7 Key Diagnostic Questions to Determine If Your Firm Is a Strategy Firm or an Implementation Firm

7 Key Diagnostic Questions to Determine If Your Firm Is a Strategy Firm or an Implementation Firm

Are you wondering whether your boutique professional service firm is a strategy firm or an implementation firm? This crucial distinction can significantly impact your business growth and operational strategy. In this blog post, we will provide you with a comprehensive diagnostic tool to help you identify your firm’s true identity. Knowing whether you’re primarily focused on strategy or implementation is crucial when aiming to scale your operations effectively.

7 Step Diagnostic

    1. External Perception: Have a friend visit your website and ask them if they think you are a strategy firm or an implementation firm. Sometimes, an external perspective can reveal how your firm is perceived in the market.
    2. Billing Breakdown: Examine your billings. What percentage of your total billings come from high bill rate employees (senior strategists) versus low bill rate employees (implementers)? This ratio can indicate your firm’s primary focus.
    3. Client Titles: Review the titles of the clients you market to, sell to, and deliver for. Are they primarily in the C-suite or middle management? High-level client titles often correlate with strategy work.
    4. Project Timeline Analysis: Scrutinize your project plans. What percentage of the project timeline is dedicated to strategy versus implementation? A heavy emphasis on strategy might signal that you are a strategy firm.
    5. Client Questions: Listen to 10 recent Zoom calls that you recorded. Isolate the questions asked by the clients. What percentage of these questions are related to strategy and what percentage are related to implementation? This can provide insights into the nature of your client engagements.
    6. Competitor Analysis: Examine where your existing clients are choosing to spend with your competitors instead of your firm. Are you losing out on strategy work or implementation work? This can highlight areas for improvement.
    7. Delegation Patterns: Investigate whether clients are delegating you down to lower-level employees. If so, to which titles? Do these titles correlate with strategy work or implementation work? Understanding delegation patterns can shed light on your firm’s core competency.

In conclusion, understanding whether your boutique professional service firm is primarily a strategy firm or an implementation firm is crucial for scaling your operations effectively. It is hard(er) to scale a firm that does both. This diagnostic tool will help you gain clarity on your firm’s identity and areas for improvement. If you discover that you’re in the wrong category and want to pivot, consider joining the Collective 54 Mastermind Community. Our community can provide the guidance and resources you need to execute a successful transition. Don’t hesitate to reach out and explore how we can help you navigate this strategic shift in your business.

Choosing Between Strategy Work, Implementation Work, or Both: A Founder’s Dilemma

Choosing Between Strategy Work, Implementation Work, or Both: A Founder’s Dilemma

Hello, Collective 54 subscribers, I’m Greg Alexander, and today, we’re diving into a crucial decision many founders of boutique professional service firms face – whether to focus on strategy work, implementation work, or a combination of both. This decision can significantly impact the trajectory of your firm, the types of clients you attract, and your overall satisfaction with your work. Let’s explore the pros and cons of each approach:

Why One Should Do Strategy Work:

    1. Attracts the Best Clients: Offering strategy services often draws higher-caliber clients who value strategic thinking and are willing to pay a premium for your expertise.
    2. Higher Profit Margins: Strategy work typically commands higher hourly rates or project fees, resulting in better profit margins compared to implementation work.
    3. Less Employee Headaches: Strategic projects tend to involve smaller, more specialized teams, reducing the complexity of managing a large workforce.
    4. Lower Client Concentration Risk: By working with a diverse range of clients on strategy, you can mitigate the risk associated with over-reliance on a single client.
    5. More Enjoyable for Some Founders: Many founders find strategy work intellectually stimulating and fulfilling, making it a more enjoyable aspect of their business.

Why Someone Should Not Do Strategy Work:

    1. Stiffer Competition: The allure of strategy work attracts more competitors, making it challenging to stand out in a crowded market.
    2. Longer Sales Cycles: Closing strategy projects often takes longer due to the need for extensive client education and relationship-building.
    3. Inconsistent Revenue: Strategy projects can be sporadic, leading to uneven cash flow, which might not suit all business models.
    4. Less Predictable Workload: Strategy engagements can be less predictable in terms of workload and deadlines, causing stress for some founders.
    5. Potential Client Disappointment: High expectations for strategic outcomes can sometimes lead to client disappointment if results don’t meet their lofty goals.

Why One Should Do Implementation Work:

    1. Steady Client Flow: Implementation work can provide a consistent stream of projects and clients, ensuring a stable cash flow.
    2. Diverse Revenue Streams: Offering implementation services alongside strategy can diversify your revenue streams, reducing dependency on one area.
    3. Loyal Client Relationships: Implementation work often fosters long-term client relationships, leading to repeat business and referrals.
    4. Predictable Workload: Implementation projects usually have well-defined tasks and timelines, providing founders with a predictable workload.
    5. Client Satisfaction: Clients appreciate one-stop shopping, finding it convenient to have both strategy and implementation services under one roof.

Why Someone Should Not Do Implementation Work:

    1. Lower Profit Margins: Implementation work often involves more extensive resources and lower billable rates, resulting in thinner profit margins.
    2. Higher Employee Headaches: Managing larger teams for implementation projects can be more complex and labor-intensive.
    3. Client Concentration Risk: Relying heavily on a few long-term implementation clients can expose your firm to client concentration risk.
    4. Less Enjoyable for Some Founders: Founders who prefer strategic thinking may find implementation work less personally fulfilling.
    5. Intense Competition: The implementation space can also be competitive, especially if your firm lacks unique differentiation.

Why Someone Should Do Both Strategy Work and Implementation Work:

    1. Meeting Client Needs: Offering both services addresses the full spectrum of client needs, creating a holistic client experience.
    2. Higher-Quality Work: Combining strategy and implementation allows for seamless execution of strategic plans, ensuring higher-quality results.
    3. Diverse Client Base: Serving clients in both areas can help balance your client portfolio, reducing concentration risk.
    4. Optimal Profitability: A balanced approach can optimize profitability by leveraging the strengths of each service offering.
    5. Client Convenience: Clients who seek comprehensive solutions appreciate the convenience of obtaining both strategy and implementation services from a single provider.

Why Someone Should Never Do Both Strategy and Implementation Work:

    1. Overwhelming Workload: Juggling both aspects can lead to an overwhelming workload, potentially compromising the quality of your work.
    2. Confusion in Branding: Mixing strategy and implementation services without clear branding can confuse clients and dilute your firm’s identity.
    3. Lack of Focus: Splitting your focus between two distinct areas can hinder your ability to excel in either one.
    4. Resource Drain: Balancing both aspects can strain your resources, including personnel and time.
    5. Limited Differentiation: Without a clear differentiation strategy, you may struggle to stand out in the market compared to firms that specialize.

In conclusion, the decision to focus on strategy work, implementation work, or both is a critical one that should align with your firm’s unique strengths, goals, and client base. Consider your passion, competition, profitability, and client needs when making this choice.

If you’re interested in further discussing this topic and connecting with peers who face similar decisions, I encourage you to join the Collective 54 Mastermind Community. Here, you can gain valuable insights, network with fellow founders, and navigate the complexities of the professional service industry together. Your journey to success awaits!

Episode 133 – From Stuck to Unstuck: How a Founder Transformed a Lifestyle Business – Member Case by Jamey Harvey

Collective 54 member Jamey Harvey has doubled revenue and tripled margins in 18 months. This session shares how he did it by implementing the Boutique Framework, in its entirety, instead of one idea at a time. Hear how this remarkable entrepreneur went for it and won.

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:10] Welcome to the Pro Serv podcast, a podcast for leaders of thriving boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community focused entirely on the unique needs of founders of boutique Pro Serv firms. My name is Greg Alexander. I’m going to be your host. And on today’s show, we do something a little different. Normally for regular listeners, listeners, you know this we take a single topic and kind of dive deep on it with the objective of, you know, makes making the most of a short 15 minute show. Today we’re going to combine multiple things and we’re going to have a case study of sorts. And it’s not a case study in the sense of, you know, hey, look how great we are. I’m not a fan of those. It’s a case study in the sense of, hey, members, here’s how to get some of these ideas implemented. I hear sometimes from members that the ideas are getting from Collective 54. Great. But there’s a lot of them, you know, And how do you get them implemented? And we’ve got a great role model in Jamey Harvey. And Jamey has done, in my opinion, the exceptional job of going from idea to implementation in a nanosecond. And he’s learned a lot in the process and has gotten some great results. So that’s what I’m going to do today. So, Jamey, if you wouldn’t mind, please introduce yourself and your firm to the group. 

Jamey Harvey [00:01:35] Yeah, great. I’m Jamey Harvey. I’m the CEO of Agilian. We are a boutique consulting firm. We serve social equity enterprises and we provide digital liberation services. So basically we work with enterprises that are serving social equity populations, vulnerable populations of people that are that need housing, where jobs or health care. And we help those organizations move to 21st century open source cloud based digital platforms. Most of them are stuck on something developed in the seventies or eighties, and it’s very, very complex for them to move because of their regulatory environments. And and it’s our privilege to help them do that. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:24] Okay, very good. So I’m going to kind of tee up some statements as opposed to questions, and I’m to let you run with those to, you know, to really illustrate. And I really want you to focus on this idea of how I idea to implementation. 

Jamey Harvey [00:02:37] Okay. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:37] So the first one is you got everybody billable. And as a result of this, you saw a growth in profits and revenue. So tell us a little bit about how you did that. 

Jamey Harvey [00:02:50] Well, a little background. You know, I would say a year and a half, two years ago before I joined Collective 54, we were sort of a lifestyle business serving state and local governments, and we were kind of trapped in our locality because I used to work for the D.C. government and we were a local DC cover company. And the regulations are such that we’re very advantaged to work in D.C. and not very advantage to go to other states. So we had sort of a digital liberation problem ourself and and I was trying to I was like I was like, okay, this business is nice, is great lifestyle business, you know? And it is we love what we do and we’re really good at it. But like, if I looked at like, how I could grow the business, it was all pretty unappealing, right? Like the, the, the, the paths. I could become a federally grader like this. Well, I go to the States. I’d have to, like, recuperate to do that was it was it was not great for growth. And so I was looking for a way to have a great business and a business that’s built to last have something generational that I could pass on to other people and could make a big difference for a long time. And and like 54 reached out to me and was like, Hey, we have this with this mastermind group. This is what we do. And you couldn’t have picked a better time for that because I was I was trying to figure out how to transform this whole business to be something special. Right? And we were going we tend to win projects. I would say we kind of box above our weight class and we had won a lot of quite large projects for a company our size. And and I have sort of a machine here that, that where I can do those projects. And I was trying to figure out how to grow enough to do these big projects. At the same time I was doing the projects. So I had invested a lot in infrastructure like infrastructure in people like Ausiello and CIO, and I brought in a professional services automation system, a PSA based on your guys recommendation. And we had made all of this investment and we we had a really good year. We doubled in size, you know, last year. And but our profitability went way down, like with, like, like we had a we had doubled in size and we made the same amount of money. So our profitability was cut in half. Right. And and it was a little you know, I knew we were investing. It wasn’t that big a shock, but it was a little startling. So. Something that I had done that I didn’t know was so useful was I had hired these kind of multi potentia people that had really great skill sets that other than what I was having them do. So like my VP of program management is built, you know, three giant government data warehouses and he’s a real expert in that. And my field is used to be the past president of the D.C. Bar and my Chief medical informatics officer ran interoperability for all the hours in the mid-Atlantic region. So I basically went to them. And those were people who are mainly not billable, who are sort of central people. And I was like, Look, you’d be great consultants, you know, like our customers would love you, you know? I know I didn’t hire you for this, but are you willing to get billable? And to a person, they were all like, Of course. Oh, my gosh, we’ll do it. Do anything. Right. And so we we really, like, took oh, and then I had another person who was like, less senior who wanted to learn to be a project manager, like she wanted to get her PMP, like she was sort of interested in the consulting path. So we re-engineered everybody’s jobs and we got everybody on the senior team, with the exception of one person, at least half billable, and some people, you know, like 70 or 80% billable and with the hope that that would be kind of the best of both worlds and also give us some flex as we as we take on these large projects, we could get the billable. And then, you know, if we’re doing the next lengthy, we have the feast and famine thing going on for right. So now everybody can flex to being billable when they when, when, when there’s billable to be had. Right. And they can go back to their other jobs in between to go build the business. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:16] Otherwise, yeah, it’s a great story because sometimes that’s a mistake that members make is, you know, they invest in the future, which we advocate for, and then all of a sudden they’re like, Wait a minute, revenue looks great, but margin doesn’t. It’s because they got all this non-bailable stuff. So the lesson there for the members is to get everybody know. 

Jamey Harvey [00:07:33] And we made that mistake, right? And so this was the correction of it. Really? Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:07:36] Yeah. Okay, great. All right. The next thing I want to talk to you about is the seller doer model and how you moved to that. 

Jamey Harvey [00:07:45] So you at one point in one of your podcasts were like, you know, don’t just go out there and hire a salesperson. You can hire the best salesperson in the world, and if you’re not ready to do it and you don’t have your positioning right and you haven’t, you know, that’s not going to work, right? Like you’re going to just bring that person over and they’re going to been successful someplace else and they’re going to fail at your company. So I did that. You know, I, I brought in an incredible executive from Oracle and like we and he was great and he fit the like he worked really hard, but we had no presence in the market, right? Like we had no story about who we were. We had no differentiation. And so, you know, eventually we you know, we had this very sad conversation of like, you know, we love you, we think you’re great. And like, we weren’t ready for you. Right. And parted friends, you know, And but but basically the conclusion I came to and then then I, I had done all the selling before, and then I went back to doing all the selling again. But the conclusion I came to was for the kind of complex, you know, big. Digital liberation kind of engagements that we’re selling. It’s very hard for somebody to sell that that hasn’t done it right. Like if you’re in front of customers and you don’t know the regulations around the cards for interoperability, when you’re talking to people who are doing that, they smell that right away. Right. Like, they don’t really want to talk to any salespeople. Right. So all of this sort of multi potential people that I was talking about before got I hope that’s a word as I’m saying it on a podcast, but it is now. Okay. Now, right now what we do is, you know, they they all went to their rolodexes. We, they all. Went through the Rolodex, sorted through, found all the social equity enterprises where they’ve got relationships and and I’ve been coaching them in a in a consultative sales model. So they’re selling doing right And when we get leads, if they’re in the medical area, they go to Ross Is that the medical person? If they’re the legal area, they go to Anna maria, who’s my you know, so we actually have these we’ve we’ve organized by vertical and people. Yeah, right. And so what’s great about that is I actually you know and they just bring me in to close the sale sometime or make the introduction like I’m I don’t have to be that involved because when, when those customers are talking they really want to talk to those people. Yeah right. I’m, I’m the generalist compared to those folks. Right. So I’m the generalist and they’re specialist and, and they can close the deal by themselves. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:10:27] Just another great example because you know, I’ll hear from members, hey my delivery people and I hate that label but that’s term this use they don’t want to sell you know I can’t get them to contribute to the growth of the company. And the answer is you can’t. I mean, this is how this is how Jamie just did it and everybody was responsible for finding opportunity. And then the selling environment, as you just heard from from Jamie, was it was a collaborative one. He was involved when needed, but not at all when not needed. And that’s how you do it. And that’s called the seller door model. So if you’ve tried investing in the high powered, you know, senior exec sales person and it hasn’t worked, this is the alternative to that and give it a try. And it’s just a proof point that it can work in the right situation. And it’s more of a mentality and a cultural thing than anything else. Just like another great example of going from idea to implementation. I mean, next question, Jamie, is talk a little bit about you personally and how your day to day life has changed as you’ve taken some of these ideas that you’ve come across and implemented them in your firm. 

Jamey Harvey [00:11:29] So, you know, I don’t know if you remember this, Greg, but when I first joined, you know, I’m a I was really hungry for this framework. Let me let me start by saying that I read the book once. I read the book twice and I took notes, second rate I went through and I ended up with like, here are the 86 things that I must be valuable. And I scheduled a session with you. And I was like, okay, what do I do first? Right? Like, I can’t possibly do this all. And you were like, They’re in order. Like what? They’re like, Yeah, start with chapter one. Do those first and then do chapter two. Right. So, so about nine months ago, we spent a lot of time on chapter one and chapter two, which are getting your target market specific. So, you know, the big thing is like we’ve and we are a very socially conscious firm, like one of our core values of social equity, right? Another one of our another one of our core values is mutual liberation, like we are we are unabashedly do gooders, right? And and my people come to work for me like they’re there because they want to help, you know, poor, disabled children. Right. Like, which is what we do right, with, you know, with one of our. Showcase clients. Right. So. So we stopped saying to people, Hey, we do state and local government work. We started to say to people, Hey, we work with social equity enterprises, you know, and if you’re in a regulated environment, we understand that better than you do, right? For for the funding streams that you got to align and we can help you fund your big projects. And that message is so specific, right, to like a particular audience of people that those people are beginning to find us. So. So that is a totally different world to live in. Right. And and it feels great for everybody because now our inward expression of who we are, which are these, you know, unabashed do gooders, is aligned with our external representation of like, hey, this is what we do for a living, right? And so there’s this pole that, you know, where you’re you’re paddling the canoe in the river, the direction the river is going. So like, that is like a very, very big, you know, game changing transformation we’ve gone through as a result of being neglected. 54. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:46] Now, I want to follow up question on your day to day. Sometimes I hear from members, hey, these are all great ideas, but I don’t have any time to do them. I’m just too busy. I can’t get to them. And I remember our early conversations, and you were pretty busy guy, but you figured out how to of got to get to these items and and you’ve made all these changes in the firm has thrived as a result. I mean literally like how did you create the time to spend the necessary time on these items because these aren’t small items. 

Jamey Harvey [00:14:11] Well, I, I hired very great, very senior talent. So I didn’t really like like on that there was a there was an investment. Right. For sure. And and I am a talent magnet, thank goodness. Right. And the way that we’ve constructed the company has created a multiplying effect for that. We’re like people who want to do what we do are finding us now. Right. Like across the country, which is, you know, amazing. An amazing privilege to write. So it’s you know, I did most of my changes before. You did the Founder Bottleneck book. Yeah. But like, by the time I read The Founder Bottleneck and I did that diagnostic, I was no longer I had replaced myself 80%. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:58] Yeah. 

Jamey Harvey [00:14:59] Already. Right. And the last and I knew the last remaining one was the sales, which is what we’re doing with the seller do or model. So a large it’s it’s it’s I didn’t. And I got a lot of work to do. Like, I can go into that, which is probably a different topic, but like on some level, like the big boulders had sort of had sort of been handled. And I, I have really been able to to focus on strategy coaching, developing high potential people. 

Greg Alexander [00:15:31] Yep. Because. Because you remove yourself as the bottleneck. You hired a great team and that freed you up to do all these things. And, you know, in in Jamie’s example, I mean, he had a great lifestyle business and he have continue on that, but he wanted more and therefore he had to make the investment and he made the investment behind the right people, gave him back the time and boom, here we are. Right? So that’s the decision that we all have to make. Do we really want to be more than a lifestyle business? If so, are we willing to make the right investment to free ourselves up? 

Jamey Harvey [00:15:58] The other big change, of course, is our gross. Our gross margins went from 17% to 35%, and our our net margins went from like 8% to 25%. So which I think is what got your attention about this story. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:12] Yeah, I mean, it jumped off the table at me because because I know the investments you made also because I mean, you could say, like, how is that even possible? You made all these investments which would depress margins if you made all these investments and the opposite happened, you know, the margins and tripled. So help the audience understand that. 

Jamey Harvey [00:16:32] Well, partially it’s phasing like the investments actually depress the margin one year. And then and then they sprung back. They sprung back and then we saw the return. Right. So our business is you know, I talked to a lot of other members of like the 54 hour businesses lumpia are deals are are big are bigger than most of the deals and they’re collective and they last longer. Right. So that stuff develops more slowly for me. My sales cycles are longer right. Like so we’re we’re doing a lot of stuff that doesn’t show up the year that we do it right. It very often if we’re we’re seeing the results the next year. And part of, you know, but, you know, on some level, like what are the changes we made? We got the people, we got people billable. That’s going to make you more profitable. Yeah, we we got rid of salespeople and we had that consultants do that. That’s going to make us more profitable. We we raised our price. It’s like I don’t we skip over that. Like because of our positioning, we were able to demand a premium and, and, you know, compared to the other alternatives market that do what we do, we’re much like we’re so much less expensive than than the biggest. Right. Who are the people that are able to do what we do so. So all of that. You know, we now know that when we’re humming, like those are the normal margins that we ought to make. And we know we’ve got weaknesses because of the lumpiness, partially because, like last quarter, our main client, which is the D.C. government contracted and a bunch of contracts went away. Right. And on and we felt that very badly. But because we were running a healthier business, we were better able to test results like that. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:19] Yeah, exactly. 

Jamey Harvey [00:18:21] Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:18:21] All right. Well, listen, you are the quintessential role model for the boutique framework. And it was great to have this kind of macro conversation to see how multiple things combined together produce the end result. So I want to make sure I leave a call to action for the members. When you get the meeting, invite link for the private Q&A session will have with Jamie. Please accept it and attend and you can really dive in and ask a direct questions of him as to how he pulled this this miraculous story off. There’s a lot more to it than we can cover in a short podcast, so please attend. If you’re not a member, you should consider being one. Go to collect 50 for Whatcom, fill out the contact us form and somebody will get in contact with you. And if you haven’t yet had a chance to read the books and Jamie referenced the boutique kind of start scale and sell the pro firm. And then for members, if you want to eliminate the time constraints on yourself, check out the founder bottleneck. But with that, Jamie, I want to thank you for the contribution you made. You know, we’re trying to make deposits in the collective body of knowledge and you’re constantly doing that. So on behalf and all the members, thank you so much for being part of our community. 

Jamey Harvey [00:19:31] Thank you. It’s it’s really a privilege. Thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:19:33] Great. Okay. With that, I wish everybody the best of luck as they try to grow, scale and exit their firms And until the next episode, go get them.