Total Business Review

The Total Business Review (TBR), our flagship service and where most firms begin, is a very unique, impactful solution for marketing firms wanting a holistic, objective, candid assessment of their firm...and then specific recommendations to take them to the next step and beyond.

This program began in March, 1994 and was then deconstructed and rebuilt in August, 2013. We still only perform this for the design, advertising, public relations, and interactive communities, but working with ca. 750 firms has enabled us to know right where to look, how to interpret the data, and what it means in the context of this industry.

It unfolds in four phases.

First, you contact us by phone (615-831-2277) or complete the contact form. We arrange a time to speak briefly about your situation and whether or not this is a good fit for you. In half of the cases, we would typically steer you to another program or a competitor. Our goal is the correct fit, just because not making a difference is tiring and demotivating. We have no interest in your money unless it would be well-spent on this program. But if it is a fit, it's a very exciting moment for us and the internal engagement begins immediately. So assuming you want to move forward...

Second, we find the next available date and send you acceptance materials based on that. By email, you'll receive an agreement (to sign and return), a list of materials to gather, a proposed schedule for the on-site portion (with suggestions on who should attend each meeting), an invoice, a credit card authorization form (if you prefer that rather than a check or bank transfer), and a non-disclosure agreement that we have already signed to ensure confidentiality regarding your firm. Once you have formally accepted the engagement, we'll send a second email asking for a census of all employees, including principals, so that we can issue qualitative surveys and quantitative personality profiles. We'll explain that to you and provide sample language that you can modify to notify your staff. This period before we work together on-site also allows you to gather the materials we've requested and send them ahead of time (roughly ten days) so that we can build a thorough benchmarking of your firm. That will be the first thing we cover, and it consists of a spreadsheet with five different pages. After we go over it, we'll make any adjustments necessary and then give you the file to update regularly and measure your progress.

Third, we'll conduct the on-site portion. That can be anything from one day to four days and depends on the size of your firm. For firms of up to sixteen people, we can accomplish what we need to in one day. You'll receive the agenda beforehand, which will cover the benchmarking, your positioning and GTM strategy, the structuring of various roles in the firm, and any processes that you might need to put in place. Various emphases will emerge from the benchmarking. For example, if that reveals that you are consistently under-pricing and/or over-delivering, we'll fix that through your positioning, people, and processes. So those three areas are the big buckets, but we look at each bucket through the lens of the benchmarking results. We'll leave you with a very clear picture of where your firm is now, where it should be, and how to get there. In each case, we'll provide you with an outline to facilitate notekeeping. Rather than regurgitating everything in a written report, the deliverable, so to speak, is the spoken advice we give and the notes you capture. It's a better use of time and a more effective knowledge transfer if you take good notes, and we'll help you do that.

Fourth, we'll stand by during implementation. We'll assist you via phone or email over a period of up to three months or three significant phone calls, whichever is first. (These are defined more clearly in the FAQ.) They are agenda-driven, which means that you might keep a log of questions and then set up a call when you are ready. (These calls are not like a coach might have with you, in that they are not regularly scheduled and they are not designed to keep you accountable.) We don't count the quick phone calls or short email exchanges against this.

So those are the four stages. In that process we'll make many recommendations, but the three areas we'll examine the most closely are these:

  • The first is positioning, marketing best practices, and lead generation strategies to find clients who need you and would find it difficult to locate a suitable substitute. This is designed to provide more control over your business life and developing significant expertise that is worth more in the marketplace. We've developed specific theory and application in this step that will keep you very engaged. After we walk through it, you'll see clearly the if, why, what, when, and how the changes should occur. We'll start with whatever level of sophistication you have reached and significantly stretch you to the next level. The purpose of this is to eventually give you more prospective clients than you can handle, essentially requiring less courage for you to make the courageous choices that will help your firm flourish. In the process we'll help you cement relationships with clients that are profitable and that listen to your advice.
  • The second is staffing and structuring roles. This work is based on a signifcant primary research study we began in 1998 and have since spent $340,000 on, primarily by surveying, profiling, and interviewing 14,000+ people, individually, all in this field. This data resides nowhere else. We'll apply it to you, explaining how much of each function you need, what profiles you might look for in certain positions, and how to avoid the dangerous combinations that render even great employees ineffective. You will see your own role and the role of specific employees in an entirely new light.
  • The third is systems to move your environment from a deadline-driven one to a profit-driven one, all without losing the culture that’s important to you. Your client is very aware of the deadlines, which means that you watch them, too. But the client doesn't care if you are profitable on any given project or even the entire relationship. We'll explain several dozen methods to move work through your firm to enhance its effectiness, generate greater profit, and still meet deadlines. Absent this system, your firm may just be busy all the time, making some money, and failing to achieve a proper utilization of the time you have. We'll quantify that, explain how it is happening, and make specific suggestions on how to fix it.

You will begin to see positive change very early in the process. In fact, gathering the materials is a learning exercise. Some of the changes can happen quickly, and others may take up to eighteen months. The recommendations are a balance between the eventual positive impact vs. the short term disruption, which we attempt to minimize as much as possible.

For this service, especially, it would be good to review the FAQ.

Location. Your office and then remotely.

Duration. From one to four full days on site, depending on the size of your firm.

Scheduling. A TBR can usually be scheduled and locked in on the calendar within 3-12 weeks, depending on the time of year.

Deliverable. Hours of industry leading advice that follows a written agenda, very carefully and concisely stated recommendations for your note taking, and later expansions as necessary.

Implementation Guidance. Up to three months involving up to three significant interactions. They are agenda-driven, which means that you'll keep a log of the questions you have and we'll address them in a batch. We don't count the quick phone calls or any of the email exchanges during those three months. (Our work is not like a coach.)

Participation Requirements. A principal or someone from finance gathers materials for roughly four hours. Employees each answer a survey and complete a personality profile, each requiring about thirty minutes. Principals participate for roughly one-half of the on-site time. Selected managers and key employees participate for several hours, based on their role. Selected employees participate in short interviews.

Qualification Overview. As a principal, this will be most effective if you personally are already making between $120,000 and $1 million in fixed compensation before distributions of profit. Or, your fee billings per full-time equivalent employee should exceed $100,000 per year. The best use of our expertise is to take ordinary firms and make them extraordinary.

Cost. $16,000 fee plus expenses ($1,500-2,400), estimated in advance, for firms of up to sixteen full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. Each employee above that number adds $200. So, for example, a firm with twenty FTE employees would pay $16,800 plus expenses.

Payment Terms. Prepaid and non-refundable. The fee and expenses are added together. Approximately one-third is due within one week of confirming the engagement, and the remainder is due approximately ten days before the on-site portion, sent with the materials that we’ll request. We'll spell all the dates out for you before we ask you to sign anything, and you'll have as much time as you like to be comfortable with the arrangements.

References. Sometimes. There's a fuller explanation of our policy around references in the FAQ.

Finally, we hope you'll consider doing this. We are eager to help you shape your practice to be profitable and effective. And if we're lucky, fun too!