The Forward Planner
The purpose of these columns originally in the RIBA Journal and expanded here on the web, has been to help you take a series of steps leading to ever greater certainty about:
- How your markets are prospering in a time of potentially major and extended threat;
- How your clients perceive your supposed strengths, how they value you;
- How to build an effective and precise awareness plan, and a business development programme that is client relevant;
- How to do this whilst immediately increasing your face to face contact with existing and potentially new clients;
- How to do it all as cost effectively as possible.
None of this is of any use of course unless it is managed through with determination. At every step of the way therefore you have to set clear quantified goals that are entirely realistic, are fully understood, bought into by your teams, and that are reported on and monitored. There must then be a zero tolerance of failure. People are either on your bus, or they must go elsewhere.
Let me give just one example using the client review questionnaire that is fundamental to the whole process.
- Prepare the questionnaire outline (if you have any difficulties with these steps call me).
- Discuss it and its use with your senior staff – for the sake of this example I am going to assume you have 4 seniors. Take on board their comments, get their assessment of the likely number of existing and past clients they can see each week given their current workload – all are going to have to accept a tougher work day as they fight their way out of this difficult market( see a later column about sorting your private lives).
- Agree a fallow administration period, whilst dates are being fixed and then arrange a bi weekly feedback meeting at which you will be cheering on the successful holding of the meetings. You will also be debating the feedback and using it to set the agenda for the Awareness and Client development programmes, to refine the basic mission statements and the core forward planner (described below). This is where there must be zero tolerance of backsliding – the meetings have to be made.
- Use the feedback to redefine the business plan. 4 senior staff should be able to see at least 2 clients each week after a 2 to 3 week introductory lull. Within 6 weeks after that therefore your top team will have held in depth discussions with nearly 50 existing and past clients, arranged a referral from each, and have follow up dates to see these and further clients over the next 2 months. If only 10% of the referrals come good you will have the prospect of 5 new clients as well as an authoritative view of your current market prospects, topics for the first awareness programme and confirmation of your mission, perceived value and quotations to use in future sales bids.All marketing effort must be quantified, monitored and checked for its impact – this is a zero tolerance activity.
- Monitor the extent of further business with your existing and past clients.
All marketing effort must be quantified, monitored and checked for its impact – this is a zero tolerance activity.
The next step is to apply the newly generated stream of information, feedback and ideas to the formal development of the business. This is where you start to manage the business. Attached is an outline Forward Planner. I have introduced them to all my clients with considerable impact. They become the corner stone of a monthly business development meeting focussed on the business’s health going forward. Let me comment on the attached Planner.
- Title. You will be filing these pages and using them to check trends. So each page needs to be labelled clearly, probably to relate to a profit centre, but often it will relate to an office or the whole of a company. Each page is numbered (“No 1” in this case) dated for when it was produced (“updated 03/03/09”) and for the period it describes (“March 2009 – April 2010”). April 2010 is the point at which the cash generated falls below the current monthly operating costs of the business. In other words in April 2010 this company starts to lose money each month.The months thereafter show a growing operating loss. This is not something to be concerned about per se. There will always be a point in the future when your workload as it is currently known runs out (in this hypothetical case in month 13). However the planner immediately concentrates attention on that 13 month time frame and on the scale of the shortfall in the subsequent months. At once it asks how long do you take to find, win and start to receive payment from a new client? Is 13 months enough?
- The next entries simply list the current cash and cost streams expected in the coming months together with the net cash position each month. This highlights the month 13 in which the monthly outcome is negative i.e the firm is starting to lose money. It concentrates the business development staff on 13 months space to start to generate new business and receive new cash. This is a tight time frame taken on its own.
- However the future workload in any ongoing business is not to be taken “on its own”. In practice you will always have a pipeline of future jobs at varying levels of certainty. The management’s role here is to define these different certainty levels, to build in the feedback from their ongoing client meetings and to create a dynamic picture of how the business really looks as a live organism where sales action can be taken. In this example 5 levels have been set down:Level 1. Existing Jobs – “Category A Actual”. The comments here will relate to the client reaction to the questionnaire, any delivery issues and a report on their potential for extensions, repeat or referral business. The monthly Current Actual fees will obviously be included in the Monthly Cash Actual above. (100% probability)
Level 2. Confirmed New Jobs – “Category B New Certain”. There will often be jobs recently won that are awaiting final details before starting. The comments here will focus on these actions; who is responsible for what, by when. The total fees will be included in the Monthly Cash Actual above. (100% probability).
Level 3. “Category C Virtually Certain” – >80% chance with a comment on action, by whom, by when to raise to 100%.
Level 4. “Category D Pipeline Jobs” – 50%-80% chance with a comment on action to take to 80%+. Once again this comment would include who is responsible for what action by when.
Level 5 Prospects. These would include extension prospects, referrals, intermediary and sector action being taken, and their targeted incomes. They come after the summary review of the overall dynamic of the business development because they remain as yet too far removed from a specific reality in terms of possible cash generation.
- The comment notes are important. The whole point of the Planner is to use it to record and monitor the precise actions taken against agreed timescales and expected outcomes.
- At the end of each of the 4 levels total the anticipated monthly fees multiplied by their respective 100%, 80%, and 50% probabilities to give a Prospective Monthly Fee position. Apply the current cost projections and you have the Prospective net cash position subject to the business development actions already agreed.
- Ensure an accurate reference to a job number so that you can chase up detailed inquiry if needed.
I have colour coded the 5 Levels purely to make identification easier.
Using the Forward planner each month will fix meaningful numbers in the minds of your business development teams. Thus you will quickly learn how many jobs you need in categories B, C and D to meet the demands of A. Staff will focus more and more clearly on how to extend existing and how to improve the chances of pipeline opportunities. Above all you will have a monthly running warning of the business’s strength going forward and an increasingly accurate “feel” for how the market is reacting and how long it will take for your business to strengthen its position.
Without this you are flying blind!