This week I take a look behind the scenes at one of my current clients, BlueSKY Chartered Financial Planning.
BlueSKY Chartered Financial Planning, based in Lower Early near Reading, are a business well and truly on the move.
Here are a few headline numbers over the last 4 years:
- Total revenue is up by 88% – approaching £1.45M this year
- Client numbers are down from circa 2500 to 341
- Revenue per planner has increased 108%, up from £174,000 to £362,000
How have they done it?
BlueSKY were already a solid business when I got on board just over three years ago. However, there were some changes they wanted to make, along with some big decisions that needed to be made if they wanted to make those changes successfully. To their credit, the leadership group at BlueSKY, Mark Penston, Liz Penston and Rob Starling, were up for the challenge.
The business was transforming itself away from its history, which was as a more traditional independent financial adviser focused on a larger number of clients. By the time I arrived it was no longer that business, but it hadn’t quite shed its old skin.
Rob Starling, who had joined from his own Financial Planning business brought a strong desire to act as, and be seen as, a genuine Financial Planning firm. Mark and Liz bought into that vision too, and some steps had been taken to change. However, there was more work to be done.
They’ve focused hard on the six core areas that make all businesses work:
Here’s what’s happened in each of those areas:
There are four core values at BlueSKY:
- Peace of mind
- Client service
The leadership team are working hard to explain how they see each of those values, and the behaviours they are expecting from themselves and the team as a result. By taking some time to align everyone around its core values, the business is beginning to get even more engagement.
BlueSKY had a great existing team before I joined. They’ve got some really experienced team members, so one of the key issues was to ensure that if they left or retired there would be continuity of their skill sets; that is, creating some depth on the bench.
My focus initially was on the two main selling directors: Mark and Rob. Our aim was to free them up to focus on what they love and are good at. Rob knew how everything worked and had been instrumental in creating many of the business processes to this point in the journey. This meant he kept getting drawn into stuff that was never meant to be his core focus.
After a bit of back and forth, eventually Mark and Rob agreed to hire an Operations Manager. They found Nikki Unadkat, who is fantastic.
Nikki has been leading the charge on managing the existing team and the business and has been adding depth to the team for the future. As a result Mark and Rob are able to set direction, but avoid getting caught up in implementation and follow through.
As they started to revamp the focus and structure of the business it became imperative to look at their business processes. They did some work with Dominika Sieradzka at rie.solutions to establish some solid processes that everyone now follows.
This will always be a work in progress, but they’ve made great strides.
In this area the leadership team are really solid. I introduced some business planning, and a weekly leadership team meeting which they’ve embraced. It’s no surprise then that they’ve been achieving some great financial numbers, while also building foundations for the future.
There are four members of the leadership team now: Mark, Rob, Liz, and Nikki. They function very well as a group, and are not afraid to challenge each other (or me). Each brings different skills and perspectives.
Succession plans are coming along nicely too, with Rob Starling stepping up as Mark Penston’s successor. Along with this there are other quality younger team members coming through to create some depth on the bench for other key roles.
Mark and Rob have grown as leaders of their business during the journey. It’s hard not to. However, they are now very proactive in creating their own development plans to accelerate that personal growth process. They recognise that to run the future business they are creating, they will both need to continue to grow and develop.
The goals is to build a business that will be able to serve its clients for the long-term.
In my experience, focusing on the long-term issues is the fastest way to achieve short-term success. That’s been true at BlueSKY.
I shared some numbers earlier that are from the last four years of business performance. Here are a few more:
- Recurring revenue has increased 69%
- Net profit margins have increased significantly, moving to 20%+
- Revenue per planner has increased 108%
- Revenue per staff is up 37%
We have deliberately disengaged from a large number of legacy clients, which means client numbers are down from circa 2500 to 341. This has freed the business and the team to focus on core clients.
They work with retirees and pre-retirees, like many firms. However they also have a strong niche in doing expert pension sharing reports for solicitors. This is a strong driver of workflow. We’re still tweaking and refining in this area to maximise the opportunity, but it’s a great niche for them to develop.
To the future
Like everyone I work with, they’ve got better at the business planning process each year. In my experience it takes about three years of facilitated business planning to really get clear on your desired future.
Having done a few iterations of their business plan and having made significant progress, I believe they now see what is possible for themselves and their business.
I’m really excited about the prospects for this business. They’ve done incredibly well to get to here, but as the old saying goes, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Watch this space.