Have you worked out (yet) your Ideal Client?

High net worth?

A vertical market: banking, charities, energy?

Repeat instructions?

Institutional?

Someone who doesn’t complain even when you screw up?

Those people/organisations that you Like (and hopefully like you)?

Frankly, the list of Definitions is endless.

But the answer is …. you don’t really know.

You have a dream: to build a bigger, more profitable firm. But how big is too big: £50M or £5 billion? How much is too much profit per partner: £200,000, £500,000 or £5M?

[If you want to understand the concept of enough, then I strongly suggest that you read the book Enough by Jack Bogle]

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, what you are blinded by is results i.e. selling more: How many hours, at a premium rate, can we sell (and recover – cash is King)?

You are focused on the firm’s results because it fulfills the personal dreams of the partners.

You might dress things up and suggest that you add value to the client (in one measure or another) but the focus is on you, in greater measure than the client.

But if I were to press you and ask beyond profit the reason why you were in business, can you really answer the question without stumbling over your words? You couldn’t say that absent your firm the client would be worse off, unless you are offering something that is truly unique. If you want to test this proposition think how many brands have become extinct over your lifetime. What happened? Most likely the consumer went elsewhere (think Woolwoorths or Rover).

Martin Luther King Jnr said this:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.””

How many Managing Partners have had the conviction or vision of Dr King? Their vision is espoused in terms of the partners making more money, although, of course, they would not make such a crass statement in the press or on their website, notwithstanding of course the publicity that a few of them garner to out do the competition with their PEP figures.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am all in favour of entrepreneurship – hell I am in the space right now – but not at all cost, and certainly not based, constantly, on what’s in it for me.

My dream is to bring about measurable and lasting change within every practice I work but, more than that, ensure that every person can truly say they are the most that they can be. In turn, if they are truly motivated to do great work (as I believe they should be), that will abet great service which will abet a healthy profit.

I am under no illusion that this sounds more other world than “hard nosed, we are in business to make a profit”; but it is my belief that every business, without exception, if founded on an a great idea, underpinned by thoughtful leadership, has the power to inpsire and bring about change in every person, but not where profit, and only profit, is the sine qua non. Social media is an important part of the equation.

I read a wonderful article recently about an owner of a cloth dyeing business in Italy who, as well as growing the business from nothing, had also set about restoring the town where the factory was based, investing in community projects and employing practically the whole town. Yes, his family took money out of the business, but I did not get the impression that he was swimming in an ocean of materialism. Perhaps the town’s folk were too reliant on him for employment, but as a result of his love for his people, region and product the company was marching along a healthy lick with year on year profit.

Now of course Dr King was a civil rights campaigner not a business person, but it is axiomotatic that any great business – IBM or Apple – is founded on a dream. It is though an impersonal dream. This is not my phrase but one used my Michael Gerber in his book Awakening the Entrepreneur Within. My understanding of this expression is that it is focused on the the greater good to the consumer (it is usually involves solving a problem not previously resolved).

He says of the impersonal dream:

“What do I mean when I say “the impersonal dream”? I mean just that – it is anything but personal. It is not about you and it is not about me. It is about the act of creativity, about the “sudden seeing” of a possibility we have never seen before, when we suddenly become aware, intensely aware, of some condition, some reality, some frozen particle of time and space that is just dying to be fixed, or changed, or reinvented, or transformed.”

And further:

“Do you get what I mean? Entrepreneurship is nothing about the one who creates a thing and everything about the one who consumes a thing. Entrepreneurs don’t care about the thing that they create, in and of itself (as much as they may love what they produce or do). They care about creating it because of the impact it can make on someone else.”

Many professional practices will talk about their values, their mission statement but in truth their dream is rested on what the partners, or those leading the firm, see for themselves and not those that they serve.

If you suspend your disbelief for a second and rather than consider the demand equation – “How can we sell more of our services?” – and consider the position of the consumer or client then what is it that you have to offer that none of your competitors has?

The point is that very often the customer/client doesn’t actually know what they need. That is as true for services as it is for products. Even some of the best inventors (Ford) had to create the demand.

When you next sit down and think how you can grow your practice, try (please try) to reverse the supply vs. demand equation and consider things from an impersonal perspective. See how you can improve lives, change the perception of your practice area, or produce a innovative solution to a problem that has never been thought of before.

Open your mind.

Stay away from talking about sales and look at demand.

Demand is much, much harder to think about.

Right now, where are the biggest issues to be solved:

  • World poverty.
  • Food shortages.
  • Debt crises.
  • Green technology – harnessing the elements.
  • Health.
  • Obesity.

Of course, not all of these evince of a legal solution that you are able to provide. But bring things down to a more domestic level, and you will see opportunities. Like I said you may have to create the demand but it exists. Selling more of the same is not sustainable. There are simply too many firms chasing too little work.

My last practice area was in sports law. One area that I thought about was a packaged service for budding athletes which gave them a one stop shop. I didn’t get down to the numbers but I was acutely aware of the lacuna in the market where many athletes did not have the benefit of an agent and were struggling to get by. I suspect early doors it may not have been terribly lucrative but I always remember the story of how Mark McCormick built IMG and that would have the starting point for me. It was fastened on an impersonal dream – well perhaps I was thinking a little about myself but only in the context of having a warm glow of seeing an athlete that I had helped get the financial recognition that they were deserving off.

Next time you get together to discuss target clients, try asking everyone what is the ideal client and see what answers you get. Ultimately, someone has to make the call what to go after but I see demand as the differentiator to acquiring more work more so than your super-duper service promises.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

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