The starting point for us when we were thinking about reviewing our business and how we go about things came down to one question: Why do I do what I do?
It's quite a big question, and allied to that was another question: What do I want to achieve? I began going through some very personal objectives in terms of what my goals and ambitions were, and why we do what we do for our clients.
We then developed our thinking along the lines of: If we're going to help ourselves to achieve our personal goals, then what has the business got to look like to help us do that. I hate the term work-life balance, but that was a factor in our conversations as well.
We've been going for 25 years now, with my mother originally having set up the business.
Those core family values, backed by high levels of service and knowing all the ins and outs of our clients' lives, have always been important to us. It's always been about very personal levels of service.
While clearly we'll set out what we want to achieve for clients, in reality we're aiming to go above and beyond that. We're not the type of firm to tell them to go and get on with stuff. We hold their hand through every step of the process.
A lot of the changes we ended up making within the business came from a place of not wanting to lose that core focus.
There are all kinds of things you can do to become more efficient or to do things differently, but for us these wouldn't fit with our deeply held passions and beliefs around what we want to do for our clients.
We didn't start from a business perspective, but actually the work we've done around clarifying our purpose does make good business sense.
Our clients really appreciate and value what we do, and while it might be more expensive to offer the high level of service we do, clients like that and stay with us because of it.
In day-to-day life, you can find yourself going through the motions a bit. So trying to verbalise your purpose can be really quite difficult.
But I think it wasn't so much that we'd lost our sense of purpose, more that it was like second nature to us, which then made it very hard to pinpoint.
If we were to compare ourselves to our peers, company A might charge 0.5 per cent a year, company B might charge 0.75 per cent and company C might charge 1 per cent. But we've no idea really what clients are getting for that.
We’re probably somewhere in the middle, but I would like to think we're delivering a service that far exceeds what some other companies are charging more for.
Our firm's Why?/Woww! Statement is: "Your future is our purpose. Through understanding your journey, our planning gives you clarity, security and freedom."
We've even had it painted on our wall in the office - at least that way we don’t forget it!
It sums up our approach nicely, both for clients but from the team's point of view as well.
Recently as a team we've spoken about the fact that we all have a very similar ethos, and we're not ones to rest on our laurels - we're always thinking about how we can do things better or how we could improve a certain process.
Equally, if there's a problem, we know we need to do something about it. All of us have that purpose in mind and so we're always on the lookout for how we can improve how we work.
To help with that, every six months we take a day out of the office as a team.
We sit down and use that time to come up with ideas and bat them around. People might be coming up with ideas all the time, but we can then use that dedicated time as a team to decide what the biggest issue is or what the priorities are.
We have what we call a 'continual improvement register', which is big part of our BS 8577 certification. Anybody can put anything on there at any time.
Some of those ideas will be very quick and easy fixes and we just get them done, while other ideas are much bigger projects that we need to contend with.
Bigger projects then move on to our strategy planner, and these can cover anything from people and marketing to systems and processes and compliance.
We'll then set out when we want to be rolling out this project by, or the date we want a particular issue to be resolved. Then there may be 10 steps with a timeline with what we need to do to get there.
Understanding who we are
So we've done a lot of work on defining our purpose and building our business and a plan from that.
We also decided to take a considered approach to the number of new clients we're happy to take on.
For us, this is about recognising that we want to do full financial planning with our clients. There is a cost associated with that, and that is over and above traditional, transactional financial advice.
We've got to be honest with our clients and our prospective clients about that, and the level of detail that we go into isn't going to be something that represents good value for a big tranche of potential clients out there.
We've been quite focused about the fact that we'll only deal with clients with assets over a certain level, because that's where we feel we can add value.
If I don't see myself adding value to a client's situation, then I don't think we should be working with them.
Equally, if prospective clients aren't seeing the value in our service, then we've realised they’re probably not the right clients for us.
But even for those we can't help, if we signpost them to somebody that can, then they're always really appreciative of that.
It’s about being honest - explaining that we're not the right people for them, but based on their needs these are the best people to speak to.
The view from Michelle Hoskin
Standards International founder and director Michelle Hoskin says:
"When I first met Nicola, while I hadn’t really known her for long, I could tell she'd lost that trailblazer sparkle she was known for.
"By helping her regain some focus about her life and her business, we were able to reignite that passion that for many of us is often lost in the barrage of doing business.
"Unleashing this in Nicola meant that passion was firmly in place at the top of the business, and passion runs downhill. A positive, focused and passionate Nicola has led to a positive, focused and passionate team."
My mum has been retired for a while now, and hasn't been client-facing for about 10 years.
We've always had a similar approach in terms of the way we wanted to do things, so there weren't really changes in terms of business strategy on that front.
What we were conscious of was continuity for clients, and we didn't want a situation where a client saw one adviser one year and someone else the following year.
We decided to build up the back-office team around me, so that I could concentrate on the client-facing work rather than the day-to-day stuff.
That led to us really honing and developing our thinking around what people we needed in the office.
Now we're in a position where everybody has clearly defined roles, and that's been an area that Standards International and the Woww!® by Design Development Programme™ has really helped us with.
There were times in the past where post would come in and we'd ask who would deal with that particular issue.
Nowadays, everyone knows exactly what their roles are, what the lines of responsibility are and who's dealing with what. People are experts in their fields, rather than jack of all trades, master of none.
Ultimately, by working through the Woww!® programme and through the work we've done over the last few years we've gained a sense of clarity about who we are.
We want to work with people who will appreciate what we do for them. We are honest about who we want to work with, the clients we work best with, and where we add value.