In January, many of us get out our pencils and start thinking. We begin sketching out a plan for the new year ahead of us. We make lists of all the things we want to do and accomplish in our businesses. As professional service providers, we go beyond the simple personal plans (like lose weight, exercise more, eat better).
Oh yes, we get complicated and sophisticated with goals like: triple our revenues, double our number of employees, create more efficient processes, expand our marketing efforts, improve our presence in the community, etc. We color code our to-do lists, arrange sticky-notes on our walls, decide which goals to tackle in which quarter of the year, and put deadlines in our monthly calendars for the next twelve months. You do all this too, right?
Before we go any further, I have a confession to make. I’m a planner. I can’t help it. I do it without even realizing I’m doing it. As Lady Gaga puts it, I was “born this way”. (Cue the Little Mermaid who in my mind sings: I have calendars and journals aplenty. I’ve got reminders and lists galore. You want post-it notes? I got twenty (colors). But who cares? No big deal. I want more!)
All jokes and songs aside, I do understand that not everyone is like me. Not everyone has an extensive process, but most of us do make plans for our small service companies. January is a good time to do it – we’ve got the numbers from the previous year and it feels like a fresh start.
Whatever your process is, I’d like to offer a few suggestions. After all, being a natural planner helps me be the lawyer I am – the one who is looking into the future to see what needs to be done now, the one who prepares for a business deal that’s in the pipeline, the one who lays the groundwork for an upcoming change. You can see how being a good planner helps me to be a good lawyer.
I’ve also studied good business people and have found that all the successful ones make plans. They diligently plan their year, their quarter, their month, their week and their day. Our business book club has read countless stories about the planning techniques of successful business owners. So even if you are not a natural planner like me, chances are you force yourself to plan because you want to be successful.
So, for all you planners and non-planners out there, I want you to consider the infrastructure of your business. As you plan for your growth in the coming year, I want you to consider whether your current business has the legal foundation to support the weight of that growth. And then I want you to consider adding some infrastructure projects to your goals for the upcoming year.
What do I mean by this? All small service companies (unless you’re a franchisee) are built on the fly. You build as you go – you figure it out as you grow. But some things may never cross your mind (or don’t cross them often) because they aren’t that sexy – they don’t grab your attention. They may seem complicated and they are definitely boring (or so I hear), so they often get sent to the backseat of a car driven by sales and marketing (the more attention-demanding aspects of our businesses). But I submit to you that these seemingly-complicated and boring aspects of your business are essential to your success.
They are the backbone of your legal structure. They are the foundation that will support your growth. They can prevent the whole thing from coming crashing down. They are good for you… like vegetables.
I have developed a map of what your legal infrastructure looks like – so you can see the places to put some attention and perhaps some improvements. As a small service company, you may consider adding one or two of these when you’re making growth plans for next year:
Each of the blue circles represent an area of your business where the law can help you set up better protections. You follow and use the rules available, the law can help you keep your business stable and growing. As you grow and have more moving pieces in your business, these items support you and give you a framework.
If you ignore the law and charge ahead blindly, you should expect to face a situation at some point where the law will not be all that helpful. In fact, it can be downright harmful to your plans – which is frustrating and often expensive.
So perhaps you’ll consider that it is worth the time and effort to build some better infrastructure in your business this year. Perhaps you’ll choose to improve your service agreement with your clients, or perhaps you’ll choose to improve some of your employment practices, or perhaps you’ll file a federal trademark for your logo – whatever you choose, the important thing is that you are including it in your plan.
Don’t think you need to focus on everything at once, just choose the most important one first and calendar it. Make a decision to get it done. Then you can move on to the next one. After a while, you’ll realize that your infrastructure is holding the weight of the successful business you are building. Mission accomplished!