Last month Susan Cartier Liebel wrote a post for SPU about the value of mastermind groups for solo practitioners. I concur that a small group of colleagues who meet regularly can be very valuable for a solo. They can provide support, accountability, solution brainstorming and a sense of community in a potentially isolating practice. Mastermind partners usually share experience and resources. They can also offer crucial reality checks that keep you from launching bad ideas.
I would like to introduce you to another kind of support group that can be particularly helpful for a small business like your law firm. It is called the “Circle of 8,” so named because it shouldn’t have more than eight members. It is a hybrid of a mastermind group and a business networking group. It consists of a limited number of select entrepreneurs in related, but non-competitive businesses. Besides the masterminding aspect, the Circle of 8 differs from traditional networking or leads generation groups because (i) the number is limited, (ii) all the participants serve a similar target audience, and (iii) the members are handpicked.
Circle of 8 Benefits
A Circle of 8 delivers value in many ways. As a result of the shared target audience, the members jointly have a 360 degree view of their market, with which they can educate and support each other. Your circle members may come into contact with someone needing your services before you do, so they can be good referral sources. You’ll be able to provide better service to your clients by confidently introducing them to reliable resources for their non-legal needs. Circle members may hear opinions expressed by your potential clients about what they really appreciate in legal services, or dislike about other lawyers, giving you an edge on your competition. They may be able to give you valuable feedback about your own services that your clients don’t tell you. Participants may collaborate to put on seminars or other marketing events, thereby introducing you to their customer databases and expanding your reach, while at the same time reducing your event costs.
To get started, identify people you trust and respect that serve your same target market, but in a different capacity. You don’t have to know every circle member beforehand, but each one should have the recommendation of someone whose judgment you trust, preferably another circle member. A successful group will become one in which members feel comfortable sending their clients to each other, and with whom they feel safe in discussing their needs and concerns. Keep that in mind as you select people to invite.
The Circle of 8 does not contemplate an exclusive referral alliance. Indeed, like you, people of integrity will be making referral decisions based on the best interests of their clients. All things being equal, however, you should naturally become their favorite referral option for your type of legal services as the relationships strengthen and they grow in their understanding of what you have to offer through the discussions in your regular meetings.
Brainstorming Types of Circle Members
To illustrate what your Circle of 8 might look like, and to get you thinking of possibilities, I’ll provide a couple of examples. A family lawyer might look at these businesses to staff his circle:
- Residential realtor
- Financial advisor
- Wills & Trusts attorney
- Childcare provider
- Co-parenting skills trainer
- Employment recruiter
- Moving company
People contemplating a divorce might have need of many of those services.
A small business attorney might invite some of the following into her circle:
- IT consultant
- Marketing consultant
- Website designer
- Graphic designer
- Office equipment sales rep
- Business coach
- Realtor specializing in office tenant representation
- Business interiors designer
- Temporary staffing agent
- Insurance agent
For ideas of the types of businesses you would want in your circle, think about what kinds of referrals your clients ask you for. Which vendors do they complain about most often? Do you know a reliable one of that type? Of course, ask for ideas and nominees from the people you have already invited into the circle.
I encourage you to join in the brainstorming. Can you think of some additions to the lists above? What might be included in a Circle of 8 for other kinds of law practice? What other benefits can you imagine deriving from a Circle of 8? Please share your thoughts and ideas below.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.