Is client loyalty dead?

This week, I’ve been reading Simon Sinek’s fantastic book Start with Why. (I mentioned him a few months ago in connection with Good Life Project podcast about purpose. This quote jumped out at me:

There is a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you. Loyal customers often don’t even bother to research the competition or entertain other options. Loyalty is not easily won. Repeat business, however, is. All it takes is more manipulations.

Do you have repeat business or loyal clients? Conversation today might suggest that client loyalty is a thing of the past in the face of today’s increased cost pressures and new avenues for getting legal issues addressed, but in my view, that’s a belief that lets practitioners off the hook.

If you build trust and deliver strong work while creating value for your clients, you’ll build loyalty. Where are your areas of opportunity to create client loyalty?

How you earn your fee

“There’s a lot of conversation now about fees… Whether the billable hour should live or die and how to innovate ethical and effective fee arrangements, just to name two hot topics of discussion.

Here’s my question: What value do you bring to each hour of your day? How can you increase your value to your clients? Or more specifically, how can you bring more value to whatever you’ll turn to as soon as you close this post?

I choose to bring value by making an impact as quickly as possible.

Reluctant Rainmakers’ Five Steps to a Profitable Practice

Most of us didn’t have any law school training about business development.  (Fortunately for today’s students, that’s starting to change.) Law school classes tended to assume that the clients would just be there and that being a good lawyer is all that’s necessary to build a book of business. I’m not convinced that was ever true, but it’s certainly not the case in the post-recession legal economy. 

But wouldn’t it be nice if you could just stay in your office, serve your clients, and still have a great practice?  Lawyers who are reluctant to market may dread the thought of trying to land new business.  You may have absorbed the idea that there’s a special breed of practitioner who can be a rainmaker, and others are destined to struggle. And if you’re worried about appearing to be too “salesy,” you may take on lots of activity with little to show for it.  If this sounds familiar, you’re probably a reluctant rainmaker. 

Here’s the good news: you can develop a sustainable book of business and still feel good when you look yourself in the mirror.  Here’s how to start.

  1. Identify specifically what stands in your way and address that issue.  Do you avoid networking even though you know that relationships are at the heart of a successful practice?  Ask yourself why. When you can name your block, you can find your solution, For example, if you dislike big groups, you can build your network by meeting new contacts one-on-one or in smaller groups.  If you dread the thought of asking for business, find a mentor who can show you ethical and effective ways to ask, and then practice.
  2. Identify specifically which clients you serve and what you do for them. When you can describe your target clients clearly, you will know exactly who might be your clients and who will not.  Knowing that distinction will let you stop spending marketing time on those who will never hire you. You’ll also be able to help your referral sources to send you the right kinds of matters for your practice.
  3. Identify specifically what sets you apart from your competitors.  You may have a skill, experience, or approach that distinguishes you from other lawyers in your area of practice.  When you identify and highlight that distinction, you make help your potential clients understand why they should hire you. Depending on your area of practice, you may also distinguish yourself from competitors who do not provide legal services but may meet your clients’ needs in some other way.
  4. Create a clear, cohesive description of your practice, build that description into a message that makes sense to your potential clients and referral sources, and then share that message in the right channels.Your message will encompass not just the work that you do, but also your credentials and other points of distinction. Look for ways to enhance your credentials (which evidence your competence) through writing, speaking, and otherwise engaging with audiences composed of your target clients and referral sources so that you can build useful relationships. As you connect with people who are relevant to your practice, look for opportunities to be helpful to them.
  5. Remember to ask for business in ways that fit your practice and your personal style. If you don’t ask for the business, you risk appearing uninterested. One pitfall common for reluctant rainmakers is waiting to ask for the business until some magical point at which the question arises naturally. There is no perfect moment or perfect way to ask for business. you must ask for the business—adhering, of course, to your jurisdiction’s ethics rules.

Using these steps as a guideline, you’ll find that you can be professional, genuine, and successful in securing the work you need to support your practice.  Take one small step each day.  Consistency in activity and in message delivers results, even for reluctant rainmakers.

Build client value

When you recognize a problem that a client is facing and you offer help, you create real value for your client. I’ve written previously about how an offhand conversation with my contractor Oldrich resulted in my purchasing property in Wyoming with his help. Making that purchase realized a long-term dream for me, and it created additional work for Oldrich and his team. Talk about a win/win, right?

In that instance, I identified the need, though I didn’t expect Oldrich to meet it. I was just asking a simple question that I hoped might take me to the next step. I was delighted when asking that question gave me not just information but real help. Oldrich created real professional value for me.

And that professional value is easy to translate to law. Whether you spot an issue as a result of a client’s offhand comment or because you happen across a new development that may impact your client, of course you know to bring that up with your client. Raising the issue is designed to bring value to the client, which may in turn bring additional fees to you. Because it’s the desire to serve your client that motivates you, this is a “no ick” opportunity. You can raise the issue without fear of appearing sales-oriented. Image to indicate offering help
(As an aside, legal or business issue spotting and offering to help with that issue is cross-selling at its best. Even though you hope that your firm might be selected to address the issue when you start from the client’s need rather than your firm’s capability, you’re creating value rather than a sales opportunity.)

But what if you spot a personal issue? Is it ever appropriate to raise a personal issue to a client and offer to help? 

Here’s what happened in Wyoming to raise this question. Oldrich, who’s still working in Cheyenne, knew that my father was traveling with me and that he might have some challenges with the Wyoming altitude, which is more a mile above the altitude in Atlanta. So Oldrich (who by this time is not just my contractor but my friend as well) reached out to Paul, the electrician who’d worked out the house, who also happens to be the assistant fire chief for a rural fire district. And on our second day in Cheyenne, Paul brought two canisters of oxygen to the house, showed me how to work them, and told me how to recognize signs of hypoxia.

A week after we arrived, I noticed that my father was displaying some of the symptoms Paul had mentioned, and I was able to give him oxygen while I checked his pulse rate. Although I did have to call 911 and my father did end up hospitalized, because Oldrich thought I should have oxygen handy and Paul provided the oxygen and the education, the hospital stay was short and his physical condition was much better than it would have been otherwise. I already knew that both Oldrich and Paul are highly skilled in their crafts, but this experience also showed me that they’re both thoughtful and kind, and I’m deeply grateful for the result.

How does this story apply to a law practice? It’s just the same. If you notice a way to offer personal help—sponsoring a client’s 50th-anniversary celebration at your local club, introducing a client to a needed resource, even offering a recommendation for a new restaurant that you think your client would enjoy—by all means, offer it.

Be cognizant of the bounds of your relationship, but don’t overthink it. You might choose not to offer marital advice unless a client has become a good friend and has raised the issue, but you’ll rarely get it trouble for offering less charged assistance.

We’re suffering from a crisis of trust these days. We see too many politicians exploiting the public trust, too many respected athletes drugging to win their accolades, and too many businesses taking shortcuts to maximize profits despite the risk of harm to others.

Building a personal connection with your clients and offering needed help builds trust. If you aren’t skilled in your craft, personal trust won’t get or keep you hired, but when you do good work and build a relationship of trust, why would a client look elsewhere?

Here’s your action item: consider whether you want client relationships as opposed to client transactions. If you do, consider how you can build trust into your client relationships and whether, how, and when you might bring a personal dimension into those relationships. 

Procrastinating? What you don’t know can hurt your productivity.

In the fall of 2013, I offered a webinar titled Conquer Procrastination!
How to Manage Your Time to Build a Profitable Practice and a Rich Personal Life. It turned out to be one of my most popular offerings yet. I walked through the five root causes of procrastination and what you can do to counteract each of those causes. After all, no matter how good a solution may be, if it isn’t a solution for the problem you’re experiencing, it won’t help.

How comfortable are you with the business of practicing law? Law is a profession that must operate as a business, and failing to act accordingly will eventually sink a practice, whether solo or a large firm. Lawyers often come to me because they realize they don’t know how to market their services so that the right potential clients can find them. Small firm lawyers also struggle with how to charge clients (especially with today’s emphasis on alternative fees) and other backend business. These lawyers often acknowledge that they’ve known they needed to take on business development activity, for example, but that they’ve put it off until they have no choice.

Not surprising. When you don’t know how to start on a task, or when you don’t have any idea how to do the task, it’s easy to procrastinate.

When you procrastinate on figuring out how to do the task, white lies abound. Promises about starting are made and then broken. You guarantee that we’ll figure it out as soon as you finish this project, or the next, or the next. And the dreaded task gets put off while you check email, organize files, clean the office, and do other unnecessary prep work that substitutes for the real work.

Sometimes you’ll even start searching for information about what you don’t know, but the research becomes its own distraction: instead of seeking enough information to start and then learning as you do the work, you research it so thoroughly that you could write a manual. You become the conceptual expert, but because you’re just reading, not doing, you still don’t really know what to do.

And sometimes a task becomes overwhelming because you can’t see a finish line, and so it’s daunting even to start. If you can’t determine what will mark the end of the task or the project as a whole, it may seem to be too big and too overwhelming to begin. A few clients have come to me with great ideas for a book or a client training program, but without breaking down the implementation into small steps, they remain undone.

Lack of clarity about the finish line often comes into play when you confuse tasks, meaning discrete to-do activities, with projects, which are larger activities composed of multiple tasks. Writing an article that addresses an issue relevant to your practice area is a project; tasks include conceiving the idea, offering it to a journal or newsletter, outlining the substance of the article, doing any necessary research, actually writing the article, editing then, and so on. (This same confusion also explains why you may feel that you never make progress on your to-do list. If your list includes projects that will take more than a few hours, you will likely find that the project will linger for a few days before it’s completed, just because it takes that long to put in enough hours to hit completion.)

When you realize that you’re procrastinating because you don’t know how to start or you can’t predict when you’ll finish, here’s how to stop procrastinating and start moving:

  1. Determine specifically what you need to know to get started. Sometimes knowing the first step is enough to get into action; other times you’ll need to have a better understanding of the project as a whole before you can be comfortable beginning. Either way, knowing a specific first step is critical.
  2. Define the actionable steps. If you can’t see a finish line, you probably need to break a project into tasks. (For more on this, read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done as soon as you can.)
  3. Decide on the help you need. Lawyers are especially susceptible to “lone ranger syndrome,” but sometimes deciding to go it alone is a massive mistake. Yes, you’re smart enough to figure out whatever you need to figure out, but the cost in time, energy, and missed opportunities is often too high.

If you’re procrastinating due to a lack of knowledge about how to start a project or when it will end, identify what you need to know to get back into action. The sooner you admit that you don’t know something, the sooner you can solve the problem and get moving again.