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November 17, 2008

Now Is NOT the Time For Blind Faith - It is A Time For Thoughtful Action

This post is about recession and the solo practitioner. It's long.  It's important. Don't skim. Bookmark and read when you have the time to fully absorb. There is no sugar-coating.  It may annoy you. I'm a realistic optimist.  But I can't be optimistic without the reality.  This IS the reality. If you don't want to be upset, don't read.  But if you want to know what you must do in the current (and future) economic climate to build your solo practice, then it might be wise to suck it up.


For the majority, what is happening to us at this moment is a story that we will tell over and over as we discuss job losses, foreclosures, bankruptcies, inflated food costs, health care and more as we watch the 'economy' happening to our neighbors and friends and maybe even ourselves.  But the only way the story will change for us personally is if we change our approach to what we are doing.  And what most of my readers are doing is creating a business, a solo practice, in extraordinary times.  We can't wait for 'them' to fix it for us.  Our survival is no one else's job.  It is ours.  Very few of us will be able to close shop and 'get a job' simply because we didn't want to put in the effort required to succeed.  Very few of us will have other options.  So, if failure is not an option, then you must succeed.  The question then becomes, 'how?'

When a small (or 'micro' ) business succeeds it is because of the smarts, creativity and sweat equity of the entrepreneur.  A solo practitioner generally qualifies as a micro-business because they are a business of one.  And it is a business that creates a service, one that serves a very specific purpose.  It improves the client's life in a tangible way or helps 'facilitate' the client's business.

The responsible solo practitioner has an affirmative obligation to think strategically and for the long term. They must create business solutions (for themselves) capable of withstanding the next decade or so which will be brutal.  Listening to pie in the sky and 'delusional' statements like 'there is no recession' or 'American's are just whiners' will only help you to meander down a path of inaction and distraction, or worse, take you in a completely wrong direction when it comes to your professional career.

Being positive is critical. But most importantly you must be positive based upon reality. Reality, rather than wishful thinking, should be driving your business plan.  You must be willing to create a business plan based upon today's sketchy conditions and implement it with full faith it will succeed, being prepared to make changes as new challenges present themselves. This is a time when we must reactivate our long dormant survival gene and not rely on a 'hope and a prayer.'

Solo practitioners must focus on the following: (in no particular order)

  • Cash Flow: Do you have adequate cash flow for a defined period of time? (how long is personal)
  • Which of your current clients will more likely then not be unable to meet their obligations to you and what strategy or office procedures do you have in place to deal with this challenge?
  • Are you aggressively building a cash reserve for both your firm and yourself?
  • Is your marketing strategy to attract new clients effective in this economy/market?
  • Do you have adequate credit to withstand a shortfall in your income?
  • What can you do to increase loyalty from existing clients?
  • What do you need to understand about the economy and how it might impact your business that you don't understand now?
  • What cost cutting can you do today to take home more of each dollar you earn?
  • Who should you really be studying and listening to in order to maximize your opportunity and grow your business in this economy? There are way too many talking heads pitching products and services.
  • What are you doing to differentiate yourself in this competitive marketplace for legal services?
  • What are you doing to strengthen your 'brand' and introducing it to your target clients?
  • Is your current marketing/advertising bringing in the desired ROI (Return on Investment) even if it is 'time' on social media sites?
  • Are you embracing and learning new technologies and digital media that will allow you to extend and amplify your message specifically where your target audience is?
  • What can you do to get more more visible in the maddening crowd?
  • What dialogue can you create regarding this economy which will resonate with your clients?
  • How can you improve your client's experience making it unforgettable?

Now is the time for solo practitioners to go back to the basics of 'good' business planning and practice which includes great client service.  Be positive after you've taken the time to fully understand what is happening in our economy.  Be positive there is opportunity but understanding there is no shortcut and no handouts.  You have to be creative and hard-working to find and then cultivate those opportunities.  The landscape is changing and so must the solo practitioner's approach to creating and building their business.

What steps have you taken to address the changing economic climate.  Please share.

Related links of interest:

Still Fantasizing About That Big Law Job?  Snap Out of It!

When Times Get Tough, The Tough Solos Start Building Their Practices

Is Now The Perfect Time To Start Your Solo Practice?

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

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Larry Brown

Nice post. My law practice professor is also good at telling it like it "really" is for solos out there. In the long run posts like this will garner faithful readers. The "feel good" reads are nice until reality hits. Ignorance is bliss until reality squashes it like a bug.

Susan Cartier Liebel

@Larry - I've never been one to hide my head in the sand while my butt is exposed. I'm not going to do it now on my blog, either.

Thanks for realizing I will only call it like I see it :-)

Ignacio Alfaro

Living and working in a small country (Costa Rica) and as solo practitioner in the real estate law field, we (my partner and I) have focused on three things:
1.- Networking: Devote more time to grow these nets to sow the seeds that will grow when the money starts flowing again. Sonner or later americans and canadians wil come back to buy and sell Real Estate. And Costa Ricans will do so again.
2.- Cut expenses, of course.
3.- Organize and lead events (seminars, meetings, bussiness meals...) to discuss and set new ideas among our clients. If they get back to bussiness again, we do so also. And the fastest the best for all of us.

Briefly: Search for new clients; and with the old clients, help them to get back on track ASAP.

Ron Phillips

Nice post; brilliant. There is no one in the world who gives a damn about your well being as much as you do (except maybe your Mom).

You brought up some really good bullet points to focus on. Taking responsibility is wonderfully liberating.

Joseph Dang

As someone who just launched their blog (and soon to officially launch a solo practice) I read each and every one of these posts and soak it all up. I have a plan in place to keep my overhead to an absolute minimum.

Non business expenses are manageable as well. Now I just need clients. :D

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