Most professional service firms have similar goals:
“I just wanted to say thanks for your input and help with the project. Your collaborative and consultative style meant that everybody stayed on track and we got a lot further down the track than certainly I expected.”
“Tim has a proven ability to take an overview of business issues, tax, accounting, business efficiency and distil from the facts the key issues and then offer sound commercial advice for both individuals and business organizations. We appreciate the significant time, effort and care he puts in to building strong client relationships.”
“I very much enjoyed working with Tim. He was sincere, honest and brought a huge amount of business clarity and common sense to our project – as well as that all important independent perspective. I have no doubt he would deliver both value and results to any business he got involved in.”
“You have really helped me clarify my goals for my business and to refine my strategies for achieving these goals. I would not have achieved what I have achieved without your support… I find your impartiality, even temperament and great skills highly beneficial to me.”
But differentiating themselves from the competition – by winning work, attracting the best talent and delivering strong profitability – is not easy.
Professionals are facing an increasingly dynamic and competitive market with many sectors undergoing major structural changes. As clients demand more for less, margins are squeezed and new entrants emerge, firms are having to focus on operational efficiency and business development to achieve growth. Practice leaders face unprecedented pressures to develop, and implement, strategies that provide a sustainable platform for growth.
There are tremendous opportunities for well-run firms that have a good strategy and execute it properly. Our work falls into three areas:
Diagnosing (where are you now?)
Using a range of tools, we assess your current market positioning, culture, brand and the ‘state of play’.
Planning (where do you want to get to? how do you want to get there?)
To grow successfully, you’ve got to know why you want to grow.
We start with the aspirations of the partners, both individually and for the business, using one-to-one meetings to help identify common vision and competing personal agendas. If differing sets of aspirations are to be realised, they need communicating, interpreting, reconciling and turning into organised action plans.
Then, we help you identify the opportunities, the appropriate structure and the resources required, creating a bespoke growth action plan. The difference with our plan is that it will be short and punchy (as it will be a working document), with clear responsibilities and timeframes, and also dynamic – as actions are completed the plan will be updated. Above all, the plan will be achievable.
Implementation (doing it!)
Too many plans sit on the shelf and gather dust. Many leadership teams find it difficult to make time to focus on the actions while they deal with pressing client work and the other demands of the day.
A key part of our role is to help keep you on track. It’s your plan, but we help you overcome any barriers and hold you to account with the actions.
Mergers and acquisitions
With the changing competitive landscape and challenging economic environment meaning that sufficient growth is hard to achieve organically, it is increasingly common for firms to seek mergers or acquisitions (of either whole firms or specific teams) to achieve their growth ambitions. But successful mergers are hard to achieve, usually time-consuming to undertake and easily derailed, particularly by cultural differences that are not apparent initially.
We support firms in various ways:
- clarifying the key strategic objectives
- identifying target firms
- evaluating potential merger partners, based on agreed criteria
- identifying synergies and potential deal breakers
- grooming the practice for change
- post-merger planning
- managing communications (with clients and internally)
- engaging with potential merger firms
- sharing information
- project management
- due diligence
- managing differences in values
- rationalising systems and processes
- managing communication: listening and talking
Having timely management information (MI) each month is a good start, but is it really information, or simply data? Too often, we see monthly information packs that focus on historical data and are presented in the form of multiple spreadsheets; typically, there’s too much detail, they’re difficult to follow and under-used by management teams.
What does your information tell you? Where is there room for improving performance?
We assist management teams in several ways:
- management information reviews – checking that your MI is fit for purpose, i.e. essential (only what you need), comprehensive (going beyond the historical numbers) and, above all, user-friendly (in a form that non-accountants can understand)
- KPI reviews – ensuring that your Key Performance Indicators are appropriate and comprehensive tools for managing the firm’s performance
- productivity analysis – examining individual and departmental data and highlighting areas for improving fee earners’ productivity and the management of their non-chargeable time
- pricing reviews – exploring opportunities to increase revenue for the services you provide
- benchmarking reviews – using your financial data to benchmark your performance against similar firms, allowing you to focus on areas of underperformance
In each case, we will present our findings with recommendations for improvement and will advise on the next steps; crucially, we will also help you implement the changes, which might include facilitating meetings in departmental groups and one-to-one coaching.
Traditionally having little hierarchy, and with partners who combine client service delivery with ownership and management of the firm, professional service firms present challenges for managing partners.
Whilst some larger firms choose to bring in professional managers to run the business for them, allowing partners to focus on client relationships and project management, most firms prefer to choose from their own ranks. Whichever route you choose, managing a professional services firm requires an unusual blend of attributes and skills: being a leader, custodian, mentor, diplomat and having awareness, passion, sensitivity and communication skills… to name a few; the list is a long one!
But it can be a lonely position and one that lacks a clear mandate. Making it to managing partner, usually on the basis of excellent personal performance and being highly skilled in his/her own discipline, does not mean the managing partner immediately has the breadth of management skills required to manage his/her peers and the firm. Furthermore, many managing partners find it particularly demanding having to balance management with client work.
We assist managing partners and their management teams in many ways:
- Acting as a sounding board for the managing partner on current issues
- One-to-one coaching and mentoring for the managing partner and members of the management team
- Attending management meetings to review progress, assess performance and set priorities
- Performance management and reward: advising on appraisal systems and profit sharing arrangements
- Risk management and Governance: reviewing processes and advising on improvement
- Business development: advising on processes and behaviours
Client relationship management (CRM)
Delivering outstanding client service is a key goal for most firms, but one that many have difficulty meeting, at least consistently. The need for effective client management has moved from being a luxury to a necessity in most markets.
Having an integrated approach to the management of client relationships becomes increasingly important as firms grow and their clients become more demanding. With some professions having become more de-regulated, allowing new entrants who have the experience and resources to invest heavily in customer service, the competitive pressures have increased.
Whilst a good CRM programme requires sound systems and processes, to be really effective, the firm needs a culture that not only embraces the concepts but embeds client service at the heart of its priorities.
We help firms design and implement programmes for:
- Client feedback
- Key client management
We also assist with establishing and monitoring business development initiatives including:
- Cross-selling to existing clients – often the toughest nut to crack! See our 11 point checklist
- Pipeline management
- Target pursuit plans
Firms use us to obtain independent client feedback from key clients and to undertake bid debriefs, both for successful and unsuccessful pitches. In both cases, the feedback can either be obtained by telephone or in person.
At the heart of all firms, of course, are its people.
We help firms with:
- Defining competencies for senior roles, to help manage expectation, assess contribution and improve performance
- Designing appraisal systems (for partners and staff)
- Mentoring key members of the senior team
- Financial training for fee earners and those in management roles
- Team building: identifying personal preferences using profiling tools and leading team workshops to improve team working