3 Things I’ve Learned from My Kids About Managing a Small Firm
September 22, 2015
Kids are weird and that’s the truth. And being a parent is no walk in the park. For any of you who have kids, the life lessons we learn (and teach) can be unexpected rewards. For those of you who don’t have kids, you may still find some truths herein from your own observations. Either way, it’s interesting how many business learnings can be drawn from the most common activities, experiences and challenges.
I’ve been a parent for four years and an entrepreneur for over a decade. As with all things in life, hard work, moderation and a bit of luck all play a role in the success of both sets of challenges. But recently, as my wife and I reflected on how cool we were before having two kids, I noticed some interesting parallels between raising offspring and running a business. Strange but true.
LESSON #1: Get Someone Else to Do It
My four year old loves having a personal assistant. My wife and I often find ourselves working for her rather than with her. Anything from making her dinner, to turning on her favorite TV program, to taking her to the park, if she wants it, you will surely hear about it. The same goes for most parents of toddlers, I guess. Parents change diapers, clean up messes and generally “bring them stuff.” The kids have figured out that it’s great having someone around who will make their lives easier.
When it comes to running a small law practice, you can’t possibly do everything all the time. Regardless if you think you are great at practicing law AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND strategy AND client development AND staffing AND doing your taxes AND IT, the real question is SHOULD you be doing all these things? Having a vetted, battle-tested team supporting your business is becoming a necessity in this hyper-saturated market. You have two choices when it comes to any aspect of your business: do it yourself or pay someone to do it. Where is your time better spent? Cleaning up poop or spending time with your clients?
LESSON #2: Routine is Required
“Winging it” is something parents quickly find out isn’t an option. It took me a couple of years (and several bottles of Irish whisky) to understand this basic point. Research tells us that kids appreciate – and even come to rely on – consistency and routine. If you skip a story after bath time – be prepared for WWIII. If you bypass the nap and instead decide to go see a Brave’s day game – good luck. And adding other people to the mix who don’t know or don’t follow some kind of routine (I’m thinking overzealous grandparents) can make it tough to get back on schedule.
The same goes for managing small firms. Processes, systems and infrastructure build routine. Routine, when done properly reduces wasted effort, time and money. All good things. Getting your billing process or your intake process documented and streamlined makes it more efficient and helps other to do it the same way over and over, which also reduces waste. You don’t have to over-engineer your routines though. Some parents (not mentioning any names) require an hourly log of what the kid ate, how many minutes they slept and what their bowel movements looked like. Keep it simple, but document the key routines that make your practice hum.
LESSON #3: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
As a parent, this seems fairly obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. It could be the rebellious behavior today or the constant whining tomorrow or the potty-training this weekend that puts you over the edge in the early years. And older, more experienced parents are an endless source of opinion. I keep hearing a mix of “it gets better, just be patient” and “your struggles now are nothing compared to what lies ahead.” Maybe it’s a mix of the two or maybe some view “struggles” through a different lens than I do. Either way, the long road ahead is most likely paved with ups and downs, laughing and crying. But as the father of two beautiful girls, I’d trade 1,245 MORE diaper changes for the promise that no man (or women for that matter) takes advantage of my little angels. Every day, I hope to give them the confidence and strength they need to take care of themselves. But for now, I focus on the fact that by the time my kids turns 18, there are only 940 weekends to spend with them. Long-term progress, little by little, is more satisfying than putting out fires.
When it comes to running a small firm, short term challenges can overwhelm us, leading us to ignore the big picture. Making payroll, or finding the next client, or dealing with a disgruntled paralegal can blind us. We can lose sight of why we are in business in the first place, what makes us different and how to make a better business one day at a time. Since some research tells us that only 40 to 50 percent of small businesses make it to be four years old, that’s only 1,255 business days (excluding holidays and weekends) to get it right. As an entrepreneur, a marathon-mentality can help set your sights, but only if you work hard ON the business as well as IN it.
In the end, parenting isn’t for everyone. But neither is running a small firm. Neither should be taken lightly and both require hard work. Both take courage and determination, but neither help you sleep at night. I wouldn’t trade my kids for any amount of money, and while necessary, money derived from running a business isn’t the bottom line.
Do you have any business learnings drawn from parenting or other areas of life? Sports are an easy and well documented one. Anything else? I’d love to hear from you.