Most of you know a couple of months ago I made the decision to leave my law firm job and strike it out on my own. Opening my own practice has always been something that I wanted to do, and the timing seemed right to make this leap.
One key factor in my decision to open my own practice was the availability of technology and services to help small business owners. Several months before making the move, I started exploring exactly what would be necessary to open my own firm and the costs involved and was pleasantly surprised that the overhead was very manageable, especially for someone who was tech savvy. While I won’t bore you with the specifics relating to a law practice, I’ve had several people ask me about the tech related services and products that I’ve used while launching this my own small business.
Of course any modern business needs a web presence. I wanted my own domain name, website and custom email address. There are many products and services that could be used for this and I’m sure some will debate my choices. I choose my services based on a number of factors including price, features, ease of use, maintenance (or lack thereof) and security.
I purchased a domain name (www.floydlaw.net) through Hover. I used Hover simply because I had an existing relationship with Hover and their prices are reasonable while they offer ease of customization and privacy. Of course, the biggest challenge was finding an available domain name. You can imagine having a fairly common last name as well as being in the legal field meant that lots of the names I wanted were not available. I couldn’t find a good .com so I had to settle with a .net.
For my website hosting and design I choose SquareSpace. Again, SquareSpace is a company that I choose primarily because I was familiar with their product. This site is hosted on SquareSpace and I’ve built a number of sites on SquareSpace so I was comfortable that I could put together a site that looked good fairly easily. I had a few friends and colleagues recommend WordPress, and I agree that platform would have offered more flexibility and room for growth in the future. However, I personally wasn’t as comfortable working with WordPress as a backend and didn’t like the idea of ongoing maintenance.
Full Disclosure: both Hover and Squarespace are sponsors of Mac Power Users
I struggled a bit with my choice of email provider but ultimately choose a Google Apps for Work account. This provided me not only with ample email storage but also access to other products I thought I would use with my business including Google Drive, Contacts and Calendars. Although I have access to these services through my personal account, because of the nature of my business I wanted to keep work files segregated. I also liked the ability to activate two-factor authentication for additional security and the ability to access these services from almost anywhere. Google Apps for Work costs $5 per month per user which means I can add on as my business expands and have administrative control over those accounts as well.
Bookkeeping and Invoicing
Bookkeeping is probably the area that I had the least familiarity with and is the one that I’m still figuring out. I have a CPA friend who handles my personal taxes and will also be handling my business affairs so I looked to her for guidance in this area. Essentially I told my CPA what my plan was and asked if I could pay her to setup my business and teach me how to run the books. She gladly agreed as this would make her job during tax time a lot easier.
She set me up with a basic QuickBooks Online account. While this does have a monthly fee, my CPA felt it would be the easiest to maintain and for us to share information so she could help me with regular audits and end of the year taxes. For now we’ve started on one of the lower-tier plans with the idea that we can always move up if my business needs warrant it. Right now I’m basically using QuickBooks as a glorified checking register, but as an attorney we also have to do some fancy things like keep track of client trust accounts.
In addition to QuickBooks I’m testing two similar invoicing services, Harvest and Freshbooks. My gut reaction is that Harvest may be the better fit for my business because it seems to have better time tracking features (very important for attorneys who often bill hourly) as well as integration with QuickBooks. However, I want to give each of these services, in addition to QuickBooks’ own invoicing capabilities a few months worth of trials to see which one wins out.
I haven’t adopted a formal “practice management” solution yet as I wanted to wait until I was a few months into my practice to see what my needs were, or even if I needed something like that for my business. However, I am looking at Clio, which is web-based software specifically designed to help lawyers manage their practice.
I knew one of the most important things for a new business was to have a solid brand identity. I am probably more graphically inclined than most attorneys, but I am not an artist or graphic designer so I knew it would be money well spent to reach out to a true designer to help with my branding. To the rescue was grafiksyndikat who designed the Mac Power Users logo as well as the artwork for Relay.fm. He was able to put together the logo as well as business cards and letterhead and provide me with print-ready files that I could use for all my marketing.
Most of my colleagues who started their own practices put together a simple logo using text in Microsoft Office or let the person at their local print shop come up with something. I’ve already been passing out business cards for my new business the past few weeks and have received so many compliments on the branding. It’s really the little touches like this that stand out.
Without going too crazy, I have taken my fancy new logo and had some marketing materials printed up. I was able to order 1000 business cards for less than $30 through GotPrint and picked up custom notecards with envelopes through VistaPrint. Be careful when ordering print products and compare prices both locally and through online vendors. It’s easy to overpay in this area and you may be surprised that some of the online shops are more expensive than buying local.
Office Products and Supplies
I’m renting space in an office complex so while I don’t have to stock a full office, I do have to buy all my own supplies and equipment. Because I’m currently an office of one, I don’t need huge quantities, but I have greater needs than an individual. I’ve done a good bit of comparison shopping and found that Amazon has been overall the best place to shop for office supplies and equipment, regularly beating my local office supply store on both price and selection. With 2-day prime shipping, I can order what I need and it will be delivered to my door within a couple of days meaning I don’t have to devote a lot of office space to storing a stockpile of supplies.
Because storage space is at a minimum and I can’t risk running out of office essentials, I’ve tapped into some automatic replenishment services. For example, I purchased a Brother laser printer that is Amazon Dash Enabled so my printer will automatically reorder toner when it is getting low. Similarly I’ve signed my HP inkjet printer (which I use for color documents) up for HP’s Instant Ink service. Instant Ink is probably a good deal for people who use ink jet printers occasionally and allows you to print between 50 - 300 pages per month for a recurring subscription fee. I’m on the lowest tier plan which includes 50 pages per month (more than enough for me) and at $36 a year this is a bit less than what I was generally spending a year on ink.
While I admit that I have had a few more than normal sleepless nights the last few months thinking about the future and whether or not my decision to go out on my own was the right one, I am certain of one thing. For the tech savvy, entrepreneur, this has never been easier or more affordable.
This article first appeared in the September Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at [https://www.screencastsonline.com/membership_benefits/