“Grow or die!” is a vital mantra in business today, even in the law business.
As a solo practitioner, there will come a time when you will be faced with the decision of whether to expand your work or maintain the status quo. If you’re like me, you’ll drool at the chance to make a bigger mark on the world.
I’d noticed that my firm’s capacity had maxed out about two years after I opened the doors. I had a deep sense of wanting my work to become “our” work, a work done by a team that joined me in bringing soul-centered estate planning to our community.
But I didn’t know where to begin.
I could not make any more money doing things the way I was doing them, without a team. But I’d never built a team before, nor did I know how I was going to fund a team. When I’d asked several colleagues how they’d brought on a staff and when I got a fairly dreary picture that dissuaded me from growing for about a year.
Then, about eighteen months ago, feeling exhaustion and a slight sense of dissatisfaction, I committed with the support of my coach at the Personal Family Lawyer Program® to hopping over the plateau of ‘solopreneur’ to an actual law firm.
The firm is still in the middle of growth, but it has gone from an “I” firm to a “We” firm. Our capacity has doubled, our visibility has skyrocketed, and our revenue grew to support the people we needed to expand the business.
This is the paradox of growth: A business needs people to grow. People cost money. How do you grow when you cannot make another dime doing things alone?!
When working with my coach at the PFL program, here are some of the steps we took to get me where I wanted to go:
Step #1 – Understand the Firm’s client capacity
As a solo estate planner, you can expect to serve 6-8 clients per month working full time or more. That’s because you’re not only acting as a lawyer, you’re also the firm’s manager, marketer, admin person, intake specialist, receptionist, drafter, plan coordinator and funding coordinator (among other things). If you’re reaching six clients per month consistently, you will be making a decent amount of money but you will be exhausted. By the time you reach eight clients a month, I promise, you will be pulling out your hair.
Step #2 – Understand your numbers
By that I mean you must know each of the following in order to make strong calculated decisions about your growth:
- Your average fee per client (and if you’re not a flat fee firm, you should be!)
- Average number of speaking engagements you have per month
- Average number of attendees per speaking engagement
- Number of initial meetings you have each month for the last six months, and how many are scheduled now
- Number of these clients who engaged over the last six months
- Your average engagement rate over time (# of initial meetings/number of engagements)
- Cost of client acquisition (# of clients/total marketing costs per month)
Knowing your numbers intimately can give you the courage to grow your team because you can have faith in your ability to bring in and engage the number of clients you need to fuel that growth.
Step #3 – Decide which of your current tasks are the tasks you loathe the most
These are the jobs you will offload first. For instance, I loathed getting on the phone to set up speaking engagements. It felt awkward for me to be doing this for myself so I ended up not doing a very good job of it. I’ve also wrestled with filling this position and regretted not hiring a more proactive, local person sooner. In retrospect, had I committed to filling this role aggressively right out of the gate, I might have saved myself some heartache. Figure out what you don’t like to do and get someone who does like to do that thing for you, cheaper!
Step #4 – Determine which functions actually make you money
I can actually fill this list in for you. There are only three main jobs that only a lawyer can do that make money. Everything else you do is something that can be done less expensively by someone better suited to the work.
- Public speaking
- Meeting with strategic partners
- Meeting with clients
Step #5 When someone enters your field who is very enthusiastic about your work, pay very close attention
The odds are that you’re getting the signal that your work has “legs.” Take that as encouragement that the revenue you need to grow will be there. For instance, my first contractor was a client who was so moved by the work we did together, she asked to work for the firm. How could I NOT respond to that with a yes? Of course, I would have to find a way to finance that! (See next step!)
Step #6 Find unusual ways to finance your first new hire
I wasn’t able to fund her as an employee at that time, so we agreed to an hourly independent contractor arrangement where she took the reigns over for certain systems in the business. She set her own hours; she created her own job. Because I couldn’t direct her work as an IC, she ended up having the freedom to identify places where we could make our processes and systems much better, from a broader perspective.
Step #7 – Start seeking out sources of growth capital
If you’ve never looked for money to grow your business, you’re probably at a huge loss as to where to start. Growth capital is critical both at the beginning of a firm and again at each successive plateau of growth. I wish I had learned earlier how to ask for money, and then how to leverage it properly.
Step #8 – Set your intention, commit to the vision, and ACT
Then be open to the field of possibilities. Trust that growth is not only possible, it’s probable when you set the wheels in motion. Many business coaches and authors have described the phenomenon that “when you take the first step, the universe rises to meet you.” The invitation here is to actually see that in action. When you begin, you will know that the next right step opens up before you and is easy to take, then the next, and the next.
What an experience to go from “just a solo” to a real firm! I’ve watched the magic begin to happen among our team members. They’re talking to each other, brainstorming, creating better systems and a better client experience. They REALLY care!
It’s humbling to see the work we do take on a life beyond myself. Being a law business entrepreneur is the best professional adventure I’ve ever had and I’m so excited about the future, too. Feel free to reach out for guidance and support by commenting below, or hitting REPLY to your newsletter email.
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