The one question to ask yourself before starting your own practice

What's your vision? Ok that was quick!

So many people want to start a business, or go out and start practices for themselves, but haven't asked themselves the most basic questions. It's absolutely critical that you are honest with yourself from the outset as to what is motivating you and what you want to achieve before going out and starting your own thing. For most of us starting out we look at the facts, the figures, the clients and everything else, but don't ask ourself the key questions about what is driving us as individuals. What we want out of it and what our vision is. And it is THE question.

So many business owners get into trouble not because they are bad at business, but because they start something that isn't right for them and they make decisions because they are confused about what they really want.

DO YOU WANT TO CREATE A JOB FOR YOURSELF, OR BUILD A SCALABLE BUSINESS?

Put another way - do you want a business managing others, or do you want to be a consultant? Most people think it is all the same, but those people struggle. Have you even thought about the realities of the difference between an entrepreneur business owner, and a solopreneur consultant? They are hugely different and every decision you make around your business will be affected by the answer.

So what is the distinction?

Vision.

Entrepreneurial business owners have a vision, plan and a drive to grow a business with other people. Solopreneurs and consultants have a vision for being in business for themselves and aren't driven to grow a team. These are clearly two very different things and it is important to establish which side of the fence you sit on before making a decision. Both are great, both have many people that do very well at either, but it is very hard to be one if you really actually want to be the other.

Why does this matter? Because you want to make a business that aligns with your values and what your ambitions are, not the perception of what you should make. The late night “how do I grow this thing” discussion is an easier one to have with yourself if you are true to what you want. If you are a solopreneur it's doubling down on you, your brand and the type of work you can do on your own. If you're a business owner, it's about scale, managing others, decisions regarding growth and going after the type of work that facilitates that.

Business is stressful enough, let alone faking your reason for doing it. Both tracks are just as worthy, so don't kid yourself about wanting a scalable business when you actually want to be a consultant. This might mean you supplement individual work with consulting in other businesses. A business owner who wants to scale, on the other hand, can't be investing time in someone else's brand when building their own.

You simply can't have a business you enjoy if you aren't 100% committed to your vision. Well, maybe not never. If you're in a partnership, sometimes this can work out, but like most people starting out on their own, you are making these decisions individually. There are just so many difficult decisions, sleepless nights and stresses of growing a scalable business that anyone without a real drive to do that and a real love for the process, will either burn out hard and fast or end up hating it.

PATHWAYS FOR SOLOPRENEURS

If you deep down want to work “in it” rather than “on it”, maybe the best course of action for you is to be a solopreneur or consultant. For people thinking like this, I would really stress whether working with others is also important to you, and if so, maybe being the 2IC of a company is better than being out on your own. If, however, you have the vision to be a solopreneur, the great thing these days is that you can still get this support with co-working and through your network. It is, however, something you really need to be on top of as it doesn't happen by accident.

Part of what I love about the new consulting platforms is how they give people the option of being solopreneurs rather than needing to build a scalable business. You can have your own practice, or work on contract for a period of time, or split your time between both. Lots of people want the flexibility and think that means starting a scalable business, when actually, for them being a consultant makes far more sense.

How you market your services and the decisions you make on how you deliver your services and goals are all intrinsically linked to the vision you have for your business.

Getting this right makes life a lot easier when going through the slog of growing something.

PATHWAYS FOR ENTREPRENEURS

This one is easy - starting your own practice with a passion for growing it and employing other people.

Entrepreneurs ultimately want to work “on” their business and not in it. They may still want to spend time on the tools when it suits them but ultimately they want people working for their business.

To succeed as an entrepreneur rather than a solopreneur, and enjoy it, you have to love the game of growing a scalable business. You have to enjoy the process of learning things like cash flow management, accounts, marketing, branding and everything else you need to learn. But not just in theory, you really need to enjoy the process of it or find ways to at least at the start when you end up doing so much of it yourself. If you don't get something out of the process my best advice is to stick to working in a great firm, or go out on your own but focus down on creating something that delivers for you as an individual, where you can surround yourself with enough support.

WHAT IF I CHANGE MY MIND?

You're allowed to, but it might take some re-working! Sometimes people think they want a scalable business, but they really just want to work for themselves. Making that mistake might mean you have to re-structure your business in a way that takes a lot of the work you won't do off your hands. It is tough, but it's also doable. On the flip side, if you are a solopreneur keen to scale it's a lot easier in the short term. Just make sure you know what you're getting yourself into!

Networking and making a concerted effort to connect and grow your professional network can all too often fall by the wayside especially as business and firm owners get busy. But the other big reason is many just don’t see the value of connection and the amazing short and long terms bottom line result it can lead to in your business.

So we thought we would put together a little outline of how to prepare, plan and execute a consistent strategy to cover off your networking efforts and make it as easy as possible.


Plan

Make an effort to fit networking into your diary. We understand as a lawyer, you’re probably pretty busy most of the time. However, if you really aim to grow your business you need to fit time into your day to grow your referral network.

Even something as basic and effortless as tapping into your network each day to seek out a new introduction to someone in your industry. Over time this really small daily step will see you network and referral sources grow. Over time small number build up and you also tap into the exponential power of your network.

By making this a bit each day you will get a much larger and more profitable referral network established over time. But the longer you delay it the longer it will take you so get stuck into it today.


Use Meet-Ups

The reality is you need to be active in your professional community and industry. A starting point for this is to take the time to schedule in and attend relevant networking events or seminars. The big reason for this is how it plays into your broader networking efforts.

To produce referrals on the part of other connections whom you’ve generated business with, you also need to provide referrals yourself. People all too often forget the value proposition in their networking. Its all about demonstrating how you and your network might be a useful source of referrals for someone else that can help you.

You can even hold events of your own. This may sound like hard work but its an extremely effective strategy for growing your referral network and attracting new clients.


Make Sure Your Follow Up

Don’t be lazy, always follow up with someone who has given you their email or number. They did so for a reason and this is the very start of pushing them through to the end of the sales funnel. Just drop them a line or a note saying it was great to meet last week at the “event”. Would you have some time to catch up for a coffee so we can have more detailed chat about “xyz”.


Give First

This is an important one in that you should always approach your networking and connections with a value proposition. Which is why its so important to be strategic around who you connect and network with as you want to be focussed on people who you can help provide value to and who in return you know over time can open some key doors and referral sources for you.

This is why it’s key to approach networking with an open mind but strategic approach. You never know who might be able to open up a great opportunity for you and you also don’t know who you might be able to help.


Look Outside your Normal Network

This ties up with point 2 above but the key point here is to be creative and think laterally about who to connect and engage with. The reason for this is too many business and firm owners are much too narrow in their networking efforts and this can lead to an echo chamber effect where old ideas are just reinforced. You want to be tapping into fresh opportunities also which means growing out your network and focusing on events and meet-up which you might ordinarily ignore.

A good starting point is to have a think about some areas of professional development or skilling up in knowledge that you might actually have a genuine interest in. For example you might have a keen interest in smart contracts or blockchain. Take the time to head to some events or seminars that cover areas of genuine interest to you.


Be Accountable

The other thing to keep in mind is follow through. If you make a promise or organise a plan, make sure you stick to it. No one likes a fake especially not a potential client or referral. Remember when someone recommends you or vice versa you are representing each other to some degree and if you reflect poorly on your referral sources they won’t last long.