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Annual Business Planning: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“Set your business plan to win; raise the bar or you’re not going to be prepared.”
– Swizz Beatz

Anyone else working on their 2022 business plan? If you’re like me, you’re in the thick of it right now – pulling data, plotting year-to-date results, analyzing what’s gone well and what hasn’t, and reflecting on why certain things just couldn’t get done. Business planning can be motivating when the exercise is aligned to a clear and simple process.

Know your firm’s strategic plan inside and out – Marketing and business development are generally a focal point of a law firm’s strategic plan. And why wouldn’t they be? Building profile, generating new revenue, and enhancing client service are fundamental elements of what makes a good firm succeed. But there’s much more to it than that. The plan will address your firm’s mission, vision, and values. It will clearly articulate the work you will pursue, the clients you will serve, and how you will attract, retain, and develop your people. It might also include the investments you will make in technology and your appetite for innovation. Imagine not knowing any of that information. You can’t build until you understand. Start here, dig in, and ask questions.

Come to terms with your strengths and weaknesses – A simple exercise! What do you do really well? In which areas do you outperform the competition? In contrast, which areas need attention? Consider whether your strengths are aligned to your strategic plan and whether your weaknesses are important to nurture. This is important context that will support your plan.

Understand market trends and the competitive landscape – A less simple exercise and one that you can’t do on an annual basis. Legal marketers need to pay close attention to the market, letting curiosity and continuous learning lead the way. Read everything you have time for. Follow along online. And most important, build a network of peers that you can trust and rely on when the going gets tough (because it will!). This knowledge well help you identify where your firm sits – are you leading or are you following?

Collaboration is key – Marketing supports almost every business function in a law firm. To build a sophisticated, well-rounded, and realistic business plan, you must consult with your colleagues. What are their short-term priorities? How can marketing enhance, transform, and allow them to compete more aggressively? Consult as many of those stakeholders as possible. Additionally, marketing teams have never been more diverse. Many firms now have creative departments, digital and event specialists, communication experts, and more. If you can swing it, bring everyone in and do it early. Engaging your team from the outset will result in a better work product.

Develop a plan that acts as a road map – Strategy is critically important but, so are tactics. In many law firms, there are annual marketing activities that will always be on the plan. So, once those are plotted, what else do you? If you’ve identified a specific goal, you need to realize how you will achieve it. At Lenczner Slaght, we call them programs – be it social media, content marketing, media relations, etc. We spend considerable time scoping out what we’ll do to advance each program. We also plan when we’ll do it and how we’ll measure a good result. Getting to this level of detail gives you a tremendous amount control, which ultimately powers results.

Revisit the plan regularly and report your results – I personally review the annual plan every few weeks. It acts as a constant reminder of my priorities and lights a fire under me if I’m veering off course. We plot informal results monthly and formal results quarterly. As a team, we gather mid-year to discuss results and plan the remainder of our year, shifting or accelerating gears as needed.

Find joy in the process – Leo Burnett once said, “Creative ideas flourish best in a shop which preserves some spirit of fun.” Say it louder for the people in the back! A successful legal marketer has to enjoy the work and the people they’re doing it with. Planning your next year (or your next three or five) should be hard work but, it should also be incredibly fun. At our place, we yell and scream when we win awards, we passionately debate about which words to use, and we celebrate when new clients roll in. Work hard and have fun.

A good plan will be a living, breathing document, not something that is developed then shelved. Stick to a plan and adapt as needed. If all goes well, it will give you good reason to aim a little bit higher next year.

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