When most new business owners start out the first people that they typically hire are graphic designers, web designers, brand consultants or other people associated with the visual appeal of their brand. This is one of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a new business owner. Don’t get me wrong, these folks who are responsible for making you show up and show out in the world are some of my very, favorite people. If you can’t tell by now, I love a strong, creative brand. It stirs my soul. But, should they be the first stop on your entrepreneurial journey? Not even. (I have a good friend who won’t even take a branding client on if she detects that they need business coaching first. Guess what? She offers that too and is darn good).
Some of the lessons I share are because I’ve witnessed them first hand as an attorney for creative entrepreneurs, innovators and change agents. But, some of these nuggets, I’ve learned along the way as I build my own business. I haven’t always gotten things right and I think it’s important to share the successes, as well as my a-ha moments along the way.
The very first thing I did when starting my business was to hire a consultant to write up my business plan. But, after that, literally all of my money went into graphic and web design. I spent something like $1,500.00 on my very first blog which was up and running before I even announced the launch of Creative Genius Law. That was literally one of the worst decisions ever. I own it. One hundred percent.
But, my spending on web and graphics didn’t stop there. I don’t have an exact dollar amount but it was a small fortune. It was very important to me that I come out of the gate with a tight brand. Years later, as I look back on my start-up, I realize why that wasn’t a great decision and how I wasted so much money. Because I wasn’t clear on my value proposition, who I wanted to serve, and how, my brand wasn’t clear and required a massive overhaul about a year ago. If I’d only hired a coach first….
Instead, I put all of my resources into the design bucket while ignoring other professional services that would be essential for my business growth. Like, a business coach. I’ll admit, I tend to be a DIYer in certain aspects. I love to learn and reading business books is one of my favorite hobbies. So, couldn’t I also teach myself everything I needed to know about business strategy, business development and sales, business models, pricing and more?
Sure, I could. Then, I could continue to apply those general lessons from every book that I read, sort through what worked for me through a process of trial and error, and eventually see success and a sustainable business. Never mind the fact that I needed to also spend my time on the operational aspects of my business and actually delivering my client service. No problemo. I love a good challenge. It’s one of my strong suits. [Insert extreme sarcasm].
Well, let me tell you that on the outside looking in, my business looked great. But the real deal, is that behind the scenes I was struggling. I served 26 clients in my first year of business (pretty amazing for a first-year-in-biz, solo attorney). But, my profit was dismal. I struggled with cash flow, barely making enough to pay my personal bills and found myself in debt. Thank goodness for supportive parents who jumped in and supported me in ways that I will never forget.
What I learned after that first year, was I couldn’t figure it out alone. There was no way in hell I should have had that many clients and struggled the way that I was. Some peeps will say, “Well, duh. Patrice. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what to do. Just raise your prices.” Sure, that could work if I wanted a quick, band-aid fix. I knew enough to know I needed help because I just didn’t have the expertise necessary to really uplevel my business on my own.
The problem is, I didn’t know what the person was called that I needed. “Maybe, I need a business coach. Or, maybe it’s something more like a business strategist.” I just didn’t know. And, to add a layer of confusion to the situation, many of the people that called themselves “coaches” or “strategists” seemed to be all-fluff with no real, verifiable track record and clear results. I was really worried about throwing money at someone who had text book knowledge, but not legit knowhow that would apply to my business.
So, what did I do?
I made some tweaks to my business to “fix” the mess while I intentionally began to watch the business world around me. Eyes peeled. I paid attention to folks in the business coaching/consultancy/strategy space keeping my eyes open for who could help me make the progress that I needed to make with building my firm. I found folks who filled those shoes, and immediately saw real, meaningful change in my business. To name a few, I have a regular stream of prospects inquiring about working with me and a solid business model that will serve my clients every step of their entrepreneurial journey. If time traveling were a real thing, I’d reset my business and start over with a business coach to guide me.
This leads me to the point of this post…
The two people that a new entrepreneur needs to hire first are an attorney and a business coach.
Let me explain why I threw attorneys in the mix.
Typically, lawyers are seen as Olivia Pope-style fixers. Entrepreneurs hire a lawyer to avoid messes, to clean up messes and to dig them out of trouble. Instead, a lawyer should be a key part of your start up crew to not only keep you from “doing things wrong” but to help you maximize your potential as a business owner and build a thriving business (not just any old business).
You see, your business lawyer should:
- Not just write contracts to make sure they cover you legally, but review them in alignment with your big picture goals of your business to make sure it gets you one step closer to what you want in the long term.
- Not just file forms to help you set up a business, but give you strategic insight on what business structure is best for you, based on your goals, and how you want your business to serve your life and impact the world.
- Not just advise you and a business partner on the fundamentals of forming a partnership and give you a partnership agreement that covers the basics. But really get to the nitty gritty of how you each vision yourself growing with the business, and help you solidify the relationship at the sweet spot of maximizing business growth and moving you towards those goals.
See, while a business coach helps you get crystal clear on things like vision, mission, messaging, and business model; a solid business attorney is helping you lay the foundation for your vision, mission, messaging, business model and more through….
- The business structure that you choose
- The way your contracts are drafted
- What’s negotiated in your contracts
- An intellectual property strategy that protects your core messaging and competitive advantage
- and so on…
Let’s dig in…
Let’s say, you’re a graphic designer and one of the ways that you differentiate yourself in the market is through the client experience you provide. Maybe that client experience includes faster turnaround times, a training session to teach the client things like what type of files to use for different media (i.e. online versus print); and maybe you offer a quick assessment/audit of the client’s website and social media assets to give the client insight on how they can move towards a more cohesive brand and streamline their visuals for more impact.
All of these benefits of your service should be captured in the client agreement. The client agreement does not just protect your business but it lays out your key differentiators (typically worked out with a business coach), and provides the client with a guarantee on the quality of service to expect. Often, I talk to my clients just as much about business strategy as I do straight-up legal advice because that’s the only way to ground my counsel in their reality.
In a perfect world, all business attorneys would be created equal.
Fact: We are not.
When looking for a business attorney approach it with the same vigor that you would when hiring a business coach. You would never hire a business coach that is disconnected from your business, isn’t passionate about your vision and presents you with cookie-cutter solutions. So don’t settle for that with an attorney.
Do you have these core peeps on your team?
Even if you’re not ready today, I encourage you to start doing your research, getting referrals, vetting folks and building a list of prospects. That way, when you are ready, you have your go-to folks on hand and can start building that genius empire.
Legal Quick Start calls are the perfect way for creative geniuses like yourself to pick my brain, get important legal questions answered and see if you dig my style. Check it out here.