Stephen Ward is an innovator in the legal marketplace but when his unique barristers’ chambers began to plateau after a period of initial growth, he decided to take some expert advice.
“Clerksroom is a barristers’ chambers of which we are one of 350 in England and Wales. Sixteen years ago, in April 2001, we changed to a limited company and what makes our chambers unique in the marketplace is that we are a commercial organisation whereas, traditionally, chambers are a membership organisation. Most chambers just share expenses but we have different objectives and one of those is to make a profit for our shareholders
“We are fundamentally different from other chambers, we look after our clients as a priority over our members. If our staff provide a great service to clients then members automatically benefit – it’s all about the culture. Marketing should take care of itself if you are running your business in the right way.
“When we started Clerksroom, we had a 10-year plan which included two long-term goals – buy a building for our chambers and create a really pleasant working environment. Our five-year plan included some targets for growing the business to help us stay focused towards our long-term objectives. However, Clerksroom grew rapidly and in December 2003, only two and a half years into our plan, we moved into our new building. It was then that growth began to plateau and we just cruised along – the plan had lost focus as we had not set any new big objectives.”
“I’ve recognised that, like many business owners I suspect, I find running Clerksroom very lonely. Even though I have a great team and I talk to people every day, I’m not talking to people about the business of our business. ActionCOACH gives you the chance to share with not only your coach but also other business owners during group workshops like GrowthCLUB.
“I found five particular areas that I struggle with and so my Action Coach has tailored our one-to-one coaching to those areas and that carries through to GrowthCLUB where many of the business owners he coaches come together and we look at our 90-day plans. Our Action Coach doesn’t tell you how to run the business, he identifies where you have a gap and he helps you plug that gap with learnings.
“Why have I done so well using a business coach? When you have a good business you think ‘well that is ok’ and you don’t necessarily want to get involved in challenges because you are doing ok. Many business owners understand the technical aspect of their company – an artist may be great at painting but won’t make money without a good agent, in fact, they may not even see why they need an agent at all. But ActionCOACH want to take good businesses to great and that invigorated me.”
“I now know that our initial fantastic growth that allowed us to buy our building came from having goals to work to and so we have set new objectives and challenges so that we don’t return to that plateau. We want to grow the business by 300% over the next 5 years. This isn’t just a financial goal, we want to grow to give us greater stability and the ability to invest in our people and culture to perpetuate the great people and great environment vision. Obviously, that will have an impact on profit that will make the shareholders happy.
“Our progress so far comes from making more goal-orientated decisions ‘how does that help us meet our business goals?’ and from the incremental gains that become easier to plan with my new business knowledge from GrowthCLUB.”
The results so far
“We’ve gone from planning to borrow £30,000 to enable growth to identifying £130,000 of savings in the budget this year. December was historically a difficult month to obtain invoice payments yet December 2015 was one of our record months in terms of cashflow. We’ve gone from not having a handle on our KPIs to building bespoke Test & Measure Software that gives us real time conversion rates, lead source, geography of sale per transaction so that we can work out an accurate return on investment.
“My emails have gone down by 80% – just a small thing that makes life more manageable! I think when you have spent five months of planning and working on what you are trying to achieve for your business and spend time talking to your team about it, they begin to buy in to your plans and start to take ownership for more things that they might ordinarily email you about. It seems that by telling them the rules they are ready to play the game.”
“My long-term personal goal is to spend six months a year in New Zealand but shorter term, I wanted to free up time – not just for myself but for the whole team. Our business is fast-paced and it would be great to improve our working environment by allowing some flexibility through efficiency.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying my journey now with Clerksroom and my life is changing for the long-term good – both for me personally, my family and the company. I’ve gone from constantly travelling with hardly a day spare to clearing my diary and making one day a week free for marathon training.”