Leading Newcastle and Hexham Divorce Specialist, Joanne Major comments in the North East Times on 1st April, I celebrated 5 years in business as Major Family Law. Having previously worked only as an employed solicitor in my professional career, I took what seemed a monumental step of creating my own, completely new business from scratch, working initially from my kitchen table, alone.
Had I known the difficulties, challenges and sheer determination required simply to keep going, I may have thought twice about embarking upon the venture at all, but like most things in life, the journey is a learning process, and I have learned many new skills as well as insights about myself along the way so far.
I felt a huge sense of achievement when I opened my first offices and took on my first staff to assist me, and relatively speaking, it could have been easy to continue to operate at that micro level indefinitely.
But being self-employed means constantly challenging yourself, constantly developing and constantly growing your business. As I took on assistant solicitors and support staff, that required equipment, insurance, training, and a steep learning curve on aspects of business of which I had no previous experience, such as cashflow, budgets, business plans, and the rules & regulations relevant to operating business premises as well as those specific to my chosen profession.
Much is made of the amount of sleep lost by business owners, but – as with many clichés – there is a huge amount of truth in it. A project which was borne out of a desire to have flexibility in my working life to take account of my young family as well as a desire to work on my own terms, seemed at times to be controlling me rather than me it.
Being self-employed can seem lonely and isolating, and that can be magnified rather than diminished by taking on employees as the sense of responsibility increases. I had not truly contemplated how different running and growing a legal practice would be to simply practising as a solicitor. In addition to being a family law solicitor, I have had to find time to plan and implement ways to raise the business profile and bring in new work, and instruct myself in technologies and skills unfamiliar to my professional training. With no pre-existing client base, no referral network, and no business partner to share the burdens, the path on occasions seemed to steep and too littered with obstacles.
Focus, resilience, determination and a strong business network have made the difference between succeeding and giving up. And with every achievement comes the need to drive further forward. Standing still is stagnation and slow death to a business, even when every instinct tells you to stay where there is familiarity and safety.
From kitchen table, to my first small business premises, and on to our current offices, the growth in physical surroundings has reflected the growth in stature of the business. I have a dedicated team of well respected specialist family solicitors, legal assistants, and an accounts clerk working with me. Last year, I was delighted to appoint my office manager and long-standing work colleague as my first co-director. I have a number of consultants who assist me on various aspects of offering an enhanced service to my clients, and on our 5th birthday, the team expanded in to our newly developed extended premises to allow us to grow further in size over the coming years.
Being a self-employed business owner is not for everyone. In particular, Women account for under a third of those in self-employment, but since the recession started in 2008, there has been an increase of around 300,000 women self-employed, showing that determination can triumph over adversity.
Despite the challenges, my journey so far has been hugely rewarding, and I don’t regret one moment. I am looking forward to seeing what the next 5 years brings!
Joanne Major is the principal and a trained Collaborative Lawyer of Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, Newcastle Upon Tyne. T: 01661 82 45 82
www.majorfamilylaw.co.uk. Twitter: @majorfamilylaw