The first month of the New Year is already more than half over, but even if you haven’t started, it’s not too late to plan to make this the best year yet. You can still set things in motion to move your practice to the next level, work more effectively and attract the clients you want this year. Here’s how:
Do a year-end review
First, take inventory of your practice. The only way to make changes, to grow or to move forward is to first accept what is; before you can start thinking about making improvements, you need to know where you stand now.
Take stock of last year’s goals:
- What goals (whether written or not) did you have for your practice last yer? Did you want to finally get some systems in place? Explore a new practice area? Create better relationships with clients or attract a higher caliber of clients to your firm?
- How well did you meet those goals?
- What benchmarks or other documentation do you have in place to determine whether or not you met your goals?
- What made you successful or unsuccessful in meeting this year’s goals? What do you need to continue doing, and what do you need to change?
- What resources do you need to make those changes?
A general review of the past year can help you to see areas ripe for improvement:
- What clients/practice areas were the most/least profitable over the past year?
- Who are your best/worst clients, and where do they come from?
- What new strategic alliances/referral sources have you cultivated in the past year? What new relationships would you like to create?
- How many new clients retained you over the past year? How much new business did you receive from existing or former clients?
- How well did you follow up with new contacts this year? Did you use a system for keeping in touch with potential, existing and former clients? How effective was that system?
- How up to date and effective are your marketing materials (business cards, website, blog, newsletter, brochure, email campaigns, seminars/presentations, etc.)? Do they accurately reflect who you are and what you do for your clients? Even more importantly, do they accurately describe your clients and their needs, wants and concerns?
- How large are your receiveables and what can you do to reduce them?
- How often did you convert prospects into clients over the past year?
- Are you using staff, outside sources and vendors effectively, or could you delegate better?
- What improvements have you made in your practice over the past year for the benefit of your clients? What can you do to knock your clients’ socks off in the future?
If you already have good systems, records and documentation in place, you may be able to obtain reports containing this information from your computer system in a few clicks. If not, you may want to consider a systems overhaul to make this information easier to obtain in 2014, as it can be invaluable.
For example, if you know where your business is coming from and you aren’t getting the kind of business you’d like, you may want to explore where the ‘less desirable’ business is coming from. If all of your “bad” referrals are coming from the same place, you may need to re-educate those referral sources; if your referral sources don’t know what your ‘sweet spot’ is, they can’t refer you the best clients. Similarly, if your marketing materials are not effective, accurate and timely, if they are attracting clients that you don’t want, you’ll want to revisit your marketing materials.
Choose three main goals
Now that you know where you are, you can start setting the wheels in motion to make improvements by setting goals. But don’t make the mistake of setting too many goals or goals that are too large. Although you may have a long list of things you wish you could do in your practice, a long list can quickly become overwhelming. Instead, choose three main areas you’d like to improve in your practice over the next year.
Choose the three goals that you think will have the most impact, or that are the most urgent, and focus all of your time on those three goals. Even with only three goals, there are going to be lots of little action steps to be taken in order to reach them. Anything that doesn’t work toward those three goals should be sidelined or put on a list for the future so that it doesn’t distract from your focus.
When you set a goal, estimate how long you actually think it’s going to take to accomplish that goal. Then build in some additional time for unexpected obstacles and inevitable delays.
Write down the list of your three projects and keep it posted somewhere you can see it and be reminded every day.
Create a plan
Write down the purpose of the project, the principles (why?) behind the project, and your vision of the outcome. Brainstorm ideas for strategies to achieve the outcome. For example, if one of your goals is to increase your client base by 20% over the next year, your strategy might include targeting a new industry and/or increasing your online marketing efforts.
List the steps required to pursue each strategy. These might include identifying industry needs, researching potential clients, or developing online content. Be as specific as possible.
Armed with all of this information, you can create an action plan. The action plan should identify specifically what you are going to do, who will be responsible for doing it, how will it be done, how you will follow up, when each item should be completed, who will supervise each action, and what mechanisms will be put in place to determine compliance.
Schedule time now
Intentions don’t create results – only actions do. But some of the most important actions never make it to your schedule because they don’t have built in deadlines or aren’t directly tied to client matters or revenue. Often these are the very actions needed to achieve your goals. To avoid this problem, once you’ve outlined the goals, strategies and action steps, take out your calendar and schedule time now to get moving on your plans.
Decide now when and how often you’re going to work on each of your goals and block the time on your calendar, keeping in mind the amount of time you’ve estimated to complete the goal. Schedule the individual action steps as appointments just as you would schedule client appointments.
Don’t leave another year to chance. Make a plan now to take action on your goals, but stay flexible. Regardless of how well you plan, obstacles may arise, the market may change or new opportunities may come to light. Keep your plan flexible by building in time to periodically review your goals and the progress of your action items and make any adjustments necessary.
(A version of this article appeared in the January 2014 issue of The Nassau Lawyer.)