Did you know that many business owners do not have a business plan? The complexities and nuances that go into building a firm and business planning in general are more important than you might think. In this episode of the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast, executive coach and business consultant, Kathy D’Agostino, shares her knowledge and 25 years of experience to help you grow and invest in your business.
Whether or not you’ve prepared a basic business plan that you revisit once a year or you have not taken the time to plan yet, this episode will take actionable and relatively quick steps to hone in on your mission, values and vision.
In this episode we discuss:
- Key components of a business plan
- Mission statement and Values – the roadmap to get us there
- Why personal values and business values are not dissimilar
- Values – what matters to you
- Generic and true values by industry
- SWOT analysis – what is it?
- Pre-work for SWOT analysis
- Frugal, agile, efficiency – integrating these components in business in light of COVID
- Finding out what others think about you … by asking!
- What stands out about me as a professional?
- What can I do to have a stronger brand?
- Internal and external threats
- Narrowing down the goals – what needs to be tracked
- Deciding what to measure
- The downside of chasing too many squirrels
- How to derail your distractions
Allison Williams: [00:00:04] All right, welcome, Kathy D'Agostino to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:00:12] Thank you, Allison. Nice to be here.
Allison Williams: [00:00:14] All right. So I'm really excited to talk to you today because we're talking about one of these topics that I think a lot of people have heard about and have some conception of what it is, but don't really understand all of the nuances and have a lot of, I think it's going to be really valuable for the audience. So we're talking about business planning. And in today's day and age, a lot of law firm owners feel hesitancy about owning this. But many of us, I'd say most of us don't have a business plan. So first, let's talk about what is a business plan and what are some of the key components that you say need to be in a appropriately written business plan?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:00:53] So absolutely true. Most business owners, whether their law firms are regulars, you know, small business owners don't have a business plan. And the other ones that do, do it at the end of the year or the beginning of the year, put it in a drawer. And then at the end of the year, or the next cycle, they say, oh, I should look at that, update it and put it back into the drawer. So this is really an actionable one. This is... it's a quick one. It's not. People often say they don't want to do it because it can take too long. This is really a quick and a very practical and actionable one. So I'm excited to share with you a couple of the things that we want to talk about today is that mission and values, or vision and values. You know, so many people will say, I'll worry about that later. And I say, if you don't worry about that upfront, you might not see your business later. Not that that's the only one. But that's really valuable. And why. We'll talk about that in a few minutes. Now, we're gonna do this quick SWOT Plan, and that's just really about strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Talk about a little bit internal and both external, because a lot of businesses fail from the inside, not just the outside. We're going to set some goals, but in a little different way than just, you know, lofty goals. We're going to really look at it in a deeper dive. Brainstorm some tactics to get there. So it's not just about setting these goals, it's about looking at it in a very organic way. And then we're gonna refine that list and really develop an action plan. And most important, accountability for that. Because like I said, that business plan that goes in the drawer, it's not accountability. It's just an exercise that you wasted time on. So this, I want this to be truly something you could walk away, something with today and really make it valuable in your business.
Allison Williams: [00:02:35] All right. So we're going to take that piece by piece, though. I love the fact that you started with the very first thing you mentioned with Mission and Vision, because I think a lot of people have a conception of what it is to have a mission statement or have a vision for the firm. But a lot of people put that in writing. And this is a little aside. You know, I will tell the audience that you and I know each other because I had the pleasure of having you come into my law firm because I always own my mistakes. I started my business and just started hustling and figured, you know, people know what I stand for. It's pretty evident. I stand for everything that I talk about all the time. And I was very blessed that my team actually had picked up on a lot of it. But there's a value that you helped us walk through with a very specific exercise about getting that mission statement out there. So let's talk through what those components are. The mission statement and a vision statement and why they're so critical to a business plan for law firms.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:03:29] Well, you know, I just call it really the road map that gets us there. You know, all of these components, the vision, values, mission. You know, you don't have to have all of it. But I think you have to really be clear about what it is that you do want. And there's some proscribed ways. I mean, for you, when we worked with you and your team, it was really about looking and identifying your personal values and then really saying what those values align with, what the organization is. And I and I really don't believe that people have personal values that are very much different than their business values. I for myself, I see them as one. And and I think for most people, they you know, that's true for them. So, you know, I'm going to talk about the mission, vision, values. What I want to just chat. But real quickly is a little bit addressing what you said earlier. It's really developing this quick business plan. Right. And this is about looking at why you do what you do to address what you were saying, your mission. It's about what matters to you. Those are your values. And we could talk about a few of those. And then most importantly, if you do that, where do you want to go? And so there's an old saying that, you know, if you don't have it, if you don't know where you want to go, that any road will get you there.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:04:38] So this is about having a plan, especially with COVID. We've all seen that the best laid plans, if we did have them, had to change a little bit. So we have to be flexible about it, too. But not having one will not get you very far. And so this is really about understanding those, in addition to that, the strengths, the weaknesses and then setting the goals. So it's this road map that helps you get closer to where you want to go. And I'm glad you mentioned your own personal experience with this Allison, because it's so absolutely true for everybody. So the values I mean, I can give you a couple ideas about what those look like. And people really have to do that in self-examination. Oftentimes, people want to do the Chinese menu. Like, I'll take two of the Zappos values and we'll take a few Johnson and Johnson and we'll put it all together and be good to go. Well, that's good. But, you know, it's not real. It's not authentic. And people, you can't align behaviors to it. So, you know, some of the things like collaboration isn't really important to you.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:05:35] Trust. Is it about integrity? Every bank has integrity as a core value. I think that's a good thing. But I sort of think that if they don't have that they probably ought not to be in business. So they're just sort of things that are generic and true to certain industries, but very personal as well. Whether we believe in, you know, putting people first or, you know, whatever that is, it could come from a place of service. So looking at that, the mission is really why we do what we do. I think everybody knows of Simon Sinek The Why. You know, he talks about the story about Apple. Do do they make computers or do they make beautiful products that people want to spend time with. Right. So it's a difference about how do we really put some wording to that? And it's really not fluffy. It's not about just you know, I know lawyers are very left brain and want to be very practical, but really taking this time to really do a little bit of self reflection, especially during COVID, when we all had our backs pushed against the wall. So really, what's valuable to what means something? Why do you do? I think everybody has to look at their business and say, why do I do what I do?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:06:37] And do I have to maybe do it differently? And then that, that vision is really that road map. How do we get there when we align with that? And everybody we hire really has to have that aligned with that. And we can speak to them during those interviews. But even our employees all the time, we have to keep bringing it up. I think today when we talk about anti-racism and we talk about all these other issues are coming up. When an organization has values, they always know what, what's expected of them. So just knowing what's expected of people and how to act, they're very well aware when they've stepped outside that line. So whatever those values are, I think it's really important to always keep them top of mind awareness.
Allison Williams: [00:07:17] Yes. So you've given us a lot there to think about, Kathy, especially when you talk about this idea of having personal values and business values being largely the same. But at the same time, not necessarily knowing what your values, quote unquote are, because I think a lot of times people do like to choose what sounds good as a value. I will again, I use myself as an example. I'm kind of the only test dummy that I know is always available for fodder for thought. But, you know, one of the things that that I personally find is that I like having an atmosphere where people work well together. But me personally, I don't value collaboration. I like to work with people kind of in, in our own lives. Like, I want my lead and I want you to have your lead and I want you to be the expert in your lane and I want you out of my lane. And there are other people that very much like to kind of cross pollinate. And we put it all together in a pot. It's our soup. We both own it. We both created and they're just different work styles. And if you don't appreciate who you are and you don't own who you are, you can oftentimes try to create what sounds good on paper. It sounds good to say we like to collaborate. Or it sounds good to say we're a homogenize team as opposed to a series of individuals. But that may not be authentically who you are. And then you hire people that just don't fit with what you're trying to create in your business.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:08:42] Absolutely choke. And what you said is really valuable because the more you learn about your own and recognize your own, I have to be in my lane. I like other people to be experts, and like, or whatever that is, or whether it's a cross pollination. Knowing that about yourself helps you understand that about the people. So this way we don't have to make somebody else wrong. And that's right. We can all understand that we're right in our own way of being wired. But, you know, how do we. And how can we work best together recognizing those differences? And I think that probably speaks mounds in the world today, not just in business.
Allison Williams: [00:09:16] Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, you also talked about hiring people and hiring people who fit with your company. And one of the things that we talk about a lot at the Thrive Tribe Tactics, which is one of our signature retreats at Law Firm Mentor is the idea that you're hiring for aptitude, attitude. But almost invariably, lawyers focus on the aptitude and everything else becomes, I don't care as long as the person can bang out that great motion or make those great arguments. And the reality is companies fall apart because of lack of fit. You can always train up that aptitude. If a person doesn't fit with who you are, there's going to be friction and it's just going to be miserable to be in your workplace.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:09:54] We see those called toxic cultures. Right. We're trying to you know, people are trying to turn, you know, put round pieces into square puzzles. It doesn't work, right? Yeah. So this is that self-assessment that you talked about. And I think that that really brings us into what is SWOT So how businesses can start looking at the SWOT process. So is it OK if we head over there now and talk about that process as well?
Allison Williams: [00:10:18] Yes, absolutely. And, you know, you mentioned it earlier. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. But can you first globally define for us what a SWOT Analysis is? I know what it stands for. But what if somebody is saying I need to, I want to embark upon a SWOT Analysis? How would you define that for a business owner?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:10:38] Well, I would tell them that in this pandemic, it's super important to do it. And there's a little bit of pre work that I'm going to talk about first before we actually get to the SWOT analysis. So I'm going to share with us a natural process for doing it, because that's oftentimes people say, OK, like, how do I really think about that, you know, objectively? Right. How can I look at the 360 degree view when I'm always in it right away? I mean, all the time, right. I liken that to the goldfish. It's in the water or, you know, they swim to run all day long. You take them out, he goes, you know, you say, what's it feel like in there? Goes, I don't know, just put me back. It's what I know, right. It's hard to come outside that and look at that objectively. So I'm going to give you a process for doing that. Just a little bit of an overview about this. What is this, a pandemic? It couldn't be a better time to do this. I know we have a lot on our plate, but really looking at our businesses with a whole new set of eyes, it's really important. We have to be agile. This is a black swan time in the world. You know, we don't have to boil every ocean, but we do need to figure out the one that we're swimming in. Right. We have to be able to look at that. So, you know, crisis is just a good time for businesses to do that. We've got to look at, many, for many reasons. We've got to be frugal. We've got to be agile. We've got to be efficient. We've got to look at our people and assess that. So it's a this is a really good time to do it.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:12:00] I've had, let me let me think how I put this. The SWOT analysis is always about giving us forward motion, right. About looking at how to do this and then putting it in forward motion. But before we do that, looking at some ways of doing it in a very, very process oriented way. So let's talk about that. So here is a pre work to do that. It's hard to do it on your own. So you need some help with this? I always suggest looking, asking five customers or clients that you're, you know, you feel very comfortable with. You feel pretty confident that, you know, there'll be really honest with you. And then five people that know you really well. Those could be an employee or they could be a close friend or they could be someone that you know, that you just trust. So I always think that that's one of the best ways to do that. So when we get five people, we look at them and we ask them a couple of questions. Right. And this is the way we can start identifying our strengths. All four of them are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. So we get these five people lined up, right? The customer, the client, whatever you call them, and then your employees, your peers or other trusted advisor, if you have maybe a mentor. And then we want to look at it from the standpoint of asking them a couple questions. And so the questions that we want to look at are, I mean, could draw things down or they're gonna get the, they're going to get the recap after this. So. Right. So that we can... Do they get a printed copy of this Allison or just a recap,
Allison Williams: [00:13:30] If you have that as a resource, we can absolutely provide that to our audience so that everybody can get a copy of that. So I think that would be very helpful.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:13:37] Ok, I can get that out to you later on. OK. So what we want to do is think of those five people and then we ask them, you know, they've had obviously experiences with you and say you want to ask them, what are three adjectives that come to mind when, you know, when you think of my business and think of me first.
Allison Williams: [00:13:52] Oh, yikes! Right?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:13:54] I know. A little scary stuff, but it's not as bad as it seems. Right? So what are some ideas? You know, like you're you know, you're an expert in what you do or, you know, you're great at follow up or you always wrap up loose ends. You deliver results. Right. You never disappoint us. So you want to ask those people and you might get difference for that. You know, your colleagues or your peers versus for your clients. It's interesting to really compile this list. So you can see doing this alone would be hard. So we're trying to look, kind of like management by walking around, only this is like finding out things by asking. Right?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:14:34] So this is an important question. What are three adjectives that don't come to mind? So you might see the first one lends itself to the strengths. The second one doesn't necessarily mean weaknesses, but it's a little bit more revealing. It gives us a little different perspective. So somebody might say, well, you're always late. I don't think of punctuality when I think of you. Or, you know, you're very detailed oriented. I don't think of, like, fast moving when I think of you, you know. Too deep, you know, procrastinator, like, you know, you have to research things to get. So things like that, what don't come to mind. So that's very, very challenging, too. And then you can just ask them right out. What do you see as my, what do you see as one or two of my strengths? So, you know, Allison, I will not put you on the spot. But when you think about it that way, how does it feel to you to to think about asking people those kinds of questions is probably not something we do every day.
Allison Williams: [00:15:35] Well, it isn't. But, you know, one of the things that I have gotten a lot better about, especially after I became a business coach, was to really ask people what their experience of something is, because a lot of times if you ask people to say, what didn't you like or what was wrong? People are very resistant to give negative feedback even when they had a negative experience. But if you ask them, what about this experience, could be better for you. When you characterize it in a certain way, you find that people will give you things even if it wasn't a negative for them. But you can improve upon. And I find that doing that more and more really gets you into the habit of receiving negative feedback so that you can evolve and get better and you can do that much faster when you have other people's perspective rather than your own suppositions or your own assumptions about what you might be doing right or wrong.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:16:24] Yeah. People avoid feedback in general, right? I mean, when you don't like it, when you do one on one with an employee, you know, they're always like, oh, it's going to be negative. Or, you know, giving feedback is hard for us. And I'm hearing a lot of firms and businesses say giving it remotely is even more difficult than giving it in person. So that's really important. And thank you for sharing that, because that's true. You know, if you can ask it in a way, change up the question. Right? If it doesn't work one way. Like, the whole point is change up the question. So you're just seeing what. So we're asking for things in different ways. So when we said directly the strengths and then things like what stands out and is unique about me as a professional or as a professional, as a lawyer, as an attorney, as you know. You know, however you want to position that, but you think about it that way. So people might say something about your ethics, right? Like, that's really what stands out most about you. Or, you know, your level of integrity. I know you. If you have bad news, you're going to deliver it anyhow. And I know that, you know, you're always direct about that. And people might say, you know, it's really your passion because we know you care about, you know, your client so much. So those types of things, I mean, I'm just making it up, it's not about you personally, but those are things that, you know...
Allison Williams: [00:17:37] Someday that might...
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:17:40] I can see some of those... I think those kind of tie in kinda well. And then the ones, as you mentioned, what's the one thing that I can improve to have a stronger brand or to have a stronger whatever it is, it's important to you. If it's the brand or, you know, firm or my company or whatever, or what's the thing about me? What's the one thing that would make me a little stronger? So somebody might say, well, you know, you should speak more often. You're really kind of, you know, like you say, a lot of people like to be the back office people, sometimes attorneys. We don't like to be the networker or, you know, while we never see you post anything on social media that's really so valuable is when we hear you talk, you know, we would be great if you could get that out there. So it can be something that's not a negative or criticism, but it can be something that could really help you identify a little differently than you might see yourself. So how do those things sound as a plan before you actually get to these, you know, thinking about what your own strengths and weaknesses and opportunities and threats might be?
Allison Williams: [00:18:41] Well, they're definitely positive points, because if somebody is giving you that feedback from the outside that they're saying, you know, I think you could be stronger if you did this, then, you know, many times you'll get feedback from people. And it's very easy to dismiss it when you are just kind of receiving it in the course of the ordinary course of business. But when you stop and ask for feedback and prepare yourself to receive it and say whatever it is, I'm not going to react to it. I'm not going to become emotionally involved in it. I'm going to look at it objectively and see how I can evolve my business. You find so many more opportunities to create in the space of areas where you thought either it wasn't an opportunity or perhaps it was just something that you never gave thought to.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:19:22] Yeah. So those are actually really valid points. And so just looking at that and then taking that list and being able to say, you know what fits with me? I mean, anything that becomes a pattern, obviously very, you know, very, pay very much attention to that and you can reject it or not. Reject it or you can see, you know, from people's perspective. But I think. Thank them for that. Thank them for their advice and for sharing that with them. And then really look at those as the strength that I think pretty much would identify your strengths and your weaknesses from those. So then you can be a little more objective and create your list. And so seeing, for your business. And how did those fit? Right. So I know we have a limited time, so I want to move on to the opportunities that we can see. Now, I'm going to speak a little bit more about law firms in this case and kind of get a little bit deeper dive here, because the way lawyers have done business has changed a lot. Do you agree? With the pandemic?
Allison Williams: [00:20:18] Yeah.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:20:19] So I had a couple law firms talk to me about, what we used to go to court. We would go there on three cases and we would bill each client for the travel time, there and back and then the time we spent there. So we can't do that anymore. We're showing up on Zoom. We get a certain slotted time. It's 15 minutes and that's all it is. And now, how do I survive with that? Right. And not that that was a bad way of billing clients. It was just that, you know, you could do it that way and you can't do it that way anymore. So it's got to be different. So, you know, what are some of these opportunities that come up? So I've had what I've heard a lot of law firms doing is, there's one law firm that had a lot of their own e-discovery. And so they obviously weren't as busy as they had been. So they started asking other law firms, if you don't have a resource for e-discovery, could we do it for you? And they're like, oh, that's kind of interesting because they were farming it out before.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:21:21] But they, you know, they're farming it out or using it as they needed to. And so they started collaborating on it. I've seen where some family lawyers and employment attorneys have collaborated because people are getting laid off. And then we have all these issues with the child support. So how can they look at that kind of, you know, how can they present their case? The other one is child custody issues. You know, with the employer, if they're working in a highly, highly essential worker in a hospital or a highly contagious area with COVID, you know, how can they work with the family lawyers to get the custody situations better understood by the courts? So I've seen a lot of opportunities like that. The one thing I would say is the opportunity to not fall out of a tree. You need to make them happy. Right. And so it's really sometimes by necessity and sometimes it's by need. There's a couple other things. You know, business is looking at opportunities. A lot of, you know, CPAs and attorneys, I belong to a group. And they're not, they don't like to be in the front networking all the time. Need to look at that as an opportunity to network. If you've never had to do it before, you're going to have to do it now. Reaching out to clients. Some of the other things is, you know, again, making these opportunities, reaching out to previous clients, asking how they are, but also asking for referrals, you know. Maybe offering a new service that they've never done before to see if somebody else, if they can help.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:22:49] Again, coming to that place, a service. Right. You can make new opportunities happen. I have a couple other ones out. Changing up one area of your practice. Right. Like finding out, kind of assessing again, like what's making you the most profit or what your sweet spot would you like to do the best. And then sort of zeroing in on that and focusing a little more and talking about that one specific thing. So getting a little narrow, I know that always scares people by getting narrow. They want to, you know, catch that wide neck. But it's amazing how much better that could work. Couple other suggestions. Join a board, find out if you can provide some value. Join a board. There's a... Let me see what else. There were a couple other groups of people, not just attorneys, some attorneys, some CPAs and a business strategist and one of the lawyers. They collaborated and build a group around talking about the PPP loans. They were actually doing a panel and started having, inviting businesses in to listen to. So they had like one stop shopping. So a great way to do that. And, you know, again, I talk about posting articles on LinkedIn if you can provide value, because that's a way of coming from a place of really authenticity. But you have to create these. You can't wait for them to happen.
Allison Williams: [00:24:05] And I think that's the most important point from everything that you just shared in terms of the various different ways people can go out and get business, is we talk in Law Firm Mentor all the time about how everything starts with your mindset. And so if you set an intention that you're going to generate a certain number of clients and that you're going to get them no matter what. And then you pursue every opportunity that's in front of you in a diligent way. You are far more likely to be able to produce from that scenario than what a lot of lawyers did, which is, Oh, my God, COVID hit. I don't know if I'm going to go outside. I don't know if I'm going to be able to economically survive. I don't know if the PPP is going to be forgiven. And all of that swirl that was creating a lot of toxic energy and people decided they were going to take this time to rest, give themselves deep breaths.
Allison Williams: [00:24:53] And I'm certainly not suggesting that mindfulness and taking care of your mental and emotional health is not a good idea. But some people did that to the extreme, whereby it was almost like the antithesis of working is resting. And so therefore, I'm not going to work at all. I'm going to rest. And then when this, when this moment in time passes and we start to open up again, I'll start working again. And a lot of people miss some golden opportunities because they weren't making them or pursuing them or even allowing their minds to be aware of them when they were taking these moments of rest.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:25:25] You know, that's an interesting statement that you made because you mentioned a little bit about, you know, taking a rest or break or breathing or taking a break. You know, when we can do that, it's actually a physiological reason for that, you know. We we light up our frontal cortex of our brain, which is our executive suite, which are problem solving. When we can take that deep breath, get a little oxygen, put some of the amygdala back in the back of our, you know, all the other hormones that are going back there making the fear mongering. And if we can, as you said, take a breath, step away, maybe we're not going to make as much money this year or this month. But can we look at it from a different perspective? And how can we solve these problems differently? And so that frontal cortex, when you can do that and take that risk. It really lights up that brain. You start thinking of things in a whole different way. And as you said, like that growth mindset. One of the things that also came up is there's this whole article that was by Forbes and it came out and it said that, you know, what businesses can learn post COVID. And one of the things that you said, it's actually really on their list. And that's like really being able to be tuned in to more to our own wellness, but then having compassion for the wellness of others.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:26:34] And so that's one of the things that they're hoping that you don't, maybe we won't forget right away that we can bring that along with us. Besides being, learning to be more flexible, we have, you know, employees who have kids in our home and they're sitting on their lap. Right. And, you know, so trying to be a little more flexible and then running our businesses better. Can we, you know, I mentioned the law firm that, you know, couldn't charge for, you know, three, you know, one point five billable hours for each client. They could only now charge point five. So how can we be more efficient? So if we can't do it that way, could we be more efficient? Right. Can we do it differently? And so that being said, the opportunities I think you put that really well is now we have to really look at the threats. Right. So it's real. There are things out there that are going to affect or are affecting our businesses. No not just before not just during COVID but before COVID. We've just, when times are good though, we don't have to look at them so much. We don't have to scrutinize them, but we do. And I mentioned earlier about the internal threats and the external. We're going to deal a little bit with the internal threats. And I think that fear, that fear is a big internal threat.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:27:38] Right. Like, oh, my God, am I going to survive? And this going to. What's going to happen? Am I going to get sick? So those internal threats are really the ones that really take businesses down far more often than the external ones. You know, partners that start fighting are going in different directions or have a very different viewpoint, different values. If you didn't know your partner had a different value. If you have a partner before, whether it's personal at home, or at work, you know very much now, you know that they do. Realizing, recognizing that you don't have a strategy, recognizing that you built a toxic culture. You put people when that are great at what they do, but not so, you know, don't have an attitude that really goes along. So we look at that a little bit. We want to look at, you know, how can we look at the internals, but then look at the external threats and the external threats are there very much with putting our business at risk. Right. We're not paying attention to the reviews that are showing up on our social media. We don't like ignoring those. We can do that in the past, not paying attention to our finances. There were a couple articles on Wharton Business Radio.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:28:40] You know, I'm a big fan of them. And they were talking about most big small business owners have about two months of cash available to them. Two months. And you saw how people flew for the PPP. And listen, we, you know, this is unexpected, but, you know, really paying attention to your financial and fiscal health. Right. As well as our mental health. I'm really looking at scenario planning. If this goes on for six months, what are we going to do? If it goes on for a year, what are we going to do? I'm looking out a little bit. We have to plan for the future. But what are we doing right now, too? So keeping an eye on our ball right now. And uncertainty is the day of the word. And Pivot is next. Again, that word, right. It's uncertainty and pivot. And we've got to be agile enough to do that. So I think that being visible and then having this growth mindset, you know, if I can't do what my plan scenario was, I've got plan B here. And I think that that's really about assessing and solving those problems and then moving on from there. So how are we on time? I mean, I I'm sorry. I don't want to run us short of time.
Allison Williams: [00:29:44] That's OK. We're doing we're doing fine on time. I will say this, that I love. I love that when you're talking about this, that you came at it from the perspective of all the different ways that there aren't threats that people may not be thinking about. And I think a lot of times we stick our head in the sand and say we're just going to hunker down and hope for the best. And we don't really make concerted plans.
Allison Williams: [00:30:04] What we do is we kind of plan for today and maybe a little bit tomorrow. We don't plan for three months and six months and nine months a year from now. So a lot of people were blindsided by what happened with COVID and quarantine and all of that. And sounds like what you're really a proponent of is kind of, you know, I don't want to say COVID proofing your business, but certainly giving yourself enough of a leeway to say that if stuff goes wrong, you're gonna have enough time to recover from that and create an in the moment strategy because you're not going to be so economically or emotionally distressed that your business is going to have to either collapse underneath you or you have to recreate from a place of either.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:30:48] Yeah, I heard such heartbreak. Some law firms and other businesses having to lay off people or furlough them. You know, they're like families, especially the smaller firms they like. It broke their heart to have to do that. And yet, you know, it was survival. And I didn't talk to you about how they were collaborating and trying to keep them on board and holding socials like happy hours to keep them still engaged with the company. So they did, they and they left that. So it's really heartbreak for that. And I think to your point on that, Allison, is I think a lot of law firms don't think of themselves as salespeople. They don't. And I think we have to ought it... I think we ought to all start thinking ourselves as salespeople in terms of we're selling something right. We're selling our services, we're selling the value, we're selling whatever it is. And I know it's you know, it feels like a not a nice word. But, you know, if we have a service and we come from a place of service and offering that service, sales can go out the window if you don't like the word. But I think being able to let people know that we're here to help them is a different way of doing it and doing it in a very constructive way. So, you know, again, being open to sometimes business is just different. And we might have to adapt a new mindset to do that.
Allison Williams: [00:32:02] Yeah. Well, sales has been the dirty S word for quite some time, unfortunately. And I talk a lot about this with my clients and Law Firm Mentor that, you know, you have to get over that. And the reality is, if you're in a business, you are selling something in your business. But one of the things that we can do that we have done in the legal industry is we don't even call it sales. We call it intake or we call it consultations. We use other language to make it sound better. We've actually just recently created a five part mini training for people that want to know how to sell without feeling like a pushy salesperson. So I'm actually gonna drop the link to that free video training in the show notes that if anybody wants to have access to that, they can learn that and not have that feeling of being pushy with sales. But I want to, I want to now pivot, since we've talked about the SWOT analysis and all the different ways that you can evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Allison Williams: [00:32:58] Now, I want to talk about goal setting, because one of the things that's really big for law firm owners is if they don't understand where they're going. They might improve in the course of business, but they might be improving revenue without improving profit or they might be improving the number of people in the business and the efficiencies without improving the profit generating potential or the lifestyle that they want to create. So goals are very important because those are intentions for what we're going to create. So talk to us about goal setting. How do we do it? What is the value of it and how can one incorporate that into their firm?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:33:34] Well, you touched on a really important part. I actually you speak on this one here. Well, you already did. So, you know, we look at goals and people set too many goals, number one. So we're going to narrow down to three goals. But the most important thing and the most important thing is what you said, is what goals... What are the goals we want? Right. Is it about, you know, first of all, the time period we have to have a time period for? What are you looking at? Tracking revenue. Do you want to track gross margins? Do you want to track profits? You don't have to be a CPA to do this. I'm certainly not. I'm not the left brain kind of, you know, numbers person. My husband's a CFO and he looks at me sometimes. But I can tell, you know, my numbers in my business. Right. So do we want to talk about the, you know, the service that we provide? Do we want to look at what do we want to measure? And that's really what it boils down to. Do we want to measure quality? Do we want to measure, you know.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:34:25] So what measurable goal? What is it that you want? What are the goals? But first, before that, what do we want to measure? So if you know what you want to measure. If you want to measure profit, then we need to focus on the one thing in your business that gives you more profit. So it's real estate. Then let's focus on that. If you have real estate in your business and you have business and trust and estates and your business attorney and trusts and estates, you know. If if the real estate is really what's happening right now because everybody is leaving New York City or going to different places, you know, and that's your most profitable business. Then let's focus on that if you're working on profit. If you're working on service, you know, servicing the widest number of people, then what's the biggest? What's the biggest net that you can put out there? So is it about quality? Is it you really want to be boutiquish and you really only take like high contested divorces or you take, you know, boutique kind of like mergers and acquisitions.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:35:24] So really deciding on what are the things that you want to focus on and then setting some goals. And I can say that the goals definitely get, keep, be realistic and set three goals. If you chase too many squirrels, you get none. So you really have to get to the, we have to get to what do we want to measure and then let's decide how to pick these goals. So here's some tactics for picking the three top goals. It's about getting stuff done. If you put 12 goals on your page, you're not going to get them, especially with these days right now. Right. So we've got to do this a little differently. So, again, you might reach out to other people that you have a mentor or somebody else in a different type of business that's been super successful and say, how did you do? Right. So what were some of the things that you focused on? You might find another successful business owner. Read a book. Books are great. I mean, they you know, people that have this great knowledge, this thirst for knowledge, read a lot of books and they take away some really valuable and really valuable lessons from that. There's so many great leadership books out there. So I'll give you a personal example of mine when I took over a management position. I manage sales teams and I remember like stepping into this minefield that I had no clue and I just didn't know, like, which direction to go. So I asked somebody that was higher up in your organization. I said, just tell me the two things that I need to do to get, to make, right here to make this work. I have a team that's successful.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:36:54] And he said, go after your top 50 accounts. Find out who your top 50 accounts are. Focus on them and then do nothing else but that. And so then as you do that, you can, you know, get your people out there in the field working. So just having a couple strategies very, very focused. I have to tell you, it worked. I, it was, I either had to do one of two things, start cutting deals and just doing things like the sloppy way, which isn't me or I had to figure out it's going to take a little longer, but I had to have a strategy. So, you know, you have to brainstorm. You might fail. So, you know, caveat, beware. You might fail, but fell fast and fell forward. And, you know, you don't have to spend hours and days analyzing all this, but just fell fast, fell forward. And then pick it up and then say, you know, what else do you want? I've got. Where else do you want to go? So a couple of ways to do this, right? A couple other ways we set with this brainstorming is once you just you know, I have, as you know, new ways to reach out to your target market. Right. So you could start reaching out to whoever your market is and what you want to do is and focus on how can I get a new prospect?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:38:03] And then the conversion rate. So making your conversion rate go a little faster. Right. How can you do that? And measuring that? And then just offering other services. You know, as I mentioned to your other you can market to other law firms if you like, marketing outside. I mentioned the e-discovery law firm that was starting to do that for other people, you know, looking at your rates, asking for testimonials and and, you know, those type of things, improving your efficiency, using Zillow, you're saving a lot of time and gas and expenses. So that's one way and then the other way. The other thing I can make some suggestions on setting some goals are things to think about is improving your internal operations. Right. We talked about expanding into more reaching more people. But what can you stop doing that's distracting you? If you're focusing on too many things or you're letting too many distractions, you're getting caught up in the news. Stop reading the news for a couple days. Just stop the distractions, whatever. Keeping you from really focusing on it. It's hard to do sometimes. Do you have some fixed costs that you can look at? So these are some goals if it's about revenue. So then couldn't can you renegotiate your lease? Can you know, what can you do about that? So how can you improve cash flow? You know, another thing that's really important, I've heard a couple of law firms saying, you know, the leadership team reached out to their other to the associates and started saying, can you help us grow? Can you reach out more than you might have in the past and giving them some training to really develop the leadership team. And then some other tactics and then some of those types of things. You'll get the team to start brainstorming with them. What are some you know, we want to grow our firm. We want to grow revenue. How can you help us? I'm sure you've employed some of these tactics. Allison, what's worked for you?
Allison Williams: [00:39:47] Well, I think that, you know, there's there's a lot of different ways to approach it. I love the idea of training up your team and training your team on how to cultivate business, because unfortunately, in our legal profession, we have been taught for so long that the way to network is to go to a bar event, stand around with a cocktail, have a dinner and leave or watch the program. Have a dinner and leave. And we don't actually know how to network. And so somebody who absolutely hates networking. I tell people this all the time. I had to force myself to get a process for networking that would consistently generate referral relationships. And it is not something that's intuitive for a lot of people. It's not just going out and making friends. So the more that you train your team on these types of skills, the better you're able to actually generate from those activities.
Allison Williams: [00:40:36] And what you'll find, by the way, is that when you incentivize people, whether that incentive is economic or that incentive is career building or that incentive is progressing in the firm in their career, and you give people something to strive toward a person who might have been more reluctant, thinking, my job is to do my job, go home, may ultimately become much more capable in the area of rainmaking than you even contemplated when you hired them.
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:41:01] Yeah, if we look back at the very beginning of our chat here today and we talked about those values, right. You know, and, you know, in a vision for the company, if you can put your vision out there and say, look, we don't want to furlough other people. We want to you know, we want to keep our employees here. So what can we do to all come together and create this, you know, the vision and be a part of it? They also feel like they're contributing. And it makes it so much more interesting. And so I know we're running a little bit over here. But I wanted to just kind of wrap it up and say for each area of those things that you want to measure. You know, what is the metric for success. This is really where we get a little past it. Set a goal. And what do we want to do? What are the metrics? How can we know what success looks like if we haven't defined it right? So if we want to focus on revenue and we've done these three things. We've asked the attorney associates to chip in. We've cut some costs and we've done a few other things. You know what what's what does success look like? The success look like if we come in 20 percent below last year, we're OK? We have to know what the ends don't, the end product looks like. And what's the milestones that, to your point? If they know that they can reach the milestones and are incentivized to do it, you know, that's really great. What's 30? What's our 30 day goal? What's our 30 day goal? Let's focus on 30 days because we can get some quick wins there. Right. And then sometimes go back and test the criteria. Are we still focusing on revenue or, you know, are we focusing on adding new services?
Kathy D'Agostino: [00:42:28] So this is a big one. You have to communicate the progress, communicate more than you ever thought you had to communicate and communicate again, but hold people accountable for what you asked them to do and hold yourself accountable for what you said you're going to do and whether that means you and your partner do it or, you know, you hold each other accountable. But somebody if there's no accountability. All of this sort of goes by the wayside and then continue to say, when do we meet again to chat about this? When do we look at those three goals? Did we accomplish one? Can we put a new one in place? So, you know, if I had to wrap up, it's about preparing. It's about planning and about strong leadership. And this time more than ever is crucial because the difference maker in all of this between success and failure is tomorrow, business will be anything but normal. I don't think that we can now afford ourselves to think, oh, tomorrow we'll be normal. But every business needs a playbook. It needs these tools to navigate this type of change so that that black swan, whether it's COVID or something else, it comes you know, it's a, it's one, recession that we're always ready for it. And this transition, you know, we can make this transition into our reimagined new normal, but it's our reimagined one, not the one that we just thought that would happen on its own. But you have to set a plan. You have accountability and you really have to check in with everybody and check in with yourself. Am I doing what I said I wanted to do? Because if you put those goals in place, just like that business plan and you don't look at them and you don't communicate them. You just wasted a lot of time.
Allison Williams: [00:44:09] Wow. So, Kathy, I can't thank you enough for going through that with us, this mini business plan that you walk through literally just in this podcast episode is going to be so valuable for our listeners because they're going to actually get the questions that they need to be asking themselves in order to figure out not just where we are today, but where we're going and how we're gonna get there. Right. That's really what this is about. And it's empowering everyone to really take a real hard, fast look at where you want to go. Setting a plan and ultimately pursuing that. So, Kathy D'Agostino, I want to thank you again so much for appearing on the Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor podcast. I am Allison Williams everyone, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a wonderful day.
Kathy D’Agostino is an Executive Coach and Business Consultant with more than 25 years of experience helping leaders grow their business and invest in their greatest asset, their employees. She’s worked with hundreds of organizations to develop their leadership team,
accentuate their core values and create a strong culture. She is a facilitator and trainer on topics that include sales, time management, employee engagement and various other people skills. She is a sought after speaker on topics of culture and core values, and is a Certified Professional Coach by the Institute of Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC) as well as a Certified Coach and Trainer of the Core Values Index Hiring Assessment.
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is The Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a Business Coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. It helps lawyers to grow their revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Law Firm Mentor was born out of Allison’s experience starting a law firm and scaling its revenues into a multi-million dollar business in only three years. She shares her extensive knowledge of business, mindset coaching and entrepreneurship alongside her team in Law Firm Mentor.
Allison is also Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law. Allison is a member of the New Jersey Board on Attorney Certification (NJBAC) – Matrimonial Committee, a New Jersey Supreme Court committee that determines eligibility of candidates to be certified as a recognized practitioner in the field of matrimonial law.
Allison has been named a Rising Star Attorney by the New Jersey Super Lawyers franchise continuously from 2008 – 2013, and has been named a Super Lawyer by that organization for 2014 – present. In 2016, she was featured in the Super Lawyers publication (Williams v. The Rubber Stamp), she has been named one of the Top 50 Women Super Lawyers in New Jersey from 2017-2020 and in 2019-2020, was voted in the Top 100 Super Lawyers and Top 50 Women Super Lawyers in the State of New Jersey.
Allison is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. She won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Allison was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Allison won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Allison created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
She received her B.S., magna cum laude, and her M.S., summa cum laude, from Florida State University. She received her J.D., cum laude, from Syracuse University College of Law.
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