Episode 51: Scale Capital: A DIY Approach to Raising Growth Capital – Member Case with Josh Miramant

Scaling a boutique professional services firm requires raising capital, and not all capital is the same. On this episode, we interview Josh Miramant, Founder and CEO at Blue Orange Digital, to learn about the three sources of scale capital. When scaling a business, these are the sources of scale capital to be mindful of:

Transcript

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. The aim of  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. 

In this episode, I will make the case that to scale your professional services firm requires capital and that not all capital is the same. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Josh Miramant, Founder and CEO at Blue Orange Digital. 

Blue Orange is a data science and machine learning, consulting and development firm. They build modern data warehousing to support machine learning, and A.I. Blue Orange helps companies integrate these insights to drive data driven decisions. And the decision making. You can find Josh atBlueOrange.digital. Josh, great to  be with you. Welcome.

Josh Miramant [00:01:24] Thanks Sean, it’s great to be here, thanks for having me.

Sean Magennis [00:01:26] Hopefully, I did justice to that explanation of all the great things you do.

Josh Miramant [00:01:30] Or how many buzzwords in our space. You couldn’t have nailed it better, Sure.

Member Case: How to Raise Capital When Scaling a Business

Sean Magennis [00:01:35] So, Josh, let’s start with an overview. So why do professional services firms need capital when trying to scale is the big question. Scaling a business usually means entering new markets, launching new service lines, adding more headcount and many other strategic initiatives. These things all take money. 

So can you briefly share with the audience an example of how you raise capital to scale your firm or how you think about raising capital when scaling a business ?

Josh Miramant [00:02:05] Sure. Yeah, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and just a little background. I’ve actually started to venture back companies prior, so I actually came out of SAS product and a large equity-reduced  background. And this is my first professional services firm, and it’s quite a different beast. 

And in many great ways, like high profit generating types of business initiatives that you can use things like cash flow to reinvest in growth all the way over to, you know, the challenging pieces that they’re very cash hungry business models. 

To be honest, they’re going to take a lot of efforts like investing and resourcing and staffing and having a bench and resource allocation and all these things that are very, quite expensive. And these have to be very well forecasted when you’re thinking about a financial backing. So we’ve taken a pretty holistic approach to our financial backing for this, and actually luckily enough, I sold my last company, and so I was able to, fortunately, do some self investing. 

But we quickly wanted to move to more institutional as we’ve grown along. So, I opened up and started with friends and family debt around the world who lived in debt for our organization. And in the early days, I was able to personally back just under a half million dollars of the total, personally backed notes through successive orders of friends and family. 

It’s more institutional, the different tiers of raise. And then we even looked at some other side of… We had discussions with investment banks and private equity firms about potential acquisitions or investments based on the equity side. And that starts to move seats around equity raise and even some interesting partnership model equity raises that we’re even currently talking about. So it’s a pretty interesting range of options that we’ve explored in total so far.

The Three Different Sources of DIY Capital to Consider When Scaling a Business

Sean Magennis [00:03:54] You know, I love that, and your experience is so uniquebecause you’ve come to me to share with our listeners from the perspective of having, youknow, started to venture back more tech firms. This is your first professional servicesfirm, so you bring all of the knowledge there and then you know you’re in this sort of

reinvention mode, and yet you’re still leveraging these unique sources of finance. 

So this is going to be great for our listeners to get your insights. So Josh, what I thought I’d do is, you know, at the top of the show, I suggested that not all capital is the same. And these days now, and I don’t know if you’re finding this, but certainly I am, that capital is abundant in the market, and there are very, very many different kinds. So I’d like to get your thoughts on what we call a do-it-yourself  approach. 

I’ll illustrate three types of capital. And yes, I know they are more so if you want to throw out some others that you’ve got personal experience in, that would be great too. So the first one I’d like your input on is free cash flow from operations. 

So this comes from increasing revenue, driving down costs, using the spread between those to scale a business. And scaling with free cash flow preserves the owner’s equity and does not add a debt service burden to the PNL. What are your thoughts on this, Josh?

1. Free Cash Flow From Operations

Josh Miramant [00:05:21] And this is one of the absolute magic parts about

professional services agencies that you’re able to have a lot of control and a lot. It puts youin an interesting position. I love that. That’s the name of a professional services agency. 

I mean, you summarized that I think is an absolutely beautiful part about cash flow, which is owner equity and not having to dilute too early in your growth phase. And my philosophy on when I entered into professional services, my philosophy was that our profit, our dividend would be the measure of our success, and that’s controlled. But I would show how successful we were in the market. 

And I think that was something that allowed us to think about our growth planning based on our cash flow. And that was truly as we got in and developed more client base and showed more market adoption and how to sell  better. We were able to expand our growth, and I think that was a nice guardrail-controlled mechanism. And once we got our sea legs under us and take over 10 million topline this year, we will be able to start thinking about taking on more debt burden, or now you’re in the other options at the top. 

And a bit about that growth, that controlled growth to getting that point with a lot of capital reinvestment was incredibly helpful for planning, aka not growing too quickly. Yes, having some of the scale constraints, but also being very thoughtful with where you’re making a capital investment. 

One thing I would say that we’ve learned and learned late and  became a major challenge for us in the early days because our monthly invoices were pretty modest and so we can afford to cover a lot of how we’re doing. And so you have your cash flow is usually not like a 60-day window, we do a month at work. We would bill and have a net 30 payment. And I’ve heard a lot of different firms and colleagues do it differently, but that was a 60-day  cycle. If everyone pays on time and at end of  billing.

Sean Magennis [00:07:13] Yes.

Josh Miramant [00:07:13] We have started moving heavily into reducing down that cash flow cycle, going into lower net 15 or even upfront invoicing on net 30. So you’re really reducing under 30 days and quite candidly with very little pushback. And from a cash flow perspective, we shipped about 80 percent of our current clients, which we have a pretty long client lifecycle in almost every new one onto that with very little exclusion, and that movement to that shorter revenue cycle is actually massively increased the amount of cash flow we’ve had. 

It’s amazing to even grow quicker and have to take on less your interest for equity release or dilution really steps of an option. So it’s, I think, controlling your cash, obviously just goal to get cash in and spend it, not to think about that later and then planning. But I would say even more thoughtful ways of having a discussion with our client upfront. 

We’re pretty candid. “We’re a small boutique, and we want to get to cash flow so we can invest in your team to make sure we have good management.” And they were right alongside us, supporting us on some tighter cash flow cycle. So love cash flow, and obviously like to keep and reserve  equity. So at the end of the day, that’s the cheapest money you’re going to get out there.

Sean Magennis [00:08:22] You know, I love what you’ve said and everything you’ve

said, you know, I totally agree with. One of the interesting things you said, and I don’t want

this to be lost on our listeners, is that you were surprised at the ability to get paid upfront or

get a shorter payment cycle on your AR. That is fantastic. And I think a lot of owners of

boutique firms don’t have the courage, or they fear asking for that. 

So give me a little bit more on that as to how you went about it, because I think our listeners if all they do is get from this the shortening of the AR or getting prepayments upfront that will leapfrog

their ability to use free cash flow for other things.

Josh Miramant [00:09:05] Yeah. This is easily one of  the most important thing that’s happened. We’re really still growing this year. Our  growth was big, and so every dime counts right now. For us, we’re doing multiple types of financing plus we’re hiring like crazy . 

We have larger amounts of, you know, resource allocation like unallocated resource between projects, all the things you expect from the management of our company. But the thing that’s amazing was when we tried these conversations. First off, understanding what’s right for your business, how is it logical for your clients to pay you appropriately. You want to make sure you consider, but not every conversation was about what the risk was the company taking for giving us money.

And I think that was important to have that conversation. So our business. We actually had a message that was thinking about how they would consider it. So saying, you know, “Hey, we’re going to invoice the upfront, we’re going to keep it at net 30. So we’ll be completing all of the work that we’re offering this revenue for. It’s a really it’s not payment upfront, it’s invoicing upfront and you just align the end of payment to work the most recently completed.” And everybody love that we’re asking for payment upfront. 

Accounting teams freak out. They’re like, “Oh, we don’t want to put risk of giving you our cash and not sure how the work would be done.” None of that risk was there. It’s like, “Hey, if we’re doing such a terrible job on delivery, your cash is still sitting in.” The bank knew all the leverage, and we stand by our great work. There is zero risk here, and you’re just helping us with keeping control of our cycle. 

The narrative thinking about what our clients worried about completely changed our messaging. And so the second thing that once there was any pushback, and we did have a couple of clients, you know, very friendly, say, “Oh, we don’t like it, it’s kind of like a retainer site or deposit. We never talked about that, right?” 

We can then say, “Hey, let’s get rid of this. It’s no problem. But could you help us out instead of a net 30, which is pretty industry-standard,  let’s do a net 15 or net 10. And they are like, “Oh, of course, that’s no problem.” So now we’re in  this discussion where we just decreased our AR by twenty-five  percent.

Sean Magennis [00:11:03] Twenty-five .

Josh Miramant [00:11:04] Yeah, yeah. We started that conversation, yeah, 20 percent, excuse

me, but we started the conversation instead of just being like, “Oh, it’s 60, and hopefully

they pay on time,” and now I’m scrambling cash three payroll cycles later. And so it’s just

having a conversation with them and thinking of the messaging. 

You’re bringing it out to clients the way that safely risks their position and ultimately, deliver good work and have no problem with the payments close to cycle. That’s the kind of the cardinal rule here.

Sean Magennis [00:11:30] It’s so smart and it’s so good and you’re both at the same time. What you’re doing is you’re educating your team to operate on that basis and you’re educating your client, you know, so it’s a really good and it and if it’s positioned, as you’ve said and messaged, well, it’s a win win for both. 

And I know that’s a trade statement, but thank you for sharing that because underneath your original comments were these two very specific tactics which if a boutique firm can do that, it’s going to be golden. 

2. Debt

So let’s get to number two. So the second aspect is debt. So debt typically would come from a bank. It would come from a private lender. It may not be cheap, but it is reasonable as lenders charge modest rates on loans and it’s also readily available in the two to three times EBITDA range is what we would typically see. What’s your opinion on debt?

Josh Miramant [00:12:23] Yes, I loved it. Personally, I always like to start with my best and the worst but, I would love to help you frame this. And there is this spectrum of a professional service founder. That’s the greed fear spectrum. And I love how he thinks about this. 

On the greed side, you don’t want to give up your equity. This is the thing you’re building. That’s the compounding value. And candidly, particularly with when you’re investing cash flow, investing your earnings back into the business. These are cash-hungry machines that take a lot of it, and it’s part of your investment can be tied up pretty heavily in the ownership of a firm. 

That’s always a concern of the owner of not being too tied into a single, you know, having some diversity in a portfolio, not just a company. And so I think it’s an interesting on the greed side you want to keep that compounding engine because they can take out your salary and whatever disbursements are that you choose. 

But the angle  there is just coming down to the fear side, which is not making payroll. It’s not being able to hire. It’s not being able to grow quick enough. And I think that’s always this dichotomy that exists that I always take this metric on. Debt is this wonderful piece that’s kind of, you know, stepping partially into the equity, I think will get a chance to talk about my thoughts there in a minute.

Sean Magennis [00:13:39] Yes.

Josh Miramant [00:13:40] The debt is a wonderful play.. I think there’s a couple of things to consider. What you’re spending it on is crucial. So I think it’s always focusing on, you know, it’s like, I think that debt should be considered on the opex experience. Never capex, I think that’s a little later in my rules. 

There’s other thoughts there, but like on there is that you can service and keep revenue coming when you’re looking at that. I think there’s angles of debt being made notes two to three, but I think that’s a reasonable starting point, depending on personal liquidity or other factors that you have for backup. 

But I think I also think taking on debt with consideration of a repayment calendar like based on your projections and knowing what worst case is and best case is, and keeping it modest until you have a pretty confident projection into your repayment calendar. And then surely just I think you’re right, like apples pretty cheap right now in general has been more expensive. Some pretty, really very, very favorable interest rates, but very tangibly looking how much that money’s costing you.

Sean Magennis [00:14:37] Yes.

Josh Miramant [00:14:37] And I think that’s a big piece of how much are you are losing out on future revenue and is that is it smarter to keep cash flow and grow slower or smarter to take that, capture that revenue and turn it into more accountability. And I think that at the right point that is absolutely something you should do. 

We’ve raised our friends, and family around. I took out a line of credit from the traditional bank, Chase is our banking partner in a quarter-million line of  credit, which was really friendly to, you know, have this beautiful, beautiful debt option there. Because it’s only paying and you’re using it, which is lovely. It’s right at your fingertips. 

And then we’ve gone and got another $400000 debt financing round, which is pretty good for our books right now. On a more traditional note and still pretty favorable interest rates and the interest on it is pretty modest. So it’s a very nice opportunity for us to have, you know, feel very comfortable on our AR cycle and tied with upfront billing amount in a really strong cash position, even with this large growth factor, which is so nice to see.

Sean Magennis [00:15:45] And I would assume that you’ve also got some good forward visibility on contracting that’s coming forward because that helps you manage your greed fear component that you just spoke to, right?

Josh Miramant [00:15:58] Couldn’t be more apt there, and I think honestly, the

amount I would be sensitive to take out as much debt as I have unless we had contracts in place. We have even things that I was sensitive to. I’m not taking extending my debt financing options until we had a diverse set of contracts that were pretty far. 

I don’t want just one big client, or a couple, a few small ones that are kind of tailing in cycle with low visibility. It was, you know, we could lose a good chunk of our, you know, any individual client has no impact on our financial stability. That took a while to build, for sure. Toyour point of forecasting and de-risking alone actually was less about being able to service, you know, a few thousand dollars a month of interest, which is not in…the percentages are tiny. Yeah, but it’s actually coupled with a repayment schedule and projections against that with their contracts, we can stick to that calendar. Either way, it just means other future growth constraints, but still better offer market opportunity with clients, which took off.

Sean Magennis [00:17:00] You know, brilliant, and you’ve also hit on a couple of additional key things like client quality. So the ability of the client to pay, which is critical. Diversification of your client group, so you’re not anchored. You know you don’t have all your eggs in one basket, and then you’ve got your backlog in the quality of your contracting. So fantastic. 

I mean, this is exactly what we want listeners to really get a handle on because when using a debt instrument, all those factors should be in place, and you need to be able to feel comfortable and go to sleep at night. You know that you’re not going to wake up one morning and not be able to service the debt, right?

Josh Miramant [00:17:40] Yeah. So just a note to add. I think that in the early days, and I’m getting some questions that are on, fortunate enough to have some pretty decent-sized loans, personal back loans. And I think that’s best. I think what is also very exciting when we can move beyond me not having personal back loans, that was great money. 

And that’s where certainly takes a lot more to build a business to that point. But I do think that was a healthy risk appetite that I was willing to a smaller scale to then show repeated receivables and show a consistent client base. But that transition from I would certainly say that if debt is where you’re looking to go as you’re building a company up to 100 employees, which is our top line, but the size that we’re building on. 

I certainly get meaningful amounts of money or large enough amounts of money just on the business alone until we got a little bigger. And then it became something where that was because of the combination of cash flow and this just being not as much of covering the percentage of our MR. And it’s interesting how that became a really good solution on the company’s books.

Sean Magennis [00:18:44] I love that, and you know, it works right in the early stages. You

take the personal guarantee in the middle. I saw you don’t need to do it. You know there’s an appropriate time to take on personal risk, and then there’s a time, as you’ve just illustrated, where the company can take on that risk on the balance sheet. 

3. Equity Partners

So let’s flip to the third aspect, which is equity partners. So this is when an investor puts cash in exchange for a piece of the business, and then the owner’s stake is diluted as a result. What do you think about equity for a boutique professional services firm?

Josh Miramant [00:19:24] Yes, I got a little more sensitive when it comes to equity with a company like a professional services firm. First off, as I mentioned in my background, I think equity raises are really important. I think it’s just when and what you’re looking to build your firm. I think those are two questions that you need to understand here. 

So let me share my thinking around that. So unlike a SaaS product, where you just think high multipliers. High multiples and valuation are the expectation. If you are successful on strategy, whatever X your thinking about right, your projection on a professional service  depends on a little variability of your space. 

And how much tech work or how much automation is inside of the way that you do what you do, when is or what the product is understood, what you’re building,you’re looking at 2.5 to 4.5 range multiplier. Those are rough numbers that are going to be different for every one of your listeners here. But that’s kind of where our sector fell, our cutting edge buzzword tech stocks, or a little bit more depending on how strong your sales team and all these factors are not getting the details.

Sean Magennis [00:20:29] Yes.

Josh Miramant [00:20:30] So it’s interesting to think about when you look at those multiples, what are you looking to build? You’re really looking to scale a business. You need a lot more money. You need to invest in bigger sales organizations, but that comes once you make it to the next stage. Like, I always look at our objective and goals as a company is to move into that 25 to 30 million top-line revenue company as we scale-out.

And I look at that is what my investment team talks about is the platform layer of a professional services agency. That’s their terms. I like it. If you’re looking to scale a business, it’s like when you become a platform that things like taking on, you know,an equity raise and acquiring other companies you can actually absorb into you. 

If there is an option, there would be not typically a lot of business selling you to other firms, which I’ve actually done some other interesting areas around equity partnership equity, which is an interesting area that we’ve been talking about with a few of our partners lately. 

Yes, it’s very compelling because it actually reduces some of the equity dilution or my owner dilution along with the and while still getting pretty good terms, some capital. But the biggest factor is you are trading control, and it’s usually in a very good way. If you’ve got a good partner and you take on a good relationship with the firm because that’s expertise and all the things that come with a high or higher opportunity in addition to cash. 

So lots of good. But that control factor is important when you start thinking about what you’re looking to execute. So I think that equity when a founder and how I feel about it, when a founder feels really confident in their business model and can sell it well and they should know how much equity they’re going to give up for capital.

Sean Magennis [00:22:09] Exactly.

Josh Miramant [00:22:09] We did a full two-term sheet equity raise and I didn’t feel comfortable of the evolution at the time. And they were generous terms, that I think, appropriately valued our company. But it just the dilution meant was more of a control consideration on one side. And candidly, if it was done now, I think it might be below a margin where my control factor would be given up. 

So it’s a little bit to the founders role, like we’re looking to scale quite large and leaving up 50 percent of our equity right now. So when we’re being raised too much dilution down the road, but it can get a little bigger, have more receivables, are valued more competition or have more staff, the value of the company starts giving you competitive options. It’s a little individual, but I love equity. I just think the time, and the goals are crucial to be considered.

Sean Magennis [00:22:52] I love that. So the time and the goals are crucial for consideration. This is excellent, Josh. Really. So I can’t think of a more important, high-stakes strategic decision for our listeners to get right. As we’ve gone through these three, there are others. So this takes us to the end of this episode. 

Scaling a Business: Questions to Ask When Raising Growth Capital

And by the way, we’re going to have plenty of opportunities to discuss this, particularly in Collective 54 going forward. So this has been extraordinarily valuable. As is customary, 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. 

Our style of checklist is a yes-no questionnaire. We aim to keep it simple by asking only 10 questions. So in this instance, if you answer yes to eight or more of these questions all three of these capital sources are available to you. 

If you answer no to questions one to three, don’t pursue funding to scale with free cash flow. If you answer no to four to nine, don’t rely on debt. And if you answer no to question 10, don’t take on an equity partner. Josh as graciously agreed to be our peer example today. So,Josh, I’ll just ask you these 10 questions. Give us a simple yes or no.

Sean Magennis [00:24:08] And here we go. So number one, are you generating enough

free cash flow to fund scale?

Josh Miramant [00:24:17] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:24:19] Number two, do you know where to deploy this extra free cash

Flow?

Josh Miramant [00:24:25] Oh, yes.

Sean Magennis [00:24:26] I love it. Number three, are you willing to go without today for

scale tomorrow?

Josh Miramant [00:24:34] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:24:36] Number four, have you been in business for at least five

years?

Josh Miramant [00:24:41] Yes, we have.

Sean Magennis [00:24:42] Number five, are you generating stable EBITDA every year?

Josh Miramant [00:24:51] Beside COVID, yes.

Sean Magennis [00:24:52] OK. Oh, that’s good, I mean that listen, that’s real, right? You’re being honest.

Josh Miramant [00:24:55] It’s exciting years.

Sean Magennis [00:24:57] Exciting years. Number six, would two to three times EBITA be enough to fund scaling your firm?

Josh Miramant [00:25:04] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:25:05] Yeah. Number seven, can your PNL handle the debt serviceburden of a loan?

Josh Miramant [00:25:11] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:25:12] Number eight, are you willing to personally guarantee a loan?

Josh Miramant [00:25:18] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:25:18] Yeah. You’ve done it.

Josh Miramant [00:25:20] Done it in the trenches on that one.

Sean Magennis [00:25:21] Absolutely. Number nine, do you have enough personal assets to secure the loan if open to a guarantee?

Josh Miramant [00:25:29] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:25:30] And number ten. Are you willing to dilute your ownership, take for

the right equity partner?

Josh Miramant [00:25:37] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:25:38] Outstanding, so in summary, it takes money to make money, scaling a boutique takes money. There are different funding sources, each with its own pros and cons. All can work well, which is best for you is highly situational. And Josh, you’ve said that. 

So take your time, listeners, to consider this very important strategic decision. Josh, a huge thank you today for sharing all of the real-life examples. I love your enthusiasm. I love the fact that you’re in Manhattan. I could hear the traffic, which we haven’t heard a lot in the last six months. It’s brilliant and makes me feel as if we’re in the real world.

And for our listeners, 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 a 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 firm bigger and faster.

Go to Collective54.com to learn more.

Thank you for listening.

Episode 51: Scale Capital: A DIY Approach to Raising Growth Capital – Member Case with Josh Miramant

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 45: The Boutique: Leadership – Dictator vs. Democracy: Which is Best for You?

As boutiques scale the way decisions are made must change. Collective 54 Founder Greg Alexander shares why the decision-making leadership of the founder is diminished as boutiques scale.

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 as boutique scale, the way decisions get made must change. A start up benefits from the speed of a single decision maker, however, during scale, the decision making ability of the central figure gets diminished. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg has helped many boutiques transition their power structures. Greg, great to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:14] It’s nice to be here, Sean. Transitioning the governance system as a firm scale’s is a very important topic. So I’m glad we’re speaking about that today.

Sean Magennis [00:01:21] Yeah, I can’t agree more. Greg, can you set this up for the audience? Why should a founder of a scaling boutique really care about power structure.

Greg Alexander [00:01:30] Sure. So early stage growth firms require a dictator to be successful. These firms do not have time to build consensus. They must rapidly iterate and move very quickly. And the scope of the decisions that need to be made is small at this stage. The personal willpower of the founder dictator is a key reason these types of firms succeed. Strong leadership is crucial, and the skills needed in a dictator type of leader are easily defined and readily available am my making sense?

Sean Magennis [00:02:04] Yes, yes, you are correct. Please continue.

Greg Alexander [00:02:07] So when a firm starts to scale, it needs to implement a democracy. The boutique is larger and leadership must represent the team. More people need to have a say the dictator is removed from the front lines, his or her proximity to clients becomes more distant. As a result, his or her decision making ability becomes diminished. This person’s once prophetic instincts become dulled.

Sean Magennis [00:02:34] I completely understand that now. So owners of firms, when attempting to scale, need to make more and more complicated decisions. And the best people to make those decisions are those closest to the clients. A somewhat removed dictator is no longer the person uniquely qualified to steer the ship.

Greg Alexander [00:02:55] And you are correct.

Sean Magennis [00:02:56] So how does a boutique transition from the powerful dictator to a democracy?

Greg Alexander [00:03:01] Well, very carefully, as some foreigners do not want to go quietly, the strong willpower that made them successful in the first place now becomes a liability.

Sean Magennis [00:03:12] So, Greg, surely there must be some best practices to handle this transition smoothly?

Greg Alexander [00:03:17] Yeah, there are all firms go through this, at least the ones who scale beyond a nice lifestyle business.

Sean Magennis [00:03:22] So share some of these best practices with our listeners.

Greg Alexander [00:03:25] OK, so I’m going to try to simplify. So bear with me. All right. So the transition typically involves the election of a board. The board is comprised of the equity partners and at least one external independent board member. I play and have played this role. The board meets quarterly and it is mandated to make policy decisions. It is important to note that the board does not run the firm they have focused entirely on long term reporting to the board is a managing partner. The managing partner acts like a CEO does in a corporation. He or she is the boss and is accountable to the results. The managing partner has an executive leadership team that reports to him or her. Normally, the executive leadership team is comprised of the department heads. For example, the leader of the delivery staff is almost always on the ELT. This way the employees from each department are represented. These three bodies, the board, the managing partner and the Executive Leadership Team Act much like the checks and balances system in our government. For instance, the board is the legislative branch. The managing partner is the executive branch. In the executive leadership team is the judicial branch. The ultimate power sits with the owner or owners. The board answers to the owner. Think of the owner or owners, much like you would think about the shareholders of a public company. They own the company, but they do not run it. They elect a board to represent them and the board, selects a managing partner to run the firm. I’m dramatically oversimplifying, but does this basic structure make sense?

Sean Magennis [00:05:06] It certainly does in simplicity is preferred, makes it makes total sense. And I can clearly see how this power structure enables a firm to scale. And I do recognize how different this is than a small firm with all roads leading to a one shot caller.

Sean Magennis [00:05:26] 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.

Russ Perry [00:05:52] Hey there, my name is Russ Perry and I’m the founder and CEO of Design Pickle. Design Pickle offers, flat rate graphic design and custom illustrations to fit any team’s needs. We work with marketing teams, agencies and entrepreneurs across the world. Turn to us to help level up and scale your creative content. Find out more at designpickle.com.

Sean Magennis [00:06:12] 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.

Sean Magennis [00:06:30] OK, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help listeners apply this, Greg. 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 question that 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 decision making is working for you. If you answer no too many times your decision making is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin with the questions.

Sean Magennis [00:07:14] Number one, have you transitioned from a growth stage boutique to a scale stage firm?

Greg Alexander [00:07:21] So the way that you would know that is when your aspirations change. So are you moving from aspiring to make more money. To building a firm that’s bigger than you, you know, moving beyond a lifestyle business. So that’s how you would answer that question.

Sean Magennis [00:07:37] That’s a good distinction. Number two, are you attempting to become a market leader? For example, one of the 4100 firms who have reached scale.

Greg Alexander [00:07:47] And if you are so now, if you’re going from scale to market leadership, then you absolutely need to embrace democracy over dictator.

Sean Magennis [00:07:55] Number three, do you have a dictator in place today?

Greg Alexander [00:07:58] If you do try to try to handle a a peaceful transition of power, a coup d’etat is not a good idea.

Sean Magennis [00:08:07] Number four, have the dictators once great instincts begun to deteriorate? Number five, have the number of decisions to be made gone up considerably? Number six, has the complexity of the decisions to be made increased substantially? Number seven, does it make sense to distribute authority closer to the client?

Greg Alexander [00:08:31] Right, so if you answered yes to five and six, the number of decisions in the complex decisions has increased, then it does make sense to distribute authority close to the client. However, if you’re running a very simple business with very few decisions to make in the ones, you do have to make a simple that. Maybe not.

Sean Magennis [00:08:48] Yep, got it. Number eight, do the employees want a greater say in policy making? Number nine, do the owners want to delegate decision making more?

[00:08:59] So this is what’s in it for the owners. You know, if if they have to make every decision every day, they’re probably working more than they want to make, more than they want to work. So by distributing decision making down to trusted lieutenants who can do it for them, they actually reduce their workload.

Sean Magennis [00:09:13] And work smarter, not harder.

Greg Alexander [00:09:14] It’s exactly right.

Sean Magennis [00:09:15] And number ten, do you have a person capable of serving as a managing partner?

Greg Alexander [00:09:20] So this is the biggest issue. Dictators, right. Those that are the founders that drive their firms to certain level of success, they oftentimes don’t want to relinquish power. So the way to do it, at least the way that that I did it and those that I’ve seen, pull this off, do it as they grow their own. Yes, risk is really high when you’re bringing somebody in from the outside. But if you’re if you’re grooming a successor over a number of years, this becomes easier.

Sean Magennis [00:09:45] I love it. The institutional knowledge. Yes, the culture knowledge is so key. So in summary, we do love our founders. They had the guts to start the firm and the skill to grow it. However, growing a boutique and scaling it are two very different things. Scaling does not mean doing more of what you are doing. It means doing what you would doing differently. This is the point whereby dictators plateau and a new governance system is needed.

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. Greg, thank you.

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

Episode 44: The Boutique: How to Split Up the Pie in a Professional Service Firm

Splitting the equity in a partnership is difficult. However, there is a proper way to do it that results in lots of wealth being created. Learn how to fix broken legacy partnership agreements as you grow, scale, and exit.

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’ll make the case that splitting up the equity in a partnership is difficult. However, there is a proper way to do it and it results in lots of wealth being created. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s Chief Investment Officer, Greg has helped many boutique owners fix broken legacy partnership agreements. Greg, good to see you and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:09] It’s good to be here, Sean and you are correct, I was just helping an owner unravel a one sided agreement. Splitting up the pie is very tricky.

Sean Magennis [00:01:16] OK, let’s start there. Share the story with us.

Greg Alexander [00:01:19] OK, so a husband and wife team started a marketing agency and early on they promoted a key employee to partner and gave them 20 percent of the equity. This was in response to the employee receiving an attractive job offer from another agency. In the beginning, everyone was happy and it seemed to be working. As time went on, the husband and wife started resenting the new partner. The new partner was not delivering the expected revenue, yet he was getting distributions from their efforts.

Greg Alexander [00:01:52] Also, the husband and wife wanted to take the agency in a new direction, but the new partner did not. He resisted and the way the operating agreement was written as he was able to stop it. The situation deteriorated and got hostile, with lawyers and others coming in, a valuation firm was hired to figure out a buyout price. Of course, no one could agree on what his 20 percent was worth and how the buyout would be paid over time. It got ugly and it looks like 20 percent of the equity is now dead equity.

Sean Magennis [00:02:26] So, Greg, what’s going to happen in this situation?

Greg Alexander [00:02:28] Well, they are still fighting and a resolution has not been agreed to yet. However, I’m glad, you know, we let off with this story because there’s a big lesson to be learned here from this example.

Sean Magennis [00:02:39] Greg, what is that lesson?

Greg Alexander [00:02:41] So equity arrangements need to be flexible. So for our listeners, the evolutionary path is a startup that becomes a growth firm, that becomes a firm at scale and then eventually becomes a firm an exit. And equity splits need to change as they move along this life cycle, for example, it is almost impossible to split equity as a startup. There are no clients, there’s no revenue, no profits. It’s also almost impossible post startup in the growth stage. Yes, there are clients and revenue, but there’s no intellectual property or intellectual capital to be valued at that time. The firm is still not worth anything because nobody would buy it. 100 percent of zero is zero. This changes in the scale stage as the firm is now worth something and it changes again in the exit stage because after exit, some partners are leaving and some are staying on. That dictates the need for a new equity split.

Sean Magennis [00:03:38] Greg, this is so key. And before we move on to scale and exit, how should a boutique owner split equity at a startup or in the growth stage?

Greg Alexander [00:03:46] So when starting the firm, I recommend valuing the equity solely based on contributed capital. So, for example, let us say it takes a startup boutique a million dollars to launch. So if you put up 300K and I put up 700K then the equity split is 30 percent you and 70 percent me. A lot of boutique owners split up equity based on sweat equity instead of contributing capital. And this is a big mistake and it leads to hardship down the road. So why is that? Well, it’s impossible to accurately assign a value to sweat equity. So, for example, what percentage of equity should go to a great rainmaker versus an average rainmaker? The questions too difficult to answer instead. Sweat equity is accounted for in salaries, not in equity. For instance, if a partner was responsible for project management, they get paid a salary that reflects the going rate for a project manager. That is the value of the role and it is set objectively in the open market. Does that make sense?

Sean Magennis [00:04:45] Yes, it does. But what happens when a partner does not have any capital to put into a firm at launch, but over time ends up contributing a lot to the firm as it scales? OK, so now you’re talking and this happens all the time and therefore equity splits need to be dynamic, not static.

Sean Magennis [00:05:02] Yes.

Greg Alexander [00:05:02] So in this case, the partners use a tool called the Buy-Sell Agreement. This is a contract that stipulates how a partners share of a business can be bought and sold. It defines that equity splits can happen under certain conditions and it defines exactly how it will happen. For example, it is common that the buy sell agreement establishes how shares in the firm will be priced, who they can be sold to, how they would be paid for, etc.. So having a buy sell agreement in place provides the needed flexibility to dynamically adjust equity splits at as circumstances change.

Sean Magennis [00:05:37] Greg, is this common?

Greg Alexander [00:05:39] Well, yes and no. Buy-Sell agreements are well-worn territory and are an established best practice. A boutique owner could hire an attorney and get one in place very quickly and inexpensively. However, many boutique owners do not have one in place. And you might ask why? Well, this is because founders think they do not need them. They cannot imagine a scenario where the need for one would arise. This is foolish. If you scale your firm in one day, go to sell it. There is a better than average chance someone other than the founder has equity. Founders want to keep all the equity, but I remind them that 100 percent of zero is zero. Sharing the wealth with those who earn it is a very good idea. In my experience. When the founders shares the wealth, more wealth is created for everyone. Magical things happen when employees become owners.

Sean Magennis [00:06:26] That’s excellent advice, Greg, and great examples. 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 firms at the right time for the right price and on the right terms. Let us meet one of the collective 54 members.

Tad McIntosh [00:06:59] Hello, my name is Tad MCIntosh, I own HumCap, a human resources consulting and recruitment forum. We help small businesses with their growth, human resources and recruitment needs. We get asked very often about how we can help you have strategic value in human resources in your growing company. We also get ask what are the risks in H.R. as I grow my company? We solve these problems by building customized H.R. and recruiting solutions for each and every one of our clients. If we can help you with your needs, with our experience and recruiting professionals, please call me at 469-484-6023 or email me at [email protected] Thank you and have a great day.

[00:07:51] 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. So, 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 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 equity splits are working for you. If you answer no too many times, your equity split is likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:52] Number one, is your firm owned by more than one person? Number two, do the owners contribute to wealth creation in different proportions? Number three, are the owners at different stages in life?

Greg Alexander [00:09:09] Yes, so we should talk about that. So if you start your firm and someone’s in their 50s and someone’s in their 20s, you know, over time that person in their 50s is going to want to exit before the person in their 20s. So that’s the reason. That’s just an obvious example of why dynamic splits as opposed to static splits.

Sean Magennis [00:09:28] That makes a lot of sense. Number four, do the owners have different financial needs?

Greg Alexander [00:09:33] Some might need more cash, so therefore they get a higher salary. Some might be more interested in long term wealth creation. So they take a lower salary to get a higher equity split.

Sean Magennis [00:09:42] Again, makes total sense. Number five, do the owners have different visions of the future? Hence your example. Number six, have the partner contributions fluctuated over the years?

Greg Alexander [00:09:55] And again, this is another good governance seal of approval here. If the equity split is dynamic, then somebody can’t rest on their laurels just because they got, let’s say, 20 percent of the firm, you know, at year three and year ten if they’re not contributing, then they should not hold on to the 20 percent in perpetuity forever.

Sean Magennis [00:10:14] Yep. Number seven, has resentment crept into the relationships?

Greg Alexander [00:10:19] Its all the time. Business partnerships are like marriages.

Sean Magennis [00:10:22] Yep. Number eight, are you living with a legacy ownership structure that is now outdated?

Greg Alexander [00:10:28] Yep.

Sean Magennis [00:10:29] Number nine, will rising stars require equity to be retained?

Greg Alexander [00:10:34] Yeah. And the foolish owner here says, well, fine, I’m not going to give him equity. Well, those rising stars will quit. They’ll go start their own firms and now you’ll have new competitors and you’ll have a talent drain. So, you know, don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.

Sean Magennis [00:10:52] Great advice, Greg. And then to wrap us up, number ten, has the ownership structure distorted policymaking?

Greg Alexander [00:10:59] Yeah, and that’s a separate issue. Governance is separate than ownership. So you could have different classes of shares with different voting rights, but that’s a whole nother topic for another day.

Sean Magennis [00:11:07] Yep. Thank you, Greg. In summary, during the start up and growth stage of a firm development, split up the equity based on contributed capital. However, as the firm scales put a buy sell agreement in place, this converts dysfunctional static equity arrangements into healthy, dynamic ones. This will result in more wealth for everyone involved. 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 42: The Boutique: 3 Ways to Pay Partners Correctly

Designing the compensation system for Partners at boutique professional service firms requires special treatment. Partners are not like other employees and getting their pay system correct requires strategic thought.

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 designing the compensation system for partners at the boutique professional services firm requires special treatment. Partners are not like other employees, and getting their pay system correct requires strategic thought. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. On this show, I typically hold up Greg, as an example to follow. This show will be different in this instance, Greg made a few mistakes that actually cost him millions of dollars. Today, he will share his mistakes in the hopes of helping you avoid them. Greg, sorry to put you on the spot. And good to see you and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:31] Hey, pal, give me a minute, will you? It looks like I’m getting ready to eat some humble pie and I want to grab some extra napkins because it’s going to be messy.

Sean Magennis [00:01:40] Don’t feel bad. No one is perfect. And that includes you. I appreciate your willingness, though, Greg, to share the mistakes along with the victories.

Greg Alexander [00:01:49] Of course I’m kidding. I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes, and I’m happy to share if it helps others.

Sean Magennis [00:01:55] I know it will. So let’s get into it. Greg, tell me about this topic. Paying partners. Why is it important to our listeners?

Greg Alexander [00:02:03] So as a firm scale’s, it adds more partners, loyal employees earn the right to have a seat at the table. When this happens, these loyal employees get any job description. Individual contributions get replaced with firm building activities. For example, partners often own recruiting and they frequently are charged with employee training. Sometimes they’re asked to head up a new industry practice or in some cases maybe move overseas to expand internationally. Whatever it is, the days of just selling and delivering work are over. It is no longer about personal billings, but rather now it’s about the success of the firm exclusively. So the question is, how should a partner be compensated for these different activities?

Sean Magennis [00:02:43] Yes, this this makes sense. So our audience members are scaling their firms some dramatically. So and you’re right, this is leading to superstars earning the job title of partner. And with the new job comes new responsibilities, which requires a new compensation system where should a listener start.

Greg Alexander [00:03:04] Well, this shows about comp. This means salary and bonus in equity is ownership, not compensation. So I will leave the equity discussion for another show. Is that right?

Sean Magennis [00:03:15] OK, yes, this show is 10 to 15 minutes. So let’s shelve equity for another episode. Give you give me your take on salary and bonus.

Greg Alexander [00:03:25] OK, so I will discuss salary first as it is easy, my advice would simply to be calculate the going rate for the role and pay at the midpoint. For instance, a quick search on salary.com tells me a business development partner in my hometown of Dallas earns one hundred and twenty six thousand dollars at the midpoint, benchmark data is widely available. Pick your source. The reason you pay at the midpoint is simple. You are not a startup and yet you are not a market leader yet you are in between the two. Therefore pay in the middle obviously can you can tweak this up or down. But I like to keep things simple. My main point is to pay according to the market rate partners are labor. Labor is a commodity priced in the open market. There are buyers and sellers for this labor. The equilibrium point between buyer and seller is the price for the commodity. If the partner quit your firm, this is what she would fetch in the open market. If you recruited a new partner to the firm, this is what you would pay. Eliminate all the subjectivity from salary discussions. Let it be a data driven decision. Does this make sense?

Sean Magennis [00:04:35] Makes perfect sense. And the simplicity of this is actually wonderful. You mentioned bonuses are harder, so let’s jump to that.

Greg Alexander [00:04:44] Yeah, bonuses are much harder. So why is that? So it’s hard to find the balance between past contributions, current contributions and investments today that will lead to future contributions. So, for instance, you may have a partner that took on a strategic initiative that runs in the red this year, breaks even next year, and turns profitable two years from now. So how do you pay this partner? If you penalize him for the short term EBITA hit, he will never take on another strategic initiative if you reward him when the strategic initiative turns profitable, is that reward forever or is there an expiration date on it? This is a very tricky decision. There are three systems available and most firms choose one of these three. You want me to briefly describe this?

Sean Magennis [00:05:37] Yes, please, Greg, because I want to save some time for your war story.

Greg Alexander [00:05:42] OK, so the first system is based on seniority. The longer your tenure, the more you make. This has the benefit of being very easy to administer. But the younger partners hate paying the old farts forever. The second system is the performance based system. Each party gets assigned some goals and he or she gets paid if they are met. This sounds great as who does not love a meritocracy. The problem with this, however, is there is no incentive to build the firm. Pay that prioritizes short term performance can destroy a boutiques ability to scale at scaling takes longer than a year or two. The third system is called a reconciliation system. This involves a compensation committee made up of the owners and awards are handed out by vote. It comes with a formula usually tied to enterprise, wealth creation or partner distributions. It is subjective, but it does allow for a judgment to be applied. And since all partners are on the jury, the system does have integrity. Personally, I believe this is the best system for firms trying to scale. It does the best job of balancing the short term with the long term. Did I describe these three systems clearly?

Sean Magennis [00:07:00] Yes, you did. Thank you. So our listeners have three choices in front of them now, one seniority to performance based, three, reconciliation and listeners I recognize the devil is in the details. So if you have questions about this, reach out to our team at Collective 54 and they will help you. OK, Greg, would you please share your personal story?

Greg Alexander [00:07:28] Oh sure. I think I would call this Confessions from a Mad Man. So as I transitioned from a startup to a boutique, I did not change the partner compensation system. This cost me millions of dollars over time and it created tension among the partners. Our system was very unsophisticated. I paid partners a very generous salary that was well above the market rate. For example, the first group of partners earned 2x what they could fetch in the open market. To make matters worse, bonuses were paid as distribution’s. The distributions were paid based on the partners equity stake.

Greg Alexander [00:08:07] For example, if a partner owned 25 percent of the firm, they got 25 percent of the distributions. This was a huge mistake. Equity is different than pay. As we became very successful, partners were pulling millions of dollars out of the business. Yet this payment had very little to do with their contributions to the firm. The root cause of this mistake is easy to identify. I felt a loyalty to the early partners. They took a risk to join me in the early days and they took equity in lieu of cash. As time went on, I wanted to reward them for their early sacrifices.

Greg Alexander [00:08:43] However, I never contemplated when this debt was paid, I just kept paying that debt in perpetuity. They took advantage of me, the right thing to do would have been to refuse the excessive compensation for obscene but greed and envy of powerful forces for humans to resist. And I’m sure they felt they deserved what they were getting. All of us, including me, tend to overstate actually worth. The problem is that a new group of partners emerged and they were way underpaid.

Greg Alexander [00:09:17] The effect they were having on the business was large and growing, it eclipsed the contribution from the legacy partners. And as time went on, this compounded the gap between the old partners and the new partners became extreme. The dollar should have shifted from the legacy parties to the new partners, yet it did not. This was a failure in leadership. I mean, this poor leadership, fractured relationships. It created some bad blood. And I deeply regret this. Friends became enemies. Sadly, the shame of it all is this was all avoidable. I just did not know any better at the time. So please learn from my mistakes. Maybe my salvation can be realized in helping you steer clear of this grief.

Sean Magennis [00:10:02] Well, Greg, I’m I’m literally speechless and not for the reason you may think I’m speechless at how honest you are with our audience. It takes great humility to share something as personal in a medium like this. And I know this will be heard by thousands of people. So on behalf of our listeners, Greg, thank you. You know, I. I know you are living your mission statement every day, my friend.

Greg Alexander [00:10:27] Thanks, pal. Now, let me get up off this therapy couch and let’s cut to the checklist.

Sean Magennis [00:10:34] OK, you got 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.

Satish Manduva [00:11:05] Hello, my name is the basement. I work at Intellisoft Technlogies. We serve Fortune 500 clients in providing solution architecture, application development and consulting services. We are providing solutions in artificial intelligence, using our product data, market study and virtual learning with our product that brings these clients turn to us for help with any big data and AI solutions. We solve this problem by providing solutions for insurance, Teleco and financing the industry. Example fraud analytics for insurance, default analytics for finance and constant analysis for the health care. If you need help with any big data or AI solutions in finance, insurance or teleco, reach out to me at [email protected] www.Intellisofttech.com

Sean Magennis [00:12:03] 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. So 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 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, my instructions are a little different than normal. So please pay attention. Loyal listeners. If you answer yes to questions one and two, you do not need a new partner pay system if you answer no to questions one and two, you’ve got some work to do. If you answer yes to questions three, four and five, a seniority system might work for you. If you answer no to questions three, four and five, then a seniority based system is not for you. If you answer yes to questions, six, seven and eight, consider a performance based system. If you answered no to these questions, a performance based system is not a good fit for you. And lastly, if you answer yes to questions nine and ten, the reconciliation system might be best for you if you answer no to questions, nine and ten you can rule out the reconciliation system.

Greg Alexander [00:13:48] Very good.

Sean Magennis [00:13:50] Hopefully everyone gets this. Here goes number one, are you paying salaries based on external benchmarks? Number two, are you paying salaries at the midpoint of the benchmarks? Number three, are years of service, a fair way to pay partners? Number four, are senior partners past contributions contributing to today’s wealth creation?

Greg Alexander [00:14:21] Often overlooked.

Sean Magennis [00:14:22] Yes. Number five, will your younger partners stick around to wait for the senior partners to retire?

Greg Alexander [00:14:30] Oftentimes, no.

Sean Magennis [00:14:32] Number six, do you have clear objectives for each partner? Number seven, is it clear when the objectives are met? Number eight, is it possible to balance short term and long term wealth creation with these objectives? Number nine, will partners perform with integrity if placed on the bonus compensation committee?

Greg Alexander [00:15:01] Be very careful of politics there.

Sean Magennis [00:15:03] And number ten, can you develop a methodology that fairly attributes wealth creation to partner activities?

Greg Alexander [00:15:12] What’s important about number 10 is it’s about wealth creation and wealth creation attribution is hard.

Sean Magennis [00:15:18] Yep. So thank you, Greg. In summary, boutiques add partners over time. Paying partners correctly impacts the scalability of the boutique. Consider these three systems and learn from Greg’s mistakes. 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. Thanks for your candor today, Greg, and thank you to our audience for listening.

Episode 39: The Boutique: 4 Different Recruiting Needs for Professional Services Firms to Scale

As your boutique professional service firm scales, talent acquisition shows up on the list of top priorities. Collective54 founder Greg Alexander discusses why the ability to recruit at scale separates the winners from the losers.

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 as your boutique scales, recruiting shows up on the list of things to excel at. The days of recruiting from your personal network are over, and the ability to recruit at scale separates the winners from the losers. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg is considered one of the industry’s best talent pickers. In fact, Dr. Jeff Smart in his best selling book, Who the A Method for Hiring suggests Greg is one of the best he’s ever seen. Greg, great to see you and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:26] Sean, it’s good to be with you. I see that you dug up Dr. Smart’s classic book and who Jeff and Randy who run smart and associates are the best in the world at hiring the right people. I encourage everyone to read that book and check them out. I was flattered to be mentioned as a success story in their work.

Sean Magennis [00:01:45] Will do. Greg, I have heard you mentor boutique funders in the area of recruiting. So during these conversations you discuss how there are four different recruiting needs when scaling. Can you walk the audience through these four?

Greg Alexander [00:02:01] I’d be happy to, but before I do, allow me to place this into the proper context. If you are a small, young firm in the startup phase, this does not apply to you. Recruiting in the startup phase is not a mission critical task. The needs are basic in most jobs can be filled from personal networks. In contrast, if you are a firm trying to scale, meaning build something more than a lifestyle business, then recruiting is a mission critical task. Not all the jobs can be filled from personal networks as there are just too many of them to fill. And also the stakes are higher. So, for example, as you leave the scale stage and start to prepare for exit, you will need to recruit a CEO so you can ride off into the sunset. If you miss higher this role, you can kiss your earnout goodbye. Recruiting goes from a passive activity to a mission critical task as you mature. Does this make sense, Sean?

Sean Magennis [00:03:00] Yes, it does. Thanks for setting the table, Greg, and for the context.

Greg Alexander [00:03:05] OK, so let’s jump into the four different types of recruiting as a firm scales. I will start with the first big change, replacing generalist with specialist. As you scale, you will attract more sophisticated clients. These clients will pay you more and therefore expect more. These clients are experienced buyers of professional services and they know what to look for. For example, they will require you to name and describe the team on the account in the proposal. This means you will need to spell out the years of experience, industry references, project case studies and many other items. The prospect is deciding on which firm to select, due in part to the bios of the account team. If you recruit generalist, you will lose too many deals and will not be able to scale sophisticated clients. The types of clients our audience wants to work for, the mad, hyper specialized talent. Does the first recruiting change makes sense?

Sean Magennis [00:04:12] Yes, it does, Greg. So switch from recruiting generalists to recruiting specialists in response to the needs to more sophisticated clients. What is the second recruiting change that happens as you scale?

Greg Alexander [00:04:26] The second recruiting change that pops up when scaling a boutique is the need to hire a manager of managers. You see, startups are filled with small teams, boutiques are filled with medium sized teams, and the market leaders are filled with large teams. Therefore, startups hire managers who manage individuals, boutiques, hire managers who manage other managers and market leaders, hire managers who lead entire departments. So during the scale stage, owners of boutiques need to recruit or develop managers of managers at about midsize. The need for this role again, manager of managers shows up. So this is the second recruiting change and does that make sense?

Sean Magennis [00:05:14] It sure does. So when small startups graduate to the scale stage in their life cycle, the need to hire managers of managers shows up for the first time. This is a big change and it makes logical sense. What is the third recruiting change on the journey?

Greg Alexander [00:05:33] So the third recruiting change that pops up when scaling and boutique is the need to hire executives, boutiques at scale require an executive leadership team. These executives have autonomy to make decisions. They’re not simply executing the founders plan. They are drafting their own plans in at times even have their own independent profit and loss statement, which means they have spending authority. Does the third recruiting change make sense to you?

Sean Magennis [00:06:00] It does Greg and I have seen many a founder stumble at this point. This requires giving up some control and that can prove to be difficult for some. What is the fourth and final recruiting change as a firm scales?

Greg Alexander [00:06:17] So the fourth change that pops up when scaling is a need to reassign the founder. So we all love our founders. They are the pioneers who created jobs and wealth. However, at a certain point, founders become a bottleneck founders. They want to launch new services into new markets and innovate. They do not want to install process and systems and scale. And yet that’s what’s needed at this stage. Therefore, founders must hire or promote a new CEO. The objective is not for the founder to stop working or to work less. Rather, it’s to make the founders contributions much more impactful. The CEO runs today’s business while the founder is developing tomorrow’s business. This one two punch accelerates the pace of scaling. Does that fourth recruiting change makes sense?

Sean Magennis [00:07:15] It absolutely does. Greg and I especially like the word reassign as opposed to replace. We are not showing the founder the door. Instead, we are creating an environment that allows his or her creativity to blossom and not be strangled.

Greg Alexander [00:07:31] Yeah, that’s correct. I mean, where would jobs have been without Cook or Zuckerberg? Without Sanders?

Sean Magennis [00:07:36] Absolutely. Excellent advice and examples as usual. Greg, thank you.

[00:07:44] 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.

Matt Rosen [00:08:09] Hello, my name is Matt Rosen. I’m the founder and CEO of Allata. Allata service enterprise clients in the financial services, health care, retail distribution and professional services sectors. Our clients are nationwide and we have offices in Dallas, Pheonix, Salt Lake City and Boise. Our clients, such as Freman Associates, and the Army Air Force Exchange, turn to us for help with strategic initiatives typically creating new revenue streams, creating digital customer experiences or increasing productivity. We help our clients by building digital strategies and roadmaps, designing product custom, developing software and helping them gain insights into their data. If you ever need help with a digital strategy, product development, customer development or data initiative, please reach out to me at [email protected] and the websites www.allata.com.

Sean Magennis [00:08:56] 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 recruiting strategy is working for you. If you want to know too many times, recruiting and the lack thereof is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:10:01] Number one, the individual contributors need to evolve into manages? Number two, the managers need to evolve into managers of managers? Number three, do managers of managers need to evolve into executives? Number four, do you need to shift from generalists to specialists? Number five, are you attracting sophisticated clients with higher expectations? Number six, has the founder become a bottleneck? Number seven, can the impact of the founder be amplified if partnered with the CEO? Number eight, does Decision-Making need to be pushed to those closest to the clients? Number nine, is it time to shift from experimenting with the model to scaling the model? And number ten, is it true that what got you here won’t get you there?

Greg Alexander [00:11:17] You know what I love about those 10 questions in particular in this episode is there’s a yes box in a no boxes, no maybe box.

Sean Magennis [00:11:24] That’s exactly right.

Greg Alexander [00:11:26] So you founders’ out there when you’re asking yourself these questions, make sure you’re you’re answering accurately.

Sean Magennis [00:11:32] Thank you, Greg. In summary, recruiting as a startup is not a mission critical task, yet when scaling, it is the need for specialists, managers, executives and a CEO arrive on the scene. These are new roles and usually cannot be filled correctly from the founder’s personal network. To scale, your boutique needs to become a master recruiter.

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, our audience, for listening.

Episode 38: The Boutique: How to Market and Sell Like a Pro

Founders of boutiques can increase their rate of growth by professionalizing their marketing and sales approach. On this episode, learn the fundamental building blocks to professionalize your firm’s sales and marketing skills.


TRANSCRIPT

Sean Magennis [00:00:15] Welcome to The Boutique with Capital 54, a podcast for owners of professional services firms. My goal with the 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 founders of boutiques can increase their rate of growth by professionalizing their marketing and sales approach. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg founded Sales Benchmark Index in 2006 and went on to become one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of sales and marketing effectiveness. Today, he will offer you the fundamental building blocks to professionalize your sales and marketing efforts. Greg, good to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:20] Hey, Sean. So in prep for this show, I did a little homework on myself. So the year 2020 was my twenty seventh year carrying a quota, so to speak. And I have made my number 25 out of 27 years, which is 92 percent of the time. I missed in the year 2000 while I was at EMC in the dotcom bubble burst and I missed it in 2020 while at Capital 54 because the global pandemic destroyed the economy. I mention this not to brag in any way. When I saw the title of the show, How to Market and Sell Like a Pro, I felt compelled to check myself to see if I am indeed a pro. And I’m a proud I’m very proud of that 92 percent success rate over almost three decades. But more importantly, gosh, I learned a lot and I’ll share that with you guys today.

Sean Magennis [00:02:09] And you’re still doing it, Greg, which I admire tremendously. So, yes, it’s these lessons from the battlefield that I want you to share with the audience. But first, why is it that you think so many of our listeners struggle in this area?

Greg Alexander [00:02:23] Yeah, well, most CEOs and founders of boutiques are not natural marketers or salespeople. They are experts. Many are giants in their field. In some cases, some are on TV. The best seller list, the speaking circuit. However, when I look at their panels, I’m shocked to see how little revenue they bring in. I asked myself, how can this be? Well, these brilliant experts would rather go to the dentist and make a sales call. They simply do not know how to go to market with their services. And their personal networks only generate so many referrals so they they never grow past the point of a nice little lifestyle business.

Sean Magennis [00:03:01] Greg, this is so accurate. I mean, we’re living this, you know, today with so many of our collective 54 members. I see it every day. What I find frustrating is many of these brilliant boutique CEOs, they know this. They want to fix it. They just don’t know how to. What advice do you have for these folks?

Greg Alexander [00:03:21] So these CEOs need to be great at two things. Number one, they need to attract new clients. And number two, they need to generate additional revenue from existing clients. And when I say great, I mean it. They need to develop these as fundamental core competencies on par with their domain expertize.

Sean Magennis [00:03:42] Agreed. So these are the two fundamental building blocks and the standard to deliver to is great, not good, but these are a little abstract for me. So can you unpack this a little more?

Greg Alexander [00:03:55] How much time do we have?

Sean Magennis [00:03:57] Let’s say about 10 minutes.

Greg Alexander [00:03:58] OK, here are the Cliff Notes. I will start with the seven building blocks of a great sales model. So number one prospecting process. This is a consistent way for business developers to find opportunities. Number two, buyer journey map. This is an outline of how a prospect buys your type of service. Number three, sales methodology. This is a step by step method to convert opportunities into clients. Number four, channel optimization. This is how the right services will be sold to the right clients at the right time. Number five, incentive system. This is a compensation mechanism that motivates every employee to generate revenue. Number six, training program. This is a program to increase the effectiveness of each employee when pursuing sales opportunities. And lastly, number seven, coverage model. This is a headcount allocation plan to ensure that the target market is properly covered. Well, that was quick. Listeners should ask themselves, do they have these seven building blocks in place? Are you ready for the marketing Cliff Notes?

Sean Magennis [00:05:09] Yes, go for it.

Greg Alexander [00:05:11] OK, so here are the marketing Cliff Notes. There are nine building blocks of a great marketing model, number one brand strategy. This is an inspiring story uniquely relevant to your target clients. Number two, value proposition messaging. This explains to a client how they move from the problematic status quo to an opportunity filled future by hiring your firm. Number three, positioning statements. This articulates why your firm is better than the alternatives. Number four, campaign strategy. This is hyper targeted marketing campaigns that hit the sweet spot of your market. Number five, content strategy. This allows you to earn brand preference by satisfying the information needs of your target clients. Number six is budget. This is dollars and non billable hours assigned to specific accounts to stimulate demand. Number seven is agency. This is a trusted service partner who can help you execute all of this and has two more. Number eight is lead generation. This is a method to attract the right clients to your firm and the right quantity. And lastly, number nine is clients marketing. This is a method for delivery staff to locate new opportunities inside the current client base. So listeners should gut check themselves against these nine basics. I went through that really quickly that I communicate clearly.

Sean Magennis [00:06:43] Yes. Greg, you did this worked out this worked out well. Listeners think of these as two checklists to run yourself through to see if you are marketing and selling like a pro. If you do not have these items, you are behaving like an amateur. And this may be the reason revenue growth is not where you want it.

Greg Alexander [00:07:04] You know, one last thing, Sean, I want to mention, if I may remember, that marketing and selling services is entirely different than products. So why is this? Well, products are sold and consumed and services are bought and experience, and that’s a big difference. So, for instance, I watch the halftime show on Super Bowl. It featured the artist called The Weekend. I went to Spotify, listen to his music music and I bought it. I never met the weekend. It was sold to me. I consumed it. In contrast, I recently needed to update my estate plan, I hired an attorney, we met, we worked together to produce the new estate plan. The service and the person delivering it cannot be separated. The service is experience, not consumed. The attorney did not sell it, but rather helped me buy it through a great experience. The point is to not make the rookie mistake of trying to use best practices to market and sell products in the professional services industry. They just don’t work.

Sean Magennis [00:08:06] That’s great practical advice. Greg, 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.

Kris Sugatan [00:08:38] Hello, my name is Kris Sugatan. I own Sugatan.IO. We are founders of E Commerce Brands all over the world. These clients turn to us for help with scaling their brands by acquiring new customers profitably. We solve this problem by creating video and graphic ads that convince the viewer to buy your product. If you need help with acquiring a new customer profitably, reach out to me at [email protected] That’s [email protected]

[00:09:15] 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, there was a lot to absorb, this takes us to the end of the episode, let’s try to help you, the listener, 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 marketing and selling strategy is working for you. If you answer no too many times your marketing and selling strategy is more than likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:10:21] Number one, is it obvious to prospects who you serve and how you serve them? Number two, is it obvious to prospects why you are the best at what you do?

Greg Alexander [00:10:36] So this goes to both value proposition and positioning statements.

Sean Magennis [00:10:40] Number three, are you in front of enough prospects to hit your revenue targets?

Greg Alexander [00:10:45] Lead generation.

Sean Magennis [00:10:47] Number four, do you understand how clients decide to hire someone like you?

Greg Alexander [00:10:53] How they buy versus how you sell.

Sean Magennis [00:10:56] Number five, can you consistently win more than 50 percent of the time?

Greg Alexander [00:11:01] Now, some listen again and say that’s too high of a bar to clear. And I would call B.S. on that. If you close rates beyond 50 percent, you’re pitching the wrong clients.

Sean Magennis [00:11:09] Right. So if you’re targeting is right, if it’s working properly, generation, psychographic, demographic, you’re going to exceed that 50. Number six, are you extending your reach through multiple marketing channels?

Greg Alexander [00:11:22] And here’s what’s unique about a boutique. You don’t have brand recognition. Nobody knows who you are. So you got to get the word out.

Greg Alexander [00:11:28] Right.

Sean Magennis [00:11:28] Yep. Bingo. Number seven, but you and your team motivated to bring in more revenue?

Greg Alexander [00:11:35] Put your money where your mouth is.

Sean Magennis [00:11:36] Incentivize. Number eight, are you and your team highly trained to win new business? Sharpening that saw. Number nine, are you covering your market sufficiently?

Greg Alexander [00:11:49] Often overlooked, but coverage is a big issue.

Sean Magennis [00:11:52] And number 10, do you have an agency capable of multiplying your efforts?

Greg Alexander [00:11:58] Don’t go it alone here? Listen, you don’t clean your own teeth, go to a dentist. So when it comes to marketing, in particular, find an agency and hire them.

Sean Magennis [00:12:05] I love that, Greg. And we have many great agencies in Collective 54. So in summary, I bet you the listener is an expert in your field, a true giant who knows more about your domain than just about anybody. I’m here to tell you that is not enough. If no one knows about your brilliance, what good is it? The world is filled with bankrupt ideas. Master your go to market, elevate your marketing and sales capability to professional grade. Earn what you were worth. 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. Greg, thank you. And thank you, our audience, for listening.

Episode 37: The Boutique: The One Thing No One Tells You about Scaling your Firm

Founders of boutiques often mistakenly equate the number of employees with success. However, lots of employees signal a poorly run firm. Collective 54 founder Greg Alexander makes the case for lean staffing and illustrates the impact to profitability.

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 fewer employees are better than many employees. Founders of boutiques often mistakenly equate number of employees with success when in fact lots of employees signals a poorly run firm. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer. Greg’s firm, SBI, at the time of exit averaged one million dollars in revenue per employee. This was driven by having fewer employees than most, this resulted in exceptional profitability and wealth creation for the owners. Greg, I’m looking forward to this. Good to see you and welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:33] It’s good to be with you. What a great topic we have today.

Sean Magennis [00:01:37] So, Greg, I often encounter boutique owners with bloated staffs and below average margins. Why is this happening?

Greg Alexander [00:01:46] Somewhere along the way, it became cool to say, quote, Hi, my name is so-and-so. The name of my company is X, Y, Z, and we are a 200 person firm in the blah blah, blah, blah space. Founders brag about lots of people to establish credibility, and maybe this works on the uneducated, but when I hear this, I think, oh no, this poor schmuck is working his tail off and not making any money.

Sean Magennis [00:02:14] So, Greg, what advice would you give a listener who is making this mistake?

Greg Alexander [00:02:18] Geez, where do I begin? I think the first thing I should do is explain that labor is the biggest expense in a professional services firm, often 80 percent of the total expense line. Therefore, anything you can do to reduce labor expenses, do it because this will equate to more profits. I mean, the best boutique in the world would have no employees and lots of clients and revenue.

Sean Magennis [00:02:43] Yeah, exactly. And let’s assume this poor schmuck, as you affectionately referred to earlier, was actually willing to listen. What steps would you have him or her take?

Greg Alexander [00:02:55] I would ask Mr. Schmuck three questions. Question number one, how many people do you need and why? The question number two, what type of people do you need and why? And question number three, which organizational structure would work for you and why?

Sean Magennis [00:03:13] And Greg, how would he know the answers to these questions?

Greg Alexander [00:03:17] Well, he would know the answers to these three questions if he understood three things. First, he would understand the skill level needed to perform the work skill level could be simply junior, mid-level or senior as an example. Second, he would understand the knowledge required to perform the work knowledge level could be simply industry knowledge or knowledge of the problem or knowledge of the solution. And third, he would know how long it would take to perform the work. This is measured in hours and rolled up into a level of effort budget.

Sean Magennis [00:03:57] Got it. And when he had the answers to these questions, what would he do with them?

Greg Alexander [00:04:02] Well, this would tell him how many people he needed and what type. And this is the most important part. He would have the data he needs to engineer a profitable organizational model.

Sean Magennis [00:04:15] How so Greg?

Greg Alexander [00:04:17] So after he knows what it really takes to perform the work, I mean, down at the task level, he will notice he is destroying profits. My friend, poor Mr. Schmuck will see almost every time he can do the work with less people, with more junior people and at less cost.

Sean Magennis [00:04:36] And how does he see that ?

Greg Alexander [00:04:39] Listen, we’re living in a different time today. The service delivery has forever been altered in three very distinctive ways. First, services can be automated with technology. For example, look at what is happening with robo advisors in the wealth management space. Portfolio managers are being replaced by algorithms by the thousands. Second work can be offshored. The big market leading firms offshore approximately 40 percent of their work, yet boutiques offshore about five percent. This is a missed profit opportunity. And third, the gig economy is here in the professional services space. And for real, you can now rent a Harvard MBA X McKinsey type from the to marketplace for less than one hundred bucks an hour. You can get excellent graphic design work from one of collected fifty four members, Russ Perry at Design Pickle for as little as five hundred dollars per month flat fee. These are just a few examples. If Mr. Schmuck picked his head up, he would see there a profit improvement opportunities all around him. Adding headcount is a lazy man’s way of scaling. The days of proving your success with large staffs have been replaced by today’s standard, which is profit. Standard of proof now is profit, not number of employees. There’s nothing cooler than fat profits. I encourage all of our listeners to intelligently design the org structure. Do not just throw heads at every problem.

Sean Magennis [00:06:20] That’s excellent advice, Greg, and great examples. 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.

Don Goldstein [00:06:54] Hello, my name is Don Goldstein. I am president and part owner of 5Q. 5Q primarily serves commercial real estate companies across the United States. Our clients turn to us for help with maximizing technology, efficiency, security and compliance. We provide worry free I.T. with our full spectrum of technology solutions through four service lines I.T. and cyber leadership, I.T., managed services, cyber security, managed services and I.T. project management. If you need assistance in any or all of these areas, reach out to me at [email protected]

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 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, your employee count is working for you. If you answer no, too many times, you are likely unsure of how many employees you need, which is getting in the way of your attempts to scale a profitable firm. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:08:41] Number one, can you decouple the rate of revenue growth from the rate of headcount growth?

Greg Alexander [00:08:47] Yeah, I mean, this is so important. You grow in revenue, 30 percent headcount of 30 percent. You’re running in place if you’re growing revenue, 30 percent in headcount growth to, let’s say, 10 percent, you’re expanding your margins.

Sean Magennis [00:08:58] Yes. Number two, are most of your problems, people related?

Greg Alexander [00:09:03] They say all your problems walking around on two feet. So fewer people, fewer problems.

Sean Magennis [00:09:08] Number three, is your payroll your biggest expense?

Greg Alexander [00:09:12] Obvious question.

Sean Magennis [00:09:13] Number four, can technology perform work that humans are doing today? Number five, are you offshoring less than 40 percent of your work?

Greg Alexander [00:09:25] Yeah, there’s still some fear there and our listeners need to get over this. I mean, this is well-worn territory at this point.

Sean Magennis [00:09:32] And the quality of offshoring is spectacular.

Greg Alexander [00:09:35] Sure.

Sean Magennis [00:09:36] Number six, can you flex up or flex down headcount to match demand in close to real time?

Greg Alexander [00:09:44] This is what’s great about these talent marketplaces like CATALIN.

Sean Magennis [00:09:49] Number seven, are you skilled at labor arbitrage? Number eight, is it clear that scale does not refer to the number of employees, but to the amount of cash flow? Number nine, is it hard to match revenue and expenses?

Greg Alexander [00:10:09] In a project based firm, it’s brutally difficult.

Sean Magennis [00:10:13] Number ten, do you have limited forward visibility in your business?

Greg Alexander [00:10:18] Yeah, and again, most of the listeners here run some version of a product project based firm. So forward visibility is a problem. That’s why these flexible labor models are so critical.

Sean Magennis [00:10:29] And really keeping all of those relationships warm.

Greg Alexander [00:10:31] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:10:32] So, in summary, the best boutique would have no employees. Labor is your biggest cost. Organize to reduce employee related expenses. This will drive your profits up. 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 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.

Episode 34: The Boutique: What to Do When Clients Do Not Recognize Your Brilliance

Firms that add a great client experience to high-quality work reach scale, and those who do not, stay small lifestyle businesses. On this episode, we discuss the importance of the client experience to driving client satisfaction.


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 McGuiness, CEO of Capital 54 and your host. On this episode, I will make the case that there is a difference between quality work and a great client experience. Firms that add a great client experience to high quality work reach scale and those who do not stay small lifestyle businesses. I’ll try to prove this theory by interviewing Greg Alexander, Capital 54’s chief investment officer, Greg has helped many firms see the importance of the client experience. Greg, great to see you. Welcome.

Greg Alexander [00:01:19] Hey, Sean, good to be with you today.

Sean Magennis [00:01:20] Greg, I’d like to start by asking you, what is the difference between quality and client experience?

Greg Alexander [00:01:28] OK, so quality is measured by the finished product. So, for example, the quality of this podcast is determined by the quality of the recording. If the audience could not hear us clearly, this would be a low quality product. Client experience is measured by how a client feels when working with you. For example, I drive an old Cadillac which requires service. I love my dealership because when I show up, they remember my name. They greet me with a hot chocolate chip cookie.

Sean Magennis [00:02:01] Nice.

Greg Alexander [00:02:03] They have the vehicle history in front of them and they get me on my way quickly. They don’t just fix the car. Does this make sense?

Sean Magennis [00:02:11] Yes, it absolutely does. So why should a boutique professional services firm care about this?

Greg Alexander [00:02:19] Well, some should not care. So, for instance, firms who are not trying to scale can get away with ignoring this. However, for those listeners who are trying to scale, this is a must have not a nice to have. And here’s why. The reason is as you scale, you will attract more sophisticated clients. This is wonderful because they have bigger budgets and these clients are very profitable. However, they also have higher expectations. Chances are they have hired many professional services firms before and some of the best in the world. Their idea of what good looks like is very different. And if you don’t rise to the occasion, you will not be able to do work for these top companies. And if you cannot serve the top clients, you will never scale.

Sean Magennis [00:03:14] That makes complete sense. I would also add that one of the best things of scaling a firm is the opportunity to work with the best clients. The work is much more stimulating. So, Greg, what is a firm trying to scale really need to do?

Greg Alexander [00:03:31] So, they need to implement a client experience program.

Sean Magennis [00:03:35] Greg, what’s a client experience program?

Greg Alexander [00:03:37] Yeah, so that’s a big question. So I would ask you in the audience to bear with me as I attempt to answer this.

Sean Magennis [00:03:43] Got it. I know you’re going to do a great job.

Greg Alexander [00:03:45] OK. So a client experience program can be described as understanding the client journey and acting on it. So an illustration of a typical client journey is going to be helpful here. Usually a client journey starts when sales hands off the client to an engagement manager after a contract is signed. This is a delicate situation as the client will be leaving someone they have grown to know and are now being introduced to a stranger. Approaching the client at this moment takes skill as there is a heightened level of stress. Next, this handoff usually leads to some kind of project kickoff or a client onboarding process. It is critical the engagement team starts to build trust and credibility. This is done by keeping the effort level from the client very, very low. For example, the engagement manager should demonstrate that she has been fully briefed by sales and knows exactly what has transpired up to this point. Clients hate having to repeat themselves as they are very busy people. The project kickoff or client onboarding process lays out the goals and what’s going to transpire over the next few weeks or months. A great client experience always sets expectations and keeps the focus on outcomes and milestones. Clients hate uncertainty. After the onboarding or kickoff, the client begins adopting the early parts of the project. This is a great moment of stress as a client will be on a steep learning curve and no one likes to feel stupid. Be sure to recognize this insecurity and take action to replace their feelings of ignorance with some quick wins. The next part of a typical journey moves from early adoption to an expansion phase. This is where the client begins to use more advanced pieces of your solution. At this moment, clients are dealing with the fear of change. Getting a client to push beyond the basics and get more advanced is like trying to get someone to lose the last five pounds after losing the first one. Complacency sets in. Yet if you do not get the client to push through this, the full benefit of the project will not be realized. And lastly, the client enters the final stage of the journey. And this is project completion. It is important for the boutique to quantify the benefits of the project and to congratulate the client for a great job. This will result in a new client journey kicking off as another project starts up. Or if the project did not go well. This results in the parting of ways between the client and the boutique. Sean, that was a lot. But did you get the essence of it?

Sean Magennis [00:06:55] Yes, Greg, I did. And what struck me about this example is the emotional swings a client goes through along the way. This is a good reminder that how a client feels during the project is as important as what the client gets at the end,\.

Greg Alexander [00:07:13] You got it and notice in this example, I never once mentioned deliverables.

Sean Magennis [00:07:18] Yep didn’t.

Greg Alexander [00:07:19] You know, the quality of the work. And this is very typical. The client experience has nothing to do with the quality of the work.

Sean Magennis [00:07:26] Yes, I noticed that, Greg. And in my experience, many clients cannot tell the difference between average work and great work, but they sure can tell the difference between a bad experience and a great experience. Heck, they can feel it in the depth of their soul.

Greg Alexander [00:07:42] Yes, they can. And sophisticated clients demand a great client experience. As our listeners scale, they will be dealing with clients with higher expectations. So this becomes very important.

Sean Magennis [00:07:55] Absolutely. 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.

Denise Lambertson [00:08:24] Hello, my name is Denise Lambertson and I own an agency called LMS. We serve the consumer packaged goods industry in the US that are distributing the brick and mortar retail as well as direct to consumer and e-commerce. These cries turn to ask for help with connecting with the consumer, whether it’s sales, community building, like social media growth or education and awareness. We solve this problem by the most effective celebrity and influencer marketing solutions. If you need help with building your influencer marketing program, reach out to me through www.wearelms.com. That is w-w-w-.-w-a-r-e-l-m-s.com.

Sean Magennis [00:09:06] 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 the 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 client experience is working for you. If you answer no too many times a poor client experience is likely getting in the way of your attempts to scale. Let’s begin.

Sean Magennis [00:10:12] Number one, have you documented the client experience journey for your firm? Number two, do each of your clients feel that they are important to you? Number three, do you understand the emotional context of the client during the engagement

Greg Alexander [00:10:35] most often overlooked.

Sean Magennis [00:10:37] Yep. Number four, do clients know why you were doing what you were doing? Number five, do clients feel they are part of the engagement team?

Greg Alexander [00:10:51] Super important, the client needs to feel like you’re on their team and you’re pursuing their goals.

Sean Magennis [00:10:58] Number six, do clients know what is going to happen next before it happens?

Greg Alexander [00:11:03] Again, they hate uncertainty. Yeah, tell them what you’re going to do before you do it.

Sean Magennis [00:11:06] Communicate and overcommunicate. Number seven, do you research meeting attendees prior to each meeting? Number eight, do you send prereading material to clients with enough lead time?

Greg Alexander [00:11:22] This drives me crazy. You know, I hire service runners myself and they’ll send me a deck five minutes before the meeting. I want to strangle them.

Sean Magennis [00:11:29] Absolutely. Number nine, do you make it easy for clients to use your materials internally?

Greg Alexander [00:11:36] That’s the other thing. You know, sometimes people are proud of their work. So they they, you know, put their logo everywhere and they want to take credit. This isn’t about you. It’s about the client. So allow your client to plagiarize your work.

Sean Magennis [00:11:48] And they paid for it.

Greg Alexander [00:11:48] Yes.

Sean Magennis [00:11:49] Number ten, do you call the client after every meeting to confirm the goals were met?

Greg Alexander [00:11:55] Just good hygiene.

Sean Magennis [00:11:58] So in summary, quality work is a commodity that’s tough I know, for a lot of you to hear you are proud of what you produce and you should be. It took years to develop your expertize. However, some clients are not capable of recognizing your brilliance. And you are not the only firm, by the way, providing quality work boutiques that scale understand the client experience is much more important for fewer firms can deliver outstanding experience in addition to quality work. This is the unique differentiator to develop in the scale stage. 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, Greg. And thank you to our audience for listening.