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Eight Keys to Success for Professional Services Firms

November 5, 2014

When it comes to doing business, the professional services firm is in a class of its own. These businesses don’t sell products; they sell the expertise, knowledge and experience of their people. For this reason, firm managers should take note of these eight keys to success.

1. Set a target
Most professional firms have defined five- to 10-year goals and many have gone through strategic planning exercises. But great firms create detailed initiatives around these goals and act on them. Initiatives should identify barriers and opportunities, and include detailed plans with due dates and responsible parties. It’s critical to assign someone to oversee initiatives and ensure progress is being made.

2. Learn your clients’ businesses
You should know the major challenges your clients face. The best way to glean this knowledge is to sit down with your clients. Trade associations and other professionals who serve your clients’ industries are good sources, too.

3. Add value to projects
Clients become repeat clients when you routinely go above and beyond the standard norm. Think about how you will exceed their expectations throughout the year, not just when a need arises.

4. Take on challenging clients
Take on clients that push you to come up with unique solutions and improve the quality of your work. Those that have more challenges are the ones who will help you grow your skill set.

5. Recruit talented people
Employing the best is difficult, especially in a competitive human capital acquisition environment. But it’s critical to your success. So to give your firm a valuable edge, develop a recruiting strategy. A strategy could include making your firm well known at two or three universities, and hiring interns.

6. Promote a culture of continuous improvement
Take a close look at the way things are done in your business, and make improving processes and projects everyone’s job. Most important, create a work environment that engages and inspires your employees. Trust me: your clients will notice.

7. Systemize processes
Establish systematic processes. The quality of your product will improve and you will create efficiencies that benefit your bottom line. Moreover, processes can help to set and manage client expectations, and can even set your firm apart.

8. Ask for referrals
Satisfied clients are usually more than happy to refer others to your firm. Don’t forget to ask!

Doug McDonald, CPA, is AEM’s Professional Services Industry Leader and a seasoned recreational pilot. When he’s not soaring through the skies, he’s helping his clients’ businesses soar to new heights. You can reach Doug at 952.939.3207 or at

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