Author Topic: How Do You Know Right Time to Increase Overhead/Expand/Take on More Risk?  (Read 288 times)

ReadySetMillionaire

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Some of you may know that I have an ongoing thread about a job dilemma that eventually broadened into starting my own law practice.  That thread is here: https://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/employment-dilemma-take-new-job/

I've been very transparent for those following, so I'll just repeat here: my profit was about $57,000 in about seven months last year.  I'm projecting at least double that this year.

Now that my practice is relatively grounded and established, I have two main issues I'm trying to tackle in 2019: (1) securing a bigger office space and (2) bringing on some sort of part time assistant to help me out.

Regarding the office (you can see the full breakdown in Post #233 in that thread), my current space is an office share, and my workspace is a mere 9x9 room that used to be a production room.  I'm feeling very crammed.  A new space has opened up with 700 square feet, still a good location, and only $50 more per month.  But, the best part of my current space is close proximity to other lawyers, and free technology (phone line, copier, fax, scanner, unlimited paper, etc.).

So basically, more space, shorter commute, more autonomy; but no receptionist, need to furnish it on my own, have to get my own technology and pay for its ongoing cost.

Regarding hiring an assistant, I'm just getting bogged down in simple tasks that I can't bill clients for.  Sending letters, billing, organizing, calendaring, etc.  I'd love to have someone come in for 10-15 hours a week.


With all this said, I'm terrified of expanding too quickly and taking on too much risk.  Much of my success can be credited to maintaining a very small overhead. Moving would probably increase that by several hundred dollars a month, as well as the cost of furnishing.  Hiring an assistant would obviously increase overhead as well.

So when is the right time to do all this? I feel like I can more than afford it, but I'm generally conservative and hesitant to take on these new costs.

I welcome any ideas and comments from a other professionals, but also a wide variety of industries, as I know this problem is not unique to professionals.
« Last Edit: January 30, 2019, 06:59:46 AM by ReadySetMillionaire »

CareCPA

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Most people wait too long to hire. Here's how I look at it:

You're a lawyer, and I'm going to guess your billing rate it somewhere around $200-$300 an hour, up to $500 an hour if you're specialized and in a city. Let's assume it's low, for the sake of argument, and that you pay your admin $20 an hour.
So for every 9 hours your admin works, you only have to bill one more hour (rounding for payroll taxes and whatnot).

You trade 9 hours of work for 1 hour of work. Sounds like a win to me.

In our business, freeing up time has exponential benefits. Instead of doing the transactional bookkeeping, I can hire bookkeepers. If I spend that time bringing in even 1 or 2 clients, it pays for the bookkeeper who can work on 6-12 clients (depending on complexity). If I spend that time improving a process, or automating a task, and save 5% of time per client, that pays for even more employees. Maybe I take that free time and create content or sales funnels, bringing in even more clients.
The sooner you can stop working in the business and start working on the business, the faster you'll grow.

Unless, of course, you're happy to just work for yourself and make a normal salary. In which case, grow to the size you're comfortable with, and then stop taking new work.

The office space is trickier - is a physical space even required? What kind of clients are you working with, and what do they expect? Is face-to-face required, or can it be all phone/video meetings? These will heavily affect what type of office you need.
Don't be afraid to spend money in the short term, if it will mean growth in the long term.

Fuzz

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Do you know how to use text expanders and the document automation features of MS Word. Do you have templates?

Do that before you get an assistant.

Also, please define profit. 57K in profit after paying yourself a fair wage and subtracting out expenses? Or 57K after expenses?

ReadySetMillionaire

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I agree @CareCPA  that I probably should hire someone sooner rather than I probably will. Should being the operative word.

Where I get torn is that I do somewhat relate to just being happy to work for myself. I'm not trying to get rich or build a huge empire. I just enjoy being on my own, making a decent living, etc. Increasing overhead can mean more work, especially since probably 20-25% of my practice is at public defender rates ($50-60/hour).

Regarding space, yes, face time is absolutely necessary, and a separate space is a must. The 600 square foot space seems to meet all my needs -- enough for my office, a conference area, reception area, and storage room.

As to the things raised by @Fuzz, I meant profit as $57k over expenses. I haven't yet elected to be taxed as an LLC just yet. But again, that $57k profit was in just seven months, and I'm very proud of that number and looking to be somewhere in the $100k-150k range every year based on how things are going so far.

Fish Sweet

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Re: How Do You Know Right Time to Increase Overhead/Expand/Take on More Risk?
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2019, 12:34:01 PM »
Here are some thoughts from the hiring side of things, from someone who's worked in similar legal assistant roles/done hiring for suitable people in similar roles.

Here is what a lot of solo practitioners do in making this first hire, which results in frustration, wasted time, and high turnover:  they think "oh god, I desperately need a legal assistant, but the thought of hiring someone is so intimidating that I'll put zero planning into it until I'm up to my eyeballs and it's an emergency."

And in that state of desperation, they hire someone to fill in that nebulous bubble of "all that tedious stuff that I don't want to (and can't afford to) do."

But "all the tedious stuff I don't want to do" isn't a job description, and you can't hire someone and assess their strengths and weaknesses on it.  The new hire comes in and EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE, the attorney has no time to train (because they're swamped) and the doesn't know what even to train for.  The new hire doesn't know what to do, how to do it, how to put out the fire they were never trained to assist in, and quits in frustration, leaving the attorney in an even deeper hole.

DO:
- Really define the job that you have in mind, and the kind of person you need to handle it.  Do you need a friendly, customer service oriented voice to chat up your clients as they schedule for you?  Do you need someone with relevant legal experience/know how to screen your calls and answer general questions?  Do you need a competent super-admin to keep your practice organized, all appointments calendared, all things scanned, named, and sorted into their respective files?  Would it be good for this person to be a notary?  Are you a rigidly scheduled person who needs another disciplined person to work alongside with?  Are you having a hard time with your schedule and need a strong personality to keep you on track?  Do you literally just need someone to do back office maintenance and filing, no experience needed?  Do you need someone who can drive and drop off documents?
 
- Think about what kind of training the person should have or will need (do you want to hire an experienced legal assistant or a fresh grad that you can mold to your firm?  How is this person going to be compensated.) 

- THINK ABOUT THE TIME YOU NEED TO SPEND TRAINING, especially if you're hiring someone on the less experienced side of things. An employee that "hits the ground running" is a myth, in my experience-- not when they don't even know what direction to run in.  Set them (and yourself!) up for success by making sure you can show them the ropes.

- Screen for: ability to multitask, organizational skills, admin experience, people who don't need to be micromanaged every second, people whose main personality traits are competent, reliable, and flexible.  As a small business owner who undoubtedly wears a frillion hats, you want to transfer some of those hats over to someone else-- but make sure you're bringing in someone already skilled in the art of hat juggling before you start handing them over.