This Year, Resolve to Plan

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It might be a new business. It might be an old business with a new twist. It might even be the same old business with the same old twist (plans for the future do not always mean anticipating growth; in a stagnating economy, planning to stay at the present level of revenue, market share or practice size may be the most a lawyer can expect).

Whatever it is, planning must be part of the process. With the New Year upon us, it's time to make an important business resolution. Say it with me: “Planning will be an important part of my business.”

The process of running a successful law practice should include five essential steps:

  1. Prepare to plan.

    Make sure that all the key players agree to make and abide by the plan. Determine logistics for planning sessions and gather historical information in order to analyze it and consider realistic modifications.

    Many lawyers are generally leery of business planning. Understanding their objections and being able to counter them is important for the success of the planning process. Remind them:

    • Business is not dishonorable.
    • Planning is important to better understand the target market and pertinent business issues.
    • Lawyers' training in thinking logically about problems and solutions is perfect training for planning.
    • Staff members can handle the details of the firm's financials, etc., so lawyers need only worry about the basics of planning instead of getting bogged down in the details.

  2. Identify goals.

    This step includes the principals' professional and personal goals, as well as goals for the firm overall.

    It is important to set goals for the future direction of the practice — and for the people within it — because only when you have established goals can you make plans for how to achieve them.

    To start the process, firm members should complete questionnaires concerning both their personal/professional goals and the firm's goals, which should be revised or restated as needed to make them sufficiently specific. This should obviously be an ongoing activity. Be reasonable about what you can achieve and how soon you can achieve it.

  3. Develop a marketing strategy.

    This plan is designed to achieve the goals that you identify and will help you determine who potential clients are and how to attract and keep them.

    A well-thought-out marketing plan uses the firm's goals and considers all the options to come up with specific, quantifiable marketing objectives to meet those goals. It is important to analyze qualitative and quantitative information, from internal and external sources, to define the specific audiences and marketing strategies that you believe will help you achieve your objectives.

  4. Create a financial roadmap.

    Your financial plan should address your firm's operation over the next six to 18 months. It should be expressed in financial terms and reflect the implementation of the marketing plan.

    The roadmap can include many documents, but in a professional services business, the simplest and most powerful is a detailed cash flow statement that shows your goals in monetary terms.

  5. Evaluate and revise.

    After creating the business plan, there remains the ongoing task of evaluating and comparing the results with your goals and revising the plan when necessary. Making changes based on new information is not backtracking — it's learning. Don't feel disheartened or look to assess fault; make the needed changes and move forward — and feel good about it.

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