Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Kitces & Carl Ep 140: Are You Worrying About Scale Before You Even Have A Scale Problem

As the financial advice industry continues to move toward providing full-blown professional services rather than focusing primarily on product sales, advisory (advicery?) firms are increasingly experiencing similar stages of growth in their practices. From the initial stage of onboarding their first clients to the point of hitting a capacity wall and deciding whether to increase their headcount, and later to a threshold where an ensemble business eventually becomes an enterprise, advicers face many of the same challenges and opportunities along the way. Conversations around these commonalities often work their way into the broader advicer community, and one topic that frequently crops up is the concept of scale, which denotes a disproportionate increase in revenues over expenses (often because of increased efficiencies within the business), and is distinct from “growth”, which involves a proportional increase in both revenue and expenses. Often, advicers whose firms are still in the early stages of development begin thinking about how they can scale their business, which begs the question: Are advicers worrying about how they’ll scale their business long before scale is even an issue?

In our 140th episode of Kitces & Carl, Michael Kitces and client communication expert Carl Richards discuss how early-career advicers can sometimes get distracted by questions around how they can scale their practices, the issues they should really be focusing their time and energy on instead, and strategies they can use to identify what sort of business they want to build in the first place.

Advicer concerns around scaling typically present in a couple of ways. The first is based on the fear that, if the advicer introduces a new service, scaling it will be difficult because the margins are too low. Put another way, the advicer has a pricing problem and hopes that the economies of scale can correct for not charging enough. Another concern centers around increasing headcount, where advicers who don’t want to hire and manage staff begins looking at technology as the key to achieving better margins while keeping headcount low.

The reality is that most advisory firms run profit margins around 25%, which means that the better way to increase profitability isn’t to ‘scale’ margins by another couple hundred basis points but to grow the business and make the same profit margin on a larger number. In fact. worrying about scale can really be an excuse the advicer leans on to not do the next thing that would help move their business forward. Instead, an advicer’s business would be far better served by prioritizing the most immediate problems, and more often than not this involves focusing on how to add more clients to first reach capacity, and then figuring out where to go next. Or put another way, is a major software upgrade really necessary for an advicer to serve their next 10 clients more effectively, or would the advicer’s time be better spent re-examining pricing structures, marketing strategies, or service offerings?

The key point is that advicery (😊) firm owners may find it tempting to explore projects that keep them from addressing their most immediate problems. However, the most successful entrepreneurs are those who are able to quickly identify the most pressing issue they face, and solving for whatever may be blocking their progress/ And it’s by focusing on doing the next hard thing that will ultimately be the most effective means of moving their practices forward and improving the trajectory of their bottom line!

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