A law cost and mediation company in South Wales increases reach thanks to the Business Wales mentoring programme.

David Bentley-Miller established his law cost and mediation company, Pendragon Drafting, in 2011, and has since grown it to offer a wide range of legal services. He approached the Welsh Government’s Business Wales service for help to grow his business and soon established a successful working relationship with a volunteer business mentor for guidance on his marketing strategy, brand awareness and promotion.

Introduction to business

Pendragon Drafting was established by David Bentley-Miller in 2011. The business is based in Neath and offers a variety of legal services, including law cost drafting, civil and commercial mediation. They specialise in the costing of civil litigation, court of protection and medical negligence matters, amongst others.

Why did you decide to set up your own business?

I left school with no qualifications whatsoever and found myself working in various jobs. However, at the age of 27, I won a place at the University of Wales to study law as a mature student. After graduating in 2000, I worked in business development roles for a National Health & Safety and Employment Law Consultancy. I then moved to a couple of law firms in Wales as a Business Development Manager. However, it was during this time that I became mentally unwell. After a period at home, because I couldn’t work, I was eventually diagnosed with bi-polar affective disorder. In my mind at the time, I felt that this would be a huge barrier to me getting another job in the legal sector, so felt the only thing I could do was to work for myself.

I had heard about law costs draftsmen but only had a rough idea of what they did. I looked into it in more detail and explored how to get trained. This is where I encountered a problem. I approached several firms here in Wales to see if they could take me on as a trainee but nobody was willing to train me. There was an organisation who offered a recognised training course, but to get on it, I needed to be working at a firm. So, I was in a Catch 22 situation!

Undeterred, I decided to do whatever I could to train myself. Over time, I found that I became very good at the work and I absorbed as much information as I could. My feeling was that as someone who suffered from poor mental health, I would not be a great employee. I now realise this was my illness talking and not a real reflection.

What challenges did you face?

The first challenge was getting solicitors to give me a chance to show them that I knew what I was doing and to trust me to work on their files. Thankfully, my very first clients are still with me today.

Another challenge was fighting sometimes-crippling bouts of low mood. I learned that work produced a distraction from the dark times and I became very quickly a workaholic. Clients would send me work and instead of it taking maybe two or three weeks to complete (as is normal amongst our competitors), I was turning the work around the same week. This had the knock on effect of them sending me even more work.

Another huge challenge at the start was cash flow. Some months I earned absolutely nothing. When I did complete the work, it would often take a few months to be paid. I remember asking my bankers for an overdraft facility to see me through a lean time and they refused. I never forgot that and as soon as I became profitable, the first decision I made was to switch banks. My feeling was that if they didn’t want to hold my hand in the difficult times, they were certainly not going to profit in the good times.

The other major challenge we faced was marketing. We had by now become very respected in our field, but we had no clue or strategy on how to reach other potential clients. Marketing was considered very much a ‘dark art’ to us. However, we knew we needed to do something. It was at this point that we reached out to Business Wales to see if they could offer any advice.

Business Wales support

David got in touch with Business Wales as he was looking to expand the business and hire more staff. He needed support with attracting more clients and expanding his reach. He received support from a growth adviser and was then successfully matched with a volunteer Business Wales mentor, Mark Tudor, to help with marketing.

Outcomes

Our Mentor, Mark Tudor, has provided us with focus and a roadmap of how we can achieve our growth plans. For the first time, we now have something to work to in the form of a living document and plan.

What I was impressed with the most was he very quickly understood the business and then came up with a plan to help us both improve our current operation, but also giving us the confidence to look at new markets as sources of additional income.

Future plans and ambitions

We hope to grow the practice over the next three years whilst keeping hold of the most valuable thing in our business, our current clients. We are also looking to increase the number of services that we offer.

If you want to read more success stories of how Business Wales has helped other people like you to start or grow their businesses, visit https://businesswales.gov.wales/case-studies or follow @_businesswales / @_busnescymru on Twitter.

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