How to Avoid the Traps of the Solo

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Being a solo is tough. It’s especially tough in the beginning.

It’s you against the world. It’s you creating something out of nothing. It’s a weird mental space that keeps you spinning, wondering, and thinking about all the possibilities for success—and failure.

Your brain runs fast. It goes to places of greatness, but it also wanders into the dark, scary, lonesome recesses. It’s solo, and that’s a very solitary feeling.

Be aware, even when you head to the dark mental paces, that you’re kind of amazing for your willingness to take on this adventure. Many can’t handle it. They’re scared. You’re bold.

You’re doing something that defies logic.

You’re taking nothing other than a laptop, a cell phone, and a legal education and turning it into money. It’s incredibly difficult to turn nothing into something. You’ve got to see it in your mind, believe it’s real, and then convince others to see it as well. It’s great until you think about it, and then it’s overwhelming.

Most lawyers would rather take a job. They’d rather let someone else create, and they’ll just play a role. You’re different.

You’ve figured out a way to manage your thoughts and get going. Now you’re going to keep going.

But the path is not clear. There are traps. There are tricky spots.

Of course, they can be navigated. For every tricky problem, there’s a solution.

Let’s run through the big three.

1. You Don’t Know When You’re Done for the Day.

There’s no boss to tell you when you’ve done enough.

You get up and get working. It’s likely that you’re working from home, so the commute involves walking from the bed to the desk with a brief potty break on the way. Here we go. The day is underway.

It’s common to start early. You’re up before the sun working on a blog post. You’re driven by caffeine and anxiety, and you’re off to a strong start each morning.

As the sun rises, you start calling prospective referral sources, catching up with clients, and researching the law in an unfamiliar area. You’re busy and grateful that you’ve got things to do. It beats sitting around twiddling your thumbs.

But, before you know it, it’s the end of the day. You’re proud of what’s done, but you’re not finished. And, truth be told, the bank account balance isn’t much different from what it was this morning.

Do you stop? Do you keep working? And even if you stop working—call it quits for the day—how do you stop thinking about it?

You aren’t alone in feeling like your work hours are 24/7/365. The mental break never comes. That’s one reason so many lawyers run into substance abuse problems—yep.

The Solution

What’s the answer? How do you know when to stop? When have you done enough?

You’ve got to set the agenda at the outset of the day. Plan the day in advance. Then work through the agenda and declare victory. Be done when the agenda is done. Don’t keep working. Stop. Enough is enough.

There’s no alternative except to work until you can no longer hold up your head. That, my friend, is unsustainable.

So you’ve got to come up with a plan, stick to it, and then quit for the day.

Sometimes you’ll finish early, and sometimes you’ll finish late. That’s life. But you’ll have defined the job of the day at the outset, and you’ll know when it’s quitting time.

2. You’re Lonesome.

It’s weird how lonely it can be to run your own practice, especially in the beginning. In the early days, you have no staff. You have no one. It gets especially lonesome if you work from home.

Interestingly, I know solos who worked from home before starting their solo practice and still felt the impact of leaving their old jobs. Working at home when you know others are also on the team—even when you’re not talking to them—feels different from knowing you’re the only one on the team. It’s harder to work for yourself at home than it is to have a remote job working for others.

Being a solo is dramatically different from having a job. You’re doing it by yourself, and no matter how great your mentors, advisors, coaches, friends, and family are, it’s still you against the world. There’s an intense feeling of operating without a net.

The Solution

Here are some ideas:

A. Friends. Amp up your relationships. This is the time to be spending more time with friends. You’ll need their support and input, and you’ll appreciate their referrals. Set up more coffees/lunches than usual. Get yourself out there in the world each day. Make connecting with people part of your “work” schedule.

B. Co-working. Find a co-working community. I work in co-working offices all over the world. They’re great. You’ll build relationships with others who are also solo. In larger cities, there are more and more co-working offices filled with lawyers. In smaller cities, you’ll meet solos from all kinds of businesses. These are great places to build friendships and get referrals. You’ll rarely be lonely in these offices.

C. Coffee shop. Get yourself a good coffee shop for part of the day. Some coffee shops are better than others for building relationships. Starbucks tends, to me anyway, to feel pretty anonymous. I might as well be at home. Independent coffee shops often have owners/employees who get to know you and promote relationships among customers. Look for a place where you’ll get to know others.

D. Rosen Institute. Join our membership program and get active on the forum. You’ll find educational material published each week. More importantly, you’ll find a community of others in the same situation working together to overcome the challenges. This supportive, participatory community will lift your spirits as well as your income.

Part of going solo—and it’s a big part—is being alone. You’re facing many challenges on your own. However, you don’t have to be lonesome while you do it. Being surrounded by friends makes it easier.

3. Your Emotions Are Ruled by Your Revenue.

A good revenue day means you’re happy. A bad revenue day means you’re not. It’s not a good way to live. Having your mood ruled by money is exhausting, destructive, and counterproductive.

The stress of living life by the revenue is horrific. You start to link your self-worth to your bank account. It’s damaging to your health, wealth, and relationships.

Been there, done that, and didn’t even get a t-shirt. My revenue took over my life. I had to make a break from it and, sadly, it still pulls at my emotions. It’s a very tough trap. It’s easy to fall into and hard to crawl out.

The bad news is that letting your revenue rule your emotions results in bad business decisions. You need some independence of thought to make good business decisions. You can’t afford to have your mood swinging up and down with your revenue. It’s dangerous because the decisions you make often outlast the mood.

The Solution

Put your focus on value instead of money. Obsess about adding value, and let the money follow.

You need some emotional distance between you and the money. You’ve got to get focused on the effort and know that the money follows the effort. If you did the work today, if you added the value and exerted the effort, then you’ve got to tell yourself that the money will follow.

The interesting thing is that money does follow value/effort. If you put in the work, you will see the money.

Focusing on adding the value gets you the money much more easily than focusing on the money.

Keep your brain aimed at your contribution, and don’t look at the money. If you’re contributing, then the bank balance will keep going up.

If you focus on the money, you’ll end up swinging yourself up and then down and then up again. In the end, you’ll earn more by staying focused on the value you add.

Should you think about money at all? Of course. But limit your focus on that part of the plan.

Plan the revenue for a specific period (a month works) and then look at how the month turns out. Let the win/loss impact happen once a month rather than at the end of every workday (22 times a month). Sure, you’ll still feel the elation/disappointment of a good/bad month, but it’ll be less frequent.

You can add value every day and measure it against your plan. You’ll have more up days than down. Don’t use the money as your measure. Measure yourself against the value, and the money will come right along.

 

There are other traps of being a solo, but these are the big three. They’re tricky if you don’t see them coming. However, knowing they’re out there changes everything. It’s simple to be proactive about heading them off before you get trapped. You’ll quickly find a path around the trouble and stay on the path toward success as a solo.

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