Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I opened The Law Studio and focused primarily on providing services to my clients. In many ways, I was still functioning as an employee. I figured I would stay in business, as long as I was delivering my work product on time and my clients could see I was working. They became my replacement bosses, and this worked fairly well for the first few years. More than 40% of my work came from one client, and I filled in the rest of my time with clients who provided 30%, 25%, 5%, and even 1% of my work. The firm grew organically and seemed to keep growing. So, I finally replaced the assistant who left to attend graduate school, and I started looking more strategically at all of our operations.
Among other things, I attended the FastTrac Growth Venture Program offered through NYC Business Solutions. I had to laugh at my hypocrisy. I often advised my clients to take some of the actions I kept postponing:
- Align your mission, vision, values, and goals
- Document your processes
- Review your contracts annually
- Know your numbers
- Blah, blah, blah
Right. I’ll do that as soon as I finish my court calendar, write a couple of appeals, negotiate a settlement agreement, run payroll, update the website, and put out today’s fires. As my best friend would say, I was constantly going Mach Five with my hair on fire. It might not have been that unpleasant, but I certainly was a bit out of control.
In the FastTrac program, I had a dedicated environment focused on The Law Studio’s growth, and I finally did an analysis of my clients. I quickly learned that the ones I worked best with had some common characteristics and interests. They were collaborative, creative, and compassionate. They were in high-risk businesses, because of the industries they operated in or the length of time they had been operating. They appreciated the need for work-life balance, for themselves and their employees, yet they worked hard. We shared values, as well as desires for specific outcomes in their legal matters.
Conversely, I had clients whose names or phone numbers I hated to see on my caller ID. They always had a complaint about an unfulfilled expectation, even if that expectation was first being presented on our call. They made nasty comments about other parties and asked about taking actions that were unfair, if not unethical and even illegal. They called and wrote often, yet they refused to pay even the discounted fees I requested. We did not see the world the same way, and I thought it was my fault. Consequently, I often stayed on as counsel, incurring substantial losses.
Nearly 15 years after I opened The Law Studio, I am training my assistant, Tyler O’Keeffe, to screen potential clients so we all get what we want. Contrary to what we tend to believe when we are first starting out, we don’t have to take every case offered to us. Sometimes, it is not cost-effective for a small firm, if any firm. Not all money is good money. Value isn’t determined only by dollars and cents. We now look at returns on our investments of time, money, and energy. We also look at what our potential clients must invest. It’s another way we use our third ears and create win-win solutions.
Today, I acknowledge myself (and Tyler) for taking action to work with clients who appreciate, if not share, our Core Values. In addition to training Tyler, I am:
- Updating our Intake Sheets
- Creating flow charts and decision trees
- Revising our Operations Manual
By now, those of you who have been in business a few years know that entrepreneurship requires you to Stay on PARR: planning, acting, revising, and repeating—until you get the results you want.
For those of you starting up, congratulations! You got this message early. Give yourself a break for not having everything fall into place perfectly from Day One.
Acknowledge yourself for taking any action today to find more compatible clients.
Have a conflict keeping you up at night? Tell me more
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).