A source of much interest to lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, consultants and many more. What are the elusive factors that generate success for one practice more than their competitors?
Based upon my research and experience working with small practices across UK/Ireland, I believe the single most important factor (the X Factor) is being able to think and act like a business person and not just as a lawyer or accountant or architect. Too little emphasis is placed upon the practical side of running an (accountancy or legal or architecture) practice – marketing, finance, operations – yet all practices are a type of small/medium business. They just have a very specialist service to offer clients.
In evidence, let’s take a brief look at the modules offered by various University professional courses.
Trinity Law School which provides a comprehensive range of legal courses from Constitutional Law to Equality Law to Criminal Law to Family Law on offer but not a single legal marketing course. A look through the modules at QUB shows a similar focus – although they do put a big emphasis on communication skills (and I’ve yet to meet a lawyer who can’t talk for their country) but absolutely nothing about business.
Architecture at QUB sounds wonderful – lots of training on the Theory and History of Architecture, Technology and Environment and Design & Communication as well as skills based training such as technical drawing and model-making and absolutely nothing about how to run a business or sell your services to the public (despite the acknowledgement that many of their graduates will work in small private practices). UCC poetically talks about how it “Situates architectural design studio within specific contexts such as coastline, historically significant areas, and landscape” (which makes me want to go back to college and study Architecture) but not a single module in four years on managing your private practice business. Do they just assume you all know how to do this already?
Accountancy courses fare slightly better – course content on Financial Accounting, Management Accounting, Economics, Statistics as well as a brief Introduction to Marketing in Year 1 (UCG) but after that it’s optional (as if you can set up as an accountant and choose whether or not to have clients). I especially love the Accountancy module in QUB called Managerial Behaviour which sounds more than an anthropological study of management rather than actual practical business skills – if any of you have done this course, please do let me know!
Yet, growing your practice requires business skills and that is what separates the good professionals from the great professionals. So how do you best do get new clients and grow your practice successfully?
A few critical factors for success include:
Think of yourself as Businessperson who is also a Lawyer/Accountant/Architect/Engineer and embrace best business practice. Understand that “sales” is not a dirty word, it encompasses many critical activities (from networking to advertising to PR to closing) – it is what you need to do to build your practice. Plan, strategise, market and sell as a business. Learn on the job – but do think of these as additional professional skills you need to acquire in much the same way as you master reading a balance sheet, parsing case law or creating a technical drawing.
Sales Strategy and planning is important – What type of work do you want to focus on? What type of clients are ideal for you? Take a look at your existing clientele and categorise them – industry, size, revenues, location, services, age etc. Which ones are your best clients? How will you position yourself competitively? As an extra challenge in Ireland, most small professional firms (especially rural ones) tend to be generalists which makes it doubly difficult for consumers to choose who to use. So, finding out what you can do better than anyone else and for what type of customers is critical.
Create a Sales Structure that enables you to deliver sales growth effectively. What are the key activities that you will do to ensure this? What technologies can help make you more productive? What compelling sales messages and marketing materials will you create? How much networking (and with whom) is essential? What lead-generation assets will you develop? How will you customise/brand your individual services? Note: This is much more than just having a website.
Build a Sales Execution Approach that ensures a steady stream of qualified leads into your practice. How will you close business once you attract the attention of prospects? Develop good sales habits for your practice. Monitor performance using key power numbers – based upon revenue, customers and on-going sales activity. Learn how to be a better practice sales person. Regularly gather feedback from all your stakeholders – partners, associates, clients.
If you’re seriously interested in how to build your practice then please take a look at my Build Your Practice programme or contact me on email@example.com for a free 1:1 Accelerator Session.