Name of Business: Lawyers4mumpreneurs
Your Name and Age: Suzanne Dibble, 35
Tell us about your family: I am recently married to the lovely Gordon and, very excitingly, am pregnant with our first child.
What did you do before coming up with your business idea and how was it making the transition? : I was a corporate lawyer working in the City regularly working 16 hour days (and on a few occasions 76 hour days…). I worked on very high profile deals, often in foreign jurisdictions (Moscow at minus 36 degrees centigrade was fun…) and the adrenalin rush and the buzz was immense. I was seconded to Virgin which was eye opening and encouraged my entrepreneurial yearning – I got to know Richard Branson and he offered me a job but I declined as I felt I still had a lot more to learn in private practice. As a result of my secondment at Virgin, my law firm and Virgin jointly nominated me for Solicitor of the Year at the Lawyer Awards, the most prestigious legal awards in the country. I was amazed to be voted runner up. I learnt a lot and had a lot of fun during my time in the City, but the hours and the regular City socializing eventually caught up with me and I decided I wanted a better quality of life so I moved in-house to ITV Plc where the hours were much more regular but there was still great quality work and I was working with some very talented people. I was headhunted for my next role as Legal Director of Hamptons International (the UK subsidiary of the Dubai based Emaar Group, the world’s largest property developer that has just completed the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building the world) where, being a board director of a medium sized company, I gained invaluable commercial insight. I left Hamptons just before my wedding with a view to starting my own business. It has taken me the best part of 6 months to look into things fully, check out insurance and regulation, carry out market research surveys, prepare my website and go to lots of seminars on how to start your own business. I have enjoyed the transition from not working – I like being the master of my own destiny and of course not having to do the daily commute is very liberating. Occasionally I feel a bit isolated, but if I do, I line up more networking events, go to see friends for lunch or meet up with contacts I have met since starting my business.
When did you launch?: I officially became self employed on 16 January 2010.
How did you get started?: As being a lawyer is such a personal business, most of my work is derived from networking and recommendations. So in terms of finding new clients, I have been to a number of networking events where I have been lucky enough to meet some great mumpreneurs – they liked what I had to say and called me to ask me to help with their legal issues. I haven’t yet signed up to a networking group with an annual membership fee – I am drawing a line at BNI as my brain does not function before 8am…. I have also started using twitter and have ‘met’ some great contacts this way too – I tweet what I hope is useful legal advice for mumpreneurs. With regard to regulation and insurance, I was looking at starting my own sole practice but due to the cost of insurance premiums and regulation I have found it a better option to be a self employed solicitor being a consultant to a regulated firm of virtual lawyers. This also means that I can refer work that I don’t cover (such as litigation) to my trusted virtual law colleagues and likewise will benefit from referrals back from them. Otherwise, getting started has been fairly simple – I don’t need any stock or fancy equipment. The main challenge for me is spreading the word about my services and finding new clients.
What research did you do before launching? The idea for lawyers4mumpreneurs came about as a result of me wanting to help women in the same position as me – namely women starting their own businesses because they wanted to be able to work flexibly around their families. I researched the current legal practices out there and whether anyone was specifically looking out for mumpreneurs’ needs and was surprised to see that no other legal practices are focusing on mumpreneurs as a group. I read articles about the number of mumpreneurs in the country and how this was set to grow, so I knew that I had a large target market. As my work is not geographically restricted (other than to England and Wales as I am not qualified in any other jurisdiction), my target market is over a million mumpreneurs…! I drew up a business plan and amended it twenty times before I was happy with it. I read lots of articles on the Business Link website and also bought books on how to start a home business, how to market on a shoestring, how to design a website, SEO and anything else where I felt I had a knowledge gap. I then designed a free survey on smart survey and sent it to as many mumpreneurs as I could find and posted it on twitter. I managed to get 50 responses which I was quite pleased with. The results were pretty much as I expected. I also talked to lots of mumpreneurs that I met at networking sessions. I was pleased to see that there was definitely a demand for a good lawyer focusing on the needs of mumpreneurs and as expected, I found that the majority of mumpreneurs’ businesses were small and they did not have large legal budgets…With lawyers4mumpreneurs, I am using my experience and efficiency to ensure that my fees are affordable to all mumpreneurs, whatever stage of business they are at. From my research, I also found that mumpreneurs were dismayed to find in many cases that the final invoice from their lawyer came in at two or three times the original estimate – I am always happy to provide a fixed fee so that mumpreneurs can budget exactly for their legal requirements.
How have you funded the business? Fortunately, my start up costs have been low so I have managed to fund it entirely from my savings.
How do you promote your business? What has worked best? Mumpreneur focused networking events, twitter and my website. Face to face networking seems to have worked best so far.
What has worked well about your business? I think I am filling a genuine gap in the market, so once people hear of my services, they are happy to contact me. I also care about my clients and their businesses so I am always accessible and give them the best possible service. This is appreciated by my clients and they are then happy to refer me to others. I have been shortlisted for the Women on Their Way Legal Award recently which is brilliant news.
What has been your biggest challenge so far? How have you dealt with it? My biggest challenge is keeping my fees affordable whilst still spending the time offering the best service I can. I am dealing with it by focusing on efficiency and making sure that a discussion on fees is a two way process with the client.
How do you fit in work with the family? My plan was always to start my business before I started a family so that I could get it established before children came along. I have fallen pregnant slightly sooner than anticipated but fortunately, other than a two week patch of debilitating sickness, it has not hampered my business efforts. I’ll be able to comment properly in 6 months time…
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to work in this area? Obviously you have to be a qualified lawyer which in itself is a challenge with university places being in demand, law school very expensive and a shortage of training contracts. With regulation and insurance for starting your own legal practice, there are lots of barriers to entry. So my main advice would be perseverance… If you are already a qualified lawyer looking to be self employed, I would highly recommend it for flexibility but don’t underestimate the amount of work needed to find new clients.