I was recently asked to give advice to early-stage entrepreneurs regarding the most critical elements of starting a business. While there are many helpful step-by-step guides for how to start your small business, there are other things you need to think about as you follow your passion. This advice holds true no matter the type of business. You could be an attorney or seeking to venture out as a solo or a researcher with the opportunity to launch a biotech company.
Think of your venture as a business not a hobby. Every well-established business has a solid foundation. Set up systems from the very beginning so that you don’t have to reinforce the foundation later. If you’re practicing law, make sure you have case management in place from day one. If you are in a professional service industry, set up a project management system. No matter your industry, invest in a contact relationship management (CRM) tool. Related article: The importance of using a CRM system for legal marketing.
Create a strategic plan and be flexible. Develop a strategic plan but remember that plans change. A strategic plan or vision should include your short-term goals, key messages, target audience, budget, strategies and tactics for client acquisition and retention. It doesn’t have to be long; it’s simply a road map with a starting point. It will and should change time and time again. Revisit your plan regularly to make sure that you’re on track. Revise it often and remember that it’s a working document. For example, if you’re starting a new law firm, think about the type of practice you want to be today, in two years, in five years, etc. Be realistic with your legal marketing budget and objectives. Understand that your target audience is not just direct new business. It also includes referring lawyers, lateral hires, potential staff, opposing counsel and others.
Surround yourself with learned professionals. Engage a brilliant corporate lawyer, an accountant, a bookkeeper and a business banker – you will need them every step of the way. If you are not accustomed to conducting business development, hire a coach. If you plan to speak publicly, hire a trainer. If you plan to have employees, outsource to an HR provider. If you want to look good online, hire an excellent photographer. If you’re going to speak to the media, make sure you get media training. Bottom line, don’t think you can do it all yourself – there are many professionals out there who will not only make you look good, they will help you to be more efficient, more effective and more profitable, and inevitably become great referral sources.
Invest in your brand and online presence. Branding is important. Your brand is more than just your name and colors. It conveys a message to your target audience. It is your packaging. What do you want your target audience to think about your company? How do you want to be perceived? People also know when they go to your website if it’s canned or if it’s custom. They want to know that you are willing to invest in them, too – and remember, you get what you pay for, and so do your potential customers. Your online presence isn’t limited to your website: it includes your social media profiles (personal and business), your online directory listings such as your Google business listing, and media placements, and so much more.
Don’t underprice or undersell your services or products. Just because you’re starting out as an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to sell out. Do your research. Know your value. Pricing is an art and a major component in marketing.
Don’t be afraid to say “no.” As one of my educators, Neen James, taught me early on, “No” is a full sentence. If someone doesn’t want to pay you what you’re worth, don’t be afraid to walk away – just say, “No.” If you know instinctually that working with someone is going to be “bad business,” just say, “No.” If you need to spend time with your family instead of networking at events five nights a week, just say, “No.” Quality of life still matters.
Capitalize on social media. Social media provides a treasure trove of opportunities for you to grow your business and connect with people who already know, like and trust you. It is human nature for people to want to see their family and friends do well in business. Be sure to connect with everyone you know on various social media platforms. And remember that Facebook tends to be more personal and LinkedIn more professional so use them wisely. Related article: Law firm content marketing: creating trust and awareness.
Read the book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book was and remains my saving grace. Don Miguel Ruiz provides four principles to practice in order to create happiness in your life. These principles should apply to every person, personally and professionally. They include:
1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.
Have fun doing what you love. I often hear it said that “It’s not work if you love what you do.” I left the formal practice of law because I didn’t enjoy the negotiation dance. I am much more suited for proactive, positive and planned communications. Public relations for lawyers and legal service providers and marketing for lawyers and other professionals are my passions. I am happy doing what we do every day, and while the work can be challenging, we always know that we are making a measurable difference.