Why the professional services sector is due a shake up
Picture a traditional business advice firm or professional services company. What do you see?
I see Matt Lucas in Little Britain doing his impression of the magician: ‘Look into the eyes and around the eyes, into the eyes and around the eyes. Now you're under.’
Because this is essentially what the business advice marketplace has been like for years. It's all about magic. Not the wholesome Disney-type magic – this magic is in the art of deception and distraction. It's expensive suits, swanky offices and big words that make you feel less clever, yet more trusting. Specialists are alluring. That’s the way this whole system works.
We work with some fantastic SME owners – seriously talented people who’ve bought their business off previous owners or created one from scratch. Usually, they’re experts in their field, like expert surveyors running survey firms. But to be a specialist, it’s only natural to have gaps in wider business knowledge. That's why you go to a lawyer for legal advice, an accountant for financial advice or a consultant for marketing advice.
But there are a few problems with only using individual specialists in this isolated way.
Because times like these do create opportunity.
Not all time is created equal. We all have days when we wake up absolutely on it, and other days when we wish we’d stayed in bed. The problem with the hourly or daily charge is it assumes your lawyer will always show up and deliver a consistent level of service, every hour of every day. And it's not true. No one can guarantee that. Anyone who says otherwise is flat-out lying.
Billing £200 an hour rather than by the problem encourages slow and inefficient practices – the longer an adviser works on your problem, the more they can charge. If that’s the fee structure, who’s going to say: ‘I can fix this for you in 10 minutes’? They're more likely to say: ‘I can fix this for you and it's going to take 10 days.’ There’s only one winner with this model and it isn’t you.
Let's be honest, the reason most of us are reticent to really engage with our accountants, lawyers or consultants is we don't feel they offer value for money or valuable relationships. (Hardly surprising when you consider the above two points.) If you ask a lawyer to draw up a shareholders' agreement, they open their folder of templates, get a junior to change a few words, then pick up the phone and say it took eight hours. This kind of advice is geared up for the benefit of the person giving it, not the person receiving it. These professionals are involved with some of the biggest landmarks in your business and personal lives, yet the relationship feels incredibly transactional.
Just like expert surveyors running surveyor firms, accountants and lawyers have spent years becoming experts in their field. They’ve trained, earned their qualifications and passed exams to prove they know these highly regulated fields. But when you become a specialist in one area, you get blinkered to anything else. If you talk to your accountant about your business, you’re only going to get an accounting perspective on what you're doing.
But as a small business owner, you need to see the whole picture. Using a variety of siloed specialists from different firms and backgrounds won’t give that unified view. They’ll never be able to see your business’s true context, so how can they be expected to give the most efficient answer?
That’s why we set up the Uncommon Practice – to address these (and many other) problems in the professional services sector. We want to break the system while getting fantastic results for our clients. Changing the way small businesses get professional advice is what gets us out of bed in the morning. We even hope we can help other service providers realise this is right way to look after the powerhouse of the British economy and start copying our business model. That way even more small business owners will get the sound advice they deserve.
What we promise is no more siloed services with tunnel vision. No more inefficient hourly or daily fees. Instead, a helicopter view of the whole company from a team that’s perfectly placed to get to know your business, hopes and fears.
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