My Column from the Nashua Telegraph – 02/18/15 on Annual Small Business Challenges

The first months of a new year can be tough for business owners. First, there is the weather. My business is not a retail business, so I really have no standing to complain. But it weighs on me, and that weighs on my business. Plus, for business owners the beginning of a new year brings with it the same question: where will my revenue come from this year, and what do I need to do to make more of it?
I was staring at the piles of snow on Main Street contemplating this question when it dawned on me that I could use a spark. A refresher was definitely in order. 2015 will be my thirtieth year of practice, a thought that in and of itself gave me pause. What I needed was not mentoring. The itch that needed scratching was not a legal one. I needed business wisdom, and in my view you get that from people with two important qualities. The person needed to be experienced, and the person needed to understand sales and selling.
Why these two particular qualities? The rationale for seeking advice from an experienced person is fairly obvious. There is no substitute for experience. With experience comes wisdom, plain and simple. I needed that. The second quality, though, is less obvious. In fact, I am not certain I really understood that my meeting needed to be about sales when I set up the meeting, at least not consciously. But my conversation with him demonstrated without question that people who sell for a living are often the best business people. It really is as simple as that.
At our meeting with talked extensively about sales, and why sales people understand business better than most people. Good sales people, he explained, build their business one customer at a time. They are focused on return, and put their energy only into activities that increase return. They understand people, and the importance of relationships. They are always striving to increase their volume. You get the picture.
Then we talked about my business, and how we lawyers tend to operate. Traditionally we went to law school, graduated, passed the bar exam and joined a law practice. Then we worked at a law practice and largely waited for clients to come to us with their problems. We billed them by the hour for our services, regardless of outcome.
Many of us were mercenary in our approach to client relationships. We moved on to the next matter. All of which makes lawyers in general the polar opposite of sales people. All of which tends to make us not good business people. We are not sales-oriented.
What I needed to do, we concluded, was to start thinking more like a sales person when running my business. One thing good sales people do, I learned, is take their existing customers and turn them into sales people for their business. They build trust and relationships, and then ask those friends to help them find more customers. I have been practicing law in Nashua for thirty years. I have a good client list. I have lots of relationships. But I sheepishly admitted that I very rarely, if ever, asked these folks to refer business to me. It may seem obvious, but it is not how most lawyers were historically trained to think.
We talked about how our businesses were changing too. Like all successful entrepreneurs, at his business he has embraced this change. He has taken some bold steps to position the business for what will be the third generation of family ownership. The business is using social media, like everyone. Recently the family decided to change the name of his business. While companies do change name, in this case the business had been operating in Nashua under the old name since 1953. It was not a decision taken lightly, but one he and his family thought was necessary. So they changed it.
We talked too about the time we spend educating our respective clients. In both of our worlds, the Internet provides our customers and existing and potential clients with access to an enormous amount of information. His customers arrive in the showroom with a much higher level of understanding about products and price. Mine are the same way. My clients do their homework on line. Without exception, they arrive at my office having researched me, my background and my practice. They have a handle on whatever challenge they are facing, and they know they have all sorts of options for who will represent them and what might be the best way of handling their issue.
We agreed that the Internet creates a challenge for us, and not surprisingly the way to tackle it really involves a form of selling. Now more than ever we both work hard to educate our clients as best we can, on an on-going basis whenever possible. This is part of our effort to convince our customer or client that he or she needs our advice. We want them to know that we possess expertise that is of great value for them. In short, that what we have to sell is worth what we want them to pay for it. In today’s world this is what will differentiate us from our competitors. This is what will generate revenue.
It was a great conversation, and on my end at least, much needed. I left that lunch energized, and with an enhanced vision of what I need to do to continue moving my business forward in this new and challenging era. While I choose not to identify my colleague by name in this column, I will say I learned one other thing during our discussion that provides a hint as to his identity: where to go in Nashua for a great rug. Heck, he even paid for lunch.