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How to become a firm of immigration lawyers (part one - or, do we really have to do a business plan?)

21 July 2015. Kevin Fitzsimons

abode migration lawyers opened 1 July 2015. A very sensible day to start a business. Our accountant approved. Okay, we had no clients to help with visas, but we were poised. Ready.

Reaching this point took several months and a lot of work. Much of the work was well anticipated. Some, less so.

February 2015: The Business Plan

The first job was writing the business plan.  It was something we approached with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because it was a chance to draw together all those ideas about what we intend to be and do - and capture it, show it, really imagine it complete. Trepidation because maybe it wouldn’t look so good on paper; that our ideas wouldn’t survive the process; that our enthusiasm and energy would wilt under the spotlight; that the financial maths just  didn’t add up.  There was also the not insignificant worry that it might turn out to be a really dry and inspiration-sapping process.

The other unknown with preparing a business plan was whether it would turn out to be of much value.  Would it be little more than an effective entry examination to setting up a business? An academic exercise that proved we could get past the stage of lofty ideas drawn out on napkins or painted among  cappuccino froth, but in of itself of little value once we got started? That business life was too complex and that there would be too many variables and permutations that we couldn’t possibly anticipate?

More than one business acquaintance said (somewhat glibly - and alarmingly) words to the effect of ‘yeah, you’ll throw the business plan out the window pretty much once you get started.”

A template saved the day.  Thank you business.gov.au and the god of templates.  They (business.gov.au) have a free-to-download document and it’s really good. It contains everything an aspiring entrepreneur needs in a business plan: a path that sets off with vision, travels by market research, goes on to product offering, alights at SWOT analysis, meanders alongside marketing/sales  and treads carefully through finances.

It took three months for The Business Plan to be completed. By mid-May we knew we had a project that was fit to start and our little immigration law outfit was going live 1 July.

So far, the well-anticipated parts of our journey have tended to be in the nearly-all-knowing business plan.  And it has given us firmer foundations to our instinctive belief that we will succeed. We know some key staging posts on the journey - such as how many clients we must recruit and by when; and how long we can survive without a salary and so on. And most importantly, because the document is detailed and thorough, it is ostensibly the strategy for the business - one which we are determined to live by. Or, if the plan turns out to be faulty, that we will knowingly change rather than just wander away from.

Indeed, the surprises we have had - though few - have generally come from not delving as deeply  into aspects of the business  within the plan as we now know was needed. For instance, the regulatory obligations for setting up a contemporary legal practice with a company structure takes a fair bit of work. But we assumed getting these legals in place was a necessary precursor to undertaking all other company establishment steps such as registering the business with ASIC (and obtaining the all important ABN and ACN). In fact several things can be done at once. We  were a bit too sequential in some actions which delayed important basic marketing preparatory works such as buying internet domain names.

The devil really is in the detail. Or, to use a modern business buzz phrase, one has to get granular.

One thing we did do right in respect of battling the devil grains - and that even went beyond the scope of the business plan template - was prepare a Gantt chart project schedule  that showed many of the dependencies and revealed the hard deadlines along the way if we were to launch by 1 July. It was 105-lines long (which is pretty modest for a project plan, but plenty enough). We printed it on an A3 sheet of paper and stuck it on the wall. And then we ticked off lines as they were done. Which was mightily satisfying. (By the way, you don’t need to buy the very expensive Microsoft Project Plan for this sort of one-off exercise; there’s plenty of free Gantt software available on the web these days).

We’re now T+3 weeks past launch date (hey, why do metaphors by halves?). Clearly it is far too soon to say if our belief will be vindicated. Only time will tell.

But either way, hopefully there is value in reading a contemporaneous digest of setting up a legal business rather than one from  the usual perspective of several years later.

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Victoria 3171

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