“First, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t land it” were the words I shared with a friend who lost a good size opportunity because of his client’s perception that his professional practice just wasn’t big enough to handle their needs. It has to be a frustrating feeling when you know you have all the tools but perception stands in the way of getting a bigger bite of a client’s business or landing a new prospective client. I don’t think the picture can be any clearer why a small professional practice should seriously consider growing. Oftentimes, practitioners who are considering growing do so for the wrong reasons. Sure, there could be increased revenue opportunities unveiled by coupling with other practitioners or even by hiring administrative or managerial help that would allow the rainmaker to delegate more of that work and get out of the practice to create more opportunities. Adding practitioners (especially fee-only) might impact the top line and there is a lot to be said for the intangible synergy in being around a larger group rainmakers. These reasons do make sense. There still may be a bigger concept that is missing…pun intended. Many times these small-business owners dismiss public perception of their practice as a valid reason to grow. That would be growing for growth’s sake and who cares what the public thinks. However, the perception of bigger might translate into stronger or more stable which ultimately translates into more attractive to larger clients. It may be the only way to move beyond the impression of being “just a guy holding out an ‘Open for Business’ sign”.
Perception is reality. To that point, there may be things that the micro/small-professional practice can do to improve public perception of their size. For instance, marketing materials can be created with imagery of a larger organization. Operating the company in a more virtual way, when possible, might help avoid the negative impression of being “too small” so long as there is a strong media presence. Micro/small-professional-practitioners should do all that can be done to try to present a bigger image in their materials, web, and social presence anyway but there comes a time when the only way to give a “bigger” perception is to be bigger.
There are a lot of reasons why professional practices stay small, though. Some are conscious and many are unconscious. Without getting into a behavioral psychology study, it is worth considering whether there are some hang-ups about success and achievement that hold otherwise incredibly talented practitioners down. Some of the reasons for staying small are possibly deliberate. Wanting to avoid the headache of a bigger payroll is one that comes to mind. KISS- Keep It Simple, Stupid. There is no doubt that there is a correlation between size and complexity. The bigger the organization, the more complex things become.
So, before running a “Help Wanted” ad, private-practitioners and small-practice operators should ponder what their role would be in a larger organization than what they have today? They should survey other practitioners turned executives who have larger organizations, for their thoughts and insights. Don’t be surprised to hear that they sometimes long for the day when things were simpler. That doesn’t mean, though, that your role in growing a bigger organization has to be identical theirs. It should be a warning, though, that you must do something to avoid feeling that way yourself.
If, as you consider what it means to be at the head of that kind of organization, you determine that you don’t really want to be at the head of a bigger organization, you should ask a couple follow-up questions. First, are you satisfied with where your practice is today? Is it sustainable or will you eventually be out-sized? In other words, how sustainable is your current business model? Captain Obvious says, “If you know the model is unsustainable and the end is near, the sooner you cut bait, the better”. Pouring blood, sweat and tears into a flawed business model is insanity. Ask the tough questions and be real with yourself. After having walked in the shoes of a business owner, is it what you want out of your career? There is no shame in walking in another direction. What you cannot do is walk in a direction you know will not lead to where you want to be.
Daniel L. Grote, CFP® (aka. Captain Obvious) is a Partner with Latitude Financial Group, LLC