There was a time when I took calls and scheduled my own appointments. As a solo, that an easy way to save money. As my practice grew, there came a time when I could have shed that role but retained it for control purposes. When my practice was busy enough that I could not take calls as fast as they came in, I started to rely on my message machine more frequently. I had better things to do than pick up the phone each time it rang. When I realized that I was missing clients because potential clients would sometimes hang up when they could not reach a human being, I switched to a virtual receptionist. I now have a full-time receptionist, though I still use a virtual receptionist as a backup. Along with the benefits of a real receiptionist, there also come some drawbacks that I did not anticipate.
When you have the fortune of having a high a number of potential clients calling each day if you are not careful your receptionist will fill your days with new client meetings without regard to your need to work those files and to schedule document executions. One strategy is to block off certain days as “work” days. Mondays are a likely candidate to block off. Another option is to l limit the number of meeting on a given day. I, personally, like to limit my meeting to two a day and at predetermined times. If I start booking out too far, I might increase that to three or, should things really get hot, four a day. I am not at the four meetings a day level in my practice. I sort of hope that never happens.
When you are a solo or small firm, you will typically need a mix of meetings to make the end of the month numbers work until you have a sizable bank account to fall back on, though, in theory, you should be actively managing your day to day practice to keep from having to ever dip into savings. How do you communicate this need to your receptionist and have him or her, on a daily, weekly and month to month basis, take into account your firm’s cash flow needs? One option is to simply hope for the best and let them and luck determine how your month turns out. Another is to reserve certain meeting times each week for executions but that often won’t work for clients. Yet another way, which I have recently adopted, is to try to map out each month (as you go), in an excel sheet, to try to get each week to add up to a certain number and all the weeks in a month to add up to a certain number and to keep coming back to my receptionist with suggestions about how I would like next week, the week after that, and the week after that, to look like in terms of appointments. I don’t expect my receptionist to be concerned with my business’s cash flow but since when appointments get scheduled control cash flow, the receptionist can be at the center of that process. More recently we have also begun trying to schedule document execution at the same time the initial appointment is made so that they are separated by 30 days. Though we have not completed a cycle using this strategy yet, I am hopeful that our workflow process is robust enough now to keep to that deadline-driven process.
I suppose the point of this post is to point out that as your firm moves from one stage to the next, you may find, as I have, that management technique will have to adapt. Simply because your firm has evolved or has added staff won’t change your need to proactively think about the bottom line or workflows. Likely you need to focus on those things will only increase. Cashflow is the lifeblood of a small business. The person in charge of taking new client calls and scheduling appointments, or the lack of a person doing this, can have a major impact on your bottom line unless you implement (and can maintain) a process that changes that.
If you have a practice management technique that you think would be helpful to others, please share it.