If I told you I had the answers to successfully running your legal practice while reclaiming your sanity, what would you think?
Those solutions were hard-won during my time running my own niche PI law firm, an experience which took me to the edge in terms of my physical and mental health, so I know from painful personal experience the pressure of being that business owner.
If you feel like you are only just keeping everything together, you aren’t alone. Research from accountancy platform FreeAgent, revealed that 73 percent of business owners have had their mental health put under strain by running their own venture. My own clients tell me similar stories of days spent feeling a deep sense of dread, of not wanting to go on, but not being able to stop.
That’s something I know can be made so much better if you implement these four simple things.
1. Have a clear division between home and work
Technology has allowed work to be more agile, but at the same time made us less able to escape its demands. When you work at such a frantic pace, it’s critical you allow yourself down-time to recover and recharge.
It’s all too easy to get up a few hours early to plough through files while the rest of the household sleeps, spend a full day in the office trying to get client matters completed but being hijacked by telephone calls, emails and the needs of your members of staff, and then find yourself back at your desk until late, getting back to your case load or sorting out admin, finances, hiring decisions or any number of the million-and-one things you need to do as a business owner.
Maintaining that pace without a break will have a seriously detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing, something I found out to my cost.
Helen Wilkinson, director of niche Insolvency legal practice Wilkinsons, identified a lack of distance between home and work was having an impact, and it was one of the factors which led her to seek coaching.
“I felt exhausted and overwhelmed both with work and my personal life. There was no divide between the two. When at home I was thinking about work and vice versa. In today’s society with all the technology available it is too easy to bring work home with you and basically not switch off. I also think there is a tendency to just carry on surviving until something bad (probably) happens. I did not want to get to that stage. I would have made myself ill, plus have made more mistakes, especially at work.”
2. Outsource some of the jobs at which you’re not an expert
Book-keeping, marketing and HR are three obvious areas which can take up lots of time and need someone with skills to carry out effectively. It might initially feel like it will take longer to brief someone else, but you will reap the rewards in the long-run.
As lawyers we are used to being – and feeling – competent at everything we do in our professional lives. But when you run your own practice there’s suddenly a world of tasks with your name against them which you aren’t really qualified for. This can not only eat up your precious time but play havoc with your sense of your own competence, leading you to doubt yourself in other areas too, so get those things off your to-do list.
3. Recruit someone to keep you accountable, but who can also support you when things are tough
Being a small business owner is lonely. In a survey by Real Business earlier this year, 73% of business owners admitted to feeling that way. Loneliness is not the preserve of those working alone from home either, but can be a product of being the person with whom the buck stops.
It’s also closely tied to bearing the weight of responsibility not only for your case load but for new business generation, the smooth running of the firm and, ultimately, everyone else’s wages, and not feeling able to confide in anyone.
After running my legal firm for 13 years I retrained as an executive coach, helping lawyers, partners and business owners to succeed by supporting them, helping them find the answers to the conundrums holding them back, and being the independent listening ear that helps alleviate the loneliness and therefore the pressure. I can also be the one who helps hold you accountable, which ultimately helps you to be more successful.
4. Permit self-care
As lawyers we are naturally perfectionists – because to make a mistake could be disastrous for our clients. But this propensity is a breeding-ground for the self-critical judge inside our own heads and one of the things that prevents us from permitting ourselves time for self-care.
Layer on the pressures of running a business – with all the many hats one has to wear to make that work – and the pressure can be both overwhelming and isolating.
It is not only okay to look after you, it’s critical, so find the things which help you take a brain-break and schedule these into your diary as if they are business appointments.
You have the answers
If your business keep you awake at night with worries about how you’re going to get everything done. If you feel wholly competent in the technical areas of your firm, and yet totally incompetent in others. If you’re constantly worried about failing – and too scared to say that out loud – now is the time to secure some support.
Helen explains it perfectly: “In law, meeting clients’ expectations (sometimes unreasonable demands) together with constant worry that you are not compliant can be overwhelming. Add to that the stress of bringing in sufficient work and revenue to pay yourself, staff and other overheads. It can be very lonely when things go wrong or when you just need to bounce something off someone. It is more difficult if you are on your own to get that support. Coaching has helped me to take a step back, look at my situation, address my priorities and my personal life. It has helped me see the “wood for the trees” and from both a business and personal point of view, look at what I really want to achieve and how I can achieve it without making myself ill.”
A coach is not a counsellor or a mentor. A coach is not there simply to listen to your problems, but to help you solve them by asking the challenging questions that no one else will so you can find your own answers. It’s about being a safe person who understands your world and who can help you work through the constantly-changing demands of being both a lawyer and a business owner.
As Felicity Green, Director at AWB Charlesworth, puts it: “Coaching made me set aside time to tackle several specific challenges which were buzzing in my mind, but which kept being put on the back-burner. Without coaching I would not have taken the time to work through some of the ‘important but not urgent’ areas of responsibility in my remit.”
I know that had I had an executive coach when I ran my business, I would not have become ill. My mental burn-out eventually resulted in physical collapse with ME, something which took many years to recover from.
I was so overwhelmed and anxious I was hyper-performing. Outwardly I looked like I was swimming along as calmly as can be, but in reality I was drowning, not waving. If you recognise some of those symptoms, now is the time to stop and get a coach. It’s a life saver.
To have a confidential conversation about how coaching could help you call me on +44(0)7745 117637.