5 Excuses Professional Service Firms Use to Avoid Strategic Planning
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the fourth quarter is right around the corner, and what does that mean? Well, we are just two turkeys away from 2020. It also means that as a professional service firm, you’re probably looking at the last quarter as the homestretch of the year when you focus relentlessly on getting your work-in-process billed and your receivables collected. But what about 2019? What plans do you have in place to ignite your success and ensure your revenue expansion into the coming year?
If you are like most professional service businesses, you are buying into a common mythology that continues to hold you back and limit your growth potential. It’s what I call year-end myopia. It’s amazing how the income statement consumes our consciousness in the last few months of the year. I know. I spent 15 years practicing law, and I remember those eleventh-hour partner gatherings when we waited with anticipation to learn whether we were receiving abundant partner distributions or daunting capital calls. But today, I am writing to encourage you to shift your perspective, your expectations ― and therefore, your reality.
The Dance of Denial
We work with a full range of professional service firms―lawyers, accountants, engineers, consultants, wealth managers, and most of them have some pretty elaborate excuses for why they have not done the fundamental strategic planning that is standard practice for just about every other business. Here are some of the excuses we hear most often:
- Our partners are our most valuable inventory, and there’s no reason to waste billable time talking about things we can’t control.
- Our business planning is easy. We just hire more bodies and bill more hours.
- Our business planning is easy. We just find more clients and bill more hours.
- Our business is dynamic, and new opportunities are constantly coming up. We can’t possibly know what the future holds for us.
And my favourite . . .
- We already know what we’re doing . . . we don’t need planning.
Instead of perpetuating this self-defeating mythology, take a fresh look at December. Allow yourself to step off the hamster wheel, and embrace the benefits of strategic planning. Broaden your scope beyond collecting money in 2018, and focus on creating it in 2019. Spend some time thinking not just about the last day of this year, but the first day of next year. Do something radical. Promise yourself that you won’t end the year until your firm has committed to a formal strategic planning process.
Strategic Planning Revisited and Simplified
Think of your strategic plan as your road map. It is a tool that defines the path to your objective, or destination that you and your fellow stakeholders have identified. Consider it this way. The routes may change. Environmental factors may shift. You may even encounter detours or obstacles, but the map helps you stay on course. What’s that great quote? “When you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” And it often will . . .
Professionals in our firms are creative, talented people―and there’s no end to the compelling reasons they can concoct for avoiding strategic planning. But here’s something you should remember like your next year-end bonus could depend on it (because it probably will) ― professional service businesses that make plans and execute them effectively survive and thrive at rates that leave their “we don’t need planning” counterparts in the dust. And conversely, companies that don’t plan document exponentially higher rates of failure than those that plan and implement efficiently.
The importance of strategic planning for professional service firms cannot be overstated. It will help empower and enrich your enterprise―from the top down and the inside out. Considering both internal and external contexts, it can be an iterative process that does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. At its most fundamental level, with simple strategic planning, you can answer these basic questions:
Who are we?
Where are we going?
How will we get there?
Are we executing our plan?
Add a few bells and whistles―and you can customize a plan to help you achieve the business of your dreams. With the amount of amazing, time saving planning tools out there today, from MS Projects to Excel and VBA programming, there really is no excuse not to!