Growing up in the ’70s my father instilled something in me that I’ve carried my entire life–the adage of never giving up. He may have even thrown in a “never surrender,” but I can remember if that was my father or the movie Galaxy Quest. Regardless, many of us know the power of not giving up and how important it is to persevere in business and in life. This article isn’t about not giving your all or sticking to commitments you’ve made, but rather about the power of trying something and knowing when to give it up before you have too much time, money, and energy invested into it.
When we talk about building one’s law practice there are hundreds of decisions that need to be made every year, from what practice management software to use, to leveraging LinkedIn better or whether you should specialize in one area more than another. This list of choices goes on and on until your head is spinning. My goal for this article is to help you quit the things that aren’t producing results and allow you to be okay with it. What lawyers never talk about is the cost of sticking with something that isn’t working. Here are three tips to help you overcome the fear or anxiety of quitting.
Tip #1. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. You may have heard this phrase eek out of my mouth before and it’s never been more pertinent than today. One of the biggest mistakes lawyers make in business development is to not track and keep score of their activities. All my clients are required to use and keep a business development success journal to track and share their daily, weekly and monthly results with me. This way, we can both see what’s working and what’s not. The goal is to make improvements to get better results. However, the dirty little secret is that sometimes we have to agree to quit doing an activity that isn’t bearing fruits. This shouldn’t take a year or two to decide, but rather about 60-90 days.
Observing your billable time going out the window–either by a spreadsheet you keep or a CRM (Client Relationship Management) program you are using– is a game-changer that encourages you to make improvements or eliminate unfruitful endeavors from your calendar.
Tip #2. Time is your greatest commodity, become a pro at saying no. One of the first discussions I have with new clients is related to what they are currently doing to grow business or build their personal brand. Many have activities with boards, charities, associations, trade shows, and the beat goes on and on. The follow-up question I ask generally leads to an “ah-ha” moment for my new client. I simply ask, “How’s that going for you?” In some instances, these activities are a home run, in others there’s a long pause followed by a little grumbling. The latter are the activities we need explore right away.
The perfect example of this was with John, my client from a few years ago. He was doing regular presentations to the local Bar Association and getting absolutely nothing out of it. We discussed some possible changes and improvements to see if the problem (lack of any results) could be resolved. Ultimately, we agreed that he was presenting to his competition, so the decision to scrap the “sharing of his best IP practices” was an easy one to make. Just so you know, he had been doing these presentations for over five years. When we did the math on his research, prep time, travel, lack of business referrals and lost billable hours, the numbers over those five years were staggering.
Accepting new business development and marketing opportunities can be huge in building your book of business, however it’s critical to have your guard up. Take some time to weigh out the pros and cons, as well as the current obligations you have now. Saying “no” to something, nicely, may be the difference between adding $200,000 in originations this year or regretting that you didn’t say no to more time-draining obligations.
Tip #3. Quit early and quit often. So, you might be thinking “Wow, Steve, that sounds really backwards.” Trust me, I know. It goes against everything that’s been instilled in me since childhood. But, when I look back at all the things I let drag on too long, the list is longer than my arm. I was a sub-par wrestler back in junior high school and never fully committed to the training regimen necessary for success in the sport. The result was years on my back getting pinned by superior athletes who were committed.
More recently, I tried playing the drums. I committed to four lessons to see if my lifelong dream of ROCKING IT might be realized. I even practiced outside of my lessons to ensure that I gave it a solid effort. After my fourth session I told my teacher that I was done. He was surprised, as there had been progress and growth. I explained that while this was fun, there are other more pressing and enjoyable activities that took precedence over my future rock-star career as a drummer. I knew the power of quitting early and simply letting go. I was okay with trying something and leaving before getting too far along.
I know there are many other variables to this “quitting” stuff, like loyalty to a friend, group or peer. It’s important when quitting to use language that doesn’t upset other people in the equation. For example, I might say, “Based on my time and current obligations, I simply can’t continue with ______ any longer. I loved being a part of it and hope that we can remain in touch.” Whatever the case or scenario, look at your time and current list of priorities and obligations. Think about what is important to you in your career, family, heath and happiness. Do a 1-10 to quickly gauge activities or do a pros and cons list to identify what to keep and what to remove. I know these decisions are hard, however you’ll be better for it in the end.
If you’d like to speak with me directly about your career in law and how to get the most from your time, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on LinkedIn.