Episode 75 – How a Consulting Firm Leverages Specialists to Increase Scale – Member Case with Cynthia Klint
The engagements you sell determine your market position and the team needed to deliver your service. In this episode, Cynthia Klint, CEO at BRC, shares how she leverages specialists to deliver client engagements and increase sales.
Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that aren’t familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale, and exit your firm bigger and faster.
My name is Greg Alexander. I’m the founder, and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to discuss engagement type and how that drives the type of firm you become. And we have a member with us today. Her name is Cynthia Klint. Cynthia and I are going to have a discussion regarding this subject. Cynthia, it’s good to see you. Thanks for being here.
Cynthia Klint [00:00:52] Sure. Happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Greg Alexander [00:00:54] And would you provide a proper introduction of yourself and your firm to the audience, please?
Scaling a Business: Member Case with Biodynamic Research
Cynthia Klint [00:01:00] Sure. As you said, my name is Cynthia Klint. The company that I work for goes by BRC, but the long name is Biodynamic Research. We’ve been in business for about 36 years. I’ve been with the company for 23 of those years. And what we do is we help people understand how injuries happen. And we do that by answering two questions, primarily in a litigation setting. The first question is, did an injury occur, and if so, how?
Greg Alexander [00:01:29] Wow. That’s a fascinating field. I can imagine the litigation services around that for sure. I hope no one’s ever asking me that question. I hope I never say yes that an injury occurred.
Cynthia Klint [00:01:41] When people say they haven’t heard of us, I always tell them that they should be glad. It means they’ve probably never been in an accident that required litigation.
Greg Alexander [00:01:50] Alright. So for context, who is the typical client?
Cynthia Klint [00:01:57] Primarily, our clients are attorneys. Okay. Although we do work directly from time to time for individuals or insurance companies.
What Are the Types of Engagements When Scaling a Consulting Firm?
Greg Alexander [00:02:05] Okay. Got it. Okay. So let me set up today’s conversation. Generally speaking, and I admit I am oversimplifying here, but in the time that we have, that’ll work. There’s kind of two types of engagement.
There’s what I call elephant hunting, and that is a really big engagement. And, you know, they could they could last months, if not years, and cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. And firms that have those types of engagements tend to have, relatively speaking, a smaller number of clients. But each client spends a lot of money, and that’s one style of firm.
In contrast, theother type of firm, which I call rabbit hunters, are firms that do small, quick, inexpensive engagements. But, they do them in volume. And they tend to have lots and lots and lots of clients, but each client only spends a little.
And the important thing here is to understand what type of engagements you’re selling and, therefore, what type of company you’re becoming. Because in the end, we become who we serve. And I would suggest that scaling a business is easier when you pick one or the other, and it becomes more difficult when you try to do both.
I’m not saying one is better than the other. I’m just advocating for picking one over the other. So, Cynthia, given my oversimplification, if I was to force you to put yourself in one of those two categories, which category you in?
Cynthia Klint [00:03:41] It’s a really tough question to answer. And like several members has said that the yes/no is a tough question. I’m you know, I thought about this a lot. I went back and reread the chapter. And if I had to be forced to pick, I would say we’re more like the rabbit. Okay. The both of our cases tend to be quicker turn, lower revenue. But quite frankly, we’re a combination of the two.
Greg Alexander [00:04:12] You are. Okay. And and that’s okay. I mean, you’ve been in business for 36 years. Obviously, it’s working. Right. So if you have both styles in the firm. Is it true or false that it is difficult to manage and difficult to scale?
Cynthia Klint [00:04:35] It is true. I think it certainly complicates the way that you manage the different clients and the way that you manage the logistics in supporting those different clients.
Greg Alexander [00:04:49] Yeah, and that’s the real challenge, right, because…
Cynthia Klint [00:04:51] Absolutely.
Greg Alexander [00:04:52] You have to staff these projects, right? And and it’s a different staffing model, usually in the rabbit space, if you will. A single person might have many, many, many clients. So therefore, he or she is only spending so much time with each client. It’s just mathematics.
On the other side of it, you know, if you’re in the elephant business, you might have one or two clients and you’re spending a ton of time with those one or two clients. So when you say logistically, it’s difficult to manage, is that what you’re referring to? Are there other logistical items?
What Difficulties Can You Face With These Engagement Types?
Cynthia Klint [00:05:27] So in litigation, you’re probably familiar that, you know, litigation can drag out for a really long time. And most cases, I would say the desire is to move toward some sort of settlement. And that’s why I say that the bulk of what we do is is really the smaller cases or the quick return cases.
Logistically, what’s difficult is really maintaining the ability to manage the longer term cases because like you said, we have some cases that literally have been our books on our books for 20 years. But most of them are shorter.
And one of the things that’s happened in litigation is there’s a push toward a quicker turnaround. And that’s something that we’re really working toward being able to manage because you have to staff or have processes that support. The same client can bring you a rabbit case and an elephant case.
Greg Alexander [00:06:30] Oh, really?
Cynthia Klint [00:06:31] And so the thing is, you want to be able to say yes, regardless of the turnaround time. When they come to us, it’s because they need our help. They need us to help clarify what’s happening. Yeah. And so we want to be able to do that objectively, accurately, but we sometimes need to be able to do that quickly.
So, from a logistics standpoint, it’s about the processes, the staffing, and calendar management. We’re driven by court deadlines. So our deadlines are very much on the outside. And so we have to be in lockstep with our client to make sure that we can meet the deadlines that they’re really subject to. Does that answer your question?
Greg Alexander [00:07:17] In fact, I have several follow up questions, if I may. So now I know why you have both because you have one client that can bring you two scenarios. And I mean, what are you going to do? Tell that client no. Of course not. Right.
So you have to be responsive to that client’s individual needs. So my follow-up question would be: Does the client understand that what he or she is asking for is two different things? And is he accommodating, or do you have to educate?
Cynthia Klint [00:07:47] So again, I hate to sound like a lawyer, but yes and no, because they do understand. But oftentimes our clients are under the gun as well. And so they may understand, but it doesn’t change the fact that they need us to help them in that situation.
And so they often are very accommodating. They work with us. They do their best to create timelines that make it possible for us to do a thorough job, which is something we always want to do and always strive to do. So, they do understand. They do work with us, but sometimes they have no control over that deadline.
And so, you know, we are here to provide the best answers that we can, not necessarily the answers that they want, but the best answers that we can with the time and the information that we’re provided. Right.
Greg Alexander [00:08:41] You know, for the listeners, this is a very unusual case. And I’m so glad that we’re on the call today because it’s a rich learning experience. Normally, in normal situations, it’s much easier because there’s a certain type of client, maybe a Fortune 500 company, and they’re only going to do the big projects. And then there’s another type of client, the small business, and they can do small projects.
And in Cynthia’s case, it’s one client with two different needs. And what makes it even more complicated is that the timeline is dictated by the court’s deadline. It’s not dictated by the project team, and it’s not dictated by the client. It’s dictated by an independent third party.
And boy, I would imagine that makes it rather stressful. Like, does the working backward from that timeline and that deadline being outside of your control, how do you scope work?
Scaling a Consulting Firm: How Does Biodyancmic Research Scope Work?
Cynthia Klint [00:09:31] Well, being in business this long, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. So, you know, there’s several components that go into our work product. So ultimately, the work product is the objective opinion of the expert. You know, we employ physicians with engineering degrees as well as accident reconstructionists who are engineers. And so, again, their goal is to understand what happened not only in the accident or in the incident, but what happened to the person.
And so we’re getting different kinds of materials, legal documents, medical documents. You know, sometimes if there’s a product involved, we may be getting product information. And so what we’ve done is, is really the model that Collective 54 promotes, which is leveraging.
We have specialists in each of those areas, and so we have nurses who will go through and organize the medical records to make it more efficient for the experts. We have paralegals, so that do the same thing with legal documents and so forth. So scoping, it really is about understanding the volume of the materials and then being able to apply our experience, knowledge, and determine for the client what our timeline looks like.
And it can be variable because if you have something that, for example, if you have a case with a long medical history, you can have thousands and thousands of pages of medical records that have to be dealt with. And so, our goal is to take our experience and really apply it to that and give the client an understanding of what the timeline can be and what the cost may be as it relates to that.
How This Consulting Firm Matches Revenue with Expenses
Greg Alexander [00:11:09] Now, with this group of specialists; paralegals, the nurses, the engineers, it’s a fascinating story. I had no idea this existed. It’s really intriguing. Well, maybe I have another question. I was going to ask, How do you match revenue with expenses?
Because the way it normally works in pro serve is you get a project and it’s worth X amount of dollars. You staff it and that’s your cost and the deltas, your profit. Do you know what the revenue is or are you waiting for the settlement? How does it work?
Cynthia Klint [00:11:44] So that’s a great question, Greg. We are not on a contingency basis because we are objective. So we’re hired to look at something very objectively. And it is irrespective of the outcome. So we don’t really have a dog in the fight, so to speak.
Our job is to come in and really give insight and clarity and educate the client as to what happened so that they can make a decision on how to proceed with their case. And sometimes the answer is not what a client may want to hear. And it’s still our job to share that information because that’s helpful information as they make decisions.
Greg Alexander [00:12:19] Right.
Cynthia Klint [00:12:20] So the way that the revenue is, we build time and materials and so we will bill on a monthly basis.
Greg Alexander [00:12:29] And with these specialists I mentioned, the nurses and engineers. What was the third one I mentioned?. Paralegals. Excuse me. Are they, you know, I think in senior, mid-level and junior staff and I think about associated cost and rates for that, is it that simple or is it more complicated in your scenario?
Cynthia Klint [00:12:50] So it actually has several more layers than what you’ve described. So we have our physicians with engineering degrees and that’s really \the most client facing role. So that is the expert that the client is hiring. And so they are the person who is providing consultation and giving an opinion and that kind of thing.
In that role, they’re acting as what we call biomechanics. So what happened to the person? We also have the engineers and those we have various levels of. Let me back up. The physicians, we have various levels based on experience. One of the big components in an expert’s career is obtaining experience in a testifying situation.
So giving an opinion is one component, but testifying is another component. And the more senior you become, the more testifying history you build, the more in demand you are. Because you’ve proven that not only can you come up with an objective opinion, but you can communicate that to a jury, a judge or a client. And so the more senior you are, you have a higher billing rate.
And then we have that same model in our engineering group. Same thing. So the engineers are looking at the vehicle dynamics. So not so much the application of the forces to the body, but more how does the vehicle move? How do the forces apply to the body? And so we have different levels there.
The staff, the support staff, the paralegals, the nurses, other groups that we have that support. We have a technical librarian and we have a test facility. We have a group that we call the Technical Resource Group. So all of these work in support of these two groups, the physician, and the engineer. And they’re all at a fixed rate by department.
Greg Alexander [00:14:42] Okay. And that’s how you drive your leverage model. Is through those tiers?
Cynthia Klint [00:14:49] Yes, absolutely. And the goal is always to get the client the opinion in a way that is least costly to them. Yeah. Because you have a physician at their billing, right. Organizing all the materials. But that doesn’t seem like a very good use of their time or cost.
Scaling a Business: Engagement Type Determines the Type of Firm You Are
Greg Alexander [00:15:07] Right. Very good. Yeah. Okay. Well, very good. Well, let’s conclude here. So today we were talking about how the type of engagement you market and deliver determines the type of firm you are. And we had a very real case here because it’s not as black and white as we would want it to be. And Cynthia’s thought about this a lot.
And what I find fascinating about her case as even though it’s a blend, they have figured out a leverage model and they’ve done it through two things: specializing their labor force and working backwards from the client’s need so that they get the client what they need with the right level of investment and money and time.
This is a really interesting case and I’m not surprised your firm has been around as long as you have. That’s a really specialized service. So, Cynthia, thank you for being on the show. It was, it was wonderful to have you here.
Cynthia Klint [00:16:01] Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Greg Alexander [00:16:03] Okay. And for those that are interested in this topic, the engagement type and those like it can pick up a copy of the book, The Boutique: How to Start Scale and Sell A Professional Services Firm. You can also find it on Amazon. I’m proud to say we just hit number one in our little niche category.
And then for those that are interested in meeting leaders of professional services firms like Cynthia, consider joining our mastermind community, it’s collective54.com. Thank you. And Cynthia, have a good rest of your day. Okay.
Cynthia Klint [00:16:33] Thanks so much. Greg Alexander [00:16:34] All right. Bye bye.