The Front End of the Puppy

For as long as there have been pet stores, there have been kids falling in love with the front end of the puppy.  They gaze through the pet shop window at that adorable little face and they just have to have it.  They beg mom and dad over and over again until finally one day, after mounds of guilt and against their better judgment, mom and dad give up and buy the puppy.  Everyone is happy.   The puppy comes home, jumps and plays and chases the ball.  There are giggles and smiles throughout the house.  No one can argue that a puppy can bring true joy to any home.  But when the realization kicks in that though the puppy’s front end is adorable it also comes with a back end and the training must begin. That, of course, is the daily grind of feed it, walk it and pick up its poop.   It’s the fee we pay for the joy we get.   But as we were looking in the window we forgot about the ongoing fee that always exists.

I know I did.  When I was 12, I wanted a puppy so badly.  And not just any puppy, either. In my mind’s eye, I could already see my brown and white English Springer Spaniel.  I begged and begged and then on my 13th birthday I got one as a surprise.  Man I loved that puppy.  I called him Barney and I thought I understood that Barney had a back end and what it was for.  However, I was woefully unprepared for the military like routine that is required to properly train a dog.  My mom had cats so I had assumed the dog would train itself, just like the cat.  I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  My mom and dad gave me the responsibility of training Barney and he was to stay in my room until I completed that task.  I was given no owner’s manual, my parents didn’t have experience with the task of training a dog and this was long before the age of the Internet.

So, with newspapers strewn all over the floor of my room, I was trying every technique I could think of, but alas, I was failing.  Finally Barney must have gotten sick of my inept natural ability as a dog owner and decided to make a point.  Since Barney slept in my room and it was time for him to go for a walk in the morning but I was being slow to rise, he decided to wake me up by peeing on my head.  Yep, I woke to what I thought was another leaky roof over my bedroom ceiling but was actually, my dog, basically saying, “Well, you don’t get up, so we’ll see about that.”  At this point the joy had disappeared.  Neither Barney nor I was happy and my parents were about ready to shoot the both of us.  Barney and I were just not going make it.  First, I had no business owning an English Springer Spaniel.  We lived in the city in an apartment over my parent’s grocery story.  Barney had no room to run and he loved to run.   Secondly, I had no business being a dog owner period — at that point in my life.  I lacked both the discipline and motivation required to care for him properly.  So, we found a farmer with lots and lots of land and gave Barney away.  He was happier to be gone I’m sure, and to be honest, I was happy to be free of the daily routine.

I learned my lesson, and Barney made his point.  If we want to own a dog, we must be prepared for the mundane routine of maintenance.

So many professionals today get into their own practice because they fall in love with the front end of the puppy.  They see their boss driving a nice car, playing golf or traveling.  They see that the boss doesn’t seem to take orders from anyone else and can come and go as they please.  They believe that owning their own business will solve their problems but no one gave them an owner’s manual to prepare them for what was ahead.  After the newness wears off and they realize the business has a back end, the reality sets in.  They have to make the phone ring, deal with clients, manage employees, ensure payroll is in place, deal with the regulatory bodies, fend off phone calls from advertising companies, and do all this in less than 50 hour a week.  Some professionals need the business to pee on their heads to wake them because they gradually find themselves regretting the business and the business regretting them.  And sometimes they awaken too late.

However, unlike my puppy dilemma, it’s not as easy to find a farmer to whom you can give away your business.  This is your life and your livelihood.  This business is supposed to support your family and they are depending on you.  You know there’s a way out of this mess, but you just don’t know where to start.

In business, the rewards can bring true joy.  But just like a puppy, the business has a back end.  And that back end takes a religious commitment to maintain.  It must be inspected and measured and systems must be put in place to automate what you can as well as maximize the efficiencies of the office.

The good news is, I created an owner’s manual.

Building Better Business Systems For Law Firm Owners