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November 20, 2008

Going Solo; Confessions and Inspirations - Elaine Martin

This is a wonderful, honest and uplifting story....just in time for Thanksgiving.

Guest Blogger - Elaine Martin

Why I went solo.

http://www.apartments-vela-luka.com/imidjis-croatia/croatia-001.jpgI blame Croatia. Or perhaps I should say that I thank Croatia.

Just over a year ago, I was on a cycling trip along the stunning Croatian coast when I had a serious accident. I shattered my shoulder, fractured my skull, and needed stitches to my chin. The skull fracture damaged my facial nerve, which caused half my face to be paralyzed temporarily. I had to fly home early for surgery, and now have a huge rod and screws in my right arm. (Yes, I’m right-handed. No, it doesn’t set off alarms at airport security!). The surgeon said it was the worst shoulder break he had ever seen and his prognosis for recovering range of motion was grim (I was determined to prove him wrong).

Bizarrely, I’ve been much happier since the accident than I was beforehand. I don’t want to sound like some Reader’s Digest inspirational-invalid story. I’m not sentimental like that, and I’m not an invalid. I regained far more flexibility in my shoulder than the surgeon ever thought possible, and it’s still improving. My facial paralysis disappeared far quicker than expected, and the scar to my chin is barely noticeable. If you met me now, you wouldn’t know anything had happened.

The amazing outcome of the accident was a new perspective on what’s really important. The overwhelming sentiment that I had after the accident was of being ridiculously lucky - lucky that I didn’t come home a paraplegic, in a wheelchair, given that I had a skull fracture. Lucky that I travel alone a lot internationally and speak a few languages, so getting back from Croatia wasn’t distressing for me, even in my condition (I’ve actually never been as happy to fly home from vacation!). Lucky that I don’t play tennis, volleyball, or other sports where raising my right arm high would be required. Lucky that my legs weren’t injured, since I’m a runner. Lucky that I had fabulous travel insurance, wonderful friends to take care of me when I got back, etc, etc.

I realized that life was way too short to spend it in a job where I was unhappy. I had become increasingly dissatisfied and disillusioned with my existing position, working for a large boutique immigration law firm. I had been there for over 7 years and felt that I was stagnating. It was good money and reasonable hours, but I realized that I was bored. Very bored, and consequently losing motivation and drive. I spoke to other law firms about joining their immigration departments, but my heart really wasn’t in it. Then I spoke to solo friends of mine who felt that I should definitely try going it alone, especially if I had any existing clients at all.

I had never had a huge desire to run my own business, even though my dad was a successful entrepreneur. I just never thought that I wanted to worry about whether we could afford a new copier or if we should change health insurance plans. Apparently I imaged a business with lots of employees and equipment, not just me and the PC! Once I realized that it could (and should) be just me and the PC, I got really excited about the prospect of setting up my own practice. I was in a better position than most: old enough to have lots of experience in my field, plenty of savings, and no debt other than my house. I didn’t have a family to support. I was in a field that allowed me to have clients nationwide - because immigration law is federal – so I could operate a “virtual” office.

I decided to keep my initial costs as low as possible, and work from a home office when I wasn’t working remotely. The biggest expense - and it wasn’t big - was the all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, fax machine, though I don’t use the fax. Some people still want to use fax, however, so I signed up for E-fax, at about $16 a month. I now have a fax number that I can access anywhere, and that doesn’t spew out reams of junk faxes. I have a Skype number as my work number, which allows for call-forwarding to my cell phone, conference calls, and cheap international calls (very useful in immigration law). I could even do video calls – yikes. I have a mailing address with a suite number that looks like a real office address. It’s a local franchise postal center – I figured that would look better than a PO Box address, and they accept FedEx. I got a PDA that has Word, Excel and PowerPoint, although I will get a laptop soon. I signed up for QuickBooks online, again so that I could work remotely, even on my accounting.

I created my own website, and had a web designer friend review it and help with the hosting process. I was very anxious to have a professional website in place as soon as I notified former clients that I had left the old law firm. Most of those clients were companies, and I wanted my contacts to be able to see my spiffy new online presence immediately. I imagine that I could get a lot of business via the web, given that I can and do have clients all over the country. However, I’m still working on search engine optimization. I’m hoping that I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to an SEO professional, but maybe I will. For now, I’m learning as much as I can about meta-tags, keywords, bots, spiders, Google Analytics, and blogging to try to improve my visibility.

It has only been 2 months since Martin Immigration Law went live, however I’ve had cases to work on and I got 2 new clients yesterday. I’ve had lots of fun learning to be my own bookkeeper, webmaster, tech support, paralegal, marketing guru, etc. The wealth of information online about all these areas, including information specifically tailored to solo lawyers, is fabulous.

It’s a challenging economy to start a business, to be sure. However I’m so glad that I did it. I’ve regained my excitement for the practice, for networking, for marketing, and most importantly, for client service. Life is good.

Elaine Martin
Martin Immigration Law
6333 E. Mockingbird Lane
Suite 147-910
Dallas, TX 75214
Phone:  (214) 329-4148
Fax:  (214) 276-7476

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Comments

Joseph Dang

Elaine, what a wonderful story. Stories like this on Susan's blog are essentially reason #1 why I am in the process of also launching a solo practice with as little overhead as possible (I'm still opening an office for meetings but at a very very low price). I will work remotely and at home, and the office when need be.

My friend had an SUV roll over him and he is still recovering after four years. So I'm glad to hear you're recovering from your accident.

Susan, these feature stories are so encouraging and inspirational. Thanks.

Tim

Thanks for posting your experience! I'm about to take the plunge myself (about 2 weeks), and I'm scared/nervous/excited and about every other emotion you can imagine.

Susan Cartier Liebel

Elaine, you story is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing on BSP.

As for 'spending thousands on SEO' never...just makes sure you have a good quality blogging platform and write great content...and there is no avoiding some sweat equity, good commenting on other sites and engaging in conversation. This will get you where you need to go.

Susan Cartier Liebel

@Joseph and Tim...congratulations on striking out on your own. The number one lesson is LOW OVERHEAD. Technology is essential. Get your web presence going...critical.

Keep us posted on your progress!

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