Hey lawyers! Time for your mid-year business plan check-up.

July 16, 2013

Canada Day has been and gone and July 4th is history. You’ve had cake and BBQ so now it’s time for your mid-year business plan check-up.

Whether your law firm produces a firm, practice, industry or individual business plan (or all four!), the key to successful business development is to refer to your plan often and then do something with it. If your business plan is prepared in the last quarter of the year, is finalized in the first month of the next, and then sits in a folder until the process starts again in the fall … you’re doing it wrong!

We’ve put together a 5 point plan for you to use to ensure that your business planning is still on the right track at the halfway point of the year.

5 Point Plan for Mid-Year Business Planning Check-Up

Before you start, make sure that you are going into this with your eyes wide open and with a frank and honest approach. If you can’t admit to yourself that something in the market, or within your own firm, will influence your business (good or bad) then you won’t make the adjustments you need to ensure your plans stay on track.

1. Current Market Position – Do you know where you stand?

Looking at your a) Clients, b) Services and c) People, what’s changed in the past six months? Have these changes affected your firm, practice or clients? Update your SWOT analysis to see where you stand.

  • Strengths (Internal) – e.g. Has a new partner joined the firm bringing with them a client you’ve been unable to penetrate in the past? Has a new paralegal joined enabling you to add more value to your clients?
  • Weaknesses (Internal) – e.g. Has the associate you were grooming left and joined a competitor? Has the CRM system scheduled for implementation in the first quarter been pushed back to next year?
  • Opportunities (External) – e.g. Is there discontent at competitor firms that may lead to defections? Has a potential client expressed concern about the service they receive from a competitor?
  • Threats (External) – e.g. Has that merger no-one ever thought would happen happened? Has a new player come to town with more marketing and business development resources and they’re knocking on your client’s door? Did the flood in Calgary impact your client’s project so hard that it’s on hold and so are your fees?

2. Clients – Are you making inroads in all the right places?

When you look at the clients you listed in your business plan as targets for either new or expanded business this year, what do you see? A list of clients you’ve been having conversations with about how you can assist them? Or is it more like a list of clients that aren’t returning your calls or opening your e-mail newsletters? We often go into business planning wearing a pair of rose coloured glasses thinking that THIS is the year that you’ll break into that dream target or get the bet the bank litigation matter from an employment law client.

If by July, the traction isn’t there, it doesn’t mean you should give up but it may mean you should refocus your energies on a different way into the client. You should also ensure that you allocate resources to a client you hadn’t even targeted at the beginning of the year who has unexpectedly turned into a hot prospect for a mandate.

We all know that sometimes it can take years to get work with a key client but in order to be successful you need a balance of clients in your business plan.

3. Team – Do you have the right mix for your needs?

Looking at your team can often be the hardest part of any business plan. A plan should be shared within the group and as such, this area is often smoothed over so as to not ruffle feathers or hurt feelings. If you need to keep this section to just the team managing the plan, so be it, but make sure it is completed thoroughly and honestly.

By the mid-point in the year, there will have been changes in the team, whether it be a partner leaving or a new Legal Assistant joining the group. Now is a good time to see if there are gaps, or excess, in your team. Legal recruiting can be notoriously slow so now’s a good time to start planning for the people you’ll need on your team next year. On the other hand, if there is excess capacity on your team, work with other practices to fill their needs with your excess hours. It’s better for the firm, and the individual, to be at full capacity while your practice makes the staffing adjustments it may need.

4. Marketing Activities – Do you know your ROI?

Take a look at the marketing efforts you committed to at the beginning of the year. Did you say you would religiously put out a client newsletter every month, or put together a well-thought out, and realistic, media plan with your marketing group? Have you done it? Don’t worry if you haven’t. September always brings back to school and a clean slate. You can use the “quiet time of the summer” to work on the foundations of the initiatives you have yet to start and be ready to kick them off after Labour Day.

In addition, ask your marketing team to let you know the return on investment (ROI) on the marketing activities you’ve spent money and time on to date. They may not be able to give you an exact dollar number but they should be able to give you other data such as web and e-marketing analytics to let you know what’s working and what’s not. Now is the time to try Approach B to see if you can improve those stats.

Finally, make an immediate impact on your marketing plan by writing some content for your website such as client success stories or pro-bono activity you’ve worked on. Freshening up your website, and your bio, can help drive interest from your clients and Google!

5. Client Development Activities – Have you done your follow-ups?

Whether you’ve successfully pulled off a large client reception or finally got in the door for a client pitch, one activity that should never be pushed to the bottom of your list is your client development related follow-ups.

If you promised a client an article on a topic of interest at the reception, did you send it to him in a timely manner? If not, do it now. It’s better to do it late, with a mea culpa, than for the client to think you forgot him. Take the opportunity to send him any updated information you may have on the matter in addition to the article.

Did you follow-up with the client after your pitch meeting to see if she had any questions or feedback? Even if you didn’t receive the mandate, the client will appreciate your reaching out and may even reward you with some valuable information or the shot at another piece of business.

Take my advice, if you do nothing else this summer, dig out those lists and scraps of paper on which your client development related follow-ups are written and complete them. Start the new school year with a fresh start – just like you did when you were a kid!

Lynn Fitzpatrick Foley
Fitzpatrick Foley

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