Written by:

Grant Yuill

Head of Marketing & Customer Engagement

Exactly how do you work on your business, what does working on your business really mean and how can new technology help you get to where you want/need to be?

There’s no denying that we are experiencing one of the most difficult times in a generation, especially for business. With the Coronavirus pandemic at its peak, many industries, like yours, were forced to make major changes to the way you operate in order to survive an unknown period of recession.

With approximately 44% of UK businesses now operating a skeleton structure while 20% have chosen to completely shut down, it might seem like now is the time to just knuckle down because; 1. You have less staff to do the work (furlough, etc) and you need to do it yourself 2. You’re simply trying your best to get through this and out the other end bruised rather than battered. However, lawyers are smart and the ones that I have been speaking to see this as opportunity to get their business ready when things start to get back to normal (in whatever guise that takes) or are futureproofing for when, god forbid, something like this happens again.

The gift of time

Running a business can be a lonely place. If you had a viable and profitable business before Covid-19 you have to believe you’ll have a good business after it. This is a different situation to the last recession. This is caused by a virus rather than a fundamental business failure. With that, we have all been given the gift of time. Did we earn it? No. Did we expect it? No. Should we use it to blow apart the deep-rooted approach of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and get our business ready to grow post-lockdown? Absolutely YES!

So, let’s try to do the things we’ve always wanted to do. Let’s look at this situation as an opportunity to develop new working practices and services that can be carried out from different environments. Let’s look at current trends and data to understand which sectors are still thriving and see if we can create new ways of working that will be ‘pandemic proof’ in these areas.

Working on your business tech

We all know there are only so many hours in the day, and once you’ve filled them with being busy, you reach your capacity and turning up and doing the work every day is not enough to make your business grow. Even with staff, if you are involved in every question, decision and problem, then you’re still the bottleneck to growth.

Some of you will remember a time before law firms used computers, copy machines or even fax machines. Just like with any new working practices or technology, most people didn’t immediately understand how important and pivotal these changes and innovations would be to the growth of the legal profession or to their own business. But once the changes had proven their usefulness not just to the law firms but to clients, not using them was clearly negligent.

To build a growth business, you must work on your business, not just in it. But exactly how do your work on your business, what does working on your business really mean and how can new technology help you get to where you want/need to be? This infographic shows the critical areas of your business that need attention as you strive for serious growth.

Denovo work on your business

Warning signs you are working too much IN your business:

  • You take on the mantle of doing everything yourself, “super-solicitor” fees, debts, people, operations, technical, every decision.
  • You manage by staggering from one thing to the next, any thought of long-term plans doesn’t happen in the day-to-day running of your business. ”I just don’t have time”.
  • You are working long hours, stressed, but you’re still not making the money you want or should expect.
  • Even when you do delegate to other people, you suspect some do have not the capability to do the task so you check it after they have done it, sometimes late at night, when your focus should be elsewhere.
  • You don’t really know where your business is going, unclear vision of what you want to build or strategy to build it.

Before you know it, the week has disappeared, next the month gone in a flash, then the year finishes. You are happy that you survived. Surely the goal is not merely survival but growth.

Although most business owners understand this, it can take a “light bulb” moment or a period of sustained pain before they realise that working constantly IN their business is the worst job they ever had.

And when you do start working on your business:

  • You start to focus on the things that you personally are really good at, what your business is great at, the areas to improve, where you are vulnerable and where your business has the edge.
  • You have a vision and a strategy; your stakeholders know the business direction and their part to help you achieve it.
  • You set goals and create plans for the business and know exactly how you’ll follow through on them. Using measures like Key Performance Indicators to track progress and act where needed.
  • You don’t have to spend every second of your time running the business.
  • You know exactly why you’re doing any one thing that you choose to do in your business because it helps build your vision.
  • You are recognised as the “leader”.

Right now, and when all of this is over you don’t stop working IN your business, it’s about allocating time, spending regular good quality time each week/month also working ON your business.

Then you are in charge of the big picture. When you see areas that need improvement, delegate the work out, so you can be the leader and visionary that you need to be. It may take some practice if you’re used to getting really hands on in your business, but your team will appreciate the trust and responsibility you give them, and you will quickly learn that you can do the job of leading your business that no one else can do!

Accepting or seeking help is not a sign of failure or weakness, it’s a sign of strength and leadership.

Doing the right work, not just the hard work

Indeed, when growing a business, sometimes you have to stop doing the work if you want to make more money. The idea that you should work hard to be successful, instilled at school and reinforced in early life, is not true. You’ve got to do the right work, not just hard work.

A joiner can only work on one project at a time and doesn’t get paid when they go on holiday.  But grow that business to have 10 joiners, and it’s possible to have lots of projects on the go, and the owner’s job changes from being a one-man band to an entrepreneur and manager.

Did you notice that all of the technical legal stuff you do is not mentioned in the Infographic?  That’s the part you’ve already got under control – and are an expert at.  It’s almost certainly the other areas that are holding you back.

How to work ON your business

Getting Started…

It would be just plain silly to try and tackle projects in all of these areas at once.  If you try (and I’ve known one or two firms who started out that way), nothing gets finished because there’s no focus.  In fact, you end up in total chaos!

And, quite frankly, there are too many individual topics in the 6 areas to work on at the same time.  Marketing, for example, covers a multitude of topics from website design and social media to email campaigns, from split-testing copy to gathering the best possible messages for you clients.  Far too much to do in one area at the same time, let alone trying to tackle everything at once.

To compound the problem, you work according to your personal preferences and habits – you do the things you’re comfortable with and probably avoid areas you don’t understand (most business owners avoid technology, accounts and dealing with problem staff, for example).  So, where do you focus for growth?

Accelerate growth by eliminating barriers

When you put your focus onto the area that’s holding you back, it unblocks your growth and moves you on again. It’s a bit like a hot-air balloon that’s tethered to the ground – no matter how much gas you burn to create more lift, it’s going nowhere until you cut the rope.

Doing this alone will get you motivated to really figure out how to work on your business – because when you’re on the ball, everything works better.  But follow it up with developing a one-page Business Plan and you’ll get everybody engaged and working to help grow the business.

Moreover, lots of you get by with word-of-mouth marketing. But it’s not scalable.  At some point you need to a system capable of producing more leads, predictably.  You need to develop a proper lead-generation marketing plan.  And if you’re starting from scratch, it can be a frustrating exercise.

What our partners say…

One of our key partners, Graeme McKinstry, Director of McKinstry Practice Management said; “There is no space here for a full scale and empirical management analysis of the material differences.  For ease and convenience in this article “IN” is the lawyer in you… “ON” is the business owner you are.

The consequences of Covid-19 are already horrendous for businesses and yet its direct and indirect impacts upon legal practices are incalculable. However, during lockdown you have an unprecedented opportunity now with space and time like never before which is not interrupted by “IN” activities to enable you to work “ON” activities. 

Graeme outlined a 10-point plan to maximise your “ON” approach:

  • Attitude – Recognise now that change for all is essential and no longer an optional extra. The status quo won’t cut it post lockdown.
  • Action – Prepare a consultation with key colleagues, because buy-in is important. Outline various plans, each of which starts with a blank sheet of paper.
  • Finance (WIP) – A typical guide in a law practice is that they may have somewhere between 3 to 4 months of work in progress that is simply work which has been done and not charged. Now is an ideal opportunity to convert those files into fees. This is an easy quick fix and will help cashflow.
  • Budget – There are going to be very harsh economic decisions ahead so plan ahead and work to a strategy. The budgeting approach can be either incremental simply by adding or subtracting an appropriate proportion of each cost or alternatively the more empirical approach of zero-based budgeting. For a full understanding of either of those approaches please see the full discussion of this here.
  • Fee Structure – Now is an ideal time for you to look at your fee structures. Not all work is suitable for each approach and it is now perhaps time to tailor the fee approach to the type of work you do.
  • People – Carry out your HR audit. Who do you employ? What do they do? Are there better options e.g. sharing or outsourcing some facilities e.g. Cashroom, reception, etc.
  • Premises – Are your premises fit for purpose – Too big? In the wrong place? Sub-let? Co-operative?
  • Marketing – Use your existing client base to explore. Technology, like CaseLoad’ CRM from Denovo, will help to identify your clients either by age, location or work type.
  • External Marketing – Leave nothing untouched and at least explore and analyse the benefits of: – Social Media, Website, Radio, Press, Email Marketing.
  • Business Model – Is your business model going to be fit for purpose looking to the future – Are you too big? Are you too small? Are you to specialised? Are you too general? Is the market too local? Do you retain the skills to develop the practice for the future?

#In this together

We have worked with the likes of The McKinstry Company and many others to help them take the pulse of their business, as well as analyse all aspects of their firm data, to allow them to make data-driven, informed decisions.

We even offer marketing advice free of charge. Why? Because we simply want to help. We know making that time to work on your business is not easy. And when you’re figuring out how to do that, the way you deal with frustrations is important. You’ve got to be able to talk to someone. Why can’t it be us?

It’s the things you don’t understand or don’t address that grow from small problems to roadblocks your business cannot out-run. Instead of tackling all of them at once, focus on them and quickly knock them out of your way, one after another. From a technology standpoint, delegate and outsource when you need to – and don’t give up – sometimes it takes a bit of collaboration with a team of people who want to help get you on track.

Every symptom needs a unique solution

Each symptom requires a distinct action plan to get your business moving forward again.

It doesn’t matter what your problem is – time or marketing, cash flow or staffing, service or technology problems. Growth can only restart when you diagnose your barrier for growth and then build a solid action plan to address it.

If your law firm is new to leveraging technology, or if you’ve become accustomed to working with a certain type of legal practice management software, it can be difficult to make a change even when doing so is necessary to help your business grow. If you’re feeling stuck and unable to move forward with updating how your law firm uses technology, we will help you with the process. But make no mistake, remaining up to date with technology is no longer optional, it is a requirement.

Utilising software, like CaseLoad, is simple, uncomplicated and cost-effective.  And – it will get your business growing faster.

In these difficult times it’s important for businesses to stay positive. The economy will bounce back, your business will bounce back, and although there will be some bumps in the road, now is the time to get ready…if for nothing else…just in case.

If you want to learn more about how to grow your business using CaseLoad and how to begin a partnership with Denovo email info@denovobi.com or call us on [[CONTACT_NUMBER]].

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