For Planners, Surveyors, Consulting Engineers, Designers, Architects, Cost Estimators, PR Agencies and others who sell their time and expertise, it could be very simple to earn more fees without increasing costs. All it needs is business management.
A headline in The Daily Telegraph (UK) is “Stockmarkets on red alert for global recession”. They’re predicting a global down-turn late this year or early next. Google it. It’s worth a read.
Couple that with “China and US embroiled in Trade War” and “House Sales Slumps” and there are certainly a lot of people around right now proclaiming the end is nigh.
We’re all constantly being hit with ‘news’ noise from any number of sources, about which we really can’t do anything. You can’t do anything about the stock markets being on red alert. You can’t do anything about China US trade relations. You probably can’t even do much if your own house is allegedly dropping in value.
But you can do something to make sure no matter what, you and your family and your business which feeds your family is as resilient as possible, just in case some of the news is true. Because your business is where your money comes from. In fact whether the news noise is true or not, it’s never a bad idea to review the resilience of your business. That means reviewing how well you’re managing your business. There are always areas where improvements can be made.
If your business is planning, surveying, consulting engineering, designing, architectural, or PR, you don’t make stuff. You cannot source your raw materials from somewhere cheaper because you don’t use any. Your business is selling it’s professional skill and expertise at as high a rate as you can push it. But you probably can’t put up those rates and your fees, especially if things are going to get tighter.
But you can make sure the productivity within your office is well-organized so that everyone is applying their professional skill and expertise as efficiently as possible. That’s what business management is.
Each and every person in your business contributes their time to the various jobs to be done, every day, and every week. And at the end of each month, one of the jobs to be done is to invoice your clients for your ‘professional services rendered’.
But there’s a problem in many professional services firms and it goes like this. You know that piece of work you asked Employee X to finish and you were thinking it would take them 12 hours? They’ll spend 16 or 20 hours on it if they can, and it still won’t be finished. And that other job you also wanted them to do. Well they haven’t got time to do it this week because they’ve been ‘flat out’. They aren’t doing it to be a jerk nor to put one over you. They’ll do it in good faith especially if they don’t have the skills to know, nor any input from you telling them how long it should take.
Sounds far-fetched, or something so obvious it must have been dealt with already?
Not true. Most professional services firms write off work in progress every month and they often don’t do anything about it. Sometimes it’s just the way it goes. Some jobs go bad and you’re stuck with your quote. But just as often the fact is that without expectations being put on people as they do their jobs, the work expands to fill the time available.
Pulling together and managing the unique combination of the business culture you want, and the individual skills and personalities of each person in it, you need to manage your business proactively to ensure that Parkinson’s Law doesn’t prevail. That means you being on top of the work to be done, discussing with people what to do and how long each piece of work should take them, and then making sure the outcome of each discussion is taken on board.
So tell people ‘this is a 12 hour piece of work’. Or better, discuss it with them and ask them to estimate how long it will take. No matter how long they spend on it, you and they need to then measure how long it took and be aware of that time vis-à-vis the original estimate. To help both you and them, you can check how they’re going throughout the 12 hour period. And when it’s done you can each learn from it so next time around the time allocation can be more accurately assessed.
Doing this isn’t putting pressure on people. It’s not trying to get more out of them. It’s simply business management. Honest active management as opposed to laissez faire aka simply lazy management. (Google that too!)
Imagine your business was making widgets and one person wasted more raw materials than necessary to produce a particular item. You’d pretty soon get onto it to stop the wastage, because it’ll be hurting the business.
It’s no different when too many 12 hour pieces of work to be done end up taking 20 hours. It’s hurting your business.
It’s hurting it because in all honesty you can only invoice the client for 12 hours. And it’s actually worse than that. You’ve also lost 8 hours that could have been applied to the next job. So every day you’re dropping behind and ‘flat out’ when you don’t have to be.
So whether the headlines above are of concern, or simply being sensational to make a headline and not true at all, if the financial road ahead is likely to become more bumpy, I hope you’re motivated to have a look around at what you could do to minimise any negative impacts. What can you do to increase the resilience of your business?
Business resilience in a professional services firm isn’t being a scrooge nor a slave driver with everything and everyone. And it’s not about having tons of money in the bank.
Business resilience comes from the day to day proactive management of the business. That means spending quality time managing the work that needs to be done and the people doing it, rather than ignoring this essential requirement in favour of something else you’d rather be doing. Now that's a good business manager.
And if you want more information about time management and clearly about Abtrac our Invoice and Job Management Software, have a look through our web site, or better, contact me directly to discuss your thoughts or queries. I’ll be very pleased to respond.
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