t seem to change his or her habits, think about this (from Scott Young):

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made when trying to change habits, is simply in underestimating the amount of conscious focus keeping the habit will take. In many ways, making big changes for diet, exercise or sleep is easier than making a little change because it is too easy to undervalue exactly how much emphasis is required to make the change.

Face to Face wins the Race

Yesterday, I posted on the importance of making house calls.  I think that fits in nicely with some things Kathy Sierra has written on the importance of face-to-face interaction.  She summarizes a talk at a recent conference by Dr. Thomas Lewis, a psychiatry professor:

One of the key points he made was that we are fooling ourselves into thinking that text is even half as effective as face-to-face at communicating a message.

[Why?]  We never had to learn to process body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. We evolved this capability…it’s innate. But we had to spend years learning to read and write with any level of sophistication. The brain needs and expects these other–more significant–channels of information, and when they don’t come… the brain suffers (and so does the communication). And the problem goes way beyond just an increased chance for misinterpretation.

This is something we all know, but ignore at our peril.  Get off the phone.  Get clients in your office — or go to theirs.  Your message will be better understood in person, you will better connect with your clients, and you will truly hear (and see) what they have to say.

Do You Value What You Do?

Sean D’Souza gives some more advice on pricing.  What stood out for me was this quote:

First you must value your own stuff.
Then they’ll value your stuff.

Let me introduce you to …

Ever wanted to introduce two people, but couldn’t figure out how to send an e-mail to both of them at the same time?  Me neither.  But if you want to make introducing two people even easier, with some Web2.0 goodness thrown in, check out You Should Meet.  If anyone out there knows somebody I should meet, give the (free) service a whirl.  My e-mail is Matt “at” LexThink.com.  I look forward to meeting them.

links for 2006-05-18

Quote of the Day

From the book The Radical EdgeTo be successful, you must do “what you love in the service of the people you love, who in turn, love what you do for them.”

 

Wanna Get Your Business on TV?

I just found SpotRunner, a web-based service that will help to put your business on TV.  Pick a pre-produced ad, add your name and contact info, choose your network and TV schedule, and go.  Very cool, and pretty cheap too.  From the website:

It used to be difficult – and expensive – to advertise on television. Only big companies could afford to do it because it involved hiring an ad agency to make the actual ads, and a media buying company to make sure they got on TV at the right time. Now Spot Runner does everything for you, and at a price any business can afford. Here’s how:

The Ads: We have a vast library of world-class ads. You choose the ad you want and then personalize it by adding your company name, or images of your products, or details about an upcoming promotion. We charge you for making those personalizations, and for getting your finished ad ready to be broadcast on television.

The TV schedule: Once you’ve chosen your ad, we help you create an effective schedule of TV networks and times to ensure that your ad is seen by the right people. Then we send off your personalized ad and make sure it runs where and when it’s supposed to. Our prices include all the time and effort it takes to do that.

Most ads can only be used by one local business at a time. In other words, once you’ve purchased your ad no one else in your area can use it. There are some exceptions to this, but when you choose your ad you’ll see your options for exclusivity, and you can protect your ad as much or as little as you want.

Do You Make House Calls?

Make House Calls:

Potential clients feel more comfortable in their offices than in my office, no matter how plush. So it is a good idea to meet them in their office whenever possible. When meeting anywhere else, they tend not to reveal their whole hand.

I understand why some consultants prefer to meet in their own offices — it increases efficiency. But what I lose in efficiency, I gain in trust and strong connections. I also get to speak to all managers, executives and some employees if necessary — something that does not always happen if I were holding meetings in my office. If others in the organization see me in action and give positive reports to the owner or other person-in-charge, I have a better chance of acquiring them as a client down the road because they trust me.

links for 2006-05-17

Lessons for Ford, and for Lawyers

In The Truth About Cars, Robert Farago offers up his prescription for an ailing Ford:

You want bold moves? Kill Jaguar. Kill Mercury. Sell Volvo. Sell Mazda. Sell Land Rover. Cut half the remaining models and plow money into the ones that survive. Re-invigorate your rear-wheel drive, box-frame car with new sheetmetal, a bad-ass motor and a killer cabin. Build a world-beating Lincoln luxury sedan. Make the Ford Focus the world’s best small car. Get the Explorer’s mileage into the mid-20’s. Develop a more powerful engine than the Hemi and stick it into everything– including a new minivan. Set SVT loose on the entire model line-up. OWN quality interiors. Don’t badge engineer ANYTHING.

Lose the glass fishbowl; redesign Ford showrooms to look like a modern retail outlet. Trim the dealer network and sell cars on the web. Undercut everyone’s price with every vehicle. Interact with every single customer on a regular basis via internet. Institute no-haggle pricing. Make financing cheaper. Drop 80% of your print budget and dominate the web. Do it all, and do it all at once– regardless of cost. Then sell value for money. Ford: the best car money can buy.

Imagine a big law firm (or any law firm) making similar moves.  What would that advice be, and what would the resulting law firm look like?

More Speaking Tips from Bert Decker

Bert Decker has several great recent posts that have been sitting in my “to blog” folder.  I’m going to lump them together here:

The Power of the PausePractice pausing. Non-words are just pause fillers, and extend beyond the typical “um” and “uh” to “you knows,” “ands,” “okays,” “right” and the like. All anyone has to do is practice leaving pauses of two or three seconds after each sentence. In this exercise the speaker will at first feel the pauses are excruciatingly long.

Quick Tip: The Rule of 40: Whenever there are more than 40 people in a room of any size, use a microphone.

Impact with TechnologyRemembering that you are the presentation, develop visuals that enhance your point of view. After all, visuals are important:

      • 55% of believability comes through the visual
      • A 500% average increase in retention occurs when visuals are used in a presentation
      • 83% of what we know is learned by seeing and observing

If you do presentations or public speaking, Bert’s blog has to be on your “must read” list.

Crayon Your Way to Better Presentations?

Here’s an interesting tip from the Sales Presentation Training Blog:

Write your entire presentation out and then get some colored markers. For example, for all the facts that you have written down, highlight them in red. Next, color all your humor in green. Lastly, color all your audience participation in blue.

Ok, now step back and look at your work of art. What, you don’t see any green for humor? Where is the blue, for audience participation? Even if you are giving a sales presentation to manage $50 million dollars for a pension fund, you will be amazed by the audiences receptivity if you make the presentation about them. Red is a nice color but make sure your presentation has some green and blue to involve your audience.

Try the same thing with your marketing materials.  Use highlight all of the sentences talking about you (your technology, your offices, your expertise) in red, and all of the sentences talking about your clients (their needs, their testimonials, their satisfaction) in green. Too much red?  Maybe you need some new marketing materials.

A Great Motivational Tip

Jason Womack shares a tip he received when he asked the audience at a recent workshop for their productivity tips.  Jason asked, “How do you stay motivated when the project outcome is a long time off?”  The best tip:

Label the project in terms of what I will receive when I’m done. Make it one I “want to” complete.

Illinois Bar Journal Article

I made the cover of theMay 2006 Illinois Bar Journal (sort of, I’m sure that’s a graphical depiction of me on the right).  Helen Gunnarsson writes the cover story on Blogging.  I’m quoted, along with a bunch of blogging friends.  Check it out here

What’s Your Premium Plan?

The folks at 37 Signals share a pricing lesson:  Don’t forget the premium plan.  Here’s what they have to say:

We launched DropSend (a service for sending large files you can’t email) last November and it’s been ticking along nicely, picking up about 3,500 users per month. 

We always planned on offering a premium version for businesses that was brandable and multi-user, but we couldn’t get it done in time for launch, so we decided to launch that feature later. 

Well, two weeks ago, we finally finished the new DropSend Business Plan. It’s $80 more than the Pro plan ($19 vs. $99), and we were worried that it might be a bit too expensive. Holy crap, were we wrong.

In two weeks, we’ve increased our total revenue by 30%! Two weeks. As I write this, I’m still finding it hard to believe. The Business Plan is now responsible for the lion’s share of our revenue from DropSend. 

What we learned from this is that people will pay for quality. Offer them something really good, and they will go for it. Our premium plan is aimed at businesses who have the need for a high-end solution, and of course, they are the ones who can afford it.

If you are struggling with pricing, think about a “premium” plan that includes extras your “regular” plan does not.  Give your clients a choice.  You may be surprised at the plan they choose.

links for 2006-05-13

Harvest for Timekeeping

Anyone using/trying Harvest, an intresting time tracking tool?

Training for Big Law Management

This is tounge in cheek, of course, but if your goal is to run a MegaFirm, then I humbly present to you The Evil Overlord List.  There you’ll find 100 tips, tricks, and bits of advice for the Dr. Evil wanna be.  Here are a few of the more serious ones: 

When I’m an Evil Overlord …

12.  One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.

24.  I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line “No, this cannot be! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!” (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)

27.  I will never build only one of anything important. All important systems will have redundant control panels and power supplies. For the same reason I will always carry at least two fully loaded weapons at all times.

40.  I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.

45.  I will make sure I have a clear understanding of who is responsible for what in my organization. For example, if my general screws up I will not draw my weapon, point it at him, say “And here is the price for failure,” then suddenly turn and kill some random underling.

46.  If an advisor says to me “My liege, he is but one man. What can one man possibly do?”, I will reply “This.” and kill the advisor.

48.  I will treat any beast which I control through magic or technology with respect and kindness. Thus if the control is ever broken, it will not immediately come after me for revenge.

50.  My main computers will have their own special operating system that will be completely incompatible with standard IBM and Macintosh powerbooks.

52.  I will hire a team of board-certified architects and surveyors to examine my castle and inform me of any secret passages and abandoned tunnels that I might not know about.

60.  My five-year-old child advisor will also be asked to decipher any code I am thinking of using. If he breaks the code in under 30 seconds, it will not be used. Note: this also applies to passwords.

61.  If my advisors ask “Why are you risking everything on such a mad scheme?”, I will not proceed until I have a response that satisfies them.

74.  When I create a multimedia presentation of my plan designed so that my five-year-old advisor can easily understand the details, I will not label the disk “Project Overlord” and leave it lying on top of my desk.

85.  I will not use any plan in which the final step is horribly complicated, e.g. “Align the 12 Stones of Power on the sacred altar then activate the medallion at the moment of total eclipse.” Instead it will be more along the lines of “Push the button.”

90.  I will not design my Main Control Room so that every workstation is facing away from the door.

There are a lot of good lessons here.  Of course, there are just as many like these:

63.  Bulk trash will be disposed of in incinerators, not compactors. And they will be kept hot, with none of that nonsense about flames going through accessible tunnels at predictable intervals.

72.  When my guards split up to search for intruders, they will always travel in groups of at least two. They will be trained so that if one of them disappears mysteriously while on patrol, the other will immediately initiate an alert and call for backup, instead of quizzically peering around a corner.

89.  After I captures the hero’s superweapon, I will not immediately disband my legions and relax my guard because I believe whoever holds the weapon is unstoppable. After all, the hero held the weapon and I took it from him.

links for 2006-05-11

The Simpsons Live

Not sure how I missed this, but waaaayyy cool.  The Simpsons intro, with live actors.

Are Your Best Clients Those Who Pay Fastest?

Wells Fargo’s Small Business Roundup Newsletter features an Albuquerque printer APC, recent winner of a SBA award.  One of the best pieces of advice I’ve seen in a while comes from APC’s owner, Pedro “Tony” Fernandez.  Mr. Fernandez explains how his business focused on cash flow to stay in business after 9/11:

To regain momentum, Fernandez turned to his customer base. “Rather than concentrating our marketing on high-revenue or high-volume clients, we went after our best payers,” he notes. “We looked at those who paid their bills consistently and quickly. Revenue dropped, but the method helped us strengthen our cash flow, which brought us back to pre-9/11 profit levels by 2004.”

Your biggest clients aren’t always your best.  If you are looking to focus certain marketing efforts on your existing clients, think about trying APC’s approach.  Focus on your best payers, not your biggest accounts.

Total Client Awareness

Here’s a simple tip from Personal Tech Pipeline (via LifeHacker) that all lawyers should take advantage of:

Let’s say you have a friend who lives on the other side of the country. Let’s call her “Janet Birkenstock.” You can set up a Google Alert using quotation marks around her name that searches both news stories and web sites. Then you can just forget about it. From then on, whenever Janet runs a marathon, gets promoted, is quoted in the local newspaper, or does anything that someone mentions in the news or on the web, you get an e-mail with a link to that page. You can always be the first to congratulate her, or whatever. The point is that you’re staying in touch with and remain aware of your friend without any effort at all.

Now imagine setting up similar searches with all your friends, family members, former colleagues and others — and, of course, yourself (to find out what others might say about you).

You can set up dozens or even hundreds of these Alert searches, and they will work for you forever, finding information on people you care about and letting you know what’s new with them.

Now set up searches about your neighborhood or small town. If some developer is planning to bulldoze the local park and build a shopping mall, you’ll be the first to know (and can visit the local city council meeting in time to provide input).

Easy, cheap, and your clients will wonder how you know everything about them (and their industry, competitors, etc.) before they do.

Keep Your Cell Phone Number Private

Here’s a great tip (via a LifeHacker reader) to keep your cell phone number from showing up on caller ID:

With your cell, just start the number you are calling with the *67, as if the phone number begins with those three digits. The important thing to remember is that you will need to put the 1 in before the area code, as cells don’t normally need the 1.

For example, enter *6719175551212 before hitting the talk button will lead the receivers caller id to read “restricted.”

As Johnny Carson would say, “I did not know that.”

links for 2006-05-10

My Attempts at Better PowerPointing

Over the last several months, I’ve done quite a few presentations.  Since I have been reading great blogs like Beyond Bullets, Presentation Zen and Powerpointless, I find that I am focused more than ever on using PowerPoint as a complement to my speech, and not as a replacement for it.  In other words, I don’t want people to be able to read on a slide what I’m about to say.  I’d rather them look to me for the information instead of the screen.

In my PowerPoint journey, three interesting things have happened.  First, the more tuned in I am to the importance of “good” PowerPoint, the more offended I become by “bad” PowerPoint — I’m told former smokers experience a similar reaction to cigarette smoke after they quit.  Second, I’m emboldened to try even more radical presentation experiments (my BlawgThink presentation in MindManager is one example).  Finally, I’m amused at how others, only familiar with the “traditional” way of powerpointing, are mildly offended when I suggest my way may be better (or at least more fun).

If you attended my BarCamp or Techshow presentations, let me know what you thought.  For everyone else to see what I’m talking about, I’ll attach my three most recent presentations to this post later today for your feedback.  I look forward to your comments.

UPDATE:  Here are the slides from my BarCamp presentation, as well as my two Techshow presentations, 60 Marketing Tips and Beyond ROI.  All are in .ppt format.

More Smart Moves for Business

Here’s a list of Ten Smart Moves to Improve your Business that had a few gems:

On writing: 

… take a topic that everyone has already written about but add a new twist to it. Children and Accessibility: It Matters was one such piece for me. It was well received and got some attention, which has ultimately led to people contacting me for other work because they saw something different.

On expanding:

Stay as small as you logically can: Small is flexible. Small can change direction in an instant if needed. I’m sure at some point my company will get bigger, but it won’t happen without good reason. Small is where it is at, baby (at least that is what all the other small companies are saying)

On pricing:

Raise prices every year: Just do it. Tell people about it beforehand so that they are expecting it. I’ve heard before that if you have never had push back from your clients telling you “that’s too much” then you aren’t charging enough. I’m not sure how true that is, but I look at it this way: I get better every year, and with more experience I can provide more value. Higher value = higher rates. Just do it.

Tips for Timely Replies

Here’s a good (and simple) tip from Email Overloaded for making sure you reply to all of those e-mails each day:

  1. Need to reply but don’t have time right now? Drag the message into a special folder, entitled “Reply”, that holds all the messages that need replying to.
     
  2. Schedule a couple of times a day, every day, in which to crank though the Reply folder, during which you shoot off the necessary answers and file the messages elsewhere.
    If you don’t have time to formulate a reply to a complex or time-consuming issue, use
    this method to keep the other side’s faith until you get the chance to reply.

Quote of the Week.

“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”  – John-Coltrane

(from this amazing list of Jazz Quotes at Presentation Zen)

links for 2006-05-09

links for 2006-05-08

links for 2006-05-04

Deposition Tips

It has been over 18 months since I’ve taken a deposition, so I’ll pass this one on for what it is worth:  Take Great Notes from LifeHacker.  Some great tips for general notetaking, and a few that would work well for depositions.  For instance:

[U]se a simple system of symbols to make off 4 different information types in the column space left in the margin.

  • [ ] A square checkbox denotes a to do item
  • ( ) A circle indicates a task to be assigned to someone else
  • * An asterisk is an important fact
  • ? A question mark goes next to items to research or ask about

After the meeting, a quick vertical scan of the margin area makes it easy to add tasks to your to do list and calendar, send out requests to others, and further research questions. (This method is the brainchild of Michael Hyatt, someone who clearly has mastered the art of attending meetings.)

links for 2006-05-03

Just Say Why

Don’t say no:

But what nobody ever teaches us is perhaps the most important thing you can learn to be a successful working designer: How to not say “no.” If I could give one piece of advice to the designer just getting into client work, or even some who’s been doing this for a while, it’s this: The next time you want to say “no” to a client, boss, or colleague, say this instead: “Why?”

Management by Baseball – Book Review

A few weeks ago, Jeff Angus, the author of the phenomenal Management by Baseball blog, contacted me and asked me to read his new book, also titled Management by Baseball.  In the book, Jeff breaks down management into four discrete “bases” (get it?) that one must reach in order to become a Hall of Fame manager.  The four bases (from the book’s website):

Managing the Mechanics  Every day of the baseball season, skippers skillfully juggle complex decisions from choosing a lineup to calling for a steal. In the dugout, they handle abstract concepts like time management and training techniques. In the office, they pore over research reports and apply them to the problems at hand. Learn from the masters the methods of successful operational management (and lessons in what to avoid from baseball’s biggest bunglers).

Managing Talent  Great baseball managers know how to get the most out of a team over a long season by understanding how to evaluate and motivate players, and when and how to hire and fire them. Learn how to apply their models and get the most out of your team.

Managing Yourself  The most successful managers in and out of baseball learn enough about their own habits, biases, and strengths to overcome preconceived notions. Boost your own skills through examples of how baseball’s best and worst came to grips with intellectual and emotional blind spots that undermined their effectiveness.

Managing Change–and Driving It  The best baseball managers know how to adapt to significant changes in the game. So should anyone who works outside a ballpark. Lessons from baseball will improve your ability to thrive in times of change and actively drive changes to your company’s advantage — and your own.

There is a lot to like about the book, and I’ll share some of the insights I gleaned from it in a few posts later this week. For now, the Box Score:

 HITS: 

  • Great baseball anecdotes told in a way even non-baseball nuts will understand and appreciate.
  • Insightful management tips and tricks I’d not seen before.
  • Good set of baseball-like “Rules” throughout the book.

RUNS:

  • In depth economic analysis of business decisions told in a way that makes difficult concepts easily understandable.  Jeff’s explanation of “The Book” in baseball, stochastic decision making, and the Law of Problem Evolution in Chapter Four was really, really great.
  • Jeff’s introduction (to me, at least) of the diseconomies of scale, has changed my thinking on the advantages of large organizations.

ERRORS:

  • Not enough baseball.  Jeff is a top-flight consultant, but too often he digresses from baseball to share a lesson he learned in consulting.  If he is going to rely upon the baseball metaphor, he should do it completely. 
  • The format of the book makes for difficult reading.  There are too many sidebars that break up the flow of the narrative.
  • Jeff’s “Rules” should be collected at the end of the book, either as an appendix or as a separate, pull-out supplement.

Admittedly, I am a big baseball fan and expected to like the book, which I did.  I do think, however, that even a casual observer of the game will find valuable lessons.  One caveat, the book is not an easy read.  It isn’t that it is difficult to understand, or that the words are too big, it just didn’t “flow” like I’d hoped.  Several times, I set aside an hour or two to focus on reading it, but would stop after a chapter or two.  I started to get more from the book when I would limit myself to reading a chapter at a time.  It may have been just me, but I needed time to process the information in small chunks.  I think this is because Jeff packs so much complex business and economic analysis into a such a small book.

With that caveat, I heartily recommend Management by Baseball.  Jeff has found a unique way of looking at (and explaining) business behavior that worked for me.  If you like baseball at all, it will work for you too.

Time Alone for the Zone

Jason Fried has some great advice on how to get into the zone:

Getting in the zone takes time. And that’s why interruption is your enemy. It’s like rem sleep – you don’t just go to rem sleep, you go to sleep first and you make your way to rem. Any interruptions force you to start over. rem is where the real sleep magic happens. The alone time zone is where the real development magic happens.

One tip to help you create some alone time is… Set up a rule at work: Make half the day alone time. From 10am-2pm, no one can talk to one another (except during lunch). Or make the first or the last half of the day the alone time period. Just make sure this period is contiguous in order to avoid productivity-killing interruptions.

How much more work would your business get done if you set aside “zone” time.

links for 2006-05-02

Reading for Managing Partners

This Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article, titled Why Your Employees are Losing Motivation, is a must read for anyone who manages employees.  According to the article, most employees are enthusiastic when they start a new job, but in most companies, employees morale declines dramatically after their first six months — and continues to decline.  Sound like any business you know?  Check out the great tips.  The article is definitely worth a read.

 

Did Your Acquaintanceship Make Money This Year?

Angie McKaig has some fantastic e-mail tips.  Here are my favorites:

Run a business, not an acquaintanceship.
Always respond promptly – same day is ideal; at least every 2-3 days at a bare minimum.

Explanations go a long way.
Take the time, when you can, to educate. An extra 10 minutes spent writing a few paragraphs to explain something to a client can buy a priceless amount of goodwill.

It’s time for a mindshift, entrepreneur.
Email is not something that takes you away from your work. Email is a vital part of your work. It requires the same care, feeding and watering as the rest of your business, if not more so. You’re not in Cubeville any more, with a sales department to back you up. You’re it, bub. Remember that without those emails, phone calls and other “interruptions”, you wouldn’t have a business.

 

Is it all the same thing?

Will lawyers ever realize that it is all the same thing:

We don’t spend 2 hours every day on marketing, we spend all day on marketing. We don’t spend 1 hour every day figuring out the best way to communicate what our products do, we spend all day figuring out the best way to communicate what our products do. We don’t spend 3 hours on interface design, we spend all day on interface design.

When the edges are blurred, and one thing is many things, you can achieve so much more with less time, effort, and people.

Good work for clients is marketing.  Sending a fair bill is client service.  Returning telephone calls and e-mails is relationship building.  It is all the same thing.  Go read the original post and the comments.  Great Stuff!

Mingling Advice

How to Mingle:

Always enter a conversations with a drink you are about to finish.  If things don’t go well, all you need to do is take one last gulp from your drink and excuse yourself to get another, never to return.  If the conversation is going well, finish your drink and ask the other person if you can get them anything when you go to get another. They will appreciate the gesture even if they decline, and it impies that you’ll be returning for a longer conversation.

MiniVan Man

After driving the family minivan (Honda Odyssey, if you must know) from Los Angeles to St. Louis, I read this from The Truth About Cars, and just now got done laughing:

Morphing from pistonhead into Minivan Man (MVM) is a process, like grieving. At first, when the kids arrive, proto-MVM goes into denial. He hangs-on to his/his partner’s two-door, or trades the sports car for a hot two-plus-two. He assures his partner that everything will be OK; the baby will fit in the back, no sweat. (Silently thinking, it’s a baby, it’ll never remember.) When the new father feels the brunt of his hormone-crazed wife’s rage as she tries to maneuver a squealing child into the back, when he sees his precious litte angel in that dark, windowless space; he knows he’s been beaten. He gets angry. Then he gets over it.

Bargaining starts. Well, honey, we don’t really need something THAT big do we? A large sedan would be just as good, wouldn’t it? Maybe something with a sports suspension. You know you like to drive fast too– not that you would with baby on board, but every now and then… Hey, how about a Dodge Magnum SRT8 station wagon? And then, suddenly, he becomes aware of minivans. The ease of those sliding doors. The advantages of all that room: less struggling, less screaming, Mommy can go back there and pick up the damn bottle, infinite cup holders, etc. He gets it.

After depression, acceptance. Then, purchase and pleasure. Today’s minivans really are great for kids: safe and comfortable, with lots of room for Happy Meal toys, juice boxes, bikes, groceries, soccer balls, backpacks, PSP’s, friends and all that other stuff that makes parenting so expensive. The best ones even have God’s gift to hassled adults: rear seat DVD’s. The audio for these systems can be faded to the rear of the vehicle, giving MVM the rare chance to have an uninterrupted conversation with his partner. That’s no bad thing; unless of course it is. In that case, there’s enough room for your beloved to stretch-out in the back and watch Toy Story for the 46th time.

So True.

Don’t Worry About CopyCats

Paul Graham sums it up:

Startups worry far too much about people copying them.

First of all, it will take competitors a long time to realize that your idea is even a good thing to do. It seems obvious to you that your idea is good. You had it. Other people will take longer to see that.

Especially big companies– as anyone can attest who has tried to convince a big company of something obvious. Often big companies don’t want to see that an idea is good, because they already have a lot invested in some other plan.

Even when competitors realize your idea is good, (a) it will take them a long time to implement and (b) they’ll probably screw up critical things.

And finally, working on your ideas will lead you on to new ideas. So you’ll be a moving target; by the time competitors copy what you’re doing now, you’ll be doing more.

A lot of lawyers who want to implement some form of value pricing or flat-fee billing in their firms are reluctant to do so because they believe their competitors will just swoop in, copy their pricing model, and then undercut their price.  My advice (and Paul Graham’s) is to stop worrying about that and just do it.  Once your competitors realize just how good your idea is, it will be too late.