Who Inspires Your Ideas?

When you are starting a new venture, you need ideas — lots of them! Who inspires your ideas? Do you have a friend, colleague, or mentor who can plug into what you’re thinking about and help you with the inspiration of new ideas? If so, try to have lunch with this person as soon as you can! Some people just seem to get animated or revved up with good ideas, whether for themselves or others. These are people with high ideation– concept people. They may be very creative, super bright, innovative thinkers, who generate original ideas that are simple and yet profound. They love opportunities to brainstorm, a way to exercise their brain, finding the process of generating ideas energizing.

Thanks to the Internet, you can connect to an idea pipeline shared by these people through their blogs and Twitter posts. Lately I have really been enjoying one in particular, Guy Kowasaki who Tweets under GuyKawasaki and has a great blog Holy Kaw! on his website Alltop. For me, getting a shot of Kawasakism kicks my brain into a more creative mode which helps me brainstorm with lawyers launching their new practice. Thanks, Guy.

Fortunately for all of us, there are a lot of really bright creative people just down the street, across the hall, or a mouse click away. I hope you plan to connect with one of them today. See if you don’t get inspired with some new ideas.

Don’t Let Your Referral Sources Dry Up

It is very important not to let your referral sources dry up. Referrals dry up when you lose contact, so you should stay in consistent contact. Put together a list of your referral sources and adopt of regular program of contact.

Do you have a written list of your referral sources? Do you categorize your referral sources? You might find it helpful to do so.

Here’s how you might do it:
1. You have your top very important sources of referrals – these are your A list. These are the people who can and do send you good clients.
2. You have other referral sources who only occasionally refer new business to you and these are your B list.
3. Then you have others who are potential sources of referrals but have not yet referred– these are your C list.

The idea is to definitely stay connected with your A list so they don’t drift away, and connected with your B list so they don’t drift away, and connected with your C list so even they don’t drift away. You might come to conclude that a C list person is an A list person your gradually lost contact with or a B list person you ignored. If you don’t stay in touch, your connection begins to weaken. “Where has the time gone?”

Why not call them every 30 days, mail to them every 60 days, and see them every 90 days? I usually encourage the lawyers I work with to do Marketing Breakfasts. Take a different referral source to breakfast once a week or even twice a week. Breakfast is incredibly affordable. Put it into your marketing budget. Best of all, people can usually find time in their week to meet for breakfast at 7 a.m. where trying to find a mutual lunch time free on the calendar can push contacts to back burners.

Collect names of good breakfast spots in the areas close to where your referral sources work or live. Notate some favorite spots on your referral source’s contact card in your Outlook or Rolodex. Lawyers who have adopted this idea tell me that these marketing breakfasts are looked forward to and appreciated by them and their breakfast guest.

Do your referral sources know all the services you provide and the various types of cases you can handle? Do they know you are open to take new clients? It’s nice to be known as busy; it’s nicer to be known as accepting new clients. Consider making a list of services and types of cases you can handle on your letterhead and mailing it with a cover letter that says you welcome new clients and are always grateful for their confidence in referring new clients to you.

Do you know all your referral sources? Some prospective clients let you know who referred them to you. Consider tracking where your new clients come from with a simple question on your new client intake form: “Why did you choose our office?” If you are in need of a new client intake form, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The PLF has a sample New Client Information form that can be downloaded — and customized– in Word or WordPerfect in the File Management – New Client Information category of Practice Aids and Forms. All the practice aids and forms can be found at the PLF website under Loss Prevention.

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t let your referral sources dry up.

The Importance of Planning

I spoke at the The Oregon Minority Lawyers Association (OMLA) and the Multnomah Bar Association (MBA) Hanging Out Your Shingle yesterday with two successful Portland, Oregon solo practitioners, Ken Mitchell-Phillips of Mitchell Phillips Law PC and John Kodachi of John A. Kodachi, PC. Our panel was moderated by Anastasia Yu Meisner, Guyer Meisner, Attorneys, a small firm that has found its sucessful niche in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

We talked about the importance of planning – having a written business plan. Ken shared his great experience with having a written business plan and using it as a guide for staying focused. John stressed how difficult it is for new solo practitioners to juggle wearing different hats and maintaining focus. Both Ken and John keep the business coming in the door by having sound client development plans which include staying connected in their networks.

Have a plan and stay focused by using the plan. Fine tune where you are hoping to end up. Much like having a planned route and adjusting directions to take into account road construction and other barriers to getting to one’s destination on time and not frazzled.

In working with Oregon attorneys gearing up to go out on their own, I stress having a written business plan. It is a big effort to put together a business plan, but worth it. You don’t want to skimp on your business plan and just create some barely helpful document you put in a file and forget. Your business plan should include a Marketing Plan, Management Plan, and Financial Plan. Don’t just keep your plan in your head: write it down. Studies of Harvard School of Business grads have indicated that the focus is sharpened considerably by writing down the plan. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get derailed. For lawyers, trying to run their own firm, there is much coming – fast and frequent– that leads to derailment. I think the Pareto Rule: 80% of your result comes from 20% of your effort sums up things. One lawyer can become exhausted doing 80% of the things that only goes toward 20% of his result. You have to focus on the 20% effort going toward 80% of your result. Being efficient, is doing things right, being effective is doing the right things. Having that written business plan, as Ken shared, will keep you effective.

Can you create your own business plan? Yes. There are lots of resources for business plans. You need to address professional services issues that general retail businesses don’t. I personally think that the resources shared by Dan Pinnington, Director of Toronto’s PracticePRO, a part of LAWPRO, Ontario’s malpractice insurance carrier, are priceless! See PracticePRO for the practice aids for managing the finances of law practice including an excellent Business Plan template. Thanks, Dan and PracticePro.

Marketing

“Do you have any marketing tips?” is a frequent question. Marketing is more than advertising. There are many great resources for getting marketing tips.

The ABA Law Practice Management Section webZine called Law Practice Today is a popular resource. The current issue for October 2009 is “Lost in the Crowd? Marketing Strategies You Can Use.” I had a good time writing a article for the popular “Ask Your PMA” column that is a monthly feature: “Marketing Tune-Up to Keep Business Coming.” Who would think that inspiration could come from a visit to the oral surgeon? I won’t spoil the article for you – read it yourself. You might want to remember that you can subscribe the Law Practice Today webzine without being a member of the Law Practice Management Section or even the ABA.

For that matter, you can go ahead and become a subscriber to the Law Practice Magazine even if you are not a member of the ABA LPM. Of course, if you’re a member, you get other benefits. The current issue of Law Practice Magazine is also on the theme of advertising: “Differentiate! The Law Firm Marketing Strategies Issue.” I may be biased, I am on the Law Practice Magazine Board. But then, I wanted to be on the board because I love the magazine!

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