Zofia Ludwig, Expert in Mind
Finding the right staff, working hard and learning not to panic have been vital skills for creating a successful business, says Zofia Ludwig, Founder of expert witness business Expert in Mind.
- What does your business do?
We manage a panel of psychiatrists and psychologists who are experts in their field, and are instructed to prepare mental health reports for legal proceedings such as care proceedings, medical negligence, trauma following catastrophic events and immigration cases. We act as a kind of matchmaker service, providing solicitors and barristers with the details of appropriate experts and then managing the experts’ diary and case load. We have 16 staff and 50 experts and a £4 million turnover.
- Why did you decide to start your business?
I used to work at the Priory, the mental health and addiction rehabilitation hospital, in their expert witness department. I left to start my own admin business but they decided they wanted to shut the department so they asked me if I wanted to buy it and run it as a separate business because the experts and clients already knew me. When I started we were instructed on about 20 cases a month but now we receive an average of 150 cases a month.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
When I bought the department the Priory said I could give them a percentage of the turnover rather than a lump sum, so I gave them 10% in the first year and 5% in the second. I borrowed £8000 from a friend to buy a computer and a desk and so I could pay myself while it got started, and I ran the business from my spare room at cost so there were minimal costs.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
In 2013 there were some major cuts to legal aid which funds about 70% of our work and the expert hourly rate was cut by more than half, so it had a significant impact on us. We had to downsize the office and reduce the number of staff from 7 to 2, and some of the experts didn’t want to continue. It was a massive adjustment to try and meet costs with such a reduced income, so that was very difficult.
The other difficult thing has been recruiting the right people. The work can involve reading quite distressing content and for some people it is too much, so they either leave or we have to part company with them. It is an ongoing challenge.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
I used to work all the hours there were and do a bit of everything because I felt that I could do it best, but I have learnt to release control of certain areas and get other people to do things instead. I have also learnt to panic less. When I used to get a complaint, a problem with a case, or someone sent a curt email I would go into a panic and think that client would never use us again, and tell their colleagues not to use Expert in Mind anymore. I saw it that we had failed in what we were trying to do. But now I can look at a problem and think ok, how are we going to solve it, and then change things if necessary. There is a lot less anxiety.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
Initially all the assessments stopped because no-one could go anywhere and at the time the courts were absolutely against any kind of remote assessment. Luckily they changed their view once the backlog started building, and we then had to adapt to remote assessments – a lot of the experts are quite old school so familiarising them with the technology was quite an uphill battle sometimes.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
Not believing in myself, and being too trusting of people, believing they would act with the same morality that I would.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
Extreme hard work, knowing when I am wrong and being able to learn and adapt on the way.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Learn to listen which not a lot of people actually do – they may hear but they don’t listen. And create a simple system in your business that works for you where everything is defined – your values, how you want people to be; your processes, how you want things to happen - so that it is clear for everyone.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most = useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?