The end of the year is a great time for preparing and prognosticating. Unfortunately, this also tends to be an exceptionally busy time of year. This tends to result in a failure by most lawyers to properly plan for the coming year. Don't be like most lawyers.
The first step in preparing for 2016 is to reflect on what happened in 2015. Did you set goals for 2015? Did you meet them? Were they the right goals? What worked? What failed?
I can't tell you how many business owners, including lawyers, don't spend time analyzing what they're doing. Believe me, I'm sympathetic. It's easy to get lost in all of those things that need to get done working in one's business.
However, failing to assess whether those are the right things to be doing, and expecting different results, well that's just not smart.
What's your vision for your law practice in 2016? Stay the course? Grow? Move? Same clients? Different clients? Hire? Merge? Sell?
Before you chart a course, you have to know where you're going.
Since growing law firms is what we do, I'm going to focus on client development here.
To me, all client development goals begin with providing better client service. Your current and past clients' perception of you is likely to play a critical role in your ability to earn your next client. Therefore, you might consider setting a goal of improving client Net Promoter Scores (NPS).
Too many lawyers tend to focus on the goal of getting more clients. But before you add that to your list, be sure that it's the right goal for your practice.
More clients doesn't necessarily mean a better outcome for your practice. For example, are you equipped to handle the additional workload? Will you be able to maintain excellent service? Can you afford the additional costs associated with acquiring more clients?
If you're convinced that adding more clients is a worthy goal, I would encourage you to qualify the goal with:
Spending money to earn clients that aren't the right fit will result in losses for both you and your clients. Spending more money to acquire clients than they will generate in fees will eventually lead to shuddering your doors.
Charting a Course
Once you've identified your goals for 2016, it's time to figure out how you're going to make it happen. Part of this process requires tying inputs to target outputs. I'm partial to the OKR methodology. As Rick Klau puts it:
OKRs are about the company’s goals and how each employee contributes to those goals.
Obviously, if you're a solo, you're solely responsible for achieving your goals. The key is identifying what specifically needs to be done and measured to achieve those goals.
Perhaps you've identified that improving the number of inquiries you receive from potential clients correlates well with achieving your objective of earning new clients. If this is the case, you might set specific targets for growing qualified potential client inquiries.
If you're looking for ideas for growing inquiries from the web, here are 100 tips.
Adjusting Your Course
We all know what happens to even the best laid plans. The hardest part is deciding when to try something different. I'm convinced that quarterly evaluations are usually a good rule of thumb. Evaluating client development on shorter periods generally isn't sufficient to get a sense of performance. On the other hand, if you're not getting some positive feedback after several months, you'll probably need to make some changes.
For example, if you're spending money on advertising, three months ought to be sufficient to get a sense of performance. That doesn't necessarily mean that you'll realize a return on ad spend in this time. For many practice areas, particularly plaintiff firms, it's unlikely that you'll generate an inquiry and a fee in the same quarter. However, you should certainly expect to get qualified inquiries. In many cases, if you go three months without a single qualified inquiry from a potential client, you should consider cutting the program. Remember, this is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule.
I can't tell you how many lawyers will go years without assessing the performance of their advertising and marketing. Don't be like them.
My Crystal Ball
Finally, a few predictions for the coming year. The location-based consequences of the mobile revolution will become a priority. The journey of the legal services consumer will continue to fragment. Firms that win will embrace potential client micro-moments. The lines separating offline reputation and relationships will continue to blur. More and more, your next clients will expect to find information about you online that helps them determine that you're even worth contacting, let alone, hiring.
Here's to a great 2016!