Nina chants her way to better business relationships
Nina Kaufman was called to come back to her faith after her Grandfather passed away and she soon found herself chanting Torah as part of the service. This is difficult because it involves telling a story with music while understanding the text in two languages. She also runs at least one 5k a month with her husband, including the Midnight Run in New York City’s Central Park on New Year’s Eve.
In this episode, Nina and I talk about how her outside of work interests allow her to “clear the mechanism”, to borrow a quote from the movie “For the Love of the Game.” The performance aspect of chanting Torah has made her much more comfortable when speaking to large audiences. And her running has taught her to let go and realize that not everything needs to be so competitive. But the biggest impact is the way she’s now able to relate more with her clients. “My clients wanted to get to know me and hear more about the person behind the professional.”
Nina Kaufman the founder and CEO of both Kaufman Law and The Legal Edge, working as a small business champion and award winning attorney. Forbes magazine named her an Influencer for Entrepreneurs and the Small Business Administration named her a Women in Business Champion of the Year. She’s a regular contributor to Entrepreneur.com and is the host of the Cash Out Big! Podcast.
She graduated from Wellesley College with a Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, Women’s Studies and later attended The London School of Economics and Political Science for her Master or Arts, Government/West European Politics. Nina received her J.D., Law degree from Boston University School of Law.
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Hello, this is John Garrett and welcome to Episode 127 of the Green Apple Podcast where each Wednesday, I interview a professional known for a hobby or a passion, making them stand out like a green apple in a red apple world. I’m always so fascinated on how we usually try to stand out with our technical expertise. I’m here to shed a light each week on someone who understands that these expertise isn’t always earned in degrees and certifications. Sometimes, it’s experiences from your passions outside of work that actually make you better at your job. And this week, you’ll hear how those passions are what your clients and co-workers want to know about as they get to know you better.
And really quickly, I’m doing some research for a book I’m writing. It’s super short. One minute, anonymous survey about firm culture and how the Green Apple message might apply in your world. So if you’ve got just 60 seconds, please head to greenapplepodcast.com. You could click on the big green button there, answer a few quick questions. Again, it’s totally anonymous and I really appreciate your help.
Thanks so much to everyone for subscribing to the show so you don’t miss any of the cool guests like this week’s Nina Kaufman. She’s the founder and CEO of both Kaufman Law and The Legal Edge, working as a small business champion and award-winning attorney. Forbes magazine has named her an Influencer for Entrepreneurs and the Small Business Administration named her a Women in Business Champion of the Year. She’s a regular contributor to entrepreneur.com and has a really, really cool podcast called Cash Out BIG.
Wow, Nina, I’m so fortunate to have you with me today here in the Green Apple Podcast.
Nina: I am delighted to be here, John. Thanks so much for having me.
John: I’m so excited to have you on. I gave people a little bit of an introduction to you earlier but maybe in your own words, a little bit of what you’re up to now professionally and how you got there.
Nina: Absolutely. Well, what I’m up to professionally now is I formed a consulting firm called Business Exponential and we work with a lot of knowledge based business to help them become more profitable, get better systematized so that they can actually create a business that has the potential to be sellable. You can’t cash out big at least you can make it a cash count.
John: There you go. Nice. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. And how did you get into that?
Nina: Well, that’s a longer story. So I’m a business attorney by background and I had owned a law firm for 12 years and there reached a point as often happens in relationships where you’re at the end of the road. I was really at the end of this road. So I went to a business evaluation expert. I said, “Look. I have got to get out.” I love him but I can’t stand to watch him breathe. It’s just you do it very wrong.
So here are my numbers. Here are the plans. Tell me what’s it worth. And he paused for a minute which is never good. And if you can picture the desk full of papers and a cup of coffee with a steam coming off it and he picks up this sticky, chocolate frosting covered doughnut and he says, “You see this here doughnut?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, what you got is the hole.”
John: Oh, man.
Nina: I said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I’m smart. I negotiated a partnership agreement.” He’s shaking his head. He’s like, “No. No. No. No. No.” He said, “Your business is too dependent on you. There’s nothing to sell here. So if you really want to get — you’re in a regulated industry. You’re a primary sales, client service, all of that stuff. If you just want to get out then resign and move on.”
And that’s what I did. So after 12 years of busting my butt, that was my most attractive option. So I closed the doors and moved on. And after a period of humiliation and all of that and wanting to hide, I said, you know what? I’m sure I’m not the first business owner to ever do this and I probably won’t be the last unless we expertise-driven companies really understand what it means to create a business that can run like a well-oiled machine. And that was the genesis of Business Exponential.
John: That’s awesome though. I mean that’s so cool that you took a potential pitfall in your own story and turned it around into this great consulting firm that now helps others not do what happened to you. Very, very cool. One thing that I love to ask everyone is you mentioned having a business attorney background. What made you want to go into law?
Nina: Well, that’s another story. Where I grew up, it was instilled in me. I’m either becoming a doctor, a lawyer or somehow going into business. I am really squeemy when it comes to needles. Even when I’m having blood taken for an annual physical, I’m just doing deep breathing exercises. So medicine was out and I thought business was going to be boring because I was good with numbers. I thought numbers, boring. Law was more about people and that’s where I was then.
I also say that I probably saw To Kill a Mockingbird at an impressionable age. So that sense of being the wise trusted counselor and confidant for others was what is really important to me. And if you’ve seen the film or you read the book, Atticus Finch really comports himself with a great deal of integrity and justice and decency when around him are people who are not necessarily acting that way.
John: Yeah. No. That’s awesome though. I mean just to hell with that movie had such an impression on you.
Nina: And the book because I am a bookworm.
John: Right. Well, I just assumed. I mean just because I only watched the movie.
Nina: Gregory Peck did it justice so it’s all good.
John: Right. So I know that obviously running your own consulting firm takes a lot of time but what sort of hobbies and passions to you love to do in your little bit of spare time that you have?
Nina: There are a couple actually that I do participate in regularly. The first is — and my husband got me into this. We run about one 5K race a month throughout the season. I’ll consider the season kind of between March and actually, December. We just ran the four-mile midnight run in Central Park in New Year’s Eve. So we’ll run 5K races.
The other is that I’m active in my spiritual community’s leading services and chanting from the Torah which for those from the Jewish faith will understand. That’s sort of our holy scripture, the five books of Moses. So it’s just an amazing thing because for me, it involves understanding text in both languages, English and Hebrew so that I can tell the story. But there’s also music involved and there’s a whole bunch of stuff. So I love that.
John: Yeah. And so how did you get into that? I mean I’m not Jewish and so is that something that growing up, you do or is it something that you’re like, “No. No. I want to get into that and do more of?”
Nina: Not really. I had a little taste of it as a 13-year-old when I had my Bat Mitzvah. I grew up in a reformed assimilated Jewish background and then I left it. I when I went off to college and I absolutely did nothing for ten years. But there’s something about important life cycle events and when my grandfather, my father’s father, who is very, very dear to me died in 1991, I felt the call in some way to mark that, to treat it as an event of significance.
That’s when I came back. I said, “Well, all right, I guess I’ll look for a synagogue. Whatever.” I found a very vibrant, egalitarian place and it actually took me about six or seven years until my paternal grandmother died where I said, “You know what? I’ve been hearing this music and I’ve been hearing the stories, I want to learn to do that.” And that’s what got me started in that road.
John: Wow. That’s really powerful though.
Nina: It is. Because being up there, first of all, all eyes are on you which is interesting both from an ego and a spiritual perspective. So you got all eyes. You’re telling a story in a language or I’m telling a story in a language that is not my own. I’m not fluent in Hebrew. And I have to sing it. When you’re reading Torah, it’s like you get the words but without the vowels.
John: Oh, boy.
Nina: So you really need to know that text. So there’s a lot of practice and repetition and getting used to it. But I always find, it’s absolutely uncanny, there’s going to be a word, a phrase, a something that uplifts me. Always.
John: Right. Yeah. That’s really awesome. Would you say that between the running and the chanting, that there’s a unique skill set that you take from that into the office or it impacts your career in some way?
Nina: Yeah. In both ways. I’d say first that it requires — well, let me taking the running first. One of the things I’ve really learned with the running because I’m not always training as often as I should. You know how that happens. You get busy and you say, “Oh, I’m too tired to go to the gym this month.” For someone like me who is very, very competitive, it took me really a long time to finally get to the place where I could say, you know what? I’m just going to go and have fun with it.
So to learn to have fun with okay, the training and the practice but also to have fun on the race day, there’s something really incredible with it. Especially for example like this midnight run that we just did. You’re with thousands of people and it was 11 degrees, maybe nine, depending on which forecast you listen to. Nine degrees, you’re with thousands of people, it’s New Year’s Eve but you’re all with people who really want to start their year in a really great way.
For other 5K racers, you’re starting 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 in the morning. Start your day in a really great way with an uplifting community in a way. So I get to challenge myself. As a former college DJ, I also get to make a really great playlist for myself. So that’s always fun.
I think it’s the learning to have fun, knowing that there’s only just so much time I have to devote to it. So that lets me be a little more relaxed as I’m building a business because there’s only just so many things I can do during a day and there are only so many things I’m actually going to be expert in. So learning to let go of the self-flagellation, “Why am I not perfect in this area” is very, very helpful.
John: Yeah. That’s really profound actually. It’s really great that you’re able to see that in the moment because I mean so many of us are perfectionist and strive to be the best and know everything. Professionalism tries to tell us that we need to know all the technical everythings.
When you don’t know just one dumb random thing, all of a sudden you feel like a failure. That’s so great that you’re able to realize that, not only in the professional life but through the running that’s taught you to just be in the moment and enjoy it and do what you can do. No one’s dying so we’re all good. It’s not a life and death moment here.
If I don’t get first, I’m probably not going to get first. There’s thousands of us out here. If you’re from Kenya, you got a pretty good shot. If you’re not, you know what? Just go have some fun.
Nina: Well, I tell you, my husband is an actor and a personal trainer. He said people will often come to him saying, “All right. What’s the best way to do my best at the marathon?” And he said, “Have your parents be born from Kenya.” That’s how you’re going to win. Exactly. Exactly.
But also on the other side, when it comes to the Torah reading, I think part of what’s also helpful on the other side is that for me and the way I go about it, there is a discipline of practice, almost meditative. So it’s learning the text in English and then learning the text in English and Hebrew. And then learning the text Hebrew without the vowels. And then learning it with the music and really being able to go over it and over it and over it and over it until it’s almost second nature.
I think there too, being in front go the congregation, whether it’s a few hundred or on the High Holidays, it can be a few thousand people that I am in front of doing this to have that presence because part of my business involves public speaking. Imagine that. It’s a different form of performance, if you will.
My mantra just before I start is if you’ve ever seen — god, I hope I get the film right. What was the Kevin Costner one? It’s on the tip of my tongue. The third one he did. Was it For the Love of the Game?
John: For the Love of the Game, yeah.
Nina: For the Love of the Game where he’s — where Billy Church, he’s the aging pitcher, this is the last one. He’s on the verge of having this absolute historic game and he’s got all the noise and he says to himself, “Clear the mechanism.” I do my own little version of that before I start chanting. Just clear the mechanism because when I’m there telling these sacred stories, I don’t want the, “Oh, wow. You really messed up on that note. Do you know that you mispronounced that word? Oh, my god. You’re totally not ready for this.” I don’t want that chatter in my head.
John: Right. Right. Yeah. Because I get that something fierce a lot of times where you know, yeah, it’s just oh, I’m meant to do that or I meant to say that. But most of the time no one knows.
So you know you just let it rip and be you and give it your best shot. That kind of dove tails nicely with the running, uplifting and go have fun and do what you can within your own means and give it your best shot. You know what I mean? No law school or business school is telling you to go out and volunteer in your synagogue or in your church to speak or to chant or sing, to make you better at your job. But it clearly does. It has a huge impact.
Nina: Absolutely. I will say that to me, as I get it out my soap box. Now that you’ve opened the door, I think it’s probably the real travesties of many law schools that they do not teach the students or expose them even the slightest bit to the business skills that they’re going to need as they are employing their legal acumen because as a dear colleague of mine once said, she said, “We are all in the business of sales and marketing. It’s just that our product our service is different.”
So my product may be business consulting or legal services, and you’re recovering from being a CPA but our business is sales and marketing. All we’re doing, and you might as well be Apex Tech. All we’re doing is teaching this new generation after generation of students about the law itself but not how to run a business whose product or service is law or consulting for that matter.
John: Right. Right, or how to talk to normal people in everyday life. I mean that’s the thing. I think that we all tend to forget that professionalism is duping us into is that we forget that it’s a human to human interaction at the end of the day. I mean it’s a lawyer to lawyer but these are two people. And a lawyer to business person and what have you.
Nina: Absolutely. That’s certainly where your focus on what are people are doing outside of work because we may not be getting the training in our work environments or we may not have the time to create that within our work environments but the things we do outside can absolutely have a positive impact.
John: Yeah. Most definitely. You have two awesome examples of that which is really, really neat. Now is this something that you talked about, hobbies and passions when you started your law career early on or was this something that you would share or was that time of the career a little more focused on working and less on sharing outside of work?
Nina: Oh, gosh, no. The running definitely came later. I had been practicing law for easily a decade before I met my husband. So oh, yeah. There was no exercise going on or certainly not running 5K races. That’s for sure.
John: Not on purpose.
Nina: Exactly. Exactly. I guess in terms of the hobbies, it really depended on the colleague or the person that I was talking to because within certain professions, sometimes people are not comfortable with opening up to another level of getting to know you intimacy.
If you’re not necessarily in an entrepreneurial setting where it’s very common to say, “Oh, so what do you do outside of running your business?” That’s how we really do want to get to know each other. When it’s professional to professional, that’s not necessarily something you want to lead with and there can be a lot of concern about, “Oh, will I be accepted? Will I be welcomed? Do they really want to hear this? If they hear that I chant Torah, they would think, “Oh, she’s Jewish” or, “She’s really religious.” All of which can set up immediate obstacles in people’s minds to getting along on that professional level.
It wasn’t so much encouraged until again, I was starting my own businesses and I realized that’s how my clients wanted to get to know me. They wanted to hear a little more about the person behind the professional.
John: It seems to me like the professional to professional relationship shouldn’t suffer. Why is it that we don’t want to open up? That it is kind of taboo, I guess, or is that the way that it should be?
Nina: Well, my two cents on this is that when you’re dealing with very status driven professions, what you do outside is not as important as the status you’re gaining through your profession. So I’ll give you an example in terms of the way different will network. A business development colleague of mine mentioned many years ago. She said lawyers are — have you ever seen two dogs at the park and they’re sniffing each other?
John: Right. That’s awesome.
Nina: Lawyer to lawyer, it’ll be like, “Hi. I’m John.” “Hi. I’m Nina.” “What law school did you go to?” “Did you do any clerkships? Were you on Wall Street?” And so we’re sniffing for those status accolades that were taught from the very beginning in this professions to hang your hat on. It maybe that medicine has something very similar.
When you’re in a more entrepreneurial setting, my experience is that it’s a little more fluid, that people don’t necessarily want to — because I’ve worked with small businesses for over 20 years. They don’t just want to know how smart I am. They also want to know what kind of a person I am because law or consulting, you’re in a trust relationship. People are a little nervous about entrusting you right away with something that is very personal to them. As in something they mucked up in their business and also with fees that are not insubstantial.
They really want to know who they’re dealing with. And that’s where being able to bring up these kinds of things. So whether there’s involvement on board, so it’s not just, “Oh, I sit on a board.” But as an example yeah, yesterday. Hello, Sunday. I spent three hours helping a small not-for-profit with a strategic planning focus group and these are some of the things we talked about. So when people says, “Oh, you’re skill sets are relatable and you’re also a giving person, I think that’s a different way of networking. So you just need to know which environment you’re in and what kind of information is going to be comfortable at what point.
John: Right. Right. Yeah. I think at the end of the day, everybody wants to know what kind of person you are. Whether your client is with a giant law firm type of client or if you’re dealing with a small business, it’s just that I guess it’s less personal to the giant corporations than it is clearly to the small business owner that built something up from scratch.
Nina: Right. They say that people do business with people they know, like and trust. Depending on your situation, how you go through those stages and the information you need to get to a place of trust may be very different.
John: That’s true. That’s very true. But in the end, you need to get to the trust part. So yeah, sometimes it’s more of the know and sometimes, it’s more of the like or the professional expertise, if you will. But I still think that at the end of the day, that human side of us is really that differentiator that really puts things over the top, I believe.
I mean when it comes to accounting firms, when it comes to law firms, I mean what makes a client want to choose you is not necessarily your expertise because I’m sure that there are plenty of other lawyers that have the same background or similar skillsets, what have you. But it’s the combination of that with the extracurricular with who you really are is what makes you unique and makes me want to you choose you.
Nina: Right. That I’m fantastically good looking. That helps too.
John: Right. That too. Exactly. I didn’t want to say that in this age of everything. No. No. Yeah. Absolutely. One thing that I’m always curious about is just when it comes to this organizations creating kind of this culture where it’s okay to share versus ones where you walk in and there’s no oxygen in the office sort of setting, how much do you think it’s on the organization to create this culture from the top-down? Or how much is it on the individual to maybe step up and create a little circle amongst themselves or to jump in if the door’s open, type of thing?
Nina: I think that’s a great question. I don’t have a ready answer for it because I can see both things happening. So if you have let’s say an organization where the top brass seems to be very closed, as an individual you can say, “Well, Gandhi. I’m going to be the change I want to see in the world.” And sometimes that does end up filtering up. If top management says, “Oh, I wasn’t aware that we’re actually getting better results out of our team, out of clients by being more open,” then that can be a positive opportunity for them to say, “You know what? We’re going to really make this part of our culture.”
But in my experience dealing with more hierarchical organizations, there’s a sense from the top-down of, don’t be trivial. Don’t be frivolous and don’t take time away from the billable hour. So if you’re going to this stuff, do it on your own time. But they don’t give you your own time to do it. Just keep it out of here because the focus from their business model perspective is we need as many billable hours generated as possible.
John: Exactly. Yeah. And that is what’s always curious to me. Law firms and accounting firms, I think are similar in that mind set of they hire all these people with these extracurricular activities and that’s why you bring them in and then you never give them time to actually go do the extracurricular activities which makes everyone turn into the same thing. You just accidentally hammer them all flat.
I did it on accident. I just I guess was too dumb to know that I wasn’t supposed too. But yeah, on nights and weekends, I would go and do my stand-up and then people would just ask, “So what did you do this weekend?’ And then you tell them and then all of a sudden now everybody knows who I am in the office. And 12 years later people are remembering. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it certainly makes you different. It makes you unique. We’re all good at our jobs, to stand out is not be even better at your job unless you’re some kind of savant then it’s not going to happen.
Nina: Right. Exactly. And particularly something with stand-up because I had just dipped my tiny little baby toe into that for a little bit. People are so impressed. I mean they would rather stick a fork in their eye than get up on stage and tell a joke. So it’s not only, “Oh, yeah. You had a nice weekend. You went skiing.” It’s, “Wow. You did something that would scare the bejesus out of most people.” So that’s really impressive on a number of levels.
John: Yeah. Well, thanks. Yeah. It’s also just cool that people remember who you really are and those hobbies and passions are the easiest way to get to that without feeling too vulnerable, I think. So yeah. Do you have any words of encouragement I guess to people that are listening that maybe are on the fence of, “I’m the only one that does this type of a thing or what have you. No one’s going to care that I do this on my nights and weekend or what have you,” any words of encouragement of how it’s benefited you and for them to help to get over that hump?
Nina: Yeah. What I would say and a phrase that has been coming up for me a lot recently is, “Nothing is wasted.” I mention that because having had a career path that was not exactly what I thought it was going to be when I first started years ago, there’s been so much that I have learned and experienced by doing something that’s a little nontraditional. And again, whether it’s something that’s more a hobby like the 5K races and chanting Torah or it’s volunteer work like being an overnight volunteer at a homeless shelter or finding ways to mentor other business owners. There’s always going to be something you’re going to glean from it. I think sometimes, it’s just a matter of you need a little bit of an effort just to find your tribe. Find where you fit in.
So all right, if the world of work is not fully embracing your openly declaring that you do body painting every weekend, well, so be it. If that’s what you love, then that’s how you’re meant to express. So find a way to do it. You can blog about it. You can create a podcast about it. You can go to body painting workshops on the weekend that feed you. So if it’s not fully integrated into your world of work, there’s going to be something you’re going to learn from it. There will be, “Wow, how do you creatively paint in between your fingers?” And that’s going to just open up your mind into a different way perhaps of advising a client because you’ve had that experience.
John: No. I love that. Nothing is wasted. I love that. That’s fantastic.
Nina: Nothing is wasted.
John: Yeah. Because that’s really, really profound. Really awesome.
Well, before I get on an airplane and come on up and hang out and do a little 5K run and then come to your synagogue, trust me, no one wants me singing. But before I come hang out, I do have my 17 rapid fire questions that I like to run everyone through just to make sure that we’re simpatico. So it goes by really quickly. And they’re super fun. So let me fire this thing up here. All right. Here we go. Here we go. I’ll start you out with an easy one.
Nina: I feel like I’m on a game show.
John: A little bit. First one. Super easy. Toilet paper roll. Over or under?
John: Under. Interesting. All right. Do you have a favorite color?
Nina: Things on the blue/teal family.
John: Okay. Nice. How about a least favorite color?
John: Yellow. Nice. Do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Nina: Actor? Alec Guinness.
John: Oh, wow. Okay. All right. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Nina: I would say I’m genetically a night owl but I’ve trained myself to be an early bird.
John: Okay. That’s funny. That’s funny. Most people as they get older, they trend towards the early bird. That’s for sure. More pens or pencils?
John: Pens. Nice. How about Sudoku or a Crossword puzzle?
Nina: Crossword puzzle. Love words. Love words.
John: Yeah. How about do you have a favorite ice cream flavor?
Nina: Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food.
John: Oh, yeah. That’s a good answer. Very good answer. Are you more oceans or mountains?
Nina: Oh, I enjoy the hiking of the mountain but I love the sound of the ocean. I’m torn. Really both.
John: Yeah. Totally. Totally. How about more heels or flats?
Nina: I guess I’m more of a flats.
John: Flats. All right. More Star Wars or Star Trek?
Nina: Star Wars.
John: Yeah. Totally. When it comes to computers, more PC or a Mac?
Nina: Oh, definitely a PC.
John: Yeah. And on your mouse, are you more of a right-click or a left-click?
Nina: I don’t know. They do different things.
Nina: The right and the left. So I don’t know. But I’ll say that I’m a mouser versus a touchpad.
John: Okay. There we go. That works. How about do you have a favorite number?
John: 3, and why is that?
Nina: Because it’s the first one that came to mind.
John: That’s a good answer. That’s a very good answer. Do you have a favorite band or musician?
Nina: No. I have such wide ranging and eclectic taste. I’ve been listening to this — they call it Jewgrass. It’s Jewish bluegrass music by Nefesh Mountain.
John: Oh, my gosh. That’s very funny. I’ll have to check it out. Jewgrass. All right. We’ll check that out. Do you have a favorite adult beverage?
Nina: Beverage. I would say it would be Oban which is a single malt scotch whiskey from the West Highlands.
John: Oh, wow. That’s going all out. And the last one. The last one. The favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Nina: A little necklace charm that my grandfather had given to my father’s mother on the day my father was born. When I turned 13, they gave it to me. It’s like a tiny little circle. It looks like the face of a watch and in the center is a little heart with little diamonds and around it, it says, “I love you at all times.” I love that.
John: Wow. That’s fantastic. Well, thank you so much, Nina. This was really, really fantastic. Thanks for being with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Nina: Thank you, John. A pleasure to be here.
John: That was so great. I loved how Nina said, “My clients wanted to get to know me and hear more about the person behind the professional.” This is finding your “and,” and then sharing it with your clients and co-workers. People want to connect with you but that doesn’t happen if you let professionalism dictate this.
If you would like to see some pictures of Nina chanting in synagogue or after one of her runs and connect with her on social media and get a link to her Cash Out BIG podcast, be sure to go to greenaplepodcast.com. And while you’re on the page, please click that big green button and do the anonymous research survey about firm culture.
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