Week 1: Navigating Your Success
Lawyers, do you have a game plan?
By Peggy Gruenke, owner of Legal Biz Success
Find her on Twitter @PeggyGruenke
Let’s do a business plan! Tell me, how did your body react when you read these words? Did your shoulders slump? Did your face frown? Did you feel your body tense up? Or did you situp/standup straighter and your face muscles relax?
My guess is that you reacted negatively and doing a business plan is that last thing you want to spend time on. Doing a “business plan” sounds too much like homework. Afterall, for some of you, being a lawyer is much more fun than being a business owner. But as a solo attorney, you are a business owner and an entrepreneur.
You see, the trouble with most business plans and the reason people don’t want to create one is they are often written for someone else – a banker, an investor, or a potential partner. Instead, I say let’s write it for yourself. It’s your chance to think through the challenges you are facing, how you can grow your business and commit to a plan of action. Together we will develop your “game plan” for you business. And you will keep score, reward yourself for success and see the power of tracking progress.
Why write down your plan?
The process of making your business plan is often more valuable than the final plan itself. Developing your game plan is a critical learning process, and the more you learn the more you may change your plan. The planning process allows you to identify all of the key issues that need to be addressed either before you open your doors or as your business evolves.
Here are five reasons why:
- First, it becomes a tool forcing you to think through important issues that you may have not otherwise considered.
- Second, it guides your decision making in two areas: 1) on those issues you identified, you see the obstacles and have a plan; 2) you will be better prepared to respond to the unexpected twists and turns.
- Third, it changes your mindset. As you write it, ideas come, strategies unfold, beliefs you may have had change and it becomes more real – you are starting and running a business. It builds your confidence and clients and referral resources will notice this.
- Fourth, it will answer the questions like “Do I have a profitable business?” or “Am I making money?” or “Am I spending too much?” or “How can I get more good clients?” or “Can I grow this into something bigger?”
- Lastly, when treated as a living, breathing document it becomes your own set of checks and balances.
So over the next 30 days, we will, together, develop a game plan to help guide your business on a course for growth and we’ll try not to make feel like homework! Get excited!
“Most of all, remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place.” – Seth Godin
Looking at the Big Picture
During the next 30 days, what are the pieces of your game plan we will develop together? Our goal is to keep it simple, practicable and flexible so it becomes your tool for growing your business. What is a law practice business plan and what does it consist of? It is a concise and organized summary of how you intend to start and remain in business. It is composed of four main areas: an overview of your business (the whys and how), summary of a description of your business, your financial plan, and your marketing plan.
In summary, regardless of whether you just are starting out, or have been in practice for several years, take the time to create a simple game plan for your practice. It will really help you better understand the finances of your practice, how you can grow your practice and build for a more profitable future.
1. Your Big Picture:
In most business plans, this is referred to as the Executive Summary. But in our game plan, this is about visualizing your firm and creating, on paper, the big picture. Why are you where you are and what is your purpose of owning your own solo practice? We will summarize your services, your market and answer the questions like what does your firm do, where is it going and how will you get there.
This section evolves as the rest of the plan is created and we will revisit this section at the end of our 30 days.
2. Exactly Who You Are and Who You Should Be Working With
In this section, we will get to the core of why you are in business, who you are in business for, and how will you operate. In this section you will develop a true understanding of why you started your business and why you believe it will work and make money. We will do a SWOT analysis –Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
This section is probably the most difficult because it will seem like we are stating the obvious. But having a true conversation with yourself about your business and writing it down is essential to your success. You need to get comfortable with these pieces. What we develop here is vital to how you market and develop a profitable business.
3. Money in and Money Out: The Financials
Let’s set the stage with a very positive image: Law firm business models are very profitable models. According to a Fortune magazine article, in 2014, law firms were ranked second as a profitable business model with an average profit margin on 17.8%. So, yes, you can make money running a solo law firm!
This section is probably my favorite because you will see the most return on your investment in this course. For most solos, this is probably the weakest link in their business. But we will change that and make it the most fabulous tool you will have in your game plan.
We have developed templates for you to use so that this section is less cumbersome to get through. You will be amazed at the change in your mindset when you start seeing on paper the money side of your business. We will start this piece of the plan in the second week.
4. The Marketing Piece
BTW, you sometimes have to spend money to make money. Sound familiar? I have seen lawyers get stuck on this piece for a few different reasons. The goals are too lofty, it gets too expensive to implement and it lacks clear, executable goals. We will keep this simple and avoid getting stuck for a few reasons:
- This section gets built into your budget (#3 above)
- We create a system for you to measure your return on your investment
- We create a plan with clear goals, action items and followup
Together we will develop a written plan that consists of a timeline with activities, events and associated costs. This timeline will become your action plan and a vehicle for tracking your ROI. At the end, each of you will have a completed individual marketing plan for 2015.
Producing your game plan is not merely a writing assignment. This process gives you an amazing opportunity to understand your market and to understand exactly what your practice will do. The steps in this process include laying out your concept, gathering information, assessing that information and, finally, refocusing your basic business concept. An honest examination of your business concept increases your chances of success.
Week 1: Let’s Get Started
Your Goal for Week 1
The exercise in creating a plan for yourself and your business has many benefits. Certainly, you have the practical benefits of putting words on a page with real numbers, real projections, real goals and a plan of attack to reach the destination you desire.
But more importantly, taking the time to map out a game plan serves the valuable purpose of allowing you to see the big picture in your business. Many times, as entrepreneurs, we get too close to our situation, and never have the ability to see what our true purpose is, and we fail to remember why we got here in the first place.
So for week 1, this is our goal. To go back to the beginning, ask tough questions and see the big picture of why you started your own solo practice in the first place, and uncover the unique aspects that make your business something valuable for your community.
Follow these steps and you should have a fresh perspective about your business. All in all the steps given will take about 3 hours. Don’t try to do it all at once. This is meant to be a working process that you continually come back to. We want this strategic way of thinking with purpose to permeate everything you do.
Step 1: Get Familiar with Your Game Plan Template
The first thing you should do is download your Game Plan Template here.
This document is yours to update and create your strategic game plan. But at this point, don’t do any writing. Just take about 10 minutes to skim through the content and familiarize yourself with the layout and understand the overall goal. We’ll come back to it.
Step 2: Worksheet 1 – Your Big Picture Plan
Take about 15-20 minutes to think Big Picture about your firm. Use whatever creativity and space you need to fill out the worksheet. Write it by hand, create a Word Document, go for a walk and think through the questions…it’s up to you. Do whatever you can to get out of your normal routine and think through your answers to these questions.
Step 3: Worksheet 2 – Your Unique Edge
To succeed in business, you need to have clients. And the better you know those clients and why they find your valuable, the better you’ll understand the big picture in your business.
Take another 15-20 minutes to go through the same process as Worksheet 1 and think through these questions about what makes your firm unique and the value you provide to your clients.
This will come in handy when we create the marketing plan in a few weeks.
Step 4: Your Game Plan
Now that you’ve spent time to think through those answers, it’s time to come back to your Game Plan Template.
Now, you can get to work. Take it step by step and fill out the template. This is your document, focused on your business.
Take your time and fill out each section, and by the end you’ll have a big picture view of your law firm and a better sense of who you are and why your firm is valuable.
Next week, we will keep the momentum going and will zoom back into our day-to-day life while keeping an eye toward the big picture. The goal for next week is going to be some practical steps to ensure we finish 2014 strong, which will give us solid momentum heading into 2015.