Episode 50: Are you Losing to “Do Nothing”? – Member Case with Beth Trejo

Beth Trejo, CEO, and Co-Founder of Chatterkick, discusses how to stop losing to a competitor we call “Do Nothing.” Boutique professional services firms lose more deals to “Do Nothing” than any other competitor. If you want to bring on new clients, you will need to defeat this competitor to grow your professional services firm.

Transcript

Sean Magennis [00:00:17]: Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. Our goal with this show is to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster. I’m Sean Magennis, Collective 54 Advisory Board Member, and your host. 

I will make the case that boutiques lose more deals to a competitor, we call “Do Nothing” than  any other competitor. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Beth Trejo, the CEO, and co-founder of Chatterkick. Beth educates business leaders on social media tools and gets their digital recruitment, social media, and digital customer service efforts working. You can find Beth at chatterkick.com. Beth, great to see you, and welcome. 

Beth Trejo [00:01:14]: Thank you, I’m excited to be here today. 

Sean Magennis [00:01:16]: Likewise, we’re so excited to have you. So, Beth, our description of the competitor we called “Do Nothing” refers to the project that went away. The prospect did not hire a firm, any firm. They just decided not to move forward with the project. In other words, they decided to do nothing. Has this problem occurred for you in your line of business? 

Beth Trejo [00:01:40]: Yes, and we actually see this a lot. We focus on the social media platforms, and many times these are the first things that people set aside when they’re busy, or they hand their social media keys to an intern, and then the intern goes away. And so it’s one of the most overlooked opportunities that I think a lot of businesses have in multiple categories, not just direct retail. 

Sean Magennis [00:02:03]: Yeah, you know, that’s what we find, too. And so, just following up from there, do you feel that this is a top competitor that boutiques must defeat to grow? And why do you feel that way? 

Beth Trejo [00:02:16]: Yes, I do, and I think the “Do Nothing” competitor really does demonstrate a core value that a lot of the professional services firms have, which is expertise and their advice. And let me give you an example. 

Sean Magennis [00:02:30]: Yes, please. 

Beth Trejo [00:02:31]: One time that we had a particular customer and they were looking to recruit a salesperson, and this “Do Nothing” approach actually cost them millions of dollars. So, what happened was they were in this business. They were a manufacturing company, and their lifetime customer value is really high. So, they were looking to recruit a sales individual that, you know, they were super excited about when they found a candidate. 

This candidate had expertise in the industry, and they were going to take this new product line and really get it off the ground. He’s super excited about this candidate, the business buzz. And they got to the final stage of the interview process, and they offered the candidate position, and the candidate declined. And they were just completely perplexed. They couldn’t figure out what happened. 

And they asked the candidate, and the candidate said that they had multiple offers from this business and their competitor, and they felt like their competitor, the offer they accepted, felt more “modern” than this business. And this business was innovative. It was high technology-driven. It was all of the things. 

Sean Magennis [00:03:51]: Yes. 

Beth Trejo [00:03:51]: But online, they had a website that was old school. 

Sean Magennis [00:03:56]: Yes. 

Beth Trejo [00:03:57]: They had a social media presence that was pretty much nonexistent. And maybe a couple of tweets that were left from Happy Memorial Day a few years ago. And so it really was. They didn’t have a presence, so they didn’t get to tell their story, and their story was formed for them, which was that they weren’t a modern company, and they lost the candidate. 

Sean Magennis [00:04:22]: That is such an extraordinarily good example, and it just showcases the nuances and the importance of having all of these elements defined. And then, you know, there’s this concept of mystery shopping where, you know, I think it’s so critically important for people to mystery shop themselves so they know what candidates you know, think, and feel. Is that something you guys do? 

Beth Trejo [00:04:45]: Yes, we definitely just kind of take a customer journey approach. Can people find basic information about you? Do you have a presence online that is an authentic reflection of who you are?  I don’t think that people are looking for perfection, whether it’s candidates or it is customers. But, they want to feel like they have good information and they want that authenticity. So, stock photos – throw them away. I would rather have a candid picture of your team over lunch than a stock photo of people that don’t look like those who work at the business.

Sean Magennis [00:05:18]: Yeah, that makes total sense. So, OK, defeating this “Do Nothing” competitor. It sounds like it will save founders a ton of time and boost revenue. I’d like to get your thoughts on some of the best practices that we recommend in this area. 

There are four specific things I’ll walk you through, and I’ll have you share your thoughts on each? The first is to be sure you can state the problem you solve for your clients clearly. I often ask a professional services firm  founder what problem they solve for clients. And they typically tell me about their solution. So, what are your thoughts about this? 

Beth Trejo [00:05:56]: Yeah, and I really think from our angle, the power of social media really lets you cross multiple operational areas of your business. Yes. The first is it does give you a competitive advantage because if you have a microphone, you can tell your own story. And it’s not just the story that your employees that maybe left in an unfavorable way could tell about you. It’s not the story that your history necessarily defines you. 

But, if you have these channels, they really are a communication channel. And so it can build loyalty, gain a competitive advantage, and help you build real connections. Yes, because I do think that that is the currency of our future. It’s how deep can you connect with your audience? 

Sean Magennis [00:06:41]: You’ve hit the nail on the head. The second thing to do is to determine if the problem you’re solving is pervasive. So to grow your professional services firm, we need lots of sales opportunities. What are your thoughts on this concept? 

Beth Trejo [00:06:55]: So, I think for as it relates to social media, I think and even just creating a digital presence, we really are living in a world of you need that existence online, and you need to make sure that you have proof or validation. 

It’s funny. Testimonials are not as important in terms of the word testimonials. People like the word review because review feels less forced than testimonial. And we want as consumers, again across all categories, to feel like we have control to source information about our businesses and the people that we work with, and we don’t want it dictated to us in, you know, a non-authentic way. 

Sean Magennis [00:07:39]: I like that. So the concept of reviews rather than testimonials that’s very powerful. Number three that we recommend is it’s a problem proving the problem is urgent. So when a founder pitches a prospect, a prospect of determining what he or she, you know, is hearing is worthy of making it on the priority list, what do you think of this idea? 

Beth Trejo [00:08:03]: I think, especially as it relates to the “Do Nothing” competitor, urgency is really important because what can happen is if you’re complacent and you just let your presence exist online, or you’re not actually trying to make it better, your story gets told for you. And people are really busy picking up little pieces of breadcrumbs. 

We see this all the time with reviews and again, especially in professional services industries. They don’t collect and capture reviews as much as maybe retail businesses may. But what happens then is if you get two bad ones and you had zero, now you have two two-star reviews. And you start making that times ten, and all of a sudden, you’re not ahead of that, and it’s a really difficult thing to fix.. 

So, my recommendation from an urgency perspective is you have to get ahead of it because this is our world of people leaving reviews and talking about your business. And so, if you’re not getting ahead of the curve and it is urgent, you’re going to be missing out. 

Sean Magennis [00:09:10]: And it’s a 24-7 all on environment. So having the discipline to look at those to respond, to capture them, to learn from them, I guess, is equally important. 

Beth Trejo [00:09:22]: Hundred percent. 

Sean Magennis [00:09:22]: Yeah. So the fourth recommendation to defeat “Do Nothing” is to confirm that a prospect is willing to pay for the solution. Often founders make the pitch, the prospect says yes, and then they see the price, and then that yes, becomes a no. What are your thoughts on this? 

Beth Trejo [00:09:39]: Yeah, I think there’s a little bit again, especially in the professional services category of the what is the cost of “Do Nothing” right? And this is a pure cost of losing a critical employee or losing your current employees because, you know, the grass looks greener on the other side. 

Yes, the cost of PR mitigation strategies, I can tell you that’s very expensive, very expensive. And we see this example all the time. And I mentioned this on the review side of things. But if there was something said about you, and there was a swarm of people that just really hurt your reputation, you’re going to need not only just an outside person to help navigate that, but your employees are also going to have to spend a lot of time. 

So there are definitely resources internally that you’re probably going to have to put on that. And I’m sure that those all could be calculated into a total cost analysis. 

Sean Magennis [00:10:34]: Yeah, I think that’s an excellent answer and unpacking of that. Beth, this has been fantastic. There are four ideas: state the problem clearly, pursue only pervasive problems, prove the problem is urgent and use a cost justification to increase the prospect’s willingness to pay. These will defeat “Do Nothing”, and they’ll help our audience members grow. 

OK, so this takes us to the end of the episode. Beth, let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with the tool. We do so because this allows the listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist, and our style of checklist is a yes or no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by only asking 10 of these. 

In this instance, if you answered yes to eight or more of these questions, your strategy to defeat “Do Nothing” is working for you. If you want to know too many times, not identifying the problem is likely getting in the way of your attempts to grow. So, Beth has graciously agreed to be our peer example today. Beth, I’ll ask you the yes, no question so we can learn from this example. 

Sean Magennis [00:11:47]: So, number one, can you explain the problem to your family? Do they understand it? 

Beth Trejo [00:11:55]: Yes, social media is relevant in multiple categories and industries. 

Sean Magennis [00:11:59]: Outstanding. Number two, when you explain the problem to your friends, do they understand it? 

Beth Trejo [00:12:06]: Same answer, I don’t think that anybody would argue that social media isn’t baked into all of our lives. 

Sean Magennis [00:12:11]: Number three, does the problem exist in more than one industry? 

Beth Trejo [00:12:17]: It’s a human-to-human  world these days, and we need to make sure that we’re not just living in a B2B or B2C space. 

Sean Magennis [00:12:23]: I love that answer. Number four, does the problem exist in companies of all sizes? 

Beth Trejo [00:12:30]: Absolutely, from a small little retailer to a large manufacturer. 

Sean Magennis [00:12:35]: Yeah, to a one-man band up to, you know, a global multinational. Does the problem exist in many geographies? 

Beth Trejo [00:12:43]: Yes, and I would argue that it connects us to more geographies than we don’t even probably realize we’re connected to. 

Sean Magennis [00:12:49]: Again, completely agree with that. Number six, are clients paying to solve the problem today? 

Beth Trejo [00:12:57]: Yes, they’re either paying with their time, or they’re hiring someone to help them. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:01]: Number seven, have clients been paying to solve the problem for years? 

Beth Trejo [00:13:07]: As long as social media has existed, they realized that it takes a lot of work, and the trickiest part about it is it doesn’t shut off. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:14]: Yep, that’s 100 percent. Number eight, if the client does not solve the problem, are the consequences severe? 

Beth Trejo [00:13:22]: Very much so, we gave that example with that PR crisis or just losing a key candidate. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:26]: Yep. Number nine, is there a trigger event that puts the client into the market for your solution? 

Beth Trejo [00:13:34]: I think if you start a business, you need to have a presence online. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:37]: Yeah, I think that’s a baseline. That’s table stakes today, right? 

Beth Trejo [00:13:41]: Exactly. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:42]: And number ten, when clients have the problem, do they work to get it solved by a certain deadline? 

Beth Trejo [00:13:49]: Yes, and I think from a deadline perspective, it really does kind of come in waves. But, the consistency is half the battle of social media, and it’s more than just posting on the holidays. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:59]: You know, I love that, and that’s such an important lesson for listeners to understand and then to model. I’m assuming that there are great examples out there that people can, you know, fast follow. What are your thoughts on that? 

Beth Trejo [00:14:12]: Oh, there are so many businesses that are doing it right, and they’re upending different categories. These smaller companies are really competing against large behemoth brands just by connection. And that’s the thing that I would encourage your listeners to do. Social media isn’t just about pushing information. It’s about really listening and building true relationships with your audiences and developing a community. 

Sean Magennis [00:14:37]: Beth, thank you. I mean, this has been extraordinary. And again, I would encourage our listeners to reach out to you if they have any needs in this particular area. So, in summary, “Do Nothing” is defeating you at least 50 percent  of the time, whether you know it or not. 

To beat this competitor, be sure to pick a problem to solve that is pervasive, it’s urgent, it’s one that prospects are willing to pay to solve and be sure you can explain it simply. In other words, start with the problem, not the solution. And in the context of social media, make sure that you are very prepared and that you are literally following it 24-7. Big thank you to Beth for sharing these great examples for us today. 

Sean Magennis [00:15:23]: If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more. Pick up a copy of the book “The Boutique: How to Start, Scale and Sell the Professional Services Firm”, written by Collective 54 founder Greg Alexander.

And for more expert support, check out Collective 54, the first mastermind community for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. Collective 54 will help you grow, scale and exit your professional services firm bigger and faster. Go to our website to learn more. Thank you for listening. 

Episode 49: The Boutique: WHAT TO DO IF TRAPPED INSIDE A LIFESTYLE BUSINESS?

The opportunity cost of spending your prime in a lifestyle business is too large. On this episode, we discuss a 3-part framework to address this issue and demonstrate how to use it.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:16] Welcome to The Boutique case study series with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow, scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54, and your host. On this episode, I will make the case you do not want to be trapped inside a lifestyle business. The opportunity cost of spending your prime in a lifestyle business is too large. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, chief investment officer and founder of Capital 54. Greg has developed a three part framework to address this issue, and today he’ll demonstrate how to use it. Hey, Greg, welcome. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:13] Hey Sean, good to be with you, big, big topic today, let’s see if we can help some folks escape the trap of a lifestyle business. 

Sean Magennis [00:01:18] Fantastic. You know, it reminds me of Harry Houdini, right? We’ve got to give you that capability. So Greg, can you provide a brief overview of your three-part framework? 

Greg Alexander [00:01:31] Sure, let’s start by identifying the signs of this trap. Listeners are wondering if they are trapped or will they become trapped. Our listeners tend to be people who do not want a lifestyle business. They want to scale to something more substantial. Here’s some thoughts help diagnose if you are trapped. And Sean, allow me little leeway here, because… 

Sean Magennis [00:01:55] Absolutely. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:56] Sure, please. A lifestyle business is an average business. It’s not a bad business, it’s not a good business. It’s certainly not a great business. It’s OK. It provides a decent living, does not require an unreasonable level of effort. It fits nicely into one’s lifestyle with a wonderful work life balance. It’s better than working for a soulless big corporation. Owners of a lifestyle business are never going to get rich. And for some, that’s OK. Lifestyle firms are never going to quote put a dent in the universe, as the great Steve Jobs used to say. 

Sean Magennis [00:02:33] Yes. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:35] They’re not going to attract the most interesting clients with the most fascinating problems. A lifestyle business will be filled with really nice people, but maybe not top talent. Top talent avoids lifestyle businesses they want to grow, to be stretched and to really go for it. And there’s nothing wrong with the lifestyle business at all. For many, this is perfect. However, many who are operating a lifestyle business today wish they were not. They launched their firms with higher ambitions and with different intentions, but they fell into a trap unknowingly trap is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When things are quote unquote fine, there was no reason to break glass rock the boat. The bills are getting paid. The grief factor is low. The founder is happy. Life is all right. The problem is complacency sets in year after year passes by, the founder has been lulled to sleep. Then one day he or she wakes up and says, I want something more from life, my life’s work should mean something. Someday I’m going to want to retire. I’m going to need to sell my firm. I do not want to keep doing this. It’s my 60s, 70s and God forbid, belong beyond that. I got to turn this into more than a lifestyle business, or I’m never going to be financially secure. This trap carries a huge cost. Cost I’m referring to is the opportunity cost. This cost can be quantified. Let me give you an example. A boutique life cycle is approximately 15 years from cradle to grave. Ask yourself at the end of the 15 years, what do you have to show for your efforts? Compare this to what you might have had if you took a different path, whatever that different path may be. And in my experience, this produces a gap and the gap is big. Let me share some data to make my point. And then we can jump into the three part framework. 

Sean Magennis [00:04:47] Excellent. 

Greg Alexander [00:04:49] A lifestyle business in pro serve has about 20 employees doing about four million in revenue, and approximately eight are in the province. An owner of this type of business will pay him herself about a half million dollars. After taxes this is about, let’s say, 250k 300000, depending on where you live and after you satisfy your living expenses, maybe you can save about $100000 per year. So over a 15 year period, that’s 1.5 million, or maybe a little more due to investment returns that’s rounded up to a goal to make. This is not enough to be financially secure, given inflation and life expectancy increases. In reality, it’s not enough for much of anything. The cost of living 15 years from now is going to be much higher, especially in key areas such as health care. Yeah, under this hypothetical approach, you’re going to work yourself right into the cemetery. If I compare this outcome to the alternatives doesn’t compare, well, heck, you might be better off with a civil service job and 40 hours a week, three weeks vacation and a pension. There are other ways to spend your prime your career that will produce a lot more, and you, the brave founder the person who creates jobs for people. You just you’re worth more than that. And I feel the saddest thing in life is a wasted prime. So I wanted to come and speak to you today and urge you not to waste your prime and avoid the trap of a lifestyle business. That makes sense Sean? 

Sean Magennis [00:06:25] Greg, it makes 100 percent sense. I mean, this is strictly I mean, this is so important, it’s a wake up call for many. I see it all the time, and I know you do. The good news is we are making our listeners aware of it, so hopefully they can avoid this trap. So, Greg, if I’m someone who is concerned with this, what would I do? 

Greg Alexander [00:06:48] OK, good question. So this is where the three part framework comes in. So a founder of a boutique has three options trapped in a lifestyle business. Option number one is to shut the business down and do something else. Option number two is the pivot, this means course correct before it’s too late. An auction number three is to persevere in this means to stay the course. 

Sean Magennis [00:07:10] OK, Greg. So three options shutdown, pivot or persevere. You provided me three checklists, one for each option to help listeners determine which option is best for them, and I’d like to have you demonstrate each checklist for the audience. I’ll take you through each option and get your recommendations on each. So option one is shut the business down and there are four questions to answer. Number one, are we out of moves? 

Greg Alexander [00:07:41] So if you’re contemplating shutting the business down, it’s a tough thing to think about. So are we out of moves? What does that mean? Well, have you tried everything you can? Have you studied all the best practices? Try to get them implemented? Have you sourced all the best advice if you’ve already done all that and you’re still a lifestyle business, shut it down. The opportunity cost is too great. If you haven’t exhausted all of the best practices and the advice it’s available to you, we keep going but make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to implement some of the things that you want. 

Sean Magennis [00:08:12] Excellent. So number two is, are we miserable? Do we hate the clients, our coworkers, et cetera? 

Greg Alexander [00:08:19] Yes. So you’re contemplating shutting the business down? That’s the section where one right now that’s option one. 

Sean Magennis [00:08:24] Yup. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:25] You know, if you’re miserable, you hate coming to work every day. If you find yourself daydreaming about something else to do and your heart’s not in it. So if that if you find yourself in that situation, then you’re better off to shut the business down if you’re not in that situation, if you still love what you’re doing. Then stick with it, because you probably can crack the code. 

Sean Magennis [00:08:45] Excellent. So again, in the context of shutting the business down, this question is do you still believe in the vision for your business? 

Greg Alexander [00:08:55] Yeah. So one thing I learned on my journey is a vision changes over time. You know, I look back at the original vision I had for myself. My ambition was modest as time went on and I had some success. My my ambition kept expanding. So periodically, it’s a wise move to take a pause and say to yourself, Hey, if I realize my current vision, am I going to fulfill my dreams? The answer to that question is yes, don’t shut the business down. Keep going for it. The answer a question is no. Then what do you do when you’re running in place? You’re pursuing a vision that, even if you’re successful, isn’t worth it? 

Sean Magennis [00:09:30] Yep. And then the fourth one and this is is the window of opportunity closing? 

Greg Alexander [00:09:36] Yeah. And this is the one that’s outside the control of the of the founder. So are you running out of time? Are your competitors beating you? Are there lots more competitors coming into the market today? So this window of opportunity, all businesses have, you got to make sure. You know, is that window open? How long is it going to be open for? And that’s a critical thing to consider if you’re contemplating shutting the business down. 

Sean Magennis [00:09:58] Yeah. Excellent. Thank you, Greg. So the next option is to pivot pivot. It’s an overused term. You feel there are seven types of pivots specifically for boutique professional services firms. Let’s see if we can get through these efficiently. So the first one is what you term a zoom in pivot where a single feature becomes the whole service offering. What are your thoughts on this? 

Greg Alexander [00:10:26] So if you’re going to pivot, you’re not going to shut the business down. You want to get out of a lifestyle business. One of the pivots to consider is to zoom into it. This means sometimes founders over engineer their service offerings. So this type of pivot would result in a much simpler service to deliver, which will mean much higher profits. And with those profits, you can fund your expansion plan. And if successful, you’ll get yourself out of a lifestyle business. So if the answer yes to this question, then execute a service offering pivot. If you answer no, then the solution to a lifestyle business trap is not associated with assuming to the excellent Greg. 

Sean Magennis [00:11:07] The next one is a zoom out pivot. The current service becomes only a feature. What are your thoughts on this? 

Greg Alexander [00:11:15] So this is the flip side of that coin. So sometimes a service line is not compelling enough. There are things that need to be added to it to compel clients to buy it. So ask yourself that question. You know the problem that my client is having, can I truly solve? If you can’t, then you’re going to have to add things to your service line, so if you find yourself in that situation, then you might want to execute the zoom out pivot. If you don’t, you probably. You probably should not. 

Sean Magennis [00:11:43] Excellent, Greg. The third is client segment pivot, a shift to a new set of target clients. Unpack that for us. 

Greg Alexander [00:11:54] Yeah, so oftentimes owners of lifestyle businesses are unclear as to who their ideal client really is. And this results in wasting resources, pursuing the wrong business and lifestyle businesses. A resource constraint is there’s only so much time going, so much money going, so many staff members. So you can’t waste these resources. So getting really tight. I knew that client is an ideal client is super important. And ask yourself the client to serve, and today they’re going to get you out of the trap of a lifestyle business. If the answer is no, then execute a client segment. Go after different client with a different set of problems. 

Sean Magennis [00:12:34] Very important. Greg Number four, a client problem pivot. So the current problem of the focus is not urgent enough. This is critical. Greg, what is your what are your thoughts on this? 

Greg Alexander [00:12:47] Yeah. So this is the kissing cousin of the client segment. Right? So sometimes lifestyle boutique partners, they’re selling vitamins, not painkillers. So this pivot would be going after only urgent problems that are clients are willing to pay to solve. I see this all the time somebody launches a firm. It’s a nice to have is a small number of clients that are willing to hire you for that nice to have. And then you stall up because the problem isn’t urgent. It’s not pervasive. So by definition, you’re trapped in a lifestyle business. 

Sean Magennis [00:13:23] Yep, makes total sense. Number five is a business architecture pivot, and there are two types of business architectures. One High margin, low volume we call elephant hunting. Number two low margin, high volume rabbit hunting. What are your thoughts on this? 

Greg Alexander [00:13:43] This is a big one. Problem is trapped in a lifestyle boutique. Try to run two business models at the same time. There’s never enough money. There’s never enough talent to pull that off. This pivot would be to focus on one business architecture and be good at it. The added commentary I’d give you here is we tend to lie to ourselves on this. We like to say we have we apply discretion to the type of business we take. It’s really not true. Sometimes in the early stages, especially if your lifestyle, business or revenue is good revenue. But that’s the trap. That’s the trap that puts you in a lifestyle trap. So avoid that pick the business architecture. You’re going to fall with elephants or rabbits and stick to it. 

Sean Magennis [00:14:27] I like that, Greg very much. Number six is value capture pivot. This is a monetization model change. For example, should you switch from hourly billings to retainers, fixed beds, performance based contracts, licensing subscriptions, events or royalties? What are your thoughts on this? 

Greg Alexander [00:14:49] Yeah. So this is where all the breakouts are happening right now. So we try to roll role model ourselves after companies that have escaped the trap of a lifestyle business. What do they share in common? Well, services firms are prioritizing their services. Which allows them to switch their pricing strategy or their monetization strategy. And because they’re able to do that, they can go from one time fees to recurring revenue. And there’s probably nothing more powerful than escaping a lifestyle business in recurring revenue. So this is what everybody should be thinking about is value capture, pivot and the ingredient to execute that is the ability to prioritize your services. 

Sean Magennis [00:15:28] Greg, I couldn’t agree with you more. And if you and I look at our members within collective 54, those that are truly scaling have recognized the value of this capture pivot. You know, they monetizing their expanding their service line and their revenue sources. It’s remarkable what some of them are doing. And for our listeners, you know, consider looking at collective 54 from that standpoint because it’ll add tremendous value to your enterprise value when you decide to sell one day. Yup. So Greg, number seven, go to market pivot the three types of go to market approaches of a boutique. One is viral. So word of mouth and referrals to what we call sticky landing and expanding in the client, and three paid outbound cold outreach and marketing support to drive inbound. What are your thoughts on this? 

Greg Alexander [00:16:24] Yeah. So historically, the most common cause of being trapped in a lifestyle business is the lack of a commercial sales engine. Founders rely solely on word of mouth referrals. Well, this eventually runs dry as a personal network is finite. So if your only source of leads is word of mouth, you are trapped and you’re going to stay trapped. So if you find yourself in a lifestyle business, are you worried that that might happen to you in the future? You’ve got to build this commercial sales engine that can allow you to scale beyond the benefits of word of mouth. 

Sean Magennis [00:16:56] Greg, that was incredibly thorough. We now know what the term pivot really means to a boutique professional services firm. And this brings us to the final option, which is to persevere. This option would be sticking with the current plan, but executing it better. Give us your thoughts on this, Greg. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:19] Sure, well, executing the current plan better as opposed to pivoting usually means three things. It can mean swapping out the team. It can mean training the team, or it can mean giving the team more time. A word of caution here. Kicking the can down the road and taking no action is not persevering. That’s procrastinating. To prevent yourself from procrastinating. Remind yourself of your opportunity cost. The cost of inaction for a founder trapped in a lifestyle business is very large, and it’s growing every day. Your prime is X number of years. If you think you have the right strategy. And the key to escaping is better execution, take a very hard look at the team. Sean, one of the things that I would like to mention here is that the material that I shared with the audience today is not original material of Greg Alexander. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants people like. Stephen Blank, Eric Rice from the lean startup, etc.. Yes. And and I just wanted to make sure that I gave them proper credit. What I’ve done is I’ve curated it and edited it to make it uniquely applicable to the boutique professional services firm. But there’s a huge body of knowledge behind this topic. Should I shut the business down? Should I pivot or should I persevere? 

Sean Magennis [00:18:48] Outstanding, Greg, and thank you for that acknowledgment because that body of knowledge is accessible to our listeners. I love the way you synthesized it. I love the way you’ve simplified it. And that’s a huge, huge benefit to our listeners. So it’s super clear that answering these three questions do we shut the business down? Should we pivot and course correct? Or do we persevere? Are the keys to getting out of the trap of a lifestyle business? This brings us to the end of this episode.

A huge thank you to you, Greg, for sharing this today.

If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more. Pick up a copy of Greg’s book, titled The Boutique How to Start, Scale and Sell a professional services firm. I’m Sean Magennis.

Thank you for listening. 

Episode 48: The Boutique: What to Do If Trapped Inside a Lifestyle Business

How you manage unsolicited interest in buying your boutique will impact your ability to exit.  On this episode, we discuss how firm owners can capitalize on inbound interest.   

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that to scale the boutique requires a strategy and that a collection of tactics is not a strategy. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer, Greg is considered by some as a master strategist and has a lot to share on this topic. Greg, great to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:08] Thanks, Sean. This is very timely. I was looking at it from the other day who was trying to raise capital, and I asked them for their strategy doc. They sent me a spreadsheet populated with business plan assumptions. And as you know, that’s not a strategy. And this reminded me of how much work we must do in this area.

Sean Magennis [00:01:24] Yes. You know, for some reasons, there’s a knowledge gap in this area. Why do you think that is?

Greg Alexander [00:01:30] I think founders of boutiques know they need a strategy, and I feel as if they want one, yet when they look for help, all they run into is how to materials for product companies. And this leads them down the wrong path. Strategy for a professional services firm is very different. And unfortunately, there’s just not a lot out there on this topic.

Sean Magennis [00:01:50] Well, Greg, that’s what we are here for. And maybe this podcast will help. Heck, maybe there’s a new book in this for you.

Greg Alexander [00:01:57] I’m still recovering from the heavy lift of writing my last one, so maybe someone else can take that on.

Sean Magennis [00:02:03] Well, the boutique is fantastic, so let’s hope. OK, pick up on the thread on how strategy for product companies is different than strategies for services firms.

Greg Alexander [00:02:14] Sure. So here’s our strategy. And a product company gets built. The executive team builds a list of attributes that make a market attractive. These are items such as organic growth rates, number of companies, target trends and so on. This produces a list of vertical industries to pursue. This list of industries gets further segmented into a list of companies to pursue. And ultimately the data gets cut to names and accounts who might want to buy the products, including an estimate on spend potential. A debt gets created that says some version of the following. Our strategy is to target this list of clients in these industries. With these products, everybody nods in agreement. The Excel formulas are double checked and the and the goals get cascaded down to the department heads. This is a what exercise as in what are we going to do? This does not work for a professional services firm.

Sean Magennis [00:03:08] Why not Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:03:10] A strategy for professional services firms must be a how exercise. It starts with, how are we going to become more valuable to clients? Pro serve firms are better served with a how based strategy because of the nature of competition. Pro serve firms do not have the advantages present in product businesses which allow product businesses to get away with what based strategies. For instance, does Google have to ask how questions? No. How come? They have huge barriers to entry by controlling 60 percent of the search traffic. Pro serve firms do not have these types of advantages. For example, McKinsey is a top consulting firm in the world and they only have three percent market share. If they stop becoming more valuable to their clients, they are easily replaced. They do not have an install base locked into their firm. Does this make sense?

Greg Alexander [00:04:02] It does. Professional services firms need a different strategy development process built on how questions with the ultimate how question being how do I become more valuable to my clients? Can you give me some other How strategy questions that should be addressed in a boutique strategy?

Greg Alexander [00:04:23] So here are a few big ones that probably you could really think through and write many sophisticated answers to. So, for example, how do I raise client satisfaction? That’s a big macro question, huh? How can I elevate the skills in my team so I can raise prices? You know, oftentimes boutique owners don’t realize is a relationship between skill and price. Next, how can I redesign the work to improve utilization rates, you know, when’s the last time you broke out your work breakdown structure and reengineered the way you deliver the service?

Sean Magennis [00:04:57] Yes.

Greg Alexander [00:04:59] Or let’s say, how can I specialize in new ways of further differentiating us from the competitors? Because if you’re a boutique, you’re competing with generalist. So the more specialized you are, the more likely you’re going to win. So these are just a few. And they link back to the key macro question. How do I become more valuable to my clients?

Sean Magennis [00:05:19] Greg, is that it? Just switch from what to how?

Greg Alexander [00:05:25] I wish it were that easy. Each how question needs an answer and the answer must include another how. This is the how to part of the strategy, the action plans. This means a goal timeline, budget project team and accountability owners, deliverables and key milestones. This cuts through all the bullshit and gets to the action to be taken. And it is this style of strategy that that takes a pretty scale firm and scales them to a dominant player and their niche.

Sean Magennis [00:05:58] Greg, this is so different and and so clear. This is not a budgeting exercise. I love it. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

GQ Fu [00:06:33] Hi, my name is GQ co-founder and CEO of LTV Plus, we serve E Commerce and SAS businesses mainly based in North America and Europe, with some based in other parts of the world. When e-commerce and customer experience executives and directors have issues recruiting agents, training agents and expanding their coverage to meet the demands of their customers, they turn to LTV Plus to help them scale their customer service teams through world class customer service outsourcing. We solve this problem by providing highly trained, dedicated customer service agents that are selected based on the brands and industries they serve. We also provide recovery services to help generate more sales and full payment recovery services to recover lost revenue for subscriptions based online businesses. If you need help with scaling your customer service team to meet the demands of your customers, reach out to me at [email protected] or check out our website at ltvplus.com.

Sean Magennis [00:07:34] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your strategy is working for you. If you answer no, too many times, your strategy is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. So let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:36] Number one, does your strategy outline how the firm will develop new capabilities that the competitors do not have?

Greg Alexander [00:08:45] And of course, this assumes, you know, what the competitors have.

Sean Magennis [00:08:48] Precisely. Number two, does your strategy detail why the competitors cannot match them?

Greg Alexander [00:08:55] Yeah, an often overlooked is because you develop something. If it’s easily copied, that’s a tactic. It’s not a strategy.

Sean Magennis [00:09:01] Right. Number three, does your strategy specify how these capabilities will be pushed into the market? Number four, does the strategy, explain how your resources are going to be deployed? For example, money, people and time. Number five, does the strategy specify how this resource deployment is different than your competitors? Number six is the strategy supported by enough clients sourced evidence?

Greg Alexander [00:09:36] This is a big one. So oftentimes, you know, our founders who we love envision themselves as master strategists and they say the clients don’t know what they need. Let me tell them. That’s a big mistake.

Sean Magennis [00:09:49] Number seven, does the strategy specify who oversees each program?

Greg Alexander [00:09:54] Got to have an owner for everything.

Sean Magennis [00:09:56] Number eight, has the team been properly incented to execute the plan? Number nine, does the strategy detail how the competitors plan to beat you?

Greg Alexander [00:10:07] Yeah, so a good tool there is a SWAT. Understand, where you’re weak and how you might get attacked.

Sean Magennis [00:10:15] And number 10, does the strategy specify how to respond to competitor attacks? So in summary, a collection of tactics is not a strategy, nor is a financial model or an annual budget, a strategy outlining what is not as useful as a strategy that outlines how. Scaling does require a strategy, and it should be focused on making you more valuable to your clients. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. Thank you, Greg. I’m Sean Magennis and thank you to our audience for listening.

Episode 47: The Boutique: THE DOS AND DON’TS OF STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT FOR BOUTIQUES

Scaling a boutique professional services firm requires a strategy. Yet many owners have a collection of tactics and call it a strategy. Learn about how firms should approach creating their strategy.   

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that to scale the boutique requires a strategy and that a collection of tactics is not a strategy. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer, Greg is considered by some as a master strategist and has a lot to share on this topic. Greg, great to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:08] Thanks, Sean. This is very timely. I was looking at it from the other day who was trying to raise capital, and I asked them for their strategy doc. They sent me a spreadsheet populated with business plan assumptions. And as you know, that’s not a strategy. And this reminded me of how much work we must do in this area.

Sean Magennis [00:01:24] Yes. You know, for some reasons, there’s a knowledge gap in this area. Why do you think that is?

Greg Alexander [00:01:30] I think founders of boutiques know they need a strategy, and I feel as if they want one, yet when they look for help, all they run into is how to materials for product companies. And this leads them down the wrong path. Strategy for a professional services firm is very different. And unfortunately, there’s just not a lot out there on this topic.

Sean Magennis [00:01:50] Well, Greg, that’s what we are here for. And maybe this podcast will help. Heck, maybe there’s a new book in this for you.

Greg Alexander [00:01:57] I’m still recovering from the heavy lift of writing my last one, so maybe someone else can take that on.

Sean Magennis [00:02:03] Well, the boutique is fantastic, so let’s hope. OK, pick up on the thread on how strategy for product companies is different than strategies for services firms.

Greg Alexander [00:02:14] Sure. So here’s our strategy. And a product company gets built. The executive team builds a list of attributes that make a market attractive. These are items such as organic growth rates, number of companies, target trends and so on. This produces a list of vertical industries to pursue. This list of industries gets further segmented into a list of companies to pursue. And ultimately the data gets cut to names and accounts who might want to buy the products, including an estimate on spend potential. A debt gets created that says some version of the following. Our strategy is to target this list of clients in these industries. With these products, everybody nods in agreement. The Excel formulas are double checked and the and the goals get cascaded down to the department heads. This is a what exercise as in what are we going to do? This does not work for a professional services firm.

Sean Magennis [00:03:08] Why not Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:03:10] A strategy for professional services firms must be a how exercise. It starts with, how are we going to become more valuable to clients? Pro serve firms are better served with a how based strategy because of the nature of competition. Pro serve firms do not have the advantages present in product businesses which allow product businesses to get away with what based strategies. For instance, does Google have to ask how questions? No. How come? They have huge barriers to entry by controlling 60 percent of the search traffic. Pro serve firms do not have these types of advantages. For example, McKinsey is a top consulting firm in the world and they only have three percent market share. If they stop becoming more valuable to their clients, they are easily replaced. They do not have an install base locked into their firm. Does this make sense?

Greg Alexander [00:04:02] It does. Professional services firms need a different strategy development process built on how questions with the ultimate how question being how do I become more valuable to my clients? Can you give me some other How strategy questions that should be addressed in a boutique strategy?

Greg Alexander [00:04:23] So here are a few big ones that probably you could really think through and write many sophisticated answers to. So, for example, how do I raise client satisfaction? That’s a big macro question, huh? How can I elevate the skills in my team so I can raise prices? You know, oftentimes boutique owners don’t realize is a relationship between skill and price. Next, how can I redesign the work to improve utilization rates, you know, when’s the last time you broke out your work breakdown structure and reengineered the way you deliver the service?

Sean Magennis [00:04:57] Yes.

Greg Alexander [00:04:59] Or let’s say, how can I specialize in new ways of further differentiating us from the competitors? Because if you’re a boutique, you’re competing with generalist. So the more specialized you are, the more likely you’re going to win. So these are just a few. And they link back to the key macro question. How do I become more valuable to my clients?

Sean Magennis [00:05:19] Greg, is that it? Just switch from what to how?

Greg Alexander [00:05:25] I wish it were that easy. Each how question needs an answer and the answer must include another how. This is the how to part of the strategy, the action plans. This means a goal timeline, budget project team and accountability owners, deliverables and key milestones. This cuts through all the bullshit and gets to the action to be taken. And it is this style of strategy that that takes a pretty scale firm and scales them to a dominant player and their niche.

Sean Magennis [00:05:58] Greg, this is so different and and so clear. This is not a budgeting exercise. I love it. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

GQ Fu [00:06:33] Hi, my name is GQ co-founder and CEO of LTV Plus, we serve E Commerce and SAS businesses mainly based in North America and Europe, with some based in other parts of the world. When e-commerce and customer experience executives and directors have issues recruiting agents, training agents and expanding their coverage to meet the demands of their customers, they turn to LTV Plus to help them scale their customer service teams through world class customer service outsourcing. We solve this problem by providing highly trained, dedicated customer service agents that are selected based on the brands and industries they serve. We also provide recovery services to help generate more sales and full payment recovery services to recover lost revenue for subscriptions based online businesses. If you need help with scaling your customer service team to meet the demands of your customers, reach out to me at [email protected] or check out our website at ltvplus.com.

Sean Magennis [00:07:34] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your strategy is working for you. If you answer no, too many times, your strategy is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. So let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:36] Number one, does your strategy outline how the firm will develop new capabilities that the competitors do not have?

Greg Alexander [00:08:45] And of course, this assumes, you know, what the competitors have.

Sean Magennis [00:08:48] Precisely. Number two, does your strategy detail why the competitors cannot match them?

Greg Alexander [00:08:55] Yeah, an often overlooked is because you develop something. If it’s easily copied, that’s a tactic. It’s not a strategy.

Sean Magennis [00:09:01] Right. Number three, does your strategy specify how these capabilities will be pushed into the market? Number four, does the strategy, explain how your resources are going to be deployed? For example, money, people and time. Number five, does the strategy specify how this resource deployment is different than your competitors? Number six is the strategy supported by enough clients sourced evidence?

Greg Alexander [00:09:36] This is a big one. So oftentimes, you know, our founders who we love envision themselves as master strategists and they say the clients don’t know what they need. Let me tell them. That’s a big mistake.

Sean Magennis [00:09:49] Number seven, does the strategy specify who oversees each program?

Greg Alexander [00:09:54] Got to have an owner for everything.

Sean Magennis [00:09:56] Number eight, has the team been properly incented to execute the plan? Number nine, does the strategy detail how the competitors plan to beat you?

Greg Alexander [00:10:07] Yeah, so a good tool there is a SWAT. Understand, where you’re weak and how you might get attacked.

Sean Magennis [00:10:15] And number 10, does the strategy specify how to respond to competitor attacks? So in summary, a collection of tactics is not a strategy, nor is a financial model or an annual budget, a strategy outlining what is not as useful as a strategy that outlines how. Scaling does require a strategy, and it should be focused on making you more valuable to your clients.

If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. Thank you, Greg.

I’m Sean Magennis and thank you to our audience for listening.

Episode 46: The Boutique: What Founders Ought to Know about Team Composition

The composition of the founding team must be carefully considered. Boutiques are often formed by a group with overlapping skills which makes it hard to scale. Learn about how the team may need to change over time if a boutique is to reach its full potential.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:16] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that the composition of the founding team must be carefully considered. Unfortunately, many boutiques are formed by a group of friends with lots of skills overlap, which makes it very hard to scale beyond a lifestyle business. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg has a point of view on how our founding teams should be put together, and he will share it with us today. Greg, great to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:16] Hey, Sean, good to be here today.

Sean Magennis [00:01:18] OK, Greg. So today we’re going to talk about the composition of the founding team and how it might need to change over time if a boutique is truly to reach its full potential. Why is this worth the listeners attention?

Greg Alexander [00:01:32] Hmm, that’s a good question. Let me see. How about I answer that with a cautionary tale?

Sean Magennis [00:01:39] Please do. I love your stories.

Greg Alexander [00:01:42] OK, so a buddy of mine a few years back was a leading provider of jury consulting services. He is a social scientist and helps clients with jury selection, a brilliant guy in a fascinating field. Anyway, he and four of his coworkers quit working for the man and opened up their own shop. They went belly up at the end of year two. He took me out for ribs to ask me for some career advice. I waited for a few beers to be in him and then asked what the heck happened? I mean, he is a bona fide expert in a well defined niche with lots of demand for services.

Sean Magennis [00:02:15] What did he tell you, Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:02:17] So it turns out he made a rookie mistake, a mistake lots and lots of founders make. He founded the company with his coworkers who were all alike. For example, these guys all love doing the work. They were geeks of a sort and kicked out about the technical aspects of the job. In this case, this meant they loved trial strategy, pretrial research and especially witness preparation. However, none of them, and I mean not even one, enjoyed selling the work. The word sales was beneath them. And for the first year or so, they did not need to sell their personal networks, generated enough referrals to make a go at it. However, this eventually dried up, a low hanging fruit had been picked and soon there was not enough work to survive

Sean Magennis [00:03:00] Geez, yikes. I’m sure that made for a bad dinner date. What advice did you give him now?

Greg Alexander [00:03:05] A night eating dry rubbed ribs at the smoke and roast is never a bad evening.

Sean Magennis [00:03:09] Love it.

Greg Alexander [00:03:11] The advice I gave him is the advice I will give our listeners. First, he had too many founding partners. Five is just too many. The perfect founding team to take you through the first ten million or so in revenue is three. Second, the three need to be very different people with very different skills. No overlap. In the early days, resources are constrained. You cannot afford to be suboptimized with redundant skills. You need a partner who is a true rainmaker, a person who can bring in clients consistently and professionally, meaning beyond harvesting a referral network. Next, you need a partner who is excellent at service delivery. This partner could not sell weed to a Jamaican on holiday, but boy, he can deliver on time, on spec and on budget every time he or she can move around a project plan like Travolta moves around a dance floor and the third partner needs to be a process engineer who can quickly turn snowflake projects into standardized offerings, which can be sold and delivered repeatedly and profitably. So in other words, one plus one plus one equals ten.

Sean Magennis [00:04:14] This is a great reminder. I think the mistake made by this jury consultant is made by a lot of funders in the opening. I told the listeners that the founding team also morphs over time. Can you elaborate on this a bit?

Greg Alexander [00:04:29] Sure. My commentary here is directed at our listeners who are between one and 10 million in revenue to break out and get beyond 10 million often requires that reassignment of the founder, reassignment of the founding partners, or in some cases the termination of a founding partner or two. So why is this? Sometimes mistakes we have discussed on this show have been made, but it is a few years into the journey and there is a reluctance to change relationships run deep. However, if this poorly constructed team is allowed to continue, it will become a true obstacle for growth. A roadmap to consider as one possible solution to this can be described as follows. Over time, the biggest department will be the delivery team. This is where the largest number of employees will set. Assign the leadership of the delivery team to the partner who is the best people manager. Even if this partner is not a master project manager, that is OK at this stage because the critical competency is people management. Assign the responsibility for creating services to the partner who is most like a lone wolf. This department will be a one man shop for some time. The partner who likes to work alone could lead this part of the business well. His or her job is that of individual contributor creating things for others to use. Assign the responsibility for marketing and sales to the partner who can manage egos the best, this department will be smaller than the delivery team in terms of number of employees. However, salespeople are your biggest pain in the butt, these guys and gals are divas and require lots of care and feeding. It is best to not be in the position of having to fit a square peg in a round hole. Prevention is preferred. However, if you’re living with a legacy structure, this is a framework to find a compromise.

Sean Magennis [00:06:22] Perfect, Greg. So my hunches, many of our listeners will find themselves in this pickle. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Darrell McDaniel [00:06:56] Hello, my name is Darrell McDaniel and I own NStar Global Services. We serve high tech manufacturing companies in semiconductor, solar and pharmaceutical industries by providing a comprehensive asset lifecycle management and critical technical services, both domestic and globally. Our clients turned to us to assist them with equipment moves providing operation and maintenance services for their equipment facilities and their talent acquisition needs. NStar strives to deliver insightful and flexible services that efficiently solve our customer equipment service issues. So whether you need help moving equipment or operation and maintenance services or finding that right talent for your manufacturing needs, please reach out to our global services and [email protected] Thank you.

Sean Magennis [00:07:50] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode. We’re going to try and help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist, and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your team composition is working for you. If you want to know too many times your team composition is likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:51] Number one, does your founding team consist of three or more partners? Number two, is there no overlap in skills among the founding partners?

Greg Alexander [00:09:04] and remember the three big skills to start as someone who sells the work, someone who delivers the work and somebody who builds a service offering.

Sean Magennis [00:09:11] Got it. Number three, is there a loss in capacity due to confusion over who is doing what?

Greg Alexander [00:09:18] Yeah, all hands on deck is actually a bad thing.

Sean Magennis [00:09:21] Yeah. Number four, do you have a partner responsible for acquiring clients? Number five, do you have a partner responsible for servicing clients? Number six, do you have a partner responsible for developing service lines?

Greg Alexander [00:09:39] Bright line distinctions.

Sean Magennis [00:09:41] Number seven, can the partner who owns the service department scale to dozens of employees? Number eight, can the partner who owns the marketing and sales department handle big egos? Number nine, is the partner who owns the service development effort, comfortable being a lone wolf? And number ten, do the partners complement rather than compete with one another?

Greg Alexander [00:10:11] Now some listeners might be saying, well, I don’t want any partners, I just want to do it myself. Well, you still need to have those skills. They got to fill the void. Right. But you can’t do it all yourself. Right. Right.

Sean Magennis [00:10:23] Greg, thank you again. And in summary, it takes a team to realize the dream. The composition of the founding team must be carefully considered and it will morph over time. Pick your partners very carefully.

If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell the Professional Services Firm. I’m Sean Magennis.

Thank you for listening.

Episode 43: The Boutique: Reach- Define Your Market with One Word

Collective 54 founder Greg Alexander discusses why the size of your market is most accurately measured by your ability to reach the decision makers in your niche. Growing a boutique is hard and the size of the prize needs to be worth the level of effort.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that the size of your market is most accurately measured by your ability to reach the decision-makers in your niche. Growing a boutique is hard, and the size of the prize needs to be worth the level of the effort. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer, Greg has an incredible war story to share with you today. You’re in for a treat, listeners. Greg, great to see you, and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:15] Hey, Sean, good to be with you today.

Sean Magennis [00:01:16] So, Greg, today we’re going to discuss a really common mistake made by founders of boutique professional services firms. And this mistake is not accurately sizing their market. The consequence of this mistake are below-average growth and subpar owner income. Why does market sizing matter?

Greg Alexander [00:01:38] It matters because to grow a boutique, the founder needs to know where to play and how to win. I mean, that’s the essence of strategy and sizing. The market falls into the where to play bucket. If the founder goes after a tiny market, she will get frustrated because at maturity, the firm will not amount to anything more than really just a lifestyle business. If the founder goes after a huge market, the founder will also get frustrated because he will be a shrimp in a big ocean constantly fighting for survival. This makes market selection a mission-critical item on the founder’s strategic agenda. And step one in market selection is sizing your market.

Sean Magennis [00:02:17] So Greg, this might be new to some of our listeners when asked what market they’re in. Often small business owners do not fully understand the question and might respond with something like marketing and advertising or IT services. As you know, this is inaccurate. Can you give the audience a simple example to illustrate what we are discussing today?

Greg Alexander [00:02:41] Sure. I will share how I screwed this up in the early days of SBI. My war story will do a nice job of describing this. So my firm SBI was a sales consultancy. Back then, if someone asked me what market I was in, I would say sales consulting, which I now know is not a market, but a description of a service. This was of no strategic value because this phrase could mean many different things. Later, I learned I was in B2B sales consulting. This is still not great, but adding B2B told me I was not interested in pursuing the Miller Brewing Company, for example. With time, I got a little wiser and determined I was going to focus just on the United States, this was insufficient still. But by adding geography, I knew I was not going to spend marketing dollars in Germany. I began using market selection to make strategic decisions, B2B and geography told me where to go, where to play. With a little more time, I learned there were 12 and a half million B2B companies in the United States. Now, I was getting somewhere because I had my first number. As time passed, I realized my average engagement was about three hundred thousand dollars. I studied role models and learned that at maturity, most boutiques penetrate about one percent of the market. I figured if I could do the same, so at maturity I could get to thirty seven and a half million. Back of the envelope math was one percent to twelve and a half million companies, a 300K a piece, which equaled thirty-seven point five million. This gave me confidence because the size of the prize was worth the level of the effort. Then someone taught me that a single company had multiple buyers in it, for example, we often got hired by the head of marketing in addition to the head of sales. So this doubled the size of my market to 75 million and continuing on with my war store here. I then learned a very important piece of information. I learned how to think about market selection like an owner, not an employee. This was revealed to me when I learned about the concept of enterprise value. Enterprise value is what a firm is worth at exit. At my space, this was calculated by multiplying a firm’s EBITA by eight. So in my case, our EBITDA was 50 percent. So in 75 million we would earn thirty-seven point five million. And EBITA, when I multiply that by eight, that proved to me that I had a chance of creating 300 million dollars in wealth for myself. At that point, I committed my whole self to the business. It was crystal clear that the size of the market was worth the level of effort I had put into my firm. And as luck would have it, multiples crept up to 11 times EBITDA so my initial estimate of market size was conservative. That was a lot that I reviewed with you there. But did that make sense to you?

Sean Magennis [00:05:47] Yes. Yeah, Greg, it did. This is a great story and with great sort of intrinsic educational value. You spoke about some of the decisions this marketing, this market sizing exercise allowed you to make. Are there any others with sharing?

Greg Alexander [00:06:02] Yes, there’s one big lesson that changed everything. That lesson is the most important variable to consider when selecting a market based on its size is your ability to reach the decision-maker. I learned very quickly that my target customer was very hard to reach. I mean, their gatekeepers and gatekeepers. So a one percent penetration rate was a pipe dream. So after lots of wasted time and money trying to get these people interested in our services with very little success, we changed everything.

Sean Magennis [00:06:36] Oh, my goodness. What did you do, Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:06:39] We focused all of our attention on a subset of the market. We concentrated all of our resources on the early adopter segment. You see, we were pioneering, applying the science of benchmarking to the art of sales. The people who were interested in this crazy idea were the kind of people who loved pioneering new approaches. These people are called early adopters. We had to get our services in front of them. So our marketing money went into content marketing. This allowed the early adopters to self-identified themselves by subscribing to our content. I wrote my first book followed by a blog, a podcast, a video series and an old school print magazine. The early adopters found our content because this is what they do. They look for bleeding-edge ideas. They began subscribing to our media products. This resulted in a database of about 250000 early adopters. These 250000 were reachable. That’s the keyword. The heck, they were our fans. They came to us. So in the end, back in those early days, our market was really two hundred and fifty thousand early adopter B2B sales and marketing leaders in the United States who subscribe to our content. That, my friend, is a tight description of a market. Let me repeat that. So here was our description of the market back then, our market was 250000 early adopter B2B sales and marketing leaders in the United States who subscribe to our content. One can make a lot of strategic decisions with that type of description. And with that niche, we exploded. A close rate went above 50 percent. The sales cycle length got cut in half. And given our brand affinity with these people, we were able to charge more. This made us without this move, I wonder what we would have become. This is why selecting a market by sizing it correctly is mission-critical.

Sean Magennis [00:08:56] Greg, this is an incredible story that teaches a hugely important lesson. Reach, as in your ability to get in front of decision-makers with budget, is the number one attribute of market selection and it determines the size of the prize more than anything else. My goodness, Greg, this episode will save our listeners years of frustration. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Greg Alexander [00:09:24] And this is why I’m here. I’m glad my war stories are useful.

Sean Magennis [00:09:26] Greg, they are. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Ryan Gales [00:09:57] Hello, my name is Ryan Gales, CEO of Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc, an architectural and construction management firm. We serve public and private clients specializing in education, transportation, medical and civic projects around the country. These clients turn to us for help with implementing their vision and ensuring their projects are completed on time and within budget. If you need help with envisioning and building projects for your future, come visit us at www.JGMINC.com.

Sean Magennis [00:10:28] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com. This takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, you have sized your market correctly. If you answer no too many times you have size your market incorrectly. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:11:25] Number one, are there thousands of targets to pursue? Number two, are they reachable? Number three, when they are reached, will they consider you?

Greg Alexander [00:11:40] You know, that’s a subtle thing. Sometimes you can get a referral and get in front of somebody, but they’re really not going to consider you.

Sean Magennis [00:11:46] It’s a key. Number four, can you win your fair share of opportunities?

Greg Alexander [00:11:52] So is your product good enough?

Sean Magennis [00:11:54] And you want to exceed 50 percent.

Greg Alexander [00:11:56] That’s right.

Sean Magennis [00:11:57] Number five, can you win your fair share consistently? Number six, when you do win, is the amount of money spent worth the pursuit?

Greg Alexander [00:12:09] So let’s pause here for a moment.

Sean Magennis [00:12:10] Sure.

Greg Alexander [00:12:11] So when I’m working with boutiques, they say they always want to give me the exception. You know, look at this one deal I did with this one big company. But they can’t do it consistently, consistently, or they win the one big logo for like six grand.

Sean Magennis [00:12:26] Yeah.

Greg Alexander [00:12:26] It’s like, who cares? It’s not worth it.

Sean Magennis [00:12:28] Right.

Greg Alexander [00:12:28] Anything worth pursuing has to be done at scale.

Sean Magennis [00:12:32] That makes a lot of sense. Number seven, is the market large enough to support your boutique, assuming modest penetration rates? And you went for one percent.

Greg Alexander [00:12:42] I know, which was a pipe dream.

Sean Magennis [00:12:44] Amazing. Number eight, are they new targets to pursue every year? That is is the market growing?

Greg Alexander [00:12:51] Very important.

Sean Magennis [00:12:52] Very important. And number nine, can you drive up the engagement size of the time? And number ten, will there be a reasonable rate of repeat purchases?

Greg Alexander [00:13:04] So that’s often overlooked, right? If you work your tail off to reach these people, once you have their attention, make sure you can continue to sell to them.

Sean Magennis [00:13:12] Yeah, I absolutely agree. So in summary, Greg, we’ve recorded 48 episodes of the show. I think this is my favorite. Listeners, please be sure that the size of the prize is worth the level of effort you put in. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to factor in reach. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. I’m Sean Magennis. Thank you for listening.

Episode 41: The Boutique: Why Engagement Type is a Key to Growth

The type of client engagement you sell and deliver determines the growth strategy of a boutique. There are two types of engagements – elephants and rabbits and understanding which you are hunting is a key to growth.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54 for a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that the type of engagement you sell and deliver determines the growth strategy of a boutique. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer, Greg says there are two types of engagements elephants and rabbits, and understanding which game you’re hunting is a key to growth. Greg, I’m not a hunter, but I’m looking forward to the show. Good to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:10] So let me ask you a question. What do you get when you make Jumbo the elephant with the Easter Bunny?

Sean Magennis [00:01:16] I have no idea.

Greg Alexander [00:01:18] So the answer is some kind of Frankenstein monster that is very ugly and suffers a painful early death.

Sean Magennis [00:01:25] And what what the heck does that have to do with engagement type?

Greg Alexander [00:01:30] So firms that mix incompatible engagement type, such as elephant engagements with rabbit engagements are also ugly. They live a painful existence and they die young.

Sean Magennis [00:01:43] Ha. OK, so elephant and rabbit. Now I see the connection to Jumbo, the elephant and the Easter Bunny. Listen, the two of the mating is an image I hope does not stick in my mind. OK, what the heck is an elephant engagement and what the heck is a rabbit engagement?

Greg Alexander [00:02:03] OK, so a firm that hunts elephants is a firm built around a small number of clients who are each spending a lot with the boutique. Their engagements are big. A firm that hunts rabbits is a firm built around a large number of clients who each spend a little. Their engagements are small and quick, and the type of engagements you pursue determines the type of firm you become. Firms that try to do both often do not grow, and unfortunately, most of them die young.

Sean Magennis [00:02:37] Greg, why is this?

Greg Alexander [00:02:39] Well, there are many reasons, but let me share two examples. So example number one is the sales motion is very different when hunting elephants and when hunting rabbits, for example, elephant hunting requires long sales cycles, a solution selling methodology, a high skill level in the cellar, and an ability to get to the C suite as they control the big budgets and contrast rabbit hunting have short sales cycles, a transactional selling methodology, an average skilled seller, and you can hit your goals selling to mid-level managers who have departmental budgets.

Sean Magennis [00:03:20] Aha. I can see the difference in the sales approach. So trying to do both in one boutique would be a lot to manage and too much complexity. So two of everything, for example, hiring profile, training program, compensation system, etc.. What is the second example?

Greg Alexander [00:03:39] OK, so example number two is the service delivery is very different when delivering elephant projects and rabbit projects with elephant projects an engagement could last a year plus, this means staff continuity is key. Project management is complex with milestones, deadlines and billing. It’s probably some type of a monthly fee tied to time reporting. In contrast, rabbit projects might get done in a month or two. Staff continuity is not needed as they are barely there long enough to say hello. There was no need for heavy project management, and billing is likely some percentage upfront in the balance at completion. These two engagement types are just different animals.

Sean Magennis [00:04:24] Yes, I can see the differences in the service delivery to trying to do both in one boutique would be a nightmare to manage an unnecessarily complex. Just the headache of accounts receivables, different legal paperwork with SOWs and master service agreements. Boy, tracking utilization of staff would be a maze of confusion. It’s just not worth it. What should a founder of a boutique do about this?

Greg Alexander [00:04:49] So a founder should pick a lane and stick to it. Trying to be all things to all people is just not worth it. And engagement type is where to focus more so than client type. I have seen boutiques manage large and small clients inside one firm well, however, I’ve rarely seen a boutique managed different engagement types inside one firm well, the reason is engagement type dictates almost everything, such as how you price the staffing model, the number of clients you can handle at one time. The list goes on and on. Your two choices are serving a small number of clients who spend a lot or serving lots of clients who spend a little elephant or rabbit.

Sean Magennis [00:05:28] Great practical advice, Greg and I, and I don’t think listeners will ignore the analogy. Thank you. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Richard Echeandia [00:06:03] Hello, my name is Richard Encheandia. I owned Conxin, Incorporated. At Conxin, we serve large U.S. organizations as they select and implement large scale software systems like enterprise resource planning or customer relationship management systems. Because of the size, complexity and organizational impact of these systems. Many of these projects experience significant cost overruns, delays and far too frequently project cancelations. Conxin solves these problems with experienced professionals and an innovative and highly actionable framework that defines 36 different elements for large scale programs. For each of these elements, we provide the checklists, planning and execution tools you and your team need to be successful. If you need help bringing your large scale projects in on time and on budget, reach out to us at [email protected]

Sean Magennis [00:07:00] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit the Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply the now. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool as a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your engagement type is working for you. If you answer no too many times your engagement type is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:01] Number one, do you want to serve a small number of clients? Number two, do you want to live and die by the big deal? Number three, can you handle the lumpiness that comes with elephant hunting?

Greg Alexander [00:08:19] Yeah, when you have a six month sale cycle, you’re going to be holding your breath for a while.

Sean Magennis [00:08:23] Absolutely. Number four, do you want to stay engaged with clients for an extended time?

Greg Alexander [00:08:30] You know, some of our beloved founders, they love the thrill of the hunt. And after they win the deal, they don’t want to hang around. So they would be better off hunting rabbits.

Sean Magennis [00:08:37] Yeah, it’s addictive. That adrenaline deal to deal. Number five, can you get in front of big companies that can afford large projects? Number six, can you hire the expensive talent needed to deliver on those expensive projects? Number seven, can your cash flow support periods of time with low utilization rates? It’s a big challenge.

Greg Alexander [00:09:02] Sure.

Sean Magennis [00:09:03] Number eight, is the problem you solve complex enough to warrant long engagements? Number nine, is the service you offer robust enough to require expensive engagements? And number ten, are you comfortable with the risk that comes from high revenue concentration?

Greg Alexander [00:09:23] Yeah. So if you’re hunting, elephants are going to have a small number of clients, right, where we’re rabbits to spread your risk.

Sean Magennis [00:09:28] Right. Greg, thank you. So in summary, the type of engagement you sell and deliver determines a lot. The boutiques that offer both types of engagements have a high failure rate. Pick one and be the best you can be on that type of engagement. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. I’m Sean Magennis. Thank you for listening.

Episode 36: The Boutique: The 3 Commandments of Service Design

Collective 54 founder Greg Alexander discusses how to re-think service design and delivery to accelerated profits.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case there are three commandments of service design. The service offering is to the founder of a professional services firm, what the product is to the founder of a product company. It’s how they deliver value to the client and designing it correctly is a mission critical task.

Sean Magennis [00:01:01] I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg is actually one of the pioneers in service offering design in the boutique professional services industry. His approach has helped many founders rethink how they deliver their service value, leading to accelerated profits. Greg, great to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:29] Good to be here.

Sean Magennis [00:01:30] OK, Greg, let’s jump in. Explain to our listeners why they should care about this subject.

Greg Alexander [00:01:36] OK, so many founders and executives leading boutiques are not imaginative when designing their service offerings. They do not think about how to design the service in a way that increases the value it brings to clients while simultaneously decreasing the cost to deliver it. So let me share a story to make this point. Not too long ago, I met a brilliant bookkeeper. She developed a way for small business owners to outsource bookkeeping for one hundred and nineteen bucks per year. Her prospects are those who do bookkeeping in-house, paying internal staff on average 40,000 dollars per year. She is, get this, three hundred and thirty six times cheaper for the same service as you can imagine, she is shooting ducks in a barrel and growing like a weed. So how did she do it? She reimagined. Our bookkeeping should be performed by uniquely blending technology automation in offshore labor. This is an example of a boutique founder winning because of intelligence service design.

Sean Magennis [00:02:42] Geez, I would not put growth and bookkeeping in the same sentence, but it seems to me this is a commodity service with an with an attractive growth prospects.

Greg Alexander [00:02:52] When I met her, I entered the meeting with the same assumption and she corrected this false assumption by telling me that she is one of a 183,000 bookkeeping firms in the U.S. That is a lot of firms, a lot of firm owners making money in the bookkeeping space.

Sean Magennis [00:03:09] And why are you attracted to such a crowded field?

Greg Alexander [00:03:13] I am attracted to her because she’s going to take lots of share. For instance, her typical competitor charges a small business owner sixty two hundred dollars per year for the same service. The way this will play out is more and more small business owners will outsource bookkeeping because of the 40000 dollar per year internal cost mentioned earlier. When these new prospects enter the market, they will look at her service at 119 dollars a year in her competitor’s service at sixty two hundred dollars a year. She’s going to win a lot of deals and take a lot of share. She just needs to get into as many deals as possible. Her close rate will be crazy high. This is why I’m attracted to her.

Sean Magennis [00:03:55] Greg, this is a great story. What lessons should the audience take from this?

Greg Alexander [00:04:00] Gosh, there are many. Let me share a few. So the first lesson is to be imaginative with designing a service. Too many boutique founders, a conventional in this area, for example, they turn their expertize into a methodology. They hire expensive domestic labor, train them on it and take it to market. This conventional approach constrains growth. Why? To earn an acceptable margin on this, a founder must charge a certain price and sometimes his price will price them out of the market. As you can see in the bookkeeping story, a little tech automation and offshore labor can go a long way. The second lesson is commodity services are ripe for disruption prior to meeting her. I would not have believed that bookkeeping is a growth industry and in the aggregate it is not. But she is a growth company. What is different between her and her industry? Intelligent design. The third lesson takes us to the three commandments of service design. Are you ready for them?

Sean Magennis [00:05:00] Yes have at it.

Greg Alexander [00:05:01] OK, so clients are boutiques for one of three reasons. The first reason is you can do what they can do better. The second reason is you can do what they can do faster. The third reason is you can do what they can do cheaper. Ideally, the boutique combines better, faster, cheaper into a single value proposition. And when I say better, faster, cheaper, I mean in relation to the alternatives, which can be internal staff, other boutiques, the big firms, etc.. So the three commandments of service design are better, faster, cheaper.

Sean Magennis [00:05:38] Excellent. I understand the three commandments better, faster, cheaper. How should we listen to put them to work in his or her business?

Greg Alexander [00:05:47] I suggest two immediate actions. First, screen all your current service offerings against the Three Commandments. If they are not clearly better, faster or cheaper than the alternatives, redesign them or sunset them. Second, screen your service roadmap against the Three Commandments. Do not bring a new service to market until you know for sure it is better, faster and cheaper than the alternatives.

Sean Magennis [00:06:13] Greg, that’s great practical advice. Thank you. Of course, this assumes our listeners have a service roadmap, but that is a topic for another day.

Greg Alexander [00:06:22] It is.

Sean Magennis [00:06:26] And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Jessica Nunez [00:06:52] Hello, my name is Jessica Nunez. I own TruePoint Communications. We serve a company’s marketing needs with B2B and consumer services. Our clients turn to us to propel their brand forward through marketing, public relations and social media. We solve this problem by providing a custom marketing and communication strategy tied to business goals and designed to meet the unique needs of their core audience. If you need help with awareness for your business that propels your brand forward, visit our website at TruePointAgency.com.

[00:07:27] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire, we aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your service design is working for you. If you answer no too many times your service design is likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:27] Number one, are you offering a service that clients already by? Number two, are there many legacy firms providing the service? Number three, are these legacy firms ripe for disruption?

Greg Alexander [00:08:45] Yes, I mean, one, two and three, if you answer yes to those three questions, I mean, you’re in a great space.

Sean Magennis [00:08:49] Yep.

Greg Alexander [00:08:50] Just outmaneuver everybody.

Sean Magennis [00:08:52] Number four, can you use less expensive labor to deliver it?

Greg Alexander [00:08:57] And that’s where to start, because 80 percent of the cost structure is is human capital.

Sean Magennis [00:09:01] Number five, can you use technology automation to streamline it? Number six, can you perform the service better than the alternatives?

Greg Alexander [00:09:13] And that’s in the eyes of the beholder. The client.

Sean Magennis [00:09:14] Right. Number seven, can you perform the service faster than the alternatives? And number eight, can you perform the service cheaper than the alternatives? Number nine, can you combine better, faster and cheaper into a single value proposition? And number ten, are you staying away from the latest fad that might not have staying power?

Greg Alexander [00:09:45] So number 10 may appear to be out of place when compared to one through nine, but it’s been there for a reason, and that is sometimes boutique owners think the only way to grow is to get into the new thing. And as you saw with bookkeeping, that’s not true. You know, if you’re in a large, quote, commodities market, then be the disruptor. And if you are the disruptor, meaning you do things differently, can make a lot of money in traditional marketplaces.

Sean Magennis [00:10:08] That’s what I love about this Greg, it’s introducing contrarian thoughts, very powerful. So in summary, entrepreneurs often do not put innovation and service design in the same sentence. Boutiques do not look at themselves as disruptors. The innovator label is most often only applied to leaders of product companies. Yet the facts point in another direction. 67 percent of the US economy comes from the service industry, and 49 percent of the workforce is employed by small businesses. The biggest opportunity for you is to disrupt the legacy professional services sector. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. Thank you, Greg. I’m Sean Magennis and thank you for listening.

A Practical Guide to Monetize Professional Services

Episode 33: The Boutique: A Practical Guide To Monetize Professional Services

In this episode of The Boutique podcast, Collective 54 founder Greg Alexander explores the nine common ways to make money in the professional services industry. You will learn how to monetize your services and which monetization strategy makes the most sense for your business.

How Can a Professional Services Firm Monetize Its Services?

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with this show is to help you grow, scale, and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. 

I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54, and your host on this episode. I will make the case that boutiques constrain their growth by thinking too narrowly about monetization. They often think there is only one way to charge, and only a couple of revenue sources are available to them . When in fact, there are nine common ways to make money in the professional services industry. 

I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg is a monetization wizard of sorts. He will present a practical guide on how to monetize your services. Greg, good to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:22] It’s good to be here.

Nine Common Ways to Monetize Professional Services

Sean Magennis [00:01:24] OK, let’s jump into it. Greg, tell us about the nine common ways to monetize professional services.

1. Hourly Billings

Greg Alexander [00:01:30] OK, so the nine most commonly used sources of revenue in professional services are number one hourly billings. Charging clients an hourly rate has the benefit of being easy to implement. However, it limits how much revenue you can generate. 

There is a fixed number of hours, and there is an upper limit on how much you can charge for each hour. 

2. Retainer

OK, number two, retainer. This is when a client pays you upfront to secure your services when needed. This has the benefit of getting paid in advance in a predictable cash flow. However, there are only so many retainers a boutique can handle at one time. 

3. Fixed Bid

OK, number three, fixed bid. This is using a flat amount, regardless of the hours worked. This is profitable work for boutiques if they can scope projects correctly. Clients are buying the deliverables, not the boutique’s time. If a firm struggles with estimating the level of effort for a project, this can be a money loser. These are the first three. Let me pause here and check in. Should I keep going?

Sean Magennis [00:02:36] Yes, Greg, I’m tracking right with you and hopefully the listeners as well. So taking note, hourly billings, retainer, and fixed bids. Got it. So a good refresher on the differences between the three, for example, many boutiques confused retainers and hourly rates.

4. Performance-Based Contracts

Greg Alexander [00:02:57] OK, good. So, number four, let’s move to performance-based  contracts. So goals are established. If the firm is successful, they get paid. And if they fail to deliver, they do not. This allows a boutique to capture upside as they are usually uncapped. The risk, of course, is if you do not produce, you lose your shirt. 

5. Membership Dues

Hey, let’s go to number five membership dues. This is when a client pays a professional services boutique if they see value in being in a group with other clients. The annual dues grant access to a group of people in similar jobs dealing with similar issues. This is profitable for boutiques as it scales nicely. 

Small amounts of staff can manage a large number of clients. The risk, however, is if you have unhappy clients, the word is going to spread very quickly. 

6. Licensing Revenue

OK, number six is licensing revenue. A client pays a licensing fee to a professional services boutique to use intellectual property. Many boutiques have methodologies and tools that clients want unlimited access to. They pay a license fee for this right. 

The risk to a professional services boutique with this is an inability to productize this service offering. If every project is a snowflake, this does not work. 

7. Subscription-Based Model

And number seven, a subscription-based  subscription is paid to a boutique by a client to gain access to an asset. For example, many boutiques have proprietary benchmark data. Clients who want access to this data pay subscription to a database. 

The risk with this is managing the asset. For example, in this case, if the data ages, it becomes worthless, and clients attrit. So Sean, let me check in again. Are you still tracking?

Sean Magennis [00:04:45] Yes, I’m right with you. So let me recap for five, six, and seven. We have performance-based  fee memberships, licensing, and subscriptions. Tell me about the last two, eight, and nine.

8. Events 

Greg Alexander [00:04:59] OK, so number eight is events. This is when clients buy a ticket or tickets to be granted admission to an event the professional services boutique puts on. This is very profitable as, typically, sponsors cover the cost of the event, and ticket sales are all profit. The risk is, of course, if no one buys tickets and no one shows up, that can be embarrassing. 

9. Royalties

And then lastly, number nine is royalties. This is when a boutique does not monetize the client but instead, they monetize other boutiques. This is often used by boutiques that  have training products in their bag. They allow other firms to use their training materials and collect a royalty every time they do. 

The risk with this is theft. A boutique that  chooses this monetization strategy needs to understand paywalls and royalty agreements. So, there you have it—nine ways to monetize professional services.

How Do You Pick The Right Way to Monetize a Professional Services Firm?

Sean Magennis [00:05:54] This, Greg, was an excellent overview of the practical ways to monetize. I have a nagging question in my head. So how do you pick the right one?

Greg Alexander [00:06:04] Well, you don’t. So going into the market with a single revenue source is a mistake. The important lesson here is to have multiple revenue sources. Therefore, our listeners should be asking themselves, what is the right mix for me? 

If you have one, try to get to two. If you have to try to get to three and so on. It is not uncommon for me to meet an owner, look at her business and locate two to three additional revenue sources within an hour. This opportunity is often right under an owner’s nose. They just need to know where to look.

Sean Magennis [00:06:38] Greg, again, really connecting hard and a little creativity and courage can also go a long way.

Greg Alexander [00:06:45] Yes, it can.

Sean Magennis [00:06:46] So thank you, Greg. And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54. Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow, scale, and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Stephanie Groschup [00:07:16] Hello, my name is Stephanie Groschup, and I’m co-founder of GM Wealth Group. We serve women entrepreneurs and other business owners, corporate executives, and high net worth individuals across the United States. 

At GM Wealth, we create strategies to address tax-efficient growth of their businesses, planning for concentrated positions of company stock and other financial issues affecting them and their families. We create solutions by understanding those challenges that they face. Each solution is customized and client-specific. 

Please reach out to me if you’re facing some of the same challenges with company stock, tax-efficient growth in your business, or if you need help with addressing specific financial needs for you personally. You can reach me at www.GMWealthLLC.com or [email protected].

Questions to Ask to Know If Your Monetization Strategy is Working or Not

Sean Magennis [00:08:12] If you are trying to grow, scale, or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode. Let’s try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. 

Our preferred tool is a checklist, and our checklist-style  is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only ten questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, your monetization strategy is working for you. 

If you answer no too many times, your monetization strategy is not working, and you are more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:09:13] Number one, will the client pay you more than five hundred dollars an hour?

Greg Alexander [00:09:19] So, this is important if you’re going to charge by the hour, and many of our listeners might say, “Boy, that’s a big number.” Well, the reason why it’s a big number is because you’re going to have wage inflation. 

So, if you hire somebody today and pay him one hundred thousand dollars next year, you will pay 110,000 the year after that and pay them 125,000. So, you better be able to charge a high hourly rate to accommodate for wage inflation.

Sean Magennis [00:09:37] Yes. Number two, will a client pay you in advance to secure your services on demand?

Greg Alexander [00:09:44] If yes, then you have a retainer.

Sean Magennis [00:09:46] Number three, can you scope your projects with precision?

Greg Alexander [00:09:51] If yes, that’s a fixed bid.

Sean Magennis [00:09:54] Number four, can you prove direct attribution of results in your project?

Greg Alexander [00:09:59] This goes to performance-based .

Sean Magennis [00:10:01] Number five, will your clients pay you for the privilege of speaking to your other clients?

Greg Alexander [00:10:06] If yes, that’s a membership.

Sean Magennis [00:10:09] Number six, will your clients pay you for the right to use your intellectual property?

Greg Alexander [00:10:15] If yes, that’s a licensing fee.

Sean Magennis [00:10:18] Number seven, do you have proprietary data that clients would like to subscribe to?

Greg Alexander [00:10:23] If, yes, you have a subscription business.

Sean Magennis [00:10:26] Number eight, do you put on events that are clients willing to buy tickets to attend?

Greg Alexander [00:10:32] Obvious.

Sean Magennis [00:10:32] Yep. And number nine, are other boutiques willing to pay you royalty to distribute your intellectual property?

Greg Alexander [00:10:40] Do you know who are  the most profitable rock and roll band of all time?

Sean Magennis [00:10:44] It’s got to be the Rolling Stones.

Greg Alexander [00:10:47] Kiss.

Sean Magennis [00:10:48] Kiss, great band.

Greg Alexander [00:10:49] Because of their royalties and their licensing.

Sean Magennis [00:10:51] Wow.

Greg Alexander [00:10:51] They figured out how to make money without touring.

Sean Magennis [00:10:54] That makes total sense now that I think about it. And then finally, number ten, does your business model include at least three sources of revenue?

Greg Alexander [00:11:02] And that’s the most important one.

Sean Magennis [00:11:04] Yep. Greg, thank you again. This is brilliant stuff. So, in summary, there are many different sources of revenue available to boutiques. Develop a clever monetization strategy. Think about a mix of revenue, not just one source. 

If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, please pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled “The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm.” I’m Sean Magennis. Thank you for listening.

Episode 29: The Boutique: The 5 Competitors Boutiques Must Defeat to Grow.

There are 5 competitors’ boutiques must defeat to grow. On this episode Collective 54 founder Greg Alexander discusses a playbook to defeat these competitors.

TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal for this show is to help you grow scale and sell your firm at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. I’m Sean Magennis, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that there are five competitors boutiques must defeat to grow. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg has developed a playbook to defeat these competitors. I will ask him to introduce his competitive place to you today. Greg, good to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:05] Hey, Sean, it’s good to be here today.

Sean Magennis [00:01:06] OK, Greg, let’s dove straight in. Tell us who these five competitors are.

Greg Alexander [00:01:11] OK, so the five competitors are in order of importance. Number one, do nothing. This is the project that went away because of a competing client priority. Number two, internal resources. This is internal client staff who think they can do what you do better than you do it and it’s quote-unquote, free. Number three boutiques. These are firms like yours in size and specialty. Number four, market leaders. These are the mega-firms that have offerings in your niche. And number five is other. This is the other ways clients can solve the problem. Often there is more than one way to skin the cat, so to speak.

Sean Magennis [00:01:53] Excellent. So there’s a do-nothing, internal resources, boutiques, market leaders, and others. What I find fascinating about this list is three out of the five are indirect competitors, do nothing, internal resources and other. These are often overlooked, but can embrace a deal from the sales pipeline in a real hurry. Greg, you mentioned these are in order of importance. How do you assign this relative importance to them?

Greg Alexander [00:02:25] I assigned relative importance based on the frequency they show up in sales campaigns. And this is determined during the win-loss review process. For example, we have learned that boutiques will compete with do nothing about 40 percent of the time. Sometimes it’s as high as 50 percent of the time. You’ll compete with internal resources about 30 percent of the time, boutiques, about 20 percent of the time, market leaders about five percent of the time and other about five percent of the time,

Sean Magennis [00:02:57] hmm, this is super interesting. My hunch is our listeners are not conducting win-loss reviews and they don’t know how they compare to these benchmarks. That should be a takeaway for all our listeners. OK, now that we know who the competitors are, how do we beat them?

Greg Alexander [00:03:18] So that is a big question requiring a long answer. Given our time constraint all I can do today is introduce the plays to run against each. Is that OK?

Sean Magennis [00:03:26] Yes, I completely understand.

Greg Alexander [00:03:27] All right. First up is do nothing, which again is 40 to 50 percent of your deals. Whether you know it or not, the way to beat do nothing is to calculate the cost of inaction for the client. This dollar figure will prove to the client that your project deserves their full attention. It is a priority and that is the goal, getting the client to prioritize your project above the other things they may be spending their time on.

Sean Magennis [00:03:51] Greg, I remember this play from another episode titled Are You Losing to Do Nothing? For those listeners interested in learning more about this, I would direct you to that show. It’s excellent. OK, Greg, what’s next?

Greg Alexander [00:04:06] Next up is beating internal resources. As a reminder, this is internal client staff. I realize it’s weird to think about the client as a competitor, but they are about 30 percent of the time. The way to defeat internal resources is to establish a deadline that the project needs to be completed by. You see, clients think they can do what you can do. However, they will never be able to do it as fast as you can. Why is this? They have a day job. This project is not the only thing on their plate. They can only dedicate a portion of their time to it. You, on the other hand, can dedicate your team to it and therefore it gets done much faster. Cell speed in this situation, deadlines are a wonderful way to defeat internal resources

Sean Magennis [00:04:54]  This is a perfect example and it makes complete sense. OK, next up is the boutiques. How should our listeners compete with firms that are just like them?

Greg Alexander [00:05:05] The silver bullet in this situation is the guarantee. Simply offer your client a money-back guarantee for any reason, no questions asked. Most owners of boutiques are risk-averse. They have limited resources. They have limited amount of money, limited amount of staff. The idea of putting fees at risk makes them very uncomfortable. The threat of not getting paid scares the, you know what out of them. By guaranteeing the work, you separate yourself from the boutique competitors. They are unlikely to match this offer and it sends a powerful signal to the client. And that signal is Mr. Client. We only get paid if we make you successful.

Sean Magennis [00:05:45] Greg, so true. As president of YPO, I hired many boutiques over the years. I was always very skeptical of those who were unwilling to put their fees at risk, and I gave my business to those who were willing to do so. And truth be told, I paid them in full every time, sometimes more. I cannot think of a single instance where I called the guarantee and demanded a refund. My message to our listeners is the risk is a myth. The reality is the likelihood of clients calling the guarantee is very low. OK, I think the next up is competing with market leaders. This is only five percent of the time. So should-should we skip over this?

Greg Alexander [00:06:32] No, no, no. Yes, it is true. You will run into the mega firms only about five percent of the time. However, these few deals can make or break a year. These are the big deals in the forecast. Just one or two wins a year in this category can turn a good year into a great year. The way to beat the market leaders involves a five-step play. It’s a little tricky, but here are the five steps. Number one, you must establish credibility. The mega-firms will try to discredit you. Number two, deliver a top-quality proposal. This will prove to the client you are credible. It’s a signal to the client that your work will be top quality. Number three, demonstrate to the client that you can complete the work much faster than the mega firms. Big firms are very slow, beat them on speed. Number four, price to work about 25 percent less than the mega firm’s. Market lead are very expensive. The fact that you are in the deal suggests a client is budget-conscious. Big firms are vulnerable because their prices are so high due to the massive overhead they carry. And number five, offer an enjoyable experience. Mega firms are like a tornado when entering the client and are very disruptive. For example, we hear all the time Bain is our pain about how difficult it is to work with Bain Consulting, one of these mega-firms. The advantage of working with a boutique over mega-firm is that it’s just simply easier.

Sean Magennis [00:08:08] While Greg, this is exceptional, five straightforward ways to win those few launch deals every year when competing with these market leading firms. Boy, OK, we’ve got one more. What play do I run when competing with other?

Greg Alexander [00:08:26] OK, so as a reminder, other means, other ways to solve the problem. For example, clients often think they can solve a problem by firing someone and recruiting new talent, or they think they can solve their problem by licensing a new software tool. These other ways to skin the cat show up about five percent of the time. The way to beat other is to do a post mortem highlight to the client. The last time they took this approach, it did not work. For instance, hiring success rates of 50 percent at best. This means solving a problem with new talent has a 50/50 chance of working. And the adoption rate of software tools is a problem that has plagued corporations for decades. It is estimated that most users use about 10 percent of the features and most software tools. That’s 90 percent waste. The odds of success working with you, the specialized boutique is clearly better than a 50/50 proposition, isn’t it?

Greg Alexander [00:09:24] This is a superb way of framing this in the minds of a client relative odds of success. It’s just fantastic. Today we learned who the real competitors are for boutiques, how often they show up, and how to defeat them. That is a ton of value in fifteen minutes. Thank you, Greg.

Greg Alexander [00:09:45] And now a word from our sponsor, Collective 54, Collective 54 is a membership organization for owners of professional services firms. Members joined to work with their industry peers to grow scale and someday sell their firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Jude Ramayya [00:10:11] Hello, my name is Jude Ramayya. I service here offering biotechnologies. We serve small and midsize businesses looking for a true partner to unlimited potential with digital technologies. These clients turn to us when they want to digitize and automate their business processes so they can scale their business and make it available 24 by 7. We solved this problem by starting with digital strategy consolidation customized for the businesses and implementation of digital solutions with mobile, cloud, web, RPA, and artificial intelligence technologies. If you are looking for a Digital Solutions partner, please reach out to us at www.IMPIGERTECH.com, I-M-P-I-G-E-R-T-E-C-H.com.Thank you.

Sean Magennis [00:11:00] If you are trying to grow scale or sell your firm and feel you would benefit from being a part of a community of peers, visit Collective54.com. OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let us try to help listeners apply this. We end each show with a tool. We do so because this allows a listener to apply the lessons to his or her firm. Our preferred tool is a checklist and our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. In this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions, you are positioned very well versus your competitors. If you answer no too many times, then you are not positioned well versus your competitors and you are likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:12:02] Number one, can you calculate a client’s cost of inaction? Number two, can you find a compelling event that puts a deadline on the client’s project? Number three, are you confident enough to guarantee your work?

Greg Alexander [00:12:21] Boy, if you answer no to that when you’ve got a real problem.

Sean Magennis [00:12:23] Yep. Number four, can you establish credibility in the eyes of the client? Number five, can you signal quality to the client by delivering a best in-class proposal?

Greg Alexander [00:12:37] Remember that the first thing, the first deliverable a client sees is your proposal.

Sean Magennis [00:12:42] It’s got to stack up against the big guys, in fact, look better.

Greg Alexander [00:12:44] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:12:45] And number six, can you deliver much faster than the market leaders in your niche? Number seven, if you earn healthy margins and still be 25 percent less than the market leaders? And I would say every day.

Greg Alexander [00:13:03] Way more.

Sean Magennis [00:13:03] Yeah. Number eight, are you more enjoyable to work with than the market leaders? Number nine, do you understand the alternative solutions to the problem you address?

Greg Alexander [00:13:15] You know, I hear this one all the time. Hey, I lost this deal because they hired a new executive, you know, and then they say, well, I really didn’t lose a deal. Yes, you did. You know, they decided to solve the problem in an alternative way. By the way, hiring a new executive is expensive.

Sean Magennis [00:13:27] Right.

Greg Alexander [00:13:28] Yeah.

Sean Magennis [00:13:28] Yep. That’s a great one. And number ten, will a postmortem revealed to the client that these alternatives have a poor track record? So, Greg, in summary, a boutique must win a high-percent of the time, they are not in enough deals to allow for many, many deals to be lost. No one wins every deal, but that should be the goal. By establishing a competitive playbook, you can make sure that you beat the bad guys. If you enjoyed the show and want to learn more, pick up a copy of Greg Alexander’s book titled The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. Thanks again, Greg. I’m Sean Magennis and thank you for listening.