Some of you may be considering starting your own business. Because the media repeatedly reports glowing stories about the latest 29-year-olds to sell their companies for $20,000,000, many people are now deciding to act on their dream of founding the next Google or Starbucks. Perhaps the motivation driving the rapid rise in self-employment is a desire for independence—“No one is going to fire, underpay, or under-appreciate me again!” The turning point for lawyers often comes after they are involved in a business deal and see the non-lawyers having fun and making a lot of money, while the lawyers are doing most of the work and earning less.
But before you decide to start your own business, sufficient research on your proposed endeavor is an absolute necessity. The failure of new businesses is common and much of that failure can be attributed to lack of market research.
Don’t just presume your clever idea will generate a successful business venture. Find out if there is a need for your product or service. Is the market already saturated? Do you personally have, or can you hire someone with, the ability or knowledge that will make the business run? Are you self-motivated, not needing someone else to set your deadlines or agenda? There are many questions to ask yourself before embarking on a solo journey, be it a law or consulting practice or a wholesale or retail business.
For those of you who do decide to pursue a business endeavor, there are excellent resources available. In larger communities, there are offices of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), whose volunteers will consult with you, without cost, on any aspect of your business plan, accounting system, marketing or advertising. SCORE is affiliated with the Small Business Administration, which has good publications and classes. Most community colleges offer courses, generally for a minimal fee, which teach the nuts and bolts of starting and running a small business. Look for the many specialized publications that carry relevant and helpful information about starting, buying, or running a business.
The majority of lawyers-turned-businesspeople tend to capitalize on their skills and experience to become consultants, start a retail business or buy an existing business or franchise:
Consulting: Some lawyers parlay their skills and acquired expertise into a role as a business consultant. Consultants either charge by the hour or negotiate a fixed price for a defined project. For example, if you have a background in employment law, you could consult with a company’s human resources department on personnel issues, then draft that entity’s personnel policy and procedures manual. If you have a background in alternative dispute resolution, you could put together ADR training programs for corporate managers. Former lawyers consult with law firms on office technology and systems, trial preparation and presentation, law firm management and marketing, insurance and financial planning, negotiating skills, effective written and oral communication and law office design.
Retail: Running a retail business is a difficult transition for many lawyers, since they generally have little specific experience with the retail field, other than as a purchaser. Important to note is that retail businesses initially create even more restrictive time schedules than do law practices—until the business can afford to hire an assistant, the owner must be present every day, from opening to closing. To find out about potential business opportunities, contact a business broker (they operate like a realtor—the seller pays a percentage of the sale price as a commission), read announcements and ads in your local business publications, go to Chamber of Commerce meetings and talk to the vendors who supply the type of business in which you are interested.
Franchises: There are as many franchise opportunities as there are people with ideas—some very good and many terrible. One benefit of a franchise is that the wheel needn’t be reinvented, just replicated. But plan to do some serious research and ask in-depth questions. Franchise fairs are good for exposure to the wide variety of offerings. Be sure to ask the franchiser for names and contact information of both current and former franchisees—you may find that the “golden opportunity” is merely fool’s gold. Ask if marketing and product/service support are provided, what the purchase price covers (does it cover only the right to use the franchise name, or does it include materials, training and support), and if there are ongoing royalty fees to be paid to the franchiser.
If you do decide to run your own business, you will work harder and put in more hours than you ever did as an employee. The difference is that, while the detriments are solely yours, so are the rewards. That’s the ultimate joy of running your own enterprise.
© 2012 by Hindi Greenberg, J.D./Lawyers in Transition. No reproduction in any format, other than on www.vault.com, without express written permission. Hindi Greenberg, J.D., is the president of Lawyers in Transition. She consults with individual lawyers nationwide on career satisfaction and options in and out of law and with law firms on outplacing their attorneys. She may be reached at (530) 274-7955 or www.lawyersintransition.com.