UPDATE (11/1/18): I just posted Part 2 of this post about my secret weapon in hitting my first million: My Law Firm Administrator
For some people, a benchmark for success is making a million dollars. For others, reaching that million is just a milestone on their journey.
For me, making my first million was a milestone in my career; not the first and certainly not the last.
At the PILMMA Super Summit in St. Louis last month, an attendee asked me how I made my first million dollars, so I thought I’d share that journey with you.
First of all, by my first million dollars, I mean the gross revenues of my law practice.
We hit $1 million in revenue in 1997. Twenty-one years ago.
It was a huge accomplishment for us.
Strategic Decision To Get Serious About Marketing
I knew that, as a fledgling law firm, there were many things we weren’t getting right. However, I made a strategic decision to focus much more seriously on our marketing.
Our marketing had primarily been grassroots, getting the word out in the local community. Local fairs, Chamber of Commerce, business cards and shaking hands – that sort of thing.
I realized we had to spend a lot more money and have a proper plan.
So in 1995 I upped my game significantly.
We started with TV ads which were fairly straightforward with a simple message, like “Call us if you’ve been in a car accident”. But it got us major exposure.
This was at a time when many law firms were still cautious about advertising online. It wasn’t like it is today. We had very little competition from other law firms with TV ads.
Next, I invested in a website for the law practice. In 1995 the Internet was still in its infancy but I saw the potential. We could create an online shop window that people could find at any time they wanted. Many other law firms were much more hesitant about investing in a website at that time.
Third, I wrote my first book, which established me as the expert in my market. I could then use that expertise and copies of the book to generate leads. This helped us stand out from the competition in several ways:
- Establishing myself, the head of the firm, as an expert
- Being a published author lends credibility to self-proclaimed expertise
- Giving away free copies to generate leads
The other firms weren’t doing that. Again, we stood out in the market.
I wasn’t doing all of this with a general goal of growing the law firm. I had a specific, short-range goal in mind: “I want to gross 1 million dollars”.
It took 18-24 months of seriously marketing the law firm, with that specific goal in mind, to reach that target, our first million dollars.
As I’m writing this, it reminds me that I always tell people that your goals should be specific. My goal was to gross 1 million dollars in the law firm in a financial year. That’s pretty specific.
I was excited about the growth of our gross revenues.
I felt proud of the accomplishment, but on the other hand, it left me feeling that we still had so much to do.
I didn’t have the luxury of Mastermind groups or marketing mentors like Dan Kennedy and Jay Abraham. Yet without knowing what I know today, I’d still managed to scale the business, to grow the law firm. It was achieved just through trial and error.
Instead of focusing only on cases, I’d put serious emphasis on our marketing – on the business of the law firm. As Michael Gerber would say, I was starting to think more like an entrepreneur or business owner than a lawyer.
It made me more hungry. As well as improving other aspects of the firm, my next goal was to reach $3 million in gross annual revenue.
I’d discovered a new path and I wanted to continue down that path and not stop.
Managing Law Firm Growth
We hit $1 million in 1997 and stayed at $1 million for a year, bringing us to 1998.
That’s still an achievement. It’s one thing to reach the heights of a million dollars in revenue, but even maintaining that level can be a challenge.
You need your law firm to evolve and improve with that growth in order to handle it successfully. As you open more cases and hire more staff to handle them, you need the right management and systems in place to consistently deliver the desired service and outcome. If you don’t, it’s easy to fall back down. Managing the growth and then maintaining that level was another success.
At the end of the third year, 1998-1999, we hit $2 million and my goals were starting to shift. At this point, I was less excited about growing revenues and more about building a law firm that would stand the test of time.
I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted to create a firm that other lawyers and professionals wanted to work for.
We had doubled our revenues through referrals, after treating our clients right.
The jump from $1 million to $2 million was because we’d become a better law practice.
We weren’t lazy like a lot of lawyers were, back then. We didn’t want to just spend more money.
We’d improved both client service and how we handled their cases. We improved our communication with clients, such as with a regular newsletter, generating “Top of Mind Awareness”. Our clients were happy before, but they were even happier now. And they started to tell that to the people they knew.
And this was before I really understood how to grow referrals.
But we also hit a plateau. It took another two years to make the jump from $2 million in annual revenue to $3 million, the target I’d been aiming for.
That jump to $3 million was the hardest.
Improving Efficiency and Return on Investment
To reach that $3 million milestone, I realized that growth would not come just from a blank check.
There were more firms to compete with. More law firms were advertising on TV. They were starting to understand the Internet.
I had to figure out new ways to get business.
And I had to cut out the bloat in the business and focus more on return on investment (ROI).
I started to analyze and track expenditures for optimization and improvement. We systemized the law firm to make it more efficient and consistent.
We didn’t necessarily fire people to reduce costs. Rather, we used systems to increase the productivity of existing employees. The systems held people accountable and made them more productive.
Employees (payroll) and marketing are always the top two expenses.
We got more on-the-ball about how we hired new employees. Instead of rushing, we took more time, making sure they fitted in with the culture and values of the law firm. (Today, I say, “Hire slow, fire fast”.)
It was during this period I realized that I’d prefer less experience but a willingness to learn, along with empathy for the client. That’s a big deal. Aptitude and empathy.
After about 4 years, my big goal wasn’t achieving some specific figure for the law practice. Instead, I realized that I wanted to build a law firm that the best lawyers in the market would aspire to work for. That would benefit my clients and the firm’s reputation.
Over the years, I’ve developed my expertise at growing, managing and selling law firms.
I’ve shifted my focus to helping other law firm owners achieve the same success I did, but in much less time. They can replicate what works and avoid expensive mistakes that don’t work.
Some of the lawyers who I’ve helped call me the “Millionaire Maker”. I don’t know how many law firms I’ve helped break the million dollar barrier, but it must be over a hundred.
The biggest factor responsible for other lawyers’ success isn’t down to me though. It’s because those law firm owners change their mindset. Although we’re a regulated profession, we each have to run our practice like a business. That doesn’t mean you have to give up professionalism; you just can’t rely on it to be the reason somebody hires your law firm.
Some of the lawyers I’ve helped were already doing well, but I helped them get to the next level.
And for each lawyer I’ve helped, their personal measure of success is different.
Justin Lovely already had a successful practice in Myrtle Beach, SC, but as his wife and practice partner, Amy Lawrence-Lovely, says, “PILMMA lit a fire under us”. They doubled their caseload in 12 month. Justin says I got him to his first million.
Then there’s Matt Dubin, in Seattle, WA. When I first spoke to Matt about joining a PILMMA Mastermind group, it didn’t interest him. “I’m happy where I am,” was his attitude.
I asked Matt about his goals. He wanted to achieve 3% growth per annum.
So I challenged him on what it was that he really wanted. Why settle for 3%. Why not aim for more? Much more?
What did Matt really want in life? It turns out he actually did want more than just 3%.
A boat maybe? I’ll have to ask him….
It wasn’t long after that conversation that he joined a Mastermind group. He readily acknowledges that the focus he gained through his Mastermind group membership is what helped him achieve to new heights of success. He grew his firm substantially. He’s very happy in life and so is his family. Now he’s running for political office.
You Need A Plan
If you want success, you have to plan for success. Plan for something greater.
You’ve got to know your numbers. You’ve got to be systemized. You have to implement.
My initial success with TV advertising inspired me to try new things.
After TV came online marketing.
Now it’s Social Media.
With each new idea that you try, you have to be calculating and systematic. Use it strategically, implement it tactically. Always watch your costs and ROI.
I was one of the first in my market to start doing Yellow Pages differently, for example by attaching a fridge magnet to the cover.
Then I was one of the first to pull out of Yellow Pages almost entirely. That was after a long, cold, hard look at the numbers.
Trying new things inspires you to try more new things. You always want to be ahead.
He who goes first, wins the brass ring.
Successful Trailer Boy
All of the success I achieved – as a child, I could never have thought it was possible. I was a trailer boy. We grew up poor. With my brothers, I had to work the tobacco fields as a child, eating tomato sandwiches for lunch.
We still reminisce about those tomato sandwiches.
When my father died in 1991, he was very proud of my success. It was still fairly early in my career. We were grossing around a half million dollars a year. At the time, I wanted to do better but didn’t know how. I didn’t really think it was possible. There was no PILMMA for me to turn to for guidance.
My momma only ever wanted me to be happy. To be honest, I didn’t tell her when we hit a million dollars. I didn’t tell anybody, not even my closest family. They would have thought it was just bragging.
Money does not make a man or a woman. It’s always about your character and values.
It was only when I made a conscious choice to pursue growth, with a specific goal of $1 million gross revenues in mind, that the law firm really started to take off.
Sure, you can stumble around, not knowing what you’re doing, and still pick up cases and clients. It’s even easier in an “up economy”. But if you’re serious about growth, you really have to consciously decide that’s what you want, and then start pursuing it vigorously, with specific goals in mind.
It was that switch in thinking that helped Matt Dubin, Justin Lovely and every other PILMMA member to achieve new heights of success.
You need to choose time and financial freedom, and consciously pursue it with a plan, if that’s what you really want. It won’t happen by accident.
***Don’t forget to check out Part 2 of this blog post where I discuss my secret weapon: My Law Firm Administrator
Choose success today. Sign up for one month of PILMMA Gold membership and we’ll give you another two months completely free!