Passion + Relationships = Success

In the last post you’ll remember reading about Cameron – our highly skilled accounting professional who lacked a network and needed to learn how to sell.

As a self-employed headhunter, the way I feed my family is through the network of contacts and relationships I have built and maintained over many years. In the case of Cameron she has worked for the same accounting firm for most of her professional career and has only really built a network internal to the firm. If Cameron aspires to be a Partner she will need to start building relationships that (sooner or later) will help her attract new businesses or more business from existing clients. So how does Cameron get networking? Given the readership of this blog I will assume a few things so we can get to the heart of the matter.

1. Choose your area.You can’t be all things to all people. If your professional interest lies in say, the biotechnology field, then focus on relationships in that arena and around it.

2. Serve that area. Once you have selected the area start serving. By this I mean get involved in all the associations/forums/groups you can that make up your chosen area. Getting involved means not simply joining but doing things for and with others, e.g. give free advice, volunteer help, sit on steering groups/committees, make speeches and the like. Get to be known as someone who helps others – no strings attached.

3. Build a reputation as a “go to” person. Closely linked to the above point is the building of a profile as the person who becomes the hub for activity. Like a hub of a bicycle wheel that connects the spokes be the person that can link others together. Through a simple introduction over a coffee much kudos and creditability can be and is created. You will find that the hub becomes involved in all sorts of interesting situations and conversations that will lead to new opportunities.

4. Be genuine. If you are getting involved and helping others for the sole purpose of getting business and making sales you will fail. People can see a phony a mile away. So don’t be one!

The above points are not just useful for our young friend Cameron to think about; they are a good reminder to the seasoned professional services campaigner!

All my best,

James E

Is passion enough?

The other day I met a potential candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Cameron as in Cameron Diaz.

Cameron was a lovely lady in her early 30’s. Bright, warm and friendly. After the first five minutes of our coffee meeting I felt I had known her for years.

Cameron is a senior accountant with a highly technical background and a wonderful skill-set in problem solving and working on complex projects with big end of town clients. In addition, she has a passion and enthusiasm for her work that is contagious. I think it would be safe to say that there would probably be around a couple of hundred professionals with her particular skill-mix in Australia. I’m not joking … she is that good! This coupled with her engaging personality makes for a formidable combination.

At first glance she seems to have all the makings of a first rate professional. But there is something  missing – her ability to network and sell.

To date Cameron has focused on honing her technical & professional skills to the detriment of her capability to build effective relationships both within and outside her accounting firm. In fact during our coffee Cameron clearly stated that it was only in the last year or so that she had come to realise how vitally important “networking” is.

As I think I’ve said in past posts I hate the word networking.  The word has unfortunately come to represent the attitude and behavior of  “what can I get out of other people.” I don’t want to sound twee about it, but true networking is about meaningful relationships. In Cameron’s case she has not spent the time to identify, establish and cultivate relationships in the wider community. For it is these relationships with others that will help her on her way to building new business contacts and deepen her bonds with existing clients.

Cameron is not yet a Partner in her firm. If she wants to not only be a Partner, but an effective, one she needs to learn how to build relationships and sell her services. Her passion for the profession is (sadly) not enough.

So how can Cameron do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James E

A better definition thanks to Sandra

Last week I published a post talking about a better definition for professional services (see a better definition – 21 Jan 2011)

I spoke to a good friend of mine about this particular post and asked her what she thought of it and the topic. She replied it was ok but I should have gone further than simply providing a dictionary definition of the words professional and service and joining them together. Any banana can do that! What I should have done was to extend upon the core idea with some stories from my own experience about what true professional service is.

So … as an indication that I not only hear critical feedback but act on it here goes!

Using the previous post’s definition:

A professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help.

One of the best examples I have ever come across which captures the true essense of what it means to benefit people who seek the help from a professional is that of Sandra (not her real name).

Sandra and her husband Jerry (again not a real name) ran a successful and growing metal fabrication employing over sixty people. One day, out of the blue, Jerry died of a massive heart attack at the age of 33.

Here was poor Sandra, at 30 years of age with two small children and the responsibility of running and financing a multi-million dollar business with all the associated opportunities, challenges, problems and risks. Although, Sandra had worked part-time in the business and had a good idea of most of its moving parts, it was Jerry who was the no.1 sales guy, strategist and visionary. With Jerry gone an important  part of the business had also died.

Sandra needed help and support. The business had used a local accountant named Phil. After an appropriate time of mourning Phil met with Sandra and said the following:

Sandra. I’m very sorry about Jerry. He was a wonderful guy. I will do everything in my power to help you personally and the business in any way I can. You can call on me for anything – I will support you all the way.

Phil was true to his word and worked closely with Sandra over the ensuing few years to make the business more marketable and exit at the right point in the business cycle.

15 years later Phil remains Sandra’s personal and business accountant. As Sandra said to me the other week. “James … I could never leave Phil – he is my most trusted advisor”

Need I say more?

Bye for now,

James E

Two ears and one mouth

I’m roughly about halfway through the book I’m currently working on titled “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?”

In earlier posts you would have heard me bang on about the importance of listening when meeting and discussing issues with clients and pitching for new business.

I was scanning the web the other day and found an excellent list of barriers to effective listening and strategies to promote better listening.

Barriers to effective listening

There are many reasons as to why individuals fail to listen successfully, These include:

  1. Interrupting
  2. Faking attention and tuning out
  3. Becoming emotional
  4. Jumping to conclusions
  5. Getting distracted
  6. Pre-judging the subject
  7. Wrong focus
  8. Gathering only facts
  9. Inflexibility while listening
  10. Avoiding complicated subjects

Strategies to promote better listening

You can improve your listening skills by following some of the strategies mentioned below: Maintain eye contact with the speaker.

  1. Provide clues that you are actively involved in listening.
  2. Focus on content, not delivery
  3. Avoid emotional involvement
  4. Avoid distractions
  5. Refrain from formulating an immediate response
  6. Ask questions
  7. Use the gap between the rate of speech.
  8. Be willing to accept revisions
  9. Choose the right environment
  10. Stay active by asking questions for yourself

(Source: http://hubpages.com/hub/Importance-of-Listening-Skills-in-Professional-Life)

I remember my dad saying to me years ago … “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a very good reason … make sure you use them in the that ratio” It took me some time to work out that meant you should listen twice as much as you talk! Admittedly I was quite young at the time  🙂

See you next post.

James E

A better definition

When looking at the meaning of words & terms it is helpful to go back to basics and look at the components. In the case of a professional service we have two words: professional AND service. So lets individually look at the meanings of these two words.

A professional is a person who is expert at his or her work (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/professional).

A somewhat more comprehensive defintion … a professional does something as a profession, or receives payment for some activity. The adjective “professional” can indicate that someone has great skill in a craft or activity, or that something demonstrates such skill. To conduct oneself as a professional (exhibiting “professional behavior”) would indicate that the person’s actions remain in accordance with specific rules, written or unwritten, pertaining to the standards of a profession. (http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Professional)

Now lets look at the word service. I saw several definitions of service on the web, but one struck me as capturing the gestalt.

Service is the action of serving, helping, or benefiting; conduct tending to the welfare or advantage of another; friendly or professional assistance (Oxford English Dictionary)

Putting the two above meanings together we get something like …. a professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help. Now I know this is not an “official” defintion but it should serve us well as a starting point. For the sake of reinforcement lets repeat this definition and put it in bold typeface.

A professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help.

For this blog this will be our reference point when it comes to a professional service like accounting, law, engineering and teh like. If you’re not happy with the above definition please drop me a line and we’ll talk!

See you next time.

James E

What exactly are Professional Services?

I’ve been working in the area of “Professional Services” for about 15 years. Its a funny thing … I’ve never bothered to look up the definition of what a professional service is or what fields it includes. Now, of course, the  disciplines of Accounting & Law would be regarded as professional services but what are the other areas grouped into the market category “Professional Services?”

Firstly, we need a definition. What exactly are professional services? Here are three (3) definitions of professional services that I picked up from the web:

Professional services are accounting, legal, medical and other such services provided by a formally certified member of a professional body. (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/professional-services.html)

Professional services are infrequent, technical, or unique functions performed by independent contractors or by consultants whose occupation is the rendering of such services. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_services)

Professional services comprise of industries whose products and services are based on professional expertise rather than on discrete products or commodities. (http://www.bitpipe.com/tlist/Professional-Services-Industries.html)

To be truthful I’m a little disappointed with the above definitions. They don’t nearly go far enough to capture the essence of what a professional service is and should be. Tune into the next post for a better definition.

Now in terms of the disciplines that professional services covers we get a better outcome. According to the ubiquitous Wikipedia, the professional services market sector includes the following areas of expertise:

  • Accountants
  • Actuaries
  • Appraisers/valuers
  • Architects
  • Brokers
  • Business consultants
  • Copywriters
  • Dentists
  • Distributors
  • Engineers
  • Funeral directors
  • Lawyers
  • Physicians
  • Public relations consultants
  • Recruiters
  • Researchers
  • Real estate agents
  • Translators
  • Software engineers
  • Value-added resellers
  • Web designers

Quite a list to say the least!

As mentioned earlier, next post I’ll try (hopefully) to come up with a better definition of what a professional service.

Keep smiling and bye for now.

James E

You can’t judge a book …

Cliche’s are cliches because they are often true. This is certainly the case with the old saying “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”

Many years ago I knew about a local businessman who over the course of 30+ years had built up a very successful waste management business specialising in sewerage and grease traps. To protect the innocent we will give this chap a code name – lets call him Trevor.

Trevor, with complete respect, looked every bit the quinessential garbage man. He was in his late fifties, had a pot belly, wore a blue singlet, shorts and work boots. Given the type of work Trevor did every day he looked dirty and had a certain aroma around him. Trevor didn’t care – he was a successful guy building a business that had made him wealthy. He just didn’t look or smell successful!

One day, Trevor, driving through the Sydney CBD in the old beat up Dodge truck he usually drove, stopped outside a Rolls Royce dealership. Somehow he managed to get a parking right in front of the show room so the sales and support staff inside saw exactly what Trevor was driving and as he walked through the big glass doors, what he looked like.

Trevor walked up to one of the cars on the floor, opened the door and stuck his head in to have a look. He then closed the door, took a couple of  paces towards the front of the car and kicked the drivers-side tyre and called out to the small group of sales people gathered on the other side of the showroom and said, “Hey … how much do you want for this piece of sh**t?!”

One of the senior managers quickly walked over and said to Trevor, “Sir, I think you are in the wrong place. Why don’t you leave?” I wasn’t there of course but I can just imagine the snooty tone of the request.

“No mate, mate … you’ve got it wrong. I want to buy one of these cars. How much are they and do you have them in stock or do I have to wait?”

“Sir, you are in the wrong place. Please leave.” came the reply.

Trevor tried a couple of more times to set the manager straight, but was told in no uncertain terms that the police would be called immediately if he didn’t leave.

With a few well placed expletives, Trevor left … very angry and embarrassed.

Fast forward 4 weeks …

Trevor, still wearing his usual work gear (although it was nice and clean) drove past the Rolls Royce dealership, parked his new car, close to the same spot he had parked a month earlier, walked up to the showroom and called out seeing the guy who had asked him to leave.

“Mate … you should have listened to me and not make f***ing stupid assumptions. You could have got a nice commission cheque from your boss. Mate … you are a big d**kh**d!”

The manager, speechless, watched Trevor leave the showroom, go back to his car, jump in and drive off. Trevor had changed his old Dodge ute for a
brand new top-of-the-range Bentley that he bought and had freighted from a dealer in Melbourne.

The bottom line of this story is to never assume the quality of a prospective client until you ask some questions and get to know them!

Bye for now,

James

Use small words please – part 2 of 2

Following on from the last post,  I’d like to share with you a story. The moral of this story will give you a tremendous insight into how to more effectively communicate with your clients, prospects, staff, suppliers … in fact anyone you need to speak with and whom you want to understand the words you are using.

Many years ago I attended a student residential conference whilst at university. The conference was held in a wonderful bushland setting a couple of hours drive south of Sydney.

The keynote speaker was a terrific & engaging guy with the somewhat unusual name of Winkie Pratney (that is a name you don’t forget in a hurry 🙂 ) He was sharing insights on leadership and value-driven work.

Winkie’s style of instruction/teaching was great. He peppered each seminar with real life examples and anecdotes. One such story has stuck in my mind since (25+ years!). Winkie called it the “3 Stages.” Here is how it went.

There are 3 stages in effective communication – be it written or oral.

Stage 1 – This consists of small ideas in small words. We all go through this stage. From our first acts of speech we use smalls words like da-da, mummy, bye-bye and eat to convey simple greetings and requests. As children grow & develop, the volume of words increase but not so much their length and the ideas behind them are still small … “Dad can I have $10 please?” I think you get the idea.

Stage 2 – This stage is big ideas in big words. This is the use (& sometimes overuse) of jargon and technical language. Have you had a meeting with an “average” tax lawyer lately? Tax legislation is typically complex, verbose and detailed. However, sometimes the interpretation or the explanation given by the tax lawyer is equally complex, verbose and detailed – a definite case of big ideas in big words.

Stage 3 – The 3rd and final stage in effective communication is simply this: you will never become a great communicator until you translate big ideas into small words.

To unpack this simple rule a little more, consider this. If a person knows and understands their subject matter extremely well then he/she should be able to explain the material to someone new to the area. For example, I have no understanding of physics whatsoever having done no study at either school or uni – it just doesn’t interest me for some reason. However, I once saw an interview with a Nobel Prize winning physicist on television explain in small words the big idea of Einsteins General Theory of Relativity. Not bad!

Conversely, if a person doesn’t know their subject matter that well they will tend to hide behind jargon or big words. Keep this in mind when listening to a politician speak about some so-called “complex issue.”

Here is a question for you – “When you communicate with your clients do you use small words or big words?”

Thanks for your time,

James

Use small words please – part 1 of 2

My father is a self-made man. He has been self-employed for over 40 years. He left school at the age of 12 to help his parents with their small business. Without putting too fine a point on it my father looks like Fred Flinstone. To make matters worse he has a friend that looks like Barney Rubble! (hand on heart I’m telling the truth)

In the last few years my father has had to (along with my mother) get advice from accountants, lawyers and financial planners in setting up a self-managed super fund and make investments in the share market, managed funds and the like.

Although my dad had to leave school early and didn’t have the opportunity to pursue higher education, he is an incredibly smart guy with a sharp commercial acumen. He has been successful, not just in a  material sense, but has been married for close to 50 years and is a wonderful husband & father. I’m very proud of him to say the very least.

In the last few years dad has asked me to go along with him to all manner of meetings with advisors to help him with his financial affairs.

My dad and I are not stupid. We understand most things when they are presented to us. I tell you the truth … we were struggling to understand the flow of jargon & technical language that came from the mouths of the people we met with. We would often leave the meeting more confused than when we came.

Isn’t the objective of an advisor to clarify, present options and provide direction to their clients?

In the next post I’ll share with you a great way to communicate more effectively with your clients and win hearts & minds doing it!

All my best,

James

Relationship or fee?

A few weeks ago I was thrust into an interesting situation.

A long-term commercial client of mine had asked me if I could recommend a specialist tax consultant for some advice that he needed regarding a pending transaction.

To cut a long story short, I recommended a senior tax specialist to my client and the two of them started to meet to plan & discuss  the project at hand. The first meeting went well and then things fell apart.

Without going into the gory details, the advice delivered didn’t help my client and the final bill that came was about double what the client thought the service was worth.

A tax friend on one side and a long term client on the other. I was the chap who brought them together and neither was happy. Not a good situation to say the least!

I suggested to both parties that we meet and hash things out.

We got together and each party presented their views in a full and frank way. After about 30 minutes, my tax consultant friend made a really interesting statement that changed the whole tone and atmosphere of the meeting.

With names changed and a little license on my part, … this is what the tax chap said:

Wayne … I’m sorry you’re not happy. I think we have had a communication breakdown and that has created an outcome which is not what you want or what I want. I’m not worried about my fee. The most important thing here is my relationship with you. I’d like to think that you & I will be able to work together in the future. I’m happy to wipe my fee and start again.

There was a pause and my client (I could see) was impressed with the tax chaps attitude and willingness to admit fault and start over. My client said that he was happy to pay 50% of the fee owing and would be open to work with the tax chap again.

I hope this has reinforced to you which of “fee and relationship” is the more important!

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

James E