Last month, on January 21, 2018, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening my law practice. I graduated from law school in May 1982, and received my license to practice law in November 1982. Two months later, on January 21, 1983, I rented an office from an established Peoria attorney.
Nine years later (1992), I hired my first associate attorney. At that time, I was 35 years old. The attorney that I hired was 10 years younger than me, and had just graduated from law school.
At the time that I hired the attorney, I had an office manager, two full-time secretaries, a full-time receptionist, and a part-time secretary. Hiring an attorney was a big step for me, and I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about running a business to continue to move forward without some assistance.
The same year that I hired the attorney, I signed a contract with Gerber Business Development Corporation to provide me with coaching on how to properly run and grow my business. I had committed to paying the attorney a large salary and I didn’t want to make any catastrophic mistakes in managing and growing my law firm.
I found out about the Gerber company when I read a book that was written by its founder, Michael Gerber. The title of the book was, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. What Gerber said in his book about small businesses in America hit a raw nerve with me.
I had previously represented several business clients who had done well for a while and then, for one reason or another, had made mistakes that caused their businesses to fail. I had also handled several bankruptcies for individuals who had failed in their own businesses. Many of the businessmen that Gerber wrote about in his book reminded me of my own clients and their failure to succeed in their businesses.
After reading Gerber’s book, I contacted his company in California. After a few phone conversations with a woman in their sales department, I signed a contract with the Gerber company to provide me with business coaching. The cost of the service that I signed up for was $800 per month. Every month I received a package of reading materials and audio cassette tapes. Each week, I talked on the telephone to a business coach who had been assigned to me by the company.
My business coach gave me guidance on which materials I should read and listen to. He also answered my questions and assisted me in setting up the structure, processes, and systems that I needed to have in place to manage and grow my business.
I stayed with the Gerber business development program for two years. The total cost of the program for that period of time was $19,200. To me, that was a small price to pay when I considered the amount of money that I had paid for college and law school, where I didn’t learn anything about how to run and grow a business in the real world.
Today, 25 years after I worked with the Gerber company, I still use many of the original processes and systems that I set up, and I frequently tap into and use the knowledge and lessons that I learned from the company and my business coach.
The one thing that I did not learn from the Gerber company and my business coach was the importance of making sure that my clients have a complete understanding of everything that I do for them. That’s difficult to do when you’re in a service business. As a lawyer, I frequently provide legal services that my clients do not intuitively understand. Most of the time, they don’t see or understand what I do for them. On rare occasions, a client may get to see me perform in a courtroom in front of a jury or a judge. But in most situations, the work that I do for my clients is hidden from them.
I have a younger brother who builds new homes for people. Fortunately for him, a lot of the work that he does can be seen and touched by his customers. When he digs the basement, his customers see the big hole in the ground. When he pours the concrete for the basement floor, his customers can see and walk on the floor. They can do the same after the basement walls are built and the main floor is added to the structure.
Each day that there is construction, my brother’s customers get to see and experience the progress. Their excitement grows as the house is being built and the finishing touches are being completed. They don’t mind paying the money that they agreed to pay, because they are able to use four of their five senses to experience the work that has been performed for them. They can see and touch what has been built. They can smell the paint and varnish that has been used on the walls and trim. And they can hear the tools and machines that are being used to construct the house. They can also show off their house to their family, friends, and business associates.
After they’ve gone through all the experiences associated with the building of their house, they get to move into the house and enjoy the house for the rest of their lives. They don’t feel remorse or have any regrets for paying for their new house. In fact, they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment for what they were able to purchase with their money.
The same holds true for businesses that sell products. If you go to a car dealership and buy a new Dodge Ram truck, Chevrolet Suburban, or Lexus, you get to see, touch, smell, and hear what you are buying. The only sense that is not used in the purchase of a new vehicle is taste. After you buy the vehicle, you also get to show it off to your family, friends, and business associates.
What other products can you purchase that you can experience with your senses? How about a new set of teeth, a couple of hearing aids, a new bedroom set, or even some cosmetic surgery? In those situations as well as most other product purchases, you get to see and experience what you’ve paid for.
But what senses are engaged by my clients when I do legal work for them? When I handle a personal injury case for a client, I may end up investing two to four years of my time and resources to recover money for the client. During the time that I have worked on the client’s case, there is not ordinarily anything that I have done that my client can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste.
When I settle a personal injury case for $60,000 and collect a one-third fee of $20,000, what can I do to avoid the predictable human reaction of, “Wow, what did he do to earn that amount of money? I’m the one who was injured and he received about the same amount of money that I received. What a rip off.”
The end result of an injury case is not ordinarily enough to satisfy most of my clients, because they weren’t able to actually experience the work that I put into their cases. Is there any way for me to overcome this problem?
Next week, I’ll tell you what I do to overcome the problem and how all of this applies to our spiritual development.
Am I ever thankful that I didn’t need to cope with the problems connected with “Running a Business”! Teaching had its own needs – dealing with the children’s “growing pains” in elementary school, and next, teaching math to teens! These were all wonderful years, and then, after getting my MA in Counseling, there were all those delightful years of counseling the teens – and their parents at times! Now, in retirement, I’m asking God to guide me as I look for persons who need assistance – a smile, a handshake, a loving touch of comfort… I’ll be anxious to read next weeks, as you speak of bringing God into your Business World! Love to both of you, Harry and Georgette! Sister Roberta
Congratulations, Harry, on your successful career! You have blessed many people along the way. Thanks too for these great informative insights!