• Deri Hughes

The Growth Paradox in Boutique Consultancies

You have built a successful consulting firm and things are going well. Clients are happy and referring you for new work. You have a great team and culture. The future looks bright.

There could be many reasons you set out by yourself - better work / life balance, more money in your pocket, the desire to build something unique, create wider impact, or just to work in a different way. This is your personal 'bottom line'. As your firm sees success, paradoxically, these things may be feeling harder to achieve.

The challenges of running a small business start to grow exponentially. Invoicing, collecting cash, payroll; contracts, policies, procedures; office management, your packed diary, socialising with your team; not to mention those times when your emails just won't sync or your WiFi goes down suddenly... The list is endless.

You decide the time has come to hire some operational support. Maybe a Chief of Staff / COO, HR Manager, or Finance Assistant. Just someone to take away some of the stress and give you time back to focus on other things.

You make the hire - they are a bit junior (all you can afford right now) and don't have all the necessary experience but you're sure they can figure it out. They arrive full of energy and you are excited to get time back and see your business grow.

Here comes the second paradox. You find you haven't got time back as they need a lot of managing. They lack relevant experience, so things go backwards at first. You are asking them to do anything and everything - from strategic thinking to hanging pictures - and often pushing them into tasks they aren't competent at.

With salary, bonus, national insurance, benefits, recruitment fees, you've spent a lot of money. You don't feel you're getting value for that, and conversely they are feeling undervalued. Frustration builds on both sides. Often, within a year, they've left the business and you are back where you started.

So what's the answer? This is neither straightforward, nor rocket science - and I’m not pretending I have all the answers - but I do find that keeping these six pointers in mind is helpful:

  1. Manage your own expectations. Be realistic about the experience and expertise you can expect to get for the salary you're paying

  2. Be specific and focused in the ask. Write a tight job description. Stick to it, and remind yourself what's in it - stay realistic with your expectations as you learn about what they are excellent at

  3. Step back and consider whether a permanent hire is the right solution. Consider different resourcing models - interim to perm, freelance, outsourced - if they give you the expertise and capacity you need at the moment

  4. Get help with hiring. Find someone - friend, family, or professional - who understands your business but has also hired non-fee earners before. Get them to meet your candidates

  5. Double down on being a great Manager. Default to trust. Help them identify their strengths, and figure out how they can best put them to work. Invest in coaching and feedback up front to reap rewards down the line

  6. Commit for long enough. Relationships take time to develop

If you can do these, you'll get the most out of your new colleague and take a step closer to achieving your personal bottom line.

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