How to Take Your Advisory Business From £0 to £1 Million Turnover in 3 Years
Alastair Barlow, Founder of flinder
We recently spoke to Alastair Barlow from flinder about their fast growth and got some insight into the driving strategies behind flinder’s success. flinder is an accounting, consulting and data analytics business that works with fast-growth businesses using technology to simplify complex data and deliver relevant insight; they run the entire finance function so their clients focus on growing their business.
1. Having a Complementary Founding Partner
Alastair attributes a large part of flinder’s success to having a founding partner that is the yin to his yang. Luke Streeter has strengths (and passions) in the operations side of the business, whereas Alastair’s strengths (and passions) lie in the strategy and brand parts of the business. This allowed their business to be stronger and more rounded from the very start.
Having a founding partner rather than being a solo founder also helped significantly with the motivation and driving force of the business. The first year of starting a business can be hard, and you need to really drive clients into your business. Having someone there to pick up the slack when you’re having a bad day or give you a little push to get your head back in the game was invaluable to their initial momentum.
Having a co-founder from the very start allows it to be an equal partnership. Sometimes when a partner is brought in once the business is up and running, there can be a bit of an imbalance in the partnership.
Even if you don’t have a founding partner, it can be beneficial to bring in someone who can set up and run parts of your business that you struggle with. Whether that is taking over the operations or the marketing, or perhaps even the client service. It really helps to take a lot of work off your plate and allow you to focus on your strengths.
2. Goal Setting
Another vital part of driving business success is smart goal setting. You should have a number of goals for your business, not just revenue-based, and you should break those goals down into annual and quarterly benchmarks. Having quarterly benchmarks is vital in keeping the momentum going. It keeps the goal close on the horizon and allows you to readjust and evaluate periodically throughout the goal period.
It is also extremely beneficial to look at your business finances and cashflow on a regular basis as it helps you to look ahead and know when you can hire. This will help you to make decisions based on projected cashflows.
3. Analysing Business Data
It is not enough just to have the data on how your business is performing; you also need to really dig down into the reasons why. Look at what the data is telling you, understand the story and use it to inform business strategies. Figure out what areas are performing well and push more resources into that area. Similarly, figure out what areas are underperforming and either cut that area or pivot and find a way to make it profitable.
4. Having Recurring Revenue and One-Off Revenue Streams
flinder doesn’t have thousands of clients, as you might think. They have a relatively small number of recurring clients that they partner with. Their holistic finance function services add real value to their clients’ business. They collect business-wide data (not just finance data), analyse it and share relevant insights with their clients so the client can have a clear picture of the numbers in their businesses. Because their services add huge amounts of value and they put large amounts of time and effort into areas beyond traditional finance, they are able to extract higher fees. This is consistent income that they can rely on when managing their annual budgets.
Another part of flinders’ revenue comes from one-off consulting projects. These are specific propositions for their target market. Some of their one-off revenue streams include:
- Systems implementations and integrations (finance and non-finance);
- Bespoke data analytics
- Business process optimisation
- Cash flow and scenario modelling
The recurring revenue streams give them a reliable income source, while the one-off revenue streams give them additional income and allows them to work even deeper with existing clients and connect with new clients.
5. Niche Down Your Teams To Offer Superior Expertise
When Alastair and Luke started building their team, they decided to create niche competencies that would allow each aspect of a client’s needs to be handled by experts. They have a number of competencies that handle specific elements, like:
- Operational Finance (bookkeeping, month-end and reporting)
- Modelling and data analytics
- Finance target operating models
- CFO and board room support
- Strategic and compliance tax
Each of these competencies will work together to provide information to their CFOs who use the data to make suggestions and have deep conversations with the clients about their business.
6. Every Member of Flinder Is Knowledgeable and Invested In the Client’s Success
flinder will have regular huddles where members from each competency will go through a client profile and really get a deep understanding of the client’s business and pain points and where the client can improve their processes or add value in another way. A member of each competency will be present so they can bring the best of flinder to the session.
The team will discuss the perceived pain points, identify potential solutions and establish what the cost to the business is. From there, they create strategies and a vision and develop a plan to take to the business.
Also, they have a regular pitch session on Friday where there are a few slots put aside for managers to bring a client profile to a panel and quickly highlights current challenges the client faces. The panel will identify a couple of quick wins that they can implement to continually add value to the client’s business.
7. Talking to Clients
flinder is able to really work with clients much deeper because they specifically focus on finding out their clients’ challenges outside of finance. This gives them a greater understanding of how the client’s business model works and what sort of improvements can be made.
By really knowing their clients and sector pain points, they can look for ways to pivot their business or add additional services that will bring vast value to their clients. From this, they are also able to look for new opportunities and create new propositions in the future.
What Are the Biggest Mistakes You Made When Launching Your Business?
Along with identifying the keys to the success of flinder, we wanted to know what Alastair would do differently if he could go back in time. His answer was largely about getting more people into the business sooner.
Firstly, they started out dipping their toes in and trying to do as much as possible until they had enough clients to justify additional team members. However, bringing in a range of knowledge and expertise from the very start allows you to shape your business and start getting clients instantly. Hiring can often have six to nine months of lead time where you find the right candidates and train them to work with your processes, systems and embrace your company values and philosophy, so if you wait until there is enough work, it may often be too late.
Secondly, they were taking on complex consulting projects that, early on, still required the skills of Alastair or Luke which took too much time away from growing their business strategically. Removing themselves from the day to day sooner is also something they would change next time.
From the steep learning curve of launching flinder, Alastair advises others to put some capital into the business to really accelerate the growth. It allows for investment in technology and people to really go out and win clients, increase revenue and grow the brand.