By John Borrowman, CPC
Borrowman Baker, LLC, BV Staffing + Consulting
All those lunches with attorneys and public speaking engagements are starting to pay off. You’re getting several calls each week asking you to take on a particular project. It used to be that you had a pretty good balance between getting the work in the door, and rolling up your sleeves to get it done and out the door.
You’re starting to feel trapped by the burden of meeting deadlines, however. You can’t get out and market like you used to and you start to fear that you can’t even accept new engagements at the rate you’d like. You really need to find someone to hire who can take some of this workload off your hands. You’ve set your sights on hiring someone in the 3 to 5 year experience range who requires minimal supervision, but you just can’t hire one. Why are they so hard to find? And what can you do about it?
As with all staffing challenges in the business valuation industry, there’s no easy answer.
On the “demand” side of the equation, the number of practices who want to hire that same 3 to 5 year person has grown almost exponentially. The overall expansion in the volume of BV work is the primary factor contributing to this increased demand. Smaller practices with one or two people at the top of the pyramid are stymied in their growth without the ability to leverage work downward. Larger practices can often find the “worker bee” staff to do research and analysis, but still need someone who can oversee those staff and insulate the upper level personnel from those day-to-day responsibilities.
More broadly speaking, demand for the 3 to 5 year range of experience has always been high across almost all industries. This is the level at which a person has accumulated enough experience to exercise independent judgment and operate with minimal supervision. It’s no surprise that that’s the level of talent that everyone seems to want.
There are other factors on the “supply” side of the ledger. The first, perhaps unique to business valuation, is that the only place you can go to find this talent is inside the industry. Although business valuation requires a skill set used in a number of other contexts, business valuation is pretty much the only place where one gains the necessary experience in applying that skill set. At lower functional levels, it can be possible to hire from outside the industry. The higher the functional level that is required, however, the smaller the universe of candidates.
Another supply-side factor has to do with normal career progression. Once that 3 to 5 year experience level has been reached, the individual has passed a decision point where others have changed careers entirely, and has committed to staying with business valuation for the longer term. Likewise, this is a point when the individual has probably grown more comfortable with current circumstances and is inclined to stay to pursue the long-term potential with that employer. If that potential was not apparent, the person would already have a) moved to an employer where it was apparent, or b) left the industry altogether.
All of that does nothing to relieve your need to get some talent on board. So, what can you do?
Take pre-emptive action. If you can see that you’ll soon be at the point where you’ll need to hire additional talent, take action to hire sooner rather than later. This approach carries some risk in that you may not have the pipeline of work you’d prefer to have in order to afford the additional payroll costs. One advantage is that you are able to hire at a lower functional level because you still have time to devote to that employee’s training and development. That, in turn, means you will have a larger universe of candidates to choose from and will be able to hire at a lower compensation cost. By carefully leveraging this employee, you also can reduce your cumulative average billing rate, giving you a competitive edge as you increase the time devoted to marketing and business development.
Re-evaluate your needs. Employers can too easily fall into the “hire in your own image” pitfall, and assume that the necessary experience level is higher than it might actually need to be. Take a closer look at exactly what functions you must hand off in order to be productive, and what functions you’d like to hand off but can really continue to do, yourself. By viewing the situation functionally, and not merely assuming that you need X level of experience, you will most likely expand the universe of candidates who might be available to join your practice.
Re-examine your story. It’s easy for you to sit where you are and articulate the reasons why someone should join your practice. What you have to do is put yourself in the shoes of the potential candidate. Ask yourself: What is the “compelling story” about why someone would come to work here? This compelling story must go beyond platitudes about “opportunity” and “rapid growth”. You have to be able to talk about levels of autonomy and independent action, complexity and sophistication of the work, support for continuing education in the field, and so forth. Candidates will have to see a material difference in the career potential between their current position and yours.
None of these approaches are guaranteed to produce results, unfortunately. In the highly competitive arena of finding top BV talent, however, doing the same old thing and running the same old ads just won’t get the result you want.