There was a lot of discussion among the presenters and at round-tables at the MSCPA’s Practice Management conference about making your firm attractive to future buyers.

Who are these future owners?  For most professional services firms, it’s some set of younger people on the partner track who will “buy you out” and keep the firm running.  And yet firms make it seem like the rising stars would be lucky to be a future partner.

Here’s what struck me.   The partners NEED these rising stars.  Partners not only need the younger people, they need the people to want to BUY their firm (one partner’s share at time).

I think it’s time partners get off their high horses and start thinking of rising stars as prospects to whom you would like sell the product that is your firm.  What would that look like?  Think of it like a long-term, daily, marketing and sales pitch.

Rising Stars as Customers of your Firm of the Future:

  1. Express to your rising star customers that they are important to your partner group and why. Tell them what characteristics they have that you admire and that you think will make them good partners in the future.  Do your best not to sound like a parent saying nice things to a child but rather as if you are talking to a prospect.
  2. Give your rising stars a map to partnership and some motivation to stay the course (it’s a long road). It’s not obvious to your rising star customers how to buy your product (the firm), when it will be available to purchase, what qualifications you’re considering for a future buyer, or even specifically why they should want to buy-in.  Give them a road map and tell them more about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
  3. Communicate regularly with your rising star customers so that they can understand better the KPIs of firm management and growth.  Share your firm goals for the year (and five years) and your progress to goal including who is contributing and in what ways.
  4. Start having meaningful TWO way conversations. Ask your rising star customers what qualities they want in a firm they would like to purchase. This means listening and probably making changes to close the gap between the current reality and the future desired state over time.
  5. Give your rising star customers some “skin in the game”. Give them meaningful responsibilities and bonuses based on firm performance.
    • New business generation – bring them with you to networking events and prospect meetings. Get them involved in committees or a non-profit board so they can flex their networking muscles before there’s pressure to bring in new clients on their own.
    • Recruiting and Interns – When you’re 19 or 20, you think a 35 year old is old, let alone a Baby Boomer partner. Put a rising star in charge of college campus outreach and include younger staff as well.  Consider putting your rising stars in charge of your interns from onboard to management to ongoing relationship building.   In addition, your rising stars have relationships with other professionals so keep them heavily involved with sourcing and interviewing experienced hires too.
    • Firm retention and leadership – Do you want to know who has the answer to “why are our young people leaving?”? Your rising star customers know the answer. They may not tell you (it will seem like a betrayal to their friends) but if give them resources and stay out of the way, I think you’ll see positive improvements.
    • Leadership and Management – Your rising star customers may not know how to run a firm – yet. Start helping them to learn now so they’ll be ready when the time comes.  Bring them with you to leadership conferences and a portion of your partner retreat and have quality conversations afterward.
    • Niche marketing – What niches do your rising star customers want to focus on? Provide them with some modest resources to allow them to be successful in this space.  They will be motivated to make it successful and will help your firm grow.

Recruiting and Retention are a BIG DEAL in professional services because your people are not only your product (in serving your clients), your biggest expense (in payroll), but also your future customers (as future partners).   Let’s be sure we’re give our rising stars the training they need in the short-run and respect they deserve for the long-run.

If you want help with coaching and developing your future leaders, internal firm communication, or developing a career brand, contact me.

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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.

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