From one 'dig out' to a turnover of €800,000 and growing
AIDEN Lacey happened upon his first client by chance. Not long after quitting his job as a financial controller so he could strike out on his own, the Dubliner was helping his uncle unload a van.
"My uncle was a printer and he shared a building with a guy who serviced Xerox photocopiers," recalls Lacey. "The guy came to me and said: 'We're in terrible trouble, can you give is a bit of a dig out?'."
From that 'dig out' sprung Lacey's Professional Services Group (PSG), a 12-man business that claims it can increase a company's turnover by 20pc and cut costs by the same amount in just six months.
With just a year and half's trade under its belt, Lacey says PSG has already helped 60 companies, with every one of those enjoying a significant reduction in costs and a significant rise in sales.
PSG's offering is a compendium of what companies can get from other consultancies, serving up cash management, financial control and business strategy all under one umbrella and implementing changes rather than simply recommending them.
The modus operandi is to go into a company -- usually an SME with a turnover in the €750,000 to €7m range -- and spend three days assessing everything from the way the company's staff interact with each other to the way the company manages its cash.
"After that we'll come back to them with a plan on cutting costs and increasing turnover, and we'll be contractually bound to deliver within six months, otherwise we don't get paid," says Lacey.
On the revenue line, PSG often encourages SMEs to dispense with the old-school logic of sticking to one niche. "We had one client solely focused on IT hardware. They'd never considered the service element and they opened up a whole new market," says Lacey.
"Other times, you'll look at a company's original business plan and see that they had all these ideas they never tried out -- we can send our guys off to look into those while management can keep focusing on the day job."
As well as selling new things, PSG advises companies to sell in new ways. Powerpoints are thrown in favour of Mac slideshows so PSG's companies will stand out from the competition, and expos are encouraged to show off the companies' offering.
"We had one guy who had a product for pumping snow and he was just bringing it round in a box to his clients," says Lacey. "We told him to have an expo, invite clients in to his depot some night and show them the product actually pumping snow."
On the cost side, Lacey is keen to shed the traditional slasher image that often stalks management consultants. "I've seen managers who've cut 25pc off their costs, and they still don't know where they are," he says. "I ask them how they cut it and they said they just cut.
"I'd argue that if you haven't looked at your business objectively, you shouldn't cut costs at all because what you could be cutting away is potential."
Rather than going for blanket cuts, Lacey and co employ sophisticated tools like Maslow's hierarchy of needs to find the best cuts. People are rarely targets. "Restructuring is often perceived as meaning redundancies, but that's not right," he says.
"Restructuring really means turning around a business that's going in the wrong direction. We can go in to a company and find three or four administration staff are doing the same job so we can take some of them to support other revenue streams."
The work Lacey describes sounds like something that lends itself perfectly to the recession, but the Finglas native insists that his venture is more than a downturn spin-off.
"The recession is an aid to get in the door, certainly," he says. "But I didn't want to be the guy with two faces -- the recession specialist today, the growth specialist tomorrow.
"What we offer is a framework to run your business well."
Of the 60 companies PSG has worked with 25 have been fire-fighting and the rest have been positioning for growth.
"Most of the companies we've dealt with more recently have been talking about growth," says Lacey.
"What we're telling companies is that there's a rocket about to take off in the next six to nine months, do you want to be on it or not? The economy is definitely turning."
Lacey's positioning himself to be at the forefront of the recovery by setting up an office in London last October.
"The UK's upswing is probably going to come sooner, and there's a bigger marketplace there," he says.
Three people are already employed at PSG's London office, and Lacey is in talks about opening a branch in Liverpool later in the summer.
The home office is also on an upward curve and Lacey is trying to recruit "three or four" accountants as well as a marketing person to help build PSG's own brand.
The recruitment drive comes as Lacey targets a turnover around the €1m mark for this year, against the "€600,000 to €800,000" his firm achieved in 2009, some €60,000 of which came from that original customer.
Other plans for PSG's future include a business reality TV show, which would see a camera crew follow Lacey around on his various travails with Irish businesses.
"I was approached by a production company about it and they're talking to RTE about it now," he says.
"Ireland doesn't really have a programme that business people can look at and say: 'I have that problem too, this is what I should be doing.' That's what we're trying to create."
He might not have set out to be the "recession guy" but it seems Lacey may be destined for the title yet.