Sunday, January 18, 2009

Things I Wish I Would Have Done Right Away When I Started My Own Practice

1. Bought a Mac

- Mark Bennett told me to, but I didn’t listen, until my Lenovo broke down twice and, after doing without it for two one-week stretches, I realized I couldn’t afford the “savings” the windows-based machines (Vista) seemed to promise at first. Best business move ever. 

2. Gotten a Good Billing Program

- I stayed caught up on billing for most of the first year, but when I got busier I fell behind. A good billing program would have made staying caught up a breeze. This is another great reason to buy a Mac: I found the billing software much cheaper than what was available for the PC. (I chose Billings)

3. Gotten a Good Accounting Program

- I am trying to implement Quickbooks on a PC I have at home. I thought saving the $200 was worth keeping this separate from my macbook, (my brother gave me a copy) but now wished I would have sprung for the Mac version. I had plans to come home and input the data every day, but have learned that the “distance” between my office and the PC in my basement is too far to be workable. Besides, who wants to go down to the dark basement after a long day for data input! 

4. Stayed Caught Up on Billing

- As I said before, I stayed caught up for awhile, but haven’t done well lately. The problem is that so many tasks are urgent that I tend to take care of my own tasks last. For example, it’s hard to tell a client you haven’t worked on their case because you needed to get caught up on billing, so I put it off until “later” which always seems like next week but ends up being next month. 

5. Networked With More Lawyers for New Clients

- Jay Foonberg is right: Lawyers brought me a lot of clients. I wish I would have sent announcements to local lawyers about starting a practice. It likely would have meant those early months wouldn’t have been so “lean.” 

6. Not Taken Business I Had No Business Doing

- I took a lot of cases “for the experience” and ended up spending a lot of time in a “learning curve.” For example, if someone would call me about a will, I would quote them a low price and think I would learn a valuable lesson. But by the time I became “refamiliarized” with statutes and recreated the forms, I ended up regretting the decision to step so far out of my “element.” Next time, I think I’ll refer them to an attorney with expertise and hope for a referral in return. 

7. Gotten More Money Upfront

- I heard this advice thousands of times, but felt like I had to ignore it to stay busy. But a lot of promises, even from people I thought would surely pay, didn’t come through, even after good resolutions to their cases. 

8. Set Up a Meeting with Other Solos

- I should have set up a set time for other solos to meet for lunch to share “hard lessons.” I might not be writing this if I had! I also probably should have taken some people out for lunch, bought their lunch and heard the lessons they learned the hard way. 

9. Implemented G.T.D. Sooner

- I love David Allen's system, but need to do it much better. I heard about it from several people, but was finally convinced to take the plunge after James Fallows wrote about being assigned to write about it and then getting hooked. I bought the book, made some big changes to the way I organize things, but wish I would have done it sooner and better! Just this weekend I reorganized my basement and created better “buckets” and updated my filing system. I even used a hipster PDA for awhile before going with a paper-based system that works well for me, as long as I stay true to the process!

10. Bought an Ipod / Iphone Sooner

- I used an outlook calendar at first, but sometimes forgot to update it when I would get a court date when I was away from my computer. After missing a court date, and making a judge who I was relying on for court appointments understandably upset, I had to get a reliable calendar, especially when I started getting busy and needing to have access to my calendar everywhere. I bought an Ipod touch which syncs to my Ical through the cloud on Mobile Me and I love it. If I don’t have my Macbook, I can pull up my calendar from my ipod. I like having a separate cell phone rather than an Iphone as there are a lot of times I need a phone but not an ipod, such as on the weekends. I also like being able to pull up my calendar when I’m on the phone without putting it on speakerphone.

I love working for myself but learned a lot of hard lessons during my first 18 months. Looking back, I should have read Foonberg’s book three times, bought a mac right off, and made a vow to stay on a monthly schedule of billing and organization no matter what. David Allen has a saying about dealing with something when it “shows up rather than when it blows up.” I let too many things blow up when a system to process tasks would likely have given me enough time to take care of my own business without sacrificing the job I did for other people. The challenge is finding enough time, through organization, to keep clients happy and keep your own personal tasks form piling up and holding you back.

Easier said than done, but these things would have helped.

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