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Laurence Finger, co-founder and managing partner of SRLV, on why putting on weight is encouraged and why office atmosphere is more important than you think…

Here’s a story. Not long ago I met a chap in a restaurant in Italy and – to cut a long tale short – I ended up saying he could borrow my car when he visited England. I didn’t think he’d take me up on it but he did, so I invited him to the office to collect my keys. He arrived and was in reception for a while as I tied up a meeting. When I came down with the keys, his first words were: “Wow, what a buzz there is in this place. I’m going to give you my business.”

“Hang on,” I said, “you don’t even know us.”

“I love it here. I’m moving,” he replied.

And he gave us his business just because he’d sat in reception and seen the way our people interact and behave in the office.

What this story shows is that I am very proud of the atmosphere we have created at SRLV. More than that, it demonstrates the importance of achieving the right tone and creating a buzz.

Achieving the right atmosphere is strongly linked to your firm’s culture, values and motivation

A positive atmosphere not only often directly leads to success, as my story shows, it also means good productivity, recruitment opportunities and talent retention, because your people are confident and at ease. And that naturally leads to effective business development.

The question is: how do you get that feel-good, hard-to-define, buzz?

Achieving the right atmosphere is strongly linked to your firm’s culture, values and motivation. At the heart of SRLV since we founded the firm in my spare room in 1988 has been a culture of open communication, straightforward honesty, and a people-focused approach. We are obsessed with the idea of partnering our clients and becoming “we”, not “us and them”. A lot of firms say that, but we live it – we are passionate about helping them, and we get a great satisfaction by seeing the benefits of our partnership, with our clients. It’s what gets us out of bed each day, with a smile and bounce of enthusiasm.

Our office has a disproportionately high number of board rooms because we are so keen to get clients in here, sit down with them and talk to them. We work hard to see them regularly and build a strong partnership.

If I’m not putting on weight, I’m not putting on business

One of our mantras is: “If I’m not putting on weight, I’m not putting on business.” Which means we value being out there having breakfast, lunch and dinner with clients. The more we eat, the more business improves, because of the intimacy it creates. If you see clients only once or twice a year, you just cannot build that kind of relationship.

Remove the fear

We are also very keen to dispel the mysterious fear – a kind of uptightness – that you find in some offices where everyone works away quietly in their own little zones without communicating, almost hiding from clients and each other.

Here you can dress however you want provided it’s “client appropriate”: if your client is in a shirt and tie, you should be. If they are in jeans and t-shirt, that’s what you wear. We mirror the client so they feel relaxed.

Here’s something else we’ve done to improve our office atmosphere: six years ago we employed Lara – a young lady with learning difficulties – after a charity got in touch with us.

The intangible atmosphere a firm creates is incredibly important

Lara is in charge of shredding and works here one day a week. We haven’t done anything special, just treat Lara as one of the team and ensure she interacts with all other staff. The positives she has brought are immense to the whole firm.

Look around your office. What’s the atmosphere like? Is there a buzz that would impress clients, or would they be put off? In my book, the intangible atmosphere a firm creates is incredibly important. After all, can your firm do tax better or quicker than others? Probably not. Is it cheaper? Probably not. So why use your firm? What’s different? The clinchers are often attitude, ethos, atmosphere, and the way you behave with others…so that had better be different…

Article written by BDLN Editor-in-chief Matt W