See Yourself Anywhere In These?

This article is a grab bag of the things I've noticed in working with 1,000+ firms through the Total Business Reset process. Maybe you'll see yourself in some of them:

  • You have a unique way of looking at the numbers. It isn't wrong, but it's usually a top-level summary view that's unique to each individual. It's also usually graphic in some way. Principals in this field create more eyerolls from their CFOs than maybe anybody alive, but it's just how they see things.
  • On that same note, they have some weird things on both their P/L and their B/S that have been their for awhile and they just keep ignoring them long enough that they don't even remember how they got there. Sort of like an old lawn chair that you keep mowing around until it's completely hidden. This would include loans to shareholders, business formation costs, goodwill from a failed acquihire, and on and on. Because they are using unconventional financial categories, it's hard to make sense of their financial performance. If this describes you, take a look at "Financial Management of a Marketing Firm."
  • Most of the questionable decisions they've made have come from the mild panic that stems from having too thin a cash cushion. You know that this client isn't a great fit, but it's better than having people sitting around; you know this employee isn't a great fit, either, but she is tied closely to that revenue and....
  • They are oddly proud of their positioning, almost like they've gulped a daily dose of some anti-truth serum. They fawn over it like they are describing their only grandchild, but when you step back and hear it against the cacophony that seems to be the sameness of this field, it's uncomfortably like what most everyone else is saying. Here's one from last week: "XXX is a User Experience and Interface Design Agency on a mission to create better digital experiences for all." Yeah, because the rest of the UX world is working hard to make worse digital experiences for all. Got it.
  • There are some very old, legacy accounts on the roster that "don't really take much work anymore and are just small automatic checks to cash every month." Hey, you're a different firm than you were eleven years ago.
  • The principal's primary struggle is NOT DOING things for which the staff is fully capable and DOING things that nobody else can do. More about that on this recent episode.
  • The new business muscle has atrophied. It's not intentional, but rather the natural result of not really needing it much in the early years. There was a buzz and some valuable business connections that carried the day. But slowly (usually 4-6 years in) you needed to start earning the opportunities in a new way. That's the first time, too, you looked at your positioning and scratched your head about how to build a marketing plan on it. If you don't know what you do for whom, it's harder to reach those people. Networking socially, responding selectively to RFPs, and following clients to their next job are all legitimate parts of leading your firm, but they are a tad accidental for my taste.
  • New employees are hired on instinct and they are thrown at client work and expected to sink or swim. If you have a distinct positioning, it doesn't stop there—next up is a "learning culture" that captures your unique way of working and some (hopefully) data-driven algorithms that help you achieve client impact faster and more reliably. We're going to talk about that in a special session at MYOB (Oct 16-18, Atlanta).
  • Speaking of controllers, yours could very well be overpaid and not providing much financial leadership. If that's not true, thank that person for the impact they have. It's rare and valuable.
  • You hate timesheets. They hate timesheets. Nobody ever looks at them except when they need a weapon to beat people over the head with. You'd like to drop them, and I'm with you on that. The default should be no timesheets.
  • One of the most important financial metrics—fee billings per FTE/ee—isn't on your radar and should be. Go for it.
  • You're underpaying yourself. Stop it. Force the business to serve you or go back to the "My Career Options" spreadsheet.
  • When you look back over a brief period when you were growing faster than normal, it was specifically tied to one key client. It was artificial.
  • Most of your clients really love and appreciate you. It's a pleasant relief from some of the tougher challenges.
  • Some of your employees don't appreciate you like they should. That's okay, and a balanced perspective won't come until they work for a shitty boss...or start their own firm.
  • Offers to buy your firm often come from the oddest places, and you aren't even sure it's real and worth pursuing. It often is.
  • Your project management people—if you have dedicated ones at all—are not as powerful as your account people, and because of that your account people are running the place. Yes, they're growing accounts and keeping clients happy, but often at the expense of profit.

Anyway, if I left something out, send me a note and let me know whether you want me to anonymize it.

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