These days it is very easy to appear bigger than you are. If your website is compelling you can kid people you are an established, large company even if you are a start-up.
Some new businesses go further and register for VAT way before they have to in order to create the impression of size. I would never have done that myself, as my clients benefited directly to the tune of 20% before I had to register for VAT.
You should assume that you will be successful. For example, when you begin even though you can retain most information about prospects in your head you must have systems for recording all your quotes etc. Start as you intend to go on.
One of the key skills of a successful entrepreneur is to be able to make decisions relatively quickly. Where there is choice we can get paralysed by indecision, when what matters is that something gets decided.
When I started I was faced with many decisions, most of them very minor I can now see with hindsight. How the logo should look, who I should use to build the website, it went on and on. Now there aren’t as many small decisions, or perhaps I just don’t stress about them so much. The tricky decisions – and the ones you have to make relate to expansion. The extra computers, the new systems and most of all the extra people.
It’s important to keep it in perspective, most (all!) decisions we make in my type of business are not a matter of life or death, so just get on with them.
The medium is the message was a soundbite recently used by a friend, borrowed from elsewhere. I hadn’t heard it before.
Apparently most people now hate to be phoned. Most phone calls are nuisance ones or bad news. What ever happened to those long chats us oldies used to have?
So, messages are relayed via email. Often unnecessarily to many more people than really need to see it.
There is a lot to be said for a phone call, or meeting in person. The email can be a cowardly way of giving unwelcome news. How we communicate is incredibly important – let’s start a movement to use the medium of phone or real life meetings more often.
I recognise that I need to get help. I have taken on someone to help me write articles, tweet, post on Linked In and all the stuff we are meant to do to maintain our Google ranking. It’s good because it will force me to keep at it, and not just do it when I have time, which seems to be less and less often of late.
I do believe that it is important – we get a fairish number of enquiries online, so something is working. The enquiries are usually rather price driven but it is probably still worthwhile. The one I dread is the Friday afternoon caller, probably not much else to do and invariably looking for free advice without any intention of instructing us.
I love lunch so a lunch club seems a good idea, and a good title for a group which met for the first time recently. We all provide professional services. It was jolly, and we had a nice lunch sitting outside in the sun. We are finding our way: will it be useful, will it be enjoyable? If it ticks either of those boxes its good enough for me.
We can share tips on stuff like what IT systems to use, maybe help each other with problems and even possibly refer clients to each other. Who knows?
We are choosing to stay as a small group of 6 so that there is only 1 conversation at any time, and we will have to take care that no-one dominates. I would rather like it if each of us took turns to ask a left field question to get us thinking in new ways. I will put it to them next time we meet .
Welcoming clients and the way it is done is incredibly important I know. Some research on dentists revealed that patients care very little about the latest bit of expensive kit, or the fabulous qualifications of their dentist. What really matters is the quality of the coffee they get, if indeed they get any. I certainly don’t get any at mine.
Research on health and fitness clubs shows that the people most likely to re-join are those who have made friends with other members, so the effort put in to social events, coffee bars and so on is hugely worthwhile.
For us the welcome and the quality of the coffee are enormously important, I know. Anyway the team would all agree our Gaggia coffee machine is essential for our wellbeing.
The other area to focus on is the unexpected extra or free gift. The subject of another blog, perhaps!
Speaking with authority is difficult. I have recently been listening to the superb Atul Gawande Reith lectures. He talks such sense; most of the things he says you immediately think “of course” and feel you have known that all along, it’s just that you haven’t articulated it.
His delivery is slow, thoughtful, full of anecdotes and doesn’t use many more words than necessary. The overall effect is of great authority, whilst sounding like someone you might know, and would not be intimidated by. There is no sense in which he alienates his audience. His language is simple and clear.
If I can only learn to be a little bit more like him when I give talks I will be happy.
What is our competitive advantage? Well I have read what has been said about us on vouchedfor. (https://professionals.vouchedfor.co.uk/solicitor/BA6%208LT). The recurring themes are experience, knowledge, efficiency, friendly. Someone else said in response to a phone survey that she didn’t feel stupid whatever question they asked. That resonated with me. So often professionals have a lot of specialist knowledge and can unknowingly not appreciate when they are losing their audience. I stop listening/understanding shortly in to any IT advice. At that point my brain drifts off elsewhere and I have lost the plot to such an extent I never recover it. Not sure how IT advice can be made easier to understand.
The trouble with all the nice things listed above is that I feel they are a given. And it’s so easy for any law firm to say, and isn’t always delivered. I suppose the somewhat hackneyed way of communication the issue is to say that we have a 5* rating, our clients say all these nice things. But I still feel I need to find a slightly cleverer way of saying it. Any ideas greatly appreciated.
I suspect some people go through life never feeling they are properly grown up. I was with a lovely friend who has 2 adult children, a farm, and runs a highly successful organic food business. She also takes care of her staff, to the extent that she was “next of kin” to a 90+ year old former employee who died recently.
To my astonishment she referred to something as being “very big girl”, as if she wasn’t one herself. What nonsense! She is certainly a big girl.
I mentioned before I was looking for new members of staff. I met various people via my networks but I now realise there is a flaw in this method. If I reach out to someone and invite them to apply then they hold the balance of power. They probably hadn’t thought of moving, and they already have a job. So I was in the position of having to entice them away with a better salary, better holidays etc. This is not a particularly good start to a relationship so I am going back to the old fashioned method of posting the job.
Initially I am using the Government’s Jobsearch Direct site which has the great advantage of being free. A real person checks your ad. I was phoned to say I could not say I required 2-3 years’ experience as that implies that the person is young and is therefore discriminatory.
Hopefully I will get some good applicants. We shall see.
I was contacted by vouchedfor, which is a sort of Trip Advisor for accountants and solicitors. You contact clients and ask if they will give you a reference via the Vouched For site. So far it has been a fab ego trip as the clients selected by me have given lovely reviews. I am not sure if anything will come of it but what they say may be useful in helping me to understand what clients’ value about us – as per my blog on Competitive Advantage.
I have been trying to identify our competitive advantage. Most businesses think their advantage is one thing but when customers are asked they will think of other things altogether.
It is therefore important to ask customers why they chose us and then work out how to promote our competitive advantage. For example “95% of our business comes from customer referrals” not “95% of our customers are delighted with us” which is hard to prove.
We are in the process of carrying out surveys of our clients and I will try to work out what the clients specially liked and things I wouldn’t have thought about. For example one client loved us because we didn’t make her feel stupid and all her questions were treated seriously. I should hope so too.
Most lawyers like to have wealthy clients, and I now seem to be attracting quite a few. But what I really like is nice clients, wealthy or not. Luckily we have quite a few. I suppose there is a perception that we lawyers are money grasping bastards but actually we mainly just want to make a reasonable living and give a good service.
But how lovely it is when you meet people you like, you give them a good service, they appreciate it and also understand what it will cost. A true win-win.
I have just had a week on my own. It is the skiing season and that means that my colleague Beccy is away a lot. This week has been frantic with new work coming in at an unprecedented rate. I am not a great one for writing wills, which are a sort of jigsaw puzzle – all of the piece must be exactly right and fit together, and they can also be very complicated. They are also very important. Will writing is Beccy’s forte, not mine. However I have been forced to write 5, all of which I will get Beccy to check very carefully when she gets back.
Getting new staff is my current priority.
It’s a nerve wracking business. Will we get enough work to keep them busy and earn enough to cover their cost? Where will they sit? As usual I am resistant to change. We are comfortable as we are but our service is beginning to suffer as we get busier and I must (do!) have the confidence to believe that we will continue to generate more work.
I have been able to contact a number of legal executives through their local group and have met a few. There seem to be some very good people out there, which is really encouraging.
So it’s all change and exciting times.