Practice Management – Part 2

Building A Thriving Professional Practice – People Make The Difference

In our last article, we looked at the importance of a good business strategy and ‘knowing the financials’ when you are running your own professional practice. In this article, we discuss just how important having the right staff – and clients – is to the business.

Doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and other professional practices thrive on having good people around them, clients or employees alike. Loyal, skilled and motivated staff are an asset to any firm, as are loyal clients with interesting and complex requirements. Lose one or both of these, and you are out of business!

Helping your staff grow and develop

A growing firm will often need support staff – other professionals, receptionists and secretaries, and those with other support skills (IT, HR and marketing). Larger firms might also have employed a practice manager, to take care of the day to day financial and general management of the business.

A good firm actively encourages its owners, its principals and its staff to get the most out of themselves and their different skills. There are two important components to this:

  • Setting clear performance measures: staff need clear KPIs so that they understand what is expected from them in their roles and can review their progress against these expectations. It is important to select a measure of an activity that the staff member can control and to remember that the simpler measures are often the best.
  • Rewarding success: good practices provide an environment where performance is recognized and rewarded. People appreciate recognition, be it monetary/gift or a simple thank you in a one on one or group environment. If you know your staff well, you will be able to select the one that resonates best with the individual.

…and hanging onto your good clients too!

All too often, the ever increasing demands made on professional practitioners means it becomes very easy to be busy on day to day matters and forget two important aspects: getting new clients through the door, and keeping existing clients happy and loyal.

Neglecting clients in these two areas make it hard to grow your practice, differentiate from your competitors and hold onto high performing staff members. They are activities that are fundamental to the practice “life cycle” and without them your firm or practice can become vulnerable. Ultimately, if these issues continue the practice’s value will reduce and it will be much harder to develop a succession plan or ‘path out of the business’ for its founders and/or current owners. Some approaches worth considering here include:

  • Knowing what you really offer clients: you need a good understanding of your practice’s value proposition in the market and the ability to make this come to life for your clients. A big part of this is managing clients’ expectations, so they don’t have an unrealistic view of what you can do for them.
  • Understanding how to grow work from existing clients: you also need a plan for each of your key clients that will help you develop a genuine understanding of what they really need, enables you to satisfy that while deepening and broadening the business relationship, and also add value to the services you provide to them. This should also cover service providers and referrers – both of these groups can send good business your way, if you know how to encourage them to do this.
  • Clearly defined criteria for client selection: these need to factor in the financial and strategic interests of the practice. There’s no point taking on clients that will not pay on your credit terms or who disrespect you or your staff!

You also need to have an active marketing function, to promote your practice and its unique qualities to existing and potential clients alike. This will need to focus on your physical presence (premises that reflect your business and its high quality services), a website and active online marketing, and a way to generate, track and grow referrals from existing clients and suppliers.

People do make the difference in the end. And recognising this – as well as actively doing something about it for staff and clients alike – will help your firm and business go a long way down its path to success.