Daily Dispatch

The Pain of the Gain: 10 Steps to a High Growth Rate

By | Jul.28.14 | Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, People Management, Strategy

profitability

It’s unavoidable. If the goal you and your colleagues have set for your firm is a high rate of growth, you are going to be banging your heads against a wall every day. So it’s important to know up front whether that wall is made of bricks or gold. Will the gain be worth the pain?

10 Steps to Grow Your Firm

These are the 10 steps I used to accelerate growth at a previous employer from start-up to nearly $1 billion a year — and use today with TheFormTool. While no approach to business will work in every circumstance, these steps are highly adaptable to a law firm — whether a national firm or a solo practice. Depending on the size and complexity of your practice, these steps could take days, weeks or months to fully implement. But if growth is your target, it will be worth it.

1. Catalog your skill sets and resources. What does your firm do better than any of its direct competitors? Are there things you personally can do better than anyone else? Do your team members have underutilized skills or training that could be used for a competitive advantage? If you were to start all over again from scratch, what is it that you would “bring to the table” to make your firm different and more successful than others? You need an objective inventory of your firm’s capabilities.

2. Identify the structural or permanent limitations. It will be difficult to play to your strengths if you don’t know your weaknesses, particularly the ones you’re stuck with no matter what. Start by listing the areas of weakness that contribute to your present lack of satisfaction. Why aren’t you wildly successful in what you’re doing today? What limitations are holding your firm back? Which ones are transitory or tactical, and which ones are enduring?

3. Gain market knowledge. What’s the marketplace, both broadly and tightly defined, doing right now? How has it changed since you last designed or refurbished your business model? How do you expect the market to change in the next one to two years? Be specific. Technology will continue to be disruptive and enabling. It will change everything. How can you use technology to disrupt others while enabling your firm? How can you leverage an advantage from new tools that others have not exploited fully or well? For example, I was amazed this year to learn that two-thirds of the largest law firms aren’t using any document automation technologies. That can provide a tremendous cost, speed and service advantage to smaller and more agile firms.

4. Take a break from routine to revitalize your thinking. Spend time with your family; you won’t be seeing them for a while. Engage in some adult recreation — the physical recharge will empower the mental. This is your chance to “synergize a new paradigm,” as the futurists call the process. We mortals say it’s a time to “come up with a good idea.” Don’t try to differentiate between good ideas and bad ones. Just let them all percolate to the surface. When one of your new ideas does start to jell and hold together against your own internal arguments, you’re creating the beginning of a new or revised business strategy or model.

5. Write it up. You’ll eventually want to measure your progress, to know when to make midcourse corrections, to expend additional resources or to trim your sails. A written plan will prove an invaluable guide and tracking device. As time goes on, your allies will want confirmation of your progress, and you’ll benefit from the credibility that only adequate foresight can bestow. Did you plan for most of the contingencies that became real as time went on? Plan on completely reformulating your plan once each year. During the year, you might divert from your plan frequently, but debate each change in advance and carefully consider the expected benefits, risks and costs compared to the existing, approved plan. Use the plan as both a guide and a touchstone. How are you doing? Why did you change? What was the outcome?

6. Make your changes. On day one of the rest of your career, put your business plan into effect. As necessary, recruit, select, train and then empower new team members. Weed out folks who aren’t going to be able to contribute more than their share, who can’t change, who don’t share your sense of impatience and opportunity. Fully develop or exploit whatever new technology or processes you’ll need to make your plan come true. Establish new customer and supplier relationships and gracefully wind down the old. Evangelize your plan. Help others believe.

7. Execute. As they say, “Just do it.” You’ll discover an entirely new meaning for the phrase “full-time occupation.”

8. Mind your own discipline. Stick to your written plan. Insist your team stay with the blueprint the group has formally agreed to follow. There will be dozens of times when someone, perhaps you, will want to toss out the whole thing. Other times, you’ll want to adjust it here and there. Resist the temptation. You’ve given your plan a lot of calm, orderly, rational thought. You know the market, your company, your team. You’ve figured all the angles. Don’t lose faith. Don’t change strategies for tactical reasons. You’ll have hundreds of chances to tweak later, based on real feedback when the variations between plan and reality are both unquestionable and enlightening.

9. Check back frequently. Renew your eagle-eyed concentration on the target each and every morning, after lunch and in the evening work hours. Control and cross-check your business efforts. This is no time for “almosts” or “near misses.” At all costs, hone a sense of situational awareness, a feeling for your business environment. While it is unlikely that the market will react to your early growth efforts, it is possible. You will want to know when the market shifts for whatever reason and, if possible, to know whether your activities are the cause. Track the results. Use the information to determine your compliance with your plan, your everyday adherence to your strategy.

10. Say a prayer. Success flows to the intelligent, the hardworking and the lucky — but not necessarily in that order. The pain may remain nearly the same as it always was, but the gains can be explosive. Be prepared. And know that while our own walls remain formidable, we’ve discovered that at least some of the bricks are made of solid gold.

Bob Christensen is Director of Consumer Service for TheFormTool, LLC, which distributes TheFormTool PRO and Doxserá, innovative software that allows users to create intelligent automated documents. Bob often writes and speaks at conferences about workplace technology in addition to the need for a revolution in information processing. Follow Bob @TheFormTool on Twitter.

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3 Responses to “The Pain of the Gain: 10 Steps to a High Growth Rate”

  1. Christopher Anderson
    28 July 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    I agree with almost all of Bob’s article, and these are excellent steps to fuel growth. I only disagree with #10. Growing a law firm business is a predictable, reliable affair. No luck is required.

    Luck is only part of the game if #5, 6 and 7 are done in a vacuum, without testing your hypotheses against the market, and if #8 and 9 are done without seeking someone outside your firm to hold you accountable to the goals you have set, and the promises you have made … to yourself.

    A lawyer who really wants to take his/her business to the next level, and who is willing to do what it takes, quite simply, can. Bob has hit many of the means by which this accomplished. Working with a team that can help you through takes luck out of the equation.

  2. Chris Hargreaves
    28 July 2014 at 8:05 pm #

    This is a good summary of what is required to achieve growth Bob.

    Personally I think a lot of firms (and individual lawyers) get stuck in the roundabout of steps 1 to 5, and never actually get to points 6 and 7.

    The planning process, while frequently beneficial (within limits), is frequently an excuse on the part of many people/firms to LOOK like they are moving forward, without actually achieving anything. As a result, the fairly considerable time spent planning, discussing, meeting and writing stuff down is ultimately wasted because nothing real ever happens as a result.

    That’s why steps 6 and 7 are the most important in my mind.

    Cheers,
    Chris

  3. Bob Christensen
    7 August 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    Christopher — Thanks for your comment. There was a day when I completely agreed with your point that luck doesn’t matter if you’ve done everything else well. Then came September 11, 2001, a day that we were to shake hands on a $30 MM equity investment and receive the first of three $1 billion ABS term sheets. By mid-morning 3000 financial workers were dead, as were our deals, and the firm was terminal. Ever since, I’ve regarded “luck” as a factor to be incorporated in the planning process, allowing for that which we cannot anticipate.

    Chris — Yes, people sometimes use the preliminaries as excuses, but to argue only for execution leaves us favoring the “do something, anything” crowd, encouraging those who would otherwise be professional to be less so.


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