Staying Solo Successfully

On October 20, I celebrated my fifth year as a solo lawyer at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. While purists might argue it’s not a real “law firm” — since it has no full-time staff and runs on a virtual office platform — I am staying solo successfully.

At this point, I still have no desire to hire my first employee, take out a business loan for growth and expansion, or rent an office space for clients and prospects to stop by and see me whenever they please.

I work with skilled, independent professionals who help me on a project basis without constant check-ins. I focus on a select group of clients instead of attend to the masses. I avoid lease payments for an office space by using technology to attract and communicate with clients who don’t need regular or any in-person meetings. I charge for my authority and expertise in (usually complex, low-supply, high-demand) niche areas instead of bill by the hour (which punishes higher productivity and rewards longer work hours).

Although there are things I could do in my business to improve it or to stretch further beyond my comfort zone, I am grateful for the clientele it reaches, the flexibility it allows, and the income it generates. At least in today’s economic climate, I get to choose the clients I want to work with and the matters I want to take on.

On most days, I am making progress on projects and completing tasks that are my top priorities. I spend fewer days putting out fires and getting overwhelmed with distractions and interruptions. I enjoy working mostly from my home office, and occasionally at the local library or in a favorite coffee shop. And I have generated a sustainable income that has eliminated the biggest fear I had when I started my solo practice, i.e. becoming unemployable.

The setup I have is a dream-come-true. It is ideal for someone, like me, who hates daily commutes to work, prefers deep thinking over group discussions, and is more interested in having a higher take-home pay (with fewer expenses) than in generating a higher gross revenue (with bigger expenses.)

There is no shame in keeping your business small. Before you start expanding by leasing your first office space or moving to a bigger one, hiring more employees, increasing your client caseload, etc., think about whether you really want all of that. While taking these steps could boost your revenue and make your business seem more “legitimate”, they come with a higher cost and possibly more stress. Building a bigger business won’t necessarily create more time for sipping mai tais on a tropical beach, going on a yoga retreat, or taking solo “think weeks” in a cabin in the woods (like Bill Gates).

Are you prepared to hire and fire people? Do you have the skillset or desire to mentor, lead, train and manage a staff? Do you want to pour more attention on building your ideal team versus serving your ideal client? Are you inclined to take on a wider variety of matters rather than niche down on your top areas of interest? Have you factored in how you will maintain cash flow with additional costs?

If you’re a solopreneur who thinks scaling up or achieving success requires rapid and unchecked growth, read Paul Jarvis’ Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business.  A company of one can involve teamwork, delegation and collaboration, have systems and procedures, and generate a high net income. You don’t have to grow your business to one that hires a full-time staff, has multiple physical locations, or can be sold in the end.

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While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to or striving to build a bigger business, it’s not right for everyone or right in any season or stage of your life.


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Photo by: jdesroc