survive the big 4 busy season

Ask any fresh-faced graduate in a professional services firm, (all the way up to Big 4) whether they want to make partner and I’m sure you’ll hear a resounding “YES.” Almost all of them will say yes, unequivocally. I mean, who doesn’t want the status, glory and rewards of partnership? Ask them “what does it mean to be a partner?” however, and I bet you’ll be met with answers that solely focus on money, being your own boss, and having the title. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the benefits, but it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to make partner that many underestimate the effects of. To give you a completely realistic insight, this blog post covers exactly what making partner means. 

What does it mean to make partner?

It’s easy to get beguiled by the glamourous side of making partner, particularly the large financial rewards, having a seat at the top of the table, and entertaining clients at international matches, theatre productions and top-class restaurants. I think we could all say that it wouldn’t be a hardship, to take these things on. In fact, I think many would volunteer for such a wonderful lifestyle which explains the endless lawyers, accountants, and consultants working themselves to the bone just to get there.  While it is a whole other world playing in the big leagues, it is important not to get caught up in the rose-tinted version of what making partner means. Just like any other job, it comes with its disadvantages; drawbacks that are as big as the rewards ( Discover the 3 big warnings signs of burn out (and why you need to stop dismissing tiredness)) And now it’s time for some hard-hitting facts to really hit home our point. Did you know that partners tend to: 

  • be married and divorced several times?
  • have high blood pressure and other stress-related illnesses? 
  • be paid less than directors and salaried partners when profits are low?
  • spend many evenings networking with people they may not really choose to spend time with?
  • spend more time in hotels visiting clients than at home with their families?
  • have trouble relating to their children because they are rarely home before bedtime?

I’m not selling this am I?!  And my expertise is helping people like you get there! Like I said, the answer to “what does it mean to be a partner?” isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and it is important that you know that before going into it. With such long hours and the constant pressure of trying to balance client and staff demands along with running the firm, many partners become married to the job which causes their family and social life to suffer.  

It’s not just putting ‘Partner’ on the business card

There is more to making partner than ticking off a goal. You become a business owner; yes, that means you own part of your firm. This is another responsibility that you didn’t have when you were a director and being the owner of a firm really changes your way of thinking.  Now as well as keeping your team and clients happy, completing assignments to time and under budget, winning new business . . . you also have to run the firm. Oh, and you need to buy your stake in the firm when you are asked to join the partnership. In my days at BDO, this was £60k, and most new partners took a bank loan to fund their stake in the business. When you make partner, you become self-employed and are paid according to your share of the profits that the firm makes. In a year where the company struggles to make a profit, you may not actually make any money. Of course, in big firms, this is very rare, but it is still very real.  Many assume that more money is the result of making it to the top, but what making partner means is working your socks off to make sure that the firm is making money so that you can make money. It’s a cruel game of risk and reward. 

So, why do people even want to make partner?

From my description of ‘what does it mean to be a partner?’ you’re probably now thinking ‘who would even want to make partner?’ and you wouldn’t be alone. But, despite the downsides, at the end of the day, making partner is still the holy grail of professional services.  When I ask people why they wanted to make partner, they usually reply with something along these lines:

  • Isn’t that what every professional wants?
  • The status that comes from having Partner on my business card.
  • More autonomy and control over my work.
  • More interesting work.
  • The financial rewards that come with making partner.
  • The security of owning part of the firm.
  • I wanted to be the person making the decisions.

These are all very real and valid reasons, and many people who make partner have a very fulfilled and mentally stimulating career. It’s a question of balance, and I assure you, it is possible to make partner and still have a life! My point really is that making partner is not something you have to do. It’s a choice and one that you should not take lightly. That’s why I want as many professionals as I can to know exactly what making partner means.

Need more help?

You may like to read my post on the pros and cons of making partner or sign up for your free career kitbag, where you will find everything you need to know  (and other things that haven’t even occurred to you) to help you along the tricky path to making partner.

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