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About John O'Keeffe:
1. Is this your first business?
I have been a solicitor for nearly 12 years – mainly in private practice but for one year as an in-house solicitor with Bord Gais Eireann. However, this is my first time working for myself.
2. When did you first decide you wanted to work for yourself?
I have always wanted to work for myself, either as an employee with broad autonomy in my job, or as a self-employed person.
3. What are the things that you find most valuable and rewarding about working for yourself?
You have freedom to do the work you want and to develop your knowledge and reputation in those areas.
4. Where did you get the idea for your current business?
Since I was a teenager, I wanted to represent businesses and to even the odds when clients are in conflict with others. My firm specialises in ‘Law for Entrepreneurs’ and I reckon that start-up businesses, small and medium enterprises, and subscribers to allaboutbusiness.ie need expert, cost-effective, responsive, honest and straightforward legal advice and representation.
About Starting Up:
5. How did you evaluate your business idea before deciding to go ahead with it?
By talking with friends, colleagues and prospective clients.
6. Did you prepare a business plan before starting your business? How often do you revisit it? What advice would you give to others when writing a business plan?
I did prepare a business plan and will review it annually. My advice is, first, to put down in black and white what makes you and your business worth giving business to, and then use that information as a sales script in networking and presentations. Secondly, I’d advise you to state clear, measurable sales targets, and to work towards them.
7. What challenges did you face in the early start up stage of your business? How did you overcome these challenges?
I’m still in the early phase of my business, having only commenced sole practice a few months ago. I think that the main challenge was in getting my name out there. I’m overcoming this by networking: I’m a member of Cork Chamber of Commerce, Business Network International and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to make this submission to the Featured Businesses on allaboutbusiness.ie.
8. What did you learn about yourself during the start-up experience?
That I’m able to network effectively!
9. What is an average workday like for you?
Long hours, varied and interesting. If you work with entrepreneurs, you are dealing directly with the leader of the business. You can really see the fruits of your efforts with clients in a way that would be less apparent if you were dealing with a manager in a large organisation.
10. How has your market changed in the past few years? How has your business changed to keep pace?
For most of my career, I was mainly engaged in purchase, sale and lending transactions for clients. There are obviously much less of those jobs around and when times are tight, disputes become more likely. Therefore, much of my work involves defusing potential issues before they blow up, and representing clients when disputes do occur. To make sure that I am best able to deliver a top quality service to my clients, I engage in continuous professional development, regular study of the law and have recently completed Law Society postgraduate qualifications in commercial disputes and courtroom representation. I also teach business, employment and court dispute laws to trainee solicitors for the Law Society.
11. What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
The most crucial things are to give every client the best possible service, and treat every matter with the utmost care. Reputation is everything. You also need to network: make contacts and be seen as professional and helpful, though not unduly anxious to make sales.
12. What plans do you have now to expand your business further?
I plan to continue raising my professional profile.
13. What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
Networking has been the best tactic for me: Business Network International and the Chamber of Commerce.
14. What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
The worst advice I ever got was not to go into business for myself.
15. What’s been your most successful strategy in building your business so far? What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs that want to use that strategy as well?
Using networking to make contact with prospective clients. For anyone who wants to use that strategy, it’s more than just socialising – learn how to do it from someone who can.
16. What is the toughest feedback you have ever received? And how did you learn from it?
I learned not to ‘talk like a solicitor’ when pitching to prospective clients!
17. What is your definition of an entrepreneur? Do you believe that everyone has what it takes to be one?
An entrepreneur is someone who can make something great from scratch, and then make a living from it. Anyone with the right attitude, and with focussed effort, can become an entrepreneur.
18. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
Write down precisely what you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve it, and get specialist legal advice to make sure that your business’ legal strategy is as good as it can be.
19. Who do you look up to in business?
I admire hard work, clarity of thought and expression, expertise, honesty and commitment to the client’s interests.
20. How important do you think innovation is for entrepreneurs?
Innovation is essential as what you do, and how you do it, has to be better than your competition’s efforts. Innovation is key to this.