Are you a Vinnie Pal?


This short hand held video filmed by my late friend and mentor Paul O’Byrne in 2007 has probably been seen by many of you but if you have not watched before I would love you to do so now. Even if you have seen it previously I am sure it will bring a smile to your face again as you marvel at the real life creativity Paul was so well known for. This film clip proves once again that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

Paul O'Byrne - Vinnie Pals: Specialist vs Generalist

The film speaks for itself and in many of my presentations after I have shown it I ask my audience “Are you a Vinnie Pal?”

Regrettably many firms seem to think they are-or that they have to be- to survive.

One only has to look at many country and suburban practices where often they feel the need to provide a ‘total service’ to their clients. Even many of the larger firms still promote themselves as “full service firms” lest a client or potential client cannot find what they are looking for and go somewhere else.

I know some practitioners might prefer a GP style of practice but unfortunately it’s usually pretty tough offering “full service” and trying to be good at all the services you provide. You can often end up not being exceptionally good at anything and average at everything (or even below average in some things) and worse still you are usually perceived to be competing in the more price sensitive market areas.

As Tim Williams more than eloquently states in his inspirational book Positioning For Professionals “nobody buys a product because it can do everything, but rather because it can do something… perish the thought that you might be getting half service when you hire one of these ‘full-service’ firms”.

The most successful restaurants whether they be at the McDonalds end of the scale or the Nobu end, as we all know specialise in something. They have some form of theme or signature dish(es) that principally draws customers to them. This is not to say that they only serve their signature dish(es). Even at McDonalds, known for fat filled meat burgers, you can purchase some chicken meals and even some salad if you want and the best steakhouses will normally have some seafood or vegetarian options. My point is that these other dishes are not what these restaurants are principally known for, not what gets their customers through the door, not what they promote and not what they are particularly good at cooking.

Even professional firms that promote themselves as “full service” probably do not  provide every service there is… and even if they did, you would hope that they are recognized for some services they do particularly well. The other services they provide are just  ‘add ons’ and whilst they are no doubt viewed as an important revenue raiser for the firm and a way of keeping a client lest they find the service somewhere else, in many firms I find these other services are often a distraction to the real distinguishing service the firm provides and is known for (and often as I said, they don’t do those additional services particularly well anyway).

In fact, in some firms these “add on” services actually detract from the firm’s otherwise good brand and only serves to dilute its reputation not enhance it – albeit it might enhance the firms short term revenue.

What are you good at? I mean really good at? Why do customers  come to you instead of your competition? What are you known for? What do you want to be known for? Answer this and once you have, aspire to and work hard to get there. If you are already there, maintain this. Do not be distracted by the lure of “full service” or fall for the trap of “I have never met a billable hour I don’t like yet” that so many average firms do.

Even those practitioners that are a true trusted advisor to their clients do not provide every single service. In fact the true test of a trusted advisor is often when you refuse to do a piece of work for that client- notwithstanding how tempting the fees might be- because you do not have the expertise and instead refer that client elsewhere.

Are you a “Pal’s International Cafe” -or do you stand for something else?

*Pal’s International Cafe closed down a couple of years ago. In its place stands a very busy specialist Japanese Cafe.