We moved! Come see us in our new digs the best info on the web for solo entrepreneurs on starting, running, marketing, and growing a solo business that’s a real work of art.
Have you been thinking about going solo, but feel beset by doubts and fears? Don’t know where to start? Know you want to go out on your own but don’t know how to get there? This program’s for you.
If you’ve been wrestling with The Decision – “to solo or not to solo” – then you might be interested in the new feature here at The Inspired Solo. It’s called “Solo Flight” and it’s designed to help you make the decision about whether to go out on your own.
What The Program Is All About
Every week, for six weeks, I’ll post a “lesson” and “homework.” These posts will likely come on Fridays, giving you the weekend to do your primary thinking and writing. Each lesson will be slightly longer than a traditional blog post; the homework will take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the lesson, your speed, how much “digging” you need to do.
Each lesson and that lesson’s homework assignment will work together as a group to help you answer the crucial questions:
- Do I want to be a solo?
- What are my strengths and weaknesses as a future solo?
- Can I shore up those weaknesses, and if so, how?
- Is launching a solo practice right for me? My family? My career? My life?
At the end of the program, you’ll have a better idea of what you want, how realistic that dream is, and what you’ll have to do to make it a reality. You’ll also have a customized plan for your next steps, should you choose to proceed down the solo path.
Unlike other online coaching programs, this one is entirely self-directed. This first iteration, we’ll all be learning together – everyone who undertakes it as well as me, the coach, as this is the first time I’ve tried something like this as opposed to the more common one-on-one coaching with which most folks are familiar.
How To Sign Up
You need do nothing but commit to yourself to participate fully. This is entirely self-directed. There’s nothing to submit, nothing to post publicly, no forms to fill out. It’s all for you, by you. I am merely going to facilitate your coaching of yourself, in essence.
What You’ll Need To Participate
The following materials will be helpful to you:
- A great pen that flows quickly across the page
- Blank paper – either lined looseleaf, Circa punched, or printer paper, depending on your preferences
- A notebook/binder that’s compatible with your paper choice
- A printer, to print out the lessons, homework and your work, if you wish (not necessary but some prefer keeping printed materials for reference)
In addition, some homework exercises will require special tools but these should be, in every case, ordinary household items (such as scissors, glue, etc.). Curious yet? I hope so!
How Much This Will Cost You
Absolutely nothing, except your time and your commitment to the following proposition: You agree to communicate with me fully at the end of the course, via email (anonymously if you choose), about your experiences, and let me know what I can improve in this course and how.
I will begin next Friday with the first lesson and homework. It should go up sometime before 10 AM EST, but check back throughout the day if it isn’t – no later than close of business.
Remember, we’ve moved! Catch the original post here, at The Inspired Solo!
First post in a new category: “The Healthy Solo.” This category will explore ways to keep ourselves healthy and strong, which in turn helps us be better lawyers and be more present for our clients.
Here’s a great tip from Yoga Journal for anyone who spends a significant portion of their day sitting in an office (isn’t that all of us solos?): take care of your back with frequent stretch breaks. The problem, according to YJ, is one of compression. Like a Slinky ™ with a book placed on top of it, our spinal vertebrae compress together during the course of the day, thanks to gravity, poor posture, stress, and other factors. It’s important to reverse that trend periodically. If you can’t swing one of these in your office (I bought one, I admit, and am waiting for a friend to put it together for me – I’ll let you know whether it works!), then try this simple stretch:
Sit comfortably on your chair with your knees open to hip distance and your feet flat on the floor. Take a deep breath in and stretch your arms up overhead. Interlace your fingers and turn your palms towards the ceiling, pressing your sitting bones down while reaching up. Keeping your arms straight alongside your ears and turn to the right, feeling the stretch on the left ribs and hip. Take five deep breaths, then switch sides.
Remember – we’ve moved! Catch the original post here at The Inspired Solo’s new home!
Think you might want to know any of the following for your marketing planning?
- Differences in how consumers search for legal answers
- Methods used by consumers to find an attorney
- Ways consumers select an attorney
If the answer is yes, you’ll want to sign up for the free webinar sponsored by Findlaw entitled “How Consumers Meet Their Legal Needs Online.” More and more, consumers are turning to the web to find lawyers and legal information. The ways in which they fulfill those needs online will be advantageous information to have for any solo planning a web presence. The webinar is scheduled for June 26, 2007, and has two sessions at 12 and 4 EST, for your convenience.
Did I mention it was free?
I promised a post about Avvo’s impact on solos in my earlier post this week but it looks as if Susan Cartier Liebel’s ably taken care of that perspective in her post on her Build a Solo Practice, LLC blog. So, I’ll refer you to that post.
Susan calls it FICO scoring for lawyers. The analogy isn’t inappropriate. FICO scores have long been the butt of jokes among bankruptcy and debtor/creditor lawyers for their ephemeral nature – the way the underlying formula changes arbitrarily – the way certain aspects of the scoring factors can be read as positive or negative, depending on the scorer, the scoree, the time of day, the phase of the moon …
All true. I’m not so sure I agree with the panicked “join the class actions” call to arms that Susan’s post communicates. But she certainly does raise some good points, especially with regards to new solos:
And new solos, you will get slammed as you try to build your business. You will not have years of practice. You will not have name recognition (as they purport to define). You will not be spending your limited resources on joining every organization out there. You will be ranked at 1 – extreme caution. Who are they to tell your potential clients to ‘use extreme caution.’ Who are they to dictate your marketing efforts and how you spend your start-up money and profits? This is dangerous territory, people, and it is time to slay the dragon while it is young.
It’s a fact of life, I think, that every new solo (except the ones who’ve been blessed with tons of past entrepreneurial experience) will face the fear of getting clients. You can see these posts every so often in the Solosez and Solomarketing listservs, I’ve found in the past: “Help I Need Clients.” “What NOW?” “Cheap Ads?”
Implicit in these subject lines:
- fear – the fear of going hungry for failure to secure paying clientele
- uncertainty – the uncertainty that comes with not having a concrete plan for marketing
- panic – maybe a tinge of panic that this whole “going solo” thing isn’t as self-evident and self-perpetuating as we maybe thought/dreamed/hoped it was initially
The good news? Marketing is not an innate skill that you’re either born with or pay someone else for – it’s a skill like all others that you have to learn and work at, in order to improve your performance.
So, without further ado, the first installment of Marketing 101 for Inspired Solos!
Designing the Plan
First things always come first, and in marketing, you start with designing your marketing plan. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who is your ideal client (IC)? Describe him or her or it as fully as possible. What services does IC use already? What other professionals are “gatekeepers” for that IC? Who can introduce you? What do the ICs do for fun? Where do they bank? The more information you can glean about IC, the better chance you’ll have of crafting the right plan to get IC’s attention.
- What about you – what are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you think fast on your feet at cocktail parties but hate the tedium of writing notes and letters or, god forbid, articles? Or do social situations make you nuts but you enjoy one-on-one relationship building? This isn’t a self-improvement exercise, so leave the ego at the door. Rather, give yourself an honest assessment of your abilities.
- What resources do you currently have? Blogs, websites, URLs, time, specific knowledge, specific relationships, eye-catching logo on your business card – all these things can be perceived as resources you could utilize. This list will grow and contract over time, but it’s important that you keep it current and thorough.
- Answer this question: What do you have more of – time, or money?
- Answer this question, too, while you’re at it: What means more to you right now – time, or money?
A note about these last two questions: no, I’m not suggesting the marketing world devolves only to time and money spent or saved. But it is a useful construct for thinking about marketing as a whole. When you’re first starting out, you’ll likely have more time than money. Does that always mean you’ll “do it yourself” and avoid spending cash on consultants or design professionals? No. But your business is better served if you know what those parameters are. Good decisions require good information, always. So, these two questions, in conjunction with the question about your strengths and weaknesses (and likes and dislikes) will help you sort out those tasks you can safely assume from those you’d be better off assigning to an outsourced provider.
Finally, we’re going to examine our marketing message. Whole books have been written about this topic, of course, and you’d do well to read a few if you have time. But briefly put: your marketing message is a combination of what used to be called the “USP” (unique selling proposition) and how you best serve IC’s needs. But to do that, you have to know what those needs are, right?
In thinking about that question – what does IC need most that I can provide? – I find it most helpful to think about the old marketing saw “sell the sizzle, not the steak.” What it means is that buyers aren’t really buying a steak when they pick up a sirloin at the grocery store – they’re buying the promise of a delicious meal, a sensory experience. Similarly, my clients aren’t “buying” a bankruptcy petition and schedules – they’re buying a cessation from harassment, a feeling of competence and security that’s heretofore escaped them while they were in financial distress.
What are your ICs really buying from you? Answer that question, and you’ll be at least halfway there to designing your own marketing message. To get the rest of the way, you need to figure out one “simple” thing: how do YOU deliver that need better than anyone else?
That can be anything from specific expertise to particular experience to a method or process you’ve come up with that better serves those in ICs position to even cost (though I caution anyone to think very carefully before competing on price alone in this market – it’s generally not in your best interests to do so). You have to come up with at least one reason why you’re the best lawyer for the job. To get you started, here are a few choice words and phrases that might spark your creative thinking:
- client communication
- billing structure
- personal experience (to be distinguished from professional experience – have you been in IC’s shoes, yourself?)
- level of service or attention
That’s just a starting list – there are many more aspects of your practice that you can develop into your marketing message. But define it – that’s the key. Know what that unique thing about your practice is – define the sizzle, so you can sell the steak.
If you haven’t heard of Avvo yet, just hang on. Once it expands into your state, no doubt you will. The recently launched service aims to provide “free ratings and profiles for every lawyer so you can choose the right lawyer.” And if you had heard of the service, and were wondering idly, perhaps, how long it would take for the first lawsuit to hit, the answer may be “less than one week.” After its June 5th launch, a Seattle criminal defense attorney (by all accounts a pretty good one) sent a demand letter two days later (June 7th) to the company, complaining about its “ridiculously low rating” of his abilities, and those of other attorneys.
The Launch of Avvo
Avvo operated in “stealth mode” for awhile but it wasn’t enough to keep details from being leaked to the blogosphere. Rumored to have raised over $13 million in venture capital, the company headed by CEO Mark Britton had stoked some serious buzz about its plans to rate lawyers according to some proprietary formula. Even Kevin O’Keefe of LexBlog called it a “credible solution”, due in large part to the strength of its board and other officers, all relatively well known, but mostly with prior dot-com startup experience – not consumer-representing lawyers. The company earned some kudos from techie types who lauded the secrecy of the start-up’s pre-launch phase, and debuted to some not-insignificant press.
Avvo’s Rating System
Avvo claims it uses several sources to come up with a single numerical rating – from 1 (extreme caution) to 10 (Superb). From the company’s website:
The Avvo Rating is our assessment of how well a lawyer could handle your legal issue. It is based on data we have collected about hundreds of thousands of lawyers – including their number of years in practice, disciplinary sanctions, and professional achievements. The data comes from multiple sources, including state bar associations, court records, lawyer websites, and information lawyers provide to Avvo. We have created a mathematical model that considers this information and calculates a score on a ten-point scale. The result is called the Avvo Rating.
Emphasis in original, found here.
Almost as quickly as the site debuted, bloggers started raising the red flags. Recognizing the inherent problems were, among others, Robert Ambrogi, who wrote at his Lawsites blog the following, on the same day of the launch:
So can the worth of a lawyer be calculated in a numerical score? Call me a skeptic. The problem is that the qualities that make a great lawyer are intangible. Yes, a disciplinary record is a tangible fact that reflects poorly on a lawyer. But what about a lawyer’s win/loss record in the courtroom? Perhaps the lawyer has lost more than won, but perhaps that is because the lawyer is a committed advocate willing to take on the tough cases no one else will. What kind of scoring system could calculate that? What kind of mathematical scoring system could measure a lawyer’s ability to provide sage counsel to distraught individuals or troubled businesses?
The problems inherent in a site such as this are illustrated in an article published today by CNET’s Declan McCullagh, Lawyer Rating Site Not Without Objections. After testing Avvo, McCullagh found it “riddled with bizarre errors, profiles of attorneys who have been dead for more than a century and inexplicable scores in which some felons received better ratings than law school deans and internationally renowned litigators.” For example, those searching for a lawyer in Illinois might be interested in one named Abraham Lincoln, described by Avvo has having been licensed to practice law in the state for 171 years.
And yes, the Lincoln profile is still up, which you can see for yourself by clicking on the link. However, I’m inclined to give Avvo a pass on this one as the portrait up on the page seems to clearly imply an homage (although the “Is This You? Click Here to Update Your Profile For Free” is a curious touch).
John Henry Browne’s Complaint
John Henry Browne is a Seattle-based criminal defense attorney. By his own admission, he’s a pretty good one:
“I have tried five serious felony cases in the last few months and received not guilty verdicts in four of those cases. Three of those cases were acquittals of sexual misconduct allegations that would have put my client in prison for 20 to 30 years. I have never lost a jury trial involving sexual misconduct (rape, child molestation, etc.)”
From Browne’s demand letter to Avvo, reprinted here (emphasis in original).
But Avvo rated Browne initially at a low “caution” of 3.7 (although it’s risen to an “average” 5.2 – note the drop of .3 points from the 5.5 reported in the Seattle PI article linked above). The “cautionary” flag seems to arise as a result of the sanction (“admonition”) reported on the site (dating from 2005). And in a five-point rating system on three factors – experience, industry recognition, and professional conduct – Avvo gives Browne four out of five points for experience and professional conduct (despite the admonition) but only two for industry recognition – despite Browne’s inclusion in the Best Lawyers in America list for the past eight years, an AV rating in Martindale Hubbell, and inclusion in the infamous Super Lawyers publication.
Curious? At the very least.
Browne has demanded the removal of his profile, and writes that he is exploring the possibility of a lawsuit against Avvo, possibly a class action. Avvo is listening – they’ve scheduled a conference call with Browne’s attorney; they’re not saying anything else publicly until that call is completed. But they’ve not removed the profile – it’s still up on Avvo, for all to see.
More thoughts on Avvo and how it might impact the Inspired Solos tomorrow.
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Take a look at the article “Saying ‘Good Buy’ To Office Rentals” by Meg Tebo, from ABA Journal’s eReport – available here for some time without subscription. Mary Commander, a Norfolk VA solo, bought her office building back in 2003 when she realized she could own it for the same cost as her then-current rental. She arranged financing through the seller (thus avoiding the hassle of a conventional mortgage) and now brings her cat Bradley to work.
The benefits are obvious – pet visits being just one among many – but there are also downsides for solos, Tebo points out. Might I suggest the third option (or, as Chuck Newton would say, the “third wave” option)? Two words: Home. Office.
I get the best of all possible worlds. True, meeting clients requires some finesse and creativity, but I’ve turned that into a marketing advantage (“no stuffy lawyer’s office – I’ll meet you in a comfortable setting and we’ll have coffee while we chat”…). I truly have experienced no blowback from not having a separate office as a solo. In fact, most lawyers who hear of my set-up get this rather envious look in their eyes.
Are there downsides to a home office? Yes, but I prefer to think of them as “issues to be addressed” which drives home the point that it’s only an obstacle if you let it be – that is, if you don’t do anything about it! More on making the home office angle work for you next post.
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I employ two different options to take notes in my browser window when I’m doing legal research on my laptop. (When I’m at the iMac desktop, I have a dual monitor display, so that’s a bit easier.) One is called Zotero. It’s a plug-in for Firefox that pops up a lower window within your browser window. You can organize your notes via topic, collect and mange your cites, copy and paste – it’s free and it’s awesome. I highly recommend it. (And if you’re not using Firefox, you should. ‘Nuff said.)
The other option is Google Notebooks. This is web-based app that allows you to save your notes in individual notebooks. It features a rich text WYSIWYG editor and allows for links. The main difference (besides the RTE) is that Google Notebooks is web-based; Zotero, as a plug in for your browser, is computer-based. So if you use more than one computer, and need to be able to compare your notes between the two, give Google Notebooks a try. Otherwise, Zotero is a bit more robust, I think. It isn’t that Google Notebooks lacks functionality, at all – it’s just not as richly featured, I think, as Zotero.
There are other options, too – I’ll try to sum those up for you guys in future posts!
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