Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Sister Is Smarter Than Your Sister

This may seem a bit off the topic of small law firm management, but I promise it is on point, so indulge me.
Muddy Waters is an institution for coffee drinkers in Uptown Minneapolis that serves as a morning bell, an afternoon hangout and the late night rally point for a progressive, multi-generational crowd.  My sister, Danielle, and her partner, Sarah, inherited a mess when they bought the place, but after a few short years they made Muddy’s thrive.  Then, several months ago the landlord passed along a huge rent increase, forcing them to seek a new location.
Dealing with their landlord, seeking new space, funding the build-out and breaking ground on construction each came with their own stress, expense and worry.  As usual, Danielle took these negatives and turned them into gold.
She transformed the Muddy Waters website into a chronicle of the process for their patrons to see, recounting landlord negotiations, uploading design plans and posting weekly photos and videos of the construction progress (Check it out- http://www.muddywatersmpls.com/).  She even invited patrons to come to the construction site each week to view the progress and have a free cup of coffee.  The response has been fantastic, and the support from their customers and the community is unprecedented.
The genius in these activities is simple: communication connects people.  Muddy Waters makes their clients and the community feel as if they are part of the process, part of the family and hopefully, part of the solution to their predicament.  Her customers take ownership of the new place at an emotional level, and they become focused on making it succeed.
One of the big benefits you have as a small law firm competing against BigLaw firms is the personal side: Your clients know you, like you and want you to succeed.   They aren’t rooting for Skadden Arps, but they are rooting for you.  You want to foster that, and the way to do it is by making them feel like they share your success.  Communicate what makes your business tick.
Are you redesigning your company logo?  Share your options with your clients and let them chime in with their preferences.  Thinking of bringing on a new partner?  Ask your clients what they think of her.  Thinking that you should pursue new clients but don’t know who?  Maybe your clients have some ideas.
Why are we programmed to handle tough decisions in private?  And why do we feel successful by scurrying away, working diligently and then orchestrating a big reveal as if to say, “Look at what I accomplished”?  Unfortunately, what you accomplish is cutting the people you need the most out of the loop.  Get past the idea that it is weak to have problems and questions, and use your tribulations as a way to invite those you need onto your team.  Aside from getting your clients on your side, they will help you make better decisions and ease your stress.
Muddy Waters has done what took Apple Computer billions to achieve; they have become bigger than the product they sell.  Muddy’s is about community, personal connection and history, just like Apple is about sleek, modern individuality.  To make your law firm more than a place that pumps out documents, into something bigger that your clients want to succeed, invite them into your process.

David DePietto is the founder and CEO of NexFirm.  He can be reached at dd@nexfirm.com.

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