My business story… LawSkills
I’ve always had a passion for teaching law to others. After working my way up to partner at my law firm, I became training partner too and found I was very good at helping others expand their knowledge and skills in certain areas of law. After a while I discovered a real void in the market for offering practical advice and training for legal practitioners – I was shocked at the time that no one was offering it! After taking a course at Nottingham Trent University on how to manage your own firm as a business, I decided I would strike out on my own and make my passion for training my business.
It started as Gill Steel Law Practice, providing advice on wills, probate, trust and tax issues to other law firms. The effect of offering this training was hugely seismic, and the business did very well. I saw it was important to diversify, and when the time was right, it became LawSkills – offering CPD training on a wider scale.How long have you been running LawSkills?
It was started in 2000, but I was running Gill Steel Law Practice from 1996.What was your first job?
I’ve always had a food angle in my life, and in my first job I was a waitress. Both of my grandmothers were seaside landladies, and I served food each weekend for half a crown while I was in school. At university, instead of bringing wine to parties, I’d bring a cheesecake – it was actually a family joke that if I didn’t pass my law exams I’d go into catering! I found that working at a young age teaches you about the important tool of customer service early on. You learn such a lot about people – how to make them laugh, help and support them. Every job can be boring and repetitive, but you get out what you put in.How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I finished working as a law firm partner – which my friends said was mad as I was the only partner who was a woman. I took out my capital from the firm and used that.What has been your biggest hurdle in the early days?
Focusing on the business. My father passed away 13 days after I left the law firm just as I was starting my company. I gave my mother a great deal of support, but I was also doing a lot of running and getting nowhere with the business. But life does have a nice way of working out – a friend was building her business at the same time and asked for my training expertise. It made me draft the training tools we still use today.What is the hardest part of running a business?
Believing in the business when you’ve got everything against you – which you will have at times, and you’ll wonder whether you should carry on. We’ve survived two recessions, which was difficult – you have to say goodbye to people you don’t want to let go. But you’ve got to be optimistic or you wouldn’t go into business.Who or what has been your biggest influence?
My father was my biggest mentor. He told me ‘try it or regret it forever’, which is true when you’re thinking of starting a business. We all need a mentor and even if you can’t directly help, it’s important to know someone who can. One of the best rewards is seeing other people succeed. Also, my mum is a fantastic networker – she’s 87 and still involved in many voluntary organisations – so I hope I’ve got that gene!How important is customer service to your business?
No business can survive – or deserves to survive – without good customer service. We do our upmost to provide the best for our clients and Moneypenny extends our support to them with a friendly voice rather than an answering machine.When did you realise you needed a telephone answering service?
Right at the beginning! After six months of starting the business I was on the road a lot and needed the phone answered. My colleague worked part-time, and I couldn’t afford to pay someone to answer the phone full-time, so it was the perfect solution.Best business move?
I should say it was leaving private practice as it’s given me so much freedom. In reality the best move was embarking on the web and realising its potential. Also outsourcing our IT management, SEO, marketing and design has been fantastic for the business and I made the decision to outsource easily.Worst business move?
Delaying making marketing decisions as it is how you get your business-voice heard. You can’t stress enough the importance of marketing.What is your plan for the next few years?
To monetise the website if we can. I believe in blended learning and think we can offer targeted training in-house and deliver online and webinar training to best suit particular needs at the same time. E-learning is becoming more normal in law, especially as the younger generation joins the legal profession, and I’m well placed to deliver it.If you did it again, what would you do differently?
I’d create a marketing plan from the start. Instead of being segmented and targeted it’s simply evolved over time. I think we’d be in a different place now if we’d have had a plan in place from the start.What piece of advice would you give to a start-up?
Be really clear about what your goal is. Harness your mission early on and then spend time reflecting and investigating. You’ll then find planning and running the business is far easier. I spent a lot of time reflecting before establishing Gill Steel Law Practice and LawSkills, and asked myself ‘what did I see for me in the future?’ During the hard times, remember why you’re doing it. And enjoy the good times.Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t running LawSkills, I would be…