Most successful businesses, including law firms, typically have a well-honed business strategy to guide them. Many business owners are under the impression that as long as their strategy is good, the business will automatically be successful. If only it were that simple.
Quite simply, a good business strategy by itself is no guarantee for success. Several other dimensions must work together in concert with the strategy to lift a practice to the next level and distinguish it from the rest of the herd.
"Elements such as the firm's mission statement, vision, esprit de corps and commitment to client satisfaction all have an impact on the bottom line and ultimately, a firm's success," according to Janice P. Brown, owner/principal of Brown Law Group in downtown San Diego, which specializes in business litigation and employment law." In a successful practice, things like attitudes and work ethic typically trickle down from the top. If the principal of the firm sets the proper example, the rest of the firm is likely to follow."
Brown says successful firms often have a clearly defined vision that shapes their practice and identifies where they ultimately want to be. That vision should be expressed in the form of the firm's mission statement.
"A mission statement should be a vision for the firm that reflects the fundamental beliefs staff members and principals can rally around," Brown explained. "Core concepts like excellence, professionalism and teamwork are ones that make people feel positive about their work environment, which helps contribute to profitability and success."
Once the firm's vision has been determined, there must be objectives established to support and bring that vision to fruition. These include target goals and milestones that must be met along the way, as well as a time frame for meeting these achievements.
Brown adds that knowing where a firm wants to be, and by when, is vital; but more importantly, it also has to determine how it will get there.
"Successful firms have a carefully devised strategy that maps out the route they will follow to reach their milestones within the designated time frame," Brown said. "That strategy carries them to their destination, which is, in essence, the firm's vision. Successful execution of the business strategy eventually brings the firm full circle, returning to the point where they began -- with the end result in mind. Envisioning where it wants to be is one of the most important considerations when goal setting for business, or any other aspect of life, for that matter."
And one of the key components of any business strategy, Brown says, is effective marketing. Having the most successful and experienced attorneys on staff and a specialized focus for the firm won't necessarily guarantee success if current and prospective clients don't know who you are and what you do.
"Firms can spend a lot of time and money on developing elaborate marketing plans," Brown said, "But then other priorities take precedence and the plan just sits on the shelf gathering dust. An effective marketing plan doesn't have to be complex, as long as it is manageable and the goals are realistic and attainable."
As a first step, Brown recommends identifying the services or specialties you want to market and the niche you want to fill. The objective here is to have prospective clients associate you and your firm with a specialized type of service or expertise.
After you've identified the services you want to market, determine the types of clients you want to attract and then go after more like them. A firm that wants to hit its target must know where to aim. So tailor your messages, and the various mediums used to communicate with them, accordingly.
Next, determine what you can add to your existing palette of services so that prospective clients will choose your firm over others. Explore how you can provide your firm's services more efficiently and effectively so that the client benefits from less risk and added value.
Brown provides an example of how simply that can be accomplished.
"A lawyer friend had a problem with the dealership that services her car," she said. "She lost an hour in the morning bringing the car in for service, and another hour in the afternoon retrieving it. She explained the situation to the manager, whose simple solution was to send someone to pick up and deliver the car in the future. With that, he added value to his service at little cost and added two billable hours to her day. That's a win-win."
Brown also suggests taking time to identify how your firm's services differ from competitors. She says that positive differences are the firm's competitive advantages and the negative differences are its competitive disadvantages. These differences should be identified so that the firm can become aware of its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its opportunities and threats -- part of a valuable marketing exercise called a SWOT analysis. Then it should take appropriate actions to maximize strengths and opportunities and minimize weaknesses and threats.
Building a successful law firm also means making sure those who want to avail themselves of your services can contact you with ease. Direct dial and toll-free phone numbers, never-busy fax machines, a good voice mail system, pagers and responsive e-mail protocol are all effective methods of ensuring good communications with clients and prospects.
The more prospective clients know about your firm and what you offer, the more likely they are to hire to you, so educate them. You can write newspaper articles and appear in television interviews on topics related to your field. You can use paid advertising and direct mail to reach clients and spread your message. Free seminars and roundtables are other effective methods, as is a monthly or quarterly newsletter. And in today's technologically sophisticated world, don't forget the ever-important Web site.
Success depends on many variables -- attracting new clients, retaining the ones you have, increasing referrals, strengthening client loyalty and building your image as highly experienced professionals and knowledgeable experts. A clear vision of goals and objectives, and a well-devised strategy to reach them, are the keystones that will pave the firm's road to success.
Barrett is a staff writer at Beck Ellman Heald agency.