Pruning – An Autumn Pastime or Business Necessity?

It is that time of year again – Autumn – when we put our wellingtons on, rake up the leaves and maybe do some pruning to get rid of dead wood?

All in all a very therapeutic and enjoyable pastime for many, but ‘oh so necessary!’

Pruning is in fact imperative, as all good gardeners recognise as this creates the path to enable future growth.

Currently there are lots of news articles in the national newspapers and trade press referring to ‘The green shoots in the economy’, but how much pruning has been done in your business to enable the ‘green shoots to prosper and flourish?’ and how does this relate to your client base?

Let’s start with fully understanding what we mean by pruning and then discuss why ultimately it could be so important to the growth of your business!

Pruning (P5)

You may inherit or acquire clients who are more trouble than they are worth which become ‘Problem children!’  When faced with clients who dispute fees, affect profitability or office moral because they are difficult to deal with or prevent you from working with more valuable, rewarding and enjoyable clients then it could be time to consider whether an amicable separation would be the best course of action.

So what may be the factors that lead you to want to instigate this separation, especially when it could leave a gaping hole in the fee income in the short term?

  • Unprofitable work/low margins
  • Bad ‘payers’ affecting cash flow
  • Different culture or individuals and thus affecting morale within your people who deal with them
  • Client demands high maintenance from senior staff and constant attention
  • Work is sporadic, low volume and or low revenue
  • Client does not fit with current or future strategic direction

 Once these factors have been cogitated and a decision reached to prune it is then a case of implementing the decision to separate with a client.  This will vary depending on the strength and type of relationship but would include one of the following; I would suggest:

  • Conduct an ‘open and honest’ meeting with senior personnel
  • Let the relationship wither and wilt through lower maintenance
  • Instigate a minimum fee level as part of a SLA (Service Level Agreement)
  • Pass the client onto a partner organisation where there is a better fit creating a win/win
  • Service the client at a distance and/or utilise junior members of staff


The biggest limiting factor for any professional is TIME and by being bold and ‘biting the bullet’ now will enable the green shoots to grow and prosper in the correct environment.

So how would we then use this new found freedom and time to create our dream client base for the future and plant, nurture and grow the shoots for the future.

This would be done by using a process to enable that time to be managed along with business development input so that each and every fee-earner can see the return on that investment.

Manage the Pipeline (P0 to P4)

Focus attention on specific companies who we would like to work with, and forget all notion of any scattergun type marketing or cold calling from a Business Top 100/500 list.

If you work on managing business development input into the following Pipeline segments then the outputs of fee income will start to appear.  Once this occurs then it is a matter of managing the different segments of the model and continually feeding new prospective clients into it just as you would a ‘popcorn maker’ and how good is that we say!  Let’s look at the segments of the model in sequence in very simplistic terms.

P0 – The Market

You need to consider every potential customer in the market and control destiny by ‘creating our postcard of the future’ or the ideal client base, and not just trust luck and hoping these clients will pick up the phone or walk through the door.

P1 – Prospecting/Defining the Market

You need to keep things simple and identify a small number of really attractive clients who you want to work with and do business with.  What makes them attractive is based on the criteria you set and your strategy for the future.

From this list we must then apply filter and trigger tools which will identify things that make the prospective client more attractive or easier to approach or indeed, changes which may be happening in their world which would make them consider using other advisors!

P2 – Promoting/Marketing to the Defined Prospects

This segment of the model is all about making sure you are on other peoples radar through various levels of marketing and ultimately generate a meeting with key decision makers to enable ‘Face to face’ dialogue.

Done properly this is where your marketing department or business development professionals work in unison with fee-earners to implement the correct level and mix of corporate, capability and contact marketing to enable that first meeting.

The most effective way to get into dialogue I would advocate is through campaigning to your prospects with items of value to them in their world, all the time building your credibility and showing competence and compatibility.

Following a campaign the prospect will be looking forward to taking your call in eager anticipation of setting up a meeting.

P3 – Projecting/Defined Prospects Now in Dialogue

So you are invited to a meeting where the jackets come off and the tea and biscuits are on the table!  All you need to do now is really build their trust so they really want to move to the next stage, whatever that may be.

In this first meeting it is important that we continue to demonstrate our credibility, compatibility and competence by endeavouring to understand the client first and foremost and not simply downloading as many facts as possible we can recite about our business in 30 minutes.

By asking them good questions and listening carefully makes a real difference to gaining insightful knowledge about the client’s real needs and wants, and thus avoids us professionals in making too many unfounded assumptions. 

This part of the process could take any amount of time but the key message is that this is about you understanding them and building a relationship within their timeframes, so ‘bite your tongue and do not flog them the first service you can think of that may fill a perceived requirement’!

Eventually and after many steps, they will hopefully see you as a trusted advisor and this may lead to a ‘first bite at the cherry’ and some fee income.

P4 – Protecting/Current or Existing Clients

If we have decided not to prune these then they should be ‘put on an island with a moat around them’ and protected like the crown jewels.

You can bet while you are reading this article some of your competitors are going into action to try and steal them from you, and maybe spending more time with them than you currently do.

Key client management is very important not only in protecting your relationship but also because real value can be added to your client base through leveraging further opportunities and cross-selling other services from within your organisation.

The client will always be looking for excellent service so this is not a differentiator and do not rely on single point relationships, make sure there are multiple point relationships.

So finally we must look at pruning as a very enjoyable and proactive approach to business development because without this we would not have the correct level of focus or time to enable the green shoots to grow come Springtime!


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