By Philip J. Kavesh, J.D., LL.M. (Taxation), CFP®, ChFC, California State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Law
As your business winds down near year-end (unlike 2012, when everyone was doing last-minute wealth transfer planning because of anticipated changes in the estate tax laws), it’s a good time to work on your business – – rather than in your business, as we practitioners are often trapped doing throughout the year.
Hopefully, this article will serve as a brief checklist of action steps you can take now to assure a more effective, profitable and enjoyable 2014. By the way, this checklist is based upon my own experience in growing and managing a successful practice over the past 32 years – – and it’s the one I’ll be using myself at the end of this year!
Year-End Practice Building Tip #1: Set Aside One Day (Soon) for “Big Picture” Planning.
A good time to do this may be on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend or the second half of December, when holidays tend to slow down business. You need to make sure that this day is set aside for you alone to sit with your thoughts without any interruptions of any kind. This may mean taking this meeting with yourself out of the office, and even out of your home, perhaps to a hotel or another place where you may quietly retreat. You’ll want to lay out an “end goal” for your practice, in terms of what you would like it to look like within the next five to ten years, so you can create an architectural plan to build toward. Only once you have the big picture plan should you then start to dive down into further levels of detail. Often times, too much detail at first can actually interfere with your big picture planning. Below, I’ve set aside a number of specific topics or issues or practice challenges that you will want to address once you’ve got the “big picture”.
Year-End Practice Building Tip #2: Create Your Dream Organizational Chart.
This is the first of several what I call “infrastructure” building steps that you must take if you want your practice to grow efficiently, rather than haphazardly. In order to get yourself to your five or ten year goal (or your ultimate exit strategy), you should look ahead as to what staff or associates you will need to hire or which existing people you’ll want to move into the appropriate roles within your firm’s organizational chart. At first, the chart may only include you, a paralegal, an executive assistant and/or an associate attorney – – but that’s okay, you’ve got to start building from the ground floor up. Below are some sample organizational charts that may give you an idea (one is of my law firm and another is a little simpler model to use).
MY LAW FIRM’s COMPANY ORGANIZATIONAL CHART
SIMPLER COMPANY ORGANIZATIONAL CHART
(By the way, if you do decide that you want to hire an associate attorney, be sure to check out our previous newsletter article, “Six Big Mistakes When Choosing an Associate Attorney”. You may also be interested in our detailed 90-minute On-Demand Program, “How to Successfully Hire, Train, Manage & Keep Associate Attorneys”.)
Year-End Practice Building Tip #3: Conduct Employee Surveys.
The end of the year is a great time for your staff and associate attorneys to also take a look back at what has transpired this year and what they would like to improve or build in your firm. You will be surprised how, once you empower your staff and associates to participate in the practice-building process, they will respond with numerous constructive ideas. In this survey, you will want your staff and attorneys to indicate what’s working in the firm and what isn’t, both for them and for the firm as a whole. And, most importantly, you will want them to provide you any specific recommendations that they may have to fix any of the problems that they identify. The employee survey is a great way to give your employees the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns, particularly for firms that might have some communication gaps amongst the employees and/or management (which can often be the case with firms who have members of the same family or close friends working together). You may incentivize your peoples’ participation by offering a special bonus to the top three practice-building ideas.
Year-End Practice Building Tip #4: Further Revise Your “Big Picture” Plan After Receipt of Employee Surveys.
The interesting process here is to see how your staff and associates view your firm and its direction as compared to the blueprint you established at your one-day planning retreat. You will want to consolidate their recommendations, as appropriate, into your big picture plan. You can now start building the implementation details necessary for carrying out your plan.
Year-End Practice Building Tip #5: Establish a Marketing Plan for the Year.
This should be your first implementation detail planning. It is important, of course, to have a plan or target for your marketing, otherwise you can’t “aim the arrow” and achieve your revenue goals. Unfortunately, many people don’t give enough lead time when planning their marketing, so the details can be done properly and you can achieve the desired results. There’s a lag time, for example, for any seminar marketing. That’s true whether you do “retail” seminars to the public (or to your own clients) or “wholesale” seminars such as continuing education presentations to CPAs, financial advisors or other potential referral sources (or even private seminars to groups, clubs and organizations, which are probably already filling up their meeting schedules for next year). There’s also a lag time for any print marketing material, such as brochures, handouts, or print direct mail marketing pieces. As discussed in our August newsletter, approaching your own clients that haven’t been in to review their estate plan in a while is a great place to start your marketing plan. However, like with seminar marketing, even putting together the necessary systems and procedures to successfully target your existing clients will take some lag time. There’s time to develop any direct mail or e-mail materials, telephone scripts, training your staff to call the clients and, if you decide to present a Client Review Seminar, you will need time to prepare and market that seminar. Even if you only plan to do referral-based marketing, you need to start lining up meetings or phone calls with key referral sources (or maybe plan a seminar exclusively for their clients!).
Year-End Practice Building Tip #6: Schedule Your Firm’s January “Kick-Off” Meeting.
Each year, on the first Monday that my firm returns back to work from the New Year holiday, I hold a “Kick-Off” Meeting at lunch with all members of the firm. We bring in a nice meal from a favorite local restaurant, giving about 15-20 minutes for everyone to eat and chat, and then I present a 30-40 minute formal PowerPoint presentation of the goals for the firm in the new year. This is extremely valuable, in order to get everyone on board with your vision and the implementation steps you will also chart out. (Note: I normally review this presentation with my key people/managers first to make sure that they’re in sync with me before I present it to the whole firm.) During your “Kick-Off” presentation, you will want to enthusiastically build to a close so that people become excited and motivated about pursuing the firm’s stated goals. (I’ll have more for you on how to conduct this “Kick-Off” Meeting in our next newsletter, including a detailed outline of what to cover and how. For now, just be sure it’s on the calendar and everyone understands that it’s mandatory to attend!)
Year-End Practice Building Tip #7: Schedule Employee Review Meetings Shortly After the January “Kick-Off” Meeting.
These meetings should discuss in further detail each individual’s role in implementing and achieving the goals for the firm, as well as his or her compensation, bonuses or other rewards (such as promotion). These meetings should go over the specific duties of each individual (even if they will stay relatively the same as before) and the specific action items that each person will be expected to achieve during the first half of the year, prior to their mid-year review (which you should schedule and hold at the beginning of July).
Year-End Practice Building Tip #8: Block Out Your Own Time for What Needs to Get Done.
You need to start blocking your calendar in a way to manage your time more effectively and there’s no better opportunity to do that than before you even begin next year. For example, if you were to see my calendar “template”, you would notice that I have definite times that I allocate to specific tasks and I maintain these blocks of times at all cost! You will need to keep in mind the goals that you have set for the new year in terms of projects and demands on your own time. You then need to carve out specific days on your calendar, every month, for the different tasks that help you meet your goals, including but not limited to: marketing, meetings with clients, working on client documents, “R&D” (adding new planning and services to your practice, such as The IRA Inheritance Trust®, The Personal Asset TrustSM, Flexible Irrevocable Trust, Pet Trusts and Same-Sex Couple Planning), updating your legal forms, staff meetings and/or trainings, attending continuing education programs, and doing self-study CE programs. You also need to calendar and keep inviolable at least one day every week as an “off” day where you absolutely DO NOT WORK! You need a “Sabbath” day to get your mind completely out of work mode and to take care of yourself physically, energetically and mentally. You also need to block on your calendar times for periodic retreats (I like to block a 4-day weekend once a quarter) as well as one or two good vacations each year (of a minimum of 7-10 days, so you really get a break!).
By taking the time and focus to calendar and proceed with these steps right now, before the end of the year, you will help ensure for you (and everyone else in both your firm and your personal life) a successful start to 2014!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Attorney Philip J. Kavesh is the principal of one of the largest estate planning firms in California – – Kavesh, Minor and Otis – – now in its 33rd year of business. He is also the President of The Ultimate Estate Planner, Inc., which provides a variety of training, marketing and practice-building products and services for estate planning professionals. If you would like more information or have a question for him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-866-754-6477.