I have to admit it. I’m a worrier. I worry about my family, my mother, my husband and son. I worry about the economy and people and animals, the future of our country, the food supply. I worry about income and retirement and health. I worry. I worry about many things, some within my control and some not.
Ironically, worry has proven to be quite the motivator for me when combined with an insatiable curiosity about people and life. I don’t think I’m particularly unique when it comes to worrying. Most people I know say they don’t worry at all or they say they worry all the time. But at the end of the day most of us have some level of worry which keeps us up at night. (And the irony is most people over 65 say their biggest regret is spending too much of their lives worrying!)
The difference is, when you go solo you willingly take on a whole other set of worries not often experienced by those who receive a paycheck from an employer every Friday or twice a month. Unlike an employee, you have to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from. And it doesn’t matter if you just received a big pay day which will cover your expenses and a nice vacation over the next month or two. You will always worry about the next check and the next check and the check after that. This is the tough part. This is the part you never learn in law school or even at the law firm where you may have been previously employed.
The reality of being a self-employed attorney is you are living the life of a commissioned sales person. A commissioned sales person is only as good as her next sale. You are only as good as your next paying client.
This reality, that you are only as good as your next paying client, is what does in many a good attorney who goes out on their own. They never seem to be able to rest on their laurels, at least not for very long. Once the euphoria of a big retainer or settlement or verdict wears off, the worry about where the next client or next several clients will come from takes over. Imagine doing this for a significant part of your career? The highs and then the lows and accompanying angst over and over, again? Yet somehow it does work because the world is filled with commissioned sales people and self-employed attorneys.
Knowing this is the BIG worry, create a plan to address it.
When I first started my practice right out of law school with two others we had one golden rule – split our work week into 80% legal work and 20% marketing for new clients. Of course, when you first start out you are most likely marketing 80% of the time and working 20% of the time. This gradually switches over to the percentages I describe in the ‘golden rule’. The most important point in all of this is that you can never NOT market. You must always be working on filling the pipeline with new business so you suffer less angst after your moments of euphoria. This is the hustle. That’s the only way to describe it. You have to always be hustling and this scares many lawyers who contemplate solo practice. This hustle is also what triggers anxiety and, in some, depression. The reality that you are always having to maintain a certain momentum is disconcerting if you don’t know this when you tell yourself your going to go solo. But here’s the kicker; most solos who figure this out early on say they would rather take the angst and keep working on their marketing then ever go back to being an employee. They prefer the roller coaster to the carousel.
What I am here to tell you is that you need to gear yourself up for this reality. You need to accept it going in. You need to know that the lawyers who tell you it’s all word of mouth (WOM) are only telling you half the truth. WOM practices are real. They aren’t unicorns. But this significant achievement happens much further along in the professional life of a successful lawyer. These WOM practices are the brass ring. Having a practice driven 85-100% by referrals means you have arrived. It’s not the beginning or even the middle of the journey. It is the ultimate dream destination.
So, what are you doing today to market your practice? How much time each week do you dedicate to networking? How many times each month have you scheduled to reach out to colleagues to ‘lunch and learn’? Are you on social media to follow thought leaders, engage, and get noticed or are you clicking ‘likes’ on Facebook while posting another selfie? (All the posts in the above links should give you quite an education and help you start fashioning a plan!)
Might I also suggest you take Mark Merenda’s Smart Marketing Course at Solo Practice University? There are more than 22 classes including podcasts and much, much more to help you lay a solid foundation for your marketing. This will keep your angst down and your enthusiasm up, I promise.