About us: a Q&A
…with Sarah Buttler
- Why did you start Sarah Buttler Associates?
I had been working on immigration issues for one of the large global advisory firms for a long time and I was effectively running the business for the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
In 2007 I had a performance review. The partner said lots of nice things about how well the practice was doing and how well I was doing. And he finished off by saying, “...you really care about the business don’t you. You couldn’t be more committed if your name was on the door”. About three days later I was staring out of the window and I had a kind of epiphany. Why wasn’t my name on the door?
- Where there other reasons?
Well suddenly all the little discontents and reservations about the “corporateness” of what we were doing struck me. I was spending most of my time dealing with the internal bureaucracy of the firm, or with selling to clients. I was not doing very much immigration work.
This is typical of how things work in a large professional services firm. As you become more senior you spend more and more time getting business through the door and passing the file on to someone more junior whose time is cheaper. The customer still gets a good service, but it comes at a cost. You have to introduce a lot of process so that everything gets checked and rechecked, and this slows you up. But worse than that you lose touch with your clients, or at least you lose that sense of seeing a job through from start to finish.
So I saw the possibility of getting back to doing the work I enjoyed and using the time saved from dispensing with all the bureaucracy to strip away lots of cost and to bring back a more personal touch.
- Why did you choose to start a virtual consultancy?
Before I answer that I should say that we do have offices, we just don’t all work in the same place every day! And we don’t all commute somewhere grand in Central London Monday to Friday.
Now obviously this offers huge cost savings. But I think as well it is just a nicer way to work. I just don’t think people are motivated so much anymore by someone in an office looking over their shoulder. All our associates are self-motivated conscientious people who want to get the job done and don’t want to waste time with office politics and process.
- How has the reality of running the business compared with the vision?
I have not regretted it one iota. On a personal level it has been incredibly satisfying to build a business, but also I am more convinced than ever that being small and flexible brings huge advantages - and not just cost advantages - to clients.
When you are small you are hungry for new business in a way that large firms just aren’t. More importantly, I know all our current clients personally. I know who has to pick up their children between 3pm and 4pm and I know who likes to get an SMS when I am on holiday or out of the UK. And I know much more about their business and how what we do helps them.
When you are in a large company the link between what you do and the company result seems pretty remote. In a small firm you feel everything instantly. All our work comes through word of mouth and again this just brings us closer to clients. When I was at the big four firm we used to spend days and weeks worrying away over the wording of a brochure. When you rely on referrals your only way to market is to do a great job for your existing clients.
To find out more about what Sarah Buttler can do for you do please contact us by phone or email for an initial chat.