Certainty Advice Group MD, Jim Stackpool, asks small advice business owners to consider a different way to structure their business, which may well increase their prospects of achieving their growth potential. The nature of Jim’s message can equally apply to firms delivering a holistic advice proposition, as well as to specialist risk advice practices…
Advice firms start like most things in life – tiny.
Like parents and their newborns, tiny firms owe their early years to their founders.
They grow client by client, either delivering value or not.
The value deliverers attract more clients, service existing clients, hire team members and begin implementing systems extravagant for start-ups but essential for growth.
As advice firms develop beyond infancy into adolescence, growth causes significant pressure on the early paradigms of their existence. Especially the paradigms surrounding value delivery.
The value delivery model of infant firms is fundamentally driven by the notion that value is based upon personal contact with a specific adviser. This leads many advisory teams to form pods surrounding and supporting the efforts of the adviser.
…pods, if left unmanaged, potentially create a critical limitation to growth
Not surprisingly, pods create adviser dependency.
For service businesses with no intent to grow beyond the efforts of founders, pod structures are the business model of choice. But for businesses seeking to become firms of advisers, pods, if left unmanaged, potentially create a critical limitation to growth, prosperity, valuations and sense of accomplishment.
For some, the over-dependency issues created by pods can cause advisers to not achieve their own objectives as the demands to serve their client base exceed their ability to extract the benefits of their hard-earned growth.
It is ironic that an adviser’s greatest strength in helping others is often their greatest weakness
It is ironic that an adviser’s greatest strength in helping others is often their greatest weakness when it comes to helping themselves.
The common approach to address the dependency issues created by a firm’s first pod(s) that surround the founder(s), is to create more pods, either organically from within the existing firm or inorganically bringing in experience from outside the firm.
Organically growing pods take patience, luck and leadership.
Patience is needed for the time it takes to develop the productivity of up-and-coming team members. Luck is needed when selecting team members with founder-like qualities of resilience, who have the necessary qualifications and an ability to handle the challenges of growing firms.
Leadership is needed to continually enthuse the growing team, to reward potential – not only results, train for new skills and lead formative careers into the new era of advice.
Inorganic pod growth may be quicker than an organic approach short-term, but long-term productivity gains are often compromised. The benefits of early operational gains when inorganically adding new pods are often shadowed by the long term challenges of growing inconsistencies between pods of advice propositions, delivery models, pricing, skills development and mini-cultures.
Fundamentally, pods create a ‘my client’ versus ‘your client’ mentality between pods.
The mission statement of pod-based firms may proclaim a commitment to “all our clients”, however, the reality is that clients will decide who they wish to engage for the consistency of value they seek. When their advisers shift, clients’ loyalty to their advisers means they too will shift.
Pods are ubiquitous and have their place in the advice landscape, particularly for specialist advisers.
But there is an alternative.
Simon Sinek’s effective Start With Why message reminds us that value doesn’t necessarily start with what an adviser does or who the adviser is but why each client seeks advice.
…every lasting client relationship needs to go beyond expertise alone
Another doyen of business propositions, Dan Sullivan, has built a worldwide reputation upon the simple foundation that every lasting client relationship needs to go beyond expertise alone. Sullivan coaches that enduring propositions include a sense of leadership providing clear steps towards value, and a trusted relationship providing confidence, without which, forward steps would appear too difficult.
The adviser dependency created by pod structures is simply due to a client’s search for consistent value.
While not diminishing the value of technical expertise and experience of senior advisers atop pods, technical expertise alone does not forge enduring relationships.
When pools of advisers, associates, and client support team members are skilled to be experts in the theories of Sinek and Sullivan, a fundamental shift occurs in the delivery of consistent and unique value for each client.
Pools of advisory talent skilled in leadership, relationship, project and client management expertise complement and reduce dependencies on senior advisers.
Talented advisory pools bring needed objectivity to pricing, they broaden the thinking and alternatives to client strategy discussions, they increase client satisfaction as services align with the more valuable ‘why the client is engaging’ rather than the less valuable ‘what the team is doing’, the cross-pollination throughout the firm accelerates careers, and reduces the dependency problems of pods.
Pools are for the fast-emerging new era of comprehensive advice.
What do you reckon?
Jim Stackpool is Founder and Managing Director, Certainty Advice Group. This article was released by Certainty Advice in early April 2022 and is re-published here, with our thanks to Jim and his team…