Lessons for Small Firms From Mom-and-Pop Retailers on How to Beat Big Competitors

Last week, I wrote about how the rise of large health networks in the medical profession is making it harder for independent doctors to compete – and pondered whether solos and smalls might face the same fate potentially from the growth of branded lawyer networks. Of course, that’s not the only source of competition for solos and smalls; Richard Susskind has long predicted  that automated, online form platforms will bring about the demise of most general practice solo and small firm lawyers (I don’t agree, but that’s an argument for another post).

Still, the fate of solos and smalls isn’t set in stone. Just as Walmart hasn’t killed off mom-and-pop retailers, there’s plenty that solos and smalls can do to compete. And some of the best ideas come from Dave Ratner, a small retailers who’s successfully held off bigger competitors with the advice summarized here.

One of the tips is “personalize everything you do.”  In the case of Ratner, who runs “Dave’s Soda & Pet City,” a small chain of pet supply stores, personalized service has meant developing Dave’s own brand of dog food, with a message on the can that reads “Thanks for trusting me with the health of the creature you love more than anything in the world.”

There are lots of ways that lawyers can personalize their services. Ditching professional copywriting and ghost blogging services is probably one of the best and most obvious places to start – but there’s more you can do.   

For example, as LawPal’s Yael Citron, why not ditch the 22-page form engagement agreements and replace them with a letter like this one that adopts a more personal tone? Instead of the letter sounding threatening to clients (if you don’t pay on time, we’ll withdraw, if you don’t pay a deposit right now, we won’t start work, if you call more than twice a week, we’ll bill you double, etc…), Citron’s proposed letter explains the reason for various requirements – much as many of the proposed clauses in my 21st Century Retainer Agreement materials do as well.

Competing with big box SEO is hard for solos and smalls; it’s a game that few can win. But if you personalize your service and make yourself memorable, you won’t have to worry about people searching for your firm because through word of mouth, they’ll discover  your firm instead.