Friday, October 18, 2013

Daily Blog #116: On the business of being in business

Hello Reader,
                Long day today and not much time left to get a blog post in before the day is over. Today I thought I would share the three roadblocks on your way to success as a self employed DFIR consultant. We are approaching 9 years in business as G-C and I've learned a couple things and changed my perspective on whats truly difficult.

1 .Finding the work
When I first got started doing computer forensic work this was my main problem. Most companies wanted someone who had testified before and the majority of my cases were small hacking investigations that came through partners.  I struggled to get IT departments who had no real decision making authority within legal to recommend us for larger investigations but ran into the same wall again and again.

This was back when I was an employee of others and I thought that having the capability to do the work was more important than having the ability to find and sell the work.

2. Getting the work
I eventually came into the employee of a company that was started a forensics company by a gentlemen who understood where this work actually came from. Hiring decisions for most legal cases did not come from inside a company but from the outside lawfirm they retained. Through him I learned how lawfirms worked and how to market your services to them.

Lawyers don't Google 'computer forensic expert' normally, instead they ask another lawyer who they've used before or they know personally. The most effective marketing method I've seen that also helps do educate those you are looking to hire you is to provide a CLE seminar to the lawfirms in your area that specialize in the type of forensic work you are looking to provide. For my work that means targeting lawfirms with large employment law practices. To provide a CLE first go to the website for your state's bar organization and look up the CLE requirements.

The other method is to present at conferences that target lawyers, both inside and outside counsel. These conferences usually require a sponsorship fee in order to present so while its effective its also an expensive option.

Once you get one case from a lawyer at a firm and do well, you will likely then be referred to other lawyers at that firm and be able to grow organically through the firm. They will also start referring you to other lawyers they know who are looking for an expert like you.

3. Getting paid
Once you get the work you might think you've done the hard work and now its to bask in the rewards. It's not that simple you now have to figure out how to navigate the accounts receivables department of whoever owes you money. This could be as simple as a lawfirm who is paying for their clients bills (the best for you), to the lawfirm approving the bill for the client to pay (thing gets lost in translation) and then the worst a insurance company who will receive the bill from your client after the lawfirm approved it and then will decide whether to pay it.

The means from the time you did the work on 10/1/13 and invoiced the work on 11/1/13 that it could take up to 1/31/14 for you to even see payment. It's because of the multiple paths along the receivables pipeline that your invoice can take that we now ask up front how our invoice will be paid and who we can reach out to within the payers organization to submit our invoices and check on payment status. Many times we find that somewhere along the line that the ball was dropped and our invoice never made it to accounts payable or that it was never approved in some system that no one likes to use.

So the point of this? Plan for the worst when starting your own computer forensic consultancy in how long it will take for money to begin coming in after finding and getting the work. The ability to stay solvent long enough to get paid may be a larger challenge than you thought! Don't be afraid to ask about invoicing and payment up front, no one will be offended. Lastly try asking for retainers, though those to can be stuck in a 90 day cycle before you ever receive them!