6 Steps To Increasing Capacity In A Professional Firm

6 Steps To Increasing Capacity In A Professional Firm
November 2, 2020 Phil Little

A Full Dam Holds No Water!

This sounds like another scary prospect for a country that has just endured a summer of unprecedented natural disasters but at a recent quarterly meeting of one of our coaching groups this ominous warning had a different meaning.

We were reflecting on a real-life case study of a financial planning firm that simply had run out of capacity. For this firm, finding new clients was not a problem – in the preceding 2 years they conducted 40 initial client appointments.

Bringing these cases to a conclusion and ultimately converting them to long term client relationships was another matter. Out of these 40 initial meetings only 3 had become ongoing clients in the 2 year period.


Surely this is an isolated occurrence?

You would be surprised as to how common it is for Financial Planning and Accounting firms to experience this dilemma.


So why did they continue accepting interviews with prospective new clients?

For the principals of many firms its almost as if the instinct to see new clients is so strong and deeply ingrained that they continue to accept interviews with new clients even when in their heart-of-hearts they know they will never be able to complete the work in a timely manner and also know they are likely to “burn” the relationship forever.


So What to do?

Sometimes you can’t just “new business” your way out of trouble!

When this happens owners need to find ways to increase the capacity within their firms

After many years of working with firms (including my own) who have overcome this problem I believe there are 6 steps to increasing capacity in a professional firm.

1. Clear Directions and Goals. Your most valuable weapon as a leader is your ability to create a picture for your team of the future. This will likely involve better systems, higher fees, new software – in short, lots of change. If you are able to paint a clear picture, it will energize the people in your team who can help you get there. It will also likely result in people “self-selecting” to part ways with you and your firm. A Blessing in disguise.

2. Organisational Charts and Job Descriptions that are fit for purpose. There is a certain freedom that comes from buying or joining a business from the outside. You’ve got no investment in the current staff or structures and, for a little while anyway, you’ve got the opportunity to reshape the org chart and job descriptions in a way that will deliver greater capacity. Replicating this freedom when its your own business and you’ve worked there for many years is hard but not impossible. A great way to free your mind is to create an org chart that has job titles but no names.

3. Get the best people available – you don’t need to settle. Assembling a team that is “fighting fit” takes time. Usually it involves embracing one or two quality people in the team, making them feel involved and important and then “trading up” as less committed members of the team start self-selecting out. The early years of this transition might see a higher than normal staff turnover but eventually this will slow and you will see a strong, stable, self-governing team.

4. Ensure $100 an hour people are doing $100 an hour work. An absolute capacity killer is to have senior people doing simple, repetitive tasks that can be performed by a more junior (inexpensive) resource.  Careful design of job specifications is crucial in avoiding this common error. You will need to be ruthless here.

5. Document every process – but put it under the microscope first. With changes in technology, legislation, client expectations, licensee and ATO requirements the chances of a set of procedures remaining “best of breed” for much longer than 12 months is remote. Remember, your competitors are starting with a clean slate and feel no obligation to stick with outdated or unnecessary procedures just because its “too hard to change”. Over the years a number of Slipstream firms have shut their offices down for a whole week (twice a year) just to strip apart, interrogate, recreate and document their firms’ key systems and processes. These processes are then documented, templates updated and checklists created for every sub section of every task. Checklists and documented procedures mean when new staff join they learn quicker and make fewer errors.

6. Virtually any simple, repetitive task can now be automated from the assembling of Product disclosure statements, booking of appointments, creating of advice documents etc. Times change and the advent of AI is massively accelerating the range of functions that can be automated. You need to stay on top of this.

It is true that a full dam holds no water.

It is also true that for many firms a lack of capacity is the number 1 impediment to revenue growth but there are simple, low-cost, solutions that any owner can apply to fix this problem.



Phil Little is a Business Coach at Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their potential. Since 2018, Phil has been applying and refining a practical approach to performance improvement based upon his own experiences as a professional practitioner and from coaching hundreds of financial services firms.