It’s amazing how many woman law firm owners I meet tell me they are struggling to create consistent cash flow and then tell me they are “too busy” to bill. Or they “forget to bill.”
When I hear that, it tells me a) they are thinking like a lawyer who works for someone else and not like a business owner/CEO, 2) they are scared of making money because they are stuck in some kind of negative money story, and/or 3) they do not have a systematic approach to law firm billing (and they probably aren’t very good at asking for help, prioritizing or delegating either).
So, if any of that sounds like you, pay attention because I’m about to break it down for you so you can start making changes in your business immediately and throw out this tired, worn excuse for not collecting your money.
1. You are thinking like a lawyer and not like a business owner/CEO. Go read The E-myth Revisited. You likely will see yourself plain as day, probably for the first time. You’ll realize you probably started a business because you thought it would be just like working a job, except you’d have more time and more freedom. You may have even told yourself “I can make more money working for myself than I can working for others.” What you didn’t count on was that when you own your own business, your goal is not to create a “job” for yourself, it’s to create jobs for others and profit from their work. It’s to set up systems and profit from not re-creating the wheel over and over again.
Businesses are about profit. Profits are rewards for running a successful business. To run a successful business, you must be good at consistently attracting and being hired by ideal clients, fulfilling the clients’ needs to their satisfaction, and getting paid a sufficient amount in a timely fashion so that you can earn a decent income AND create profits for your company (this is where real wealth hides).
If any of those pieces is missing or not done well, then you do not have a successful business. The sooner you face this reality, the sooner you will be able to create your own successful business. You must work, first, on wrapping your mind around this concept. Being “too busy” for law firm billing is a symptom of not stepping fully into your role as the CEO and leader of your business.
- You are stuck in a negative money story. When we tell ourselves negative money stories (“If I make too much money, I won’t fit in with my family and friends anymore.” “Money is the root of all evil.” “Rich people are awful/mean/bad/selfish.” “There’s never enough money for me.” “It’s hard to make money.” “Everything is too expensive.” “Nobody will pay me that much for my services.”), we behave in ways that keep us stuck at our current income level.
Most often, our money stories are unconscious, meaning we are not consciously aware that our beliefs around money are holding us back. If these stories and beliefs are happening on an unconscious level, how then can we change them? The best place to start is to beginning writing down what we say about money and then reading it out loud. Really pay attention to what you say about money when you are being your authentic self. Are you a coupon shopper? Are you an over-spender? Are you a penny pincher? What are your beliefs around money?
The next step is to think back to what your caregivers (parents, for most of us) said about money when you were little? Did they say “No, you can’t have that because we can’t afford it?” Did they say: “Yes, pick out whatever you want, and I’ll buy it for you.” Did you want for nothing? Did people call you “spoiled?” Was your mother a spender or a saver? How about your father?
These “money stories” are firmly implanted in our unconscious minds, and until we bring them out into the light and begin questioning them, we will not be able to change them. You may not be handling your money business because you are stuck in old money stories and holding onto negative beliefs around money. If on some level you think you do not deserve the money people owe you, you will put off asking for it. If your mother or father were messy with their money, you may need to unlearn those behaviors and learn new ones. If you felt like there was never enough for you growing up, you may still be depriving yourself because you feel like no matter what you do, there still will never be enough for you.
You will only create what you allow yourself to create, and until you change this, you’ll likely continue being “too busy” or “too forgetful” to handle your law firm billing.
3. You do not have a systematic approach for billing. On a more practical level, you may not have put the systems in place to handle your billing in a timely fashion. Or you may not have asked for (hired) someone to help you with billing.
Maybe you feel you are not good with numbers (a money story) so you put off your law firm billing until the last minute. Maybe you aren’t tracking your time the way you know you need to so you can create accurate bills. (Are you a rebel at heart? Are your rebel ways costing you?)
What systems are you using for time tracking and law firm billing? Who can help you by preparing pre-bills? How can you train yourself and your staff to record the time it actually takes you to complete a job (this goes for those who charge flat fees as well—how do you know you are being adequately compensated for your time if you don’t know how long it takes you to complete a matter). Have you documented your billing processes?
If not, this is the first place to start. Write down the way, in your ideal world, you’d like to see money flow through your business. Do you want clients who pay for the whole matter upfront? Do you want to be paid a certain amount every X number of days? Do you want to be paid certain amounts at certain stages? How will you identify scope creep, and how will you handle it? How often will you input your time? What days of the week will you work on billing? Do you have billing templates? How will you handle non-paying clients? Document that process as well. Will they get one notice? Two notices? Or three? What will each of these say? What happens if they do not respond? What happens if they respond with excuses? Sit down and think this through. Write everything out in detail (you can change it later). This is first step to creating your system.
Next you can decide what tools you need, what people you need, and where there are opportunities to automate, outsource, and/or delegate.
In short, business owners are never “too busy” to bill. If you feel like you are, it means that you are not prioritizing getting paid. If getting paid for your work is not a priority for you, then you may not be suited to business ownership because the purpose of a business is to bring in enough money to effectively run the business and to create profits for the business owners. Anything else is a charity or a hobby.