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Melissa Shanahan

#255: What IS Strategic Planning?!

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You hear Melissa talk about strategic planning often, but what is it really? Strategic planning is likened to short and long-term goal setting with actions and accountability along the way that line you up to achieve your goals. However, you likely don’t know how to facilitate this process for yourself very well.

If you’ve ever questioned the power of strategic planning, look no further. Melissa has centered an entire business around it for good reason, and she believes it is vital for any business or company to do. And on this episode, she’s laying out the key aspects involved in effective strategic planning so you can plug yourself into this process in a meaningful way if you want to fly further faster.

Tune in this week to learn what strategic planning is and why every law firm owner needs this process. Melissa is sharing the basic elements of strategic planning that make it a game-changing system, how Monday Map/Friday Wrap works perfectly alongside it, how this framework will help you create the velocity you need to get where you want to go in a more streamlined way.

If you’re a law firm owner, Mastery Group is the way for you to work with Melissa. This program consists of quarterly strategic planning facilitated with guidance and community every step of the way. Join the waitlist right now to grab one of the limited seats when enrollment opens again!

Show Notes:

What You’ll Discover:

• What strategic planning means.

• How Melissa facilitates strategic planning for her clients.

• Why having a mentor by your side to facilitate strategic planning is a crucial element.

• The key aspects involved in strategic planning. 

• How to set the vision for your firm. 

• Why you must take stock of the current state of your firm.

• How Monday Map/Friday Map works in tandem with strategic planning.

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Join the waitlist for our next Monday Map Accelerator, a 5-day virtual deep-dive event.

Schedule a consult call with us here.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Gino Wickman

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Full Episode Transcript:

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I’m Melissa Shanahan, and this is The Law Firm Owner Podcast Episode #255.

Welcome to The Law Firm Owner Podcast, powered by Velocity Work, for owners who want to grow a firm that gives them the life they want. Get crystal clear on where you're going, take planning seriously, and honor your plan like a pro. This is the work that creates Velocity.

Hi, everyone. Welcome to this week's episode. I am thrilled to be talking to you today about a topic near and dear to my heart. What is strategic planning? That is what we're digging into today. This is one of my most favorite topics. It's why I centered an entire business around it.

So, get ready to nerd out. We're going to talk about what is strategic planning and how can you plug yourself into it in a meaningful way. Now, on that note, as you know, Velocity Work does quarterly strategic planning for law firm owners; there's accountability and coaching in between. And most people don't really know what that means. So, I want to break it down for you here today.

And if, in fact, it sounds interesting to you, and sounds like something that would be a great idea for you, I invite you to come and check out Velocity Work Mastery Group. It's not a mastermind, though the community is really rich and awesome. It is a container where I get to work with law firm owners who are doing under a million or over a million, and it's a different conversation about a different kind of engagement that probably makes more sense for you.

But if you're under a million, this is a really good place to start to work with me and my team. We can help you with all the things I'm going to talk about today on this episode. So, if you'd like to learn more, go to to get yourself on the waitlist so that you are notified when enrollment opens.

That is how we communicate with those interested about enrollment, is through the waitlist, so that's where you need to go to get your name on it. We are not looking to cast a huge, wide net, we are looking for those who it’s truly a right fit. So, if you think it could be the right fit go get your name on the waitlist.

Okay, so what is strategic planning? Do you know what it is, really? I mean, we all think we understand it, right? But if you've actually done it, it changes your whole life. It changes your business. It changes your life. And so, I'm going to lay it all out today.

Strategic planning is a systematic process that a business will use to lay out the vision for the future, really paint the picture, then work backwards to figure out goals and objectives that will help them paint that picture. And then, figure out what needs to happen in order for those goals and objectives to be met. So that the vision can be painted, that we can create the vision.

There is reverse engineering here, for sure. And here's the thing, people talk about goal setting all the time, because this is essentially long- and short-term goal setting with actions that will line you up with hitting the goals. So, in a nutshell that's what it is.

But people talk about this stuff like they're good at it, or like they know all that they need to know in order to get to where they want to get. But the truth is, people do not know how to do this for themselves very well. I facilitate this. This is my job, and it's still so helpful to have someone facilitate for me.

It is very difficult to be in the work and in the thinking, and really sink into the thought process and be present with it, while trying to guide yourself and make sure that you are setting the right kinds of goals, the quality of thinking that you're bringing to it is correct, and so facilitation is such an important point. An important element of being able to plan well, strategically plan.

And so, yes, even though we might all know, “Yeah, it's about goals, and reverse engineering backwards from where you want to, and being able to figure out what you need to do in order to get to those goals.” Okay, why aren't you doing it? Why don't people do that? Me included, right? It's not that simple.

So, strategic planning is a very important practice that should be facilitated if you want to get the most out of a session that you're sinking into for this. And with strategic planning, yes, we are setting… sort of how I talked about… we're setting or painting the vision. We are determining goals and objectives. We are determining actions that are needed in order to get us to those goals and objectives, in order to be able to create the vision that we have.

That is all true. But there are some key aspects involved in the day, in the session, that I want you to know about and I want you to think about and consider. Now, this is something that we can help you do. But even if you choose not to work with us, this is something you can take and do on your own to the best of your ability.

It's about progress, not perfection. So, what I'm offering here today, if you were the kind of person that just wants to go at this alone, do it. It's going to be better than not doing it. But if you are the kind of person that wants to really have some support and accountability on your journey with this, come on in. This is what we live for here at Velocity Work.

Alright, so one of the key aspects is painting the vision. Now, I want to talk about this first, because it is important to know what you're aiming for. There are some aspirational things, when it comes to your vision, that you may have in your mind, that matter to you to really strive for. But there are also some clear, tangible things you're aiming for that you need to be able to see.

And it needs to be big, right? It needs to be inspiring and not something you could create in the next three months. It needs to be big. What do you really want to create? What does success look like to you? What are you aiming for with this firm that you have in your hands?

The definition of getting clear about that is not a perfect vision statement. Getting clear about that is being able to identify and paint a picture through a series of bullets that you can write down; criteria on what it needs to look like for you to consider it successful.

It can be something beautifully written, like a paragraph. It can be bigger than a paragraph, a full paper on this. You get to decide. It really doesn't freaking matter is what I want you to know. People think, when it comes to setting a vision, that it needs to be perfect and there needs to be a concise, perfect statement that will just inspire everybody that touches it. You can get there, that is not impossible.

But that kind of pressure, when you're sitting down to do strategic planning, isn't helpful. What is helpful is to get out of your brain, and onto paper, what matters to you in terms of what success looks like.

Now, you as an owner, may be doing this on your own, not with your team. And I think that's a beautiful way to start this process, because it allows, you as the owner, to get super honest and not worry about what your team will think about what you are identifying as success.

In many instances, when you're starting out with strategic planning and you have a firm, you have an established business, and it's growing, you're still in the mode where success to you means more freedom for yourself. Success to you means more profitability. Success to you means a team that just works well together. It's not some altruistic change the world kind of vision, and that's okay.

But we kind of get in our own way sometimes, when we feel like people might judge what we are considering aiming for, and what we consider to be success. So doing this on your own, or just in a circle that you really trust, can be so valuable. Because it lets you be honest and not say things you think you should say.

Now, once you have a really clear… Which again, for those of you who are inside of Velocity Work you know this, but our workbooks will guide you with questions, and you will be answering in ways that will start to paint this picture for you, which is great.

Now, after you have your vision, the next important thing that is a key aspect of strategic planning is current state analysis. This involves data. You have to know the current state of your business, of your law firm. That means you want to know not just gross revenue, but you need to know how many cases, on average, do you get every single month?

What is your people cost every single month, and then over the span of the year? What are your overhead expenses? What's your average value per case? What's your acquisition cost? Well, and so then, back one set before that would have been, what's your marketing spend? What's your conversion rate? What's morale like at your firm? All of this.

It's taking stock. And when you take stock for real, and you get a very clear picture of what your firm looks like right now, the current state of your firm, and you get really honest about that... data allows you to be very honest about that… then you’ve got something to work from. You have something to work with.

People don't do this well enough. So, they'll sit down to plan and set goals without really properly evaluating, from a business perspective, what the current state of the firm is.

If you just do this piece alone, it is oftentimes glaringly obvious what you need to do, where you need to focus, and what kind of goals you need to set to help certain pieces that are clearly not where they need to be, in terms of a data perspective. So, a current state analysis is very important. This is also something that we guide people through when they are a part of Velocity Work.

Now, the next thing is setting goals. Once you know exactly what you're aiming for, you have painted this picture of this vision that you are building, and what the criteria is, in that future state, that is going to mean success to you, and then, now, we also have a current state analysis; we have data, we’re very clear about the health of the business; then the next thing is to figure out what are goals that need to be set in order to be on track for the vision that you are saying that you want to create?

Goals are numbers. They are numbers that you are shooting for. I cannot stress this enough. The more you understand this, the easier it will be for you to navigate with planning. You have to let this sink in. Please, hear me and remember this: A goal is a number.

Sometimes when I ask people, “Okay, what are your goals?” They'll say, “Well, I'd like to create more freedom for myself.” No, that is not a goal. A goal is a number. Now, I don't expect someone that I'm just having a consult call with to answer that and know that I'm looking for a number. That's okay.

But members sometimes will do that. It'll hit them, like, “Oh, you mean a number?” Yes, I mean a number. So, a goal is a number. Numbers are important to set. And these turn into your KPIs, by the way, guys. So, a goal is a number you were shooting for. It's an indicator of success, right? If you're making progress towards where you want to go.

So, key performance indicator, KPIs, that's a very common term that is thrown around a lot when it comes to firm and tracking and metrics and growth. And yes, but you have to have goals. What are you shooting for, so when you track your indicators you know if you're on track for it?

Setting goals is very important. It is something that I help people do. Set concrete numbers, at least one, and it's going to be revenue. It's going to be revenue. Everybody wants to say… not everybody… some people will say to me, “It's not all just about top-line revenue.” Well, of course it's not. But it all trickles down from that number.

So, we do need to know what that number needs to look like, in order for other things to be possible within the firm. So, revenue is for sure a goal. But then, there are other supporting goals that are not revenue. It could be new cases open. It could be a shift in conversion rate. So, you're going to set a goal there. It could be profit margin. It could be hours billed.

I help you figure out what those numbers need to be, what goals you should set. And you shouldn't have very many goals. You want to constrain down and line yourself up. So, usually, one to three goals that you are driving hard for is a really, really important place to start. So, goal setting.

The next thing is developing strategies to hit those goals. This, my friends, is “Rocks”. Now, Rocks was a term popularized by Gino Wickman. He did not come up with that term. Nor did his mentor, Verne Harnish, who is the founder of Scaling Up and Gazelles. Who this originally came from, as far as I can tell, is Steven Covey, in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Rocks are key priorities, the things that matter the most. So, when you have goals that you have set, and those goals are milestones on the way to this vision that you have painted, when you are trying to figure out how to meet those goals, you are going to have to identify: What are the things that if I don't do them, I'll be held back from these goals? What are those things?

And so, then what happens, is you come up with strategies to achieve those numbers. We have a few really good questions that have you identify strategies. It helps you pull out of your brain the strategies that are going to be the most impactful towards getting to those numbers.

You have to commit to implementing strategies. And when you do that, it means that you're choosing your Rocks, the most important efforts for the quarter. Not numbers to be hit, efforts. The things you have to do. The things you have to spend time on. Or investments of some sort on. It may be an investment of time or money, or both. But there's an investment made, and it will be the most impactful efforts to get you to where you want to go.

Another question I've heard a lot that I love, and I pose all the time to members and clients is: What levers do you need to pull that will take you there, to those numbers? So, this is where we do a lot of conversation. I help a lot with getting people to uncover, for themselves, what is most important to focus on.

Because as you all know, there's always so much, so much stuff that needs to get done. There are all these things that we could do, should do, want to do, but you don't have time to do all of those things. But people will attempt to. They'll start something over here, get it going, and they'll flip their focus and do something over here, and then do something over here, and then they'll come back over here.

And while all of those things may be important, you do need to constrain down and choose what you're going to focus on, solely, to completion. Then you move to the next set of things, and then to completion.

This is where accountability comes in between retreats, between these strategic planning sessions. This is where we shine. Not only on these days where we get to help people think through and create these amazing strategic plans for themselves, but in between. There's a sense of accountability for, “Hey, do you get your stuff done? Are you on track? Are you making progress? No? Why? What's the deal? What's the barrier?”

We meet them where they are, and help them re-shift, refocus, and go again to create progress, to see their key priorities all the way through to completion.

The other thing we talk about is planning for how you're going to implement this. You want to plan how you're going to spend your time, so that you are spending time on the things that matter the most, what you said matters the most.

This is a practice that we teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. This is where this comes in beautifully. So, when you're planning to implement all the things that you'd like to achieve, you have to do that within your schedule. And so, we are deliberate, and have a look at the calendar every week. We plan out when we're actually going to be able to spend time on the things that we said are most important.

That is definitely the Rocks you've chosen, right? But also, there's other things that really matter. If you have goals around revenue or billing, there needs to be a certain amount of legal work and output. So, that needs to be calendared.

Some of this seems super intuitive, but again, people don't do this. So, they will have one week go by where they just didn't quite spend the time they thought they would on their Rocks. And then, the next week go by. And then, maybe they spent a little time and they're feeling reinvigorated, and then next week gets busy again and they drop off.

So, with this practice you're really planning for implementation using Monday Map/Friday Wrap. That's one of the main tools we use when you're planning for implementation. It helps you not get so far off course. You are going to get off course, that is human nature. But you won't get so far off course with having to sit down once a week and plan your week ahead. And then also, because of the accountability inside of Velocity Work. That is it for the basic elements of strategic planning.

Now, with private clients I have the luxury of spending more time and digging in on really specific things that will matter to them. I’m focused on their team, development of their team, transferring responsibilities, and building accountability charts. We do a lot more in strategic planning, but these are the basic elements.

It all comes back to this stuff. I never, ever, ever, ever, ever lead a strategic planning retreat without digging into all of these elements that I just shared. And with private, I'll go deeper into some additional topics. So, that's it, in a nutshell. You can imagine, after a full day of this, walking away with a clearer about what vision you are working towards, what success looks like for you, and having analysis on the current state of the business that is facts, not feelings.

There is nothing that feels better than the truth. The numbers are the truth. The numbers tell a story. So, you have your current state analysis, you have goals set; numbers that you're shooting for set. You have Rocks, or the key efforts, that you are going to execute so that you can get yourself to the goals that you stated that you wanted to get to, the numbers that you stated you want to get to.

And then, you have thought through how you're going to actually get the stuff implemented, and make a plan for that. This is a great, great framework that you can move through in order to create the Velocity that you need inside of your law firm, so that you can get to where you really want to go in a more streamlined way.

Okay, so now you have your plans. You are so clear about what you're aiming for. You have a solid, well thought-out plan, a strategic plan. And now, it's time to honor your plan. So, between your quarterly strategic planning sessions this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where Monday Map/Friday Wrap really does kick in.

Because if you're not being intentional with your time, and how you're spending your time, and you aren't staying focused, you will veer way off track. But we won't do that because it’s part of execution. This is the standard you should set for yourself.

It's a standard inside of Velocity Work,  to sit down and think forward about how you're going to get accomplished the things that matter the most, and calendar time for those things. This is just a cycle that you do. And it's all about progress, not perfection. But the act of this is one thing that will help keep you streamlined.

The other thing is to monitor and track data along the way. You can have a very simple tracker. You can have a super complex tracker. It really doesn't matter, you just need to keep improving, one foot in front of the other, when it comes to tracking. Keep building and building and building on it as you go along.

Here's what I want to say about strategic planning in general, something that I think is important to note. I would put money every single time on a law firm owner who has done strategic planning and is involved with some form of accountability, than someone who's not.

That is not because one person's lazy and one person's not. No. One person is getting facilitation and coaching and support and accountability. So, who do you think's going to fly further, faster? Who do you think's not going to be messing around? Who do you think is going to be streamlined towards whatever it is that they say they want?

I would put money on the person that is signing up for this stuff, every single time. If you are listening to this, and you are on the fence about, “Should I do this on my own or should I not?” Just do it. You will not regret coming into Velocity Work’s sphere.

When you come in, you are not a number. When you come in, we care about you. And we work with you to create everything that I just laid out here. Well, now I'm getting all riled up. But seriously. I see so much potential for law firm owners, when I talk to them. I see so much potential for law firm owners that I see in groups and in forums.

I’m like, “What are you doing? What are you doing? Why aren’t you getting the help you need? Why aren't you partnering with someone? Why are you spending all kinds of money on marketing? Your house is not in order.”

Making investments in the right place; strategic planning is a way to do that. Again, if you do it on your own, you do it on your own. But do it.

The other thing I'll say about strategic planning is, it is crucial for any company to do some form of strategic planning. Because not only does it help you paint a clearer picture of the future, actually get clearer about what you're aiming for... Not only does it help you direct your efforts, it makes you a better business owner.

It makes you smarter. It makes you faster. It optimizes you as an owner. It helps speed up the self development that's inevitable with ownership. I just want to invite you to take this. You can have this on repeat, push pause and just do the section...

Like, hear me on this episode rattle off about how to think about a section, an aspect of strategic planning, push pause, and do that to the best of your ability. And then, listen to the next part, push pause, do that to the best of your ability. That is how we create the work that's important, that's meaningful.

You can also just keep this on tap every quarter, listen to it over and over again, quarter after quarter. Or you can come in. So, up to you either way. This resource is in the world, it serves to be some form of a framework for you, and I would love to see every single law firm owner engage in strategic planning for themselves.

Whether it's with us or not, do it. Do it. Do it for you. Do it for your future. Your future self will thank you.

Alright, everybody. I'll see you here next Tuesday. You have such a great week.

Hey, you may not know this, but there's a free guide for a process I teach called Monday Map/Friday Wrap. If you go to, it's all yours. It's about how to plan your time and honor your plans. So, that week over week, more work that moves the needle is getting done in less time. Go to to get your free copy.

Thank you for listening to The Law Firm Owner Podcast. If you're ready to get clearer on your vision, data, and mindset, then head over to where you can plug in to Quarterly Strategic Planning, with accountability and coaching in between. This is the work that creates Velocity.

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