Karen Persis - Moving Out On Your Own
After working for more than 7 years I chose to start my own law practice. But this decision was not a quick one, nor was it easy. And, if I am going to be perfectly honest, it still isn’t an easy one. Owning your own business – whether it is a law firm, a retail store, a restaurant, or anything else – has its ups and downs. I chose to start my own firm because I wanted to focus my practice on a very niche area of family law – Assisted Reproductive Technology. Most law firms do not have departments with attorneys in this area, so if I was going to develop my practice, it was on me to realize this dream for myself. Initially, when I started my firm, I continued to take cases in areas of law in which I had prior experience, in order to keep the lights on. But with a lot of hard work, education, and determination, I am now able to have a practice that is entirely devoted to Assisted Reproductive Technology, and I was able to achieve this goal within a couple of years.
Here are some tips for starting your own business, which I hope prove helpful regardless of your business of interest:
- Do your research. I started looking into the area of law in which I wanted to pursue for about a year before I started my own firm. I also started researching starting a law firm. I went to lunch or coffee with anyone who started their own firm, asked for advice, dos and don’ts, recommendations for various vendors and service providers, etc. I also would then ask those folks who I should meet next. I was able to get so much information regarding banks, websites, hosting services, business card vendors, marketing pitfalls, VoIP providers, the list goes on. And it was all from people that I trusted, this saving me a lot of legwork.
- Save money. The minute I decided to start my own firm was not the same as the minute I actually formed my company. Those two dates are several months apart. When I decided this was the plan for me, my husband and I began to save money, as I would no longer have a guaranteed salary. My plan was to operate my first year taking no salary or distribution whatsoever, and I budgeted accordingly. I was able to make a good amount of money my first year, so that just ended up being icing on the cake. But if I hadn’t, I would not have put myself or my family in financial distress. While budgeting to earn no money might be extreme, I would suggest being as conservative as possible for your needs, and this way you can only be happily surprised, and not headed toward financial ruin.
- Talk to an accountant. Make sure you set up your business as an entity that will best suit your needs, and best protect you from liability.
- Keep a low overhead. Obviously, this varies greatly by business. There is going to be more overhead in retail or restaurants, for example, than a law firm where I only need a computer, a printer, paper, phone, and an internet connection to get by, if necessary. In the beginning, do some of the grunt work yourself (and it will make you appreciate your support staff when you can afford to hire them later on). Don’t lease the most expensive space for your business. Don’t buy the linen paper for your letterhead. Don’t be the marquee title sponsor of a charity event.
- Don’t be too cheap. You still want to present a quality product. Business cards shouldn’t look like they came from your printer. Don’t use your personal cell phone number as your business phone. Get a simple, clean website developed and acquire email addresses with the same handle. I realize that for some professions, having a gmail email address might not be a big deal. I think there are certain professions where it matters. If your industry is one where Facebook and other forms of social media are effective means of communication, then use those instead, but by all means, update them regularly.
- Market. I allotted some of my money in the first couple of years as “play money” for marketing, to learn what works and what doesn’t. It allowed me to test the waters with community sponsorships, lunch and learns, ads, Google Adwords buys, and the like without breaking the bank.
- In the words of Journey, Don’t Stop Believing. Not every day will be sunshine and unicorns. There will be really, really dark days where you will want to rock yourself to sleep in the fetal position and wish it away, thinking, “What the hell have I done?” Those days will pass, and you will learn from each one of them. Remember all those people I mentioned in #1? Call them. Go out to lunch. Commiserate. Lean on them because they are happy to help you, after all, they’ve been there too. Businesses take time to develop. Call those people when the good stuff happens, too. Share your accomplishments. Celebrate. In the long run, it will all be worth it.