New Business Startup Questions

So, I’ve decided to hang my own shingle and be a solo practitioner (lawyer). I know all of the perils, snares, pitfalls, and hidden traps involved with that, and will probably start another thread very soon to discuss that. My question here (and it’s many and doesn’t have a factual answer, so I put it in this forum) is what is the best way to fulfill the following goals:

First, no firm in this town uses the internet, modern technology and social media to its potential. I want the following stuff as cheaply, yet still professionally done, as possible:

  1. Design a Logo—I want to do that (I don’t have any ideas yet) but I want it to look great. Not some cheap knock off. Something that will impress the viewer.

  2. Communications–no fax machine. Scan to PDF and fax through a provider. Paperless office. Google Voice perhaps to save money. Since my staff will consist of me, is there a service which the caller will hear “jtgain Law, Inc.” and the service forwards the calls to me? Web based voicemail and all the bells and whistles.

  3. Decent Multi Function Scanner/Printer—again cheap, yet can handle a bunch of scanning, but keeping printing to a minimum.

  4. Scheduling Software—this may be more law related, but I would like a software package that can handle my client files and be accessible remotely.

  5. Website—Again, cheap but good. I don’t want it to look like a 12 year old did it. I want the first impression to be: damn, this guy has it together. I would like it to be accessible on phones with easily links to communicate with me. I would like to post a weekly blog talking about legal issues in the area, and integrate it with Twitter, Facebook and the like.

So…am I asking for the moon, sun, and stars? :slight_smile: Any help would be appreciated…

  1. You’ll need to hire a graphic designer, obviously. No idea how much they charge, though.

  2. I’ve used uReach for the one or two times a year when I actually need to send or receive a fax. The service is like $6 a month. They have fancier plans for business users.

  3. Go on Amazon; get something in the $200-$300 range. It’ll be fine.

  4. Google Calendar is pretty good.

  5. Ask the guy from #1.

Since you’re looking for opinions and advice, moved to IMHO (from MPSIMS).

When a buddy of mine started his legal practice he only received a call or two a day for a while. He had his office number forwarded to his wife’s cellphone and she answered those calls (with her employer’s permission). Worked for him.

Also, “paperless office” as a dream is cool, but is it practical? Aren’t court filings still paper?

You can file a lot of stuff on the interwebs now.

Fax? Are you planning to do a lot of business with the 1990s?

These are lawyers we’re talking about. They still haven’t gotten the memo that the Roman Empire is obsolete.

Why do your logo and Web site need to be cheap but good? Why don’t you pay the going rate for a professional logo and a professional Web site? These are two of the most absolutely important facets of your business and you want them on the cheap?

What do you say to people who say they need a lawyer to represent them to the best of their ability, pull out all the stops, be as professional as can be, but be cheap?

If you’re not able to afford what goes in to starting a business, maybe you’re not ready to start a business yet. Or, just do the Web site yourself. Can’t be too hard.

As a professional Web designer, with graphic designer friends, this mindset really irks me. I’m a small business owner just like you. Why do I have to be expected to do stuff on the cheap?

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Logo Designer: Don’t just ask for a logo. Get a whole “identity package” that includes the logo, web site, letter head, business cards, etc. This is important because it ensures that you have a consistent look. You can’t just slap a logo on something and look professional if everything is using different fonts and colors and pictures. So this takes care of #5 too.

  2. Get a fax machine, seriously. See #3. As for communication services, there are plenty out there. One of my clients uses Kelley Communications at about $150/month. There’s a Seattle-area provider that starts at more like $400/month, but their promise is that clients will never realize they’ve reached a service. You might also look into virtual assistants rather than an answering service. Virtual assistants generally bill by the hour and cost more for the calling portion, but they’ll take some followup steps on calls that an answering service won’t. And as a lawyer, you’re going to generate lots of busywork in the form of billing/collections, client reminders, etc.

  3. Any decent multi-function is also a fax. Furthermore, most allow you to “print to fax” any file from your computer, and most allow you to save faxes as PDF rather than printing them. This is your best way to go. I recommend Brother and definitely make sure it’s a laser printed with double-sided capability. It’s worth it.

However, there are plenty of virtual fax services out there. eFax is one of the big players. I use FaxAway.com, but be warned that they only offer numbers in the 206 area code. Perfect for me, lousy for anyone else. There’s an iPhone app called GeniusFax that will send a fax from your phone (but can’t receive anything)

  1. Gosh, there are so many choices… we’d really need to know what you want it to do. For example, do you want clients to be able to schedule their own appointments from the web, or is it something you use internally? (If it’s purely internal, just use your calendar software in Outlook, Google Apps or the like).

  2. Your graphic designer should set you up. If you really do want to do it yourself, look for a site that offers templates. 1and1.com is a big player in the template driven category. DreamHost.com is a great way to go if you or someone else is building it from scratch. My company’s current website is through CPASiteSolutions.com - obviously with templates, content and features focused on accountants. I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar existed for attorneys.

Most businesses define paperless as electronic document storage and electronic process tracking. In that definition, my accounting practice is paperless, yet we still go through 20,000 pages a year printing copies of things for clients who want hardcopy for their records. (What we save, though, is enormous; probably 40,000 pages a year that we save to PDF rather than photocopying and storing in boxes and filing cabinets.)

Do not try to “design” a logo or website by yourself. Not a good idea.

In the world of law and tax, fax machines are still the primary method of communication. You can’t use e-mail with confidential information. Most government agencies wouldn’t accept it anyway - usually your options are hand delivery, mail or fax. Most clients won’t use secure methods of sending electronic files… the number one problem will be their inability to remember a password for more than ten seconds.

This:

and this:

It’s pretty easy to tell when someone hired a college student or any other non-professional to do their logo and/or web site. Don’t go that route; go look at some other lawyer’s logos and websites in your area, find one that looks great, and see if you can figure out who did their website.

Another tack: look around at some professional website and logo designers in your area, and look at their portfolios. Pick the one you like.

Don’t go into it with the idea that it has to be rock-bottom cheap prices, unless you want to set yourself up as a rock-bottom cheap lawyer. Your website is the face of your business; your logo is going to be on your letterhead, your card, etc. Don’t scrimp unless you really want to look cheap.

I am convinced on this point. No cheap; only professional grade. Any vendors you recommend?

No cheap on this either. All of the above.

I probably misstated the OP. I want to be cheap where unnecessary costs might arise. I want to be full bore professional where there might be an implication that I am a “fly by night” operation. I am here to stay. But I also don’t want to piss away money on unnecessary things that anyone could do themselves.

My advice for a site, that I recently gave a lawyer friend - look for a company that specializes in WordPress designs and installs. WordPress will out-of-the-box do all the stuff you need. The special skill involved is with beautiful design, and there are some great designers out there. I’d say you wouldn’t have to pay more than $800 for such a site (that is in the Cleveland area. YMMV)

Buy your own domain name(s) right now, at GoDaddy.com Do not let your host or designer buy them for you. Use an email address for the account that you will always have, like your gmail address. Not your ISP email address or your ex company’s address.

A Web designer does not always do good logos and vice versa. I have a friend who does multi-million-dollar brand design accounts and she can’t design a Web site to save her life. It takes a lot of time and effort to be good at each of these disciplines so there’s no reason to assume someone who has dedicated time to doing one thing has spent any extra effort on the other.

Athena’s advice about how to find a logo designer is good. Your logo designer can do business cards and pamphlets for you, and send your Web designer a digital copy of the logo to use on the Web site, and maybe even a color pallet. I would start there.

Look around for WordPress designers in your area and look at their portfolio. If you can’t find one in your area, then branch out. At least maybe stay in your Time Zone.

Any recommendations for a good (yet still cheap) web design/hosting company?

Define “cheap”.

I’m going to offer a contrary opinion: your logo and web site designs don’t really matter. Finding customers and building your business is what matters. If you find yourself spending any time at all thinking about font sizes or logo colours or which side the sidebar is on or what kind of paper your business cards is on then you’re doing it wrong. Your clients and potential customers are not influenced in the least bit by any of those things, no matter how much you think they are. Yes you need a web site and a letterhead, but a ready-made template will be just as good as a custom job.

Go find a web developer who will do a package deal with a ready-made theme for WordPress or Drupal or something. It won’t be a custom-made design, but it will look professional enough, you’ll find something to suit your budget, and it will be up and running quickly and with minimal time wasted.

I’m not overly concerned with font sizes and the like, and I understand that most customers aren’t going to critique the web site. But I know from my personal experience that when I hit a site that looks like they did it by themselves in Word, then I immediately question the professionalism of the organization. I agree that I don’t need to have the Best Website Ever, but I want the design to convey a minimum of competency and have some useful features for the clients/potential clients to use.

Any good/bad experiences with Yahoo!'s hosting service?

There are tons of Virtual Receptionist services available - some which specialize in law firms

Call a local Web firm that specializes in WordPress and you like their portfolio, and let them choose the host. Just buy your domain name yourself.

Good luck!

I strongly suggest you use an all-in practice management suite rather than scheduling software. Automated billing and document generation alone will save your arse. I did a lot of research on this for my practice management course and found Clio was probably the best choice for a solo practitioner (easily scalable and transfers data to other suites well if necessary). The attorneys I know who’ve used it have had good results.

ETA: Feel free to PM me if you have any questions about setting up a business plan.