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The Boomer Bulletin - 2009
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Small Firms, Big Ideas

Posted By Doug Donald, Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Small firms – those with less than $3M in revenue—prosper on the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of their founders. At some point, however, most hit a ceiling where time and patience are in short supply, and advancing the business to the next level becomes too formidable a challenge for even the most energetic individuals. Merely identifying the challenges, much less implementing solutions, becomes a burdensome exercise. Let’s take a journey together and examine some of the challenges faced by small firms:

You Have That Lonely Feeling

What makes a small firm special? A small firm has fewer partners and little or no staff to get in the way of making quick decisions. What makes a small firm frustrating? The very same thing! Most small firm owners feel isolated. They cannot walk down the hall and ask another partner his or her opinion, and they are usually disconnected from peers in the industry. With few connections, they lack the depth and breadth of a team of decision makers.

So Much Information – So Little Time

Take care of your clients, hire a new staff member (and make sure he or she fits the team), pay the bills, learn a new software program, research new vendors that might benefit the firm, find new clients, pick up some milk on your way home from the office and oh—do all of that in one day!

How does one possibly decide what to work on first? The difficult truth is that most small firm leaders do not take the time to think and work ON the business because they are too busy working IN the business. Small firms lack convenient ways to learn new skills and digest new information. This reality makes it much more difficult to get everything done in a day.

Everything Is On My Shoulders

Entrepreneurs are known for their independent spirits and ability to do many things without help. That is the good news, but now for a little bad news: one person is never as capable as a collaborative team. Small firm owners must be creative in selecting staff members who can make the firm stronger. They also have to exercise extra care when choosing vendors, peer firms and consultants. With a limited budget, investments have to pay off.

Build a Niche – But Which One?

Pick a niche, or maybe two. Become an expert, find the right prospects, market with a limited budget, connect with clients and fight the urge to do too many things at once. Whew! One could get tired just thinking about that process, much less following through with it. Small firms need help in developing services for sustainability and ongoing growth. This reality cannot be overlooked, because the most pressing challenge for small firm leaders is that they don’t know how to accelerate practice growth. Without this component, however, small firms will invariably struggle.

Developing a Culture, Not a Monopoly

A firm’s culture reflects the personality and character of its leaders. If you foster a culture that revolves only around the partner(s), the firm’s staff, clients and prospects will respond by ensuring you get exactly what you want—but nothing more. If you foster a firm culture that embraces the ideas and insights of all employees, however, the firm will be much stronger and capable of facing its challenges with gusto. Many believe that a small firm should wait to build this kind of culture until it grows, but great firms think about how to move forward with this kind of philosophy from the outset.

Technology Has Become a Full Time Job

Technology is the accelerator for business, and it is crucial to keep learning new skills. The question is "when?” As small firms work to stay current with regulations, client needs and a multitude of other issues, training often takes a backseat. Avoiding the requirement for learning, however, will only put a firm further behind in the long run, because technology pervades every area of a business.

If you are feeling a bit discouraged by the challenges in front of you, take heart—real solutions and help are available! The following list—while not comprehensive—offers a few strategies to propel your firm onward.

  • Connect with peers – Peer networking is essential to a professional’s growth in any industry. People learn from the experiences of others and benefit from sharing their own challenges and solutions. Face to Face meetings or online connections can work, provided they challenge usual thinking and encourage growth.
  • Build your plan – A strategic plan is essential, because it keeps a firm on track by setting priorities and documenting what is most important to success.
  • Take time quarterly to think and plan for your business – Setting aside time to "think” and making it a priority are difficult tasks for many in our industry. Nevertheless, careful thought and planning are imperative to a firm’s success. Be certain to make time for this critical initiative.
  • Build your team carefully – As an owner, you have built the business and have a multitude of skills that have taken the firm to this point in its development. Now is the time to look for team members who will support you and take some of the workload off your back. Remember, you do not necessarily need to make a full-time hire; outside resources can be as effective and cost-effective.
  • Develop an attitude of constant learning - Read, take advantage of learning opportunities, get comfortable with social networking and online resources and support the culture of a firm that is constantly striving to know more.
  • Embrace technology - Hardware, software and training are imperative to accelerating your firm’s growth plan. Partner with your software vendors and allies to do more with the resources you already have.
  • Develop a culture of "us” not "me” - This is imperative to long-term success. The strategies above will all take you in the direction of a firm built on teamwork. Collaboration among your team members will accelerate growth much more than any other strategy.

If I can answer any questions for you personally, do not hesitate to contact me at


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Tags:  Sandra Wiley  small firms 

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