RŌNIN REPORTS: Be a Better Entrepreneur

Vol. 31 No. 3

By

Benjamin K. Sanchez is a commercial and collection litigation attorney in Houston, Texas.

Being in the last part of the first half of 2014, we are reminded that time has indeed flown by and now what we thought we could accomplish in a year is pinched into half that time. In my last column, I discussed how to keep your New Year’s resolutions going and overcome that valley we inevitably face after the excitement of the New Year has worn off. In this column, I will dive into a topic that many of us are too busy to truly think about: how to be a better entrepreneur.

Let’s face it: We’re all entrepreneurs whether we like it or not. If you’re a sole practitioner or a small firm co-owner, you are acutely aware of this fact. Yet, if you’re a government lawyer, associate in a big firm, or nonprofit lawyer, you’re an entrepreneur as well. That’s because we are all “in business” for ourselves, but our definition of “in business” is unique to each of us. Staying true to this unique understanding is what will help us succeed as entrepreneurs.

What Is Success?

The first thing that usually pops into a lawyer’s head when the word “success” is mentioned is financial wealth. That is because big law firms, mass media, and national marketing companies have been able to dominate the messaging of our industry. Clients and potential clients have been taught through marketing to think that bigger is better, more wealth must be a result of being smarter, redundancy is protection, and a higher billable hour must be a reflection of a better work product. Because our clients think like this, we tend to think like this.

Such thinking leads to a host of self-defeating behaviors that thankfully can be overcome. What if we switched the whole “success = money” paradigm on its head and reimagined success as whatever is uniquely important to us? When we begin to evaluate our success on a personal level, measuring it against our core values rather than the external measurements imposed by society, we find the keys to becoming a better entrepreneur.

Love Yourself and Others

Entrepreneurship and love are not often associated with one another. But when we keep in mind that success is based on our own core values, then it is only natural that entrepreneurs must love in order to be successful.

The first type of love that makes us better entrepreneurs is self-love. I don’t mean selfishness as a way of fulfilling our urges and desires. Rather, our lives become transformed when we simply love ourselves enough to let go of how others measure us and instead give ourselves the freedom to be true to our core beliefs. A cynic might comment that some people do value money, but I’d respond by asserting that allowing the human spirit to roam freely without constraint is what we as humans value most. Our humanity has always been and always will be measured in terms of love, not money or material possessions.

The second type of love that helps us be better entrepreneurs is the love of others who share this world with us. Such love of others doesn’t necessarily mean loving other people. My mother, for example, loves animals. She taught me growing up that being able to love another being is a sign of maturity. From her donations to Greenpeace in the 1970s to our home full of various animals in the 1980s and now to her home full of rescue dogs and tamed feral cats, my mother’s love of animals has taught me gentleness, compassion, and humility. When we learn to love and care for others, we allow our human spirit to do what it was meant to do. We hold great power to generate light and darkness in this world, and when we love others, who then love others, who then love others, we create a light far greater than what we can see immediately around us. Being able to love others allows our compassion to flow outward and thus generates a success beyond compare.

Live According to Your Purpose

I recently studied the science of happiness and learned that happiness derives from the three Ps: pleasure, passion, and purpose. In studying people who were dying or at the moment just before death, scientists learned that most people remembered little or nothing of those things that brought them pleasure in life, such as possessions or vacations. This is understandable because happiness created by pleasure is the shortest-lived of the three types of happiness. In the moments prior to death, people did remember the things they were passionate about, but only because they had put so much energy into those activities. The passion in and of itself created a longer-lasting happiness than pleasure, but not by much. Think about it: You may be passionate about running, golfing, technology, and so on, but the happiness from such activities is derived from the energy you put into them and how that makes you feel for a while. The scientists discovered that there is no big emotional attachment to our passions at the time of our deaths.

Instead, scientists learned that people judged their lives by whom they harmed and how they helped. Regardless of what justifications might have existed at the time of the harmful act, people regretted the harm they inflicted on others. If they had learned to let go of harmful behavior and instead lived with purpose that contributed in some way or another to the world, then people died content and happy.

To be a better entrepreneur, you must figure out what calls to you, what is your unique purpose in life, and then you must align your life to live according to that purpose. Once you have done this, whatever you define as success will come in abundance.

Sell Yourself, Not Time or Activity

A couple of years ago, a lawyer-turned-business-entrepreneur gave a six-minute speech to a room full of lawyers, a speech that he said could change their lives if they took his message to heart. He went on to describe how lawyers are in the business of selling knowledge, not time or activity. The three types of knowledge that lawyers sell are substantive, procedural, and judgment. He asserted that what separates lawyers from non-lawyers in the realm of legal services is judgment. Online websites, articles, and forms all can sell substantive and procedural knowledge to clients just as well as any lawyer. What these websites, articles, and forms can’t do, however, is sell judgment, the judgment that comes from experience and from the substantive and procedural knowledge you have learned.

The speaker noted that it would be a long time from now, if ever, before a client could get a lawyer’s judgment simply from reading websites and filling out forms. In light of this, the speaker noted that lawyers are traditionally selling the wrong thing. We sell our time in six-minute increments or the activities of preparing pleadings, responding to discovery, arguing a motion, or trying a case. Yet, what truly makes us different and meaningful to our clients is our judgment, which allows our clients to make good decisions. When that happens, there is no amount of time or activity that can be measured. What if a client was to hire us and our judgment allowed the client to make the best decision possible in a week’s time? How valuable would that be to the client? Would not the result that was obtained be just as good as if it had been reached over a year or two? Even when we must take that time to conduct discovery and learn the facts, it is our judgment that ultimately helps or harms the client.

Therefore, to become a better entrepreneur, you must learn to sell yourself, your judgment, and your wisdom, rather than your knowledge of substantive law, procedures, and material assets. When you demonstrate to a client that your value is in your thinking rather than your time or work product, you will generate clients who not only come back to you time and again but also refer family, friends, and strangers to you.

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Remember that we are all entrepreneurs, but success is uniquely personal to all of us. In order to become better entrepreneurs, we must learn the universal truths that lead us to greater success. We must love ourselves and others and live authentically with purpose. When we do that and then honestly sell what makes us unique—ourselves—rather than what makes us the same, we will be become better entrepreneurs.

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