Former ‘The Apprentice’ candidate Lauren Riley on starting a business
I am best known as businesswoman and a lawyer — a formidable combination, in my humble opinion. I am not referring to myself, of course, but to entrepreneurs who possess those skills together. This article is an opportunity for me to talk about starting a career in law, branching out into business, and the wealth of experience and incredible skills it can give you. However, I want to focus on what it is like to start and run a business aimed at the legal sector, and to give you relevant and effective advice.
The Link App
I am the proud founder of The Link App, a tool to revolutionise the way law firms communicate with their clients. For me, aiming at the legal sector wasn’t even a choice, it was the reason I started the company. I can’t speak for everyone, but when you have a business idea you have to put a strategy around it: what the product is, who you are going to sell to, and why. For me, the process was actually quite different. I loved being a lawyer; I had no real intention of moving career, but, having come from a business graduate scheme background, I could see some major inefficiencies.
There are pressures in the legal industry that require a solution: cuts to legal aid, the Legal Services Act allowing Alternative Business Structures in this space, and a new cost-conscious and more demanding client. If not found, there are consequences and, unfortunately, we have seen many law firms going under — both large and small. Law firms need a way to provide their services more efficiently, with increased customer service to drive repeat business. The answer, to me, was simple: technology.
After I had the idea, I received affirmation every single day — every time my clients chased me for an update, every time I read a legal publication about the number-one complaint being lack of communication…I could list a hundred examples. One day, I couldn’t take it staring me in the face any longer and I set off on my phenomenal journey with The Link App.
So, why is my story so relevant to selling into the legal space?
It’s quite simple: I understand my market! I created my product as a lawyer for lawyers and, from a sales and marketing angle, it’s the best place to be. I know the wants and needs of law firms, and for every decision my company makes, from informing the technology to a marketing strategy, I have a grasp on what will work and what will not.
Some people may recognise that I started my media profile by appearing on the BBC’s The Apprentice in 2014. I wasn’t a viewer of the programme before I went on it and, if I am honest, I misjudged quite what the emphasis was between business and entertainment. However, and luckily, I came out with the public recognising that I was serious about business — and I cannot knock the PR opportunity it gave me. I am certainly not stating that a TV show is the ideal place to learn business lessons, but there are some that filter through — one being that Lord Sugar always attempts to select a business plan put forward by someone with a working knowledge of the field they wish to sell to.
That is the ideal scenario. But aiming your product at law firms when you aren’t a lawyer is rather different. Happily, this has been successfully achieved many times before, so here are a few things I think you might appreciate:
Lawyers are habitual
This is an age-old profession and it’s likely that the senior partners learnt from their senior partners, and that this is the way it has always been. This is both a gift and a curse. They are fairly easy to market to, habits can be learnt, and this knowledge can be used — attending the same CPD courses or award ceremonies annually, for instance. However, it also means that they can be used to their own ways of doing things and more resistant to change as a result.
If you think your sales cycle in any other industry can be replicated inside the legal industry, I’d suggest you think again. The decision makers are almost always still ‘fee earning’ (continuing the day-to-day work of a solicitor), so even the most essential decisions are slow in getting through. A decision about your product could take months or years. So, plan ahead for this potentially elongated sales cycle.
So what does this all mean to you as a start-up or SME? Well, I am not saying give up on them: this is a lucrative market and the people within it are doing some great work, and deserve businesses that are passionate about them as well. It’s one of the reasons I keep The Link App so rooted in the legal market when many businesses avoid the market altogether.
The regulatory control is another issue to factor in, and this puts businesses off aiming at the legal industry. Despite there being so much negativity around how slow the legal market is to adopt technology, I have to say I enjoyed some early success that surpassed my own expectations. I feel very strongly that the UK is on the verge of major change in the way that the legal industry operates.
Advice on creating a business
My advice is to create a business that really solves a need; remember, you are selling to a sophisticated consumer. Have the plans in place to see it through to conclusion — that plan should account for everything taking that bit longer than you’d hoped for. And, finally, be clear in your message: these are busy people and need information to be delivered precisely if you are going to make an impact.