In this video interview, Dan Couvrette speaks with Katina Peters, CFO and business growth advisor, about what it takes to grow a profitable family law practice through developing the right mindset, planning, measuring performance, accountability, and systems.
My name is Dan Couvrette, and I’m the publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine and the CEO of Divorce Marketing Group. Family Lawyer Magazine is a print magazine, website, and newsletter that helps family lawyers. Visit www.FamilyLawyerMagazine.com to find resources and information that can help you in your practice.
Divorce Marketing Group is a full-service marketing agency that’s 100% focused on helping family lawyers and family law firms attract and secure clients. We do it by building websites for them and optimizing those websites for search engines. We do Google pay-per-click advertising campaigns, videos, podcasts, newsletters, divorce guides, social media, marketing, and more. If you’re looking for information about Divorce Marketing Group, please visit www.DivorceMarketingGroup.com.
Today my guest is Katina Peters. We will be talking about growth and profitability in your family law practice through productivity and efficiency. Katina is a virtual CFO and business growth and profitability advisor who has a passion for helping her clients achieve their dreams. She works with service-based businesses focusing our expertise on law firms and construction contractors. She utilizes her credentials, her education, and 20 plus years of experience as a certified public accountant and a chartered global management accountant to provide clients with insights into their businesses. She also acts as a business partner and strategic planning coach to help clients with the execution of the strategic plan that she works with them to create. Today, Katina and I are going to be talking about how running a business well is more than being a great family lawyer. Katina, thank you very much for joining me today.
Katina Peters: Thanks for having me. This is one of my favorite topics to talk about so I’m excited to do something with you.
I’ll mention that we are talking on July the 28th, 2020, so we’re five months into COVID-19. I know that there are six main areas that you want to talk about that would be the most impactful components of helping growth and profitability. What’s the first item on the agenda?
The first thing that we want to start with that I think is very important is mindset, and working on having the right type of mindset when you’re going into anything that you’re doing strategic planning-wise for your business. Especially right now, having that right mindset and looking at things from a place of calm is very important. We should look at things from what I call a clinical and entrepreneurial approach, where you’re stepping back from your business, stepping away from some of the attachment and emotion that we have with our businesses. As business owners, we’re very passionate about what we do, but when we go into how we plan for growth and profitability and make good decisions, we need to do that with a business mindset. Sometimes this means letting go of things that we’ve done in the past – things that are no longer working. We should also be open to new suggestions and new possibilities. Having that open mindset is very important. That doesn’t mean you have to do things you wouldn’t want to do, or that you need to stray away from your goals. Think about how a doctor would look at a business. Look at it from that perspective and have that mindset.
Do you find that lawyers are open to changing their mindset, or taking a look at their mindset?
They’re a little more predisposed when they do come to us because we’re pretty clear about that being an important part of what we do. As we onboard new clients, we talk to them about the fact that they need to be open-minded and coachable, and that they have to be open to change. Otherwise, if they keep doing the same things, they are going to continue getting the same results. Most of them are coming to us to improve and grow their businesses. They may be stuck in a rut, or maybe they’re just looking for growth, but changes will be inevitable in that process. So they do have to be open to that. I think a lot of business owners think they’re open to that, but sometimes it’s hard. You have to work on yourself to realize when you are stuck on things. It happens to all of us, and sometimes we’re not even aware of it.
They have to understand that they are going to get stuck every so often and that they’re going to disagree with what might be best for them at some points, and just be open to the conversation and new possibilities.
Exactly. Just be open to discussing it. We’re not going to suggest something for your business that you’re not comfortable with, or that you think could be detrimental to the business. There needs to be that open communication that you came to us to make a change in your business.
Let’s assume that the mindset is in the right place. What do you think comes next after that?
The next thing is planning. We have a 10-part strategic planning series of podcasts that we did as part of our “Cultivating Business Growth” podcasts. These episodes dig deep into strategic planning and the kinds of things you have to do. I think large corporations and large, successful businesses do a good job of strategic planning. I think that in smaller businesses, things fall to the wayside. We get busy, we don’t stop and pay attention to it, and we just get caught up in other things. We need to be intentional about making that plan and taking the time to make that plan. Sometimes this even means asking ourselves why we started the business in the first place. What are you trying to accomplish? Sometimes that gets lost along the way in the business of running a practice. You have to sometimes stop and say, “Why did I want to do this? What was my goal?” It’s important to establish those answers and then make sure that we’re integrating them into the strategic plan. We usually do long term planning at three years, and then we break it down to one year, and then quarterly and monthly.
You have to ask yourself where you want to be in your lifestyle and where you want to be as a firm. What kind of clientele do you want to serve? What kind of clientele do you not want to serve? Getting into the nitty-gritty of planning is very important. There are lots of studies on goal setting and how to achieve things, and when you have goals, and when they are documented and monitored, that’s what brings success. You have to have those goals and those plans in place. Things don’t happen by accident. They happen with daily steps that you’re taking to get where you want to be.
As a marketing company, it’s important to do this work with clients because if we build a website for them, we want the website to attract the type of clients that they want to get. For example, if they want to do litigation, it would be a mistake for us to be promoting something other than litigation on the website. If they’re committed to mediation or collaborative divorce, then we would want to promote that. This type of clarity helps you attract the type of clients you want and also creates the type of business that you want. What do you do to help them keep on track? What do you do to stay in touch with them?
We set goals, and we break them down into monthly goals so that we have measurable time periods that we’re dealing with, and that comes into budgeting, cash flow, and other key performance indicators. We did a series on our podcast as well that talks about good key performance indicators that law firms should be taking a look at. We need to figure out what’s best for each firm. A lot of them are similar, but different firms have different things they may need to track, so we set up systems that keep track of those KPIs so that they’re easily identifiable. You don’t spend hours getting data and statistics, you set time up to set up the systems and then those systems do the work for you. Having those measurements regularly monitored gives you the opportunity to be able to tell what’s going on with the business. Sometimes you think you know what’s going on but sometimes you don’t.
I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten a credit card statement at the end of the year where they summarize everything you spent your money on and you’re surprised. People don’t realize it unless they are looking at it monthly and understanding everything that’s going on in the business.
How far do you help them drill down? Do you find out how many people found them, or how many people came in for a meeting, or how many people hired them?
We focus on getting drilled down to the granular level. You can’t do everything all at once. Then once that system is working, we work in the next one, so we prioritize what’s the most important information first that we need to have. But there’s always that next level that we can work on and improve upon. We just look at the most important thing, and where the business thinks their problems are. Sometimes we can also tell financially just by analyzing their financials and time spent. We can hone in on some of those problem areas. We work on those first, and then we start getting more specific as we go forward.
Do you find that most lawyers look at a profit/loss statement at the end of each month? Or is it something that doesn’t happen regularly unless somebody like you is involved?
I would have to say that in my experience, it’s not as typical for them to do that, but it does happen. Some law firms are good about doing that on a monthly basis, but usually, that’s when they have somebody in the accounting department, or a CPA or somebody that’s working with them on that. The other important point is to make sure it’s accurate because there are a lot of things that can happen and skew those numbers if they don’t have somebody that’s reconciling everything out and making sure that the numbers are correct. If they don’t have someone taking care of those things, looking at those reports isn’t going to help manage the business, and it’s not going to help with tax planning. It’s getting that accuracy down that is very important, so I recommend working with a CPA. It doesn’t have to be us, but it is important to work with somebody who can make sure that those numbers are reflecting accurately when you’re looking at the profit and loss.
The balance sheet is just as important. I know you’d like to look at the profit and loss because that’s the performance of the business, but the balance sheet tells a lot about the strength of the business. That’s what the bankers are going to be looking at. Unless you’re an accountant or you have a lot of business background experience, you likely didn’t learn about the balance sheet and those financials. This is also something we work with people to understand.
Is there anything else you could say about how you help family lawyers achieve their growth and profitability projections that their protocols are shooting for?
When you look at it from a strategic perspective, once you know what your business is doing, you can project much better. With those metrics, you can know what it takes or what one staff person working for you can produce and how much efficiency they can have. You can project forward, so it helps build up that strategic plan going forward as well. You can tweak the numbers, look at industry averages, find out if you are in line with what the industry is doing, and find out where you can improve. Having that accountability and predictability in place is important. It’s also important to get those things systemized. There are some great products available to help law firms get the information they need in a much easier way than creating a bunch of Excel spreadsheets.
There are programs that can help you monitor what’s going on in your business, which make it easier to track and understand growth and profitability in your family law practice.
Exactly. Systemizing is key. We don’t want you spending all your time administering your business either. And if you’re a smaller practice, you’re going to be one of the people working with the clients. We Want to set it up to where it’s easy to upkeep and maintain.
I would think that part of your job as well is to get everybody on board. You can’t have one partner who’s all for something, and another partner who says the firm doesn’t need that, or an office manager who is upset because somebody’s consulting the firm. Do you do that sort of work?
Yes. Sometimes you feel like you’re a little bit in the psychology world. You have to have the leadership team of the firm all on board. We work at different levels. We typically start with the partners but we also want to integrate the team and bring them alongside to make sure that they’re understanding why we’re doing the things that we’re doing and why it’s important. This helps integrate everybody because everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction, otherwise it is going to be uncomfortable and stressful, and it’s not going to grow as efficiently.
Dan Couvrette: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. For people who would like to learn more about Katina and her firm, I recommend that you go to their website, it’s www.PJSCPAS.com. To find more interviews and find more information that can help you and your family law practice, I highly recommend www.FamilyLawyerMagazine.com. There are thousands of articles as well as podcasts, interviews, and other resources. If you’re looking for help with marketing for your own family law firm, please visit www.DivorceMarketingGroup.com Thank you again, Katina, for joining me today and thank you, folks, for watching or listening to this interview.
WATCH: Running a Business While Practicing Family Law
In this video, Family Lawyer Magazine Publisher Dan Couvrette interviews business growth advisor and CFO Katina Peters about running a business – your family law firm – while actively practicing family law.
WATCH: Strategic Planning for Family Lawyers During COVID-19
In this video interview, Family Lawyer Magazine publisher Dan Couvrette speaks with business growth advisor Katina Peters about strategic planning for family lawyers during COVID-19.