Since the announcement the most common question has been “So…how’d you do it?” Looking back, some of the answers were a little surprising:
Focus. This one isn’t surprising. In fact it’s a bit overused – every company talks about focus. Still it’s good advice so we tried to focus and it worked. The surprising part however…
Our focus was never, ever on growth. True statement. Our focus is on client service. Deborah and I allocate the majority of our time to current projects and maintaining client relationships. This is the exact opposite of most growth firms and flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Just to be sure, we had our accounting firm run the numbers: industry-wide the utilization rate for firm partners (time spent on current projects) runs about 57%. At Fennick McCredie we ran 65%. On top of this we had zero full-time marketing staff. Conventional wisdom centers on getting new clients. We did the opposite, choosing to take care of the ones we had. How does a firm who doesn’t focus on new business, get new business?
Start humble. In the beginning we took smaller roles to work on the projects that most interested us. Partnering with larger companies got our foot in the door with clients who might have otherwise seen us as too small or too risky. An atypical approach, but a great educational opportunity – thanks to our partners we learned all about the inner workings of the industry: how to take care of clients, how to solve and even prevent problems, and how to make a difference. All this knowledge is only useful if, instead of chasing opportunity, you…
Stay present. By staying fully engaged in the project at-hand we got exposure that we otherwise might have missed. The process allowed us to hone our skills so when new opportunities arose we didn’t disappoint. It was only a matter of time before someone felt comfortable enough to hire us directly – at first for a small job, then later a larger one. Soon, we were getting referrals. A simple recommendation from one client to another carries more weight than an entire marketing department could unleash in a year. We were now credible in a world beyond the present, but only by focusing on the present could we truly become credible.
We are convinced that the reason this worked is because we focused on what matters to us, our clients. By not working towards growth, we GREW. There were of course other factors, not the least of which was luck (to some extent or another luck always plays a role, good or bad). As we look back however this contrarian approach served us well, and I’m certain could work for other start-ups looking for a chance – just one chance – to show their stuff.