Managing a surveying practice – Resource management

At the recent digital workshop on “Managing & Marketing a Profitable Surveyors’ Practice” this was found to be the key issue in managing a surveying practice – resource management. Without more people in the practice the leaders were constantly fire-fighting and doing the client work so had little time to develop and grow the practice.

Human resource forecasting

Delegates identified a key issue as knowing when to initiate the recruitment process for additional surveyors. High calibre candidates are hard to find and the recruitment lead time can be long – up to several months.

Firms need to recruit people to grow the practice but don’t want expensive human resources sitting around with insufficient fee-earning work to do. It is a chicken and egg situation – you can’t generate the work without the additional resources. But you don’t want to recruit until you have the additional clients and work! Having the confidence in your ability to generate additional work is a key factor.

Forecast different types of professional work

The underlying challenge was how to accurately predict future workflows when market and client demand fluctuates so much. Especially with the added uncertainty of Covid restrictions. We concentrated on forecasting professional work for commercial clients – recognising that agency work needed a different model (as did residential work).

We discussed whether our financial and work management systems provided the necessary information or whether this would need to be obtained separately.

A number of different factors came into the equation for forecasting:

  • Known work – Existing projects, framework agreements and contracts
  • Probable work – Work likely to come from existing clients (and referrers)
  • Possible work – Outstanding tenders (and the probability of them converting to work)
  • Ad-hoc work – The typical level of ad-hoc work or small assignments generated each month

Naturally, practice managers are more confident of the figures for the next few three months than for time beyond that. However, as practice managers start to forecast and plan they become more accurate and confident in their projections.

Alter the mix of desired work

This analysis often drives strategic planning. Practices start to revise their aims for the ideal mix of clients and work in the future.

Some practices simply react to enquiries and work that are received – but this leads to the danger of strategic drift.

Other practices may focus on those services, clients or projects that generate the maximum profit in the short term. However, this may mean that efforts to develop new profitable streams of work in the future are insufficient.

Some practices may think about altering the balance of small, medium and large projects. This can smooth out the lumpy “feast or famine” cycles. There is a short video on targeting with the rabbits, deer and elephant approach.  Similarly, to free up time to develop larger and more profitable clients there is a short video on client portfolio management using the dinosaur model.

Some practices may focus on developing more work that perhaps isn’t so profitable but provides important cash flow into the business. Others may wish to ensure that their monthly overheads are covered by known or regular work such as that generated by project management work.

Setting these aims and goals will be part of the business planning process.  The mix of markets, services and clients will be addressed in the marketing and business development plan. There’s guidance on introducing a marketing planning process into a professional services firm.

Analyse human resource capacity

Practices will know how many qualified surveyors are available – and how many hours or days they are committed to current clients and projects (and time away for studies or leave). There will also be a time allowance for training, supervision, management and marketing/business development responsibilities.

So it is a straightforward step to forecast how many days of surveyor time will be available in the future.

Plan capacity and recruitment

With your work forecast and your human resource analysis you can then identify where the amount of work will exceed your existing capacity. This approach highlights where capacity needs to be increased and should trigger the recruitment process.

Some practices have access to a pool of trained consultants or associates who can be called upon at short notice to help out with peaks in work. However, the cost of using external consultants will be higher than employed staff. There may also be quality issues and client relationship management risks with this approach. So this should be a short term resource to use while you recruit and train permanent staff.

Use technology to improve productivity

An alternative to hiring additional surveyors is to improve the productivity of existing surveyors. This is a big topic in its own right. There are some tips on using psychology to improve productivity.

Another approach is to invest in technology so that more work can be done (or done more quickly) which will reduce the need and cost of hiring and training additional surveyors. For example, some practices have invested in drone technology to reduce the time and cost of conducting surveys. Others are deploying technology which enables measurements and drawings to be produced in a fraction of the time to do such things manually. However, the investment in technology needs to be recouped – possibly by reviewing pricing strategies.

I mentioned the services of Remit Consulting who are property professionals specialising in mapping business processes and using technology. It has a consultancy service especially for small property practices. And there is a case study of how Remit Consulting supported Stiles Harold Williams (SHW) in the development of its IT strategy.

Other topics raised at the session

Delegates worked in practices that managed both commercial and residential work – one also covered the rural market. One delegate focused on building surveying whilst the others offered a range of professional (including architectural) and agency services. There was an even split between those based in one office and those with several offices or a regional/national presence.

A poll showed that the main concern of delegates was operational management and efficiency – which is interesting as in previous sessions the focus has been on growth. Only one delegate felt that the operational management at their firm was good – the others felt it was average or poor. Workflow management was the primary issue in operational management.

None of the delegates felt they had a sufficiently detailed marketing and business development plan. With regards to social media – most were using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – one was also using Pinterest. No one was using Tik Tok or Clubhouse (which is being used by several firms in the commercial sector).

There isn’t space to cover all of the topics discussed at the workshop but other themes included:

  • Succession planning  – there was also discussion about EMI share schemes to incentivise aspiring leaders
  • Financial management – some practices felt the need to secure more proactive and advisory financial advice from their accountants or to hire a part-time finance director
  • Engaging and empowering employees to become involved in practice development – we also discussed shadow boards, learning and development initiatives and senior partner/junior surveyor lunches
  • Client Relationship Management (CRM) systems (I plan to write an article on this shortly)

Articles from other surveyor workshops

Learning from Lockdown – Positive outcomes from the Covid crisis ( January 2021

BCO’s Inspirational Leaders – Toby Courtauld of Great Portland Estates ( April 2020

Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors’ practice ( March 2019

Growing a surveyors’ practice – five golden rules ( February 2017

Recruitment and succession of surveyors ( December 2016

Merging property partnerships – to merge or not to merge ( September 2016

leadership in property – leading a surveyors’ practice ( July 2016

Managing client service in surveying and property partnerships – Kim Tasso June 2016

People management in a property partnership ( December 2015

Change management in a surveyors’ practice ( July 2015

My 2009 book on Growing your property partnership