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    How Small Professional Service Firms Can Rethink Growth in the Post-Covid Era

    Posted by Sylvia Lagerquist, CPA

    How Small Professional Service Firms Can Rethink Growth in the Post-Covid Era

    Although the retail, restaurant, and tourism industries have borne the brunt of the front-line impact thus far in the COVID-19 crisis, the reality is that just about every company across every industry is facing the existential question of how best to reconfigure, rethink and redirect its energies in the future.

    With that in mind, it’s important to recognize that office-based companies such as professional services firms have an imperative before them to drive change that can sustain them through this period and into the future. One of the best ways to do that is to pivot the company’s energies nimbly in new directions. Here are five proven pivoting strategies that are working for professional service firms:


    1. Go Borderless on Growth — The first area of opportunity is to pivot away from the limits imposed by your business location or traditional markets. Sure, this is where your closest relationships and networks are, and no doubt your reputation is strongest where you’ve done business the longest. But the fact is, 90% of B2B buyers surveyed said they want to purchase more products and services online. Increasingly sophisticated and complex products and services are now being discussed, sold and delivered without concern about making that in-person connection, as much as we all prefer it. Of course, firms that are in state-regulated sectors such as accounting and many kinds of law may be constrained by licensure and bar admission limitations, but even then the horizons of growth are much wider now. After all, are you really engaging with prospects in every corner of the state(s) in which you are able to do business? Now’s the time to make that step.


    2. Go Borderless on Talent — The second area of opportunity is in some ways even more exciting, since one of the first challenges any professional service firm encounters on its growth journey is to match service delivery capacity with the rate of new client acquisition. Right now, the historic barriers to talent development facing small professional service firms (such as competing against major corporations for talent or not being able to match the workplace amenities of larger companies) are literally vanishing. This gives small firms an unprecedented opportunity to pursue talent anywhere. And yes, it’s true that state licensing can again limit this but the inverse also remains true: if your firm is licensed in Maryland, don’t just look for talent in the greater Washington or Baltimore areas, look for it in western Maryland as well. In addition, non-licensed positions are another major channel for expansion. Legal assistants, bookkeeping specialists, engineering estimators and other personnel who work right under the licensed professional level are available on the nationwide marketplace.


    3. Create ‘Easy-Yes’ Offerings — Stop assuming that your business has to be complicated. Certainly, the work professional service firms delivers to clients often is complex and highly specialized, there’s no doubt about that. However, now is an ideal time to make doing business with your firm as easy as possible. One way to do so is to create packaged offerings around your initial services — such as assessments, audits, analysis and strategy. This gives clients the opportunity to get to know your firm closely without making a major commitment up-front. It may also shake loose some new prospects who aren’t ready to partake of your more traditional services or capabilities.


    4. Be a Guide Through Uncertainty — Another way to overcome challenges in this environment is to rethink what you can offer by performing an inventory of your knowledge and expertise, then applying it to the problems unique to this era. For example, commercial real estate brokers in some sectors (especially those highly focused on office space) may be facing serious challenges as deals slow down and commissions dry up. On the other hand, who better than these same people to serve as expert advisors on lease renegotiations, rethinking office configurations, planning for re-occupancy, and more? The biggest barrier to this pivot is probably psychological since a broker used to making large commissions for deal completion may struggle to accept the very different flow of projects that are fee-based, but the reality is that you’re adding considerable value to the same clients and markets, which will only improve your profile and visibility for the future.


    5. Enter New Vertical Markets — Finally, you can also look for opportunities to change the vertical markets you serve. For example, your company may have historically provided IT solutions for the hospitality industry and perhaps that business has come to a screeching halt. At the same time, it’s not a far stretch to take those same capabilities and apply them to the assisted living sector, multifamily housing sector or even the warehousing and distribution sector (the latter of which is experiencing record growth). The key is to prepare, create the right messages and then market effectively using the language and goals of that market’s audience.


    What these five strategies have in common is that they all leverage the inherent value at the core of professional services companies, which is the knowledge, insight, and expertise of the professionals in them. By opening your team up to new horizons, you may find not only new customers but also new energy to guide your business into a more creative and exciting future.

    Image Credit: Lukas (Pexels @ Creative Commons)

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