Stand-alone tactics have yielded standout results for Anny Slater of SLATERS Intellectual Property Lawyers, which won best enterprise at the Australian Business Awards 2008.
After three years in the PwC partnership, and faced with the imminent restructure of PwC Legal , Anny Slater took what many in the industry would regard as a massive leap of faith - launching a career as an IP sole practitioner, a tiny fish in a pond dominated by large law firms.
Slater admits that starting up her own practice was a high-risk decision, given the fickle nature of the Australian IP market.
"There are not very many people, male or female, that are in sole practice in IP. Some of that is because it is an area of law that many companies and individuals think is a luxury item and not a staple," she says.
The risk has paid off, with the company recently winning Best Enterprise at the Australian Business Awards 2008, and being short-listed in two other categories (Best Service Excellence and Best Community Support).
Slater must own several different stands to hang up her collection of hats. She began her legal career in Adelaide, completing a combined degree in chemistry and law long before the joint degree became fashionable.
Before joining Dunhill Madden Butler (which later merged with PwC Legal) she worked for some years as a trademark and patent specialist, which she says gave her "a depth of knowledge in relation to intellectual property that distinguished me from others".
Media expertise is something she seems to have naturally picked up along the way as an author, freelance writer for Australian sketch show Comedy Inc: The Late Shift, and various other screenwriting projects. She now runs entertainment production company Moondance Pictures, and says the parallel business endeavours have a symbiotic relationship.
"I think that when I was negotiating contracts for creative work that all my background has helped me be able to pitch projects - to research the executives, find out what it is that they really need and give them what they need."
Identifying a gap in the conventional IP practices of the large firms she had worked with, Slater has focused on personalised service and maintained low operating costs.
"I think when I left (PwC Legal) it was a really positive challenge not to be seduced by everything that the larger IP practices were doing. It made me really look at my marketing spend.
"I think the best practice management I have put in place is simplicity," says Slater. "Some of that was put in place when I first started. I just stripped all the administration out of it and guessed it was pure service and minimum administration."
Despite - or perhaps because of - her aversion to pursuing a direct market strategy, Slater has built an impressive client list which includes artist Ken Done and his companies, Sony Entertainment, Universal studios and international clients like São Paulo Alpargatas S.A. (Brazil), the manufacturers of world famous Havaianas footwear.
"I have never advertised in the seven years that I have been in sole practice. Most of it, as I can determine, has been by client referrals," Slater says.
Clients have benefited from access to Slater's own customised IP practice management tools. Moonbase is a database designed to manage IP deadlines, developed with "a simple interface" to ensure its accessibility to both lawyers and clients.
A second client offering, the Enterprise Workshop, was developed in collaboration with RMIT Adjunct Professor Ralph Tobias, founder of Cedcom Pty Ltd. The software package offers due diligence, commercialisation and management services, and has already been rolled out at client sites including Capral Aluminium Ltd and the Ken Done Group of Companies.
As a sole practitioner, Slater says she has plenty of time to reflect on her business practices, to analyse what does and doesn't work for her business.
"I have had a lot of time to consider what it is that has made me successful, because no matter how much you go out with a business plan and no matter how confident you might be, there is a part of you that thinks 'It is a fluke, I don't know how I did it.'
"So it has made me look at what I do and how I do it - in order to try and replicate it again and again. I always come back to really connecting to what I am doing."
- Laura MacIntyre