EPISODE 57 — Bob Tharp — 1% Better Every Day
Bob Tharp is the family law attorney and Founding Partner steering the ship of Meriwether & Tharp, an award-winning 8-figure firm based in Atlanta.
In this episode, he shares the secrets, strategies, and tricks of the trade that have propelled him to where he is today. You’ll learn the importance of winning “the game of inches,” the hardest decisions he’s had to make for his law firm, and so much more.
5:05 – In family law, you control your outcome. “A lot of practice areas are all about landing the big case. Family Law is not that. It is about true ‘grinding it out’ kind of success. It’s about doing everything a little bit better than yesterday. And you’re going to be paid for what you’re doing, so it really depends on how much effort you want to put in. You control your outcome. A lot of people look for the quick hits, but I think of that as much more like playing the lottery. Success is there in divorce as long as you keep doing your job, billing your hours, and doing a good job for clients and all the fundamentals.”
5:57 – Never ignore the business side. “One of the things that really helps us is focusing on running a business, not just being a good lawyer. I always try to look at both sides of it. I see some great attorneys that never spend any time thinking about running their business wondering why they’re not getting where they want to be. You’ve got to look at both sides and understand that you actually are running a business at all times. I look at marketing, intakes, up through billing, and I’m always analyzing every piece of our practice and wondering what we could do better.”
7:26 – Narrow your firm’s (and your) focus. “Two decisions in particular stick out as far as making the greatest impact. One was the decision to focus only on family law. We actually didn’t start as a family law firm; we did pretty much everything else. So that was the first big decision. That allowed us to build systems and actually figure out how things can be replicated throughout the process. The second decision — which a lot of people questioned at the time — was to stop practicing as much as I had been so I could spend my time training additional attorneys. It was a really tough call, but if I’m out there, I’m not helping the rest of my team inside the house. I thought that was more important. I had to make that leap and go against what everyone was telling me.”
11:15 – Ignorance is not bliss. “Education is a core value of our practice, up and down the systems. We have a website with about 5,000 pages of content talking about every aspect of divorce. We are a content-driven company, but the funny thing is that it actually didn’t come from a marketing approach. It came from trying to help our clients. They’d ask a lot of the same questions, so I just started putting them on our website. That way, I didn’t have to waste their money answering them. I liked it better as an attorney because I could do more advanced stuff, and they liked it because they were learning a lot of stuff for free. It was a win-win. Education is definitely a core value of how we got to where we are.”
12:12 – Find the sweet marketing spot between the digital and physical world. “We started as a digital practice first, focusing on things like SEO and organic searches. We didn’t target the ‘Atlanta divorce lawyer’ type of terms like everyone else, but instead targeted longtail concepts. We also spend a lot of time on PPC (pay-per-click). We do a lot of the trackable digital stuff, but we also see the influence of branding. If people know you, they’re more likely to check you out. We do a lot of branding with UGA — with the Dawg Nation and their football program. We do a lot of stuff on local radio and different avenues. With branding, you don’t always have the information, but you see the results and people start recognizing you more. As far as making a marketing spend decision, I believe in making a blend, just like a good investment portfolio. Branding is part of it because if you just go straight digital, you’re paying more than you should because people don’t know who you are. You want to blend it all together.”
17:16 – Always turn to data. “I’m an analytics guy, so I want as much data as possible when I’m making my buying decisions, even when it comes to something like branding. We do customer surveys — we’ll actually do studies where we’ll ask what does and doesn’t appeal, and try to test the messages before we launch them. That way, we can try to be on point with the best response rate we can. Anyone can just pop out an ad, but making one that really nails your buying proposition and why people should buy from you versus someone else is what makes yours different.”
19:46 – It’s all about the game of inches. “Everyone talks about going the extra mile, but we talk about going the extra inch, which is doing everything a little bit better. The cumulative effect of a marginal improvement is that, as you grow in size, a lot more can happen at a faster rate. If one person bills an extra half hour each week, it’s probably not going to swing the dial, but if you have 40+ attorneys doing it, you will see a huge difference. To me, it’s the 1% game. It’s not that we’re a better firm — there are a lot of great attorneys out there. But we really try to push that extra 1% every chance we can on everything that we do, whether it’s marketing, intake, case management, or building out our systems.”
32:06 – Never stop tracking progress. “If you want to get better, you need to check your analytics daily. How quickly you check in on things determines how quickly they improve. So if you want to improve things, check on them more frequently. Think about if you’re trying to lose weight. If you step on the scale once a year, you probably won’t make a lot of positive strides. But if you start checking it daily, that’s when you start losing weight because focusing on it starts to change your behavior. So I check everything on a daily basis. My browser opens up with Google Analytics, our intake system, and Microsoft Planner all ready to go, so it forces me to look at them every single morning. I can look in there and ask, ‘Did we win or lose yesterday?’ If I see that a goal has fallen short, I ask what we need to do differently. So it’s not a month or a year later — it’s a day or a week later. It’s simple, so you know exactly where you’re supposed to be each day and whether or not you’re on pace to make it there. If you’re not, you can make your adjustments immediately.”
34:19 – No improvement is too small. “We make thousands of adjustments a year. We change at least three web pages a day. We’ll study how each page performs, and if we don’t like its performance then we’ll make a change there. It’s just like football players watching their game film. Why don’t we watch our own film? A lot of people will go out there and try a case without studying how they did before. The first time you’re presenting an argument better not be at the courthouse. You should have already done it two or three times so that you’re polished. This applies throughout your whole practice. You should know exactly what you’re trying to achieve and study how you did before. It’s a lot of hard work, and it isn’t glorious. A lot of our web pages are done after-hours every single night. But if you just do one web page a night for 30 days, you’ve got a 30-page advantage. Do that for a year and you’re at 360 pages, and all of a sudden you’re competitive. Take those steps right now by making one little change, and build off of that one piece. You’ve got to start somewhere, so start with one adjustment.”
39:58 – The only person stopping you is you. “I never give up. I just have a drive, and I’m going to find a way. I may not find it the first time or even the 50th time, but I’ll find a way. And I think it’s that persistence. It’s like John Morgan’s book You Can’t Teach Hungry. He really nailed that concept because you really can’t teach it. You’ve got to want it, and it’s easy to say you want success, but what are you going to do about it? Are you going to do something to make that happen today? Take that challenge today. Don’t wait. If you want to be the best, you have that control right this second. All you have to do is figure out what you’re going to do differently this month and start executing those items.”
EPISODE RESOURCES & REFERENCES:
Meriwether & Tharp LLC
Emory University Competitive Debate
SEO (search engine optimization)
Wizard of Oz
KPI (key performance indicators)
You Can’t Teach Hungry by John Morgan
SHARE AND SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST
Sharing and subscribing are great ways to help us to get the word out about the show. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to share and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and Spotify.