FP Transitions conducted most of its work by phone and video conferencing long before the virus made this approach commonplace. So, it is with a great deal of humility, and a little courage, that we admit that even after two decades of honing our craft, we’re still perfecting how to provide consulting solutions in this fashion, to this unique profession.
Providing advice over a phone line or a computer isn’t all that difficult; what’s harder is gathering enough high-quality and relevant information to diagnose the problem or problems and then to provide customized, accurate and practical solutions. To do all that, we’ve had to learn how to listen at a professional level–and we had to design those systems and processes almost from scratch.
The mistake that almost all consultants and coaches in this industry make is to try to get an advisor on board as quickly as possible so that, as information providers, they don’t give away too much up front or spend too long trying to help only to be passed over as the service provider. The process usually comes down to 30 minutes of discussion and then a quick diagnosis that best fits what the consultant or coach has to sell, rather than what the client truly needs.
We don’t do it that way.
Strategic Assessment – Surveying the Field
Listening, as any long-married (or associated) couple will tell you, is half the battle. Turns out that in this highly-regulated and sometimes complex industry of ours, it’s all that and more. Some years ago, we created a process called Strategic Assessment. On a flat-fee basis, we use this platform to figure out what you’ve built, how you’ve built it, and where you need your business to take you.
In many cases, if not most, advisors who engage us have hit a wall, or a ceiling depending on your direction, and have been unable to figure out near-term and/or long-term steps to achieve their most important goals; even for nimble and adaptable entrepreneurs, the answers are often elusive. And there’s a reason for that.
In most cases, these are not easy problems to solve–they take time and an exchange of lots of information, in both directions, just to figure out what needs to be fixed. An added dimension is to consider which of several pathways lie within the advisor’s timeframe and business acumen to implement. Figuring out the difference between problems and symptoms is quite challenging. Sometimes advisors tell us the problem is their top-line growth rate, but many more times that’s a symptom of a compensation problem (for owners, producers, and key employees).
Professional compensation, usually the single largest expense item that independent advisors have, directly impacts profitability which ultimately impacts practice value and investability, not to mention talent retention. Many of these moving parts are linked together and diagnosing the problem that needs to be fixed based on the owner’s objectives and skill sets will often involve several different areas of expertise.
Project Charter – Creating and Executing the Game Plan
Our Strategic Assessment is only the start of the process, and often is little more than 10% of the journey in terms of time and effort, but it is the key to everything that follows. The assessment process slows things down and allows us, along with our clients, to take the time to focus and figure things out. Starting with meticulous preparation, we gather a complete fact pattern and all the business priorities before we even begin exploring possibilities and offering advice or a solution set. This process starts with lot of questions, figuring out specific objectives, what’s already been tried, and what has and hasn’t worked.
The Strategic Assessment phase includes a deliverable called a Project Charter–this is where we write down everything we’ve learned, our mutual exploration, what we recommend, and the specific steps you’ll need to take–now and later–to get where you’re going. In a highly-regulated business, every detail is important. As consultants, we invest 10 to 15 hours alone into this process just to understand all the pieces on the field and to craft your game plan.
What follows is called Strategy Implementation, a custom plan laid out step-by-step in the Project Charter that will guide your team–and ours–in a coordinated fashion as the plan is implemented. At this stage in the process, we often involve your key stakeholders and incorporate their thinking and support.
Some plans can be implemented in 90 days; others can take a year or more. It all depends on what you have, where you want to go, and what actions you’re committed to taking to get there.
The Team – A Roster You Can Trust
Our systems and processes are anchored by three fundamentals that have guided our consulting work since we opened our doors two decades ago:
- A flat-fee engagement;
- A non-advocacy approach;
- A diverse and coordinated team dedicated to you and your plan.
We don’t do billable hours–you’ll know what every step will cost before you start. We also don’t believe in fighting to the finish. Most of the plans we implement involve more than just the owner or founder, and the plan needs to work for, and be supported by, every key individual in your organization. This is a chance to work together to build something special.
Our complete team includes internal succession consultants, cash flow and profitability analysts, compensation specialists, appraisers, lawyers, ongoing plan support, and a complete M&A team to help with mergers, acquisition plans, or a third-party sale. It’s an integrated team of 40+ experts working for you.
In the end, what matters most is the same thing you tell your own clients: take each step in your journey with a thoughtful, well-informed plan based on facts and experience.