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How on earth do you actually grow a practice?

12th Aug 2019
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From wanting to throw in the towel to pricing, growing a practice is full of challenges. In this two-part series, Lucy Cohen explains how practitioners can overcome these growing pains and achieve their goals.

So you’ve decided to start your own practice. You’re feeling empowered and ambitious. You have the rose-tinted spectacles and optimism of the honeymoon period coursing through your veins. You’ve picked your software, written your templates and got your processes ready. You are excited to work for yourself.

Then things don’t quite go to plan. You’re just not attracting as many clients as you hoped you would (or even worse, only attracting the wrong ones). Or maybe you’ve reached a plateau and just don’t know how to get to the next stage.

You’re on the brink of jacking it all in. The life you had hoped to build seems completely unattainable and you can’t see a way out of it. What do you do? How on earth do you actually grow a practice?

Don’t panic. We’ve all been there, especially in the early days. Only last month there was an Any Answers discussion started by a new practice asking how they should grow their business.

I remember when I started out I felt like I was always reading books and articles about how to ditch 20% of your clients to grow and thinking “I wish ditching 20% of my clients would leave me with more than four clients – oh to have that luxury!”.

You can grow your own way!

The first thing to consider is: what does growth look like to you? Is it sheer numbers of clients, or is it profit per client? Is it enough growth to give you a three-day working week and the work-life balance you always wanted, or do you want to have cash for holidays and cars no matter the working hours?

This will entirely depend on your own personal goals and your business model: whether you are low fee/high volume, a boutique practice or a high-end service.

Growth for each of those businesses may look entirely different. So decide on exactly what sort of practice you are going to be: a one-person boutique or a multi-site behemoth?

Whatever you pick, you’ll need to plan accordingly and realistically. And once you’ve researched and decided the option that suits you best, stick to it. A common mistake in practice growth is to keep swapping and changing what you do if you don’t see results quickly enough.

Do your research, know your own preferences and stick with what you’re comfortable with. Being true to yourself, knowing your own abilities and limitations is key to being able to grow a practice.

If the thought of managing staff makes you break out in a cold sweat, it’s probably a good idea to not grow a practice that needs them.

Now onto pricing

My biggest piece of advice is to fix your prices and don’t deviate from them. Figure out your worth and how much profit you want to make per client and set your rate, whether you are a boutique or a behemoth!

This could be an hourly rate or a rate per piece of work but set it and stick to it. If someone haggles say no. Seriously. If they are not willing to pay you what you are worth then you really don’t want them as a client.

If someone is driven only by the price you charge, they’ll leave the moment someone cheaper comes along. From experience, they’ll also probably be a nightmare to deal with because they don’t value what you do.

Once you know what sort of business you are (and if you’re new at this you may not have thought about this yet), and how much you are going to charge you need to set yourself some targets. And write them down!

  • How many clients at X price do you need? Write it down. 
  • When do you want to gain them by? Write it down.

Some of the best advice I ever received was to learn to write down your goals. It’s a cliché, but it’s true: a goal is just a dream without a plan.

This might sound incredibly obvious, but as business owners we often get sucked into the day to day operations of things and don’t set enough time to actually plan out our businesses. 

When we get a little desperate and don’t make time to plan, we fall into the trap of taking on the wrong client. Because you just need more clients, right? It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Don’t do it!

If you’re a low fee, low contact kind of business you’ll never keep a client who wants face-to-face meetings and advisory work happy. Sure, they might like your pricing, but ultimately they’re trying to make a square peg fit a round hole and everyone in the relationship will end up miserable.

Now you should back on track. In part-two, we’ll figure out who your ideal client and more importantly, how to more of these clients.

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