Three years ago this week, I started Muse Communications. Although it was prompted more by personal considerations than professional (I needed more flexibility to juggle issues related to aging parents), it has turned out to be a professional revelation, helping me find my voice and discover new skills I didn’t know I had.
Because so many of our clients are just like us – start-ups and small firms founded by people who took a leap of faith – I thought it might be helpful if I shared some of the lessons I’ve learned since we opened for business.
Need help turning your legal marketing to-do list into reality? We can help with that! Muse Communications was named one of Dallas’ best legal public relations firms by the readers of Texas Lawyer (although we represent clients all over Texas). Just drop us a line.
Stick with what you know how to do best and outsource the rest. When I first started my company, I tried to do it all. What I didn’t know how to do, I vowed to learn. I invested in a few online courses (which I never finished) because it was something I thought I needed to be able to do. Then I discovered the miracle of hiring other people who are good at that skill. My clients don’t want to pay me to do something I’m not very good at. They’d rather rely on me to find someone who is already good at it and get them to do it, much better, more quickly, and cheaper.
That being said, try to learn something new almost every day. (OK, be fair, try to learn something new every week.) I subscribe to lots of newsletters, magazines, and newspapers and I give them all a scroll on a daily basis. When I find something that catches my eye but I don’t have time to read immediately, I save it to Pocket and dive into it later. I read a lot about digital marketing, the legal profession, and where those two intersect; I also cross-pollinate as much as possible and learn quite a bit from unrelated readings: politics, entertainment, literature, health and fitness, etc., and I use what I learn in non-legal, non-marketing forums all the time.
Don’t panic when work gets slow. In the beginning, when I had a lull in work, I went into an existential panic and wondered if I had made a huge mistake by starting my own company. Then, three hours later, a big project would land in my lap, giving me more work than I could ever hope to finish that day. That’s when I would instantly regret spending those three hours panicking rather than enjoying it for the respite it was. I haven’t had a lull in a while, but when the next one comes, I’ll use that time more productively. I’ll go for a swim or a hike, or I’ll invest it in learning something new. (I’m also better now at taking time off and scheduling those days weeks or months in advance. I never, ever fail to come back to work with new ideas and a company that, miraculously, didn’t go out of business in my absence.)
Marketing is a long game. I’m not a natural sales person. When I was in high school, I took a job as a telemarketer for The Dallas Times Herald (RIP). I was so bad at it that my boss said, “If you’ll sell just one subscription, I’ll give you a t-shirt.” I somehow sold a subscription and got the t-shirt (which I held on to for more than a decade after the paper closed in 1991; it was eventually too holey to wear in polite company). The point being, I’m not good at sales. My approach to business development is soft touches, done consistently over a long period of time. I know my stuff and I use my marketing to demonstrate that knowledge. And it works.
Stay in touch with your network. A large portion of my client base is the result of a referral many years ago from one of my best friends in seventh grade. Other clients were referrals from people who met me, interviewed me, liked me, but never hired me for one reason or another. They did, however, refer me to other people who have turned into wonderful clients. All this to say, you never know where new business is going to come from, so grow your network and stay in touch with them, both personally and with the aforementioned light touches. That’s one reason we love social media, especially LinkedIn, and email so much. They’re low-cost, efficient ways to stay on the radar of people you might otherwise never communicate with. Neither of those tools is a replacement for personal relationship-building, but they are great at bridging the gap.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Perfectionism is a friend to no-one. Yes, you want everything you do to be as good as it can be, but a 500-word blog post has far more readers than the 2,000-word blog post that would – in theory – perform better but that never gets written because I didn’t have the time to do that much research. Perhaps this is the former daily newspaper reporter in me; I had to turn in my story not because it was a work of art, but because my editor would yell at me if I didn’t turn it in, and because the presses needed to start running and they couldn’t publish a blank space in tomorrow’s paper. But the lesson has remained: do your best, but get it done and out the door.
Show your appreciation. No successful company is the result of one person’s work. Make sure those people you rely on know that they’re indispensable. In my case, at the top of my list are Bruce Vincent and Christina DiPinto, without whom I would be lost and alone. Our clients, obviously, also fit into that description, as does my husband. We also work with a handful of vendors (forgive the sterile word) whose responsiveness and assistance make us look good on a regular basis. I am humbled and grateful to get to work with and for every one of you.
Sometimes, you just have to take a leap. Starting your own business is, of course, an American dream, baked into our DNA along with a love of chocolate chip cookies. But it’s scary and risky. So, before you quit your job and start your own shop, get your financial house in order. Be prepared to live on less for a while. (My advice that everyone should be or marry an accountant – I did the latter – really paid off in the company’s early days.) But, if you have more pros than cons on your “Starting my own firm” list, pick a date and make it happen. I can’t promise it will work out, but you won’t be kicking yourself in 20 years for never taking the chance.
Thanks for reading and being a part of our three years.
And if you have any starting-a-business tips of your own, please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Boardman Hunt is the president of Muse Communications LLC, which provides content marketing and public relations to the legal profession. She began her career in legal journalism and has worked in legal marketing and public relations since 1997.