I was giving a workshop on web marketing recently, and one of the astute members of the audience asked me about how lawyers can “start with why”?
As someone who aspires to provide practical and useful advice as often as possible, I have to admit that my answer at the time was… poor (sorry folks who were there!).
So after some reflection, I decided to take another stab at it.
What is “Start with Why”?
You might not be aware of the proposition, but Simon Sinek wrote a book called “Start with Why” (and a TED talk on the same topic) where, in short, he proposes that:
people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it
Here's the video in case you want to watch it:
So What's so Hard about This?
Everything that Sinek says sounds great when he says it, but when confronted with the question “why do I do what I do” it all becomes very difficult to actually answer the question.
Especially for lawyers.
“Why do I help people sue each other?”
“Why do I analyse construction documents for loopholes?”
See the problem?
Often we have become lost in the “what” and the “how” (which Sinek also deals with) but haven't ever tried to tackle the “why” at all.
It's More about Priority than Omission
Something a lot of people miss when they get all excited about the “why” statement is that Sinek's proposition is NOT that we “only say why” – it's that we “start with why”.
The how and the what still need to be articulated, but it's about putting your belief and your vision first in the order of things.
From a marketing perspective, it's also a matter of attracting the people who believe what you believe first, and then telling them what you do and how you do it.
This makes sense. Communities and relationships aren't ordinarily built around the “how” of anything – they're built around the “why”.
Take a look at health – there are innumerable communities based on health all with the same goal – they all want to get healthy.
But within that, there are a million different subsets of belief – some people are fine with fat, some aren't. Some people eat gluten, some don't. Some people eat meat, some don't. Some do one form of exercise, and others do a different form (or no exercise except for typing…).
Those people all have the same ultimate goal, but operate from entirely different beliefs.
Once they come together though, they still inevitably get into the “how” and the “what” of their beliefs.
Why, then How, then What
Once we understand that we don't have to come up with a “why” that works entirely in isolation, the process becomes much easier.
Your “why, how, what” statement can come together like this:
- what do you believe, or what is your vision for your target audience;
- how does what you do work towards that belief or vision;
- what do you do which accomplishes this.
Practical Example 1 – Construction Law
Let's say you're a construction lawyer who works primarily in back-end litigation and dispute work. You might have a target audience of subcontractors.
Your statement might look like this:
I believe that every subcontractor who does good work should be paid in a timely fashion so they can focus on what they do best. To help them achieve this I use a streamlined, efficient and easy to use process. We use our skills as lawyers to ensure that our clients get paid and can get back to work without distraction. If that sounds good – give me a call.
Notice how it's personal – it's targeted at the people we want, it focuses on their issues, and it says up front what we believe about their needs.
Practical Example 2 – Commercial Law
What if you act for small business? Perhaps you do front end documentation, structuring and work for startups. Your statement might look like this:
I believe every startup should have the best opportunity to build their business without getting bogged down in confusing paperwork. I have developed a unique process to ensure that new businesses tick all the necessary boxes and have the legal protection they need across the board – without any headaches to go with it. I have 20 years experience in helping business. Do you want me to help you?
But What to Do with It?
Having articulated this kind of message, the question is: what do we actually do with it?
Sure, you might say it out aloud (or in print) every now and again, but of course you begin to sound silly if you just keep repeating this to people.
Instead, this “why, how, what” message is your yardstick.
Is your content strategy consistent with this message?
Is your tone of communication consistent with this message?
Are you always delivering this message implicitly in everything you do?
This message helps you remain authentic, consistent and human in your content strategy and your communications. It's not necessarily something you put on a billboard.
Will I Sound like an Idiot?
Not if you do it right and use it right.
If you've aligned what you say with what you actually believe, and not just come up with something that sounds nifty – then the risk of severe embarrassment is extremely low.
But if you've just gone with what you feel like you should say, then you're in big trouble. If your message is “I believe people should settle disputes” but you are a complete rabid bulldog of a litigator – then you're going to get called out, and rightly so.
Of course, some people are going to be skeptical when lawyers start sounding human like this. But you can't have everything, and over time people might just start to believe that you actually have feelings and stuff.
So what's your Why, How and What?
Remember – you start with why, but that's not the entire equation.
What's yours? Let me know in the comments!