Updated: Jun 14
Today's post is by Rod Burkert. Rod has been performing business valuations since the late 1980s. In July 2000, he started Burkert Valuation Advisors in Philadelphia where he ran a "traditional” valuation practice for 10 years.
In my original, ideal world of going solo, I imagined hanging out my shingle and top shelf clients calling me to do their valuation projects on day 1. Those clients would pay premium fees for my sage advice and bespoke reports. And the workflow would be steady; no wondering when the phone would ring … no running around like crazy to meet deadlines.
Yes, it sounds silly with 23 years’ hindsight. But it is a Shangri-La common to most appraisers who start their own practices. And we need this unbridled sense of optimism because the likelihood of our success is daunting. (See my last post.) But with time, we all come to our senses and discover the 8 (at least) truisms of being a solo practitioner.
1. Your number of clients equals your number of bosses.
“Go ahead … start your own practice … be your own boss.
That’s what my friends said.
The truth is that every client is our boss. And each client-boss has a reasonable expectation that we will do what we said we could do, within the time frame and budget that we promised.
Thus, the number of engagements you can take on at any time is directly proportional to the number of masters you can serve without freaking out.
2. Doing the work is only a small part of the job.
It’s critical part, but a small part.
Because the reality is that we don’t just do valuation work. The real common denominator of every engagement is that we are in the business of selling our services.
So, if you want to have a lucrative practice, you need to convince clients that you provide value by solving their problems. Accept that and start learning the strategies and tactics that lead to remarkable marketing and sales results.
3. Being different from your competition is more profitable than being better.
“Why should a client call you? What makes you different?”
It’s easier to say we’re better, e.g., we care about our clients … we’re committed to excellence. But these are platitudes. It’s much more difficult to demonstrate how we’re different because the differentiators must be true, supportable, and important to the client.
Also, being better often spirals downward to “better price” … and you know what that means.
4. The best clients want to work with a specialist.
However you want to define them, the best clients want to work with someone who has solved their specific problem, multiple times, successfully. You know, just like what you would want if you were handing over a 5-figure check to someone who was going to do work for you.
Don’t waste your time in the learning curves of one-off valuation engagements. Instead, specialise in the crosshairs of a practice area and an industry niche and be known for what you know.
5. There are no bad clients.
If we have a client who is constantly rude, demanding, or wanting us to do something unethical, it’s our fault for not cutting them loose after the first incident.
If we have clients calling us in the evenings or on weekends, it’s our fault for not properly setting expectations and boundaries.
If we have clients who always want to change the timing or scope of the work without a fee adjustment, it’s our fault for having an engagement letter that does not address this.
Stop whining about terrible clients. Figure out what moronic stupor caused you to say yes to them in the first place and then adjust your vetting process so it never happens again.
6. You stay out of trouble with constant communication.
We all update our clients at the end of every week about the progress we’ve made on their projects, yes? And we let them know what’s on tap for the coming week, right? In our litigious world, it’s almost impossible to over-communicate.
We can’t land an engagement and then disappear into a rabbit hole of investigative research, number crunching, and report writing for weeks on end. The client is going to be super pissed off because they don’t hear from us ... but assume (fingers crossed) that we must be working on something related to their project. And then we ask to extend the deadline.
You need to touch base with your clients on a regular basis to make sure that you’re all on the same page about what’s being done and why. And the frequency and detail of that communication will be remembered when the client receives your invoices.
7. Maintaining a pipeline of work is your responsibility.
Most solo practitioners get busy and let their marketing slide. Then they see the end of the backlog and realize there is a problem.
It takes consistent and persistent effort to bring in good clients. So even when you’re busy, schedule a few hours every week for your marketing.
Better yet, set up a plan that lays out where you will show up in the next 12 months, what marketing and sales actions you are going to take, what the expected results are, and how you will measure those results.
8. You are in charge of your own schedule.
The one saving grace of being a solo is setting your own schedule. The 9 to 5 of Monday through Friday is an anachronism for knowledge workers like us. So organize your days around how and when you do your best work AND your family’s needs. Then rarely make exceptions.
BTW, the attorney who is pressing you on that incredibly important, time-sensitive case of a lifetime? If something happens to you, s/he will be sad only for as long as it takes to find someone to replace you.
If these 8 truisms seem like they require some forethought and effort, you’re right. But the blueprint for creating your solo practice success will always be a moving target. And the key is understanding that there is no silver bullet, no magic potion, and no secret sauce. Just the daily commitment to get better, try new things, and keep moving forward.