Strategic planning is hard. It is so much easier to talk about improving your client selection skills or to hope that a budget appears on your desk than to spend the time thinking strategically about how to improve your law practice. The reality is that no one can manage your practice but you. However, if you rethink strategic planning, perhaps you can do some before the end of the year.
Most of us think about starting a strategy session outside of the office, preferably poolside in a resort location. While that sounds fun, it isn’t going to happen between now and December 31. So how about if you walk down the hall to your conference room to escape the phone and email and devote a few hours to thinking about your business.
A popular exercise as part of strategic planning is a SWOT analysis. Why not give it a try on your own? Get out a white board, a yellow pad, or your laptop. Start by listing your strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps resolving client problems is your strength and getting new clients in the door is your weakness. This is actually a good problem to have. Client referrals are a great source of revenue for many lawyers and, if you are successful at resolving their problems, they are probably willing to refer work to you. You just need to make sure that you ask them to do this. It may seem difficult at first, but the more you practice, the easier it will get. Continue through identifying strengths and weaknesses until you feel you have identified enough items to set goals around.
The next two pieces of the SWOT analysis are to identify opportunities and threats. What is getting in the way of having a successful practice or taking your practice to the next level? Write the threats down and think through solutions. Unfortunately, it is often easier to identify threats. Don’t get bogged down and don’t get discouraged. It’s helpful to know what your challenges are, this can help you identify goals to work towards.
As you begin listing opportunities, don’t forget to include current clients and referral sources. Who’s on the list? Other attorneys, your banker, your CPA, other professionals, your clients, your friends, people you do business with, people you went to school with, those in your neighborhood, your faith group. Get the idea?
Look at your calendar and start setting up breakfast, lunch, coffee or telephone calls to talk to these people and formalize the referral relationship. Perhaps you do it by asking them what their target client looks like so you can offer referrals to them. Don’t look at your referral list as a one-way meal ticket. The best way to get something is to give something. Share information. If you’ve used a great vendor, pass along that information. If you’ve found a wonderful web resource or a great article, send it along.
After going through the SWOT analysis, begin to identify some strategic objectives and set some tactical goals that will allow you to meet those objectives. For the purpose of the exercise, feel free to have three to five strategic objectives and dozens of goals.
You have arrived at the most important part of the exercise. Look at the strategies and decide how to prioritize for the coming year. At this point, you have to have a real conversation with yourself about what you can accomplish. You should keep the number of strategic objectives between one and three, with about three to five tactical goals for each objective. Don’t get rid of the remainder, as you succeed in meeting your goals, these leftover goals are added to your strategic plan for next year.
Now that the goals are identified, you have to fit them into your budget and establish time frames when the goals should be reached. You can’t reach out to 50 referral sources in January. Decide on a realistic plan, put it on your calendar and be accountable to yourself.
I’m not suggesting that strategic planning is painless. However, the end of the year is a great time to strategize about ways to improve your law practice.
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800.662.8843.