Yearly Archives: 2010

Until 2011…

I'm working on a major blog overhaul for early 2011.  Until then, please check out all of my Resolution Posts.  They are some of my favorites.

 

Thanks.  See you next year!

Hug Your Clients

Hug1003a1

 

via: Hugh MacLoud

What’s in Your Manifesto?

I really liked this, from Holstee:

Holstee_Manifesto

Stop Negotiating Via Email

PsyBlog recently highlighted Ten Studies About the Dark Side of Email.  One highlights why you should never negotiate (with clients on fees or opponents on settlement terms) via email:

Email negotiations often feel difficult, especially with people we don't know well. When Naquin et al. (2008) compared them with face-to-face negotiations, they found that people were less co-operative over email and even felt more justified in being less co-operative.

Part of the reason negotiations are difficult is that people tend to be more negative on email. For example, Kurtzberg et al. (2005) found that when people evaluated each other in performance appraisals using both pen-and-paper and email, they were consistently more negative about their colleagues when using email.

Yet another reason why, when the stakes are high, face-to-face wins the race.

Cognitive Dissonance and the Low-Cost Lawyer

This interesting Wired Magazine piece, titled Why We Love Our Dentists, explores the unique relationship between price paid and perceived value.  According to a recent study, two dentists will reach the same conclusion when looking at an identical x-ray only about half the time.  Yet despite the fact that dentists are so frequently wrong (they can't both be right, can they?), people love their dentists more than any of their other medical providers.

The reason, according to the article, is due to cognitive dissonance, "the human tendency to react to conflicting evidence by doubling-down on our initial belief."  The study's author Dan Ariely attributes our irrational love of dentists to the pain they inflict:

 

I think all of this pain actually causes cognitive dissonance and cause higher loyalty to your dentist. Because who wants to go through this pain and say, I’m not sure if I did it for the right reason. I’m not sure this is the right guy. You basically want to convince yourself that you’re doing it for the right reason.

The article has a few more examples of irrational behavior influenced by perceived value.  Consider this study:

[R]esearchers supplied people with Sobe Adrenaline Rush, an “energy” drink that was supposed to make them feel more alert and energetic. (The drink contained a potent brew of sugar and caffeine which, the bottle promised, would impart “superior functionality”). Some participants paid full price for the drinks, while others were offered a discount. The participants were then asked to solve a series of word puzzles. [T]the people who paid discounted prices consistently solved about thirty percent fewer puzzles than the people who paid full price for the drinks. The subjects were convinced that the stuff on sale was much less potent, even though all the drinks were identical.

What does this mean for lawyers?  Know that your clients hold deep-set beliefs that the value of your advice is tied (even if subconsciously) to the price they pay for it.  In other words, if you're the lawyer offering the lowest prices on your services, understand that your clients believe your advice is less valuable than the same advice offered by your higher-priced peers.

An unanswered question: do lawyers offering that low-cost advice believe they're less competent than their higher-priced peers? Just as their clients expect to get what they pay for, do lawyers expect to deliver what they charge for?  What do you think?

 

Legal Rebels Video

Here’s my six-minute / twenty-slide presentation on Building the Service-Centered Firm I delivered as part of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels project.

Communicating Value and Price

I’ve been a big fan of Merlin Mann for several years now.  As I was checking out his website yesterday, I found his pricing page cheekily titled: Do You Charge Money to Do Things? Here’s how Merlin describes his pricing scheme:

For most all of my speaking, consulting, and advisory work, yes: I do charge a fee, plus expenses. And, candidly, I charge kind of a lot….  I learned a long time ago to only work for or with people with whom you have mutual admiration and respect—and who already think you’re valuable and great at what you do. In my experience, the folks who expect you to make a case for your own value make for terrible clients. They may be good negotiators and nice people, but working for them is a gut-wrenching travesty. And I don’t do travesties.

With all that said, I do a fair amount of (private, unpublicized, non-ribbon-based) work with non-profits and other deserving groups. And, no, I normally do not charge for this work. So, If you’re working for a good cause or represent an organization that’s trying to do something you know I care a lot about, please ask me. No promises, but I’ll do what I can with what I have.

So, yep. “Expensive” or “Free.” It’s a fee schedule that works.

I think it would work well on a firm website, and provides an important reminder every lawyer should have on their desk: “The folks who expect you to make a case for your own value make for terrible clients.”

Use the Right Words in Your Marketing

Found this great tip on Connection Cafe about how to use Google's Keyword Tool to understand what people are looking for:

Explore opportunities for new offers or ones adjacent to what you currently offer.  Go to the Google Keyword Tool.  Enter a single term associated with your organization’s services, products, or offers.  You could also provide a URL to one of the pages that describe what you’re doing today and Google will use that to help with the research. 

The tool will return a long list of similar terms that people are searching for.  It will also tell you roughly how many people are searching for those terms and how competitive the market for placing advertisements on those pages will be.  Sort by search volume or competition.  What do these results tell you people are searching for versus what they’re finding?

 

Are Your Conference Calls Like This?

Funny, but true:

 

Introducing COCAbiz

A funny thing happened last month as I was meeting with the new executive director of COCA — St. Louis’ premier community arts center.  It was a “get to know you” meeting, but as she and I were discussing all the workshops, seminars and training. for businesses that COCA was developing, she asked me if I had any interest at all in becoming the first Director of this new initiative, now named COCAbiz.

My first (and second) response was, “No.”  While I was happy to help get COCAbiz off the ground, I loved what I did, and had no desire to do something else.  Only after I lost a few nights of sleep mulling over the venture’s potential, did I finally come around. 

Those of you who know me can appreciate how taken I was by the idea of building creative and innovative events, seminars, classes and training for businesses and organizations —  while utilizing the resources, facilities and (most importantly) some of the 200+ talented artists, actors, dancers, and teachers who call COCA home. 

That was five weeks ago.

Today, I’m incredibly honored and humbled to announce that I am the new Director of COCAbiz.  COCAbiz will combine business-focused, arts-based instruction and theory with creative facilitation to help businesses, organizations and those who work for them to think better together as they solve their toughest challenges.

But what about my “day job” as a speaker, writer and facilitator?  I’ll continue to speak about innovation, creativity, alternative billing and client service to lawyers and firms.  I’ll keep blogging, and I’ll also keep doing firm retreats and conferences, but will have the additional resources of COCAbiz behind me.  I’ll also get a few more nights each month at home with my daughter, which she and I will both cherish.

In short, it is the best of all worlds for me.  The challenge of building an amazing business inside one of the nation’s most-loved arts and education institutions was too great to pass up.  I’m excited beyond measure, and can’t wait to share more of what we’ll be doing at COCAbiz here and elsewhere.

Thanks for your support, and as always, let me know how I can help you.

Your Clients Don’t Care Where You Went to Law School

After my Law Firm Website Venn Diagram got such great feedback, I thought I’d do another highlighting one of my big pet peeves: lawyer bios.  Here you go:

Lawyer Bio Venn Diagram

Use Words that Suck Less

Unsuckit
As someone who splits my professional time working with both lawyers and with corporate America, I hear just as much business jargon as I do legalese. 

Though I've not found a "de-legalese-r" site on the web, I have found Unsuck-it, a website that takes business-speak and makes it, well, less sucky.

Some examples: 

Incentivize: In order to meet our phase 1 deliverable, we must incentivize the workforce with monetary rewards.

  Unsucked: Encourage or persuade.

Low-Hanging Fruit: Our budget’s tight on this one, so we need to go for the low-hanging fruit first.

  Unsucked: Easy goal.

Synergy: We are actualizing synergy amongst team members directly related to the project.

  Unsucked: Working together.

You can search for terms, and even generate an email to the offender who used the word.  Now, we just need the legal version!

Great Estate Planning Quote

Found this quote from professional organizer Sue DeRoos that would be a tremendous quote for a firm trying to market to estate planning clients:

Everyone gets organized at some point, they just might not be around for it.

Via Unclutterer.

Is your website for your clients or for your peers?

Inspired by this venn diagram found on Business Pundit,  I thought I’d do one for Law Firm Websites:

What are your Relationship Rituals?

Keith Ferrazzi shares a few simple “Relationship Rituals” that should be on every professional’s weekly checklist:

1.    First thing every day after you turn on your computer, ping one friend and one acquaintance.

2.    Every weekend, invite someone else into an activity that you normally do alone (walks, gym sessions, gardening, shopping trips).

3.    Pick a day for a weekly check-in with a colleague/associate/friend, during which you share a success, a challenge, and make a commitment for the upcoming week.

4.    Every Friday, send a broadcast – status update, blog post, Tweet, etc.

5.    Host a monthly dinner or happy hour.

What are the things you do every week to maintain your client relationships?

 

Do your customers trust your apology?

In this NYT article, author Daniel Pink challenges businesses to speak like real people.  The whole article is worth your time, but what grabbed me was this simple quote from the head of the t-shirt site Threadless:

The best way to figure out if you're running a good company is to figure out if your customers trust your apology.


I think this is right on, and a great measure for every business.  Do your customers trust you when you apologize to them for making a mistake?  You do apologize, don't you?

Building the Service Centered Firm

Here’s my new presentation, “Building the Service-Centered Firm” that I just gave as the keynote at the Minnesota Solo/Small Firm Conference in Duluth the first week of August.

Selling the Senior Partner on Social Media

If you’re fighting an uphill battle in your firm trying to get the senior partners to buy into social media, you might want to give a few of these “vintage” advertisements a try:

Images from Sao Paolo ad agency Moma.  Hat tip: Unplggd.

Say it again?

A quick client interview tip from the always helpful Rules of Thumb website:

If someone you’re interviewing makes the same point more than twice, it’s the most important thing to him, and a crucial clue to his personality.

Worth keeping in mind!

Should you tell prospects why they shouldn’t hire you?

Jessica Hische, a tremendous print designer and illustrator has a section on her website titled “Why you should not hire me to design your website.”  Some excerpts:

I might seem like a jack of all trades because I do print design, type design, lettering, and illustration, but really I’m a specialist. I specialize in drawing type and illustration. This is what I’m best at and is probably why you found my website in the first place. I find it strange that I get so many requests for web design—I went to school for graphic design, yes, but each subfield of graphic design has its own set of problems, limitations, and guidelines.

Just as you wouldn’t expect any random person that owns Adobe illustrator to be able to draw a decorative initial from scratch, you can’t expect any print designer to be able to really and truly design for web. Web design is not print design, it is so much more complex. With book design, a person that encounters your book knows how to view it. They look at the cover, they open the cover, and page by page they work their way to the end. With web design, it’s (for the most part) not linear. You have to understand how people are going to use the site (and how people use the web changes all the time).

Anyway, to conclude a fairly long rant: Hire people that are best at what they do. It’s not that I (or other print designers) CAN’T do web design, its that you should want to hire someone that will do it best—someone that knows the ins and outs of the web and can then hire people like me to do what they do best: draw ornaments, logos, illustrations etc that will make the site sing.

I’m quite certain many lawyers and firms would benefit from a similar “disclaimer” telling potential clients why not to hire them.  Communicating what you do — and most importantly, what you don’t (and won’t) do — goes a long way towards getting you the clients you want and dissuading the ones you don’t from picking up the phone.

Profit by Giving Your Fees Away

I saw this little blurb on the Church Marketing Sucks blog:  

WaterFront Community Church says, “We’re going to give away 100% of our offering to help build and beautify our community.”

What would the impact be if your firm did the same thing, and donated one day’s fees a year (or month) to make your community better? 

I think it is a great idea — and could be even better if combined with a contest (like Pepsi’s Refresh Project) that sought entries from school children or community groups.  What do you think?

How Much Should Legal Fees Be?

Lawyers, do you think clients would use a service that describes itself as follows:

We are an independent, unbiased resource designed to deliver legal fee and price transparency and the expert information legal clients need. Our team of expert lawyers has helped us comb through a mountain of flat fee and billable time data to ensure you have the information you need when it’s time to hire a lawyer.

Well, that service doesn’t exist for legal clients just yet (as far as I know), but it does for people with car trouble.  It is called RepairPal, and it gives people pricing advice (including printed estimates) for various auto service repairs.  Here’s how it works:

RepairPal takes the mystery out of car repairs with a simple tool that will tell you the average price you should be paying for a repair in your zip code.  You just pop in a few details about your repair and car, and it will do the rest.  It breaks down the estimated repair cost in a few ways, showing you the range to expect depending on whether you go through a dealer or independent repair shop, the cost of labor and parts, plus the parts usually needed and how much they cost.  The result?  You can feel better about making an informed repair decision, and you don’t have to scramble to get your friend the “car expert” on the phone to ask a dozen questions.

Imagine a world where your clients’ expectations of the cost of your services is driven less by the facts of their case and more by an “estimate” they got from the internet.  A brave new world is coming.  Are you ready for it?

Stretch Your Thinking About Biz Cards

One of my favorite business cards of all time:

Check out the entire post at Creative Bits for lots of other cool, inspirational cards.

Ten (New) Truths of CLE

To many lawyers, their state-mandated continuing legal education (CLE) is a necessary chore to be completed, rather than an anticipated opportunity to hone their skills in an exciting and stimulating environment.  Part of the reason lawyers don’t love CLE more is that the traditional panel-centric format has — to put it nicely — grown stale.  Even if listening to three speakers reading their slides worked once, it doesn’t work now.  The audience has changed — and the industry must change with it.

In this article, I offer ten observations, tips and even some advice to those in the CLE business.  Though these aren’t my talking points, they mirror much of what I’m going to be speaking about at the Association for Continuing Legal Education (ACLEA) in my talk “The Innovative CLE: Ten Bold Proposals for Change” later this month in New York City.

1.  If you ask your attendees what they’re buying from you and they answer “CLE credit,” you’ve got a terrible problem.  Stop selling credit, and instead sell understanding, collaboration and community.  Give lawyers what they need to keep their clients happy — not just what they need to keep their license.

2.  Your audience has far less attention to pay than they once did.  Recognize that your events must change because your attendees already have.  And never confuse your audience’s attendance for their attention:  while you only have to earn their attendance once, you’ve got to earn their attention all event long.

3.  Your audience’s ability to pay attention at your event is inversely proportional to their ability to pay attention to the outside world.  There’s a very fine line between supporting their technology and giving them yet another way to check their fantasy football standings.

4.  Lawyers love online CLE — not because it improves upon the in-person experience, but because it duplicates it.  If lawyers are going to passively consume information from a speaker or panelist, they might as well do it from their desk as they get some “real” work done.  If you want lawyers to attend your programs, offer them something they can’t get online, like the ability to work with (and learn from) the other attendees in the room.

5.  Convincing lawyers to attend your programs begins with answering their one simple question: “How will this make me better at what I do?”  Focus less on the specific things they’ll learn, and more upon how their practice will improve the moment they leave your event.

6.  People complain loudest about the price of things they don’t want to buy.  If your customers say your prices are too high, focus first on giving them more value — and if you must cut the price, don’t be afraid to give them less.  Also, never forget that the price of your event matters less to attendees than their cost to attend it. 

7.  Your attendees will get far more “networking” done when they are thinking together than when they are drinking together.

8.  Imagine a second-grade class room where the teacher never makes time to answer the students’ questions.  Asking 300 people, with two minutes left before the next session starts, “Are there any questions?” is a lot like that.

9.  You aren’t serving lawyers well if you refuse to teach them to attract great clients and run their businesses better.  It is a hell of a lot easier to be a competent, ethical attorney when you’re not worried about keeping your lights on and your family fed.

10.  Just because your audiences aren’t asking for a better experience doesn’t mean they don’t deserve one.  Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  Think about ways to build a better CLE.  Experiment, and try new and novel things.  Your audience is far more likely to forgive your ambitiousness as they are to tolerate your ambivalence.

Who Can Change Your Firm?

I ran across this idea from an interview with a “Disney Expert” Bill Capodagli in this 37 Signals post on supportive conflict.  It seems Disney gave everyone in the organization an opportunity to “pitch” a movie to the heads of the company:

Take the regular meeting they hold called The Gong Show, which is based on the old TV amateur-hour show. It’s a concept where, two or three times a year, any Disney employee can present an idea for a full-length feature animation before Michael Eisner, CEO and chairman of the board, and Roy Disney, vice chairman of the board, and other executives. Hercules, the animated film, for example, came about from an animator’s idea that was presented at a Gong Show. The company benefits because they get thousands of good ideas from their employees, some of which are developed into feature films. And the employees benefit because they know they have the freedom to submit ideas that will be listened to. Even if their idea is “gonged,” they celebrate it and learn from it.

Does your firm give every employee — from junior partner to part-time file clerk — the chance to share their ideas for ways to make the firm better?  It should!

Measure Time the Way Your Clients Do

Just a quick thought: Are you measuring time the way your clients do? 

Are you keeping track of the days (not minutes or hours) between when you first promised something and when it was finally delivered?  Are you measuring the time between your last client update and the next one?  Do you know how long — in calendar time, not billable time — that the average __________ takes? 

You should, because even though your clients see every moment you spend working for them on their bill, I bet they wish you’d pay the same attention to their calendar as you do to your stopwatch.

A/B Test Your Alternative Fees

All too often, firms view alternative pricing as an “all or nothing” proposition.  They fear a wholesale move away from the billable hour could drive their firm to financial ruin if they get the “pricing thing” wrong.  However, instead of rolling the dice with a firm-wide implementation of an unproven and untested pricing methodology, firms should take a lesson from the web design industry and do A/B testing.

What is A/B testing?  In The Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing, Smashing Magazine defines it this way:

At its core, A/B testing is exactly what it sounds like: you have two versions of an element (A and B) and a metric that defines success. To determine which version is better, you subject both versions to experimentation simultaneously. In the end, you measure which version was more successful and select that version for real-world use.

This is similar to the experiments you did in Science 101. Remember the experiment in which you tested various substances to see which supports plant growth and which suppresses it. At different intervals, you measured the growth of plants as they were subjected to different conditions, and in the end you tallied the increase in height of the different plants.

A/B testing on the Web is similar. You have two designs of a website: A and B. Typically, A is the existing design (called the control), and B is the new design. You split your website traffic between these two versions and measure their performance using metrics that you care about (conversion rate, sales, bounce rate, etc.). In the end, you select the version that performs best.

If you’re thinking of moving from the billable hour to alternative fees, don’t do it all at once.  Instead, identify two similar matters or clients (we’ll call them A and B).  Keep serving (and charging) “A” the way you always have.  However, with “B,'” change your pricing structure.  Give “B” a flat fee for the work you’re billing “A” for by the hour. 

Pay close attention to the metrics that matter to you and to your clients.  Measure time to complete tasks (not in minutes, but in days).  Keep track of the people and resources used.  Watch what folks are doing (and how they do it) instead of just asking them at the end of week or month how much time they spent.  Most importantly, measure both client and attorney satisfaction with the work and results.

If you do enough A/B testing across your client portfolio, you might find that alternative fees aren’t as scary or hard to implement that you thought they would be, but that they make your clients and attorneys happier and make your firm more money.

For the Low Monthly Cost of …

File this one in the "If Doctors Can Do It…" file.  Qliance is one of a number of medical startups that aim to deliver high-quality care directly to consumers for a monthly fee — without involving insurance providers at all.  From the website:

We're using a monthly membership approach to health care, cutting out insurance and going directly to our patients to provide the most comprehensive, high quality primary care out there. The Qliance membership approach means you can see your doctor whenever you need to – even after work and on weekends. By eliminating the hassles of insurance, we are able to put our patients first and return control of your health care to you and to your doctor.

What services could you offer to your prospective clients on a monthly-fee basis?  Before you dismiss that question out of hand, check out the Qliance site.  If doctors can deliver high-quality medical service to patients (whenever and wherever they need them) for a set monthly fee, surely lawyers can do it for their clients.  Right?

What Are Your Clients Afraid Of?

I saw this great over-the-counter medicine packaging (from Help Remedies), and was taken with the simple way each remedy's package focused how the consumer feels before using it.


I wonder if this simple message would work with law firm marketing?  Instead of telling the world what you do, what if you focused your marketing message on how clients felt before hiring you?  Start by answering this question: what are your prospective clients worrying about at the time they need you most?

A Well Trained Lawyer …

I really love this quote, as it goes to the heart of the value (vs. time) of what lawyers provide:

“A well-trained man knows how to answer questions; an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”
– E. Digby Baltzell (1955)

Hat tip: Kevin Kelly

Beef Up Your Clipboards

 
Want the judge to consider your arguments as more substantive than opposing counsel’s?  Hand the judge your brief attached to a heavy-duty clipboard.  Want your opponent to drive a softer bargain?  Make certain they’re sitting in the plush seat across from you.  Sound crazy?  These are some of the surprising results from new studies on touch:

In one study, subjects were asked to review resumés that had been placed on either heavy or light clipboards. Resumés that were read on hard clipboards were judged to be more substantive than those read on softer ones.  Other test subjects engaged in mock negotiations over the price of a new car. Those who sat in firm chairs drove harder bargains than those ensconced in plusher seats.  When another group of subjects were told an ambiguous story about an interaction between an employee and a supervisor, and subsequently asked to offer an opinion, those who had handled a wood block beforehand judged the employee’s behavior more harshly than those who had touched a soft blanket.

(Image from Jason Aaberg)

Do Your Clients “Like” Your Bills?

What if your clients could “Like” something just as they do on Facebook?  Would they “Like” the things you send to them?  If not, what could you do to make them dislike those things less?

Stamp from Nation Design Studio.

The Creative Counsel

Here’s the slide deck from my presentation to the Association of Corporate Counsel’s meeting in St. Louis last month.  The audience was (mostly) in-house counsel, and the presentation was geared at getting them to think a bit differently about their relationship with outside counsel.  I hope you like it.

Please turn off your cellphones.

Probably true in the courtroom, too:

Build Your Culture Like Zappos Does

File this one under the "Hmmmmm, that's kinda cool!" category.  In this Inc. Magazine article, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh talks about why he (reluctantly) sold his company to Amazon. 

What stood out to me, was his take on keeping his company's famous culture alive, even as they grow:

I've noticed that at company happy hours, you don't see as many employees from different departments hanging out with one another.

To address that, we've begun tracking employee relationships. When employees log in to their computers, we ask them to look at a picture of a random employee and then ask them how well they know that person — the options include "say hi in the halls," "hang out outside of work," and "we're going to be longtime friends." We're starting to keep track of the number and strength of cross-departmental relationships — and we're planning a class on the topic. My hope is that we can have more employees who plan to be close friends.

Imagine a law firm doing that!

KickStart Your New Practice

Want to start a new law firm, but lacking the cash to make it happen?  Check out KickStarter, a really unique way to "fund creative ideas and ambitious endeavors" by reaching out to others who want to help.

Would-be entrepreneurs post an idea, and set the amount of money it would take to make it happen.  Site visitors agree to contribute a portion of the startup price — though no money changes hands unless the project is fully funded. 

If you want to see how it all works, check out how a few entrepreneurs are using Kickstarter to raise money to expand their Snow Cone Stand.

Looking for a Legal Job, Try YouTube

Here's a brilliant way to catch the eye of that hiring partner who won't take your calls.  Worth a watch if you're trying to catch the attention of someone in a unique way.

Where is Matt Homann?

I've been on the road almost non-stop for the last three months speaking, doing work for law firms and facilitating a ton of corporate meetings.  My summer's shaping up to be a busy one as well, and I'd love to connect with you if I'm in your city. 

Here's my speaking schedule (so far) for the next few months:

July, 2010

  24-27:  ACLEA's 46th Annual Meeting

August, 2010 

  2-3: MinnCLE Strategic Solutions for Solo and Small Firms

  5-10:  American Bar Association Annual Meeting

October, 2010

  28-30: Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference

November, 2010

  18-19:  Utah Bar 2010 Fall Forum

If you'd like to learn more about me speaking to your firm, organization or conference, please contact me.

Tell Your Clients What’s True

Seth Godin is fed up with the traditional business plan, suggesting they’re “often misused to obfuscate, bore and show an ability to comply with expectations.”  Instead, he’d like to see the modern business plan divided into five sections:

  • Truth
  • Assertions
  • Alternatives
  • People
  • Money

It seems to me that this breakdown would also be a great way to subdivide the traditional client status update (or case analysis) letter.  Instead of burying tons of information in multiple paragraphs, break down the letter into the five sections Seth suggests.  Your clients will better comprehend the information your giving them, and you’ll have an easy-to-use template for all your client correspondence.

What Does a Legal “Unconference” Look Like?

I had the privilege of facilitating the ABA’s National Roundtable on Lawyer Specialty Certification in Denver last month.  We brought together around 50 lawyers, threw out the agenda, and let the attendees control their day.  Here’s what happened.

Happier Clients Make Fewer Choices

IMG_0040

Have you ever tried shopping for toothpaste at Target or Wal-Mart?  Once you decide on your brand of toothpaste (I've always been a Crest man), you're still faced with a dizzying array of choices.  And, if you're like me, you spend far too much time deciding upon a product and often feel dissatisfied with your ultimate choice.

Turns out we are not alone.  In her new book The Art of Choosing, business school professor Sheena Iyengar presents research that proves people's decision making skills  worsen when presented with a plethora of choices.  In other words, people decide better (and spend more) when given fewer choices.

In this Wall Street Journal article, Professors Iyengar's famous "jam experiment" is detailed:

In a Palo Alto, Calif., supermarket known for its exceptionally vast range of products, she set up two different booths offering shoppers the chance to sample various unusual preserves. One booth offered 24 different options; the other only six. You would think that, with more choices in the first booth, more shoppers who stopped there would find a flavor they liked and go on to buy a jar. But the opposite happened: People tried more samples and bought a lot more jam at the booth with six varieties.

The people who stopped at the 24-jam booth didn't say: "Please take away most of these options so I can more easily make a decision." They simply felt overwhelmed and less willing to make any choice at all. The same feeling can arise in people who are offered an array of detailed investment options or in college students who must choose four or five classes from among the hundreds listed in the course catalog. In these situations, perhaps some strategy for choice, established in advance, could help discipline the decision-making process by focusing it on a manageable set of options.

So, next time you have a client conversation, remember that you may be better off discussing a few options instead of many.  Instead of giving your clients lots of choices, curate the list down to a solid few.  You'll end up with happier, less-confused clients who will thoughtfully consider their options, instead of being overwhelmed  by them.

Some Great Advice from Design Pros

I ran across this article titled I Wish I Would Have Known: Answers From 11 Top Freelancers, where several design professionals share their hardest lessons learned.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  From Steven Snell:

I wish I would have known that clients tend to not take a project very seriously if they are paying low rates. When I started out I knew that learning and getting experience was more important than making money at that stage, so I did some very cheap projects. I worked with several people who wanted a website, but it seemed that since they were investing very little into it financially, they just didn’t take it seriously and put in the effort on their end that is needed to have a successful web presence. Not only did that make it more difficult for me to do a good job, but it really did a dis-service to their business because their websites weren’t as effective as they could have been.

  From Sean Baker:

You’re closing up your meeting with a potential client. Everything went smoothly and you think you’re about to land the job. Said client asks for your hourly rate, in which you give and explain. Unless you’re underselling your talents greatly, their next question will almost always be: “Great, and how long will it take you?” Suddenly you’re in a corner… and you’re panicked. You don’t want to scare them away, so you feel implied to answer immediately, usually shorting yourself on time simply to appease. Congratulations, you’ve just pigeonholed this project. From here you’ll either be doing some free work or you’ll run the client off once they see a higher rate than you originally gave.

  From Brian Yerkes:

You have to ensure that you don’t take it personally, ever. This is the biggest thing that I personally struggle with. When a client emails to tell me that they aren’t happy with a design, it puts me in a bad mood for a few hours. It’s the number one thing that I try to deal with better every time it happens. Fortunately, 99% of the time, my clients are happy with my work, but you can never win them all.

  From Kostandinos:

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to a project. If I could only pass along one small piece of advice to kids starting out, and even to those who’ve been at it for a while, that’s it. Sometimes it’s really not worth it… in more ways than one. Have a bad feeling about a client? Trust your gut and walk away. One more thing: Sometimes the most important and best projects are the ones you do for yourself, including working on your portfolio and re-branding yourself. The devil is in the details… get out your pitchforks.

This advice could have just as easily be given by (and to) lawyers.  Remember, your clients, peers and friends often face the exact same challenges in their (non-legal) businesses.  Engage them, learn from them, and don’t make the same mistakes they have.

Should You Touch Your Clients More?

 There’s some very interesting research on the power of touch in business situations.  In this Harvard Business Review post, author Peter Bregman, shares this experiment that found that a brief, light touch affects people’s decision making:

In one experiment, as a woman showed subjects to their seats in the lab, she lightly and briefly touched some of them on the back of their shoulder. Then researchers asked the subjects whether they would prefer a certain amount of money or whether they’d prefer to gamble for the chance to win more money, receiving nothing if they lost. The people who were touched were 50 percent more likely to take the gamble. 50 percent!

And it’s not just any touch. A handshake didn’t achieve the same result. A handshake isn’t comforting, but a touch on the shoulder or back is.

Another study, profiled in the New York Times, found that touch can result in:

almost immediate changes in how people think and behave …. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched.

Obviously, good taste and propriety should rule the day when it comes to touch, but perhaps next time, instead of expecting that pat on the back from your client, you should give one instead.

Legal Innovation Scarcity

While on an airplane last week, I was catching up on some long-overdue blog reading and ran across this post in Kevin Kelly's ever-fascinating The Technium.  Kevin discusses "The Shirky Principle" from author Clay Shirky that says, "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution."  Put another way, "Established industries like to focus on established problems," and are often incapable of changing because, like the media industry, "they are still solving the last problem." 

As law firms struggle to develop alternative billing models, I wonder if they too, are still busy solving the last problem.  Shouldn't their focus instead be on how to deliver the service their clients need and want, instead of just changing the way they charge for what they always have done?  It is one of the reasons that small, nimble firms and entrepreneurial start-ups will have far more to say about the future of law practice than the big-firm legal industry will acknowledge.  What do you think?

Ignite Law Videos


I've been on the road pretty much non-stop the last 60 days, so I owe everyone an Ignite Law recap.  Until then, here are all the videos from the great event.  Thanks to everyone who made it a fun night!

Ignite Law at ABA TECHSHOW


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What happens when you give fifteen speakers just six minutes and twenty slides each to discuss their vision of the future of law practice? Ignite Law!


Taking place on the eve of ABA TECHSHOW, Ignite Law will be a fun evening of entertaining, rapid-fire presentations that all answer the simple question: What is the future of law practice?


If you’re interested in submitting a presentation, or if you’d like to attend, act soon! 

Check out IgniteLaw.com for more info.

Ignite Law at Techshow


Tiny Ignite Logo 2

What happens when you give fifteen speakers just six minutes and twenty slides each to discuss their vision of the future of law practice? Ignite Law!


Taking place on the eve of ABA Techshow, Ignite Law will be a fun evening of entertaining, rapid-fire presentations that all answer the simple question: What is the future of law practice?


If you’re interested in submitting a presentation, or if you’d like to attend, act soon! 

Check out IgniteLaw.com for more info.

Ignite Law Coming to Techshow on March 24th

Ignite Law Logo 2
More details tomorrow!

Revive Zombie Clients and Other Great Tips

There’s some great, simple advice from the Freelance Folder in Seven Tips to Keep Your Clients Coming Back for More.  The tips:

  1. Offer packages for recurring work.
  2. Give your best clients special treatment.
  3. Revive “zombie clients.”
  4. Mark important dates.
  5. Foster a feeling of belonging in an exclusive club.
  6. Create promos throughout the year.
  7. Ask for referrals.

Go read the entire article.  It is worth your five minutes.

Audit for Obsolescence

Jordan Furlong suggests lawyers and firms conduct an Obsolescence Audit, aimed at identifying aspects of your business that won’t survive the next ten years.  Here’s his checklist of things to look for:

1.  Any offering that’s the same no matter who buys it.
2.  Any offering essentially the same as your competitors’.
3.  Any offering not optimally designed for client value.
4.  Any offering that really, truly doesn’t require a lawyer.

Read the entire post for Jordan’s elaboration on each point.  A fantastic idea!

Resolve to Let Clients Set Your Price

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I’ve been using my “You Decide” fill-in-the-blank invoice, for over a year now.  In that time, I’ve found time and time again that my clients pay me more than I would have charged them.  And, in situations where clients demand a fixed price, I’m quoting them much higher prices (coupled with a money-back guarantee) than I would have before my invoice experiment.

Even though I’ve been doing flat-fee work for almost a decade, I used to (even subconsciously) focus on the time it took me to do something.  Now, everything I do is focused on delivering the biggest “bang” for my clients, knowing that the “bucks” will come.  I don’t track phone calls, preparation time or limit meetings, and I don’t charge for materials, travel, meals or other expenses.  In short, I trust that my clients will take care of me if I take care of them — and they always do.

In 2010, I’d encourage you to resolve to let your clients set your price — at least once.  Ask a trusted client to list all the services they’d like you to provide for them.  Suggest unlimited phone calls, regular meetings, document reviews, etc.  Provide all these services to them for a month’s time.  Then, ask them what they’re willing to pay for all the work you’ve done.

You may find your clients value your services more than you do.

Resolve to Support the Causes Your Clients Do

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If you’ve got a big client, odds are they’ve got a pet project.  Whether it is for a community organization, charity, civic group or volunteer event, supporting the causes your clients do can deepen your relationship with them while benefiting those in need.

That’s why, in 2010 you need to Resolve to Take Care of Clients’ Pet Projects.  For every client, find out what kinds of charitable groups or causes they support (and why).  Armed with this knowledge, here are a few things you can do:

  • Get on the group’s mailing list, so you’ll always know how you can help.
  • Donate money or goods to the cause’s auction in your client’s name.
  • Instead of spending your time entertaining your clients, spend that time volunteering with them in support of their cause.  You’ll get the same one-on-one time with the client, but will be helping out those in need.  As a extra bonus, you’ll probably also get an introduction to several of your client’s peers.
  • Find out what is the most pressing legal issue facing the cause (or its members), and offer to give a seminar to help them understand it better.
  • Donate a percentage of that client’s fees to their cause as your holiday gift the client.

Your clients will not only appreciate your interest in their cause, but you might gain an interest in theirs.  When that happens, everybody wins.

Resolve to Land a Big Fish

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Almost every lawyer has a “big fish” they’d like to land. Whether that fish is an individual client, a corporation, an insurance company or even a great referral source, your big fish isn’t going to catch itself.

And what better place to find advice on catching “big fish” than on a website called TakeMeFishing?  Some fishing wisdom to keep in mind when you’re Resolving to Land a Big Fish:

Fishing techniques:

The cool thing about fishing is that there are hundreds of species of fish to catch.  What’s even cooler is that there are multiple ways to catch a particular kind of fish.

When to fish:

You’ll soon learn that when it’s a bad day for fishing in one location, it could be a good day in another, and the locations may not be far apart.

Finding fish:

You don’t have to travel far or spend a lot of money to find a body of water with fish you can catch.

Landing bigger fish:

Don’t be anxious.  Even if you get the fish close to the boat, that doesn’t mean it’s done fighting.

Setting the hook:

It takes a lot of experience to know when to set the hook.  It also takes a lot of patience.

Some fish will nibble on your bait or lure, causing your line to tick or wiggle.  And some fish will try to swallow the entire bait, hook and rig all at once with one big hit.

Different fish strike differently.  And the same fish will go after your bait differently depending on the time of day or time of year.

Caring for your catch:

Fish spoil quickly if you don’t handle them properly from the moment you land them.

So as you plan on landing one big fish in 2010, make certain you’re prepared: know who they are, where they hang out, what you’ll use to attract them and what you’ll do with them once they’re caught.

Know the answers to each of these questions before you “go fishing” for big fish, or all you will end up catching are small ones you’d rather throw back.

Resolutions, Revisited.

Last year, I posted Ten Resolutions for the New Year on this blog.  Reading it again, I realized it is one of my all-time favorite posts — and mirrors my own personal resolutions for 2010 and beyond. 

I wanted to share it with you again this year.  I hope you enjoy it.

1.  Resolve to be better to everyone.  Start with yourself.

2.  Resolve to choose your customers as carefully as friends, knowing that you’ll work best when they’re one in the same.

3.  Resolve to know your business better.  Recognize that being good at what you do is unimportant if you’re not good at being in the business you’re in.

4.  Resolve to stop doing the things your customers don’t pay you to do, unless you love doing them so much, you’d do them for free.  Because you are.

5.  Resolve to value your life by the things you experience instead of the things you possess.

6.  Resolve to eliminate the things in your life that wake you up in the middle of the night — unless you’re married to them, or they need to go outside for a walk.

7.  Resolve to become more useful to your customers.  Stop thinking about what they expect from you, and focus instead on what they don’t expect from you.

8.  Resolve to help the people who work with you (and for you) become better at what they do.  Give them what they need to excel at their jobs, and you’ll find you’re more likely to excel at yours.

9.  Resolve to understand the difference between what you do for clients and how long you take to do it.  They care about the former, and can’t understand why you charge for the latter.

10.  Resolve to do the work you long to do, instead of the work you’ve been doing for too long.  Follow your passions, honor your principles and strive to add value to every relationship you’re in. “Next Year” begins now.  Get started on making it great!