Cookies and Lemonade: A perfect business combination

They fired me.

And not just from any job – from the job. I was a twenty-seven year-old corporate lawyer who’d worked like crazy to get the brass ring of legal jobs. The only problem was that I’d hated everything about that job, from the day I bought my first uncomfortable black suit to the day I walked out carrying my voluminous files in a cardboard box.

Life had thrown me a giant bushel of unexpected lemons, and I needed to find some way to make and sell some serious amounts of lemonade before my next mortgage payment was due.

I knew that if I continued down the road of corporate law, I’d be just as miserable at the next lawyer factory. But I also knew I was smart enough to do something really well. And luckily for me, I had a best friend who was suffering in her own pinstriped torture chamber. We started our business because we owed it to ourselves to have fulfilling careers, to use our law degrees in a positive way, and to create lives that were much fuller than ones paved with direct-deposits.

So we banded together and decided to reinvent ourselves not as something new, but as something we’d been in the past. We had always been great at being students. We were passionate about grades, tests, new pencils, and the first day of school. We were experts at being a students – far more than either of us ever could have been at corporate law. We decided to take our show on the road.

We made a $30 investment for a big vat of frozen cookie dough. We baked the cookies and bundled them into little packages with explanations of famous court cases on the tags, and we headed to the law schools to give them out. As the students munched, their mouths were full, and they were our perfect audience. We demonstrated our straightforward and irreverent explanations of complex legal topics. We gave out useful and manageable study advice. And as it turns out, that (along with some chocolate chips) was just what the students craved!

Now in our ninth year, Lawyer Up (formerly Morange Workshops) provides full-spectrum educational support to law students, helping them get into and through the ordeal that is law school. When we were students ourselves, we wished we had someone to lean on for support and guidance—so we became that support for today’s law students.

Perhaps what is most interesting about our success is that we did not create our business around an existing business model. No company out there does what we do. Instead, we followed the talents and skills that came naturally to us. We like to help people follow their dreams to become lawyers, so our business provides admissions counseling. We like to show people how confusing legal concepts can be understood easily, so we teach by using fun and simple explanations. We like to be a shoulder for a frustrated student to cry on, so we provide personal academic coaching. By using skills that were inherently ours, we created a successful business on less than a shoestring budget. That was back in 2002. Now, nine years later, we’ve managed to thrive, even in today’s difficult economy. We grow every year, and we are proud to say that our success lies not only in the money we make, but also in the lives that we touch.

2010 was a spectacular year for us. Our business reached $250,000 in revenues, and we were named national Finalists in the Make Mine A Million $ Business Competition, run by Count Me In and sponsored by American Express Open. Since then, connecting with other driven entrepreneurs has opened some incredible doors for us, and we expect 2011 to be our best year yet.

Our students and their families know that they can call us any time for a personal pep-talk, or for career or study advice. Our committed team of employees knows that their happiness is as important to us as is our own. Our business feels our continued commitment and enthusiasm.

We were lucky – our startup capital was the best kind possible: a solid friendship, the commitment to take the journey together, supportive families, and the time to build our new careers. To date, we’ve never taken on any debt, we’ve never taken on any investors, and the $30 in of cookie dough was our only financial investment.

Our business was not the product of some grand design that we’d had. Instead of looking to the horizon to see what we could dream, we looked inward, to see who we already were. This attitude has helped us realize the most fundamental rule of starting any business, and the one we like to share with new business owners: Do what you are good at. We’ve heard many people suggest “if you do what you love, the money will follow”. While we appreciate the underlying sentiment, we don’t think the message is quite right. Loving something doesn’t necessarily make you a leader in that field. Loving something doesn’t create a niche market. Loving something just may not sell. On the other hand, doing what comes naturally to you, and focusing on your own expertise can truly be the path to success, as it was for us.

The best piece of advice we ever got was from my father, a third-generation successful entrepreneur in his own right. Dad said, “remember that you are always selling yourself”—and he was right. How we dress, how we speak, and how others perceive us as individuals are critical components to our brand.

We’ve been through several transitions in the past in years. Since connecting with Count Me In and pursuing business coaching, we’ve been able to solve the one problem that almost killed our business: trouble reaching our target market. Our main clients have always been law students themselves, and the best way to reach these clients is to make personal contact with them at their schools. However, law schools have been inhospitable, to say the least. Back when we were two gals with a bunch of cookies, the schools barely noticed us; but now, when we are a branded company that is thriving, the schools view us with extreme skepticism. While school administrations, professors, and Deans all support our academic methods, they are hesitant to allow us to showcase our services to students. Lawyers are notorious for having a “rite of passage” mentality about law school, and for that reason, “old-school” professors mistrust and dislike the idea of paid academic help. Students themselves refuse to spread the word about us for an entirely different reason: they like to keep us as their “secret weapon”. While we’re thrilled that they find our services so valuable, this mentality puts a serious damper on our word-of-mouth advertising. Now that we’ve worked with a fantastic business coach, we’ve learned ways to expand our business model that completely circumvents this once daunting problem.

Our toughest transition was embracing our new identities as entrepreneurs. These days, our business provides us with more money, more flexibility, more time and more satisfaction than our former identity as simply “lawyers” ever did. There is still much to accomplish, and we intend to work hard to do so – but the knowledge that we were able to turn our personal lemons into such sweet lemonade will continue to fuel us for years to come.

Lawyer UP

Elura Nanos, Esq.

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