In February I presented another of the successful MBL training courses “Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors’ practice” in Dublin, Ireland. It was interesting that the majority of the themes and issues raised during these sessions in the UK were raised at the session – despite the rather different economic and political environment. At the end of the session, I was asked what I considered to be the five golden rules for growing a surveyors’ practice. I’ve now given the question some thought and reflected on my response. 

1.Have a vision and be a leader

Many owners of small property partnerships are so busy managing day to day operations – serving client needs, supervising staff, managing cash flow and getting new business through the door – that they don’t have time to think about and plan the future. They are so busy working in the business that they neglect to work on the business.

And whilst you can get by – to some extent – without a five year business plan (although I thoroughly recommend that you go through the process of developing one – the journey is always productive and worthwhile) you can’t get by without a vision of where you want the practice to go in the future.

It can be challenging to create a vision when there are partners at various stages of their careers with perhaps different ambitions and lifestyle requirements. Avoiding conflict and difficult conversations is inherent in people-oriented professional partnerships where there is usually a desire to maintain harmonious and collegiate culture. But firms can create a compelling combined vision without getting embroiled in partnership conflict.

Without a clear vision, it is impossible to plan what people, money and clients you need. Without a clear vision, you can get stuck in a rut, drift into unintended markets and services or stunt growth by never investing enough to enable you to step up to the next level. Without a vision for the future, it will be difficult to motivate existing staff and recruit new ones. There’re ideas on how to develop a vision here

Once you have a vision, you must lead from the front demonstrating passion and commitment to achieving that vision. Be a leader who motivates others in the business to strive towards that vision.

2. Balance financial control and investment

Of course you must have strong financial controls and constantly seek ways to improve efficiency – whether this is by adopting different procedures and processes or using technology. You need people who are on top of future work flow projections, time recording, work in progress, billing and managing debtors. But financial control and efficiency measures are only half of the equation.

To grow a profitable property business there also needs to be investment. Investment means sacrificing some of today’s profits to build profits for tomorrow and the future. And investment choices must be made with a eye to the potential risks as well as the possible returns.

One of the most common investment decisions is when to recruit further surveying staff. Do you wait until the team is at a pressure point and heavily overworked – possibly risking service quality? Or do you hire when you perhaps don’t have the work but confidently anticipate it can be generated?

3. Focus on your people

Your practice is your people. Both the professional surveying staff and the support staff who manage the back office. They need to be properly rewarded and motivated and “on the bus” with you. It’s easy to think that if they are working and not complaining then all is well. But intelligent professional staff – especially those in the younger generations – will want to know your vision for the future and play a part in helping you achieve it. They will want to feel valued, empowered and part of the team. They will each need to have plans for their learning, development and progression. There are various blogs on human resources management for property partnerships. For example: and

A good leader will try to balance the task (achieving the goals), the team and the individual. Failing to tackle poor performance can be as dangerous as neglecting your star performers. Where property owners do not have sufficient knowledge of how to get the best out of their people they should invest in expert assistance to deal with both day-to-day human resources issues as well as the trickier policy and legal issues.

4. Develop a laser-like focus on your clients and marketing

Providing a good quality service to existing clients is essential to your business. You must retain your existing clients and ensure that they recommend your firm and services to others and support your reputation. But you also need to make sure that you are serving the right clients and at the right price. Too many surveyors are bullied into providing good quality services and advice at rock bottom, profit-depleting pricing because either they don’t value their services enough or because they are serving the wrong clients.

As an aside, I spent some time at the session in Dublin talking about pricing and the importance of value over cost. I referred to the famous Whistler artist legal case back in 1800s. The final exchanges went something like: Holker “The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?” to which Whistler replied “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime”.

When I review the marketing strategies and activities of surveying practices – whether in commercial or residential markets – there is often a lack of clarity about what markets and clients they are serving. A predominantly commercial base will require a huge investment in time for networking and face-to-face sales situations whereas a residential base will require a cash and time investment in digital, online and social media technologies to ensure a constant flow of enquiries to your web site. As an aside, we spent some time discussing the Decision Making Unit (DMU) in complex selling situations

Both approaches need clarity on who you are trying to reach and how and with what message. In a small practice where there are scarce resources the need to be focused with your targeting and marketing and sales activity is even more important. Niche marketing is a proven strategy for smaller practices. See the blog on segmentation and personas

5. Dedicate sufficient time to management

There’s a lot to do when growing a profitable surveyors practice. And most property partnership owners are trained in surveying rather than management. It is tempting to do what you are best at – the fee-earning surveying work for your clients. But there must be time to manage the business of today – client satisfaction, staff development, cash flow and operational efficiency as well as plan for the business of tomorrow – the future clients, the future leaders and the future systems of the business.

A good business plan with have the broad brush strokes for what is to be achieved in the long term and manageable bite-sized pieces for what must be done in the short term. It is easier to allocate management time to a programme of activities that you have already identified and prioritised.

To avoid becoming stressed and burnt out, property practice owners must develop good habits in time management – to balance the important with the urgent, to consider the future rather than just the present and to think about growing the business beyond the current year. They need to have an eye of the external environment and all the changes on the horizon. So management development training and time for heads-up planning has to be amongst my five golden rules. There are tips for time management here

In the UK, we are lucky to have the support and resources of the RICS to help property partnerships flourish. I hope that Ireland’s Society of Chartered Surveyors (SCS) is as supportive to Irish firms.

Future dates for “Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors’ practice”

About “Growing your property partnership – Plans, People and Promotion”