Choosing Small as a Strategy

Practice Management Post 1.8

One of the most powerful forces in any market is the well conceived, well organized and highly professional Small Firm. It is a firm that brings such clarity of purpose and such excellence in delivery that it secures its own place in the market. You may have see this in your market and wondered how they do it. In my experience, these firms are driven by an owner and with professional confidence and knowledge. I'm sure some were purposefully planned and some may have simply evolved into the powerful entity they are today - but they share common elements.

Embrace Small. One of the first elements is embracing the simplicity and elegance of specialization. There is a need in most markets for someone who is "really good at (fill in the blank)". Clients feel their project or business is special and only a specialist could understand all the nuances and bring meaningful solutions to the table. By specializing, your firm's name reputation can benefit from performance excellence, word of mouth referrals, and client respect in a more vertical curve. Clients really like the idea that if they call you they get you. You show up and lead meetings in an efficient manner. There is excellence of communication, accountability and follow-through. Small is an attitude.
Small firms should embrace small in their facility. It is lean and to the point, exemplifying your efficiency and ability to deliver the goods without a lot of fanfare and hoopla. It's not necessarily about aesthetics, but rather it is creative, functional and promotes internal collaboration. Embrace technology to amplify your work effort. The facility will be a machine designed to deliver the client's needs. Small isn't anti-big, it's simply an attitude that is about achieving a consistent high level of client service.

Successful small firms get their message out. Content marketing can set the tone and position your firm as the expert. It can be a differentiator. Small firms do not hesitate to share their knowledge with the competition, sharing knowledge is one of the best ways to secure your position as number one in your industry. The small firm never stops moving. If the professional is on the cutting edge they are often leading the market which place your competition squarely behind you and emulating your past - never aware of your progressive upward spiral.

Mentor all Staff. Clients are not only interested in the results but they also expect the process to be thoughtful, smooth and refined. Shortcut communication by taking someone with you to all meetings. Nothing advances staff skills like first hand field experience with the client and on-site with the project. A side benefit is not having to brief staff on meeting outcomes. Any refinements or new directives can begin immediately as you may need to attend to a different client immediately. In day to day operations, the small firm can engage 100% of the staff 100% of the time in fine tuning processes, dissecting the work and eliminating duplicity of action. It is important to engage the staff in processes with weekly training. Much can be gained by teaching why things are done, what the desired results are and questioning if current procedures can be streamlined to deliver the same results with greater efficiency of motion. This empowers staff to make their own effective decisions.

Set up a weekly procedure for internal communication, and stick to it. Staff will count on getting your time and input and direction several time a week. One successful model is a Monday kick off and weekly planning session. Goals are set, workloads are discussed, and resources are reallocated if necessary. Friday is recap day. How did we do? Can we check off the items we planned to complete? Was the right amount of progress made? Develop a plan for mid-week "desk top touch and go" meetings with individual staff to check progress, understand how new developments may have impacted the project or schedule, and engage in problem solving. Teach staff the benefits of problem solving offline and bringing the solutions to the next meeting.

Cross train your staff to insure coverage with vacations, sick leave, or absences. - so critical in a small firm. Everyone should be able to do everyone's job. Create internal accountability. Engage with staff about lessons learned. Evaluate and adjust your process to eliminate the problem. Discuss the value of checking your work and hold tight to good writing, good spelling and good grammar. Teach staff the value of speaking to your clients in plain language free of industry acronyms or buzz words. Remind them that the client is not in your business they may not understand those terms. Your are growing your own account and client managers.

Drive Profitability. One of my early mentors taught me that the more you can show how your service can improve the clients bottom line (efficiency, productivity, image or culture), the higher the fee they will be willing to pay for that service. Doing so will avoid commoditization of your fees and marginalization of your product or service. Clients validate you when they share their thoughts and ideas with you and seek your opinion about a direction they are considering. You have transitioned from vendor to skilled provider and now to trusted advisor. This is where you want to position your firm.

It is not impossible to deliver this type specialization inside a medium or large firm, but it is exponentially more difficult in that there are more people, more opinions, and more politics. Large firms may create specialty groups within, but have to avoid the same guy just wearing different hats. Similarly, when a small firm attempts to be everything to everyone, the lack of credibility can painfully apparent. The small specialized firm wears one hat and wears it well. In a sense, a firm can work for a hundred clients making a competitive margin, or a small firm can work for 10 clients with a level of profit that allows better renumeration of staff, better attention to clients and a stronger reputation of always leading your industry.

Embrace your smallness and your specialization and make it work for you.