On this HumaniseTheNumbers podcast, you’ll hear from David Gilroy – entrepreneur, business owner, marketeer and, more specifically, website expert.
However, David doesn't work within or provide for the accountancy profession. He builds websites (now over 400 websites) for the legal profession, for lawyers and solicitors. But David’s attention to detail, his obsession with the numbers that really matter when marketing your firm, and his business as well – I think you’ll appreciate his insights, knowledge and guidance on how we should be working better, harder and stronger to capture the numbers that matter so that we can market our businesses in a much more successful way.
Please go to HumaniseTheNumbers.online or to your favourite podcast platform and look up the David Gilroy podcast. I believe you’ll get something of real value from the discussion.
We run what we call a 40/40/20 model, broadly speaking.
20% of our marketing spend goes on staying close to our industry friends - legal software companies, legal publishers and professional bodies - our single biggest channel is professional referrers, word of mouth.
The next 40% goes on staying close to clients because 85% of our turnover is retained, repeatable business and then the other 40% goes on finding new business.
At the end of each six-month period, I analyse those numbers to see if they are still appropriate.
For every pound I invest in the account management team (currently a six-person team which keeps our clients happy, owns the client accounts and does sales and digital marketing support, while the rest of the business does work), I get £4.50 back.
We can't keep adding people as that number changes, but predictably, we know if we had ‘X’ number of clients, we need a bit more support in that team and we've had a policy this year of 'hiring ahead of the curve' as we call it. So we've added five people this year, five new roles to get people in early, before the predicted growth, so that we are ready when that work arrives and not trying to play catch up. That was a cognizant decision to depress our profitability by adding people in early.
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Paul Shrimpling: Welcome to the Humanise the Numbers podcast series. Leaders, managers, and owners of ambitious accounting firms sharing insights, successes and issues that will challenge you and connect you and your firm to the ways and means of transforming your firm’s results.
David Gilroy: We run what we call a 40-40-20 model, broadly speaking. Twenty percent of our marketing spend goes on staying close to our industry friends – legal software companies, legal publishers, professional bodies. So our single biggest channel is professional referrers’ word of mouth. The next 40% goes on staying close to clients because 85% of our turnover is retained, repeatable, and then the other 40% goes on finding new business.
But I use that to analyse at the end of each six month period – are those numbers still appropriate? Every pound I spend on account management, that's a team of six people – keeping our clients happy, owning the account, you know, doing sales and the rest of the business does work, but they provide this digital marketing support – but every pound I spend investing in that team, I get £4.50 back.
Now, at some point you just can't keep adding people, that number changes, but predictably, we know if we had X number of clients, we need a bit more support in that team. And we've had a policy this year of hiring ahead of the curve as we call it. So we've added five people this year, five new roles, to get people in early, before the predicted growth, so that we are ready when that work arrives, not trying to play catch up. But that was a cognizant decision to depress our profitability by adding people in early.
Paul Shrimpling: How do you respond brilliantly to your business owner clients and how do you also market your firm in a better, stronger, more deliberate way? These two subjects might seem like strange bedfellows, but you're about to hear David Gilroy – leader, owner, managing director of his web development firm, Conscious – and David shares his insights and his experience as a business owner buying from an accountancy firm, but also shares some deep insights into the way his firm actually runs and his obsession with numbers, more importantly, his obsession with marketing numbers, that help him be a really, really successful marketeer, something we all want for our respective businesses.
Let's go to that podcast discussion now.
David Gilroy: Hi, Paul, it's great to be here this afternoon. My name is David Gilroy. I lead a business called Conscious Solutions and we do websites and marketing for law firms, but in a previous life my first job in the online world was at CompuServe many years ago.
And some of your listeners and watchers today may remember a CompuServe email address, something like firstname.lastname@example.org. God, that was back in the mid-nineties.
Paul Shrimpling: How do you remember that, David?
David Gilroy: No, I made that number up. Yeah, but if you started with a seven, you had an early one. So that's why I always start with a seven. If you start with a hundred, you're a bit late to the party.
But after that and before I set up Conscious, I was one of the three founders behind Sift and the brands that your listeners and watchers will know, it will be AccountingWEB and PracticeWeb. So I was one of the three original founders of that back in 1996.
And what a great journey that was. I'm very proud of that business that still exists behind me, even though I've not been involved in it for over 18 years.
Paul Shrimpling: So tell me a little bit about Conscious and what that does, how it does it and where you've got to.
David Gilroy: Sure. So we've been doing websites and marketing just for law firms for 18 years now. In fact, 18 years, six months, minus one day, funnily enough. I do carry that number in my head, which freaks people out.
Paul Shrimpling: You're coming across as a bit of a detail person here.
David Gilroy: Well, we're talking about numbers even though we're humanising them.
We work with just over 400 law firms around the country. We're a 47-person agency, which is a reasonable size, even in the Bristol world, which is a very creative space. I am sitting in my office today. There are three of us in out of 47, but that's a classic hybrid Friday that we're going through nowadays.
And 55% of our business is getting the best out of a law firm's website. So that could be SEO, PPC, social media, copywriting, promoting the site, and the other 45% is designing and building better websites than they have currently.
Paul Shrimpling: Alright, so opening gambit question, and it'd be interesting to see how this plays out, given that you're in the legal space, as opposed to the accountancy space, but what does the phrase humanise the numbers mean to you, your team, your clients, your business?
David Gilroy: I think it's interesting. Let me start with the business first, because for 18 years we have done two things. We filed full accounts in Companies House, even when we didn't need to. And all my friends would say to me, but everybody sees how much profit you're making. I'm going, why do I care about that? And the reason I was doing it from day one was if somebody wants to come along and knock on my door and offer me a wedge, they can do all that analysis before they phone me and waste my time. So that was one reason.
The second is, from day one, we share our full P&L with our team every month. They get to see all six pages of the P&L if they want to. Now, between you and me, because I know nobody else is listening, the line that says payroll does include pension, dividends (that are the equivalent of salary for me, I'm the sole director of the business), but they just see one line that says that. We don't hide anything. And I take, you know, relatively modest, monthly draw, and then we have proper profit at the end of it. So everyone’s seen that.
What we started, funnily enough, in January 2021…I did an MBO with a business in January 2019, and 2019 for us was a let's not screw it up for David year. I've done the MBO, paid a chunk of money, had a three year earn out from my previous co-founder, Andrew Gray. We're still good friends today. And then 2020 happened and 2020 became let's not let COVID mess it up for all of us. And 2021 became a kind of is it over? Is it not over? And our revenue numbers dropped 9% in 2020.
But two stories about just that time. And you know, it's fingers crossed we’re out of it now, I’ve just come back on a train from London, and there's nobody on the tube in London, there was nobody on the commuter train into London. There was nobody on the train to Bristol, but it was kind of early, 7:30, 8, 9 o'clock.
So if I go back to March 16th, or 23rd, sorry, 2020, I had to stand in front of my team and say, look, this is going to get serious. I don't know how serious, but to set everybody’s expectations, I can pay you for March. I can definitely pay you for April. I've got no clue after that. At 5pm on Monday, the 30th of March (I think I've got the day right), I took the last phone call cancelling, at that point, in total, adding up all the phone calls, £42,000 a month of retained services. That was just shy of 20% of our monthly turnover at that point. And we furloughed people the next day, because I wasn't sure how bad it was going to get.
As it turns out, those people were not impacted as badly. Most of those cancellations didn't happen and we only dropped 9% in the year and we made all that back in 2021, and some.
So, that's kind of at the top level, but what we changed in 2021 was... I felt that numbers are important, everybody in my business time records, I time record, and we just need to know where the time goes so that we can work out profitability on projects, on clients and those kinds of things. Yes, we bill by time, but most of our stuff is fixed price. You know, we're going to build your website, it's going to be £30,000. You don't care whether I take £30 or 40,000 worth of time. I care, because I want to make sure next time we quote it better.
But I felt that setting these kind of long-term plans for a year... So in 2020, I had just finished the previous year (in the autumn of 2019) the Goldman Sachs 10,000 small businesses coaching program. If you're at under £8 million turnover business, you want to get on this program. I mean, it is just fantastic. They make you write through your business plan, the numbers and everything, particular format and template they use. Some great training in coaching. And I still hang out with a little group of six that I was put with, called a growth group. Our nickname is the Rebels and we're the only one that's consistently met for the last three years.
So I had a business plan at the beginning of 2020. We were going to go from 2.4 million to 4 million in three years. Then, of course, March happened and that went out the window. We were doing cash flow daily. You know, the business plan for the year was thrown away. I mean, I'm not unusual in that lots of people did a similar kind of thing.
So we got to the beginning of 2021, I thought, right? What are we going to change about numbers in the business? And your phrase of humanising I think relates to this. So I decided to take the approach that Google takes. And this is what I'm told by our good friend, Robert Craven, is they don't do a financial year. They do four financial years in one 12-month period.
I said to the team, here is a forecast for the first three months of the year. I want you now to challenge that. So we got everybody in the business involved at that point, 30 odd, nearly 40 people, put them in five teams, gave them a version of the previous quarter’s P&L, the next quarter's P&L, based on our retainers and our project work and our work in progress. There were a bunch of gaps, so they had 10 scenarios to fill in. And then we put all those three-month plans together, broadly averaged them, and that became the plan for the three months. And we've done that every three months ever since. And unsurprisingly, because the numbers were put together by the team collaboratively, we were more accurate with our forecasting and our performance than we had been when we just set a plan once a year.
So we've carried that on into 2022. The only thing that I've changed this year is it's not compulsory. It's compulsory for new people the first quarter that they join. But if they don't like numbers, don't come back. You know, there's no point in making somebody sit through that. They're just not going to contribute. I think when we did it for Q2, so we did it first week in April, we had 19 people participate. So, you know, just under 50% of the company and I'm okay with that because you still have this broad consensus of, what do these numbers look like? It's not just David going, here's the numbers I want for the business, everybody get on and deliver it.
So in the business, that's one of the things I think we've done to, in your language, humanise what's going on by getting more people involved.
Paul Shrimpling: Stronger connections between the commerciality of the business, in your team's head and heart, and therefore, hence the accuracy of hitting the forecast, I guess.
David Gilroy: Bit of ownership there as well.
Paul Shrimpling: And ownership. Absolutely. So, you know, connection, ownership, absolutely. Just wondering, does it end up being as ambitious as it could be, though, David, because are they not trying to tone it down from a reality check point of view, as opposed to an ambitious point of view?
David Gilroy: I've not seen a sign of that. I mean, I said, this year, the plan is to go from…Well, we're on a journey that takes us from 2.5 million to 4 million by the end of 2024. And then the current plan is to transition into an employee-owned trust.
So they've all heard that message. I stood up at a conference that we invested £20,000 on last year. That was £20,000 of the 40,000 I saved on travel in 2021. Stupidly, at the end of the conference, I said, hands up, who'd like to come back next year? And like a hundred percent of people put their hand up, or why wouldn't you?
It was at Ardencote, a hotel in Warwickshire that you and I know well, a fabulous two days, first time we’ve ever done it. First time we've had the spare money to do it, frankly, at the profit level. So this year, I said, the goal, we're not going to get to 3 million. You know, we're not going to go 500 a year for three years. That's just too round numbers. I said, but I think we can get to 2.8. We can accelerate from there.
And in the first quarter we did just over 700,000. So there is still the idea of a long-term number, but I’m fully cognizant of…in January trying to predict what's going on in December, even in 2022, is just a degree of bonkers. And we have something like 85% of our turnover is contractually recurring, repeatable, as in short-term contracts, or at Christmas, somebody wants a Santa hat on their website or somebody wants an April Fools joke, and then we have project work, which kind of falls in between.
Paul Shrimpling: Which I fell for, even though Sally warned me, I fell for it.
David Gilroy: For those who’ve not seen it, we put our logo on an orange balloon and said, we’re changing our marketing this year. And what people didn't realise was the balloon is real and is owned by one of my team, who’s got a balloon pilot's license. He just let us put our logo on it.
Paul Shrimpling: Well, I'm still waiting for the invite to go in the balloon.
David Gilroy: It's not come to me yet. …So to answer your question, I don't think it limits it, because I think we've got a sensible group of people and also, realistically, there is only so far you can go depending on how much money you can chuck into marketing in a quarter. Because we thinking about a quarter now, because everybody can look at a quarter.
Paul Shrimpling: Brilliant. So you threw in, almost throwaway, but you’re heading towards an employee trust exit for you, or still being involved? And I'm not concerned about that, but just what was the thinking about going down that path, that route, because ultimately that's a brilliant way of humanising the numbers, isn't it?
David Gilroy: Yeah. And I think it was… I'll back up slightly. So when I stood up and did my state of the nation at the beginning of this two day conference, and I got to that bit, which my management team knew, though nobody else knew I was going to be that clear about it, I said, but there is one caveat. If at that point people get wind of the fact that this is what we're doing, the timing with that stuff never stays private for very long, and somebody comes along and offers me a stupid number, Amanda is going to make me take it. Now everybody laughed, right? Amanda's not the kind of woman who says, you must take this number or anything else.
I was listening to James Ashford talking last week on Built to Sell, about the GoProposal thing, and one of the VCs said to James, you know, we all know how this goes. What's the number your wife will take? And what I really wanted him to say was he got up and left the room because that man was a sexist pig.
He didn't, he just gave an answer about, well, you know, it's not… I’d have got up and left the room. And that's not because my wife won't make me do it, but Amanda would be the person going, look, I know you love your team. And I know everything they've done has got you to where the business is, but this is a bigger, a much bigger number.
So that night, at the conference over dinner, before anybody had had a drink, two people independently said to me, so, how big does it have to be? I said, that's the number I can't tell you. You know? And if somebody came along today and said, and I talk about this publicly, we turn over 2.5 million, if somebody came along and said, I'll give you 5 million for it, I’m gone. That’s it, that's enough.
If somebody comes along and says, I’ll give you two and a half, I'm like, do you know, I'd rather keep it, take dividends and leave it to the team. Sorry, sell it to the team. You've still got to buy it.
So the difference is it's all about what's now over what’s a period of time. Because if it's an employee-owned trust, you probably wait four to six years to get paid out. There's a degree of risk in there if you are stepping away from the business.
The other thing that I was thinking about while I was prepping for us speaking today was the time we spend with clients doing marketing stuff and how we present numbers to them, because the nice thing about digital, and online particularly, is you get numbers coming out of your ears. There's so many numbers and we spend time with clients going… and because we just work with law firms, if it works for one, it probably works for others. That's the scale thing that we think we add lots of value. We have lots of things from lots of different law firms. We can distil it, codify it, and that kind of stuff.
We use a product called Google Data Studio. You can feed in loads of different numbers and we've iterated over a period of years now to get to a, if we're just running your website, here's one report. If you're updating your website, your […] procedures, here's a different report, but we're always open to you saying, give us numbers in a different way.
So we have a couple of clients where, in fact, we are their marketing department and one of the numbers they are prepared to share with us is, every week they tell us how many inquiries they got and how many matters they opened as a result of the online marketing. And we can plot those against website traffic. We're looking for this correlation.
But a human story connected with that – I’m not sure it really humanises it, but it's a human story – a couple of years ago the owner of that business phoned me, which is unusual because he normally talks to an account director, and he said, David, there's a problem, something's gone wrong this week. We're just not getting the same inquiries and we haven’t opened as many cases. So we got a hit team together, we looked through everything, and we couldn't see anything wrong with the data at all, nothing going on.
So I said, well, let's do something. Let's fill in an inquiry form with a fake name, bit of mystery shopping, and filled it in, put in my details and somebody called me back and she introduced herself and I thought, hmm, that's not the normal person who makes the calls. So, I finally go back and I said, so, what's changed in your business this week? He said, nothing. I said, is Karen on holiday? He went, ah, right. So, Karen who normally answers the phone and does the inquiry handling, on holiday, put somebody else in not as good. But his immediate reaction was everything else must be crap. I told that story in front of that business and he absolutely agreed, it's looking for something else.
We did a different project in January about four or five years ago for a divorce-related firm, or family law firm, in the Midlands. And at the end of January, they phoned us up and basically said we're not happy with the project, it was rubbish. We didn't get many inquiries.
So we were using tracking technology that will record every phone call, so you can source where it comes from against SEO, PPC or generic search. So I had one of my team listen to every single phone call and what we worked out was that 22% of them didn't get answered, and about another 20% got asked to call back in the afternoon when the solicitor would be available.
So we did this debrief call with the client, and she went away with her tail between her legs and fired us the next week. Not happy, not happy being shown up. So that was quite funny.
Paul Shrimpling: So what stands out that anyone listening to this can hear is that you've got an obsession with the numbers, David, but also what you're pointing out with these stories is that you've got to have the people stuff right as well. It's unavoidable. It's process and people, it's not just process and numbers. It's the people.
David Gilroy: I spent a lot of time and only recently has there been the beginnings of murmurings in my business about four day weeks. And I've read a lot about it and I say to everybody, I say, well, absolutely it's possible because let's look at our utilization rates, look at our recovery rates and all those kinds of things. And as a business owner, you go fine. But if you can do this number in five days and you do it in four, what are you not going to get done? So we call it effing around time, that’s everything else that isn't billable. And I keep going, well, if you can do that for four days, why not do it for five, and we'll make even more profit and I can give you even greater rewards and benefits and everything. So I'm still not quite in a place…
And also, we're a service business. So it's not a four day week, shot on Friday. If you look at a lot of businesses who've done it, it ends up being a four and a half day week, you know, and you have a rota on whether it's Mondays or Fridays you take off. It's not as simple as saying the business closes on Monday, because our clients wouldn't put up with that. If there’s a problem with the website, they want to speak to you today. They don't care if you're doing four days. So I think there's something around that.
So numbers for me in a business drive everything, but you cannot forget the human element that goes with it, right? So I'm the bad cop when it comes to time recording. Everybody in my business […] has what I called a freebie, because I didn't do my time sheet for yesterday.
A report is generated at 11 in the morning that gets emailed to each team individually showing their numbers and if somebody's not up to time and I don't know that there's something going on in their life, maybe they’ve had a busy day or they were sick or something, I just forward the email to them. And I just write […..]! D, that's it. Everyone knows what that means, which is if I have to do it, you have to do it as well, kind of thing.
And it is all about working out which clients are profitable. So we have a service that we call digital marketing support. It's an unlimited phone, email based service. Clients pay for it, it’s run through a team of account managers who farm it out to specialists if they need to, some of it might be chargeable, some of it might just be advice.
But we worked out the average hourly rate that we recover from all our clients. The extremes were the really independent client who just never phones, never needs our help, but happily pays their monthly fee for that. We're recovering twice our normal hourly rate. So over £200 an hour. I'll charge that rate, it’s normally £115 blended. And the busiest client, the one who needs…, the noisy child, if you like, and they spend a lot of money with us elsewhere, so I'm obviously not going to name them, £18 an hour. But they spend a hundred grand a year with us, so I'm okay with that because they're paying in other ways. They just might be a slightly needy child from that perspective.
But again, just having a handle on that and what it allows us to do, is when we go and talk to clients about renewals, we can say, look, you pay £130 a month of this service and look how many hours we're putting in. Would you agree the following would be reasonable? And generally it'll be halfway between what they're really consuming and what we're currently charging. It's very hard to say no to that, when you show them the numbers. So it's a way of lifting those.
Paul Shrimpling: But also there's the well-crafted question with the evidence to support the question that pays off as well. Is this next action reasonable is really quite a well-crafted question.
David Gilroy: It's not quite how much are you prepared to pay for this…
Paul Shrimpling: And I'm not sure that's a well-crafted question. What people say isn't necessarily what they will pay for it.
David Gilroy: And we always rehearse the whole discounting, you know, you and I have spoken about this for years. And when somebody ever says in my business, is that your best price? You go, no, my best price is 10% higher, but that's the best price for you.
Paul Shrimpling: The power of words, the power of words. So let's dive into the effectiveness of website marketing and your other services, Dave, so we can go wherever you want. Because I've got leaders, managers of accounting firms, listening to this podcast, and of all the people I've come across in my business life I haven't met anyone who's as fixated with the performance of websites as you, which is why I wanted you on the podcast.
So I guess the best question I can ask is what two or three elements make for a profoundly successful website? Whether it's a lawyer or an accountant, it may be that it's different for lawyers, different for accountants, but…
David Gilroy: I don't think so. I mean, look, we're talking to accountants, you have it easy. I have to come back every year or every quarter or every month for payroll, right? It's easy. You just, you do your windows of opportunity, you do your GRFs and you get paid, right?
A lawyer opens the books at the beginning of the month with nothing. So every lead’s got to walk through the door.
To answer your question, the best performing website… there's lots of different elements. One is, it's got to be good enough. And I mean, good enough. Doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s got to be good enough. So we meet lots of firms who go, we need a new website. We go, why? “Well, so-and-so up the road got a new website.” But why do you need one? Do we think we could make this one sweat a bit longer before you need to invest in it? Have you proven that it's not good enough?
Now Google do lots of techy things to say your website's too slow, all those kinds of things. It's called PageSpeed Insights is the tool. Core Web Vitals is another term that listeners and watchers can go and read about.
And if your website is slow, Google will penalise it. It might only penalise it subtly, but all of a sudden you're not on page one. Because Google wants a really good user experience.
The other thing that we have to remember is that Google doesn't like businesses like ours helping you get to number one. It actively makes it very difficult for us. So we're always fighting this battle with Google. What Google wants you to do is spend money on paid advertising and let Google's AI take all the money you are prepared to spend, which is what happens. Because if you just turn the button that says, let Google optimize everything, your budget disappears very quickly. Which might be fine, if you get all the leads you need to get.
So number one, is the website is good enough? And it's the same. I think accountants broadly speaking the same. Your homepage is important, but people will land on lower level pages if you're doing SEO correctly and you're doing PPC correctly. So are those pages good enough to convert?
Is your website about brand or conversion? We have one client based out of […] in London. You don't go and work with them unless you’re landed gentry or you've got north of seven figures of free liquid assets. And this is a lawyer, not an IFA, but that's their criteria. It's family money, everything. Their website is nothing about conversion and their clients are not going, wealth protection for landed gentry solicitors. They're not. It's all about, oh, you use them. Sorry. I'm putting on a posh accent. You don't need to be posh to be landed. Or a dosh, nowadays. So they don't care about the performance of the website. They're not tracking leads, whereas we've other clients every week sending us data, shaving half a second off is going to be important.
So is it good enough? Is it about brand or about conversion and then are you tracking the numbers? So we did a project for a client six years ago. We're actually just about to do another one for them. And they wanted to drop half of the pages on their website. They said, they’re really old news stories. We said, okay, but there's a risk here that these pages… it's the long tail effect, just as at Amazon, lots of pages get looked at a few times.
So we said, we don't think we should do that. We think we should leave the content. It's not going to cost much more to move it across. They went, no, we definitely want to lose it. We say, okay, okay, sign here. And we sent them a document to sign. Nowadays we do it with Signable, which is the e-signing platform we use. They signed it. A month or two later, the website went live. A week later, the shit hit the fan, and they came and said, ah, the website, traffic dropped by 50%.
We went, yeah, we told you, that's the letter you signed. We told you this is probably going to happen. “Ah, but it's a disaster.” Well, what's happened to your lead volume? What do you mean you don't know your lead volume? “Oh, we didn't have any way of tracking it before.” So he couldn't tell. But it was a disaster because one number went down, right? So the thing that agencies like us don't want clients to fixate about is Google rankings.
Yes, you want to see website traffic go up and visitor numbers go up, but not Google rankings because it's not just about that. It's about lead volume. So if you can't tell how many leads you get in from which source in a month and therefore do correct return on investment analysis, which is a bee I have in my bonnet for most businesses – how can you grow a business if you don't know what it costs you to acquire a lead or a new matter from existing client?
We did a project for a client. We analysed all their marketing budget, marketing, advertising, analysed all the cases they'd opened in 12 months and worked out that every new matter they opened from an existing client cost them £12. Every new matter they opened from web marketing was about £70, but they spent a lot of money courting the affections of other professionals locally, accountants, IFAs, banks. Each professional referral cost over £400 for one new client. Now, what they wouldn't share with us was the revenue numbers for each of those matters, because we might have proven that £400 brought them £40,000 and £12 only brought them £1200. So without that bit it was incomplete, but they had no clue that a matter from a professional referral was so expensive and they committed to do that follow-on bit. I don’t know if they ever did that, but they wouldn't share the revenue numbers with us.
I can ask a lot of marketing managers in smaller law firms under £5 million what their turnover is. They don't know. They don't even get that information shared with them, and they're supposed to be growing the business. It's mad.
Paul Shrimpling: In contrast to what you're doing with your team.
David Gilroy: So notice in this conversation, I've not talked about what colour it is. I've not talked about what the buttons are. That will be the same. Most accountants will have a broadly similar website. It's about the people, it's about the services, same thing with law firms.
Whether you call them our team, our people, our experts, it doesn't matter. There's going to be a bio and a profile because if I'm picking a professional that somebody's recommended to me, that’s a big tick in a box, because you recommended somebody to me. I still want to go and read about them on the website.
Paul Shrimpling: Zoe, who's the head of marketing at UHY, who we've recently had on the podcast as well, pointed to very similar insights. It's a human business ultimately and the website's a shut window. So however they come into the house, it's almost as if they're going to pass through the portal called your website. That might not be the right language, but ultimately it's a jugular element of your marketing mix.
David Gilroy: We work with over 400 law firms, we run over 300 websites. If I take the averages of those 300, people look at five pages and they stay for less than two minutes. That's it. Those numbers have not changed in 15 years.
Because you are not the BBC, right? Your content's great, and it's what gets people to the website, if you do the copywriting, the SEO correctly, but if the video's more than 30 seconds…We've got a client recently, they’re called Frettens, and they've got lots of great video content in their careers section in particular, but I've seen the outtake video from the managing partner. I'm pushing him really hard to get it online. I think it'll be fantastic. You will probably stay and watch all five minutes of that. They did stitch a whole bunch of things together. But he won't do it. He's like, we're too professional. I'm like, not convinced. You are professional, but it humanises the face of law as well. That could be my podcast.
Paul Shrimpling: Why not? It’s interesting that people will visit five pages, stay for less than two minutes, and that's not changed in 15 years. What has changed in 15 years, David?
David Gilroy: The amount of money people spend on websites. Because the tech just continues to grow. You can do more. So if 15 years ago people were spending sub five grand on a new website, they're spending 20 grand now or plus. You can always still get a five grand website. Hell, you can build it yourself with Wix. I suggest people don't try that. So I think that's one thing.
Also, if I go back over a decade, SEO wasn't a thing, really. Social media definitely wasn't a thing. We now have clients with lawyers with tens of thousands of followers on Insta and some people doing TikTok stuff. Not very much yet. And I think that's true in professional services. One of the things I say is, if you can't have fun with social media, where can you, as a professional service provider?
And I put ourselves in that category. We provide a service, we do it professionally, therefore I’m professional services. The fact we can be web and wear a lot of orange, although you can't see the wall over there, and I've got a little bit of orange on today. When I walked into Bristol Life Awards on Wednesday night where we didn't win our category, but well done Giggle Studio, who have an orange brand, we were the ones wearing an orange jacket and orange shiny shoes and orange dresses.
To the point where… I have a can of Thatcher’s here. I'm not going to drink it. But the guy from Thatcher’s came up and gave me a can of blood orange cider and said, would you do a photo with your orange jacket and shoes with our brand? Yeah, of course I would. Nobody else in the room got asked that. You turned up in a black suit.
The first time I wore an orange suit to a law industry event and there were about a hundred people in the room when I arrived, the whole room stopped talking and looked.
So I've gone off the track a little of what's changed in, say the last 10 years, or even five years.
Doing more with tech. And there's an awful lot of work gone into onboarding clients, whether it's through websites or apps. I suspect that's the same in the accountancy world. Whether it's anti money laundering, knowing your client, all of that kind of stuff. And COVID made that massive shift.
I was speaking to an IT director of one of our clients, they turn over about 50 million. He said we got done in three months what we wouldn't have got done in three years, if it hadn't been for COVID, in terms of changing their approach to tech and doing things more with tech and software and apps than with paper. And I think accountants had been ahead of that. You know, 18 years ago we were selling websites, but we had to explain to lawyers what a website was.
Well in the six, four years before that doing PracticeWeb, accountants were at least five years ahead of them, in terms of those conversations. And I don’t know how true that would still be today, but law firms have caught up very quickly.
Paul Shrimpling: They’d be closer, I'm sure. And I think arguably because they've got to reinvent their pipeline every month or every week means that they're going to be more focused on it. And maybe accountants, who've got the gross recurring fee model, which is funding their business predictably going forward, it's a safer environment for that reason.
David Gilroy: I'll tell you a story about, this is going back 15 years, we were a very, very new business. May have been earlier than that. And a local law firm here, they're called VWV, was Vizards, they wanted to become a client. We were going to do a website for them. And I got a phone call from the marketing manager saying, David, oh, we have a slight problem. Our FD has pulled your accounts. He's not very happy. I said, why? “Because you lost £60,000 last year.” Well, that was the plan, to lose some money in the first two years while we grow our GRFs. She said, oh, but he wants a phone call with you or a meeting or something.
So I picked the phone and phoned this guy. He’s called Mike Fice. And I explained our business model about retain fees and retainers and this, that, and the other, and he went oh, absolutely fine with that, David, now I’ve spoken to you. I wish our business was like that. Because with most legal fees, it's about a transaction. And I know accountants have done a great job over the years of packaging up, and there's the bronze, silver, gold, whatever their naming is.
Paul Shrimpling: That's a big maybe, that David, some firms have, and some firms have yet to grasp the nettle on that one.
David Gilroy: And so I suppose the understanding of where marketing budgets go. Law firms invest between 2 and 3% of turnover in marketing. That’s it. And then they wonder why they don't grow. Marketing theory says you want to spend between 5 to 10% to get double digit growth, assuming you're already north of a million or 2 million.
When we were turning over £750,000, we were spending £75,000 on marketing. We were spending 10%. Now we turn over 2.5 million. We're only spending about a hundred. So we dropped to about 4%. By the way, we are a marketing business, and I think we should be able to spend slightly less than non-marketing businesses.
But we have clients twice our size spending less money than we do, and then wondering why they're not growing. There is a direct correlation to marketing spend, if you can track return on investment. And if you can't, frankly, why are you doing anything?
If I know I want to grow from 2.5 to 4 million, my acquisition cost is about a £1,000 per customer, my client lifetime is 6.47 years (yes, I did measure it to two decimal places) and my average client spend is X. I won't disclose that, but I can then predictably say, this is how many clients I need to put in, these are the retention rates I need on my existing clients, and I can do a straight line or a slight curve from 2.5 to 4 million. It's not rocket science, once you know those numbers. Somebody brings me a client, I'll give you a £1,000, because that's what it would cost me.
Tonight, we're sponsoring the commercial team award, the Wales Legal Awards. And I think that cost us 1500 quid for two bums on seats and my colleague, Sarah, standing on stage in a beautiful orange dress. So I'm looking for… some of that money goes into existing client contact.
We run what we call a 40-40-20 model, broadly speaking. Twenty percent of our marketing spend goes on staying close to our industry friends – legal software companies, legal publishers, professional bodies, right? So our single biggest channel is professional referrers’ word of mouth. The next 40% goes on staying close to clients because 85% of our turnover is retained, repeatable, and then the other 40% goes on finding new business.
But I use that to analyse at the end of each six-month period – are those numbers still appropriate? Every pound I spend on account management, that's a team of six people – keeping our clients happy, owning the account, doing sales, and the rest of the business does work, but they provide this digital marketing support – but every pound I spend investing in that team, I get £4.50 back.
Now, at some point you just can't keep adding people, that number changes, but predictably, we know if we had X number of clients, we need a bit more support in that team. And we've had a policy this year of hiring ahead of the curve as we call it. So we've added five people this year, five new roles, to get people in early, before the predicted growth, so that we are ready when that work arrives, not trying to play catch up. But that was a cognizant decision to depress our profitability by adding people in early.
Paul Shrimpling: So let’s say this concept that…And Scott Heath on the podcast relatively recently – who's arguably one of the fastest growing firms in the UK, it’s gone from 60 odd people to 270 people in a couple of years during lockdown, now part of that's through acquisition, but there's substantial organic growth in there as well – and he blatantly said, capacity precedes growth. You've got to build in resource in order to fuel and then deliver whilst maintaining reputation. There's my interpretation of what you've just said.
David Gilroy: We did a comms exercise. In January of 2020. I said, I’m going to follow my friend Robert Craven's advice, going to put our prices up. So we put the hourly rate up and we were going to increase everything between five and 10% for clients based on spend.
And we started in January and we had a little bit of pushback. We had a little bit of pushback in February, then COVID hit. We went, yeah, probably not the right time to keep writing to people saying we're putting prices up. So we held it. Our hourly rate had gone up and we stayed it over until this year.
So we wrote to everybody on December 1st saying, remember, we told you the price were going up. They are going up in January. Hourly rate, went up again, retained services go up. But this is a client, she's not a client at the moment, she's a good friend of mine called Abby Winkworth. Now works for J&W Solicitors. And I saw Abby only yesterday. She won't mind me telling this story.
One of our biggest clients by spend, and I phoned her up and said, look, we're putting our prices up. This is broadly how we're doing it. She said, no problem with that, Dave, worth every penny, but can I ask you one thing, can you please not change our price until our new financial year? So I was having the conversation in January, her financial year was April. I said, oh, that's interesting. Why do you say that?
Because I don't mind you putting the prices up. I'm surprised you haven't before (lesson there for everybody). And she said, but I need to plan. We do a business plan every year and changing price in the middle of year doesn't go down well in the business. So we went off and reflected on that and went, okay, I don't really care when they pay more, whether it's this month, next month.
So we went to everybody and said, your hourly rate goes up now, your website goes up and your marketing contracts go up the first time you renew at the end of your financial year. So we did that with everybody and, touch wood, so far doing the same thing this year, we've had very little pushback.
Because you're giving people… in some cases, people were getting six or seven or eight months’ notice of a price increase. The hourly rate went up from a £110 to £115. It's not bad. But if you've got a monthly contract for two grand, and it's going up 5%, you want a little bit of notice for that. And it's not a stupid number at all. And we committed to only changing prices once every two years. But that's a pattern we will now get into. And that's not linked to inflation or anything else. I mean, 9% is just the bonkers number that my youngsters have never seen, hopefully we won't see it for too much longer either. I did a team meeting last week with lots of negative graphs, inflation at 15%. We can remember that. Lots of your listeners will.
Paul Shrimpling: Negative equity, that was a great one, wasn’t it?
David Gilroy: Took me six years to get the flat in London back to par to be able to sell it.
Paul Shrimpling: I had a house in Sussex. It was interesting times. That's a colloquialism for, it was very poo (without using swear words).
David Gilroy: It's the only property I wish I'd kept, actually. I don't really care about the rest of them.
Paul Shrimpling: Well, David, just picking up on a few insights around that conversation with Abby, one is price increase, #1 client, significant client – talk to them about it. Don't just tell them, talk. So as simple as that sounds, there's a humanity in that.
Secondly, reflect what's relevant to them, and the year end date’s really jugular, whether it's January or April, who gives a monkeys, really, in the overall scheme of things. And as long as that's then annualized after that, then what have you lost? Not very much, but retained a really valuable client. And the insight has proven to reduce the issues around price increases for all other clients all because you had the conversation with the client.
David Gilroy: Having had the first conversation with them, then to our next nine biggest clients and had the same conversation, but the conversation we had was we're going to do it after your financial year, and everyone says that's fine. Because again, they've got time to plan.
Once you get below a certain size, I think financial year end is just year end accounting. There's no real cut off with those kind of flexibility... Bit like us, our size, you know, sole director, 83% shareholder (you can work all that out from Companies House). If I decide to overspend in one year, only Amanda's going to tell me off. The dog can still eat. I can still play golf. But that would be a decision we make, collectively with the management team, that kind of thing.
Paul Shrimpling: But the other insight with that piece with Abby is, and the science of behavioural economics tells you, that if you forecast a price increase with plenty of time, there's less sensitivity around the price increase. Much less.
David Gilroy: We've left it so long with some clients before the price goes up, they hit right back. Oh, you never told us about this. And we have to go back and remind them, it was December 1st that we told them, and we are telling them the month before it's going to go up. But even then it’s just, it's a number that people look at and go 5%?
With hindsight had we had the inflation prediction, probably would've gone a little bit higher. I mean that will come back down. In fact, I run a little spreadsheet that works out…. So the average inflation for the last 12 months is still less than 5%, but people forget that. Because it's very easy to forget. It was still running at two or less this time last year. So we run a little rolling 12 months because most small businesses just can't keep up with that in terms of pay rise and everything. Certainly the business owners I speak to.
But if you could afford to give people those kind of pay rises before, why weren't you, if your staff are sufficiently valuable.
Paul Shrimpling: So David, looking forward into the future in and around website and pipeline management, because clearly you see a website as a key tool to that pipeline management and all the numbers that result in a lead that you can then work out the cost of that lead and therefore work out how much you can invest in marketing. I've always been impressed with that, the power of the insight with the numbers, if you take them deadly seriously, so that it actually can tell you what you need, what you can invest in order to get the ROI.
What's coming? What do you think's on the horizon? Let me just put one thing in. It seems that the chat box piece on lots of websites is just like de rigueur in the legal profession, but not in the accountancy profession, for example. So I think that's something that more and more accountants are going to pick up and run with. I'm just wondering, what have you seen in that space to kick off this future conversation and then what's coming.
David Gilroy: If we just think about website platforms and technology, WordPress is where it's at. Everybody wants to use it. It's a nightmare. I don't mind saying that, you know, protecting it, keeping it secure, we do it. We do it extremely well, by the way.
But at some point, WordPress will not be the number one. And in fact, just recently, it's dropped a little bit and others are catching up, but that's a 10 year thing I suspect, because so many people who’ve come through junior marketing roles, everyone can edit WordPress.
There will be other products. Will they be any better? Yes, they’ll be better. Will they be technically superior? Probably. Will they allow people to build websites a bit faster? Yes. Am I worried about AI built websites? No, we've tried a couple of those and they’re universally rubbish. Am I worried about 16 year olds building websites in bedrooms? No, they've been doing that for the last 15 years of the 18 we've been around. So none of that concerns me.
Design will continue to be upgraded, whether it's web 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, not phrases we use anymore, but the technology and what you can do with browsers and front end design just continues apace.
So I was looking at a website yesterday that we built 18 years ago. It's so retro and narrow. It fits perfect on a mobile phone without resizing anything. But they're a 99% legal aid firm. So they’ve got no money to do an upgrade. And the work is just given to them by the police, generally, or by the Legal Aid Authority.
So the tech will continue to improve. Is AI going to dominate the world? No. If we think about things like using websites to communicate better, client portals, document exchange, all that stuff is coming either into practice management software, which it can be connected to a website, but the website could be a trigger into it. Collecting data in a secure way from clients. Anybody who's ever done a will, anybody who has ever moved house and had to do a fixture and fittings form in a word file or by print, that stuff should all be online, and increasingly we'll get there.
So there's a bunch of stuff around tech, around what's coming. I think what's coming around comms – there’ll be another social media platform. I have no clue what it's going to be called. Maybe it's Donald Trump's one that he built for himself, even though Elon Musk might let him back on, who knows, if that deal ever happens.
So I think email marketing will rise again.
Paul Shrimpling: Oh really? What makes you say that?
David Gilroy: Because it's just a very simple way of saying hello, I'm still here. It's not expensive. The problem that most law firms, and I think a lot of accountants have, they go, oh, well I see the same content everywhere. That's fine. That gives you some hygiene content, then personalise it, include your whole team in collecting content.
And by the way, stop keeping email addresses in Outlook, which is the single biggest problem for most law firms. They don't centralise email addresses into practice management. The smart firms do, a lot don't, so all the emails are being handled from Outlook and the reason they won't do anything is they haven't got a good enough list. And there'll be some dead people on there, but that's just an occupational hazard.
So I think that comes back. We did a study last year of our own email marketing and we do three segments of our audience, which again, most businesses don't do in my experience, professional services, we have one that goes to prospects, which comes from me, with a slightly different tone of voice, look at what you're missing out on, we’ve got all the stuff we know that can help you. One to clients from my head of account management. That's, we love working with you, look at all the stuff we can do and how we can help you. And one to my industry friends, you're on that list. You get one that comes from me once a month, Paul, and it's very simple, isn’t it? It’s four or five stories. Just text, no design, because you want to scan read it and file it.
So we did an average of each of those three audiences and broadly the same thing happened. 25% of people will open it, slightly higher on mine, because I think it's very personal from me. But across a year, 50% of people opened at least two things.
Because remember, with accountants, they're coming to you every month for payroll, every quarter for VAT, once a year for statutory accounts. With a lawyer, I do my house, I don't think about anything else until maybe there's a child. Maybe there's an LPA for a parent. Maybe somebody else dies and I think about wills at that point.
So those triggers, that front of mind, if it's only twice a year that's okay. And also nobody else is emailing them, by the way. And the whole thing about it being the same content. Well, an accountant might see the same email from five lawyers, but they're an accountant. They understand what's going on. The client doesn't. Because the lawyers aren't emailing, three lawyers aren't emailing the same client. It just doesn't happen, usually. So I think from that just occasionally going, hello, I'm still here, kind of thing.
And then I think… I'm hoping what's coming is people getting better with numbers. I sound like a scratched record – without knowing some key numbers about your business in the widest sense and how your web stuff feeds into that, I just don't get how you can think about growing a business. And I've seen all sorts.
I went to sell a website to a client a decade ago and they said, well, our website's good enough. I said, okay, great, but are you looking to grow? “Yeah, we're looking to grow.” Great. Well, the website can help with that. “Yeah. But if we grow, I need to get more people.” Okay. So assuming you can get more people… and then “well, we’ll have to get a new office.” Okay, assuming you get a new office… and the guy said, do you know what, actually, I don't want grow. So just tell me that in the beginning. Proper peeling the onion that was, objection handling. Give me another one, give another one. Oh, that's the real reason, you just can't be arsed. That's okay. If you're happy with a business at that size and you can make a decent profit, live with it, that's fine. I still argue if your business isn't growing, it's going backwards, but it might be a bit old school thinking.
Paul Shrimpling: Well, it is old school, but just back to the humanity piece, if you've got ambitious, career driven, people who you would argue were the drivers of the business success and your business is flat lining, you’re just asking them to leave at some point in the future. It's an inevitability, whereas in a growing business, you might just actually hang onto those top people.
David Gilroy: I was at a recruitment workshop run by someone in Bristol, lady called Liz Gad. Just for creative people and agencies and the conversation came up about counter offers and, and somebody asked the question and I said we never counter offer. So if somebody in my business chooses to leave, we're never going to counter offer, because they made the decision to leave that isn't usually just about money. There'll be something else going on. And if having a nice place to work and having a decent benefits package and some kind of career path, which might be out of the business at some point…
I love interviewing. I interview every new person that joins the business. It's a 15 minute interview. It's called the Muppet test. I had to miss one earlier this year because I did have a two week holiday with no work and no phone calls and no emails. So I can touch on that if you're interested. And so probably one person in the last five years I've not interviewed. It's a fit test. And there is a theory which says if you keep hiring people who fit, you don't get sufficient diversity, or diversity comes in many, many shapes and sizes and colours and diversity of thought and neurodiversity and all that kind of stuff.
So, we're not hiring clones of people. But they've got to fit in a business, or else people can be disruptive. So it's one of those things where I think, even at that level, what does your staff retention look like as a number that relates to human beings?
We had a 20% churn last year. Two went at my request, two that we, frankly, didn't really miss and four that we were like, oh, well, that's a bit of surprise. And people go for lots of reasons. If they won't talk to you about it before they go…
So if any of you are interviewing for a new job, please don't ask this question: What does career progression look like at your firm, your business, whatever? Because what do you expect me to say? Oh, well we care about our people and we'd like to see them progress. Okay, fine. I don't do that. I go, I don't know. It will be one of three things: you go up, you go sideways or you go out, which one do you think it'll be?
You go up, you go sideways or you go out. And you can see their face go, did he say out? I haven't said yes yet. Because remember, they're interviewing us as well now. This fight for talent is real. But it's a different way of answering that question because I don't know yet whether you might get promoted or you might say, oh, I've come into this role, but I really like that one over there and there's an opportunity.
Or you’re crap and you’re gone in three weeks, three months, six months, two years. You just don't know.
Paul Shrimpling: So you’ve got, what 47 people, did you say?
David Gilroy: Yes, 47 now.
Paul Shrimpling: 47 people and a 20% churn rate. That's a lot of people leaving and a lot of people you’re rehiring, therefore it’s not an instant…
David Gilroy: It's takes time. So we have an expression called ABH. It's not the one that will get you in jail, it’s Always Be Hiring. So I’ll tell you a story about Catherine Higgins, who's on our team. She's fantastic. She's a bit South African, but you know, at least you can be direct....
Paul Shrimpling: She’s a bit South African. What does that mean? She’s South African, you mean.
David Gilroy: She is. Yes. And we were hiring a project coordinator. We found this really great guy, Edd Chalk, who joined us six months ago. And Catherine applied for this job and we interviewed her, and I thought she would make a fantastic project manager. Not project coordinator, it was a bit too junior for her. She was on more money. She wants to get into project management. She said, no, I can afford to go back to go forward. I said, yeah, okay, you know, we've all said that in our lives. Anyway, we didn't offer the job. Two months later one of our project managers left and we phoned her up and said, we've got a project manager job, come and interview for that one. And we hired her three days later.
So that ABH is, we are the kind of business who says, we’ll keep your CV on file and if we find something suitable, we'll come back to you. It took me two years to hire Sahra Tulloch, who’s an account director in the business. She came to a training course I was running in Bristol. We got on, she was very smart, asked really good questions. Six months, a year later, I invited her to a networking thing. She came and 6 months or a year after that, I had the right job for her, phoned her up and said, right, now you should come and work for me. But when I first met her, I said, you're going to come and work for me one day.
She was like, what? I said, no, one day you'll come and work for me. And five years later, she's still with us. That's humanising, but nothing to do with numbers, is it?
Paul Shrimpling: Well, it is in terms of the number of people in the firm and managing your churn. And you've got a higher churn rate than I would argue that most accountancy firms have got. And so it makes sense for you to always be hiring.
My argument with accountants is always be hiring because when you want the ideal person, you then think, oh, you're going to go and find them as opposed to just always be recruiting, always be hiring. Someone shows up, it’s oh, how do I fit this person in? Well, that's a really nice problem to have. And recruitment is one of the real pressure points across the profession at the moment.
David Gilroy: So I'll tell you another story and again it comes back to numbers. So when we look at churn rate, we look at accidental and deliberate. Because I can argue, from last year, four of them just didn't matter.
And that's not being disrespectful to anybody who might be watching this, if people think, which category was I? And if they phone me up, I’d tell them. There’s another story about a lady called Katie Walker. She's a junior web developer with our team and we have a couple of jobs that we sometimes just keep open on the website for that reason, always be hiring.
And actually, James Timpson, who writes in the Times now, he says we want a queue of people coming to work for us. So he has that same thing, which is when we interview people, even we haven't got the role from them, we really do keep their details on file, to use that trite expression, and we will go back to them when we can. So you want a queue of people.
Paul Shrimpling: David, can I just butt in there, do you have a stay in touch program for people that you are interested in?
David Gilroy: We put them into that same newsletter that you get. We want to stay in touch if that’s okay. The friends newsletter, I'll put you on that. I’ll stay in touch that way if that's okay. Whether they read it or not, I don't know, but they might read it often enough. Always connect with them on LinkedIn. Don't start overtly tagging them every week, that’s a bit weird. And just keep in touch.
So Katie Walker replied for a junior web developer role we had on the website. I happened to catch sight of that particular application, even though I wasn't doing the first round of hiring and I phoned up Liam, who’s head of development and said, she's got to be really rubbish for us not to hire her.
We have another web developer called Angela, said, it'd be great to have a female buddy for her in the team of predominantly men in our tech team. And she's been an associate lawyer for eight years and then retrained to do web development in January, 2020. I mean, isn't it perfect for us?
And she lives five miles outside Bristol, right? I mean, it's just a shoo-in. You can't make up that candidate. I said to Liam, I said, seriously, unless she is really rubbish …She passed all the Muppet tests.
Paul Shrimpling: So you flagged up the holiday thing. No emails. So we’ll use that as a wrap up piece. What were you hinting at there?
David Gilroy: So probably go back eight or nine years. Andrew [xxx], my business partner and long-time friend, we worked together at CompuServe, actually, he and I were having a conversation about time away from the office and how that's even more important now. So two things happen at that point. We developed this policy where if any of our team has a day off, their email just waits for their return. Right? We don't do out of office. It's 24 hours.
Nobody has a right to get a response that quickly from email. If it's urgent, do this. Oh, I'll do a little routine for you in a minute as well, when I talk about communications, remind me of that. That could be the wrap up piece.
So if you're off for one day, nothing happens to email. If you're off for two days, your email gets copied to your boss or one of your peers. And if you're off for three days or more, your email gets forwarded to your boss or your peers. You do not get your email when you’re on your holiday. There's no checking it on your phone. Somebody else takes care of it.
When you go on holiday for a proper holiday, you come back to your inbox, the same state as when you left it. And then I said, you and I need to have a proper break away from the business. So when we have a week off or two weeks off, we will handle each other's emails and they will be forwarded.
So I would go away. So did the MBO three years ago, 2019, didn't do that in 2019. Didn't have a full week off. Thought, need to make sure I don't screw this up. It’s my money on the line now. Then got back to it in 2020, difficult year there. So I had one week, I think, with no phone calls or emails.
This year, proper two week break. I had two other weeks off already on flat things on the white stuff, where I'd have what would call half work week. So I'd ski in the morning and I'd work in the afternoon. Had a full two weeks off via my excellent finance manager, who got all my emails.
And it's the way you set it up. Anything that I'm intimately involved with, client facing, people related, there's always a couple of, if this happens, yes, I'd like a phone call, but otherwise… but only one phone call a day, max. All my emails went to her. I had full two weeks off.
The only interruption I got from the office was a client who said, we're merging, can I speak to you? And I phoned him back and said, you absolutely can. I'm just getting on a ski lift. I’m back on Monday, and they said they can wait till Monday, that's fine. And the only other one was a WhatsApp saying we've had a mini COVID outbreak in the office and we're closing the office for a week. That was it. They were just telling me, they weren't seeking my permission to do that.
And I think all business owners need to be in the position where they have somebody who's that trusted, that anything that came into my email, you know, the £5 million offer for the business… I don't mind that person seeing it…and that they can take themselves out of that business and the business carry on.
Now it's two weeks, right? What can go wrong in two weeks?
Paul Shrimpling: Design your business in the processes so that you can ...
David Gilroy: The phrase I use Paul, is I’m trying to build a business that wants me, but doesn't need me. And at some point it won't want me either. That would be great.
So, yeah, I did that this year for the first proper time in a couple of years. And I've got at least, I've got two more weeks off in October where I'm going to do the same thing. It works.
Paul Shrimpling: You know, that's what I've done from the get-go, 15 years ago. But that sounds like showing off. I don't mean to, it’s just I don't see how you can run a business in a deep, successful, high intensity way, unless you have time out. Sports people have time out during the game, it's called half time for crying out loud.
David Gilroy: And also, for people who've never done it, let's be clear, I'm thinking about work every day. Something will pop in my head and I'll make a note. And, yes, I did a little bit of writing and stuff, but I'm not in the business for those two weeks. So you can, it feels like in the middle of nowhere…
Paul Shrimpling: Yeah. And that bit probably feels like fun.
David Gilroy: But setting it up before you go… so for three or four weeks before I go, everybody knows I'm doing this kind of holiday. Please don't expect to phone me and have the phone answered. My phone barely rang for two weeks.
Paul Shrimpling: You can take that to whatever level…I remember working with a leader of a firm that went from being a two-owner firm to a one-owner firm whilst on a really quite rapid growth curve.
But was heading towards a…he was very much in that, they want me, they don't need me mentality, but he wasn't there yet. But he got to a place where two weeks off, no interruptions bar one. Then he got to a month off with no interruptions bar one. And then he eventually got to a three month honeymoon in the Pacific rim with a couple of interruptions.
That process was re-engineering the way his business was working without relying on him. So it was about business as a consequence. Really good. So you had one last thing to share to wrap us up, David.
David Gilroy: So, you know, we are doing it now. One of my frustrations with modern communications is when people say I spoke to them yesterday, I go, so this is what I do now, I go, okay, great. So did you speak to them? Did you speak to them? Did you speak to them? Did you speak to them or did you speak to them?
Did I speak to you face to face? Did I phone you? Did I video you? Did I email you or did I text you? Because, because when you say speak, I mean that or this or this? Not that. And we're drumming that into my team. You know, the old way was if you didn't get an answer in two emails, pick up the phone. Nowadays, if you don't get an answer in two WhatsApps, two Facebook messages, whatever, pick up the phone, it will be quicker. That hasn't gone away, that hasn't changed in 35 years, I don't think.
Paul Shrimpling: And that's a neat way to go, look, you’re a people business that happens to be a digital marketing agency for lawyers.
So where a people business happens to be in the world of accountancy, it’s the people stuff, always mattered, always will matter.
It's a brilliant way to finish. David, it's been a real privilege and pleasure as it always is talking with you. It's always an education. I really appreciate you investing your time and your energy today. Thank you.
David Gilroy: Very happy and good luck with all the other episodes I know you're going to do great on.
Paul Shrimpling: Thank you very much.
David Gilroy: Pleasure.
Paul Shrimpling: You'll find more valuable discussions with the leaders of ambitious accounting firms at humanisethenumbers.online. You can also sign up to be notified each time a new podcast is made available. This podcast series, Humanise The Numbers, has been made possible thanks to the support of our sponsors, MyWorkpapers, advancetrack, Satago and VFD Pro.
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What does Humanise the numbers mean to you?
Ambition vs reality
Well crafted question with evidence
What has changed in digital marketing?
Giving notice for price increases
What's coming in the website world?
Time off and emails
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Resources relating to this podcast:
Listen to Paul and David talk about email marketing. David who is a numbers obsessed, specialist marketeer, believes that email marketing will rise again, because it is a very simple marketing tool and a very easy way to stay in touch and say hello to your list, its also not expensive and a great way of delivering your latest content.
He believes the key to email marketing is the content, content that you should include your whole team in both collecting and writing.
The email delivery of your content is then better received when you make it personal to the reader and understand what the people on your list want to receive. David believes understanding your list is key.
This Bitesize Business Breakthrough will show you that, compared to social media, direct mail and other marketing, email has the highest sales conversion rate of 66%, and that email marketing works best when done as a series.
Click the link on the button to read this report and discover what box sets on Netflix and Amazon Prime have got to do with your email marketing.