How would you describe the ideal Punctuation client?

  • Runs a small (1-100 person), privately held firm that sells expertise in consulting, creative, digital, marketing, advertising, public relations, etc.
  • Has the principals leading the engagement on the client side, fully involved from the beginning to the end. We only work with principals, though others can participate.
  • Is facing a hurdle or transition that is significant to them. We usually picture this as something literally keeping them up at night, or maybe a sense that there has been a role reversal and now you’re just feeding the machine rather than the business meeting their needs or some change in their engagement level or future plans that requires a careful look at a transition.
  • Is willing to let me (1) decide which symptoms are relevant; (2) diagnose the problem accurately; (3) and suggest the best solutions that can lead to real change but minimizes disruption as much as possible.
  • Has no hesitation about the fee against the background of the possible impact on their firm and doesn’t ask for special terms (see below).

What should my expectations be?

On the advisory side, our work is not a panacea. What clients appreciate the most, though, is an outside perspective on how they are really doing (without pulling any punches), or how to accomplish something without reinventing the wheel. They realize that change is still dependent on them, but they want to be pointed in the right direction based on what has been successful for other firms. The solutions are not formulaic. On one hand, we are not very likely to see something new in each engagement, but we’ve seen hundreds of different elements and what’s unique is not the elements themselves but how clients have combined them into their own unique mix. So your situation will require a unique answer, which is sort of like pulling just a few—but the correct—tools from a very large toolbox.

On the M/A side, our experience is also very deep, having conducted hundreds of valuations and transactions (both internal and external). We’re a little different from other M/A firms in that we only work with private firms (on the sell-side), we have extensive buy- and sell-side expertise, we go beyond matchmaking to actually shaping a transaction to maximize your return and minimize your risk, and we will always have a more “fiduciary” approach where what’s best for you is what’s best for us, regardless of the compensation.

Who will be working with us?

David C. Baker is Practice Lead for the Advisory Side and Jonathan Baker is the Practice Lead for the M/A side. They assist each other behind the scenes, but the person who sells to you will be the person working with you.

What sets you apart from the other consulting firms that specialize in serving this field?

Five things:

  1. We’ve developed unique processes that help surface the issues and then solve them quickly and more reliably.
  2. We’ve been doing this same work since 1994 with thousands of firms in 40+ countries. Between the advisory practice and the M/A practice and the seminars and the books and the speaking engagements and the 2Bobs podcast, we’d like to think that we’ve had a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of people. 
  3. We are a unique mix of kind and direct.
  4. We like to practice what we preach, in every area.
  5. We like to base recommendations on real research across thousands of clients.

Having listed these, though, there are excellent competitors in this field and nearly all of them are making a solid contribution that’s worth absorbing. If we are not a fit, we’ll be the first to tell you, and likely suggest someone else that would be a great fit.

Before engaging you, would it make sense to first fix some things that I know need to be done?

In some cases it would, particularly if there are no questions about what needs to be done. On the advisory side, you don’t usually want to make big changes to your positioning or staffing until you get a valuable outside perspective. On the M/A front, everything about running a very solid firm now will help you create a better exit later.

Can we get together and meet first? This is a big decision and I’d like to get a feel for how we’d work together.

Only if it happens naturally, and usually we just rely on a call to explore the possible relationship. One motivation behind putting so much content out there is to make the decision easier for you because you’ll get a pretty good idea of our perspectives and what it’s like to work with us.

How do we work together after the bulk of the engagement?

The New Business Audit and Total Business Reset are followed by an “implementation period.” That includes a set number of significant phone calls or emails (which we don’t count). These are usually initiated by you when there’s something you want help with, but sometimes from us if we feel like you’re avoiding us or may have lost some momentum. During the advisory phase, these calls are issues-based where we try to agree on the challenge and the solution, and the implementation phase lets us dig deeper or address something that’s changed. You would initiate that call, providing some context (i.e., an agenda), and then we try to help. To make this efficient, these implementation calls are limited in number and across so many months, whichever occurs first. They are scheduled one at a time, and must always include the principals of the firm.

What are the typical deliverables in a working relationship?

The main deliverable is always insightful analysis and transformative advice. The focus is not on long reports or even reports at all, and in fact the recommendations are short, concise, and only in outline form. Before each advisory module, you’ll have a few things to review, and then we try to record the calls for your private use. It’s a good idea to take notes.

Do you have some references we could contact?

Of all the FAQs, this is the toughest one to answer and there are so many ways that you might misunderstand this.

When prospective clients asked, we used to give them a dozen or so. But after decades of doing this, we don’t normally do it anymore and here’s why:

  • Our clients have not signed up to give you advice, and that’s usually what happens. So they’ll be on the phone giving you an outline of the great solution that worked for them, in effect consulting you, and there’s no mechanism for payment. Or even any assurance that what worked for them is applicable to you.
  • This isn’t always true, but in most cases asking for references is a sign of skepticism. That wasn’t true in the early days, when it was a very fair question. But we’ve infiltrated so many areas of the expertise marketplace that there can be no question about the effectiveness (if it’s a good match). Pretty much just ask anyone.
  • There have been a few cases of abuse. First, some prospects would send out the exact same email to all the references, asking them each more than a dozen questions. Why should a non-paid reference bother? Second, they’ve had an assistant do the calling. If you don’t have the time to check us out yourself, thhis won’t be a good fit.
  • In most cases the work that we have have done for a client is confidential, as our work with you will be. There are about two dozen testimonials scattered through the site, though. You can also see 50+ unsolicited endorsements on LinkedIn.
  • The M/A practice, in particular, is not only very proprietary, but connecting former clients would reveal some of our very best contacts within the buyer community, and that’s not something we can expose for competitive reasons.

What are typical payment terms?

All services are fully prepaid and non-refundable, for any reason, without exception.

The reason is not cash flow. Rather, it gives me the freedom to be completely transparent with you, not harboring any fear that you’ll be upset and withhold payment, and it helps us work with clients who are ready to do this.

We do take credit cards as a form of payment if the issue is cashflow.

I’m not ready to hire you yet. How can I stay in touch and keep up with what you are doing and offering?

The best way is to sign up for my free, regular, content-rich emails at one of the forms scattered all over the site. Tens of thousands of people read the weekly emails and come to seminars and buy books and so on, never hiring us specifically, and we completely welcome that.

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