Having a business plan is an invaluable tool to strategically guide the business side of your career. As you worry about your billable hours and fitting in to your firm, it is also likely the last thing you feel that you have time to do. Once convinced that you should sit down and set out a business plan, your next thoughts are likely—what is a business plan and how do I go about creating an effective one?
What is a business plan?
A business plan sets out specific, business-oriented goals for your career. No single, specific format is needed for a business plan. The business plan addressed in this article is geared toward establishing a plan for your overall career, with specific objectives set out over a one-year period, and overall goals for five and 10 years later. Some attorneys create a business plan to present to perspective employers when looking to make a lateral move. Other attorneys may create a business plan focused on their law firm as a whole. All of these plans can be valuable depending on your goals.
How do I create an effective business plan?
Knowing the objective of your business plan is an important aspect to making an effective one. For example, let’s consider a plan for a young attorney’s overall career, and to set targets over the next 10 years. This business plan will take a high-level look at your overall career goal, careers goals for the next five and 10 years, and then will set specific goals for the next year. A template for this plan is at the end of the article.
Setting Career Goals
Before you can set specific business development goals, you’ll need to have thought about your overall career goal, along with your goal for the five-year and 10-year points. Is it your goal to make partner by a specific year? Do you want to become in-house counsel? Are you interested in being a state or federal prosecutor? Would you like to leave the practice of law entirely and focus instead on business, recruiting or politics?
Some attorneys have a firm understanding of what they ultimately want in their career. But many young attorneys are still figuring out their career path. If you don’t know your ultimate career goal yet, be open with yourself and explore specific career possibilities in the overall career goal section.
The five-year and 10-year career goal sections are benchmarks for what you want your career to be five years and 10 years later. Giving thought to your career at these points in time will help you in thinking about your specific 2017 goals, and how those goals can help you achieve the career you would like to have at five and 10 years later.
2017 Business Development Goals
The one-year business development goals section sets specific objectives for profile building, relationship building, personal development, pro bono, and billable and non-billable hours. You should set specific goals to achieve throughout the year in each of these areas. Two or three goals in each of the subsections of these five areas should give breadth to your plan, while remaining achievable.
The Profile-Building section includes goals regarding starting or maintaining an internet presence, becoming involved in professional organizations, being an active member of your community, and using your writing skills. Do you need a more robust website? Can you blog, tweet or create a monthly circular for your clients? Is there a specific bar organization in your practice area that you’d like to know more about? Maybe you would like to become involved in a new practice area. What are your community interests? Use this section to build your overall profile.
The Relationship-Building section sets goals for maintaining existing relationships with clients and cultivating relationships with potential clients. Having a database of your clients is imperative to maintaining your current relationships. You may choose to send a monthly legal circular or alert to your clients. You could also set up internet or court alerts so that you know when your clients are in the news or litigation is filed involving them. Perhaps you decide to set aside lunch once a month to meet with a current client.
Regarding prospective clients, attending industry networking events, setting face-to-face meetings, or reaching out to college and law school classmates may all establish relationships that could lead to new clients.
The Personal-Development section focuses on your legal and industry education. Not only can you become more versed in the law or a specific industry, but these outlets will also allow you to make relationships. You may find a person who you can reach out to as a mentor or a prospective client.
The Pro-Bono section allows you to use your legal degree to give back to those in need. Your pro bono work may very well lead to opportunities that you might not otherwise receive at your level in law firm practice, such as arguing before a court or even going to trial.
The Billable and Non-Billable Hours section is an aid to looking at your overall hours and how to achieve your business development goals while also fulfilling your client work obligations.
What techniques help implement a business plan?
Now that you have a business plan, how are you going to implement the plan? Look at the following year and set out a map to accomplish your plan. When does the bar section you are joining meet? What clients are you going to take to lunch? How are you going to find outlets where you can write legal articles? You need to set out how you are going to achieve your specific goals.
Another vital aspect to having an effective business plan is accountability. You should decide how you are going to be accountable to achieving your goals. Sharing the plan with someone, like a colleague, friend or family member, and then checking in with them periodically will help you succeed in reaching your goals.
As 2017 comes to end, set a new business plan for 2018. Be critical about what you were able to achieve and why you were not successful in any areas. Also think about how you have evolved over the past year and what those changes mean to your career goals for the following year. Believe in yourself. You can have the career that you want.
About the Author
Marie DeForest is a partner with DeForest Koscelnik Yokitis & Berardinelli, in New York and Pittsburgh. You can reach her at 646-202-2588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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