Many thanks to Steven Hunt, founder of Steven A Hunt & Associates and their Finance Manager Debra Seddon for all their insights here...
They are a 19-strong multi-disciplinary building services practice specialising in mechanical and electrical engineering.
‘Our consultancy was established in 1988.
• We created a number of spreadsheets to help run aspects of the business
• We also bought a package to record time
“In 2003 we decided that we were a proper company! We took new premises, and we realised we also needed processes. Unless you have processes in place you don’t know what you’re doing.
“We were recording time, but it was very difficult to analyse the results.
“Our people weren’t seeing any benefit to themselves from filling in the sheets. So it was a chore for them. In truth, we couldn’t really demonstrate much benefit ourselves, because we couldn’t show how it really affected the end result of a project.
“We grew to about our current size, 19 people, and we knew we needed to get a system in. We did a lot of research to see what was available.
“We made our decision, and placed an order for a system. We used it for one month, but sent it back. It didn’t nearly deliver what we needed. It wasn’t solving the problem.
“So we searched some more, and had a number of demonstrations. Eventually we chose Synergist, going live in October 2014. It was more expensive than some others, but we saw it as an investment. We could see there was value there”.
‘In the early days we had 4 or 5 excellent engineers and we solved client problems individually. We charged fees based on our experience and the nature of the job and so on. But after the project was finished, we wondered...
Had we actually made any money? It was difficult to tell, project by project.
“It’s almost impossible to know where the profitability is when you have fragmentation”.
“Here’s an example. We knew what percentage of overall revenues each of our clients contributes. We don’t have any one client bringing in more than 12% of our revenues, and we have a handful of clients bringing in 10% each, which is all good.
“But which are profitable for us? It makes a big difference if you know. However only a proper system can show you that.
“Before Synergist, one project was subsidising another. The good jobs paid for the bad jobs. But we didn’t know which was which. Now it’s clear, and everybody here can see when their own project is healthy and when it isn’t.
“Sometimes a client asks a favour and wants some extra work without paying more. Our engineers like to help where they can. It’s natural. But we just need to know where it’s happening, so we can monitor it. And that is what happens now.
“So our engineers can now sit down with the client and show what’s happening, and they can articulate exactly when an extra fee is needed. And clients respond to that. It’s in the open. Whereas before, we would just leak away those extra hours and lose them”.
“We showed one engineer the traffic lights of his project, and it was a genuine revelation for him. Before, the guys just got on with the jobs, with no connection as to how much it helped the business as awhole. Now, they can take pride that when they do well on a project it is successful in every way. And if their project does turn red, then they go a bit red-faced too, and get to work trying to resolve it.
“They now see that if something goes wrong, nobody’s in trouble. We just need to learn from it for next time.”
Says Debra Seddon, Steven A Hunt’s Finance Manager: “For me, let me just add that if someone forgets to record some time to a job, it shows up now and doesn’t get forgotten. Previously when time was not being recorded, potential invoicing could be missed, but now with Synergist this is highlighted. It’s a loose end that stands out, so it gets fixed. You capture the leaks that way”.
‘It means that we are in a better position now to avoid the pain of taking on work that doesn’t deliver. Before Synergist we would sometimes do a project that was very demanding for our team, requiring them to do unsustainable hours for a period.
“It can happen sometimes. But if it turns out that the project isn’t even going to be profitable anyway, it means you can choose to avoid those and focus on the ones that are more productive.
“Getting our people to enter their hours was a bit of an uphill task, bearing in mind their previous experience. But when we explain that it helps us to be more selective about which jobs we take on now, that helps a lot. It means:
“They feel more ownership with their projects now. They can see that what they input affects the output.
“Another benefit is that today, everyone can estimate fees. It doesn’t just fall onto my desk.
“Also, if Debra or I are not in the office, the business continues to function fine”.
‘Our key motivations for getting the system were:
“Synergist has delivered on all those. It’s a fabulous thing when you think about it”.
“It’s not been quite a year since implementation, so we’re still discovering more. But because we knew from previous experience what we really needed, which we learned the hard way, we can see that this one delivers.
Synergist is like a fine wine – it matures and you are able to appreciate it more over time.
“It’s all joined up now. It was fragmented before, and it took a long time to gather and compare and process that information. It’s all in one place now, in front of you.”
“Let me add a special mention about the speed of the help you get from Synergist’s help desk. It’s really good. If I was to single someone out, I would mention Rob. If you send him a question he seems to get back to you almost faster than your email went out to him.”
“And let me give a particular mention to Louise Neale of The Agency Works, who organised the implementation. She was very good”.
“She planned the implementation and she has tremendous knowledge and patience, and she is a great listener. A rare combination. She is like a guru in her field. Thank you”.
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