Plan long-term, intensify your marketing, look after your staff, spend wisely, and don't panic!
That's the advice from entrepreneurs and business professionals around the world (adapted here from the plethora of postings you will find on the Internet). If your firm is feeling the pinch from the drop in property sales, read on: -
1 - Plan Long Term
Don't skip this step! When cash flows drop it is easy to panic and to fall into the trap of short-term thinking - and that's a recipe for disaster. Short-term planning (or no planning at all!) has probably killed more good businesses than any other single factor.
Set clear, written, long-term goals for your firm. Concentrate all your resources, and all your energies, on achieving specific, realistic goals. Where do you want your firm to be in a year? Two years? Ten years?
Then plan in detail how you are going to reach those goals, and when.
2 - Provide Exceptional Client Service
Become fanatical about client service.
Very few firms actually do that, and if you do - if you provide a better, faster, more client-oriented service than the competition - your market share will grow.
Put concrete, deadline-driven steps into your planning to keep in touch with your clients, to build long-term relationships with them, and to find out what they want and need. Then, do whatever it takes to meet those wants and needs.
3 - Intensify Your Marketing
Keep Your Name Out There! As P.T. Barnum put it: "Without promotion, something terrible happens - Nothing!"
Do not cut your marketing budget. Beware the old maxim "If you don't look after your clients, someone else will" - because if the competition is marketing your clients (and potential clients) and you are not, you are going to start losing them.
Keep your clients, and attract new ones, at no extra cost - re-focus your advertising and marketing to get the maximum value from every Rand you spend: -
- Use regular, quality communication to build long-term relationships, and to look for more and better instructions, more referral work, and more exposure to new markets.
- Communicate directly with your target market - every cent you spend should take you directly to your best clients and potential clients.
- Look for cost-effective ways to keep your firm constantly in the minds of your clients and prospective clients. Newsletters, business lunches, blogs, seminars - use these tools abundantly to the full extent of your ability and resources.
4 - Focus on your Core Business: Diversify with Caution
Don't be tempted to diversify into another field or service if that will in any way shift the focus from your core business. Now more than at any other time, you need to concentrate on your areas of greatest strength - that means first bolstering your core business, even if it isn't performing well at the moment.
Then, and only then, look to all your other strengths - and find opportunities to use those strengths to expand your services within the scope of your firm's competencies and available infrastructure.
5 - Stay Lean - but don't be "Pound Foolish"
Stay Lean and Mean - but don't make the mistake of cutting every expense that "isn't necessary" - just because it "isn't necessary", does not mean that it is a luxury you can do without.
The crucial principle here is this - "If an expense contributes more to the bottom line than it costs, keep it!" -
1. List all monthly expenses, and note against each one
a. What it costs, and
b. What its benefits and potential benefits are.
2. That gives you a handle on the "cost:benefit ratio" of every item.
And that is the critical issue: not how much an item costs in isolation - nor what its benefits are in isolation - but whether or not the ratio between cost and benefit is favourable. If it is, find a way to keep that item in your budget. In times of challenge, you cannot afford to be "Penny wise and Pound foolish".
6 - Value Your Employees
The temptation, when turnover drops, is to cut staff. But the advice from experts is the opposite: "Hire, don't Fire". That may sound counter-intuitive, but it has a sound rationale behind it. Let your opposition make the mistake of releasing trained and competent employees - this is your chance to snap them up!
And now more than ever, you need to make the most of employees' knowledge, experience and training. Bring them into your business planning, brainstorm how to improve client service and maximise efficiency, find ways to give them a stake in the firm's success.
7 - Leverage on Technology
Make the most of the latest technology to leverage your time, increase efficiency and productivity, and improve service.
Automate your practice with software such as GhostConvey and GhostPractice - free yourself and your team up to use billable hours for billable work. Of course you need to be satisfied that the technology will actually increase income - and/or save you enough time and money - to justify the cost. But again you need to take a long-term view here.
A final suggestion from the experts - don't plan just to survive the hard times, look for ways to turn them to your advantage. As Einstein put it:"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity" - the firm that plans now to seize those opportunities will prosper and succeed.
Jack Crook (LLB Lond, LLB Rhod) is the author of LawDotNews, a monthly newsletter which is personalised and e-mailed to your firm's clients compliments of your firm. Readers are welcome to contact Jack, or visit his web site at http://www.dotnews.co.za for further details.