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February 22, 2008

There is No Competition. That's Right. There is No Competition.

That woke you up, right?  Well, a good friend of mine and I had this discussion recently and we realized we share a brain on this topic.  We have never believed in external competition.  We have always believed in internal competition, competing with just ourselves to be better than we were the day, month, year, decade, before.  Yet, ironically, in doing so this triggers others to compete with us as we excel.  In essence, we become the 'enemy.' (see below)

This philosophy has propelled me throughout my life because it is not about winning at the expense of another (yet, when someone wins, in a strictly competitive world another loses) but simply to better my experiences, to rise to the next level of skill and success.

This 'no competition' attitude is key to successfully marketing your solo practice.  Let me explain.

  • Observe then Ignore the competition - That's right, observe then ignore them.  There are no shortage of clients, just lack of attraction tools which makes you feel like there are no clients.  Trust me, they are out there.

Conventional wisdom says that to beat your competition you need to one-up them.  Fox_with_animal_in_mouth_web1

This sort of one-upping Cold war mentality is a dead-end.  It's an expensive, defensive, and paranoid way of building your (solo practice).  Defensive, paranoid (law firms) can't think ahead, they can only think behind.  They don't lead, they follow. (Getting Real by 37 Signals)

However, do have an enemy. That's sounds just the opposite of what I said above.  But it isn't.  Sometimes the best way to know how to construct your legal services business is to know what it shouldn't be.  Figure out what type of legal practice is opposite of what you want to create and you'll discover where you need to go.  Instead of fearing 'the enemy' use it as a muse, a motivator. 

One huge benefit of identifying an 'enemy' is the ability to fashion a very clear marketing message.  If your 'enemy' is a huge, over-priced, ivory tower, partner heavy Big Law firm or a high volume, churn and burn client mill (even another solo) then position yourself as the opposite.  Clients are very good at drawing comparisions and it enables them to understand your position in relationship to others.  Not only will they understand quickly how you have differentiated your services, they will have a definite opinion about which type of service they prefer.

But DO NOT get obsessed with the 'enemy'.  If you over analyze and stay focused on what they are doing, you will start to limit your own thinking.  Look, analyze and then move on to your own vision of the perfect solo practice and cultivate your own ideas.  The 'enemy' is just a foundation from which to start your development.

Don't follow the leader.

Marketer's (and all human beings) are well trained to follow the leader.  The natural instinct is to figure out what's working for the competition and then try to outdo it - to be cheaper than your competitor who competes on price, or faster than your competitor who competes on speed.  The problem is that once a consumer has bought someone else's story and believes that lie, persuading the consumer to switch is the same as persuading him to admit he was wrong.  And people hate admitting that they are wrong.

Instead, you must tell a different story and persuade listeners that your story is more important than the story they currently believe.  If your competition is faster, you must be cheaper.  If they sell the story of health, you must sell the story of convenience.  Not just the positioning x/y axis sort of "We are cheaper" claim, but a real story that is completely different from the story that's already being told.  - Seth Godin, author/entrepreneur (from Be a Better Liar)

And to complicate this post yet further, you don't have to fabricate a story. 

You need to care about it

When you write a book, you need to have more than an interesting story.  You need to have a desire to tell the story.  You need to be profoundly invested in some way.  If you're going to live with something for two, three years, the rest of your life, you need to care about it. - Malcolm Gladwell, author (from a Few thin Slices of Malcolm Gladwell)

And when you decide to build your own solo practice you are making a long term commitment. Caring about your story comes from being genuine, authentic...being who you are, making your own unique footprint.  If you except this can you now understand why there IS no competition?

What do you think?

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Comments

Grant D Griffiths

Finally, someone has actually had the nerve to say what is so true. Instead of being so obsessed about what we think is the competition, we should focus more on how we can better serve our target. We should focus on how we can better reach our target. And we should focus on how we can communicate with our target.

When we worry too much about what we think is competition, we are actually missing out on focusing our marketing efforts to what really matters.

Great post Susan!!!

Edward Wiest

Great minds think alike--see today's post on Seth [Godin]'s blog addressing the same principal to realtors:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/02/advice-for-real.html

Susan Cartier Liebel

Ed, I saw Seth's post earlier and sent it to two of my friend's in real estate! Thanks for the compliment, too.

Another restatement:

I certainly agree with the major premise--that each of us is sufficiently "unique" so as to make the concept of "competition" irrelevant (or, put another way, viewing the services one provides to be a commodity is a short road to failure).

Looking at the problem in terms of what one can and cannot control, however, should make it clear that eliminating the fear of competition does _not_ make the task of developing a practice any easier:

One can control the nature of the services you wish to provide and the manner in which they are delivered.

One cannot control whether or not a target market (in the sense of a body of clients prepared and able to pay acceptable fees for the services you propose to provide) exists for the services one proposes to offer.

The hard works lies (or will lie) in simultaneously a) identifying a viable target market and b) developing and communicating a practice model consistent with one's talents, interests and needs that will provide unique value to that market. It seems to me that if one does that, there will be no further need to be concerned about "competition".

Susan Cartier Liebel

Anonymous, removing the psychological issues surrounding the 'competition' mindset doesnt' eliminate the other challenges when constructing your business plan for a successful solo practice. But once you rid yourself of detrimental distractions, you certainly have more focus on the task at hand, don't you agree?

Peter Olson

Great point. I think this is the precise mindset of UCLA bb coach John Wooden and Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Too much comparison to others lowers performance. Wooden always talked about the best you're capable of becoming as the proper/higher standard.

Sandy Slaga

Excellent post, Susan! Needed to "hear" this today. Thank you.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Sandy, it does help one gain perspective, doesn't it! Thanks for sharing.

Peter, I've always believed in this philosophy but I know many who don't. It prevents collaboration which is much more effective to help people achieve their goals.

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