The Five Phases of the Professional Business Cycle

The professional business cycle has five phases:

  1. Originate (Bring in the Work)
  2. Perform (Do the Work)
  3. Deliver (Get the Work to your Client)
  4. Bill (Send a Great Invoice)
  5. Collect (Get Paid!)

Each of these five phases are happening almost every day.  Certainly they should be happening at least one a month.  To create success, the professional should focus on each phase, but most professionals focus on only a few and leave the rest to chance and circumstance.

Bringing in the Work requires a good reputation and the opportunity to pitch for the Work.  Often, professional referrals come from word of mouth from past, satisfied clients – so performing well in phases 2-5 will help with phase 1.  Sometimes, though, even for busy, successful professionals, keeping enough new work coming in can be their biggest challenge.  Rather than leaving phase 1 to chance, the successful professional can help matters by actively creating good content (writing articles or blog posts, or even a book, so that people who are looking for professionals in this newly connected world can see the professional’s expertise and willingness to help in a graphic way) and by networking.  By networking, I mean getting out of the office and going to events where potential customers are gathering for the purpose of networking and meeting people and talking to them.  Teaching a seminar, for example, is a good way to both create content and network.  The point is to be active and intentional in the business of bringing in the Work.

The Work must, of course, be done.  And done well.  Ironically this is both the thing most professionals spend the most time on, and the thing they can most easily delegate.  Most professionals do not need help with knowing how to do their work – if they do perhaps they need more time working as an assistant to a more senior professional in their field.  However, professionals who are very good at phase 1 may consider hiring other professionals (who are not as good at phase 1) to do the Work they bring in, under supervision.  When delegating the Work, it is important to supervise the delegee, both to ensure that the Work gets done timely and to ensure the Work is done to the expected standard.

Delivering the Work would seem like a part of phase 2, and perhaps it is, but I treat it separately because I believe the delivery requires its own intentionality.  Not only must the completed Work be delivered timely (completed Work sometimes sits in limbo for days or weeks if not monitored), but also some thought should be given to the method of delivery.  Can the completed Work be e-mailed to the Client?  Should it be?  When should it be delivered as a written document, or delivered in a face to face meeting?  Does the delivered product look professional?  Like everything in this world, presentation matters.  When a customer buys a Kia, they expect to pick it up at the store with a minimum of fuss.  But when a customer buys a BMW, they are invited to receive it at the factory, with a full red carpet delivery.  Presentation matters.

Billing for professional Work is the opposite of doing the Work – it is the phase more professionals spend the least time on, and delegate the most, but it is the phase that is the least easily delegated.  Or, at least, delegated effectively.  The bill is, itself, a marketing tool and a reputation builder.  Consider the following example:

Activity Time Rate Total
Hearing – Judge Anderson 5.5 Hours $250 per Hour $1,750

Compare that with:

Activity Time Rate Total
Meet with Client and Local Counsel.  Discuss upcoming Motion for Summary Judgment and Prepare for Hearing. 2.5 Hours $250 per Hour $625
Lunch with Client and Local Counsel, discuss afternoon hearing. 1.0 Hours $250 per Hour No Charge – Thank You for Lunch!
Hearing with Hon. G. Ross Anderson on Motion for Summary Judgment. 2.0 Hours $250 per Hour $500

Both bills cover the same amount of time.  There are, however, two differences that are important.  One is that the second bill is more detailed.  It probably could be even more detailed.  The client will see and pay this bill some time after the hearing, perhaps as long as a month later.  Memories fade.  Often, a bill will include items the client was not present to witness.  Detail lends credibility.  Detail makes the client feel like they have gotten value for their money.  Detail matters.  The second thing is that all business, including professional business, is at heart really about relationships.  Clients, like all of us, want to be treated well.  Giving no charge for the lunch the client treated the professional to is courteous.   Yes, it cost the professional $250.  But that hour was more about phase 1 than phase 2, even if the Work was discussed over lunch.  When the client gets the bill, you do not want his next conversation with his friends (your potential clients) to be “he charged me for eating lunch, and I paid!”.

In my experience, Getting Paid is the hardest of the phases.  The best way to do phase 5 is to do phases 1-4 well.  But there are always clients that, for one reason or another, do not pay their bill timely.  This is another area that is often delegated, but really should not be.  When a client does not timely pay their bill, the professional should get involved sooner, rather than later, to determine whether there is a problem.   The matter must be approached gently – remember this business is about connection, trust, and a personal relationship.  Sometimes the failure was an oversight, or perhaps an embarrassing lack of cash flow on the client’s part.  What is needed is a reminder or question that does not assume hostile intent.  If the problem is that the bill was unexpectedly large, or that the client does not feel he got value, then it is best to deal with that personally and professionally and timely.  Sometimes, a disgruntled client can be converted into a happy client by sensitive and timely attention to their issues.  Sometimes, unfortunately, there are those clients who are just out for a free lunch, and will take as much as they can before moving on to the next provider.  Identifying and such people and terminating the professional, relationship sooner, rather than later, is important.

Being conscious of the five phase business cycle, and approaching each phase with intent, will help any professional to be more successful at their Work, and to work with happier, more satisfied clients.  Which part of the business cycle do you need to work on?

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