My business story… Beckett & Co
When I qualified as a solicitor, I never anticipated owning my own practice.
I saw my career path as a partner, and it came to a particular point in my career when that was on the cards – but I would’ve been much younger than my colleagues, the sole female, and I was concerned that, as a minority shareholder, control was out of my hands. At the time, my brother and sister-in-law – who work in insurance – had some space in their building...so I took the plunge setting up on my own. It gave me control over my own destiny.How long have you been running Beckett & Co?
It started in August 2001. We’ve just celebrated a milestone of 15 years. We’ll celebrate every five years.Have you run any previous businesses?
My husband had a landscaping business for a time, which I gave a hand running, but this is my one and only business.What was your first job?
When I was 10 or 11, I worked on my Dad’s milk round in return for pocket money. While I was studying my law degree, I had part-time jobs in Ethel Austin and Victoria Wine (both are no longer going!).
Before I started studying law full time after university, I took a year off to work as a paralegal. I thought it would be good to build opportunities for my future career – it was a good move, and they offered me an official training contract.
The other week it was the 20th anniversary of my becoming a solicitor, which was a very proud day. I take a lot of pride in our profession.What motivated you to start the business?
The legal industry has a very traditional way of working, and I felt frustrated by the processes of working in a practice. I could see that technology was coming in – emails were becoming ‘a thing’ – and I wanted to work in a more flexible way.
Sitting in traffic for two hours for a journey that should really take 30 minutes, and rigid 9 to 5 working just didn’t appeal to me. It’s much more flexible to be your own boss. However, you are more tied to the business.How did you fund the business in the beginning?
It was on a shoestring. The nature of personal injury means that you don’t get paid until a case has settled, and it can take 6-9 months, sometimes even years. I put a very good business plan together and approached my bank, Barclays, for a loan.
They turned me down, so I approached Natwest who were wonderful. They looked at my cash flow predictions, and where I could save money, but otherwise gave very little business advice.
They did approve my loan application for £22k which funded the start-up costs and funded the business until we started to make a profit in the second year.What was the biggest hurdle in the early days?
Raising awareness of the business and getting clients through the door. These days, websites, social media and digital marketing makes all of this easier. As a brand new business, it takes time to be noticed.
By the nature of the law we practice, we don’t tend to get much repeat business, and in the early days I didn’t have a marketing budget. I started with a modest ad in the Thompson Directory and a lot of referrals which gave me the cushion of time whilst I got going.
Now a lot of my business comes from social media and digital marketing.What is the hardest part of running a business?
Whilst being a business owner means you have greater flexibility, the tie to the business is always there and never goes away. Not being able to fully switch-off is difficult.Who or what has been your biggest influence?
My mum was a director of businesses whilst I was growing up, and was very focused on always ‘doing the right thing’. It’s taught me how to run a business with integrity.
Running a personal injury firm, I could’ve taken a different route by using claims companies and buying in claims but I didn’t. I don’t believe that injured people and their cases should be bought and sold. I never let my standards drop, even if it might seem to make ‘commercial’ sense to.How important is customer service to your business?
It’s probably the most important part of any business. Our reputation and referrals come through happy customers.
Whether people are happy and confident in you depends on how you leave them feeling. We get comments on how calls are handled and how professional they are, and that’s why we’ve stuck with Moneypenny for over 14 years.At what point did you decide you needed an answering service?
I realised from day one, and had it within 12 months of starting Beckett & Co. A lot of firms give out the direct line of the solicitor working on a case – but often they’re in meetings, so the client gets their voicemail.
As a consumer, if I phoned a business and got their voicemail, I’d get the impression that they’re too under-resourced to do the job. I didn’t want that for my practice.Best business move?
Starting the business! Also, embracing social media has opened up huge opportunities for Beckett & Co. It’s a great way for us to spread the word about the business and generate new enquiries.Worst business move?
I regret that I didn’t embrace digital marketing five years earlier. The way people find businesses is altering. I relied solely on traditional marketing for too long.What is your plan for the next few years?
To try and dominate the digital world a bit more and increase market share. My mission is to prove that a high street practice can compete with the big boys.What piece of advice would you give a start up?
Immerse yourself in the local community, networking groups, meet other businesses, build relationships. You’ll never realise at the time just how valuable those relationships are. You become the ‘go to’ person in people’s minds- – it’s a valuable position to be in.Complete this sentence, if I wasn’t running Beckett & Co, I would be…
A vet! So much so that I’ve considered if I could change career, but I spent so long training to become a solicitor, I wouldn’t fancy training again.
I love horses and dogs and it’s a great stress buster sticking your wellies on and mucking around with them.
Either that or helping other businesses: I sometimes run social media training courses, and get a buzz from helping others solve problems.