Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Meet David Vella, turtle vet
Nobody sets out to create a boring, generic business, yet many achieve it. Wouldn’t you prefer a business where your customers love you? Where they’re delighted to refer you to others?
This week, a way to do that.
I’ve always loved turtles, the classic roadside Eastern Longnecks, with their cartoon bug eyes and crazy permanent grin. I got my first for my eighth birthday. They are an endearing and durable pet, good for at least three decades if you treat them well.
When your turtle is unwell, you don’t want to fuck around with generalist vets giving it a crack. You want the turtle king or queen. In Sydney that is David Vella, turtle (and rabbit) vet.
Which brings us to this week’s topic: creating a solid business through tight specialisation, sometimes to a comical degree. It works in any field.
We took a near-comatose, zero-appetite Mikey the turtle to David’s practice. David’s love for turtles was palpable. He has turtles of his own. He gave Mikey a vitamin shot and a checklist of suggestions. Turns out it wasn’t illness, but rather a faulty heater. Restored to his happy place of 24 degrees, the flaccid Mikey returned to a rampaging mini-Godzilla overnight.
It felt good to talk about turtles with someone who gets it, and shares the turtle love. There is no area of business where you can’t do this. People who love the subject want to talk to someone who feels the same as them.
Unless you’re a mega-brand, you can advertise and do search campaigns all you like but the reality is that referrals are your number one source of new clients. I will happily tell any turtle owner that if they don’t take their beast to David Vella, they are a clown.
Tom Pils, Drone Lawyer
When I think of focused specialists, I can’t go past Tom Pils, the Drone Lawyer. Tom has been hovering around on my LinkedIn radar for a couple of years. I got in touch to find out if drone lawyering was enough to build a practice.
Tom was a recreational drone user and commercial lawyer. A few years ago, he noticed drones as a hot future technology in the Gartner Hype Cycle, and decided to go all-in.
It’s early days, but so far so good. Drone activity is on the rise. At the slapstick end of the legal issues, people are getting into trouble for antics like launching fireworks and hobby rockets from their drone. Beyond that, there’s work in policy, liability, regulations and so on.
He’s created a drone pilot’s legal handbook, and built a LinkedIn community of certified drone operators. He’s been on TV. He gets asked to go on expert panels for his specialty expertise, which is normally the domain of lawyers from the big firms.
In a few years, Tom has built himself into a brand that a lot of people know, because he stands for something clear. Rather than the standard “Tom Pils, Commercial, Liability and Policy Lawyer.”
In reality, his practice isn’t pure drone work. Clients come in for the drone issue, then use Tom for their broader commercial work once they get to know him. And that’s how it works in any service business. Once clients find a supplier they like and trust, they’re in for the long haul. It’s less about your technical skill than how people feel about you.
“Sometimes best-known beats best,” Tom said.
He’s working hard to be the best in his field, but he also knows the value of customer perceptions before they experience the service.
I feel that the long haul will be good for Tom. He’s staked out a field that’s about to explode. Right now, the federal government is putting serious resources into policy for low-level airspace, as commercial drone delivery services like Google’s Wing expand to national coverage. Crowded skies means conflict, and conflict means lawyers.
If you play it right, a topic that seems absurdly niche can bloom into something epic over decades, and there you are looking like a visionary for your move back in the day.
I also feel that Tom Pils, Drone Lawyer would be a good name for a combined law/action TV series.
Perpetua Kish, the kind lawyer
Finding a niche you can own doesn’t have to be about what you do. It can be the way you do it. What feature of your own industry can you turn upside down?
Canberra lawyer Perpetua Kish is co-founder of Balance Family Law. Her approach is to turn a traditionally aggro field into something better. So she started the Kind Lawyer movement.
“As a young lawyer, I saw first-hand how fighting over property and parenting arrangements at Court completely destroyed families, often accruing legal bills in the hundreds of thousands.”
Her idea was “a movement that is all about changing the conversation about divorce from one of combat, to kindness.”
I’ve really enjoyed Perpetua’s writing on the topic, it’s not just family law that can benefit from a less adversarial mindset.
From a pure market potential viewpoint, there will always be clients who want to crush the other side like bugs, and that’s adequately serviced by plenty of lawyers. But there’ll be a subset of clients who definitely don’t want that, and Perpetua’s firm is the clear answer for them.
“I considered what I loved and didn’t love, saying, ‘I’m going to be a happy practitioner if I practise this way and only take on this type of work’. I created a system that matches my goals and, at the same tome, challenges some of the conventions of traditional law. We do break a lot of rules at Balance, but we have no regrets. We have great clients and a great reputation,” she said.
If you don’t like the system you work in, why not think about how you can change it? Sure it’s hard, but not impossible.
Kim Kendall, Cat Vet
Sometime it’s more about what you don’t do. Long before Apple made phones or had Apple stores, their computers were mainly for creative types.
Carrying a Mac laptop was a badge of what you were not: a soulless corporate number cruncher toting a company-issue Dell or IBM Thinkpad. Nobody ever came to audit you with a Macbook.
Let’s look at the most stereotypical example you can think of, the sort that reads like a bad 1980s comedy routine: you’re either a dog or a cat person, amirite?
If you’re a cat person, you don’t want to sit in a dog-infested vet waiting room, with poorly-restrained dogs trying to monster your cat through the bars of their carrier.
Then the catchphrase of shitty, inconsiderate dog owners everywhere: “He only want to play, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Long-time blog reader and vet Kim Kendall has a cats-only practice.
“Confining myself to one species has been really kind to me. Much less CPD (Continuous Professional Development). The size of cats plus the fact they don’t pee or poo on the sidewalk on the way in, makes it really easy to get council permission. Less noise also. And paying attention to the cat in the right way has been profitable, I have all the stuff and opportunities that I want.”
Kim said you can’t get too complacent.
“There are pros and cons of a narrow focus, you can become well-versed in a small subject but have to be careful not to progress to knowing everything about nothing. The key is remaining curious.”
Stand for something
These examples are all professional services, but you can apply the same thinking to any business. Customers respond to you standing for something, rather than trying to be everything to everybody.
Consistency is the thing here. This is a long game. You can’t change your specialty super-power every two years.
If you’re really good at something focused, it brings a level of professional pride that customers can feel. At last, they think, I’m come to the right place.
As a business life, it’s so much better than trying to be that Total Solutions For All Your Needs brand.
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