Anthony Stiff Associates

The future’s looking rosy for landscape architects thanks to Business Doctors

Anthony Stiff Associates is a landscape architecture business in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Established in 1993 by director Anthony Stiff, the company has grown steadily over the last three decades mainly thanks to glowing recommendations and repeat commissions.

Along with co-director Carolyn Place, Anthony and the team deliver large-scale projects in a variety of sectors, including commercial developments, housing, parks and play spaces, and private grounds. Although successful and with six employees, the team felt they were becoming a little stale in their approach to their business and were frustrated with what they felt was a plateau in operations.

So in stepped Andy Mee, Business Doctors consultant for Oxfordshire and North Buckinghamshire. Andy, a Business Doctor since 2014, is a qualified accountant with over 30 years’ experience in finding solutions to business issues.

Anthony Stiff explains: “We’d been through the recession and survived it, but we felt like we were treading water. Andy Mee presented at a seminar we attended with a view to participating in the Growth Accelerator business coaching programme, and we could see straight away that he talked a lot of sense and had some great ideas.

“We caught up after the seminar and it was clear we could work well together so we signed up for the six-month programme.”

The process involved a monthly planning meeting with a view to putting a three-year strategy in place, including an orbit map, financial plan, marketing strategy and growth plan.

Says Andy Mee: “Anthony and his team were in a classic situation that we see frequently at Business Doctors. They were successful, but had the potential to earn much more money and expand in a manageable way. They’d just lost sight of how to do that, so needed someone to come in and help them to see things in a different way.

“Business Doctors uses a strategic planning framework with 10 steps to growth. I took them through that over a period of time, working with them for a couple of hours every three or four weeks to tackle any issues and plan how to move the business forward.”

And, according to Anthony, this fresh pair of eyes was just the boost the business needed.

“We deal with a large range of clients but were perhaps lacking direction and not necessarily looking outside the boxes we were familiar with,” he explains.

“The process with Andy involved some soul searching and looking at how we did things, and being more analytical about our existing operation. We had to step back and look at what was successful, what wasn’t, unravel it and put it back together again.

“Having that external person there to objectively interrogate us, try and understand our business and question what we were doing was the reality check we needed. We’d just kept on doing what we did because it worked, and we’d stopped questioning it. When you’re challenged about it, you start to see things that don’t work perhaps as well as you thought they did, or see areas that could be improved.”

Challenging the status quo helped Anthony and his team see that, while repeat business is always welcome, concentrating on areas they were familiar with wasn’t helping the business evolve.

“You can’t work turn away if it comes to you, particularly when you’ve just come through a recession,” says Anthony. “But what Andy helped us to see was that we could do it more efficiently. For example, we could outsource smaller and less specialised jobs while retaining overall control over quality, and put in higher bids for repeat tenders that weren’t proving profitable. With Andy’s help, we were able to look across the board and recognise what worked and what didn’t rather than just blindly carry on the same way.”

And, although it’s early days, this approach is already reaping rewards. Anthony explains: “We’ve only just come to the end of the six-month programme, but we’ve already seen an increase in turnover. We’re planning to take on two more staff in the near future, and our continued growth will lead to us looking for larger premises in the next 18 months or so.

“On a personal level, Andy really understood who we are and what we do and that helped us to build up a great rapport. Now the Growth Accelerator is finished we’ve kept him on as a consultant to keep us on track, and he’s helping us recruit a senior member of staff which is a really beneficial independent view to the whole process.

“It’s been a worthy investment for us. Overall, it’s a really a positive experience that I would recommend to anyone in similar circumstances.”