A five year prediction for professional services 2011-2016

I did a presentation today to some lawyers and an architect at the PM Forum in Nottingham and it was great fun, but in doing the research for it, I was able to learn an enormous about and now feel confident making a prediction for the future structure of professional services businesses. So here goes.

Over the next five years, many creative companies, architectural practices, website producers, project managers, QS’s, writers, translators and any individual who is able to essentially sell themselves directly to their contact list, will do just that. There will be a huge splintering of bigger firms to create hundreds and thousands of sole trader/micro businesses. The excuse may well be more time with the kids, but it will be as much to do with security. Taking the responsibility for earning your own income and choosing your own work.

I also believe that the legal profession will work counter cyclically. When the effects of ‘Tesco Law’ come into play in October 2011, there will be a race to create bigger and bigger firms to be able to compete with national priced legal businesses such as Quality Solicitors. As was discussed today at the PM Forum, this will be far more scary to those lawyers who sell to consumers, but the effects and the price knock-on will doubtless hit the B2B market too.

So in five years time, the law firms will probably begin breaking up again understanding that consumers want a more personalised service. The little splinter businesses working from home will realise that they are working mainly with one or two key partners and will join forces to create micro companies again. This will trigger a new wave of mergers and acquisition in all these sectors. Big firms will be back, but not until 2016.

There will be huge opportunities for branding and creating differentiation in every sector and it won’t all be about logos.

It should be an exciting ride.

Living without an iPhone – a social and business experiment – Day 31

Okay a full month has passed and I am still off my iPhone 4. What have I learnt so far?

1. I get more work done

2. I am far more able to work in a linear fashion and do the job I have in front of me before being distracted by the next job that appears via my email inbox.

3. I have spent more time talking on the phone as my crappy old three year old Nokia 6300 is a better phone than the iPhone 4 and it doesn’t hurt my ear when I use it.

4. The battery life of an iPhone 4 is amazing if you never use it. It just sits there on standby in my bag in case I ever need it. I’m sure i’ve only charged it two or three times in the whole month.

5. My kids are absolutely disgusted with me and think they should have first dabs on the iPhone.

6. I almost lost my bottle at the weekend and brought it with me as we were going shopping for Duke of Edinburgh gear for my daughter and felt a bit exposed by not being able to price check what we bought. In the end, we just went to Sports Direct where everything was cheaper anyway. Their Field and Trek instore section is remarkable value with a brilliant Karrimor sleeping bag reduced to £18 from £50.

7. When and if I do switch back, I will not switch push email back on.

8. The reason I will keep with my Nokia is more to do with the weakness of the phone element of the iPhone than any of the features and apps that I have barely missed at all.

9. The reason I will probably switch back at some point is the quality of the camera on the iPhone 4, which is excellent compared to the 3g and my crappy Nokia.

The experiment continues.

Paul Bennett – Ideo – 20 minutes to change your thinking

This is a guy called Paul Bennett speaking at the Economist Conference and it as changed (again) the way I look at things.

His four words:





Can be applied to any business in any field. If you get them right, you can create a clearly differentiated successful business and a successful brand.

Stick with it as he does come across as a bit superior and has one of those funny mid Atlantic accents. There are a few more killer points that come across to me too.

1. Play well with others. We will achieve more by working as a collective and working together.

2. Be transparent and listen to feedback. If you have things to hide, customers will see it and tell others.

3. Look for people with passion behind the eyes.

Just brilliant simple stuff. There must be a part two as it does end a little abruptly though.

Part two

It took a while, but I found it, so here’s part two

Admiral Insurance – Brilliant again

Admiral Insurance – Looking out for their customers

It’s going to sound like i’m in the pocket of these insurance types as I am again impressed with the customer service from Admiral Insurance. I wrote about their brilliant call centres here.

My mate Tim Garratt has had nothing but trouble with his.

But my experience is totally different.

I have just put my personalised plates on my new car. That should be simple. But I had to take them off my old car and drive a different car in the meantime and also happened to change my wife’s car at around the same time too. So that was six calls in less than three months.

So on Saturday, I knew what to expect. The lady who answered in the UK call centre called Victoria didn’t dissapoint. I knew the script. “You do know Mr Lyle that there will be a £17.50 admin fee to cover the cost of the change?”

I said I did as I had paid it five times in three months.

“Well I don’t think you should pay it again then”, said our hero Victoria. “I’ll just speak to my Manager”.

A few moments later, she comes back on and confirmed that I had more than covered my admin fees and they would waive any fee this time.

They did the change for free, but in the meantime got a very happy customer who was clearly smiling down the phone.

I have said many, many times before that if you want to create brand loyalty you need to surprise and delight your customers. Give them things they’re not expecting and generally try and stand in their shoes.

Admiral are doing this incredibly well for such a big company. As long as the renewal cost is there or thereabouts, will get my multi-car policy business next year again.

Debranding cigarettes

Celebrities smoking ad looking rather uncool doing it - In fact they all look rather haggard and pinched
Celebrities smoking and looking rather uncool doing it - In fact they all look rather haggard and pinched

As a former smoker who started when I was very young, I can’t help but think that the government have got it 100% totally wrong by aiming to remove all the branding from cigarette packaging and driving them under the counter.
Don’t they realise that all they will do is make them cool again?

Most normal people have got bored of smoking. It’s just not that much fun for the obvious downsides, but now it’s getting naughty again i’m quite tempted to start again.

Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology proved scientifically that smokers were actually turned on by the ‘smoking kills’ symbols’ on the pack. it triggered a reaction of almost religious fervour.  Driving them under the counter should have them foaming at the mouth and salivating at newsagent’s windows. Pavlov’s smoking dog.

Call me a cynic if you wish, but again, this allows the government to stand on the high ground and claim ignorance.
Banning smoking in public places did nothing to the rates of smoking, it just closed lots of pubs and working men’s clubs. It removed liberty and choice whilst at the same time keeping up the tax revenue from smoking. Smokers more than pay for the entire NHS and have the advantage of dying younger, so it is not in the government’s interest to actually stop people smoking, but it helps their perception if they appear as though that’s what they want.

This move will do the same as the smoking ban and should even encourage a few more kids to give it a try.

According to the BBC this morning, 200 people a day die from smoking related illnesses every day, so they need to recruit 200 new smokers to replace them. I think this should keep them nicely on track.

If you want to stop kids smoking, you would be far better to show very uncool people smoking and looking haggard or maybe even tell them it’s good for them, like vegetables.

Thanks to wow.ie for the image

Living without an iPhone – a social and business experiment – Day 7

The first week is done and for me, it’s been a genuine success. I seem to have been far more efficient with my emails. At the end of Friday I went home with 29 in the inbox, compared to 74 the week before.

I am not ‘grazing’ information I don’t need and without doubt moving more logically from one job to the next. I am not being distracted as much as usual.

I have also had a surprisingly positive reaction with Rosie McArtney being genuinely supportive and believing that more people will switch their own iPhone/Blackberry/Smartphone off. It may not be a coincidence that she lost hers earlier in the year and has been working with a nrmal phone for some time now too.

I’m spending more time on the phone speaking to customers and suppliers – again this has to be a good thing. That’s okay now as I’m using a phone that was designed a phone (Nokia 6300) and the battery life is awesome. It hasn’t needed charging since I switched it on, on Wednesday.

So am I going back now my week is up?

No. Not for now.

I’ll live week by week and see whether I drift into the same lazy habits I had fallen into before I underwent this experiment.

Living without an iPhone – a social and business experiment – Day 4

I’m starting to quite like this. I am definitely spending less time with emails and more time actually doing work. For me this is a huge progression. But firstly a few confessions.

1. The phone I bought was crap – I had a few people complaining that they couldn’t hear me. It may be that they were trying to prove a point and were taking the mickey, but I suspect you get what you pay for and as a casual user it would be a fie phone, but for a business user, it is a little weedy. If yu know of any kids or deserving causes that want it, let me know and i’ll donate it.

I have now had my much older Nokia 6300 unlocked and taped the micro sim in place as the adapter still hasn’t arrived. The iPhone still functions as a wifi device, but no longer as a phone. I have to confess to feeling a little more comfortable with it as a piece of technology. A phone that works as a phone is a good start.

2. I have used the iPhone a bit – Mainly to make outgoing calls as I burnt the credit on my £10 sim in about ten minutes flat. That is now over as I am back on my normal number.

3. I have even accessed an email – I know, I know. I was in the car (parked) and trying to get the number of a supplier. The easiest way was to look at an old email and ring them from that. It was a quick in and out. Honest. But I did immediately go and look at Sky Sports App ad a few others.

It made me feel slightly dirty and not in the spirit of my experiment. Sorry.

And now onto the positives

1. I am working in a more linear way – Dealing with requests once and getting tasks completed and filed.

2. I have more time – I am definitely spending less time worrying about emails and more time doing actual work.

3. I am a safer driver – I have not even touched my phone, checked an email or read a text whilst i’m driving. Car kit or no car kit.

An early conclusion?

I am not wanting to cut my nose off to spite my face, but I do feel it is making me change my (dirty) iPhone habits. I may go back to the iPhone at some point in the future, but I am pretty sure the default position will be to have the email push switched off. If this has only taught me that much, it’s been worth it.

My worry of living without it, is already overpaying for Christmas.

Start with Why – By Simon Sinek

This is a TED lecture by the amazing Simon Sinek That my friend and former colleague Hannah Pearce pointed me towards.

I sat and watched this on Sunday and ignored everyone who tried to talk to me whilst it was on. It’s 18 minutes very well spent and will change the way you look at creativity and designing brands, businesses and products.

His belief is that all innovators think in the same way. They start with the ‘why’, rather than start with the ‘what’. So in effect, they design the idea or the reason before they begin to design the product or service that comes out of the process.

A few highlights.

1. Apple Computer are a company that start with why. Their ‘why’ happens to be to challenge the conventional way of doing things. Their ‘how’ is by designing beautiful intuitive products and their ‘what’ is computers, MP3’s, phones and all sorts of electronic gadgetry. Perhaps this is the reason I have my doubts about Apple at the moment, maybe they have been focussing a bit too much on the ‘what’ and not enough on the ‘why’.

2. If you hire people for the ‘what’, they will work for your money. If you hire people who believe what you believe, you are hiring the ‘why’ and they will work with blood, sweat and tears. This backs up what I said back here completely in my John Timpson book review.

3. When Martin Luther King had 250,000 people to hear him speak, you will notice that it was his ‘I have a dream’ speech, and not his ‘I have a plan’. Modern politicians with their twelve point plans for success seem to get it wrong  time after time after time, because it is never about the why, always about the what.

It’s really worth a watch. But do it with a notebook, like I did.