Editors’ Note: This is the first a series of blog posts we’ll be writing this year about the concept of practice platform for lawyers. This is a new idea that has emerged from our work helping lawyers start cutting edge practice development strategies by using collaborative digital technologies. The concept is based on adapting the idea of an author’s platform, as this has emerged in the publishing industry in recent years, to the needs of lawyers, accountants and other professionals.
I first came across the concept of an author’s platform about 5 years ago. A submission editor with a book publisher used this phrase in an email she sent me explaining why she had decided to reject my manuscript for publication. “We really like your work but we looked you up online and didn’t see any reference to you or your work. You don’t have an author’s platform. We only publish work by authors with an established platform.”
Initially I was non-plussed and unsure what she meant. I had never heard the word platform used this way, although from the context I inferred that this editor (and her publisher) thought I lacked any visible reputation or standing as an author or expert. In that way, an author’s platform seemed to be nothing more than a modern-day equivalent of a way to demonstrate your bona fides. “You are nobody to us,” she seemed to be saying, “without a platform.” The whole idea struck me as vaguely ridiculous – yet another obstacle thrown in the path of an unpublished author, and a real Catch 22. Of course as a first time author I didn’t have an author’s platform. That was precisely why I was sending my manuscript to a publisher in the first place.
But setting aside my personal pique at having my manuscript rejected on such nebulous grounds, the concept of an author’s platform stuck with me. In fact, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Whatever it was, I didn’t have one. And apparently that’s what I needed if I wanted to get my book published. So I decided to go about setting up a platform for myself, one way or another. And the first step, I realized, is that I had to figure out what an author’s platform was.
I started of course with a Google search. Now today if you search on the term “author platform” you will find a number of relevant hits, from web sites that offer to sell or build you your own platform for just $299, to recent articles from Writers Digest about how you too can sell more books and achieve overnight success by building your own platform in 5 easy steps. But this was back in 2009 or 2010, before the concept of an authors’ platform had attained enough currency to become a staple of trade publishing listicals and web commerce. Back then there was really nothing to be found online either explaining it or offering to sell me one. So the only option was to tackle it in the manner of the Little Red Hen and to figure it out and build it by myself.
I am incredibly glad that I did. Of course I ended up wasting a lot of time and effort as I bumbled my way through one experiment after another, starting with my first blog, which soon blossomed into a website, before branching out into an email newsletter and eventually requiring a redesign and update of the entire website to include audio and video components. But with all the bumbling around, I ended up learning a tremendous amount along the way. And more importantly I ended up with a much different understanding not so much of what an authors’ platform is but about how useful it can be, far beyond what I would have discovered had it even been an option back then for me to pay someone else $299 to build it for me. Indeed, that whole process of trial and error gave rise to an important number of insights that I will share with you over the course of the coming months, foremost among them being that a platform – whether for an author, a lawyer or whomever — should not simply be approached as a means to an end. It doesn’t merely serve an instrumental purpose by helping you build visibility and prominence in the market. It should be understood and pursued as a very valuable end in itself.
I too had started out with a very instrumental approach. After all, I only got interested in building an authors’ platform for myself as a means to find a publisher for my book. But what I was surprised to discover was that having gone to the trouble of figuring out how to build a platform for myself I really had no further need of a publisher after all! I had found a sufficient reason and means to continue on with my written work, independent of any third party sponsorship or support, by virtue of having my platform in place!
This may help explain why so many people have a hard time understanding or explaining what an authors’ platform is. Really that’s because the concept entails something of a paradigm shift in the publishing industry. (In the ensuing blog posts we will explore how the concept of the Practice Platform entails a similar paradigm shift in the legal industry.) Back in the good old days publishers were the platform. The very idea that authors today need a platform of their own is an unintended consequence of long-term corporate trends in favor of cost cutting, outsourcing and downsizing. It’s also just one more case of an entrenched industry successfully planting the seeds of its self-destruction! Understood this way, an author’s platform refers to anything that connects or helps to connect an author’s work to its intended audience. Once a writer puts sufficient pieces of a platform in place for him or herself, you can obviously see how a publisher becomes much less significant a factor in making for an author’s success.
But ultimately I think the most useful insight I attained came in realizing that the concept of a platform is extendable well beyond the publishing industry. Instead of limiting ourselves to thinking about an author’s platform, the same sort of platform concept may be constructed for the benefit of other professionals in other industries and contexts. In fact, the benefits of a platform of this sort speak to a broader set of needs many of us face in our working lives in the current social and economic environment. It’s not just writers who need to reach an audience for their knowledge and expertise. This is a much broader phenomenon.
The idea for the Practice Platform is what emerged from that insight. It represents a powerful new way to connect everything a lawyer does in his or her working life more directly with the intended audience for the work; in other words, a Practice Platform provides an efficient and effective means for a lawyer to stay in close contact with existing clients and to discover new clients as well. The purpose of these blog posts is to describe how you can make this can happen yourself using proven techniques and very affordable commercial software. A Practice Platform for lawyers is necessary and we intend to explain how it is readily within reach.