by Tony Vidler
You want to grow your practice, right? Well my first piece of advice may seem odd but it is this: “get out and make more mistakes”
Dangerous advice! Reckless even perhaps….
…however it is the best way to grow.
It is also the only way to innovate or to implement anything you’ve imagined as a possibility. Finding new ways or trying new things in business involves risk and introduces an element of inefficiency. It also usually introduces cost, which may be financial or personal, or both.
“Get out and make more mistakes” isn’t sounding like good advice thus far, is it?
But you have to “try stuff” if you want to grow and build something unique. Growth in professional services really comes down to either doing more of the same thing (e.g. hiring more people of the same ilk to deliver the same services to more customers) or by figuring out how to do things better, or differently (finding new ways sell more or to be efficient or effective). Either option incurs risk, and either option introduces cost.
The difference in approach really is about the business owners risk tolerance and view of the future. Growing through replication, where one just expands the existing capacity or team, but fundamentally maintains the same operation and process is typically seen as lower risk. It is perceived as more predictable, and therefore safer. That is usually true in the short to medium term as one is making decisions on how to grow taking into account the existing market dynamics.
But the market dynamics are, well, “dynamic”. Things are changing rapidly and the market is anything but static. Every practice and every practitioner wanting to grow must take into account technology evolution and its’ application; the increasing ease with which money and consumers shift; the obvious trends towards increased transparency in all that we do; and; the sometimes overwhelming juggernaut of shifting expectations by the market at large in terms of speed, price and convenience upon which we must compete.
I’d suggest that merely doing more of the same (but in greater volume) is investing heavily into a model which will increasingly struggle for relevance over the medium term given the market dynamics. That strikes me as actually being pretty risky, rather than a “safe” option.
So the solution is to “try stuff”. That in turn means getting stuff wrong. Taking the risk of taking some wrong turns and making some wrong decisions is necessary if we want to figure out how to adopt and adapt new possibilities, which in turn create the possibility of doing things in completely new ways and opening up entirely new opportunities.
We have to be prepared to make a lot of mistakes. And that means we have to give our people inside our firms permission to make mistakes. We actually have to encourage them to.
The way to create a culture of innovation and acceptance of change is to create an awareness that making mistakes is essential to making progress. Obviously we don’t want and won’t accept mistakes of ANY sort. Repeatedly making the same mistakes helps nobody, and just “having a go” at something because it is new without assessing probable consequences and possibilities is just dumb. So not all mistakes are ok by any means.
Taking calculated risk in the pursuit of great return and knowing that there is a possibility of an adverse outcome – a mistake – is what entrepreneurs do. In these dynamic times for professional services there has never been a greater need for firms to get entrepreneurial in their approach. While it is true that for many decades the services business didn’t really need to be entrepreneurial to be a commercial success, those days are done unless you are a firm which already has massive scale and market positioning.
If you aren’t one of those businesses already, then the only way forward is to “get out and make more mistakes”.
Being entrepreneurial in mindset and approach is the right way forward for professional services firms who want to thrive in a dynamic marketplace.