I’ve seen and experienced the frustrations that many lawyers and firms experience in working with web development companies and online marketing vendors. Before branching out on my own, I was Marketing Director at a large NC law firm. We didn’t know how to vet these vendors and we were getting burned – paying for disjointed tactics we didn’t need and/or paying for low quality or incomplete deliverables.
I wanted to do it better. I wanted to serve lawyers and firms by bringing transparency and professionalism to online marketing services.
One of the struggles was the feeling I had to fit into a preconceived notion of what potential clients already expected from a marketing agency. But the marketing agency model didn’t feel comfortable, nor was it what I wanted to build – not in the traditional sense, anyway. Positioning as a web development company didn’t feel right either. In the early days, we bid on some web development projects. We won a few, lost more, but it still didn’t feel like we had found our spot. I was getting lost in the details of our WHAT instead of focusing on our WHY.
The Golden Circle
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
A few weeks ago, I watched Simon Sinek’s TED Talk on “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” Sinek discusses “Golden Circle” – the idea he codified to explain the way the way inspiring leaders and organizations – from Apple, to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Wright Brothers – think, act, and communicate. The basic premise is illustrated below.
Sinek identified the problem with most organizations’ marketing messages – they communicate from the outside-in, expecting a result (like a purchase) to follow. Every organization knows WHAT they do, and some will even describe HOW they do it. The HOW might be labeled as a unique value proposition or proprietary process.
However, very few communicate the WHY. He states that the WHY is more than “to make a profit.” A profit is a result, an outcome. WHY, as shown in the diagram above, is the very reason your organization exists. He uses Apple to illustrate.
“If Apple were like everyone else, a marketing message might sound like this: ‘We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?’“
The message is uninspiring. Then he shows how Apple actually communicates.
“‘Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?'”
Consumers have proven they will buy from Apple–phones, MP3 players, and more. Sinek reminds the audience,
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everyone who need what you have. The goal is to do business with those who believe what you believe.”
I realized in hindsight that my goal to empower and educate attorneys being taken advantage of by unscrupulous online marketing vendors had been my WHY. My struggle arose from positioning the company and the delivery of our services in business models that, though they were familiar, didn’t align with our WHY.
Rethinking WHY, HOW, and WHAT
In revisiting my purpose for starting my company, I realized it extended beyond the frustrations with the online marketing companies. It also centered on the shortcomings of the legal system as we know it, law firm structure, and my desire to serve my fellow attorneys struggling to find a fit in a system that no longer serves them.
I couldn’t do that within the law firm environment. And the attorneys who need the most help are those that don’t have the resources of a large law firm, let alone a marketing director. Even lawyers within a larger firm may consider an exit because they are frustrated with the hierarchy, lack of transparency, and instability that characterizes many firms today.
“You really want to know what I believe?” – Bill Simmons
Recently, I discovered Bill Simmons. Bill Simmons has been around for a while, or so my husband tells me, but I first encountered him during our regular Sunday night ritual – Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley on HBO. On a recent Sunday, HBO released Bill Simmons’ teaser for his new show, Any Given Wednesday. If you have 52 seconds, watch it before you keep reading.
While his approach is different, and may not be what Sinek had in mind, Simmons is starting with WHY. He is crystal clear on what he believes, and he delivers it in an entertaining way. And while I don’t agree with all of his beliefs, he’s piqued my interest and I’ll be watching on June 22.
Agree with him or not (and I do regarding stadiums and soup), you quickly learn what he’s about and whether or not his show is one you’d spend 30 minutes of your time to watch.
Think about if you could use your online presence to clearly communicate what you believe, who you help, and how you help them. Think about the time you’d save attracting new clients and vetting the right clients for you.
You Can’t Be All Things To All People
Many people have said but it’s something I tell attorneys regularly. The days of the generalist are gone – it’s time to focus your practice. If you aren’t building your visibility on the Internet, the time to start is now. To be effective you must be clear about who you are, what you believe, and the problems you solve. There are 40,000 searches per second on Google and you have 3 seconds to capture someone’s attention online.
Clarity Is Essential
Clarity around your practice is essential for success. And this requires authenticity about who you are.
There is another video making its rounds on the Internet that has really captured my attention. It’s a clip of a singer-songwriter, Maggie Rogers, who played her music for Pharrell Williams while she was enrolled in his master class at NYU. His words after being blown away by her song are good advice for anyone wanting to make their mark.
Williams tells her he has no notes – which I take to mean no suggestions for improvement for her – because what she has created is original. Just as when the Wu-Tang Clan came out, he goes on, you either loved it or you hated it, but you couldn’t judge it because there is nothing to compare it to.
Williams reminds Rogers and those of us watching that success requires us to be frank with our chosen form of communication. I thought that was an interesting choice for a word, so I looked it up. Frank means “open and honest in speech or writing, especially when dealing with unpalatable matters.”
Most attorneys I know find it difficult to accept that they must market themselves. The majority, however, haven’t made the leap of getting frank with their marketing message, which can only come after you’ve focused your practice. The clarity that comes with being real about who you are and what you offer is exhilarating, and one of my favorite parts of my job is helping attorneys find that clarity.
Don’t Be TiVo, Be Anitra
In his TED Talk, Simon Sinek talks about the recipe for commercial success – specifically, if you have money, the right people, and the right market conditions, you should be set up for commercial success. But this didn’t work for TiVo. He mentions that when they went IPO, their stock was valued somewhere between 30 and 40 dollars. It quickly plummeted, and has never traded above 10 dollars per share since. TiVo’s founders focused on WHAT it did, not WHY it was created.
Attorneys and their firms are excellent at talking about WHAT they do, though usually from their perspective, not their potential clients. We are starting to hearing from law firms about HOW they do it – though I still feel like this is a big gap for most law firms and their marketing efforts. Firms must clearly communicate the process of working with them to potential clients who may be hesitate to call for lack of knowledge on what to expect.
Rarely do you hear of a law firm unified around a WHY. Herein lies the opportunity.
In recent months, I met a talented young attorney named Anitra Brown. Anitra’s ambition is equally matched by her clarity of purpose, the type of client she wants to serve, and how she plans to do it. She will tell you she is passionate about educating those who need guidance in employment discrimination situations. Anitra set up her law practice according to lean business principles – how could she provide more value to customers, but limit start-up costs? Now she is beginning to deliver workshops to other lawyers on how to set up their practices in the same manner.
It is exciting to hear Anitra talk about her practice and business from the perspective of her WHY – I know she will continue to be a big success.
So how can you be more like Anitra and less like TiVo? Start with why. Get clear about what you believe. Remember why you went to law school in the first place. Who do you want to help and how? If you are stuck in a position or with an organization that leaves you less than fulfilled and excited about your law practice, look for a way out. Clarity about your purpose and the ability to leverage technology can create a new trajectory for you.
My Effort to Get You Thinking, Bill Simmons Style
The convergence of all these unrelated yet parallel influences – Simon Sinek, Bill Simmons, Melissa Rogers, and Anitra Brown – have made a lasting impression on me. I’ve recently revisited my WHY, but not in the Simon Sinek TED Talk way, but in the Bill Simmons rapid fire way.
My Name is Ginny Allen, and this is what I BELIEVE…
- We should burn all the Bluebooks.
- You’ve worked too hard for your legal career to entrust it to a small group whose goal is to maximize their short term gain.
- Online marketing companies should be governed by their own Rules of Professional Conduct.
- A “nontraditional career path” will be the norm for attorneys sooner than you think.
- Any law firm that uses the word “innovative” on their website must include a disclaimer stating exactly how they innovate.
- Lawyers with student loans should get an extra year of deferment if they start a business.
- Law schools should factor social skills and business acumen into GPAs.
- Traditional CLE programs aren’t serving attorneys or their clients.
- Every law firm should have an editor on staff.
- The Internet is a game changer for introverted attorneys who think they aren’t cut out for marketing.
- Associates who are tired of being reduced to the hours they’ve billed should leverage technology to escape law firm life.
What Do You Believe?
So, what’s your WHY? I’d love to hear what you believe in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you.