Big data, small data

Sole practitioners often struggle to find and interpret meaningful practice data that points business-building efforts in the right direction.

New practice management software with great reporting features helps many lawyers find personalized information in an instant. But old habits – such as not bothering to look at the data on a regular basis or do anything about it – can be difficult to overcome.

Obviously, you need to be aware of your financial performance. Regular conversations with your accountant will highlight cash flow, operating costs and, hopefully, profitability.

But there’s more to it.

I have a client who asks herself a set of questions each November, after reviewing her year-to-date financials. The answers set the direction and boundaries of her business development efforts for the year ahead.

  1. Who are my clients?
  2. Which services do they retain me for?
  3. Why me and not another consultant? Can I validate my answers to this question?
  4. Which clients pay their invoices at which rates?
  5. Which clients frustrate me and why? What could I do about it?
  6. What new, unexpected clients have I retained this year? Which ones did I enjoy working with and learn from?
    • Can this be leveraged?
    • Does anyone else know I’ve now done work in this area? Should they?
  7. What will reduce my level of stress next year?

This is a business planning exercise focussed on the short term.  It’s also remarkably effective. Here’s what happened when I answered the questions for myself:

  • 30 minutes to answer the questions
  • 20 minutes to validate and review the data I had on hand
  • 15 minutes weighing options to act on one of the opportunities, rather than talk myself out of it
  • 10 minutes to write to a trusted client who could (and did) help

That’s it. Not exactly an expensive or expansive data-filled process. Within a week, it led to three introductions, three meetings and one new client who entrusted me with exactly the type of project I was looking for. That’s the kind of data I can take to the bank. And that’s the kind of data I like.

I originally published a version of this post on the Canadian legal blog on November 19, 2014