Grow Your Firm or Startup by Stealing From These Successful Entrepreneurs

One of the ways we can learn to grow our businesses (yes your firm is a business) is by observing what works for others and adopting some form of those ideas into your own practice or startup. There is a quote from famed artist Pablo Picasso that encapsulates this idea very well, “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Based on this practice, I was inspired to ask a few colleagues and clients about the successful outcomes they had in 2018 as well as what they planned on doing in 2019. After a few emails to my network, I received a number of responses from people who had a phenomenal 2018 and that are worth sharing with all of you. You can read all of their unedited responses below. I also took the liberty of sharing what I took away from each of their responses and how it could apply to the law firms and legal technology companies that follow our blog.

I have grouped them into two categories, law firms and legal tech company with law firms in the lineup first. Please feel free to borrow and steal any and all of the ideas listed below.

Law Firms

Clint GoodmanGoodlaw.legal

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“The number one thing I did was bring on a fantastic partner and several other brilliant people.  As Bill Gates puts it, “the number one key has always been hiring very smart people.” I’ve seen tremendous growth by simply surrounding myself [with] great folks.  From a practice management perspective, we made it a point to survey our client base on what they wish attorneys in our field did better. We received some great answers and are working to incorporate them.“

 

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“In 2018 we created a groundbreaking A.I. tool that skyrockets productivity on the backend and drastically speeds up services to clients on the front end.  Our goal for 2019 is to flood our market and look to how this tool can benefit folks beyond the law.“

Takeaway

Clint is clearly focused on two things:

Improving operations to better service the needs of his customers including the adoption of technology.
Making it a point to hear from his customers directly about what they really want rather than just taking a guess.

This type of customer first approach to building his business has allowed Clint to see substantial increases in customer satisfaction and corresponding increases in revenue. On the operations side, hiring the right people is crucial to a businesses success and a whole lot harder than what people think. Investing in mastering this skill is a worthy effort. If you want insight into how to this effectively I recommend you listen to a great podcast on the subject, the Master of Scale podcast. In particular the episode with Aneel Bhusri co-founder and CEO of Workday, Inc.

When it comes to interviewing clients/customers, you should make this a regular part of your quarterly or biannual check ins. Some questions to ask during your client/customer check ins:

  1. What would be the ideal experience in working with your ideal (e.g., vendor, solution, law firm, etc.)
  2. Follow up with “why” if you really want to dive deep.
  3. Where do you feel you get the most value from working with us (or using our software)?
  4. What other issues do you wish we can help you with?
  5. Follow up with “can you give me an example” for a deeper dive into this.
  6. What is the most frustrating thing about (the current solution, a feature, dealing with this issue, etc.).

Being customer centric and embracing technology has really fueled some exciting growth for Clint.

Jon TobinCounselforcreators.com

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“The best move that we made in 2018 was to implement a system of financial discipline. While on the surface this may not seem like anything revolutionary, it has given us deep insight into how we receive money, how we spend money and how we order our priorities.

Specifically, both Chuong (my partner) and I read and implemented Mike Michalowicz’s book Profit First. The basic tenet of the book is that you take a certain percentage of revenues as profits before allocating funds to anything else. This reverses the traditional formula that states that profits are what is left over after expenses are taken out of revenue. Instead, expenses are what is left after profits are taken.”

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“This move has caused us to take a hard look at our expenses and question which of them serves our goal of building a profitable company that our clients love. Those things that do not contribute to that goal are mercilessly eliminated or reduced.”

Takeaway

I have also read the book (at Jon’s recommendation) and agree that accounting practice that the book lays out is how many early stage entrepreneurs look at finances. While you can read the book for the insights there, the take away from Jon’s statement is that financial discipline and focus is really helping his firm grow. Having a system, whether financial or operational, whereby you are asked to validate your business decisions against actual goals will keep you from getting distracted by shiny objects and help focus on the business goals that you have set out for yourself. Sharing those goals with your employees will also help keep everyone moving in the same direction and allow them to exercise independent judgment.

Amanda MineerVeteranslaw.com

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“The number one (or two) things we did in 2018 that has helped Veterans Law Group grow was (1) to engage with a business growth coach that is helping us to lay proper foundation and systems to prepare to grow as leads increase AND (2) working with [ONE400] to help us generate those leads.  If you focus too much on one v. the other you can have leads you can’t handle or have all the foundation set, but no leads coming in. We previously were working with an online marketing company that didn’t know much about the legal industry and that was a constant frustration. Leaning on outside experts to do what they do best has helped our business grow like crazy the past couple of years.  Also have learned a lot about letting the experts do what they do; without my constant “feedback”… or ok, opinion. We are ready for another huge year in 2019!”

 

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“In 2019 we are looking forward to continued growth, helping the members of our team nurture their skills and expand their roles.  Every day they are becoming more and more experts in their field. I’ve been learning a lot about pouring into my team to help them be the best they can be and loving that process. The more success we have, the more veterans we have helped.  That is my motivation. Every Day.”

Takeaway

I appreciate Amanda giving us some credit here, but I think the real point is don’t be afraid to delegate and outsource the things that get in the way of the specific tasks you do to grow your firm or startup. Also, definitely don’t be afraid to get help when you need it. Chances are that as founder, partner, or CEO of your organization, you really move the needle by providing a clear vision, mission and leadership for your team to follow. For smaller sized firms and startups without teams, sales and execution of the work you’ve been hired to do is likely going to have the biggest impact on your growth.  Try and outsource or delegate everything else as it is likely distracting you from focusing on the things that help you grow.

Megan ZaviehZaviehlaw.com

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

 

“The number one new thing I did in 2018 was seek more client feedback.  I really shifted my focus to the client experience, particularly honing in on how the client feels going through the process of working with me.  I have been working for a long time toward utilizing technology to make the whole process of being a client easier and more efficient, but I designed that from my own perspective and what seemed to make sense to me.  By seeking more feedback throughout the engagement and afterward, I have been able to tweak the process of working together to better address the client’s emotions and stress. This helped increase referral traffic.”

 

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“In 2019 I am going to experiment with subscription legal services.  For years I have said that every lawyer should have an ethics lawyer on call.  This year I plan to launch a proper subscription service to make that a reality.  One goal of the service is to drive more traffic for all service lines.”

Takeaway

Like Clint Goodman, focusing on the client and better understanding their needs, wants and pain points indicates that Megan is dialed in with her clients. This in turn translates to more word of mouth referrals and increases in revenue. Also like Clint, Megan is using technology to help her refine her process that ultimately improves the working relationship with her clients.

Finally, one additional takeaway here is that Megan is also pursuing a slightly alternative business model in that she is looking to add a subscription service. I’ve written about subscription services and why they are good for law firms. One final point is that Megan is always pursuing innovation by adopting alternative business models or through the adoption of technology to help grow her practice.

Luis Gomez AlfaroLeleu Gomez Alfaro

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“Focusing on pitching the services we deliver best over the services we like to talk about. As a full-service immigration firm, we are most effective, and most profitable, in our area of expertise. As much as I enjoy endlessly dissecting creative business arrangements for foreign startups, returning to our core immigration services, really saved our bottom line at the end of 2018.”

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“In 2019, we would like to find new channels to market our services and new mediums to deliver full immigration service directly to the consumer. The dream is to provide a fully remote and on-line service without a frustrating user experience.”

Takeaway

I happen to know that Luis is at a early stage firm (newly formed) and as such is experimenting with several immigration related services. I think what he is describing here is something that many new firms and startups tend to do, sell all the creative ways they can solve problems for their clients and customers. Instead, focusing on a particular service that you excel at and can replicate over and over again will help you grow substantially faster as opposed to trying to  be everything to everyone. Mastering the process of fulfillment around a particular service will allow you to also master the sales process associated with that service and lead to a great reputation in the community for that service. This will build word of mouth referrals, reduce your marketing costs and accelerate your growth. You can always add more services later, but you will be wise to narrow your focus when initially starting out.

As with others already covered, the constant search for innovation and improving the customer experience is also associated with this firm’s 2019 plans.

Patrick PalacePalacelaw.com

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“In 2018, Palace Law took the inevitable and preemptive step of removing telephones from every desk in every office, opening up fresh real estate never before seen on any desk.  Goodbye ancient handset. Hello VolP. The result: Money saved, more communication options, seamless cellular and desktop connections using Skype for business, and better client centric service.  Oh, one more add, we cut calls answered by the receptionist by more than 50% without diminishing client access to services. “

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“In 2019?  Plans are already in place to redesign our client’s experience at Palace Law applying design thinking to give clients 24/7 access to real time information including a dashboard that provides quick navigation to case status, timelines, documents, resources and more. “

Takeaway

This fairly simple operational change has increased the capacity of his receptionist by 50%, lowered his costs, and maintained client access. So what’s the takeaway? You should regularly evaluate why you do the things you do and ask yourself if there is a better way. Optimizing your business is an ongoing perpetual effort and what might seem like a small change (e.g., moving from landlines to VOIP) can really have big impacts on your operations and bottom line. The other thing to note is that Patrick isn’t stopping with just redesigning his phone operations, he’s taking on the redesign of his law firm operations altogether in hopes that he can reinvent the experience for his clients. To see other outside the box thinking from established norm take a look at this write up on Capital One’s Cafe approach to banking.

Legal Tech

Rick MerrilGavelytics.com

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“2018 for us was focused on the creation of efficient and reliable business processes.  Since our product is such a new concept, we’ve had to invent a number of methodologies around the intake, normalization, review and processing of huge amounts of data.”

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“2019 for us will be focused on scaling those processes, and reliably implementing them, in lots of new state markets as we expand outside of California.”

Takeaway

When you are building for scale you must develop well defined processes that people can follow easily. Having processes in place not only help you to onboard new clients and employees more quickly, they have additional benefits as well. These well documented benefits include the following:

  1. Higher productivity
  2. Increased revenue
  3. Better control
  4. Higher visibility
  5. Improved customer service
  6. Reduction in errors

Find yourself performing repeated tasks in your firm or startup? Do you yourself a favor and document the process, automate it if you can, and create a solid workflow for a human to follow if you can’t. The benefits are immense.

Lori GonzalezRayna Corp

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“For 2018 the number one new thing I did to improve business in 2018 was to become more fearless in my marketing efforts.  I had to get out of my office space, put on my entrepreneur hat and be willing to risk both money and time to find new clients.  I increased my sponsorships, speaking opportunities and conference attendance. I also spent additional dollars on new marketing trials.  All of this happened during the 1st half of the year when new sales were at a standstill.  By the end of the year I had increased my revenue, even after a dismal, losing 1st half of the year.  Spending money to make money is still some necessary (albeit scary at times) advice when it comes to effective sales and marketing for my company.”

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“For 2019, I am excited to try to be more intentional with my relationship building through various social media efforts.  Creating relationship is fun and easy for me in person – but maintaining that relationship through social media is burdensome at times.  I am looking forward to trying some effective social media or blog content marketing for this year and I continue pushing the marketing boundaries in my company.”

Takeaway

While Lori doesn’t exactly put it this way, it sounds to me that she figured out that if she wanted to build her business she needed to start building a brand and a business network. Many people mistakenly think that marketing is about some specific channels or tactics. Instead, real marketing power comes when there is an association, or to use a branding term, relevance to the customers experience and your business. In Lori’s case, her association with legal conferences, participation in legal events, has created an awareness about her expertise in this field and the effort that she puts into being relevant during such events is helping her grow. In keeping with that effort in 2019, she is clearly using social media to build on those relationships even when she can’t nurture them in person.

Rod WittenbergReedTech

What was the number one new thing you did to improve business in 2018?

“It was a pivotal year for the business as we launched a customer success program.  We had hired a consulting organization to help us build the program in the latter part of 2017 because we were having challenges with retention in our organization. Armed with the right people and the right program we launched with some ambitious expectations. Our goal was to improve retention by 4%.  That target was critical to the sales and finance teams because it’s how we justified the investment in hiring a third party. We had to get a lot of buy in from an experienced sales team and we need a tight interlock between sales, marketing and product. We were able to accomplish our objective in two of our three products by reducing cancellations by 50%. This was a tremendous outcome in the first year, and was due to many people pulling together in the right direction.”

And what do you want to try in 2019?

“Looking at 2019, let’s shoot for another 50% improvement.”

Takeaway

It’s easier to hold on to the customers you have, than go after a new set of them. That might seem obvious but many organizations tend to focus on new sales as opposed to retention. Clearly, Rod and his team made a real effort here to focus on retention which, though not mentioned by him, no doubt increased revenue. Additionally, making sure that all of your team members goals are aligned (in this case retention) will really help move the needle. Be sure to share the objectives (increase in retention) and key results (measured reduction in cancellations) with your team if you really want to see the magic happen.

Closing

I would love to see your comments and your answers to these same questions in the comments section below. Or send your answers to the ONE400 team @one_400 on Twitter, or post to our Facebook page.

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