This month we are very blessed and fortunate to celebrate 10 years in practice. We thought it proper to think back over the 10 years, to the work done, the relationships built, and the lessons learnt. We trust that these thoughts will be of value to clients and owners of other small businesses alike.
- A business plan helps, but needs to be updated
When we started the firm, we had very specific plans on which practice areas we wanted to work in, which clients to target, and how we would reach these clients. From the first week, however, things turned out differently. Where we planned to go, and where we are now, are two totally different places. Yet, the plan is important, as it focuses attention on what is necessary to make the business successful. Update it regularly to keep the focus.
- Build relationships with stakeholders
This is surely one of the most important aspects in our firm: we try to build long-lasting relationships with all stakeholders, not just clients and employees, but also service providers to the firm. When problems arise, these relationships help greatly in resolving those problems. Most of the relationships forged in our first year still exist today.
- Adapt to clients’ needs
As lawyers, focused on solving problems, we tend to think that we know and understand what our clients need, but this is not necessarily the case. Often, we were able to tailor-make our services to adapt to a specific client’s needs, thereby serving those needs better. In this way, we were able to retain clients who would otherwise have moved their business elsewhere.
- Focus on service, not income
We have seen time and again, when we focus on getting the work entrusted to us done properly, the income will follow. That is why, in our firm, we do not focus on fee targets, although they do exist. We have learnt that if the work is done, the income is there, but when you start focusing only on work that produces high income in the short-term, service levels drop, as you are no longer willing to walk that extra mile.
- Cash is king, profit is less important
This is a cliché, but it is very true and extremely important: without cash in the bank, the business is doomed. From day one, manage the debtors’ book, and do it religiously: it is easier to learn how to do it when monthly income is R40 000 rather than only when it is R400 000, and bad habits have been formed. Without cash, you cannot pay staff and suppliers, and the business will start going up in smoke.
- Save for a rainy day
Once again a cliché, but also very important: every month, put away the cash you don’t need immediately, even if it is “just” R20 000 in a 24-hour deposit account. In this way you earn better interest, and you also build a nest-egg for the day that you need to spend money on expansion.
- You need money in order to grow
In order to grow any business, you need to invest, i.e. spend money, in growth. This may be in the form of equipment, premises or staff. The point is, without spending money on these issues, you will not be able to grow. And if you do not grow, you stagnate and eventually move backwards, as the competition will move ahead of you.
- Know when to stand firm and when to let go
Clients, employees, service providers: they all will come with requests from time to time, be it for increases in salary, reductions in fees or better terms. For this, you need to know and understand your budgets, so that you will know the impact of a potential decision on the finances. This will help greatly in making a decision. One of the most difficult things for me was to stand firm and advise a client that we would no longer be working for him, as the demands made outweighed the benefits to us and were detrimental to our financial position. It is a fine line between focusing on serving the client and being tramped upon at every turn. Know when it is time to leave.
- Think lean
No matter where your business is in its lifecycle, always consider where money may be saved, as, in the end, if you waste money, you are wasting your money! Small things like switching off unused lights, paying off the credit card promptly to avoid interest, and ensuring that SARS is paid timeously to avoid penalties, all add up to significant savings over time.
- Live according to your beliefs and values
Lastly, but most importantly, write down the business’ values and see whether the team works according to those values. As a Christian, I believe that God has given me a specific calling to carry out, and that I need to do so according to His word. In our firm, we therefore try to live and work according to our Christian values: honesty, integrity, respect and treating others in the same way that we ourselves would like to be treated. When hiring new staff, make sure that they agree with your business’ values, as our one business school professor said: employees should share the same values, but ideally be from different cultures. Make sure that everyone in the business lives these values.
These are just some of the most important thoughts, but there are many many more lessons learnt. We are truly thankful for each and every person who walked this journey with us, even if it was for only a few steps, we have learnt from each one. Here’s to the next 10 years and the relationships to be built.