You’ve got to face reality

I’d intended to share quotes about recognizing reality as a path to creating change, but I keep bumping into powerful quotes from Jack Welch.  And so, I offer you these three quotes that are, in themselves, a good guide to business planning.

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.”

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

“Change before you have to.”

~Jack Welch

You’ve Got to Conquer Your Resistance. Here’s How.

Until recently, I was most familiar with Steven Pressfield as the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance
, though he has written a number of other well-received books.  And then a year ago, I ran across The War of Art.  Curious, since I’d just finished The Art of War, I started reading and found myself drawn into a world that I quickly recognized as my own.

“It’s not the writing part that’s hard.
What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

“Most of us have two lives.  The life we live, and
the unlived life within us.  Between the two lies Resistance.”

Pressfield’s thesis is that we all have something within us that both seeks and runs from expression.  The book is written expressly for creatives, but even a cursory read reveals that it applies to everyone who has a big goal or calling of some sort.  Pressfield speaks specifically to divinely-inspired genius, and the latter part of the book delves into the role of the divine in genius and talent.  Whatever the source of this talent, however, Pressfield’s focus and his brilliance lies in explaining the role of Resistance and how to recognize and ultimately vanquish it.

Pressfield defines Resistance as “the enemy within”, a “repelling force” that “prevents us from doing our work”.  Resistance comes in many forms:  procrastination, personal drama, and “plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work”.  As I read, it became clear to me that “our work” refers equally to writing or any other form of art and to the work of practicing law, including building a book of business.

In The War of Art, Pressfield introduces the pro, meaning one who combats Resistance and is determined to do the work.  The pro knows that “if he caves in today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice as likely to cave in tomorrow.  The professional knows that Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished.  The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone.  He stays at work.”  In Turning Pro, Pressfield further distinguishes the amateur from the pro and offers insight into making the shift.

The concept of Resistance (and Pressfield’s specific identification of its dangers) prompted me to read The War of Art through a lawyer’s eyes.  As I did, I discovered that Pressfield describes almost every one of the key mistakes I see among would-be rainmakers.  For example:

  • Would-be rainmakers often plunge headfirst into activity, frantically doing everything that seems like it might lead to new business.  Pressfield identifies the cause of this hyperactivity as Resistance:  “Resistance gets us to plunge into a project with an overambitious and unrealistic timetable for its completion.  It knows we can’t sustain that level of intensity.  We will hit the wall.  We will crash.”  Instead of the pedal-to-the-metal approach, he counsels, look on the work as a marathon, and prepare for the long haul.
  • Likewise, engaging in over-the-top activity leaves little time for study and developing skills.  Like firing up a new gadget without reading any of the instructions, jumping from one activity to another can yield superficial success but will never lead to the level of success that results from truly mastering skills.  “The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.”
  • Fear can paralyze the aspiring rainmaker, resulting in too much planning and little, if any, action.  We lawyers don’t often talk about fear in a professional setting, but the truth is that stepping up to build a book of business can arouse fears of saying or doing the wrong thing, looking dumb, seeming pushy or desperate, being rejected, being perceived as unprofessional, and so much more.  Preparation can reduce some of those fears, but as Pressfield observes, anyone who succeeds in doing the work “knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”  The only way out of fear is to move through it.

What’s in it for lawyers?  The War of Art and Turning Pro both address a problem that often goes unaddressed in the business literature.  Self-sabotage is rampant, and Pressfield nails both the why and the solution in his description of Resistance.

While you may not feel that your practice rises to the level of a calling, committing fully to becoming a rainmaker (through study, planning, and action) requires deep dedication to the goal and a compelling reason to continue despite the inevitable setbacks and difficulties.  Success requires conquering Resistance.

Nearly every successful author adheres to the discipline of daily writing.  Even if the writing for the day is dreadful, the act of writing makes the flashes of inspiration possible.

Parallels exist for every pursuit you might imagine.  In the context of business development, daily activity ensures that something happens each day.  On some days, that something may be fairly meaningless, but showing up and doing the work every single day creates the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time to meet a key contact or to have a conversation with a potential client just after an unmet legal need has popped up.

The War of Art and Turning Pro are poetic, juicy books that might be best consumed on vacation or over a glass of wine.  They speak to the mind, but they influence the heart.  Having read the books, you will be better able to identify and combat Resistance.  You’ll also find yourself inspired by the drama that Pressfield describes.  Although the books are somewhat light on step-by-step “how to” instructions, you’ll find gems throughout.

How effective is your website?

Recently, I’ve searched several times for a lawyer (or other client service provider) only to discover that he or she doesn’t have a website, or that it’s woefully out of date.
In the past, websites were expensive to create and difficult to maintain, so web developers tended to charge quite a lot for their work. Indeed, many would hold the websites hostage so that only they could make updates and changes. No more! 

The bottom line is that you must have an up-to-date website. In today’s market, the failure to do so tends to sends the message that you aren’t in step with today’s economy or even our modern culture. Period. 

Your website must connect with your potential clients and address their needs and questions. For years, websites functioned as pretty (or not) online brochures. No more.

Your website must let potential clients know that you understand their needs. Programmers created a word I love: grok. To “grok” (as best I, a non-programmer get it) means to understand on a deep, almost visceral level. Your website needs to let your clients know you grok them and their concerns. 

The first way to communicate deep understanding is to use website copy that talks to your clients about their concerns, not at them about your experience. Which approach do you find more persuasive and helpful when you’re searching for something online you need? 

Far too many websites open with something like, “Here at Black & White, our lawyers have 500 years’ experience in handling real estate, intellectual property, and personal injury matters.” A potential client needs to know that you understand something about their concerns before they care about your experience or credentials. Start where your clients are. 

Two effective ways to communicate with potential clients via a website: describe client concerns using declarative statements, or ask “pull” questions. “Pull” marketing is marketing that is intended to prompt someone to self-identify as your potential client or to repel them if they don’t meet your client profile. The purpose of these two formats is identical, and both can be effective. 

As you’re drafting your website copy, pay attention to the number of times words like “you” and “your” are used compared to the frequency of “I”, “we”, “mine”, or “our”. You should have many more “you” and “our” words than “I”, “we”, “mine”, and “our”. Otherwise, you’re most likely talking at your readers, not to them. 

What if you’re in a big firm and you have no control over your website? If you’re in management, this is an issue you should examine. If not, recognize that the website is unlikely to change based on the input from a single lawyer — whether associate or partner — and figure out how to make your biographical sketch more attractive to a potential client. 

What should your website feature? 

  • A home page that talks to your potential clients.
  • Biographical sketches of each key player, focused on appropriately detailed descriptions of the individual’s experience that will show a potential client the match between that experience and the matter he or she is considering. The sketch should also include experience and credentials that serve as objective indicia of your competence.
  • If the firm is small, shorter sketches of the firm personnel that a client is likely to meet, especially those who are likely to be the client’s first or frequent contact points.
  • Articles written by or about the firm’s key personnel.
  • Presentations made by the firm’s key personnel.
  • Links to blogs maintained by the firm or its staff.
  • A subscription form for the firm’s newsletter, with a description that lets subscribers know what they’ll be receiving and an offer that will encourage subscriptions.
  • Directions to the firm’s office(s), including narratives for the most common approaches and a map.
  • Full contact information.
  • Appropriate language to comply with your state’s ethics rules.

Review your website today through fresh eyes. Ask someone who’s never read it to take a look. And then develop a time-based plan to ensure that you fix what’s broken. If you don’t have control of your website (meaning that you or a staff member can update the website on a moment’s notice), you need to correct that immediately. (Large firm lawyers are, of course, excepted from that rule.) 

If you don’t have a website, or if your website is out of date and you need to start from scratch, drop me an email and I can make some cost-sensitive suggestions. 

Create good marketing content…easily!

Clients often tell me that they understand the importance of writing articles and making presentations, but they hold back for fear of having nothing to say.
Not an unreasonable fear, since we all sometimes sit, staring blankly at an empty screen, willing the Muse to enter and deliver a great idea… And moaning when the Muse just won’t come.

If you’d like to raise your professional profile, however, and if you’d like to prepare something suited for networking follow-up and for increasing your value to contacts and clients, you’ll find that it’s hard to beat generating good marketing content by writing and speaking. So, how to ensure that you’ll always have an idea for your upcoming blog or post or other piece of marketing content? Simple. Try these ideas.

  • Keep a running list of questions you receive from clients and contacts. If you get a question often, know it’s a ripe topic for an article. Moreover, you’ll develop a second sense of what will interest your contacts over time, so you’ll be able to spot not just good questions that can lead to great content, but also the question behind the question, meaning the question that your client (or audience) didn’t even know to ask. These question lists are gold, since your article will meet your ideal client where he or she is.
  • Listen on social media. What are your contacts discussing? What articles are they sharing? What are they complaining about? What topics related to your practice are trending? All of these indicate subjects that you might cover.
  • Be a contrarian. What commonly accepted knowledge can you challenge? What myths or misunderstandings can you expose or correct? When you take a contrary point of view, you’ll catch your audience’s attention. Make a note when you disagree with a proposition that has some bearing on your practice or your clients, and keep a list that you can mine.
  • Use a case study. Stories are one of the best communication tools going, because stories create engagement. There’s a drama and an arc of a story that draws readers in and keeps listeners on the edge of their seats. When you share a client’s experience (or a case study based on several clients), you’ll likely connect with your audience, and you’ll find it easier to get writing since you’re describing and explaining something that actually happened.
  • Step onto your soapbox. What drives you crazy about what your clients or colleagues are doing? What aspect of the law relevant to your practice needs to be revised? When you share something that gets you going, you’ll find that some subset of your audience will cheer along with you and appreciate your point of view. Just be sure that you’re willing to stand by your comments, since taking a stand on anything runs a risk of alienating some members of your audience. When you use this approach carefully, that’s actually a positive effect, because those who don’t resonate with your message (at some level) aren’t your ideal clients.

Using any of these methods increases the chance that you’ll have something to say every time you sit down to write an article or a presentation. I often recommend that my clients keep this list of idea generators on their desks to remind them to watch for these opportunities. Most importantly, though, keep a document or a notebook (tangible or virtual) with your ideas. Every time you think, I should write about that, make a note of your idea and even add a few bullet points. For most of us, getting started is the hardest part of writing, and when you have a menu of ideas to choose from, you’ll find your content creation gets a lot more simple.