Just over 12 months ago, I opened the doors to the Travis Schultz and Partners Cairns office. Bright eyed and bushy tailed I arrived in our new office ready to hit the road running, pound the pavement, set the world on fire (and any other metaphor one can think of!). I busied myself in those first weeks doing all the usual things; setting up furniture and spending hours on hold to phone companies – but still wondering why the internet wouldn’t work. Finally, the office was ready, staff were in place, and we waited (and hoped) for the phone to ring.
Colleagues and friends asked about this new firm. ‘Travis who?’ was the standard response. By and large no one had really heard of ‘TSP’ (Travis Schultz & Partners) in Far North Queensland. Despite having been opened for four years on the Sunshine Coast, it was relatively unheard of in the north. My job was to let the Cairns community know we had arrived (but without a multimillion-dollar advertising budget). I knew this would be a challenge, but I was optimistic we could do this.
I was confident having lived and worked in Cairns for most of my life, that this was a great place to open a personal services law firm. Cairns is a vibrant and growing city, with a diverse range of industries and a strong sense of community. A community that I have long been a part of and knew well. My networks of friends and colleagues, who I had known for years, became my biggest supporters.
In deciding whether to open a regional office, we had to consider whether a ‘bricks and mortar’ office was still necessary. Theoretically business can be done from virtually anywhere, so why open an office? In a digital era where virtual law firms and online legal services are on the rise, did we really need a physical space? The short answer was yes.
Most clients, whether regional or otherwise, want to see their lawyer face to face. Our clients are going through one of the most challenging times in their life and, no matter how good video conferencing is, it can never replace an in-person conversation. I’m not the only one who shares this view. In the last few years, I have noticed some large corporate firms that have historically operated out of capital cities opening offices in Cairns. I can only speculate that their clients are also demanding a physical presence in regional areas and for that personal interaction with their lawyer.
I’m pleased to report, that the phone did ring, and the work has started to come in the door. I credit our growth in this last year to two main factors.
Firstly, I had a team with a shared drive and commitment to make this venture work. However, finding the right people didn’t happen by chance. I knew we needed team members who aligned with our values, who were willing to put their hand up to help and who came to the table with ideas, inspiration, and enthusiasm. The interview process was not about whether they were competent using Microsoft Office or whether they had years of experience working in law firms, rather, it was to gauge what their motivation and purpose was and whether that aligned with what we were hoping to achieve. Right from the very beginning they were given ownership to help build this new firm and they embraced every opportunity.
Secondly, I had immense support from members of the community who I had known for years. These were genuine relationships built on common interests. Whether through our children’s sport activities, volunteering on community committees or working in a tight knit legal community, my network already existed long before I opened the door.
Networks are key to the success of any business; however, the importance of networks cannot be overstated when opening a business in a regional location like Cairns. In a regional setting, where local communities are tightly knit, personal relationships and connections play a pivotal role in the success of a business. Additionally, these networks have helped me to establish a positive reputation and credibility within our regional community.
Instead of frantically exchanging business cards at networking events, I have focussed my time on having good chats with like-minded people. This leads to interesting conversations, sharing of ideas, and building of genuine relationships. It is from these connections that word-of-mouth referrals are made. It has been my experience that clients are far more likely to accept a referral from a trusted source than be persuaded by sleek ads, catchy slogans, and marketing strategies.
I’m certainly no expert in business and I have much to learn, however, my best advice after reflecting on the past year is to nurture your existing relationships and supporters and to search high and low for staff who are as excited and enthusiastic about your new business as you are.
As published in Lawyers Weekly.
Partner & Cairns Leader
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