Does ‘perfection paralysis’ hinder lawyer marketing?


It takes a lifetime to build a reputation. But that reputation might be lost or damaged in the work of just a moment and nowadays any mistake could be amplified around the world on social media.  It is enough to make any self-respecting lawyer want to curl up under your duvet and abandon all attempts at personal marketing to garner publicity for your area of legal expertise.

However, there will be other lawyers who are less fearful and who step forward and embrace lawyer marketing with gusto, so can you afford to be left behind?

Maybe you are quite keen to develop your marketing and business development skills, and you have lots of great ideas, but somehow you never get around to getting them out into the market. There is always a way to improve it a bit more, or you just want to speak to someone else to get their input before you finish it off. 

Sound familiar? Do you put off completing the blog, or white paper, or proposal so often that sometimes the opportunity has passed? Do you put off starting a project because you have not got all the details clear yet? If so, you might have a case of ‘perfection paralysis’. 

Of course, we all want our work to be as perfect as it can be, but the risk for lawyers is that you can end up wasting a huge amount of your scarcest resources: your time and mental energy.

This occurs easily in any knowledge business because, the output is rarely visible in the same way as a manufactured product.

Most professionals hate to consider their work as a product – but, bear with me for a moment and just imagine that your big business development idea for a new service offering was made of metal and required precision engineering.  Consider how many hours (and therefore lost fees) have been spent on an unfinished project – and therefore how big this lump of metal might be.

Your firm has incurred substantial costs of professional time in scoping the idea, designing the widget, acquiring the components, producing the prototype, consulting colleagues and fine tuning it. 

But you are still not confident that it is perfect, especially as you have had some mixed feedback from colleagues.  You are really busy on client work and just cannot find the headspace to give it that final polish.  The marketing team are itching to get their hands on it and take it to market, but you don't want to let go just yet.  A competitor has launched something similar, and so you want to make a few more adjustments. 

Any of these traits sound familiar?

Maybe you have several ideas in progress, but struggle to get any one of them over the final furlong and into the market.  It is important to remember that you will never earn a penny from your investment in research and development (for that is what you have been doing) until you get your ideas and expertise out to the market.

If you had been developing a widget, then we can imagine a prototype sitting in the corner of your office gathering dust.  Could there be several prototype models lined up on the floor? How many business development ideas have you had and started that have not really gone anywhere?

If only you could see the tangible evidence of your effort, this would provide a daily reminder of product development status and costs incurred and might prompt you to get these projects finished. 

But a business development idea, whether for a new service, an app or a simple blog post, sometimes never manifests itself in anything more than a word document saved on a server and is therefore invisible.  Consequently, it is easy to lose sight of the end goal and the costs incurred. While firms monitor time recorded to marketing or business development, this is not the same as monitoring outputs.

Can you imagine the pharmaceutical companies simply letting drug development ideas fade into obscurity? Of course not!

So how can a lawyer overcome this perfection paralysis to prevent resources being wasted in this way?

  1. Remember that perfectionism and excellence are not the same thing and your presentation can be excellent without being perfect. In fact those human imperfections may bring it to life and make it more relatable to the imperfect audience.
  2. Clarify your objectives as this then provides an easy way of assessing whether an idea is worth spending any energy on and will remind you what you it is you are aiming to achieve.
  3. Limit the number of live marketing projects you agree to work on to two or three. It is alright to say “no, I cannot do this”, and do not take on anything new until you have completed something and ticked it off the list.
  4. Add ideas to a sandbox – you can always come back to them when you have capacity. You may find that what seemed like a good idea three months ago still looks strong, or you might find that it has lost its appeal and can be deleted.
  5. Track every project to completion – we use IDAHO, our workflow software, to help us to see how long any project has been in progress, any deadlines, who it is (stuck) with and for how long, as this ensures that projects keep moving until they are completed.
  6. Enlist a critical friend or two to give your project a fresh eye, and this will help to avoid any potential social media nightmares emerging. Take note of their input, but do not let them derail you and remember they have their own agenda.
  7. Employ an independent proofreader to really give your written materials a thorough check and edit.
  8. Focus on distribution as a marketing project is not complete until a message has reached a client. There is no use producing a brochure and never sending it out, or writing a blog that never gets published, or making a new contact that you never call. Pay as much attention to distribution as production.
  9. Pat yourself on the back when the project plan has been completed right through to the feedback stage.
  10. Follow up diligently and remember that a launch is not enough to build a new stream of business, you need a long-term sustained programme of communications and this also needs to be planned, resourced and delivered.

Even if things do not quite go to plan, you will surely learn something along the way that will be useful in the future, a step on the road of continuous improvement.

As Salvador Dali said “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

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