Seth Godin is one of the world’s most respected business and marketing visionaries. A member of the Marketing Hall of Fame, Seth is the author of 19 bestselling books, the creator of one of the world’s most popular blogs, and the founder of the altMBA and The Marketing Seminar, which have transformed thousands of lives. Seth is a Keynote Speaker at the 2020 Clio Cloud Conference, which starts virtually on October 13.
In this episode, Seth shares valuable insights about marketing, business, problem solving, and making things better. Specifically, Seth and Jack Newton discuss:
- Why the career highlights he values the most are his failures
- Why lawyers need to rethink what marketing is, and how to do it
- The importance of adopting a value-based mindset (as opposed to a time-based mindset)
- The competitive advantages of serving a specific market and prioritizing trust and connection
- How the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted society—and what you can do now to better position yourself for the future
Seth Godin is the author of 19 books that have been bestsellers around the world and have been translated into more than 35 languages. He’s also the founder of the altMBA and The Marketing Seminar, online workshops that have transformed the work of thousands of people.
He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. You might be familiar with his books Linchpin, Tribes, The Dip, and Purple Cow. His latest book, This Is Marketing, was an instant bestseller around the world.
In addition to his writing and speaking, Seth has founded several companies, including Yoyodyne and Squidoo. His blog (which you can find by typing “seth” into Google) is one of the most popular in the world.
In 2018, he was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame. More than 10,000 people have taken his powerful workshops, including altMBA and The Marketing Seminar.
You can follow Seth on Twitter at @ThisIsSethsBlog
A lawyer who finds her smallest viable audience, that group of people big enough to sustain them, and obsesses about them, will be happier, more profitable, and more successful than somebody who says, “If you’re looking for an average lawyer, I’m an average lawyer.” Because most lawyers are average lawyers, and you can’t compete against that, because that’s a race to the bottom. And not only is there someone down the street cheaper than you, there’s now a computer that’s cheaper than you. And if you don’t think the internet is going to replace all those lawyers, you should ask a travel agent. Oh, there are no travel agents, so you can’t ask a travel agent.
I’m Jack Newton, CEO of Clio, and this is the Daily Matters podcast. On Daily Matters, we talk with legal professionals, industry leaders, and subject-matter experts about the future of law. We explore where the legal industry is headed, how legal practice is changing, and what you can be doing to position yourself for success.
This episode of Daily Matters is brought to you by the 2020 Clio Cloud Conference, the world’s best legal conference, featuring keynote speakers Seth Godin, Angela Duckworth, and Ben Crump. The conference will take place virtually from October 13 to 16. Get your passes now before it’s too late, at cliocloudconference.com.
Today’s guest is Seth Godin, one of the world’s most respected business and marketing visionaries. A member of the Marketing Hall of Fame, Seth is the author of 19 best-selling books, the creator of one of the world’s most popular blogs, and the founder of the altMBA and the Marketing Seminar, which have transformed thousands of lives. Seth is also going to be a keynote speaker at the 2020 Clio Cloud Conference, which starts virtually on October 13.
Seth, we are thrilled to have you on the show. Thanks so much for joining us.
Well, thanks for having me. Your team is fantastic. It’s been a pleasure prepping for this conference. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’m so looking forward to your keynote, Seth. And before we get started, I just wanted to let you know: I’m personally a huge fan. I’ve been a reader of your work since the early days of founding Clio, 12 years ago. Your thoughts on marketing, standing out from the crowd, and creating a brand and a voice have been hugely influential for me personally, so I’m so excited to chat with you today.
Well, thank you. I appreciate it. And I’ll apologize at the top for leaf blowers, airplanes, and all other New York noise that creeps in here,
Not a problem at all. So Seth, starting off, you’ve done so much in your career so far. What have been some of the highlights for you, and some of the things that you’ve been most personally proud of?
Well, it sounds perverse, but I would say the failures. I would say the projects that meant well, that were well created, and that didn’t work. Whether it was missing an opportunity to build the World Wide Web, because I didn’t think it was going to amount to anything, or the book projects or other projects that took years of my life and then hit a wall. Because it’s easy to say you’re proud of the successes, but that outcome wasn’t up to me. The work is to do the work, and to show up with the work, and the outcome isn’t up to you. And you learn more from the ones that didn’t work than the ones that did, because the ones that do work, one is inclined to take all the credit. And the ones that don’t work, it’s hard to share the blame. So you say, “All right, what did I learn from this thing?” And I would like to think I have failed more than most people.
And whether they’re successes or failures, what drives you to do the work you do, Seth? You obviously have a sense of purpose and mission. You’ve been doing this work for years and you’re prolific in so many different ways. What makes you tick?
It’s interesting, because when you talk to a decently successful lawyer, if you spend enough time, like six minutes, they will get to the part where they don’t really like what they do. And you say, “Well, why don’t you quit?” And they go, “Well, I need the money.” No, you don’t need the money. You’re 55 years old. You’ve been doing this for a really long time. You could stop. They’re hooked on a hedonic treadmill about leaning into work that they’re not really excited by. And I am unbelievably fortunate that this thing that I would do for free, I get to do for a living. And I’m a teacher. I like turning on lights for other people. I believe, truly believe, that there’s possibility in our culture if we could just contribute more, if we could make things better by making better things. And so I look at this platform I have, which took a very long time and a lot of lucky breaks to acquire, and if a million people are going to let me whisper to them every day, I view that as a privilege and I’m not walking away from it anytime soon.
Seth, you’re rightfully recognized as one of the foremost authorities on marketing. Why is learning about marketing important for entrepreneurs in the digital age? And what are some of the best ways to learn about marketing?
Well, I’ll take exception. I’m not an authority on anything. I am a provocateur, because I ask questions. And I don’t want anyone to take my answers, but I think they need to answer the questions. I begin by saying, “What does marketing mean, anyway?” And my assertion is that marketing is not advertising. Marketing is not hype. Marketing is not manipulation. Marketing is what we make, and how we make it, and who we make it for. Marketing is what we hope our customers will tell their friends. Marketing is the change we make in the world.
And if you think about it that way, you realize that everything we do sooner or later is marketing, and that if you do marketing, everyone in the company works for you. Because that stuff you dump in the river, or the way you answer the phone, or your billing cycle, or your pricing, or the quality of your work, are all marketing decisions. It’s called “marketing” because that’s what we call it when it touches the market. So if you were doing something in the privacy of your own office that no one’s ever going to see, okay, that’s not marketing. But everything else? That’s marketing.
So let’s shift the conversation to talking about marketing as it exists in the legal sphere. Seth, you’ve worked with legal professionals in the past. I’m curious: What are some of your high-level thoughts in terms of how lawyers tend to think about marketing, innovation, and business development?
Okay. So I tried very hard not to show up telling a profession I know more than they do about what they do, because I touch lots of professions. But I’ll also tell you, I lived in the NYU dorm for one year. I published two books about law firms. I dealt with hundreds and hundreds of law firms, big and small, around the country, and I’m married to a woman who was a lawyer for 20 years. So I have up-close-and-personal seen this. My grandfather was the Dean of Bankruptcy Lawyers in New York City. He did grants, and you get the idea.
Okay. Most lawyers say they don’t do marketing. That’s their first problem, because of course they’re doing marketing. All of the things I just ranted about, they’re doing every day. And it could be something as trivial as, when you send me back a contract, is it a PDF or is it in a Google Doc where I can share comments? Because I’m going to walk away from a lawyer that’s sending me a PDF and making me spend a half an hour every single time we have to go back and forth about a contract. That’s a marketing choice, because what they just said is, “I want to control everything, and I want to make your life more difficult to make my life easier.” That’s a marketing choice.
Lawyers are largely trapped by a fairly recent invention, which is the billable hour. If we look back at the history of law firms, we see that until fairly recently, even in the ‘50s, big law firms sat down in November with a list of their clients and some partners, and they decided what the annual bill would be. Not based on anything other than, “How much value did we add?” And when we decided to start trying to maximize on billable hours, we end up with a scarcity mindset, because every hour can only be allocated once. Scarcity mindset makes it very hard to be in community with people. It makes it very hard to be generous and to see the possibility, that your needs are antithetical to the needs of your client. You want to spend more hours. They want you to spend fewer hours. And as a result, there’s this twisted priority system that’s out of whack.
Number two: Lawyers, particularly those that deal with consumers, have been seduced by the quest for attention. So the billboards and the 800 numbers, and, “How do I get another person in this door?” As opposed to doing what they did when law was really fun, which is trust. You can’t maximize attention and maximize trust at the same time. So a lawyer who finds her smallest viable audience, that group of people big enough to sustain them, and obsesses about them, will be happier, more profitable, and more successful than somebody who says, “If you’re looking for an average lawyer, I’m an average lawyer.” Because most lawyers are average lawyers, and you can’t compete against that, because that’s a race to the bottom. And not only is there someone down the street cheaper than you, there’s now a computer that’s cheaper than you. And if you don’t think the internet is going to replace all those lawyers, you should ask a travel agent. Oh, there are no travel agents, so you can’t ask a travel agent.
So when you think about this obviously structural failing that the billable hour model sets, do you have any thoughts off the top of your head around how lawyers—maybe in an incremental way, without boiling the ocean and changing everything at once—start to move away from that model that’s obviously structurally limiting how they think about their businesses and the value that they provide to clients?
Yeah. So I don’t think you have to do it all at once. You can’t do it all at once, but you can do it client by client. And what we have to understand is that no one who isn’t a lawyer woke up this morning with a billable hour problem that they asked a lawyer to solve by spending billable hours. People woke up with a contract problem, or a trust and estates problem, or a copyright problem, or a harassment problem. And if you can solve the problem for the person, then you earn trust. That doesn’t mean you’re giving anything away, because in fact, in the long run, they will ask you to solve more problems. And if you can align yourself with people who are really good at solving problems for your clients, regardless of whether they were taught in law school or not, you’re the one that they rely on.
So a simple example: I started one of the first internet companies in the world in 1989-1990, before the World Wide Web. And when we finally went out to get funding as an independent company, we needed all the fancy paperwork, and two or three different firms charged us $15,000 to $20,000, would charge $15,000 to $20,000 for all of the incorporation, all the board, blah, blah, blah. And we went to see Morrison & Foerster, which was specializing in startup companies at the time. And the guys said, “Look, I got a computer right here, and on the computer are all the docs. All I have to do is hit find and replace. You have an incorporation problem? I’m going to solve it for you for $800. But the expectation is the next time you have a problem, you’ll let me solve that interesting problem for you as well. This one’s not interesting. You can have it for $800 bucks.”
And as a result, they got hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of business from us. Not because it was a bait and switch, but because they had a problem-solving mindset. The other law firm we worked with, we hadn’t had any work with them for several months, because our business was stable. And the partner called me up and said, “Can I come up for a cup of coffee? Just want to check in on you.” And he did, and we talked for 20 minutes, and then he sent me a bill. And we never used them again. Because I didn’t have a problem, and he decided to charge me anyway.
So the mindset is, we aren’t in the time business. We’re in the problem-solving business. All of us, whatever we do. And if time is the best way to allocate the price of it, that’s fine. But it turns out there’s this massive opportunity to walk into marketplaces filled with people who are insecure, who are worried they’re going to get ripped off, who are worried about the uncertainty of, “How much is this even going to cost?” And say, “I can solve this problem for you with a whole bunch of shortcuts that will make you happier, that don’t involve going all the way to the Supreme Court.” Because my job, in the book business, their job isn’t to cut down trees. Their job is to teach people. And the job of the legal profession is to solve problems, not to use up hours.
You remind me of a social post from the other day you made, Seth, where you made the point, “Audi isn’t in the gasoline business. They sell personal transportation.” And you said, “Random House isn’t in the bookstore business. They’re in the business of publishing ideas that matter.” It sounds like what you’re highlighting for the legal profession is, you’re not in the business of selling billable hours. You’re in the business of solving problems.
Exactly. And I got to tell you, the lawyers that I work with now are extraordinary at understanding this. I describe to them a problem, and they don’t come up with the deniable perfect answer. They say, “We can probably make this problem go away with a 95% solution. Would that be okay?” I’m like, “Yes, that would be exactly okay. That’s why I make all my problems go away. Do that.”
Right. Good enough. Good enough is the bar for a lot of these problems. Seth, one of the things I see as well, that many lawyers are just, I think, structurally set up for a challenge, is that they’re, in the course of law school, often not exposed to any ideas around business, around marketing. They’re not trained on these things. And yet many lawyers end up in a situation where they’re running a firm. They’re a solo practitioner. They’re running a small firm with a friend. 80% of the legal market is made up of lawyers practicing in firms of 10 or less lawyers.
So they don’t have that big firm infrastructure to kind of worry about the quote, unquote “business side of things.” They need to worry about the business side of things, and I see all sorts of lawyers on a daily basis struggling with, “Well, how do you run a business? How do you run a profitable business? How do you market yourself? How do you stand out from the crowd?” And, by the way, the training that pushes them towards a solution there often says, “Well, build a better work product. Figure out a way of making a will that’s 10% better,” or whatever the specific answer might be. And that’s obviously a very difficult path to traverse when there’s much easier ways to stand out in the market.
So I’m curious to hear, what are some of your thoughts? If you had to give the five-minute micro MBA to a lawyer or legal professional that’s listening, and maybe some ideas that you teach in your altMBA workshop that you think are especially relevant for lawyers, I’d be curious to see what you would highlight.
We’ve had lawyers take the altMBA. I can’t teach you any of the ideas, because it’s not about that. It’s about developing the posture and confidence to do something about the ideas. You can get all the ideas from a $9 paperback.
Here’s where we begin. We begin with, if you are a sole practitioner or the senior partner of a firm, you should start by acknowledging you have a terrible boss, and that person is you. That person is critical of you. That person is insecure about your talents. That person wakes you up in the middle of the night worrying about what you should do tomorrow. Lousy boss. You need a better boss. And if we begin by dividing your confidence in writing a will from your need to get good at these other things, which are also part of your job, it makes it easier than saying, “Oh, that’s just a sideline. I’ll get back to that after I’m done with my real work.” Well, actually, no. Your real work is the kind of stuff that Clio helps you do, not writing a will. Because you could outsource the writing of a will to 100 people who are bad at the business part, but you can’t outsource the business part to anybody.
So the second thing I would say is that you need to figure out how to work on your business, not in your business. And too often, lawyers, because they got through grueling law school and were grilled as associates, believe that the answer is more hours. More hours is not the problem. The problem is you’re playing the long game. You’re not seeing the board. You don’t understand where the pieces are. You don’t have to work harder, but it really helps if you work on your business so that it works for you instead of you working for it.
And then the third thing is, marketing is not playing golf and then someone owing you a favor. And marketing is not getting your brother-in-law’s cousin to switch his business because he’s your brother-in-law’s cousin. Why not start by doing a TEDx talk that’s incredibly generous, for which there is no upside for you? What would you teach somebody if you were giving away everything that you knew? Why don’t you go try to do that? Because if you’re really good at it, it will spread, and people will trust you more. And if you’re not good at it, you’ll discover you’re not as good at it as you thought, and you could get better at it.
And then the last thing I would say is, how many clients do you really need this year? A hundred? That would keep most lawyers super, super busy. There are 300 million people in the US alone. You only need 100 people. Please, ignore everyone else. Offend everyone else. Everyone else is invisible. You don’t need their feedback. You don’t need to know what they know or want what they want. You need to find the smallest viable audience, the smallest group of people who would miss you if you were gone.
So if you live in Kentucky, you could be the best thoroughbred lawyer in the history of the world. If you were the best thoroughbred lawyer in the history of the world, understanding the jurisprudence of sperm implants, or whatever people in the thoroughbred industry care about, they would tell each other, because you’d be on the hook. And being on the hook is the best place to be. But if the minute somebody walks in with a slip and fall, you stop what you’re doing and do them, you’re not going to be the best thoroughbred lawyer in America, because someone else is more obsessed with you.
The way you know if you’re taking this advice or not is simple: How many times a day do you send a potential client to some other lawyer? Because if you’re not doing that, then you’ve just acknowledged you make average law for average people. You’ve just acknowledged you have a scarcity mindset. But if you spend most of your time sending most of your potential clients to people who are better than you at serving them, you have made a commitment to be on the hook for something specific. And being specific is way more powerful than being general.
Love it. Seth, we often talk on this show about how the legal industry is changing, and how there’s so much room to innovate in the way that legal services are delivered. And I think if anything, the COVID-19 crisis has maybe just cast that into more stark relief than ever, where we have more consumers than ever unable to afford or access legal services. We have, as you pointed out, many lawyers saying, “The number one thing I need is more clients.” And any economist would look at this, this disconnect between the supply side and the demand side of legal services, where the World Justice Project talks about 77% of consumers that have legal issues are not able to connect with a lawyer that can serve those legal issues. And then we have 80% of lawyers saying the number one thing they need is more clients. There’s what I described as a product-market fit problem almost. How do you better connect lawyers and consumers?
And you have a vantage point where you’ve seen innovation happen in so many different industries. What do you think is coming down the pike for law firms? And what do you think law firms that are innovative can do to improve that product-market fit, to improve their ability to serve a larger portion of the market in a more effective way?
You know, I think the future, which has been clearly shown over and over again, is about connection. This is the connection economy. It’s not the industrial economy. So an example back in the day, when AOL was our biggest customer, AOL had a conference, and they invited the 100 content providers who were putting stuff on AOL to all come together, hear what Steve Case and Ted Leonsis had to say about the future. So there were 100 companies and 400 people in this hotel, and this guy I know, Tom, hosted in his suite a cocktail party, and he invited 20 of us. And there on the coffee table was his contract with AOL. And he said, “It’s us against them, guys. Not us against us. Let’s compare contracts.” And he organized a session where each one of us went over each paragraph in our contracts to say, “Oh, you got this? I’ll go get that.” And turn to ratchet.
Well, it only could happen because Tom organized 20 people who were lonely, who were disconnected. So if you think about—are there 100 restaurateurs in New York City who need to renegotiate the lease with their landlord? You bet there are. Who’s organizing these 100 restaurant owners? Not to be clients, but to know each other. To share what they’re learning. “Oh, this guy gave me this.” Because I’ve got to tell you, if you’re in the room, when you are organizing people with a shared interest, you will not have to look for trust, and you will not have to look for work, guaranteed. But if you show up to pitch them, well then of course no one’s going to trust you.
So what we’ve discovered, and Zoom just multiplied it times 1,000, is if you can connect disconnected people, amazing things can happen, right? So at Akimbo, the workshop company I founded, we got 20,000 alumni, and they don’t stick around because they want to watch a video from me or my colleagues. They sit around because they want to talk to each other. And if you’re the host, all sorts of magical things will happen.
Let’s shift our attention maybe to the pandemic now, Seth, and some of the impacts that COVID-19 has had on the world as a whole. Obviously the world is a very different place, as we track toward the end of 2020, than when it began. What are some of the major trends or shifts that you’re seeing happen over the course of the COVID pandemic that you think will shape the next decade?
Well, from a consumer point of view, I think that there’s the grim reality of hundreds of thousands of people who are dead, of millions of people who are going to have symptoms for the rest of their life. There is the moral and traumatic exposure to racial injustice and to a caste system that some people are seeing for the first time. These are traumas that are going to take a very long time to heal, and part of what drove North America was sort of this relentless possibility and optimism. And it, I’m hoping, will come back, but I don’t think we can minimize how deep trauma runs. And that’s going to change the way consumers think about what they’re going to do next, what they’re going to invest in, what they’re going to build.
From a business point of view, I think that office space slash working from home has moved five-to-10 years into the future all at once. And what that means is there are two kinds of companies that you’re going to be working with. One kind of company, the one that was engaged in a race to the bottom, is going to realize that most of their people are replaceable, including their lawyers. And that means they’re going to push for commodities, and they’re going to cost-reduce at every turn. And there is a second group that is realizing there’s a huge opportunity if they can organize unbelievable people and great clients. That group is racing to the top, not racing to the bottom.
You know, if I look at the Chicago company Basecamp, it’s hard to call them a Chicago company, because they closed their office, but they got 50 or whatever employees around the country, and they pay all of them San Francisco wages. So if you want to live in rural Ohio and live like a king, same salary. And when they open a job, there’s a long list of rocket scientists who want that job. Well, I got to tell you, it’s probable that Basecamp can get a piece of software out the door in a quarter of the time Microsoft can, because they’re organized around a small group of irreplaceable people. My hunch is that being a lawyer for Basecamp is different than being a lawyer for Walmart.
You’ve got to decide, who are you here to serve, and what do they get, right? What rules of engagement do you establish? Can you show up for people who are now facile at online tools in a way that shows that you understand how the future is actually organized? Or are you saying, “Well, an hour-long Zoom meeting lasts an hour. We’ll have an hour-long Zoom meeting,” even though we could have done it with a Google Doc in six minutes?
I love your perspective on how organizations will evolve and either race to the top or race to the bottom. As an individual that’s trying to navigate this crisis, do you have some recommendations just at a personal level, what people should be prioritizing? Tools they might be able to employ to get through what is obviously a very difficult time for a lot of people, but also set them up for success in the future? You’re saying, correctly, by the way, that five-to-10 years of transformation is happening in the course of as many months. How do you set yourself up for that pace of change?
All right. Well, I’m going to give one or two professional tips, and then maybe I’ll shift to some more personal ones. The first professional tip is I think you should double your fee. I think you should double what you charge, and then figure out how to justify it by delivering at least twice as much value. What would have to happen in your work, for your client base, for you to be able to double your fee without apologizing? Because I know you can, but you haven’t.
And the second part of that is, a lot of us need a break, but you could only waste so much time watching Netflix, and that’s a form of hiding, and it doesn’t really count as a break. What I would suggest to people, particularly if your business has gotten slower, is make a list of what you can learn. Truly learn. Not just get educated in, but learn. And go spend six months, dive deep. Work as hard as you worked in law school. What would happen if you were the lawyer who understood SEO better than any other lawyer? What would happen if you were the lawyer who could read every page of the Google Antitrust Doc and have an opinion about Google’s history and how they interact? What would happen if you understood how copyright law changed around lyrics once the internet …
I mean, so many things you could learn that are either directly related to being a lawyer or nothing to do with being a lawyer, and every single time I’ve seen professionals do this, whether we’re talking about surgeons who figured out robots before anybody else, or lawyers who figured out the internet before anybody else, it pays off. It pays off for your clients, and it pays off for you, and then you feel like you’re making forward motion, and that’s a really good way to get out of a funk.
And then in terms of personally, the best advice I have is to figure out the most generous thing you can do, and that doesn’t always involve giving away money, but it involves extending emotional labor without getting credit, without any upside, for someone who needs it way more than you do. And that can give meaning to a world that sometimes feels like it doesn’t have any.
I love that. So Seth, to round out our conversation, I’m really looking forward to your keynote in a couple of weeks at the Clio Cloud Conference. Can you give us a bit of a preview of at least some of the high-level themes that you’ll be touching on in your keynote? What can our audience look forward to hearing about?
Well, it’s worth noting it’s a bring-your-own cloud sort of event. You can bring a cirrus, a cumulus, a nimbus, a cumulonimbus, whichever one you want—
… but clouds will not be provided at the door.
I like that.
A lot of what I just ranted about is what I want to talk about. My new book is coming out in November, and I’ve spent the last year thinking about shipping creative work, solving interesting problems. That’s what you do all day. You don’t have to dig a ditch, and you don’t have to move widgets from one place to another. What a dream gig. And I think once we realize that we can build a practice, not just a legal practice, but a creative practice, we have the chance to make things better. And if you’re not making things better, I’m not sure why you’re here.
That is an amazing note to end on. Seth, thanks so much for joining us today. I really enjoyed our conversation. I’m so looking forward to hearing your keynote at the Clio Cloud Conference, and it was truly an honor to meet one of my idols in person. I’m so happy to have had this conversation with you.
Thank you, Jack. A real pleasure. Keep making a ruckus and stay well.
Thanks for joining us on Daily Matters, a podcast from Clio. Rate and review wherever you get your podcasts, and subscribe so that you never miss an episode. Daily Matters is produced by Andrew Booth, Sam Rosenthal, and Derek Bolen, and hosted by yours truly, Jack Newton. Thanks also to Clio, the world’s leading cloud-based legal technology provider, for supporting this podcast.