I often speak with partners who wish to make a lateral move to a new firm. Their reasons for seeking new platforms vary; however, their reactions to drafting a Business Plan are fairly uniform. In short, they do not want to do it because – much like drafting a resume – the Business Plan requires the candidate to really focus on his practice and clients; and this task can seem overwhelming. The good news is that the creation of a Business Plan does not need to be such an onerous task; and drafting it can be an incredibly useful exercise to prepare you for the meetings that will surely follow the receipt of a well written Business Plan.
Five Essential Components of Every Business Plan
A well written Business Plan can have as few as five sections: Introduction; Clients; Historical Billing Information; Reasons for Seeking a New Platform; and Conclusion.
The Introduction allows you to introduce yourself and your practice. No one knows you and your practice better than you and here is your opportunity to briefly describe what you have been doing for the last 10, 20, or even 30 (or more) years. Often (so as not to get bogged down in your various moves over the years in this section), you can reference that you have included your resume as an exhibit to the Business Plan. By including the resume as an exhibit, the introduction can stay focused on what you actually do rather than devolving into a long and dull narrative of your various moves between firms.
The next section – Clients – is probably the most important section. It is not necessary to name your clients. Some candidates like to name their clients; others do not for fear that the reader may attempt to poach their clients. What is critical is that you describe each of your clients who will definitely be coming with you, and indicate the type of work that you do for them. For example, you may want to mention that while you presently handle a particular client’s patent work, you could be eligible to do this client’s tax work too if only you had the right platform.
On occasion, a candidate will have clients who may come with him. For example, the candidate did not bring these clients to his current firm; however, he has handled all these clients’ tax matters for the last 10 years, and it is highly likely that these clients will come with him to the new firm. You should absolutely include these clients in your Business Plan with the caveat that these clients are not “yours”, but in all likelihood will come with you because you have become their go-to person for your practice area.
If you are feeling ambitious, you may want to begin to think about the yearly fees that you generate from each of your clients, and what you expect you will generate from these clients in the coming year. You will need this information eventually, so you may as well do it now because you will be that much more prepared for your meetings.
Historical Billing Information
Firms usually want to see your historical billing information for the last 3 years. On occasion, firms want to see 5 years, but 3 years is usually sufficient. At this stage, it is not necessary to get into your realization rate, collections, etc. It is enough at this point to simply state your overall billing for each of the last three years.
It is a good idea to include the number of hours you worked and your hourly rate for the last three years too. It is also important to indicate whether your hourly rate is flexible. Often, if a candidate is trying to lateral to a larger firm, his rate may be too low for his target firms. I have had candidates state quite simply that their current hourly rate is a must for their present clients (who may leave if their rates increase), but that they are amenable to the target firms’ rates for all new business. Other times candidates will indicate that they are open to increasing their hourly rate if necessary.
By mentioning the number of hours you worked each year in conjunction with your hourly rate for those same years, you are allowing the target firms to determine how profitable you will be for them should they increase your hourly rate.
Reasons for Seeking a New Platform
It is imperative to clearly state why you are trying to move from your current firm. It is equally important NOT to criticize your current firm when giving your reasons for seeking a new platform. As stated in the first paragraph of this article, partners move to new firms for a variety of reasons. Are you being conflicted out of work? Does your current firm lack support for your clients’ matters that you are too busy to handle personally? Would you be able to do more work for your clients if you were at a firm that could service their needs in other practice areas? Are you trying to break into a more sophisticated client base and your current firm lacks the name recognition and cache to capture those clients? Whatever your reason for seeking a new platform, you should clearly state it in your Business Plan. This question will arise in your meetings, and you want to have had time to really think through your reasons and present them in a clear and concise manner.
The conclusion can be very short. In the conclusion, you can simply thank the reader for his time, and indicate that you would like very much to arrange a meeting to discuss your practice, clients, and career goals.
Please remember that the purpose of the Business Plan is twofold. First, most firms want to review a Business Plan before they schedule their partners to meet with you. Hence, you usually need a Business Plan to even get through the door! The second most important reason for drafting a Business Plan is to help you prepare – in a very concrete way – for your meetings. The Business Plan forces you to clearly and succinctly describe your practice, your clients, your portable numbers, and your reasons for seeking a new platform. Once you have performed this exercise – the exercise of really taking a long and hard look at your professional self – you will be able to perform so much better during your meetings when you are fielding difficult questions from strangers who may soon be your new partners!
See the following articles for more information about business plans: