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How to Stay Solo with No Employees

 A lot of attorneys launch their practices as “solopreneurs.” That is, a solo entrepreneur. Many choose to stay that way because they prefer to work alone or simply don’t want to add staff. If that’s what someone truly wants, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Others are scared of the responsibility that comes with having employees, or they had a bad experience and figure it’s not worth the hassle.

And here’s the problem with that reasoning: the bad experience was a system failure, not a business model failure.

The having-employees business model has been proven to work. People who feel burned by a bad experience with an employee didn’t know how to effectively organize their business to maximize productivity, didn’t know how to measure the success of the staff, or just didn’t hire the right people.

There’s a good chance that an attorney who had a bad experience could be very well-served by having a staff. When done correctly, that business model makes life easier. When done incorrectly, it’s a productivity killer.

But that’s a problem with the individual’s system, not the overall business model.

The Challenges of Staying Solo

As a practice grows and becomes more complex, solos inevitably hit a wall with how much they can accomplish. A ceiling of complexity. Regardless of whether you’re charging hourly or a flat fee, most time is spent keeping the lights on instead of growing the business.

There will always be some administration – and the doing of the work. But if you expect your practice to grow, there has to be time for the getting of the work, which is borderline impossible if you’re doing everything yourself.

Unless you learn how to delegate, which typically begins with delegating administration, it becomes more and more difficult to break away from doing the work. Getting the work will always suffer.

Look, there is nothing wrong with remaining a solopreneur. But you need to understand that you’ll seriously limit your growth potential if you don’t outsource at least of some of the work of your firm. And worse, in every instance I’ve seen, you’ll also have more of a yo-yo income than if you spend the time and effort understanding how to work with a team.

Growing As a Solopreneur Without Going Insane

The first step is to identify what work you – and only you - must do and what can be done by someone else. Take off your factory hat and put on your business owner hat.

For example, when most attorneys start a practice, they have to do the legal work, but another person could be handling bookkeeping and answering the phones. This wouldn’t have a negative impact on the practice. In fact, it will have a positive impact because it allows the attorney to focus on core business functions, not on something that’s neither core nor their core ability.

If you want to stay solo, outsource things like bookkeeping, instead of hiring an employee. A phone answering service that schedules calls for you, instead of being interrupted all day, can free up time for growing the practice and change the nature of the relationship between you and your clients.

Instead of being the client’s on-call servant and letting them dictate how you operate, you control the relationship – and your practice.

Delegation, Not Abdication

If you’re going to outsource, make sure you understand the difference between delegation and abdication.

Abdication means giving someone a set of tasks to be done on your behalf, and just expecting it to be done (whether you’re working with an employee or an external vendor). You throw something at someone with a big “please handle” on it. A recipe for disaster, and the reason why lawyers get burned. We forget that employees can’t read our minds.

Delegation involves giving a set of tasks to be done on your behalf, but also providing direction. You explain how the tasks are to be performed, identify criteria for success, and monitor to ensure that the tasks actually get done. In other words, you set yourself up for success, not failure. Is this more work than abdication? Well yeah. But it’s also the path to success.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re truly committed to staying solo but want to grow your practice, you have to allow time for getting the work, not just doing the work. You need to create that time. And the only way to create time is to take stuff off your desk, and give it to others with a framework for handling it right.

Bottom line, you need to outsource certain tasks and learn how to delegate – that is, unless you don’t value your sanity.

Note to Practice Alchemy Members: Use the "Delegation Liberation" blueprint in the Member Training Portal to quickly assess what, and how, to delegate to free up time without compromising revenue.

Raj Jha