Why do accountants exist? (2 of 3)

Last post I shared with you the 1st reason why accountants exist – to make money for their clients. We now move onto the 2nd reason why accountants exist.

Accountants exist to also SAVE MONEY for their business clients. Now this just isn’t my opinion, but the CFOs & CEOs I’ve interviewed for the book
“What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” also share this view … although they are much more colourful in the way they express their desire for their external accountants to save them money.

As mentioned in Monday’s post (http://whatdoclientsreallywant.com/why-do-accountants-exist-1-of-3/) , accountants tend to have an intimate knowledge of how their client’s businesses work.

Here is one example one of the CFOs I met with gave me about how their accountant saved their business money.

The accountant in question was undertaking a review of the client’s business and discovered that there were some tax concessions which could be obtained through a closer look at their research & development activities. To cut a long story short, the accountant (off his own bat) undertook a project around the R & D treatment, which wasn’t his area of expertise, investigated how the business was placed, liaised with the ATO and produced all the necessary documentation which was not a straightforward task. After a few months of concerted effort the end result was a tax saving of several hundred thousand dollars and a very happy CFO. In fact the CFO was so happy, they paid the accountant a big fat success fee.

Not a bad way to save money.

Now, of course, you may be thinking to yourself, well that’s great if you have a big client and can find big savings. The above client had a revenue of around $100m – so it was fairly big. However, there are dozens of ways to help your client save money. Here are just a few:

  • Don’t use recruitment agents to find staff
  • Convert offline advertising to online activity
  • Ask suppliers for a better deal (believe me … you’d be surprised at some of the responses)
  • Tender out non-essential business processes
  • Survey your client’s staff and run a context to help identify cost savings

See you next post for the 3rd and final reason why accountants exist.

All my best,

James

Why do accountants exist? (1 of 3)

Let me say right up front – I’m not an accountant. My professional training is in the areas of economics, education & management. That being said I’ve been a keen observer of individual professional accountants, accounting firms (big and small) and their clients for many, many years.

If I put on my “client hat” then I want 3 “things” from my accountant. Today’s post will talk about 1 of these, the next 2 posts will talk about the remaining things not just that I want, but the majority of business clients out there.

Leaving to one side the legal/regulatory need for businesses to comply – e.g. tax returns, audits and the like clients want their accountants to help them MAKE MONEY.

It is well understood that accountants, throughout the developed world, (usually) enjoy having a strong & trusted relationship with their business clients. Consequently, it will be safe to assume that the accountant has an intimate knowledge of the internal workings of their clients. In fact I have friends in the accounting profession that know their client’s businesses better than the owners of the business!

What a wonderful opportunity then to come up with ideas that can help your business clients identify new markets, explore different product or service development, uncover ways to more efficiently deliver outcomes to their customers or any one of dozens of ways to come up with avenues to help your client make more money.

Who better to help businesses come up with ways to make more money?

So the first reason why accountants exist, is to help their business clients make more money.

Tune in this Wednesday & Friday to find out reasons two & three!

All my best,

James

Meetings – good or evil? (2 of 2)

Following on from last post – here is the rest of Carmine Gallo’s article – the remaining 5 tips on how to run effective meetings.

3. Show up on time. If you are the boss—and you plan to attend—show up on time. According to Spurgeon, there is a “collective energy” and attention at the start of a meeting that evaporates with every late arrival. “Often, those with the highest titles are late and the meeting’s leader will start the meeting over with a recap out of deference,” says Spurgeon. “Early in my career, I worked for a manager who used her late arrival as way to reinforce her importance. By sweeping into the room about 10 minutes into the meeting and scooting a chair around, she would announce ‘Now where are we?’ In reality, she weakened her standing with colleagues who saw the ploy for what it was.” The boss should respect the larger group contribution and keep the momentum going.

4. Put the BlackBerry away. “Making a show of what an adept ‘multitasker’ you are is not only arrogant, but rude as well,” says Spurgeon. In addition, it deprives you of making your best contribution to the group. I understand, and agree, with Spurgeon’s observation. But I realize this is difficult to enforce. A recent New York Times article featured high school students who send and receive hundreds of text messages a day. Some researchers quoted in the story believe these teens will be less capable of focusing their attention for long periods of time. Well, these students will soon be working for you or with you. They have a responsibility to the group, but as a meeting organizer, you have the responsibility to minimize distractions in meetings.

5. Encourage colleagues to participate. You are part of a team for a reason. The meeting’s organizer and leader must make an effort to ask everyone—even reticent participants—to speak up. This can be done without intimidating people. One approach that Spurgeon recommends is encouraging attendees to comment about something related to their job or department. Once people have heard their own voice in public, it’s easier for them to speak up again. Sometimes it takes encouragement to draw them out of their shell.

6. Carry your own water. According to Spurgeon, “If you have something of value to say—say it. Do not hold back waiting for someone else to say it for you.” How many times have you left a meeting only to hear an employee say, “I was waiting for Joe to talk about the factory delay, but he never did,” or remarks to that effect. No one can read your mind. Speak up.

7. Think before you speak. Yes, you need to carry your own water and actively participate in the meeting, but it doesn’t mean that you say whatever pops into your mind. “Does your point support the reason for the meeting?” asks Spurgeon. Advance the topic, ask relevant questions, or underscore valid points. Do some self-editing before speaking up.

Most of us have the ability to communicate better—more clearly, more strongly, and more often. Use meetings as an opportunity to improve your interpersonal communication and public speaking skills. Making meetings more efficient will reduce the time you spend in them.

Bye for now,

James E

Meetings – good or evil? (1 of 2)

Last post I was telling you about a chap I had recently discovered – Carmine Gallo. He is a prolific writer and doer in the area of communications and presentations. Check him out at http://gallocommunications.com.  He really seems to know his stuff.

Carmine wrote a really interesting article on the topic of how to run more effective meetings which he wrote for Business Week back in November 2010. All professional advisers/consultants can and should be able to run more effective meetings. Here are some tips from Carmine, seven in all :

By making basics clear and emphasizing clear communication, you and your employees will get more accomplished and cut the time you spend discussing what you need to do.

My colleague Steve Spurgeon spent three decades in senior leadership positions at some of the world’s top PR agencies and several well-known multinationals. Today, in his role as an interpersonal communications specialist, Spurgeon challenges, inspires, and coaches business professionals to do their best work, specifically by improving how they communicate. Among his topics: running effective meetings in an age when some of us spend the equivalent of a day a week in them. Consider his advice:

1. Remember the reason for the meeting. Meetings can easily lose their focus after 15 or 20 minutes if participants get diverted by non-agenda items or distracted by the strongest voice in the room. Although it’s everyone’s responsibility to stick to the agenda, it’s up to the meeting organizer to enforce it.

2. Engage with attendees. Actively participate in meetings. The leader deserves attendees’ full attention. Participants who aren’t engaged in the meeting undermine it. “The holdout takes up space and sends a nonverbal signal that the topic is too mundane to warrant interest,” says Spurgeon. As a business owner, if a meeting is called that does not require your attendance, do not just show up because you’re the boss. If you attend—participate.

Tune into Monday’s post to read the other 5 tips on how to run effective meetings.

Keep smiling and bye for now.

James E

The power of shoes (2 of 2)

Here is the rest of the extract from the David Maister article. In this piece David specifically looks at the range of human emotions going through the mind of a prospective client.

I’m skeptical. I’ve been burned before by these kinds of people. I get a lot of promises. How do I know whose promise I should buy?

I’m concerned that you either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. Will you be one of those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave the client out of the loop, who befuddle the client with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why, who…, who…, who…? In short, will you deal with me in the way that I want to be dealt with?

To a degree, I am also exposed. Whoever I hire I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets to, not all of which are flattering. I’m also a little threatened. You will be working on things for which I am responsible (marketing consultants are hired by the vice president of marketing, lawyers by the general counsel, actuaries by the benefits manager). By the very fact that you are suggesting improvements or changes, there is the risk that you will uncover things that I haven’t been doing right up till now. Are you going to be my ally or my enemy?

What all this reveals is that from among the set of qualified candidates I am looking for the one I can trust. The act of hiring a professional is, by very definition, an act of faith. I must, inevitably, believe a promise. In selecting a professional I am not just buying a service, I am entering into a relationship. Your selling task is to earn my trust and confidence—with an emphasis on the word “earn.”

See you next post.

All my best,

James E

The power of shoes (1 of 2)

As most of you have no doubt discovered by now I’m a big fan of the writings of David Maister. Here is an extract from an article he wrote 20 years ago. Although there has been much change in the world since 1991 – the internet probably being amongst the biggest sources of change – its amazing to see that core human nature are still at the heart of how clients make decisions.

This article, written in 1991, was published as a chapter in David’s book Managing the Professional Service Firm (Free Press, 1993)

Buying professional services is rarely a comfortable experience. Among the unpleasant emotions frequently felt are the following:

First, I feel that I’m taking a personal risk. By hiring anyone, I am putting my affairs, or my company’s affairs, in the hands of someone else, and I’m giving up some degree of control. This is my area of responsibility, and even though intellectually I may know I need outside expertise, emotionally it is not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others. Even if the matter is a relatively routine one, I need to be convinced (beyond protestations of good intentions) that my problem will receive prompt and serious attention.

I’m feeling insecure. Since I find it hard to detect which of you is the genius and who is just good, I’m going to have to commit myself without feeling totally confident about my decision. What is more, I don’t yet know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one; that’s why I need you, the specialist, to help me. But I’m not sure that I can trust you to be honest; after all, it’s in your interest to convince me that my problem is complex. Professionals are always making mountains out of molehills. Nothing is ever easy.

There is a lot of power in standing in your prospective client’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. Tune in next time to read the next installment.

All my best,

James E

Do client’s look like mushrooms?

Ashley Selwood is CFO of the Australian Rugby Union. I asked Ashley, “what can accountants do to improve their service to him as a client?

A great way accountants can improve their service from the word go is to clearly identify the scope of the works up front. They need to spend time to understand our business and the issues we need to resolve.

I think the other thing they can do to improve the service is during the course of the project to time frames that the Partner reports to the principal of the client.  So, if it was me, I would say every Friday at nine o’clock, you’re going to be doing this work for the next six weeks, that’s what your estimate is, I want to meet with you every Friday at 9 AM where I want a status report on where you’re at and what you’re doing.

This activity does two things. Firstly, it engages the partner in a more regular basis in what’s going on so that he/she can see that there are things that need to happen.  Secondly, it gives me confidence that I understand when there’s half a dozen guys sitting around my office as consultants I actually know what they’re doing and where they’re heading to next.

As a client I need and want to know that there is something happening.  Otherwise you sit around and when you finally get the report, read through it and you think, ‘Hang on a minute … that’s not right!  If I’d know you were going there, I’d have told not to go there for these reasons.’

Having full and regular communication from day 1 will only enhance the quality of the project which of course helps all stakeholders.

Similar to other comments and reactions that I’ve shared in past posts … clients don’t expect much they just don’t want to be treated like a mushroom – kept in the dark and told nothing!

Bye for now,

James

Marketing tips (3 of 3)

Here is the last installment of this 3 post series on marketing tips by Harry Kafka @ HDK Consultants.

How do you get prospects interested in changing over to your accounting services?

Let me dispense of a myth first: You don’t make a difference by using superlatives about your own skills and superiority.

See. EVERYONE does that already, so that’s NOT DIFFERENT.

Quite the contrary… by using the traditional marketing & presentation methods only serve to prove conclusively that you’re THE SAME as their current accountant.

He, too, did just that. He told them how great he is, how good his services are… and now the business owner KNOWS it was all “not true.”

What we have to understand here is that the human thinking evolves around self-made truths.

What’s true for him is true… and that’s the long and short of it.

The problem here is that if you try to reason with someone whose self-made certainty is based on a negative FEELING, they just refuse to accept “your truth” and the more you try, the more they’ll stick to their view… and the harder it becomes to convince him or her otherwise.

So the solution is that you DON’T try to “talk sense” to them at all.

Instead, you let THEM tell you how “useless all accountants are…”

The way this is done involves quite a lot of skill though. It needs to be done so that the prospect realises on his own a few things along the way.

See you next post,

James E