Diary of a Sharemark float: Pushing the pause button

Our flotation on Sharemark has been predicated on Everyman Legal having a very strong growth story to tell: I have spent the summer holiday season reflecting on whether this is achievable in the short term.

Our initial expectation had been that this growth would be through the service we provide to home-working solicitors who come to us with their own client work. For these solicitors we provide a marketing platform and back office systems. 

In recent months, this side of our business has shown encouraging levels of enquiry but most solicitors who contact us do not have a level of work to sustain them. This is not helped by the current recessionary market, but also reflects the fact that most solicitors are technicians and not business getters. 

The market for providing this virtual law firm platform is also competitive. We are careful about taking on solicitors since we want a good “cultural fit” with our existing team. So all in all we have concluded that growth on this side of our business will be slow.

The other side of our business is providing corporate legal advice from an employed, office-based legal team in West Oxfordshire. This business depends on transactional work (typically acting for owners who are selling their companies) and is introduced to us by local accountants and solicitors.

Our plan is to replicate this corporate legal team and set up legal businesses in the same format as franchises in other towns. However, we have concluded that first we must develop a really focussed sales and marketing activity to build relationships with more key introducers. It’s only if we have a fully systemised process for winning business and doing the business once we have won it, that we can with confidence expand into new locations.

The conclusion we have come to is that there is much more to be done before we can, with confidence, appoint franchisees in other towns. Having spoken widely to others who have tried to grow their business by franchise before they were ready to do so, we are acutely aware of the dangers of doing a hasty or poorly executed plan.

This analysis has led us to the inevitable conclusion that our plans to move on to Sharemark must be deferred. In many respects this is a disappointment for me and the team having invested time, energy and some cost in the Sharemark process.

Taking the time to do this right is, though, imperative. I have seen too many attempts to risk a flotation to know that getting the timing right is essential.

James Hunt is a solicitor, serial entrepreneur and founder of Everyman Legal

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