Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What happens to you if you take drugs?

I have a four year old son.  He is a sweet boy, but I find that it can be difficult to reach him when I employ my subtle parenting techniques that worked so well with his older sisters. With Jake, blunt force trauma is only way to connect.  So, I brainwash him. 

If I ask him: "Where does money come from,” he is conditioned to answer "Work."  If I ask "What happens to you if you take drugs," he responds "you die.”

It's not very sophisticated, but it works.  I am considering using the same strategy for conditioning some of the newly minted managing partners at the small firms we work with every day.

Where does money come from?   Invoices.  What happens to your firm if you don't send out your invoices in a timely matter?  It dies.

At NexFirm we have a well structured process for our clients to send invoices.  We check throughout the month to confirm that they are entering time as they go (read this prior post to learn why this is critical).  Just before the month comes to a close, we review matters to be certain that we have all the information that we need to know how they will be billed.  On the last day of the month, we send reminders and follow up with those who haven't entered all of their time.  Pre-billing begins in the evening on the last day of the month so that those who need to review can do so in the AM on the first of the month.  We follow up (read: hound) billers to review, edit and approve invoices so that we can send them out on the first.  For our clients that adhere to our process, bills are out on the first and payments can come in as soon as 15 days later and realization rates are generally high.

For those who do not follow our process, invoices can go out a few days late.  They get paid later, but that doesn’t mean they get to pay their own bills later.  Not such a great deal, but for those who can afford it they don't fret much.  They should.

The cash flow disadvantage that arises from billing late is easy to conceptualize.  Some of the other effects are not as evident, but are equally as damaging.

-Realization goes down.  When you don't demonstrate a seriousness to collect your fees by having a prompt, methodical billing process, clients can't help but test your boundaries.  Payments come in later, which may require your billing department to reach out to clients with "past due" reminders and increase the pain of payment experience.  As time passes, the probability that clients find reasons to make deductions to your bills or refuse to pay increases.

-Perception of value goes down.  The moment that you resolve a painful issue for your client, the memory of that pain fades.  If they are paying the bill months after you have provided your services, they remember only the pain of paying your bill, and not the value you provided.

-Your staff perceives that you are sloppy.  A firm that habitually sends out their invoices late is often perceived poorly by the staff.  You start hearing them begin sentences with: "Unlike here, but at a real firm..."  Obviously, this is not what a managing partner wants to hear.

-Your borrowing costs are higher.  The shorter and more dependable your cash recovery cycle is, the more access you have to borrowing at favorable rates.

Needless to say, the busier you are with the daily operations of managing your practice and providing services to your clients, the less time you’ll have for administrative tasks such as invoice preparation and review.  But when you weigh the pain of spending a few hours a month to get it right against the negative impact to your firm (and your finances), can you really afford not to?


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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Five Keys For Cost-Effective Marketing Of Your Legal Practice Or Small Law Firm

Courtesy of Guest Blogger Bruce Segall

Organizations of all kinds struggle with the right level of marketing to support their growth without “breaking the bank.” This challenge is especially true for small professional services firms focused on serving current clients. Some smaller firms engage high-priced consultants or try new search marketing schemes, while many others do without any formal marketing at all. The online world is now bursting with advice for lawyers and law firms on marketing, but much is geared toward large, well-resourced firms. The following are five fundamental steps geared toward those with truly scarce resources:


1.     Have a clear, compelling statement about your service niche.  As competition for legal services grows, many lawyers report that the flow of referrals has slowed down vs. 10-20 years ago. In today’s challenging environment, you should help your clients and professional contacts help you, specifically by clearly communicating who you serve and what makes you different. Many solo practitioners or small firms have a diverse practice, and want to stay “open” to a broad range of business. While this seems practical, your friends can help you more if you give them something focused and memorable, rather than general, to work with. Commonly called an “elevator speech,” this is used in person or on the phone, but can be easily adapted for emails. I advise you to keep it short, with punchy words and sentences. You should refer to an emerging challenge or issue in your practice area rather than something generic like “I am a civil litigator.” Focus on the quantifiable results e.g. examples of a recent favorable decision. Two resources: (a) Search “lawyers” on 15secondpitch.com for some good examples; and (b) Consultant Peter Helmer has an excellent example at the end of a recent blog post .

2.     Use your TIME and resources wisely.  Time is the most valuable, scarce resource in marketing. Unless you are a born “rainmaker”, you’ll need a system to fit business development into your already busy schedule. You may have the best plan, but unless you have a disciplined way to execute, your efforts will break down. Here are two tips:
  •      Divide relationship-building into tasks to be completed in a shorter time frame, such as week, month or even quarter
  •      Set aside a time during the week when you know that clients do not call, and make an appointment with yourself for business development
3.     Develop and Maintain an Accurate Contact List.  Relationships are everything in legal marketing. You can manage some of your closest relationships individually, with great care and customization. You and the other attorneys can’t possibly manage your broader contacts as carefully. For these, you’ll need a firm contact list, an essential aspect of marketing that many professional firms overlook or underemphasize. The list can be housed in many ways - stand-alone or integrated into your other systems. Regardless, the list is only as good as the effort you take to build and maintain it accurately. While many attorneys are good at maintaining their Outlook contacts, keeping a high-quality firm list requires significantly more effort.

4.     Have a Regular Process for Cultivating Your Relationships.  Clients, past clients and other professional contacts account for most of your new business. To maximize the chance for referrals, you need to stay top-of-mind with these individuals and cultivate relationships. A face-to-face meeting is the best way to stay top-of-mind, and a phone call is also an alternative in today’s busy world. So I suggest a simple tracking sheet whereby you target and record reaching out to 10 people every week, so that 5 respond to you and you have at least 1-2 in person meetings. I further suggest targeting people who worked with you as a client previously, but have moved on to another company. These “client alumni” are more likely than other professional contacts to hire you or at least provide meaningful referrals. LinkedIn is a great way to reconnect with client alumni.

5.    Stay Visible.  Existing contacts who provide referrals will probably not fill your new business pipeline entirely.

     
Professionals need to stay visible through speaking engagements, articles, blog posts,
guest lectures at law schools, and professional associations. Not only do these activities
keep you in front of current clients; they enlarge your circle of relationships. You can find
ways to stay visible without investing an inordinate amount of time. For example, write a
guest blog instead of committing to your own blog. Or you can simply “post an update” to
your LinkedIn network once a month. These take me five minutes, and I often hear
people say that they “see me” on LinkedIn.

One final note:  I believe that Marketing has to be highly customized to the firm/individual
attorney’s situation. For example, this post is especially directed to those whose primary
audience is businesses. Those going after individuals should consider tactics used in
consumer marketing - paying close attention to rules around ethical solicitations and
advertising, of course.




Bruce Segall is a professional services marketer and President of Marketing Sense for Business LLC.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Getting the Word Out

Courtesy of Guest Blogger Adele Lemlek

How do you promote yourself? Your firm?  When you are looking for new business and expanding your practice, what do you do? You promote your brand. Individuals have a brand just like corporations. Like a corporate brand it is a promise of deliverability of an experience or service or product. In this case that service or product is you.

How do you know what your brand is? Take an inventory of your skills and accomplishments and past work history. Are you an incredible negotiator? Do you get the deal done? A great mediator? Determine what your reputation is. If you are not sure, ask co-workers or your clients how they perceive you. Are you the go-to person? Are you the hard working creative problem solver? If others perceive you differently from what you want your brand to be, don’t despair. You just need to re-brand yourself as so many companies have had to do.

For many companies and people your brand evolves over time as markets change and people mature. There are many things you can do to reinforce your brand and expand it.

Social Media Sites
Use these strategically and make sure they reflect your brand. Promote yourself accordingly.  You can post material and articles and participate in discussion groups.  Make sure you provide meaningful information. Always express yourself professionally -- don't write anything that you don't want anyone to see or would regret later. Remember, there can be repercussions. If you have a picture of yourself, ask what it says about you.  Does it represent you in a professional manner?

Online Presence
Write thoughtful blogs or participate in forums where you can demonstrate your knowledge or "out of the box" thinking. Write an article and publish it on your blog.

At Work, At Social Functions
How you behave and carry yourself at work will impact your brand just as how you behave socially will.  Attend conferences and workshops. If there is a social component to these, attend them as well. It is a great place to make connections. Don't forget that how you behave at social business functions is also important. People do take notice and remember.

Volunteer and/or Professional Associations
We are all pressed for time but charities and professional associations are great places to reinforce or extend your brand. By volunteering for a charity or joining a professional association and getting involved you can participate in appropriate activities to get exposure and promote your brand. Take on new challenges to expand your brand. At many professional organizations, they host seminars and events. Program an event and find speaking engagements. Speaking at CLE events is a great way to position yourself as an expert in a particular area and network with other practitioners. Many Bar Associations put on their own CLE courses and look to their members to speak.

Want to change or extend your brand?
Want to expand your practice into a different area?  Taking on a leadership role in a professional association may be the way to position yourself as a leader in the eyes of current or potential clients. Blogging about the industry or commenting on other blogs is a way of showing your expertise -- the possibilities are endless. All it takes is some hard work and creativity.

Adele Lemlek is the principal of Alto Consulting, specializing in marketing and business development.  She is the former Director of Marketing for the New York City Bar Association where she stewarded the New York City Bar’s 2005 re-branding. She frequently speaks at programs and workshops on creating a personal brand.

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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Is SaaS?

Courtesy of Guest Blogger Jeremy Diviney

Does the term “SaaS” sound familiar to you? Although this term is slowly merging in the technology world, everyone has been using SaaS for years. It stands for “Software as a Service.” It functions like software but think of it as a cousin of software. The key factor of SaaS is its use of the Internet to reach you. Loosely termed, it uses “the cloud.” Unlike traditional software, you have access to SaaS software anywhere you are connected to the internet.

The Internet started off solely being a reference source of information. Now it has progressed to being interactive, connecting people all over the world. So why not connect them to a single SaaS?

You Mean I Already use SaaS?

You’ve already been using a SaaS, if a single program online enabled you to do the following on any computer:

·         store information online

·         limit access to this information to a selected group of people

·         allow the group to edit this information

·         allow the group to share their edits with you.

Hotmail and DropBox are perfect examples of SaaS. People all over the world use SaaS for their legal billing software, accounting software, and word processing software.

What’s the Difference Between Software and SaaS?

With the many similarities and differences between the two kinds of software, here’s a point-by-point comparison:


Jeremy Diviney is Head of Operations at Bill4Time and can be reached at jeremy@bill4time.com.