Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers: Productivity

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on Productivity. The Oxford Dictionary defines Productivity as “the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input:” and in this month’s Briefing we will look at getting more out from the effort you’re putting in. Much of this means working with the resources you have and applying them properly to make sure that you can improve the productivity of the firm. If you’re not getting the best out of your resources then you are harming the productivity and, inevitably, the profitability of your firm. Take some time out to consider how you work on a daily basis and whether there are some things you might think about doing differently that will give you a productivity boost. If you need any help in creating systems or tools to assist you in your productivity efforts please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
40c Drakemyre
Dalry
North Ayrshire
KA24 5JE
t. 07855 838395

Productivity

Every business must be conscious of the need to continuously improve its productivity and to apply its resources as effectively as it possibly can. Unfortunately, due to established working practices and inertia, many businesses fail to take advantage of the tools available to them and instigate the changes needed to achieve those aims. The resources of any business are precious, not least in the legal profession, where fee earner time is probably the most valuable resource. There are only 24 hours in every day—and, despite what the more young and energetic amongst us might think, we still need to sleep. After that, we’re left with somewhere between 16—18 hours every day to carry out a whole host of activities—washing, eating, drinking, getting dressed, relaxing—oh, and working!

To get the best out of the time you spend working it is absolutely essential that you are organised. You need to consider the other resources at your disposal—money is usually pretty high on the agenda as are the people who work with you. As with time, it’s highly likely that your money resource is not limitless. In the course of the last few years, money has been very “tight” for many, many legal practices and this has resulted in redundancies and short time working. As the recovery, such as it is, continues, it is important to consider all options to aid productivity rather than simply engaging more people. You are likely to have some form of office that you use—even if it’s a home office—and tools with which to do your work—a PC will probably feature in the mix somewhere as will, potentially, a Practice Manager system. Do you use these resources wisely…. properly…. at all? Finally you need to look at the processes you employ to carry out your day to day work. People say it’s hard to change and think about doing things differently.

If time is your most valuable resource and if you don’t use it properly you will lose it then it makes perfect sense to look at the ways you and those in your firms do things and work out the ways you could do things differently to employ your resources more effectively and improve not only your personal productivity but that of the firm as a whole. Improved productivity inevitably leads to improved profitability—after all, that’s what being in business is all about —isn’t it?

What are you going to do today?

In a previous issue of Back to Basics we looked at Objective Setting—and the need to write down your clearly defined objectives. This helps you to keep focused on what’s important to you and what you want to achieve in your business. Last month we looked at the Importance/Urgency Matrix that you can use to help you decide what parts of your work are top priority and which parts are unimportant. Another tool that many successful people employ is the To Do List—and not simply a list of all the things you need to do, but a To Do List that’s prioritised. To start off you need to list everything that you have to do—yes, everything. Then assign a priority to each item on the list, starting with A items and ending with F items. A items are the most impactful on your business and should be the things that will do most to help you achieve the objectives you’ve set. They might not always be the most urgent (but many are) but they will certainly be the most important to you. B items are not as important as A items but tend to support them whilst being more important than C Items. C Items are the third priority items which are less critical than A or B items. When it comes to D items, you really need to consider whether you should be doing these items at all.

By prioritising your A, B and C items you’re deciding that only you can do these things—and if, when reviewing your list you feel that there are some things on it that might be best dealt with by others, then demote them to Ds and delegate it to others. The E and F items on your list tend to be the “like to do” items and you need to consider whether you need to do these things at all! Once you’ve assigned each item a category you should then group all your A items together and prioritise the most important item in that group as A1. Decide on the next most important and assign it A2. You go thought your A list and assign a priority to each item. Then start to work on your highest priority item—your A1 item—and you don’t move on to any other item till your A1 item has been completed. Then move on to your A2 item and do the same thing. If something comes in during the day that you need to deal with (as it inevitably will), add it to your To Do List and determine its priority rather than just starting the task without thinking about it. Try to avoid distractions—particularly email distractions.

People tend to work with Outlook open, with prompts telling them a new email message has arrived. This is probably one of the biggest “attention thieves” that you are likely to come across. You should ring-fence some time each day to deal with email—and close down Outlook outwith those times—and if you can’t bear to be without Outlook being open, at least turn off the new message prompt! Solicitors work hard—it’s just sometimes they don’t work smart. Have a go at creating and using your very own Prioritised To Do List. Do this every day and watch your productivity soar!

Simon says…..

‘Performance’ is one of those often thought about aspects of running a law firm but one that is rarely attributed to any individual’s job description. Which is odd really because it can be easily measured, compared, analysed and then improved or worsened; by just a single decision. When I meet Partners of law firms to talk about IT, we often stray into other areas and a favourite question of mine is this – ‘in order to improve efficiency would you foresee doing more tasks yourself or delegating more tasks to others?’ By the way, there is no right or wrong answer – all 3 possible answers are perfectly acceptable (the 4th one involving not changing is obviously not acceptable). There are some common aspects of achieving an increase in the performance of all law firm staff. The quality of your Style Template Library is a vital component. I don’t mean simply having one. I mean having it in electronic form, having it available immediately to anyone that needs it, having all the common fields in-filled automatically from your client and case file information, storing the resultant letter or form automatically and distributing it electronically to the recipient – this would seem to me to be a utopia of performance. I rarely find it.

Even if you fell short in the final stage it would still be a tremendous leap up the performance ladder for the vast majority of law firms. A common failing of some Partners is the failure to agree on common styles for the firm itself to use, preferring instead to adopt individualistic forms of standard correspondence that fails to grasp any form of economy of scale that a basic Document Management system can provide. Some firms will be unwilling to invest any time or effort to produce a style library – fortunately there is an organisation called The Styles Bank that can supply ready-to-run Style Libraries that are kept up to date for you. I strongly suggest that you check them out. As I have suggested above having an automatic store of electronic documents – often referred to as a case management system – can make it easier for colleagues to retrieve files when you are out of the office and they are trying to cover for you.

This is doubly useful if you have also filed your emails in it as well (both Sent and Received). This means that there is a phenomenal reduction in staff time spent printing and filing (always a challenge in itself) and then locating the appropriate file (a lost file is a real daytime nightmare). These simple gains in productivity will convert directly into improved performance – and clients will notice. No Fee Earner is an island – there is always a team. People are change resistant, so there is often a proving stage to be negotiated, but if your improvement programme is sound, implemented well and people can see the benefits, they never want to go back afterwards. Your role is to keep them moving forward and to praise them when they achieve good results. By the way the 3 possible answers are:- 1 – Doing more myself. 2 – Delegating more. 3 – Both.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

Get organised

Keep your workspace clear, clean and tidy and try as hard as you can to have only 1 file on your desk at any one time. This will help you to focus on the matter at hand. Keep other files that you intend to work on nearby on a shelf or table so you can move on to them after you’ve dealt with your current file. When you deal with a case, do everything that can possibly be done at the one sitting—don’t do a little bit and then ask for the file back to do another little bit and then repeat the process. Do as much as you can in one sitting—”single-hand” everything you possibly can. Put a reminder in your Diary or Task List or, better still, your Practice Management system, and after that put the file back in the filing cabinet—then, at least, you’ll have half a chance of finding it when you need it.

Do you know that you can spend up to 30% of your working time looking for something that has been misplaced in some way? That’s a huge waste of one of your key resources and should not be viewed lightly. It can get worse, of course, when you engage the assistance of others to help you find the file. Just think of all of the productive things that you and they could be doing instead of trying to put your hand on a missing file—and if everything you do is in your Practice Management system, you might not need the file at all! It pays to be organised—don’t let that thought ever leave your mind.

Review your processes

We all take the way we do things for granted. Stop for a minute and think about all of the things that are done in your firm on a daily basis and why they’re done in that way. Is this just because “that’s the way it’s always been done” or has someone actually determined that it’s the most efficient and effective way to do the task? Make sure that the right person is assigned to do the right task—don’t have high cost people doing low cost work! Think very carefully about every process in your office. If you find any that are inefficient or ineffective—change them.

Lawyers love documents!

I’ll bet every lawyer who receives this Briefing generates several hundred letters and documents every week. Unfortunately, many of these documents are created from scratch when they don’t need to be—with the same thing being dictated over and over again. That means something that could easily be incorporated into a standard Work Template taking a few seconds to produce takes minutes to dictate or type (or have a secretary type). All of these minutes add up to weeks of wasted time. Do yourself a favour, consider having as many of your documents as possible created using Word Templates that can be easily accessed. It will take less time to produce your documents and letters and give you half a chance of enhancing your risk management processes.

Contact us

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA, Business Consultant, t. 01294 833220, m. 07855 838395, e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon on simon@lawware.co.uk

Back to Basics – a business briefing for lawyers: Marketing made simple

Welcome to the latest edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers. This month the focus is on marketing—and it’s not just advertising that we’ll be talking about. Marketing touches every aspect of your firm. It starts with your ability to deliver to your clients what you say you’re going to deliver and ends with winning new business through a process of designing systems and methodologies that allow you to provide services that are fit for purpose and then telling the world at large about them.

Gone are the days when a solicitor could depend on having a “client for life”. There are very strong competitive forces out there—and the worrying thing for lawyers is that their competition is no longer just other lawyers, but other more commercially minded enterprises— and that’s before we even have to consider the impact of ABS! This edition will look at marketing as a tool to help you improve your business performance by ensuring that you’ve done the ground work and then proclaimed your capabilities to the world at large.

Marketing is not a “One-off” activity

The are many anecdotal stories of solicitors conducting a “Wills Campaign” and then declaring “It didn’t work for me”. Well, there’s a very clear difference between sending out a mass mailshot to a whole bunch of people who you believe are still clients and conducting a well thought out, structured and continuous campaign to ensure that those of your clients who might not have a Will think about making one—and those of your clients who do have a Will, review it on a regular basis.

Whatever else Marketing is, it is an activity that must be undertaken on a continuous basis—and that means that there is a need to ensure that it is properly resourced. I don’t mean by this spending a lot of money on expensive advertising. What I mean is that someone in the firm needs to take responsibility to ensure that whatever the firm does to design and promote its services , it is done, properly, professionally and, most importantly, continuously.

The four Ps of marketing—Product, Price, Place and Promotion apply just as much to the legal profession as they do to any other commercial organisation—with the P of Products being replaced with the S for Service. So, try this for a very quick exercise: Review the Services your firm provides, determine the Price at which you will provide those Services, decide where you want to Place your Services and then Promote them sensibly and continuously. You need to plan this carefully and engage with others in the firm to do this. And once you have your plan it’s not always necessary that a lawyer has to actually run it—some would say that it would be best if the lawyers weren’t involved in the aspect of running it at all!!

Don’t keep your services a secret

How often have you heard one of your clients say “I didn’t know you did that”. This is not unusual in the legal profession because lawyers are not particularly good at promoting their services to their clients. This also raises the question of who are your actual clients and who should you be promoting your services to.

The legal profession has a tendency to count as its clients those people for whom they’ve carried out a piece of work. So, if you bought or sold a house for someone, say, 5 years ago, it is likely that you still count that person as a client. As a result of some accident, rather than anything else, your “client” contacts you at the end of that 5 year period to say that he’d like to use you to sell his house—and that he’s using “Such and Such Estate Agent” to do the marketing. While you’re on the phone to the client taking his instructions he tells you that since the last time you met he’s made a Will through another solicitor (or, even worse, through a “Will Writer”), arranged the winding up of his mother’s estate through her solicitor even though he was the Executor, used a “no win, no fee” company to help him claim compensation for the accident he had 3 years ago and, then, remortgaged his home last year on the expiry of the fixed term mortgage that he had when you bought the house for him in the original transaction. When you tell him you also provide estate agency services the now infamous words “I didn’t know you do all of that!” are uttered! In this case, just think about the amount of business (and money) you’ve lost by failing to keep in touch with this client.

If your client was aware that you provided all of the services he needed over the years there is every likelihood that he would have used your services rather than going elsewhere. Don’t keep what you do a secret. Let your clients know the range of services your firm provides. Keep in touch with your clients on a regular basis. Don’t fall into the category of the “can’t be bothered”. It costs you far more to win a new client than to keep and continue to provide services to an existing client. Do this: work out what services your firm provides (yes, this is a good idea—some firms are not entirely clear what services they do actually provide), set them out in an easy to read format (either electronically or on paper) and devise a means of communicating them to your clients. It is absolutely essential that you are in touch with your clients on at least 2 occasions every year—3 is better but as a minimum you need to be in touch more than once. Make the effort—if you don’t, someone else will. If you can’t allocate the time to this, outsource it—but make sure that you do it in such a way that you retain control of the activity AND the cost—marketing has a tendency to run away with the budget if you let it. Finally, use whatever means possible at your disposal to market to your clients—electronic as well as paper—and best of all, a combination of the two. Solicitors have a “lead list” that commercial organisations would give their eye teeth for—you should use this to this maximum extent possible.

Simon says…..

I wrote an article for the LawWare Newsletter (Winter 2011) which took a cursory look at the current state of legal marketing in England, as they are further down the ABS line than we are, and noted the influx of professional marketing organisations entering the market using TV advertising to communicate with the target market and the Internet as a delivery base for the service, highlighting QualitySolicitors and Wigster as examples.

The approach of these professional marketeers is very different from that of legal firms themselves. The approach of Legal firms both north and south of the border is similar – either they know what they do and can communicate it, or, they don’t and don’t. I went on to develop a few points – Once the English marketing model is established – the marketing machine won’t stop; it learns, it develops, it gets better. Other suppliers come into the market, offering slightly different services, but at a better price point. And so the marketing machine gathers momentum and pace. Scotland will be regarded as just another target audience and the numbers will be crunched, the strategies written and executed. And remember – your ‘Client’ is someone else’s ‘Prospective Client’. The two examples of change I highlight are both Internet based.

The Internet is the medium of choice for demographics A1-3, B1-3 and C1’s to find potential new suppliers and services – these are the people that have any kind of disposable income. The sort of people firms should be trying to attract! Change is often powered by IT. It is usually delivered by IT. But it is rarely because of IT. Change occurs when someone wants to achieve an objective, understands how to achieve it and can convince others to back the objective.

None of these characteristics are ‘Legal’ – they are ‘Entrepreneurial’. So as well as being good legal analysts and good business managers; Partners of Law firms have to be Entrepreneurial too. So YOU might have to change, maybe develop new skills, maybe hone existing ones. This is not a bad thing; to develop oneself is an admirable personal aim. There are many books and courses that can help. Perhaps look at the CPD requirement in a slightly different shade of light – the personal development requirement is there for good reason and I think it is time that we all got better at this side of our roles.

We are here to; provide a service; different clients require a range of services to suit their needs, and so we must develop and adapt those services as our clients’ needs change or are changed, and, we must attract new clients. It’s up to us to secure the future of our organisations, especially so when the future changes faster than it ever did before. So for this new year I resolved to be a bit more entrepreneurial and I encourage you to be too, for your own good and your clients. Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

It’s the little things that matter

Just saying “Thank you” to a client can reap huge rewards. As an absolute minimum, you should thank your client on your engagement and on completion of the transaction—and for goodness sake, don’t say “thank you” at the end of a case and at the same time try to ram further services down his throat! Leave a decent space between completion and the offer of any new services you can provide to the client—and always remember—if the client should happen refer someone else to you, you must thank the client for that referral.

Is social media the answer?

The Internet offers a fantastic opportunity for lawyers to communicate with their clients, no more so than through the use of social media. The Facebook and Twitter phenomena means that people are in touch with each other on a daily basis and by using blogs you can get your opinion out to the masses. Professional media sites like LinkedIn give business people the ability to make contacts and the old words like “networking” and “making friends” seem to have gone by the board. This is all very well—and it is good to use social media, blogging and other online tools to promote your business—but it pays to make sure that you are able to capitalise on the opportunities that this medium offers—and that you don’t ignore more traditional marketing routes. If you do engage with social media, please make sure that you do so professionally, respond to enquiries promptly and that your online presence is managed. Doing this will ensure that your services are being promoted continuously and in the right way. Stephen Moore of Moore Technology Limited is an expert in this field and his advice is that before embarking on any online strategy it pays to decide what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it, how you keep it current and how you manage the resulting enquiries. Visit Stephen’s web site on www.moorelegaltechnology.co.uk

Contact us

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA, Business Consultant, t. 01294 833220, m. 07855 838395, e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon on simon@lawware.co.uk

Back to Basics for Lawyers: January 2012

Welcome to the January edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers and a belated Happy New Year to all my readers.

This month the focus is on taking action.

Even the best laid plans depend of solid action to make them happen but how many times have those best laid plans come to nothing because of your own inertia.

The best way to get to your objective is to actually do something about it.

We will see in this edition of Back to Basics that even the smallest of steps are important.

Any journey must start with a single step—don’t let your hopes and ambitions be thwarted by failing to put one foot in front of the other!

If you need any help with your plans or putting them into action, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
40c Drakemyre
Dalry
North Ayrshire
KA24 5JE
t. 07855 838395

e.   brian@drakemyre.co.uk

I’ve got the plan……how do I start?

In the December issue of Back to Basics we looked at Forward Planning and made some recommendations of what to do and where to start. You’ve all don’t that….right?

January gives everyone an ideal opportunity to throw off the old and look to the new. It’s a new year with a whole twelve months to look forward to. If you’ve really taken time to think about what you’d like to do in 2012 and how you’d like to achieve it, then taking action is the very first step to achieving your objectives.

It doesn’t matter whether your plan is written on a single sheet of paper or is a professionally bound and presented plan – without taking that first step you will never achieve anything.

All the best plans depend on action. If you’re travelling to your destination, you need to start somewhere. You might not be able to see your destination but you usually know how to get to the end of your street. Start with the end in sight and take those small steps that will lead to achievement of your goal.

January last year saw the first publication of Back to Basics for Lawyers. I had had an ambition for quite a long time to produce such a publication—short sharp management tips and recommendations that take up no more than two sides of an A4 sheet of paper (for those of you who print this off).  I planned out the topics for the first twelve months, I spoke to some colleagues and asked if they would contribute occasionally (and to Simon who I asked to contribute in every edition) and then went about  listing the things in each topic that I wanted to cover—and the list grew and grew and grew……..but I still hadn’t achieved anything. I didn’t actually achieve anything until I typed my first word—then my first paragraph and, finally all the words for the first edition. I then assembled the Briefing into the style of publication you are now reading and incorporated Simon’s piece. At last, Back to Basics for Lawyers was born—and here we are, 12 months and 12 editions later in a brand new year and yet another edition of Back to Basics for Lawyers.

All this couldn’t have happened without those first words. All the planning in the world wouldn’t have achieved anything and it would all still have been a dream.

If you truly have done some work in setting your objectives, start to realise them by taking even the smallest step that will help you on the way—and if you haven’t yet started—don’t you think it’s about time you did? Nobody else is going to do it for you!

Simon says…..

Growing your business – January 2012

In last month’s article my main point was this – it is possible for any business to grow in this economy. It requires thought, it requires knowledge of your clients, it requires the ability to put yourself in the client’s shoes and imagine a better buying opportunity. I asked you to think about why your client is your client. Hopefully you have had some quiet time to contemplate this.

The potential for a law firm to grow is different for each firm. A sole practitioner is different from a chamber practice, which is different from a corporate law firm; so the strategies have to reflect this. But the principles for increasing turnover are the same – these I also talked about last month – attract more clients, or, increase the amount each client spends (ideally both).

Attracting more clients – promote yourself. It’s tremendously effective when carried out well. Doing it well means being clear about the message and the benefits, and, targeting this at the right recipients. Here are a couple of examples – having thought about things over the break you may feel that at this time of the year a good message to target your existing clients with is – the importance of up-to-date Wills and the benefits of Powers of Attorney. An alternative plan could be one that says – we need to remind our clients of the range of services we provide. The former plan is value based; it offers some information and advice up front and persuades the recipient that there is some knowledge and potential advantage to be gained from further investigation – when done correctly it also achieves the second plan’s aim. Embarking on the second example is not necessarily a bad plan, but it is difficult to establish a ‘call to action’ with it, i.e. give a reason for the recipient to contact you. You could put an ‘offer’ into the message, for example a free or discounted will with every purchase, but in my opinion the overall message is weakened by being price led as opposed to quality led. Now that you have spent some time analysing your clients – come up with the best plans that cover all types of clients so that everyone gets at least one message this year.

Increasing the client spend – this often requires some even smarter thinking as there are a few strategies you can examine. There is the discount store scenario – how much can you deliver for a set fee. This is often useful for conveyancers, particularly those that perceive the market is price led. Understand what you can deliver for the market rate and call this the Bronze Standard, then create 2 higher levels of service, the Silver Standard and the Gold Standard and specify what you will provide and a price for these. When someone asks for a quote, offer all 3. The questions that follow tell you all you need to know about the prospect and how to handle them in terms of whether they are truly price driven or if they might appreciate a little more by way of service and fee. These are the clients that you must identify, across the board. Those that appreciate a little more and understand that they need nurturing; they appreciate the concept of value, so mark them out for this because you can provide them with more services. These are your good clients not the ones that buy on price.

All firms must be able to identify and send messages to their good clients. Use your Practice Management System to flag these clients and keep their details up-to-date. Regularly correspond with them, 3 or 4 times a year, without fail. It’s no use just doing this sporadically. It must be regular and reliable, in order to build a relationship and persuade these clients that you are interested in them and that you do have their best interests at heart. Don’t expect massive results immediately, just because you send 1 letter. But by the end of the year you should be able to see the difference, easily.

Have a good 2012 by making it a good 2012.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

Financial Actions

I make no excuse for revisiting this topic over and over again. You might have the most complex and detailed plan and be desperate to put it into action but you will never ever achieve it unless you have the funding to make it happen.

In any plan, you need to carefully set out your projected revenue and expenditure—what income you calculate you will generate when you carry through with your plan and how much you will need to spend to achieve your objectives. It is incredible the number of legal firms that do not have even the most basic financial projections and yet still expect to be successful year on year.

Why is it that in any business plan, a large portion is taken up with the financial aspects? Simple really. Without the right funding any plan is doomed to failure from the start.

Review your plan in conjunction with your financial projections—your Profit & Loss and, most importantly, your Cashflow Projections. It is surprising how many lawyers still struggle with projections and have difficulty explaining the difference between profit and cashflow only to find out the difference late in the day when they are showing decent profits but have failed to collect the cash due to inadequate credit control policies!

As Mr Micawber in David Copperfield famously said “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery”.

Make sure your plans are properly costed out and if you’ve not yet done that, this is one of the very first things you need to do.

Sit down, work out what you and the other fee earners in the firm are likely to generate in the coming 12 months. If you’re really stuck, have a look at what was generated for each fee earner last year and consider whether there is likely to be an increase or decrease in that level. You should know your business and the challenges in the market, be able to take into account what impact your plans will have and come up with figures that you can support.

From an expenditure point of view, take each of your expenditure headings and really challenge yourself on whether you need to spend this money or not—you might want to spend it on this item or that but you might not need to spend it—know the difference and discipline yourself to spend only what you need to spend. Do not trust your finances to luck—the odds are always stacked against the gambler!

Don’t wait to get it perfect

If you really want your plan to fail, then try to get it perfect. Learn quickly that there is no such thing as the perfect plan—it simply isn’t achievable.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aspire for excellence, but if you’re trying to create something that’s perfect, you’ll spend so much time trying to create that perfect plan that you’ll never get round to putting it into action.

Consider what options are available to you. Ask your partners colleagues and staff. Make sure you have a common understanding of the problems and when you gather the information from these sources you will have a list of what’s available to include in your plan (there is a specific workshop that I run that helps you with this part of the process). This will help you develop a plan that is robust and resilient and up to the challenges you are facing.

Every plan has some sort of shortcoming or defect and you’ll usually only find that out when you start to put it into practice. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start until you’re sure or that you need to think through every conceivable option.

You should strive for excellence and part of that exercise is setting down the actions you intend to take—what comes first, what’s next and what’s after that. And so on and so forth. You’ll learn fairly quickly what’s working and what’s not and which of your assumptions (and you will need to make assumptions when putting your plan together) work and which don’t.

Think about it this way:

You need to be in motion before you can change direction. If you don’t like the direction your business has been going or the results you are getting you need to do something about it. You can only do that something if you are in motion—and they way to get into motion is to make a start. Once you’ve build up some momentum it’s likely that you’ll realise that there are opportunities available to you that you might not have thought about and because you’re in motion you may be able to avoid some of the threats that are out there.

If you are standing still when the threat comes along it can be very difficult to avoid it and that can have a disastrous impact on your business.

Make sure your plan is fundamentally sound and not fanciful or over-ambitious—remember the SMART objectives we looked at in January 2011 edition. Get up and running and follow your plan and fine tune things as you go.

Back to Basics for Lawyers: December 2011

Welcome to the December edition of Back to Basics — a Business Briefing for Lawyers.

This month the focus is on Forward Planning.

Whilst there is no substitute for knowing where you want to go, unless you put in the time and effort to plan your journey you will probably end up anywhere but the place you want to go.

This edition of Back to Basics focuses on forward planning—or planning for the future. The future will come whether you like it or not so be ready. Decide what you want, set out your plan and go for it!

It doesn’t need to be complicated—often, the best plans and ideas are the most simple ones – so remember the KISS principle. December it traditionally a month when we look back at the year just past and start to think about what the coming year will bring. It’s amazing what you can learn from a little bit of reflective practice.

If you need any help or support with your Forward Planning activities or setting your objectives—or even just exploring what your options are, please get in touch with me—I’d be delighted to help.

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
t. 07855 838395
e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

What do you see in 2012?

They say that hindsight has perfect vision, but there’s nothing like a bit of foresight to help you get to where you want to go—that is, if you know where it is you want to go.

I have a colleague who, at the time of writing, is three days into an Atlantic crossing on a cruise liner on his way to New York. He didn’t just wake up on Monday morning and think “I’m going to go to New York today”. His trip was a long time in the planning stage—from the selection of the date, which Cruise Line, his departure point, method of travel to the departure point, the type of cabin he would book, the number of nights in New York and selection of return flight. There were lots of variables to consider from a vast array of choices. And here we are, he made it to Southampton and is now well on his way to New York. It didn’t just “happen”.

My colleague had an objective in mind before he set out on his adventure and to help him achieve it and to enjoy the experience, a lot of time went into the planning. He’s an experienced traveller and particularly enjoys cruises—but on each and every occasion, he plans his trip meticulously. When you go on holiday how well do you plan your trip? It may surprise you to know that many business people spend more time planning their holiday than they do planning the future of their business —and that’s a shocking truth!

Be honest with yourself as you look back on 2011. Did you start this year with a plan? Did you sit down in December 2010 and say “2011 is going to be the year when…….” complete the sentence with whatever objectives you had at the beginning of the year—if you had any, that is.

There can be no substitute for forward planning. To do that effectively, you really do need to know where you are going. We are in December 2011 and, for many, it has been another tough year. Many businesses are struggling through low or no growth whilst others are going backwards with profits down (or losses up!) on last year. You might be interested to know that there are some businesses that are thriving in the current market.

They have not been idle in the downturn and have been continuously planning to meet their objectives. You see, once you know what it is you want, it is far more straight forward to start to lay out the things you need to do to achieve what you want.

It’s December—where do you want to be this time next year? Why don’t you spend some time reviewing what it is you want and then set about planning to achieve it?

Keep it simple

KISS—keep it simple…..stupid!

Yes, that well worn saying that, if anything, has been overused. But then again, it does have tremendous value. Whether you’re the experienced Partner running the business or the new Trainee just in the door, there are some very basic steps that you should take . There are lots of ways to do forward planning — but I’m a big fan of keeping it as simple as possible.

Start off by being absolutely clear where you are starting from. What is the reality of your current situation? Are you happy with it? Are you moving towards your objectives (do you have any objectives to move towards)? How are you measuring your progress? These are just some of the initial questions you MUST ask yourself. You MUST do this before getting into any detail or serious planning—otherwise you’ll just end up going round in circles.

Once you are clear on your current situation and your objectives you’re then in a position to start to plan. You will know the “gap” between where you are and where you want to be—so now you MUST set out the things you need to do to bridge that gap.

You must also be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your practice and focus on capitalising on the strengths. Be aware, also, of the threats that you face and how to counter them as well as the opportunities that present themselves—and how to take advantage of them.

You need to consider the financial resources you will need, the new skills you might have to acquire, the business development work you will need to do to grow your business and the tactics you will employ to achieve your aims. All of these elements form your plan—when you will need them and how you will apply them. Write it all down and, most important of all, take action on it.

When my colleague left on his Atlantic cruise, the Ship’s Captain had a very clear objective in mind—to sail the ship to New York. That is his objective. He set out on Monday with his destination in mind and will chart his course in accordance with his plan. His destination is not in doubt – is yours…..?

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Simon says…..

The story of the Christmas tree – December 2011

This month’s topic is as tall and wide as you want to make it and in some ways that’s the problem with future planning, where do you start and where do you finish?

My partner and I went to buy a Christmas tree on Sunday. We went to our usual place, a small local company whose business it is to grow Christmas trees, that’s all they produce – they don’t make anything else. She remarked that their business plan must sound a bit odd because they only have a sales period of about 1 month in a financial year; I agreed that on the face of it was pretty limited. However I noticed some distinct changes this year with their sales proposition. Instead of just selling trees this year – they had a little Christmas shop in the barn, it wasn’t a big selection but we did stop and peruse; we bought a candle. He is also selling Christmas wreaths; we bought one. After selecting our tree, it was wrapped and taken out to our car by the assistant (nice touch). There was a burger van in the car park.

So what has happened here? And why is this a good example of planning for the future? Because earlier this year they planned to increase Turnover and are executing their plan.

There are 2 basic ways to increase Turnover. Attract more customers, or, increase the average amount your customers spend with you. (Or, both). They have planned to increase the average spend per customer. This has meant organising their premises, identifying and buying stock. Hiring or buying electronic point of sale tills (they now need to handle payment cards, whereas previously they were cash based). And, recognising that customers will spend longer with them – providing hot snacks and drinks (it’s a barn; it’s not heated). The stock has cost money, which is a risk, but has been mitigated by the wreaths (which they make from the bits of tree that get trimmed before sale, plus trimmings). I imagine the burger van pays a pitch fee.

My point is this. It is possible for any business to grow in this economy. It requires thought, it requires a knowledge of your customer, it requires the ability to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and imagine a better buying opportunity.

So what actually happened when we went to buy our Christmas tree? In this case my partner bought a candle on an impulse buy (ladies like candles – its romantic). I brought the wreath, I know (I guess they do too) they are on sale in garden centres for between £40 – £60, I also knew we ‘needed’ one. These were £15. (guys like a bargain – if it’s ok with the ladies, it was! – close the deal Simon). And the tree is really good too! (You get to see them standing (unwrapped), select the one you want and then they wrap it for transporting home).

So my Christmas message is this – understand why your customer is your customer, understand the dynamics involved, then think about how to maximise your opportunity, think about what you need to put in place to achieve this, cost it out – know where you’re break-even point is, mitigate as many of the risks as possible, and then do it.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.

Simon Greig is Sales Manager of LawWare Limited, Edinburgh. Contact Simon at simon@lawware.co.uk

A little bit of reflective practice is a good thing

After what is always a hectic run up to the bit day, the festive break is a time to relax and enjoy the occasion of Christmas. If you have young children it can be a magical time as they get off to bed early dreaming about what Santa will bring them. If you are taking some time off, whilst it’s always great to get away from work, why not take just a little bit of time out over the holiday to do a little bit of reflection on the events of the year.

What are the things that have gone well for you? Think about how these came about and how you felt when they came to pass. What decisions did you make that helped bring about these good events and who was involved in making them happen. Most importantly, what can you do to make events go your way in the coming year.

On the other hand, what things didn’t go your way this year? There’s always something that didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Reflect on the events that led up to it and why it happened. Did you see it coming? Were there things you could have done that might have prevented it happening? Most importantly, whether good or not so good things happened, think about what you’ve learned from them. Did the way things turned out teach you anything about yourself? What about the way you handled the situation?

There’s nothing you can do about these events now—they’re in the past—but just maybe, the lessons you’ve learned as a result of these experiences will stand you in god stead as you plan for your future.

Finally, it’s the season to be jolly. Give yourself a pat on the back for making it through a difficult 2011. Relax and enjoy the festive period and have a very Marry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year. See you in 2012!

Brian O’Neill LL.B MBA
Business Consultant
t. 07855 838395
e. brian@drakemyre.co.uk

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