A Forecast of 2021 Business Trends (A Legal Perspective)
Practicing law exclusively for business owners can naturally put me in quite a unique position when it comes to spotting business trends, as you can imagine; particularly as the world endures an economic-crushing pandemic. After all, when clients work with my law firm, it is primarily in one of three ways:
To start a new venture
To fight to keep their venture alive (whether that be contract drafting/negotiation, litigation, or restructurings)
To take steps necessary to not just preserve the legacy of their business (estate planning, intellectual property, and the like), but to strategically take advantage of a down market
My clients’ general net profit amounts range from $0 (startups) to more than $20 million. As clients have weathered the storm that has been COVID-19 for the last year, certain trends of what is, and what’s not working have emerged. One important note: some of these trends won’t sound like jaw-dropping revelations, and you’ll recognize them. But by far and away, here is the differentiating factor I’m seeing between my successful clients, and those who I know will be out of business in the next year or so: the former put pen to paper, and map out how to implement them in their own business. The latter confuses the recognization of a trend as equal with the implementation of it.
If you own a business in any capacity, you don’t have the luxury of not being visionary. It’s of course difficult at times (particularly after the grueling endurance test that was 2020, when all you want to do is take time off). This is a skill everyone has to some degree, but it’s also a muscle that can be exercised-I hope this article serves to challenge you to do just that.
Business trends I’m seeing from my most successful clients:
Learn how to run your business effectively and efficiently online
The #1 takeaway from COVID-19, I know: just because your industry has historically been an in-person industry doesn’t mean it cannot be conducted in some capacity online (lawyers, realtors, accountants: I’m really talking to you right now).
Case study: I am working with someone who has been in business for more than 25 years, and has established and practiced procedures in place. She’s struggling to see how she can gain traction and stay afloat in a temporary online model (although I’d argue, the world changed this year, and every business should learn to maintain an online presence)
General: a simple website, software like Zoom, e-contract signing service like 17hats, Docusign, etc.
Run teams remotely
A follow up to the above: the world is changing, and many businesses are realizing they don’t need to spend the same money on the overhead that they used to, and their employees are even more productive working from home. Establish procedures so that you can at least accomplish this if you were forced to
The need for online products and education will rise. Can you monetize everything you’re doing right now?
I’ll use myself as my own case study here: quite frankly, aside from just naturally being drawn to entrepreneurship, the real reason I started this firm in 2017 was that I survived a horrific and protracted health crisis that was made a “traditional” law firm path unconducive with my health needs. I started with nothing: not knowing anyone who had started a law firm before, not really knowing any lawyers who had started a “nontraditional” firm. And lots, and lots of medical bills. I was hungry for success, and hunger is what drives you to think outside the box. So I did. I looked at the file of contracts on my desktop, and knew they were sellable, and started The Creative Law Shop®. In 2020, the Shop brought in appx. 5 times more than my “traditional” salary would have paid.
So, what are you doing right now could be monetized? I’m not saying that every business owner should start a course, a shop, etc, but just the exercise of asking yourself this question is a valuable exercise in operating as a visionary, and you never know what you’ll come up with.
Ask yourself: What makes you different? How can you teach that to others? My most successful clients are asking this of themselves as we speak, and have been able to open up multiple streams of income (and security) for their families.
Run your business to be able to operate without you, or to fail.
Again, a major lesson from COVID: you may become incapacitated, or your business’ doors may be shuttered. Although it can be the most boring and difficult side of the business, set up systems and procedures that can carry you through those times. For example, begin using a client management system with workflows built-in. For myself, this included hiring a COO who has helped me completely organize the backend of my business, so that I can churn out better work, more effectively and efficiently.
Case study: One of my clients has owned his business for 40 years as of this year, and has/had an office of a few dozen employees that rely on him. Due to COVID-19, his industry has been shut down for 11 months, and the company was looking at bankruptcy. However, as I’ve expressed in private conversations, working with him has been the biggest eye-opener for me in terms of always maintaining a visionary mindset. When the you-know-what hit the fan, he had the right people in place to keep the business running while he dedicated the entirety of his time to finding investors, and innovative solutions in diversified markets.
Protect your intellectual property
I’ve mentioned it before, but right now, there are businesses that are supplementing some of their income through legal means. What do I mean by this? I have clients right now who are on the receiving end of large businesses who are threatening litigation for potential trademark infringement and offering settlement agreements for extending licensing of the name for thousands of dollars a year instead. I have my own opinions on the ethics of such actions, but at the end of the day, it’s business, and to a certain extent, logical. Hard times bring out desperation, and more business conducted online means more eyes on your website than may have occurred before.
If you have a business name that you have not trademarked, equate it to having a business you don’t file taxes for. Sure, you might get away with it for a little bit, but you also very well may get audited one day, and the house of cards will come crashing down.
Register your trademarks, or risk a forced rebrand (or worse, litigation).
Consider restructuring your business model
Get strategic, and take advantage of opportunities like lessened taxes by having the correct legal entities in place. Take Reach out at email@example.com for an accounting referral.
Invest in education
As businesses fight to survive the effects of the last year, the professionals, and those who have invested in becoming the best in their industry will be those who don’t just survive, but stand apart. This year has been an endurance test, but in the same way an athlete pushes through difficult workouts day in and day out so that they don’t just show up, but compete, business owners must cultivate the muscle of being visionary.
As for what that means for your own business, of course, only you can answer that. However, if you’re a photographer in particular, I want to point you to a resource that I believe in strongly: The Abundance Plan, by KT Merry. You won’t see me share that many educational programs, but this is a program I feel strongly about (and that is an affiliate link, so if you do sign up, please know I may get a commission). I’ve had the great fortune of getting to know KT over the years of owning my law firm, and she has one of the truly most entrepreneurial minds I have encountered. The course is open only from Feb. 2-9, so if you are interested, I’d encourage you to take a look now! From KT:
“This course was created for photographers who have mastered the how-to and nuances of a wedding day but are struggling to take their brand to the next level, to where they know their potential lies. Through The Abundance Plan I help seasoned photographers create a bigger vision for where they are headed, teach them how to land dream clients, and give them the tools to build sustainable—and profitable—businesses. Perhaps most importantly, I share trade wisdom helping them tackle the scarier side of business all while cultivating a winner’s mindset. Entrepreneurship has been life-changing for me and I cannot wait to share what I’ve learned in my 10+ years in business with other photography business owners who need a mentor on their side who can guide them, cheer them on, share the hard lessons, and help them make the kind of impact in their business that they’ve always wished they could make.”
I have to add as a final note: your business may exist now, but will not endure if the legal components are not in place. If you are a small business owner ready to take your business to the next level, email firstname.lastname@example.org to gain clarity on what action steps are needed from a legal perspective.
I hope that this has helped spark some new ideas, or at least new ways of thinking for you. Challenging times truly bring out the best in some businesses, and when analyzing my own clients, it’s clear that learning how to exercise that “visionary muscle” has truly been the thread of success that is true for every range; from oil and gas operators to photographers, and from startups to entrepreneurs with decades of success under their belt.
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