Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors’ practice – Guiding and rising stars

At the recent Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors’ practice workshop ( the following ideas had the most impact on the delegates. There were two themes. The first was the “guiding star of strategy” – the vision of the partners, the business plan and the marketing plan. The second was “rising stars in the practice” – recruiting and developing the future generation of leaders and succession.

Guiding star of strategy

Explore partners’ personal goals and vision

The owners of the practice need to be clear about their personal goals. Some may see the practice as a lifestyle business – generating a reasonable income with the right sort of clients and work. They have little appetite for risk or investment. Some partners may wish to maximise profit in the short term as it will impact their pension calculations.

Some partners may be more interested in creating a sustainable business that they can hand over to the future generation of partners – the traditional “stewardship” role.

And others may focus on fast and profitable growth so that they may exit from the business at a defined future point extracting significant value to finance their future endeavours.

Often there is an inherent conflict in personal visions between those who have been in the practice for a long time, and the newer entrants into partnership who have a more entrepreneurial approach to growth. The personal goals of the partners need to be assessed and perhaps compromises agreed so that a business plan can be developed.

Write a business plan

Once the vision of the partners is understood there needs to be a strategy that acts as a guiding star for all future management decisions. Without a clear strategy there may be much time wasted going round the same management decisions without agreement.

Delegates liked the simple approach to planning – where are we now (analysis), where do we want to be (goal setting) and how will be get there (strategy).

There was also an acknowledgement that there may need to be a dual vision – a plan for the current year (operational management) and a plan for five years’ hence (strategic management).

The business plan was recognised as an important tool for managing the practice, agreeing priorities for action, motivating existing staff and attracting new staff.

Market mapping and segmentation

Whilst some of the delegates had real clarity about their target markets, others realised that perhaps they were either targeting too broad a market or had too many markets on which to focus.

Using both the markets and services matrix and a market mapping tool, many delegates were able to identify more focused niches for which they could tailor their message and their marketing communications.

Amongst the delegates there was evidence of a variety of marketing strategies, for example:

There was also interest in developing campaigns to integrate activities

Rising stars in the practice

Managing Worker Bees and Rising Stars

There was a valuable discussion about the challenges of managing Millennials – although we recognised the difference between those aged 23-38 (Generation Y/Millennials born 1981 – 1996) and Generation Z (born between mid-1990s and early 2000s).

Human Resources strategies for reward and motivation were explored. The need to adopt a different approach for the Worker Bees and the Rising Stars was accepted and some firms offer both technical and entrepreneurial streams to their people.

Knowing when to recruit

A particular challenge for smaller firms was knowing the right time to recruit. Some wait until they are really stretched before recruiting. Whilst prudent it risks the quality of the client service and responsiveness and creates stress for existing staff. Others have more confidence that the practice will continue to grow and recruit early, but that may have an impact on short term profits if there is spare capacity for a while.

We talked about targeting the right mix of clients and work – balancing known or recurring future work (for example, with major clients) with the more uncertain, improbable or ad-hoc work. Many firms have systems to manage and predict workflows and capacity issues which trigger the need for recruitment.

There were some success stories of using LinkedIn to recruit high calibre candidates as well as some less effective campaigns.

Alternatives to recruitment – associates and referrals

Some delegates were keen to explore alternatives to recruitment – particularly as there was a general shortage of great candidates.

One solution was to consider using associates. Associates are people who work independently as self-employed professionals but who can be “badged” to provide work for your clients. There needs to be a clear contract, training and quality control and careful client relationship management to make this successful. But it does mean firms can tap into the workforce of those who choose to work part-time, intermittently or more flexibly.

Another solution was to decide which work you do not wish to manage yourself and identify another practice who are prepared to pay for the leads (but take care with the rules around referrals fees) or happy to reciprocate with client and works that you seek.

Some firms have appointed relatively junior members of the team to take responsibility for a specific type (often high volume and low value) of work. These people can then develop better processes or use technology to improve efficiency.

And others considered mergers