Operating: since 1990
Leaders: Jeff Banks and Robyn Banks
Location: Sydney – Australia
Banks Consultancy is a successful Accountancy Practice on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
It has been operating for many years and is blessed with a substantial and stable customer base.
The business owner engaged Small Fish to help him change his business. He wanted to engineer a medium term exit, reduce the business’s dependency on him and improve his personal financial position.
What we did
We used the process (of course) to assess the business for how well it was helping Jeff realise his goals, what was and wasn’t working and we produced a plan for the year ahead.
It was clear that Jeff’s business was very dependent on him, personally. Although revenue is strong, it was mostly dependent on Jeff working long hours to deliver tax return and BAS compliance to the customer base. Again, despite good revenues, the business had a problem with debtors – invoices were often unpaid for long periods and a portion never got paid at all. A toxic employee had caused morale issues and, though now gone, a legacy and a resource problem remained. Margins were slim, in part because of the problems collecting money from recalcitrant customers, in part because the business was charging less than it should have been for its services and in part because it was servicing many customers who did not merit the kind of attention their business model delivered. The business’s focus had recently been diverted away from its core business and a dalliance with mortgage broking, while delivering commissions, was taking significant time away from the principals.
The plan listed these major focus areas and other and Jeff and Jon prioritised the activites, picking them off one-by-one.
A long and thoughtful process of reviewing and increasing the prices for services provided was undertaken. The business (and Jeff) prided itself on providing good value and we spent much time disengaging Jeff’s view of value from a headline price. We developed a new pricing structure that brought significant additional revenue and margins into the business and implemented it is a staged process – to new customers first then, once tested, into the existing base. From 300 customers, we received 4 complaints.
The business did what many small businesses, and particularly service-based businesses, do – it delivered the service, issued an invoice with 30-day terms then waited for the customer to pay. A constant frustration was that they didn’t always (or even often) pay and the business was watching a significant proportion of its revenue disappear into aged debt. This problem proved difficult to solve. Jeff had personal relationships with many of the clients and was reluctant to demand payment.
We spent considerable time and energy developing and implementing a strong collections process involving actively calling people to demand payment, sending non-payers to a legal firm specialising in debt collection, and changing the way the business invoices. These days, customers are expected to settle their invoices before their tax return or BAS is lodged.
Part of the service Banks Consultancy provides is to remind people of their lodgement obligations, so paying their invoice becomes just another of the obligations they are reminded of. It’s working, too.
Focus on core Business
While it is tempting to explore other business opportunities when they arise, there is always the opportunity cost and the loss of focus on core business. We found a middle ground – referring mortgage-seekers and investors to a mortgage-broker that Jeff trusted. Customers still got the advice they needed, some (though less) commissions were collected) but the business was not burdened by all the associated admin.
This freed up more time for the principals to focus on their change management plan and their core business.
Core Business Definition
As part of the exercise above, we spent time determining what it is about Banks Consultancy that makes its customers so happy and loyal. What is the core service they provide and why do people like it.
We concluded that the value proposition can be encapsulated thus:
“We are aggressively proactive – we will follow you up and chase you to help ensure you meet your compliance obligations – no more fines!We are zealous (but legal) in minimising your tax
And we talk to you in your language!”
The business is slowly making sure that its customers understand what it is they provide and allowing them to choose – customer satisfaction is improving, delivery is consistent with people’s expectations and the statement above is influencing all Banks Consultancy’s marketing and communication with customers and prospective customers.
Improved client selection goes both ways – clients choose and the practice chooses. The mix of clients is improving – more of them want what the business provides and more of them fit the business’s target market – which means the business can be efficient in providing services.
Reduce Dependency on Principal
If the business is to be sold, down the track, it cannot be fully dependent on the principal. We embarked on a program of systematising the business – making it reliant on written processes and computer systems that can be operated by staff rather than needing the principal and his intellectual capacity to hold it all together.
This includes an extensive training and sharing program for the employed accountant and a hiring plan for additional accountants to join the team.
Retirement and Exit Plan
Although not imminent, the principals exit plan and retirement plan is under consideration. We are researching value determinants, looking for potential buyers and working hard to ensure the business is fit for sale.
This is a work in progress – all the activities are ongoing and none of them are complete – it doesn’t seem to work like that. Business is a constantly shifting environment.
Banks Consultancy is in an improved position, though – revenue is up, margins are up, cash flow is improved and the principals’ personal cash position is greatly improved.