This is a sound business model that has worked since our august profession established itself. You have worked your socks off for many years between obtaining you qualification, picking up clients and growing the practice from a part-time operation in the spare bedroom into a high street presence that supports your lifestyle.
People come to you because you have been recommended or seen your advertisement about how your services can assist local businesses. You have knowledge and the personality that fills clients with confidence in your technical prowess.
Even when you have a couple of staff members it is all about you. After all, you sign off all the accounts and you meet with the clients at all stages. Even when you grow and perhaps bring another partner in, you may find yourselves in your respective silos looking after your own portfolio of clients, all the time every time.
All well and good but the day will come when you will be ready to retire, and even with a practice partner at your side you may both wish to retire at the same time.
A prospective buyer will always show great interest in the part personality plays in your practice and take a view on how this will play out after your departure. The closer you keep "control" of your clients instead of letting staff play a more expansive role, the trickier it can be.
This potential problem can creep up on you very quietly and you only realise when you no longer have time on your side to confront and take the necessary steps to address it.
So is the answer simply to step back and abandon your treasured client list to your staff? Well, it's not that simple because not every member of staff who is technically competent has what it takes to look after clients. Even if you do have such a member of staff are you ready to leave the fate of your clients in their hands?
So what is the solution to this conundrum - a Catch 22 in your very own back yard ?
The answer you will not be surprised to learn is to find a middle way but that is more easily said than done, almost like the Bank of England trying to control interest rates. Implement it too enthusiastically and you may lose the secret ingredient that clients love so much, do it in a lacklustre manner and it'll get messy internally and confusing for clients.
So now for the $64,000 question - how to tread that find line and wean clients off relying solely upon you and you alone but retain confidence in you and your practice?
Somebody once commented to me admiringly that "I had trained my clients well" , in respect of the fact that we closed early on a Friday . None of them were disappointed that we were not there . Either they made sure to get in touch early or they waited patiently until Monday morning. It got me thinking - he was right , I had trained them unwittingly but how?
I realised that because my firm did what we did very well and our customer service was second to none , with me overseeing attention to detail ( not micro-managing) and I had instilled my exacting standards to the staff to a certain degree ( they were not clones after all ) the clients accepted our way of working . I sued bespoke technology to help me and it paid off handsomely.
The bottom line was that the above in conjunction with appointment of a manager after 13 years meant that on a day to day basis I was not indispensible. I had a critical strategic role as director but that is not what the clients see or care about.
The secret of pulling it off is examining how your firm operates and where you want to be , well in advance of needing to be there. Slowly bridge the gap by creating and fostering an environment of not being everything to everybody by bringing in outside management or promoting from within. It is not easy but the investment will repay itself many times over.