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Location:Greystones, Co. Wicklow
Is this your first business?
Yes this is my first business. I started it in July 2010.
When did you first decide you wanted to work for yourself?
My father (Brian Gardiner Solicitor – now retired) ran his own firm in Dun Laoghaire for many years and my uncle has his own firm in Dublin city centre. I worked in my dad’s office for years during college/school holidays. I always knew that one day I would like to own my own legal practice and so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it! I did work in a large corporate firm however I soon realised that this was not for me. I wanted to be out on the face of things, meeting clients, doing deals and seeing the results of my work.
What are the things that you find most valuable and rewarding about working for yourself?
I love that all the work I do is for my clients. These are business owners that I have formed a good working relationship with myself. Working in a firm you are often working for the Partner’s clients and not your own. I really enjoy building these relationships.
Another more personal perk of working for myself is that I get to be flexible in relation to my hours. As a new mother of twins I often work outside of the usual business hours!
I really enjoy going out and getting new clients, I love the marketing aspect of the business – giving talks, setting up social media, attending networking events and giving training. I recently wrote a book called “Irish Health and Safety Law: A Guide for Small and Medium Businesses” which is easy to read and understand for owners and managers of SME’s who need to know the basics to ensure that they are complying with the law.
Where did you get the idea for your current business?
I knew that I wanted to set up a law firm but I wanted it to be something different from the traditional legal practice. I had worked in the health and safety and employment law department in a large corporate firm in Dublin and I really enjoyed these niche areas of the law. I also realised that there were no small practices specialising in these areas who could offer the personal and flexible service that I can. My business model grew from there.
I am currently working on developing a brand for myself and on promoting my book.
My advice to anyone thinking of starting a business is that it is very hard work and it takes a while to realise that you can’t just do the work, you also have to run the business! It might sound obvious but that can be very hard to do. In saying that, the rewards are worth it and I am delighted that I have done it.
About Starting Up:
How did you evaluate your business idea before deciding to go ahead with it?
I looked at other legal practices and realised that my business model was very different to theirs. I saw that there was a gap in the legal market for a small legal practice to specialise in these areas and work for SME’s exclusively.
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?
Yes I did and honestly, for the past year I have been so busy working and getting new clients that I did not look back at it until about a month ago. It made me realise how much my business idea has evolved over the past year. My advice to others when writing a business plan is keep it short and to the point, particularly if you are going to submit it to a bank with a loan application. Also, get a good accountant to do the finance section of it with you. There is no point in plucking numbers out of your head and convincing yourself you have a financially viable idea. A good financial advisor will ask you to back up your figures.
What challenges did you face in the early start up stage of your business?
I knew how to practice law; it was how to run a business that was the difficulty. It is surprising how many things you do not realise you have to do as a business owner. How did you overcome these challenges? As I come from a “legal family” I had a lot of help and support, particularly from my father who helped me a lot with issues that came up for me in running a business. I think that good support from family and friends is vital for someone setting up themselves.
What did you learn about yourself during the start-up experience?
I learnt that I was capable of doing a lot more than I thought. This past year I have started and run my legal practice, published a book and had twins! I never would have thought that I would manage all that, but I am very committed to this business.
About your business:
What is the nature of your business?
The firm specialises in the areas of Health and Safety and Employment and most of my client base are small and medium sized businesses. For many of my clients, I act as their “legal department”. That is I am on the end of the phone when any legal issue arises. I also help many of my clients set themselves up with good Employment procedures and documents and with their basic health and safety requirements. I do this for many new businesses as well as established ones.
How many employees do you have?
It is just myself at the moment.
What is an average workday like for you?
Well the average work day has changed a lot for me recently with the birth of my babies however generally I work 3-4 full days per week and I start at about 10 am. I try to get 5 hours of billable work done per day. The rest of the day is spent travelling to meetings/Courts, organising my social media, writing articles or setting up talks.
How has your market changed in the past few years?
The market for legal practices has changed hugely in the past few years. Clients are much more conscious about how much they are spending and the practice of law has become much more competitive. The Law Society requires that solicitors are very clear on their costs and I always try to estimate costs where possible at the beginning of a case. Value for money is what my clients are looking for, not necessarily the least expensive service, but the best value service. Businesses are now much more focused on what they must do to be compliant with the law and they want to know what is discretionary and what is vitally important.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
For me, I have been working on creating awareness of my firm – awareness of what is different about my practice and what I can offer. The major thing that I have done is written the Book. I have also done several talks for companies and networking groups and for the Wicklow County Enterprise Board. I intend to continue this and to work more on promotion in the New Year.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
The Book has been brilliant at creating awareness however I also attended a workshop on Social Media and I have found that this is a great way to get access to clients and business contacts that I would never have met otherwise. Networking is great too. Although I would advise picking one or two networks and sticking with them rather than joining a lot. They are time consuming and it is good to form relationships with the people in a few groups rather than spreading yourself too thin.
What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
Hmm, that is tricky. I tend to forget the negative and concentrate on helpful advice.
What is the toughest feedback you have ever received?
I met with my financial advisor when I was starting out and he really made me back up the figures that I had given to him. And how did you learn from it? He made me realise how careful you have to be about your projections at the start to ensure that you have a viable business idea before you take the risk.
What is your definition of an entrepreneur?
Someone who starts and runs their own business. I have recently learned that I am now a “Mompreneur”! Do you believe that everyone has what it takes to be one? No I don’t think so, but I don’t think it is about “having what it takes”. I think it is just that some people are more suited to being employees and some to running their own business.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
Be prepared for a lot of hard work. Do not expect to make a fortune in the first few years or you will be disappointed. Have a Business Plan but be flexible and learn as you go along.
Who do you look up to in business?
If I had to pick one person I would say my father. He successfully ran his own law firm in Dun Laoghaire for many years. He then started up another firm with 3 other partners and in the last few years before he retired he worked as a consultant for his brother’s firm, PD Gardiner & Co. He thought that he had retired in 2006 until his daughter decided to start up her own firm and talked him into co writing a book for SME’s! He is a gentleman in business who would never compromise his good name. He is a huge support to me every day.
How important do you think innovation is for entrepreneurs?
Of course this is hugely important. Particularly in these times you must adapt and be flexible. You have to think outside of traditional business models for your business and learn as you go.