Developing a smart growth strategy will help you move from survival mode to building mode.
As a solo law firm, you are small but mighty — able to run a lean business operation, offer customized and competitive pricing, and outperform your BigLaw competitors through personalized legal services delivery. Yet year after year, the biggest struggle for solo practitioners and small law firms is finding time to do what matters most: marketing and growing their practice.
Smart Growth Strategy for Your Small Firm
If you want to grow, it’s important to understand how to tap into your firm’s strengths. A smart growth strategy leverages your people, processes and data so that you can gain a competitive advantage. Whether your small firm is a startup or well established, it’s important to prioritize a growth strategy that can support the firm’s expansion into the future.
Signs of Failure
Having an effective business growth strategy will also protect you from some of the common symptoms of a failing firm, such as:
- Scaling too quickly without the resources to back up your rapid growth.
- Creating a weak or imbalanced staffing structure that is inefficient, poorly trained or mismanaged.
- Missing out on valuable revenue because of lack of clarity on your niche practice areas, target market and competition.
- Misdirecting marketing, branding and advertising campaigns, which then fail to deliver results and generate leads.
Elements of Success
Key elements to incorporate in your firm’s growth business plan include clarity on your firm’s mission and value propositions, niche practice areas, pricing, staff organization, and key metrics by which you will measure your growth. With consistent review sessions on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis, you’ll have a steady guidepost throughout your growth journey.
Here are eight ways to ensure your growth strategy succeeds.
1. Work smarter (not harder) through streamlined systems.
As a solo practitioner or partner in a small firm, you probably wear every hat in the office and take on more tasks than you should. According to Thomson Reuter’s report on the State of U.S. Small Law Firms, the average small law attorney spends less than 60% of their time on the practice of law. And when asked about their biggest challenges, the amount of time spent on administrative tasks ranked highest. Coupled with this is a new work environment of remote and hybrid collaboration models, which add another layer to preexisting challenges.
With a focus on the ever-important billable hour, it’s easy for small law firms to start off strong with a growth plan and measurable goals yet lose focus because of daily meetings and back-office tasks. By mapping out repeatable business processes, you’ll be able to delineate work that’s either outside of your expertise or can be outsourced and free up more time for high-value tasks such as billable legal work and business development.
Work that can be systematized and automated should include:
- Intake, client and potential client communications and reviews.
- Document drafting, file management and calendaring.
- Time management, billing and collections.
By combining these documented procedures with the right people and technology stack, you’ll cut out the friction in your workflows and improve efficiencies and firm profitability.
2. Invest in your people and empower them.
To build a great law practice, you’ll need a great support team. Your established growth strategy and streamlined processes will help you outline which roles you need to recruit and hire for, as well as each team member’s key responsibilities. Growth will include growing pains so it’s important to remember that you can — and should — tailor your organizational chart to your unique leadership style and long-term business goals.
Some small firms work best by building an internal team; others outsource through staffing agencies or hire independent contractors. Regardless of your structure, it’s essential to establish your process, embed your firm’s culture in your team, and empower each person to take action when you delegate tasks. If you do this successfully, it will pay dividends well into the future.
3. Be intentional and disciplined with your workday.
You’ve outsourced the rest to do what you do best, so it’s important to follow through and ensure your time is productive. By defining your daily, weekly and monthly tasks and aligning these with your short- and long-term goals, you’ll be able to stay focused and know that your daily work is helping to bring those goals to fruition.
One great time management strategy is to use the popular time blocking method and categorize your calendar entries according to your personal and professional goals. Then, if you want to take it a step further, you can label those revenue or non-revenue generating tasks so that you can see how much of your daily work will bear fruit in the future. By getting into this habit for 30 days, you’ll be able to look back and see if your time is well-balanced, what parts need adjusting and what tasks you can outsource.
4. Focus on competitive pricing with alternative fee structures.
Almost every industry has been affected by the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the legal industry. According to Thomson Reuters, small law firm owners report that one of the biggest challenges is keeping competitive pricing and getting paid. As legal service delivery models shift and legal service buyers grow more discerning in determining what’s valuable, it’s important to evaluate competitive pricing models and deliver on client expectations.
Evaluate your firm’s pricing models and whether you can include alternative fee structures or productized service offerings. By offering customized pricing, you can remain competitive, close more deals, and increase collections rates from both current and future clients.
5. Leverage feedback to deliver an exceptional client experience.
In the legal industry’s increasingly competitive landscape, the firms that can deliver the best client experience will ultimately win the deal. The key to providing an exceptional client experience lies in anticipating and understanding what your clients want and then delivering it seamlessly.
The first step toward achieving this goal is to understand what makes an outstanding client experience and how your firm is (or isn’t) delivering on client expectations. Then, dedicate time to walk through your current client lifecycle and take inventory of each step along their journey, from initial consultation to case closure. Important elements to evaluate should include communication response times, website accessibility and navigability, digital presence and brand messaging, staff training and engagement levels, and whether firm culture is incorporated into each client touchpoint.
Once you have evaluated your current client journey, you can begin to put together a plan for improving the overall client experience. Of course, just as the industry and buyer expectations evolve, so too will your strategy. But if you’re willing to invest the time and energy required to develop exceptional service, you’ll reap the rewards in the form of satisfied clients and referrals.
6. Measure what matters to gain a competitive edge.
There’s been a recent explosion of interest in “big data” analytics, but did you know that “small data” can be just as valuable? As you grow your law practice, it’s important to develop a data-driven strategy that measures what matters the most. Small data can help you understand the attitudes and emotions behind your clients’ behaviors and decisions. Those firms that have scaled successfully have done so by leveraging these metrics to make strategic decisions about what is or isn’t working well, leading to more thoughtful decision-making and improved results.
To get started, identify what information you need to effectively run your practice and deliver exceptional client service, and then start collecting it. Some examples of valuable “small data” can include client satisfaction surveys and feedback, social media sentiment analysis, web traffic patterns, and client retention rates. Once you’ve collected this data, take action by using it to adjust your workflow processes, inform your marketing strategies and create new revenue streams.
7. Keep innovating through marketing and branding.
Now that your practice systems are starting to hum and you’ve made time for marketing, how will you find new clients to grow your practice? Marketing and business development are essential to building your brand and growing your client base, but being innovative is key. Keep pace with the latest marketing trends and technologies — both outside and within the legal industry — that can promote your practice and unique service offerings.
Each practice area requires a customized approach to attract and convert leads into paying clients. Therefore, it’s important to find a talented legal marketer or legal marketing agency to conduct a marketing audit and create a customized strategy for your firm that aligns with your goals and objectives.
8. Collaborate through strategic partnerships.
You may be a solo practitioner, but you shouldn’t go at it alone. Remember, there are many ways to collaborate with other lawyers and entrepreneurs who share your passion for innovation and growth. By tapping into these communities and groups, you can build your sphere of influence and find a valuable support system. Cultivating relationships with friends, colleagues and mentors can provide you with the advice and motivation to succeed, making them invaluable resources.
Keep Your Growth Strategy Front and Center
Don’t lose sight of your goals and, though it can be difficult, stay committed to maintaining a steady pace. Then, with some grit and determination, your firm’s growth strategy will begin paying dividends.
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