Last week I led an intensive and experiential MBL “Managing and marketing a profitable surveyors practice” online workshop. Whilst there were larger practices amongst the delegates, the focus of the many exercises and discussions was the next steps in growing a small surveying and property practice. Like when a plant outgrows its pot – and requires uprooting and a new, larger container to support further growth – so smaller practices require interventions to allow more space (and structure) to mature and bloom. This article supplements the learning resources for delegates at the session.
1. Create a shared vision
- There was a sense that the many rapid adaptations to working practices during the Covid meant that now was the time to move away from a heads-down, reactive stance where owners were typically submerged in day-to-day operations. Some commented that the last few years had been frantic.
- So it is time to step back and consider the future. Initially, this requires a detailed analysis of what has happened – the nature of the clients, the work and the strengths (and development needs) of the people in the practice. And an analysis of what opportunities there are in existing and future markets with current and new skills and services – particularly where client needs and competitor activity has changed.
- Personal and professional goals, improving profitability (several approaches to achieving this were discussed) and changing the balance of agency to professional work, increasing regular work from major clients, improving efficiency through the adoption of technology and greater social purpose were amongst the ideas for future vision.
- The next stage is structured discussions with other partners and co-owners to align ambitions and expectations. This was particularly important for those practices where some of the older equity partners were moving on and the next generation of leaders were ready to step up. One delegate commented; “Engage directors more frequently to ensure we are working towards the same goal”. Then this discussion needs to be extended to other members of the team. Both to create a sense of excitement about the future and to align and energise everyone towards the future vision.
- The complexity and multiple dimensions of even relatively small practices with teams serving different markets and with multiple services was recognised. A one size fits all approach to planning was therefore not possible. But having an over-riding vision – and a good grasp of the core challenges – helps to cut through that complexity and prioritise development actions to support sustainable growth.
2. Shift the management agenda (use a business plan and focus on strategic priorities)
- Some felt that it was time to shift the management agenda. They observed that management meetings had reverted to short-term operational issues rather than longer term strategic action. One delegate commented “Make the most of our Partners Meetings – move away from the normal structure and have more of an open forum” and another commented “Move from working in the business to working on the business”.
- During a discussion about the changing external environment, numerous points were made that will have an impact on future strategy and action including:
- Inflation, cost of living and a possible downturn in the economy
- Construction and labour costs increasing
- The attractiveness of surveying careers, recruitment challenges and balancing work flexibility with client quality requirements
- Technology improvements and the impact on investment, labour and skill requirements
- ESG and sustainability
- The visioning exercise was seen as a crucial first step in outlining where attention should be focused at management meetings. And to set priorities for the limited management time available to co-owners of the business. Although the challenge of breaking out of old habits (the comfort zone) was recognised.
- We looked at the value of co-creating a (short) business plan to set out the agreed vision. And also to analyse both the external environment and internal resources to help identify the key issues and prioritise management actions. We all recognised that with owners continuing to be required in the day-to-day client work as well as running operations, there was limited time to tackle change initiatives. So prioritisation was essential. There’s guidance on producing a business plan here: Why do you need a business plan? 10 reasons why (kimtasso.com)
3. Allocate responsibility for developing relationships with existing clients (and referrers)
- Being busy servicing day-to-day work meant that in some cases there was insufficient attention on looking after and developing existing clients (and referrers) which are a critical source of future, sustainable and profitable income.
- The busy nature of the past few years – and the pressure on resourcing – had meant that standards and quality may have slipped. And this needed to be addressed if existing clients were to be secured and developed.
- Ensuring that existing clients were happy with services and understanding their future needs was seen as an important activity for seniors in the practice. We talked about client listening programmes (and the use of NPS for metrics in this area Client satisfaction benchmarks – How do you measure up? (kimtasso.com). The need for further training for implementing these systems – and addressing the issues raised by clients – was acknowledged.
- While some firms had integrated systems that meant information about existing clients was well structured and prompted regular conversations, other delegates saw the development of suitable CRM (Client Relationship Management) and KAM (Key Account Management) programmes as key priorities. Yet encouraging uptake and use of such systems was reliant on people understanding why different behaviours were required and what those different behaviours looked like in (best) practice. The need for training, shadowing and recognition/reward systems to support better client development was accepted.
- Whether or not client (and prospect) data was contained within integrated work management and finance systems or separate, and whether there were processes for ensuing that social media contacts were integrated, firms mentioned that simple solutions – such as Mailchimp – were effective. Others systems mentioned included Reapit Estate Agency CRM Software | Real Estate Software | Real Estate CRM
4. Improve and standardise working practices
- The busy-ness of the past few years meant that there was now a need to consider best practice and introduce new standards and processes. And systems. And induction, training and supervisory practices. Bringing this discipline into working practices was seen as critical to provide a strong, stable and sustainable base to support further growth.
- Discussions with existing clients – during the above-mentioned client listening and account development programmes – could help identify areas where work and delivery processes could be improved and where the standardisation process might focus initially. None of the delegates had embarked upon client journey mapping to support this work.
- The fast-changing nature of PropTech was mentioned – making it difficult for firms to know in what and when to invest. We looked at sources of information and suppliers who could provide briefings for senior management teams to make this task easier. Some practices allocated responsibility to an individual for monitoring PropTech developments and presenting options to the Board for consideration.
5. Recruit and develop the right people
- All delegates commented on the challenges of recruiting the right people. One delegate summed up the discussions as “Develop a stronger and more joined up strategy for “people””.
- Some practices were facing the departure of senior members of the firm and therefore the need to support and promote the next generation into equity was more compelling. This led to the need to accelerate the development of key people into management and partnership positions. So owners needed to support key staff as they learned new skills and took on new responsibilities. Different approaches to management development programmes were explored.
- As well as considering who and how to recruit people, there was also a discussion about when to trigger the recruitment process. All delegates wanted to recruit additional people and some needed to develop their forecasting systems to increase confidence in when to do this (see Managing a surveying practice – Resource management (kimtasso.com)). Yet the recruitment market was tough – with high quality candidates being hard to attract. This meant that more innovative approaches to hiring were required, with greater flexibility on the rewards package, development options and working environment.
- Alternative methods of attracting and recruiting suitable candidates were discussed. And the need to be able to offer and support flexible working practices – with some preferring office based, others a more WFH approach and some preferring a hybrid approach being a critical issue. Apprentices, kickstarters, freelancers, returners and staff incentives were some of the recruitment strategies being explored.
- Delegates acknowledged the need to recruit people with different skill sets and through different routes – often with a longer-term perspective. Some delegates had a more open approach and were constantly talking to potential recruits in the market so that they were well positioned to hire those people when they were ready/keen to move.
- We touched on systems to help firms assess the satisfaction of staff. And to improve employee engagement generally (see Change management and Employee engagement (kimtasso.com)). And to increase the value of the employer brand to help with the recruitment challenge. We explored the use of NPS for employee satisfaction and entering “best places to work for” initiatives to raise awareness of and provide evidence for the claims about success as an employer.
- New generations of surveying and agency staff had different priorities when it came to development and promotion opportunities. These needed to be understood and reflected in the firm’s human resources (HR) and people management strategies, policies and practices. This could prove an issue for some smaller practices which did not have ready access to professional support in this area.
- Revising and adapting financial and incentive packages was a priority – especially as inflation were increasing expectations of bonuses, There were observations that unexpected rewards – even those with limited value – had an unexpected and positive impact on satisfaction and motivation.
- There was recognition of the need to be more open and transparent with existing team members – not least to build their confidence in the future strategy and growth potential and also to tap into their needs for their future. Getting people together – now that the WFH requirements were easing – was seen as an important element of rebuilding teams, increasing employee engagement, supporting the firm’s culture and improving sharing and training initiatives. I enjoyed hearing about the innovative car-journey based approach to one-to-one sessions where firm leaders could engage with team members.
6. Raise awareness and generate new business
- Those practices with an aging client base were particularly keen to look at how to attract new clients with a higher growth potential. But whilst all delegates were concerned with integrated marketing and sales campaigns to grow the client base, it was felt that this was a lower priority that addressing vision, management systems development, people policies and existing client management.
- However, it was noted that there can be a long lead time in developing and implementing profile raising and new business development programmes. An interim measure would be to consider what team-based initiatives might be appropriate and where more junior members of the firm could be encouraged to start playing their part in developing their own networks and raising the firm’s profile in their particular markets or areas of expertise.
- Most firms still relied on a blend of traditional and digital marketing methods. Some reflected on the challenges of encouraging busy surveying and agency staff to develop content – although some used ghost writers and others used coaches to help individuals and teams identify themes within their written, video and podcast material and a team-based approach to its development.
- The need to segment (and prioritise) the market(s) and have clarity about differentiation and positioning messages was recognised when faced with multiple large and small competitors. There was some discussion about pricing strategies, enquiry management (see Enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries (kimtasso.com)) and the ability to deliver fast, benefits-driven client quotes and proposals.
Previous articles on managing and growing a surveying practice
learning resource for lawyers and surveyors (kimtasso.com) September 2017
Recruitment and succession of surveyors (kimtasso.com) December 2016
Selected delegate poll results
During the session, there were a number of polls and some results are shared here:
Is your practice focused on:
- 67% Mostly commercial property
- 33% Mixture of commercial and residential property
Is your practice mostly:
- 33% Professional staff (surveyors, engineers, architects etc)
- 67% Mixture of professional and agency
Is your role primarily:
- 33% Building surveying
- 33% Property management
- 33% Agency
Is your firm:
- 67% Based in one office
- 33% Several offices across a region
Which topic is of most interest to you:
- 33% Vision and leadership
- 0% Business planning
- 67% Operational management
- 0% Strategic marketing
- 0% Promotion and selling
- 0% Client and referrer relationships
Do you have a business plan?
- 33% No
- 33% No – things are changing too fast
- 33% Yes – but it’s out of date
How would you describe your operational management processes?
- 100% Average
Which areas of operational management do you think MOST needs improvement?
- 67% Workflow management
- 33% Business development/selling
Where do you think you need to improve business development the most:
- 67% Marketing
- 33% Selling
- 0% Client development
- 0% Referrer development
Does your firm/team have a marketing/business development plan?
- 67% No
- 33% Sort of
Which CRM system do you use?
- 67% Integrated with our finance/work systems
- 33% Mailchimp
Which social media channels do you use? (multiple choice)
- 100% LinkedIn
- 33% Twitter
- 33% Facebook
- 33% Instagram
Which of the following do you have at your firm:
- 100% Client satisfaction measurement system
- 50% CRM systems
- 50% Client relationship partner systems
- 50% Client care/service excellence standards
- 0% Client listening programme
- 0% Sector groups
- 0% Cross-selling initiatives
- 0% Client Experience Management (CEM) systems
- 0% KAM/ABM programme
Thanks, as always, to Lauren Brown for providing excellent technical co-hosting support during the session.