Why do I need one?
Whilst producing a business plan can seem to be an laborious task, it is the best way to ensure that the expectations of all parties are aligned. This is absolutely critical. It is incredibly dangerous to talk in vague terms about expectations as you need to be confident that you know what is required to be considered a good, bad or average performance, as well as how performance is measured. Is it all about finances? Is it about growing a team? Is it about introducing clients of a certain calibre, or adding a different offering? There are so many considerations and it is critical that what's important to you and the firm is identified, ideally at an early stage.
Where do I start?
A good starting point is to turn the tables - what would you like to see in a business plan if you were recruiting for your existing team or firm? Make sure that when you review your business plan, you do so from this perspective and if possible get someone else to read it through for you. Our consultants' experience in moving people at Partner and Director level enable us to give you an objective, confidential opinion from both our own and different clients' perspectives.
Generally the following need to be included:
Overview- A background into your practice area and the wider market for this work. Is there growth potential? Are there opportunities to work with a niche client base? Where is your main competition?
Specific to the firm - you need to ensure that your business plan is aligned with the practice you are hoping to join. It's unusual to deliver a business plan at first meeting, and whilst you may have ideas of clients you could take, markets you can develop (and you would probably discuss these at first interview) it's important for you to demonstrate the benefits of you and the practice joining forces. Most practices are looking for a little more than an individual arriving with work. They generally want someone who can be integrated into the practice, a relationship where collectively the two parts add up to more than the sum of the individuals. A perfect example is where a specialist lawyer joins a practice, brings their niche area and some clients with them but where there are also cross-selling opportunities in both directions. Consider carefully if there are specific factors about the firm which will help you grow your offering - location, charge out rates, peripheral services (legal and support)
Existing contacts - It is often hard to guarantee exact revenue levels and where this revenue will come from. A prospective practice will however be interested in understanding:
- What you have achieved financially over recent years - and your team if that's relevant?
- Where that work came from - in particular was it clients you had developed or for clients you are a primary point of contact for?
- Do other departments act for that client?
- Is the work panel driven? - If so how likely would it be that you could be appointed to that panel if they're not already on it?
- Was the work from specific sectors?
- If it is possible to name potential clients this is compelling. Many business plans not only name prospective clients but also grade them based on the likelihood of being able to bring them, as well as assessing legal spend over the previous 2 to 3 years. These are not a guarantee but do give the firm an idea of what you can achieve: it will also help you work out if you are confident that you can actually achieve it. In addition it gives you a plan to work to on arrival in a new role.
For all parties it's critical to consider what support or resources you would need to deliver this plan. Consider:
- If you need specific support services or specific disciplines to be represented within the practice.
- What would you need for a marketing budget?
- Are there particular memberships or subscriptions that are important?
- Do you need a team?
Consider Restrictive Covenants
These are an important consideration. Whilst looking at what they say, it is also useful to consider what has happened in the past. Is there is a 'history' of your practice being realistic about these or alternatively being particularly defensive? It may well be that an employment lawyer at the practice you are potentially joining would be happy to look over these and offer advice but it is important to put them in context. Alternatively we have the ability to recommend an independent Employment Partner with specific expertise in this precise area.
Your business plan should have sufficient detail for the practice to see where your business should come from, how that will integrate within the existing firm, what you will require to achieve it and what it should mean to their bottom line over a foreseeable period. Our advice would be to plan it covering the next 3 years.
Whilst you may have an idea of your offering to a business, it isn't typical or advisable to arrive at a first meeting with your business plan. We would advise that this be saved for the second or even third meeting when you can deliver something that is individual to the practice and based upon what you have learned about them, their practice and their aspirations from the first meeting.
If this business plan requires 'board' approval, it is typical for one of the partners to act as a 'sponsor partner' and to help you refine it to suit the practice.
Feedback from most candidates is that business plans are very much like doing a CV for the first time; it's starting them and knowing where to begin that is most difficult.