The digital estate

I was on vacation with my family this past week. Each morning as I had my coffee, I was amused to watch my father reading the newspaper on his tablet, my mother reading a book on her Kindle, my husband and I checking e-mails on our smart phone and laptop, and my school-age children playing games and listening to music on their iPod Touch devices. Just a few years ago, who would have thought? From ages 5 to 67, we were all “connected” in our daily life, even on vacation.

One of my upcoming projects is to visit a local employer who is offering his staff wills, trusts and guardianships as an employee benefit. Since we are giving a seminar to his employees, we offered that he should also feel free to invite spouses, valued customers, or anyone he wanted to extend an invitation. I love educating people and dispelling the many myths and folklore out there on these basic issues. Why not fill up the room with anyone who should benefit?

The vacation scene got me thinking about a topic not generally covered when people prepare estate plans: their digital estate. So much of our lives is electronic –photos, books, bill payments, bank statements, taxes, and business records that are probably on your own hard drive, flash drive or somewhere “in the cloud.” How will your executors and trustees access these files? It is important to keep a record of your online account numbers, usernames and passwords. This is important for both work and personal accounts. You should also review the default terms of important online accounts to understand if they will be frozen or deleted upon your death. If so, you may want to have a backup of critical information.

You should make it easy for others to attend to your accounts if you are not around. Should someone be able to view your e-mail if you are incapacitated or die? If not, then what should happen to the e-mail account? If so, who should have access?

Should your blog, website or social media stay alive after you? Should they disappear or be used as a memorial legacy?

We are often advised to update our documents when there are major life events: marriage, birth, death, and divorce. However, the truth is that our lives are dynamic and change in small increments, not just with major events.

Our world is ever-evolving and the nature of our assets changes over time. If you have not addressed these issues in your estate plan, I encourage you to take the opportunity to revisit and update your critical documents to include the electronic side of your life.

You may also want to take the opportunity to control the legacy you leave behind. There may be some things you do not want your survivors to learn about. As we all have a right to privacy during our lifetime, we have a right to privacy after our death as well.

There are also available many legacy planning applications and software that can enable you to leave a message to be delivered to your loved ones after you pass, one final message to say the things we all wish we had one last chance to say. Technology allows us to do one last thing. It really is amazing how the law has changed how we handle wills and estate planning in the nearly two decades I have been practicing. I’m curious how it will evolve over the next two decades.

Discovering the “ideal client”

My business coach Tom Chapple recommended The Sandler Rules by David Mattson. This book is an easy read and is suited for business owners and employees who are looking for techniques to discover the “ideal client” using David Sandler’s Sandler Selling System. The goal of my assignment was to learn some techniques for taking control and authority during a client consultation so that I could quickly determine if the potential client was a good fit for our firm environment. The idea was to work smarter, not harder, and invest my time in clients rather than people who will not hire me or who do not share the same values in a long-term business relationship. The strategy is great for anyone in any industry who wants to streamline his client engagement technique by identifying valuable potential clients.

I learned that a meeting will more likely result in an engagement if the consultant can help the potential client relate to what he does to the satisfaction of the client’s wants or needs and, even more so, if he can help the potential client discover a need of which he was previously unaware. Thus, the initial meeting should focus on identifying the client’s perceived needs. This by itself can demonstrate your value.

While many consultants like to educate clients, the consultant should not consider an initial consult as the opportunity to educate the client about the benefits and advantages of working with his firm or about issues that were not on the client’s mind when he first came in the door. The consultant’s job is to determine if the client is a good fit, not to give a presentation. The author calls this “spilling your candy in the lobby.” The goal is to limit the conversation to the topics, issues and concerns identified by the potential client – what they came to see the consultant about. The consultant must do fact gathering, not focus on displaying expertise or establishing credibility. The author stresses that people make decisions about professional or consulting services emotionally and they justify them intellectually. The client must feel a need to solve a particular problem before he even considers paying a professional consultant for advice to help him solve the problem. He must want to know that the consultant knows and feels there is value in that information that he can exploit to his advantage (offensively or defensively).

However, there is a danger in TMI (too much information). Too much technical information is overwhelming and gives the potential client a reason to re-evaluate whether he should proceed. It often introduces confusion and doubt rather than enables the potential client to make a decision about whether the solution offered will fit his needs. Detailed information should be given after the consultant is engaged and the client is ready for such education and advice. At the initial consult, the consultant needs to determine the potential client’s interests, concerns and expectations, not educate the client on the subject. The consultant needs to understand the criteria by which the client will judge the consultant services and determine if he can meet that criteria. The consultant needs to help the potential client then discover what it might mean for him if he hires the expertise.

Any entrepreneur can learn something from this book and its techniques. It is straight to the point and gives examples to demonstrate and reinforce the techniques. A small investment of time will certainly leave the reader with some new ways to sell his goods or services.

The Litigators by John Grisham

Have you ever woken up one morning and realized how much you want to quit your job? In John Grisham ‘s latest novel, The Litigators, David Zinc walked away from a $300,000-a-year job at the prestigious firm Big Law to join the ranks of a Chicago ambulance-chasing street law firm with little promise. David’s struggle to learn lawyering in the trenches with so-called mentoring from an alcoholic, womanizing, middle-aged attorney with questionable ethics is rewarded as he discovers how he can use his skills to truly help those in need. The flawed partners teach David more in a year than he learned in three years of law school and five years as a young attorney. He learns as much about what he wants out of life – the kind of husband, father and lawyer he wants to be – and what he does not what to become.

The story portrays some of the realities of the business of law and the legal system with compassion and the inspiring message that there is karma and justice in the world. Zinc discovers the joy of being a lawyer as he finds a work-life balance that brings success and happiness in a career where these tend to be mutually exclusive. Grisham’s characters reveal the extremes in the business world (the greedy and the world citizen) and give us hope that there is still compassion and good in the world.

One message in the plot—that shortcuts never bring prosperity—is loud and clear as we learn that persistence, hard work and compassion are the tools of a true legal artisan. We observe how we all must be accountable to our actions and choices, and how we can change our own personal journey with one brave or unexpected decision. The story reminds us how giving a chance to a stranger in an unlikely situation can be rewarded with great integrity and loyalty. You won’t be disappointed with a story that reminds us about the best and worst parts of the legal profession with the great plot and characters we’ve come to expect from Grisham.

Posting mug shots points to internet privacy issues

There is always a balance to strike between the public’s right to information and an individual’s right to privacy. While some information is public, most people don’t or won’t go to the trouble to view actual records at public or government offices. However, the internet makes it easy for someone to easily gain access to all sorts of public information.

A new business model is a website that posts your name, mug shot and often other embarrassing information about your arrest (often with domain names including the term “mug shots”) and will remove the data if you pay an one-time fee or use services of a company advertising on the site to restore your online reputation.

I am not sure how I feel about these sites. On the one hand, shaming extortion (blackmail) seems unpalatable. On the other hand, sometimes the best determine is in our fear of what others will think of us. Some report this type of publicity has been determined for DWIS. The information is public. It is available to those interested. It is this freedom that forms the basis of our American pride. Is it wrong to simply facilitate easier access to this information?

Is it wrong that companies are profiting by expressing others’ mistakes? Freedom of speech and press are so important to me, I view this speech in the same manner as pornography. If one does not want to view it, they can look away. The sites are not forced on anyone. In fact, you have to take affirmative action to access the sites. Legal suppression of speech and information can have devastating consequences. However, as a society, we do impose limits on certain types of speech, such as hate speech or yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater.

Should we allow these websites? Should we regulate them? Does it matter how the information is being used? There may be legal problems if employers credit companies or insurance companies are targeted, but it is probably legal in other contexts. Do we require the website to correct wrong information or remove arrest information if charges are dropped or are found not guilty? Should we require removal upon request, without payment of a fee? Do they do more harm or good? How do you feel? Let’s start a conversation about these websites and explore how the community feels.

Publicity on a shoe string budget

Start-up businesses and small companies have limited resources for publicity. While social media and blogs are the newest ways publicity can be generated on a minimal budget, these can require a consistent time commitment to be effective and successful. If you are not sure you have time each week in your schedule to launch a blog or social media campaign, you can do a few things that can be a “one time” time commitment that you can do from time to time as your schedule permits. For example, you can write a press release, an article for a local print or online publication, a guest blog or industry newsletter or even an op-ed (editorial opinion) piece on a topic that interests you or your potential clients. You can host a special event or be a guest speaker at an event.

It is also important to solicit and use client testimonials. The positive experience of actual clients is a powerful message to prospective clients considering trying out your product or services. This is advertising that “money can’t buy.”

It is also necessary to manage your online presence. You should be sure people can find you by submitting your website to major indexing websites, directories and search engines. “Claim your listing” if a website offers a free listing and use it to maximize your online visibility.

All of these suggestions require some level of time commitment. If you cannot afford to pay someone to handle marketing for you, then you will need to make the time to manage it yourself. You will need to sort out your priorities and determine where your efforts will be most rewarded – what action(s) will reach out to the type and number of clients you want. The hope is that this time investment will yield long-term results that may allow you to hire the right person or team to take your marketing strategy to the next level.

Fifty shades of a business relationship

Curiosity got the better of me and I had to see what everyone was talking about: who was Christian Grey? What draws everyone to Fifty Shades?

Rich, powerful and traumatized by his early years, Christian once led a fairly reclusive life until he finds a soul connection with Anna. Irreverent Anna makes me silently applaud as she stands up to Christian’s overbearing demand for control and gains his love and respect along the way. Exposing the raw emotions of the characters brought me through an introspective of my own passions and relationships. I admired how each character was willing to go outside his/her comfort zone for the other but neither tried to really change the other. They accepted one another’s flaws and tried to bring out the best in the other. This is what we all are taught is key to a lasting relationship.

While the issues in the Fifty Shades series are dealt with primarily on a personal level, I contend that these same lessons can be learned in the business world. Issues of trust and control, communication and clearly outlining expectation and boundaries are critical elements of the employer –employee relationship. As a business owner or manager, acknowledging your flaws and taking strides to overcome them, as well as surrounding yourself with people who will help you succeed are all keys to excellent leadership. I’m all for learning these lessons in a book that captures your attention, is easy to read and inspire some rather interesting table conversation.

Shopping local: supporting your neighborhood authors

On a recent trip to Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park, my family went on a “dive-in theatre cruise” with Diver Eddie. They sold a book called “The Song of the Seal” written by local author Francesca Robinson about Diver Eddie and we purchased a copy for my 5-year-old as a souvenir. The book was absolutely delightful, incorporating history, geography and science in an adventure described in animated detail and told in rhyme.

A current trend is locavorism, and this book reminds me that purchasing local products is not limited to food and beverage. Buying local often leads to discovering all kinds of treasures by lesser known residents of your community. Now when I’m out and about, I make a habit of looking for these contributions by my neighbors and make an effort to acknowledge and support the impact they are making on my community.