Does anyone like to wait?

I was in an accounting firm recently (think a top 10 Australian firm) to visit a professional referred to me by a friend. My friend’s friend was kind enough to help me with some input on a project I’m working on on behalf of a client.

It was just before 11am as I exited the elevator and walked to the reception desk. After announcing myself to the receptionist, I was asked to take a seat in the lounge chairs which occupied the space in front of the elevators. So I did.

The chairs were comfortable, the surrounding artwork was interesting and the coffee table presented some eclectic reading choices. There was a woman, probably in her mid-fifties, seated opposite me reading a newspaper. She looked like a client. Although dressed neatly she didn’t give the air of a supplier/vendor to the firm in any way. She had nothing but a handbag. I noticed her sitting there when I got out of the elevator.

Like most people I don’t like waiting. Please don’t judge me too harshly but I’m the type of person who views punctuality as a virtue and lateness as a sin. Unless there is some dire emergency or major reason I’m always on time for business engagements. If, by chance, I’m running late, I always call the person I’m scheduled to meet and apologise and tell them that I’m running 5 or 10 minutes late – its just the way I’m wired.

Now the chap I was meeting was doing me a favour so I really didn’t mind that although our meeting was scheduled for 11am he had not come to the foyer until about 11.15am. It was ok.

What wasn’t ok was that this woman, quietly seated, had obviously been waiting longer than me for her person to arrive. He had just arrived before my chap came. Given his apologies and the way he related to the woman it was obvious to me that she was either a prospective client or a new one; otherwise he wouldn’t have said, “Nice to meet you.”

My question is this. The woman was there before I was and her chap arrived just before mine. She was waiting at the very least 15 minutes. In reality she had most likely waited longer. Is this any way to treat a client, let alone a new one you would like to impress and have a long term relationship with?

Do you like waiting? Don’t answer that right away. Count to 900 and then tell me (Hint: 15 minutes = 900 seconds 🙂 )

Talk with you next time,

James

Never judge a book by it’s cover

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!

See you next post,

James E.

Fee or relationship – which is more important?

A while 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!

See you next post.

James E

Networking 101

In the last post I talked about the importance of keeping the axe sharp.  One way of doing this is to build and strengthen relationships. I have never liked the term networking. To me whenever I hear that word images of self-serving people wanting to get something come immediately to mind. An exaggeration maybe, but I think you get the idea. I much prefer to use the term relationships.

According to dictionary.com  one meaning of the word relationships is connection, association, or involvement. Each of these nouns assumes a two-way street. For there to be a connection, association or involvement with someone means that you are doing something and the other party is doing something. A real relationship involves this two way action.

To build and make relationships stronger requires time and effort on your part. One very effective way to do this is to serve people you want to have a relationship with or put more simply do favours.

Favours don’t have to be big, time consuming or expensive. Usually it is the small random acts of kindness that have the biggest impact. For example, one of my clients complained that they never had enough of the same drinking glasses when they held meetings with external people (like me) – it was embarrassing. It came up one day in conversation and I made a mental note that next time I was in their office (which happened to be 2 weeks later) to bring with me a set of 12 glasses. I left the box of glasses on the desk of my client and went to another meeting. I think they are still talking about it!

By doing favours for people in your current organisation (and sometimes more importantly those outside your employer) you build a reputation as a good person; someone who helps others not just him/herself.  However, all other things being equal (which is code for “if you are doing the right things the right way”) when you need help there should be those around who you can call upon for a favour!

See you next post,

James E

Keeping the axe sharp

I had a coffee a few years back with a well connected chap and we were talking about the importance of relationships in business.

At the outset of the chat the senior chap stated that it was important to keep the axe sharp.  I asked him what he meant by that. He leaned forward in his chair and asked me if I ever had the situation when I had a job to do around the house needing a particular tool I hadn’t used for a long, long time. I go to my shed, find the tool and see that it is blunt, rusty and simply not up to the job at hand. I of course replied (like most honest males out there can attest) yes. He then asked me how I felt at the time. I told him I felt frustrated and angry. Not only did I have to spend more money to buy a tool I already had purchased and owned, but the job would now take me much longer since I would have to go down to the hardware store and choose another tool from the range of dozens they would no doubt stock and try to choose. Aaaarggghhh – what a waste of time and money!

The senior chap nodded, reclined back in his executive leather chair and told me something which made a whole lot of sense. Wouldn’t it have been better to take a little bit of time and care to keep your saw or axe or whatever the tool was sharp and ready to be used just in case you ever need it? The obvious response is yes.

Well that is EXACTLY what needs to be done with the relationships and networks people have and maintain. It is far more effective to invest, build, enhance and help your network when you don’t need any help; rather than expecting your friends and contacts to help you at a moments notice when they haven’t heard you for a long, long time! sound familiar anyone?

As you know I HATE the word networking. I avoid using the word like the plague. The only reason I’m using it here is that people seem to know what it means – sort of. Tune into the next post to understand what networking really is.

Bye for now,

James E

Care and help makes a difference

Although my day job is as a specialist headhunter in the accounting profession, I have some fingers in other pies. For example, some clients see me as a “honest broker” – rightly or wrongly. That is someone who can offer an objective sounding board and (perhaps) a slightly different perspective.

One of my commercial clients is planning to exit his business and has hired me as sounding board and has brought his accountant – a chap which he has used for several years – to join him as an adviser. I’ve met this accountant chap many times over the years. To protect the innocent let’s call him Ben as in Ben Stiller.

Ben is not the most brilliant or technically gifted accountant in the world. However, he has a wonderful attitude of being really helpful to his clients. Ben goes out of his way to serve, ask questions and generally be available to his clients. None of what he does is ground breaking stuff – but he does the small things well and is consistent.

Some time ago the same client referred to above had a tax issue. I introduced him to a top-notch tax specialist at a big firm. To cut a long story short, the lack of service, care and attention from the big firm drove my client friend back to his local accountant – Ben. Not because of his technical ability or size of his firm – he went back to Ben for two simple reasons. Ben showed care and was helpful. A one man band beat one of the world’s biggest accounting brands. He simply made a difference to his client by showing some care and helping!

My question to you – are you showing your clients care and are you helpful? I’d love to know what you think.

Bye for now,

James E

What is the most important thing?

Sorry guys. I missed out posting on Wednesday this last week.

I’ve been putting in lots of hours with my day job recently in preparation for a trip to the US next month with my 18 year old son. My son finished high school last year and is taking a gap year this year before going to university next year. Wow that last sentence certainly had a lot of years in it!

Anyway my son is REALLY into music and he has been saving up to attend Coachella – a music festival being held in Palm Springs, California. He wanted to go with his friends but none had saved up enough cash to go. so being the cool and wonderful dad I offered to go with him. My son has never been overseas before and I’ve never been to the US.

So the above is a long way of saying that I needed to make sure that the wheels are turning while I’m away for 3 weeks. Being self-employed one has to consider such things.

In short – my day job has been getting in the way of my other activities like blogging.

Here is a post that I wrote for MYOB last month which I think you’ll get something from. Hopefully it will make up for my omission during the week 🙂

I’m assuming, if you’re reading this article, that you’re an accountant or at least working in the industry in some capacity.  Let me ask you a question … “As an accountant what is the most important thing you do for your clients?”  Over the years I’ve been given any number of responses to this question.

Some say, “Keep my clients safe & compliant”.

Others say,  “Make their lives easier”.

While many say, “Get them a big tax refund”.

However, the most common response I receive to this fundamental question is, “to add value”. Like most business-speak terms, to add value just rolls off the tongue. It sounds right and makes people who hear it (at least at first) believe that everything is going to be ok and that you’re the right person for the job.

However, what does adding value really mean? We all know what adding means so let’s focus on the value bit. What is value to your client? Is your GEN Y self-employed IT contractor client wanting the same value as your 40+ years TAFE teacher? What about the single mother working two jobs or the construction company owner employing 100 staff?

It’s obvious that value means different things to different people. So how do you determine what is valuable for your clients and prospects? The answer is incredibly simple – you ask them.

A few months ago Thomson Reuters published a book I wrote titled, What do Accounting Clients Really Want?The book is a series of 20 interviews of people who buy accounting services for their respective businesses.  Statistically, of course, a pool of 20 interviews means nothing, however, 20 in-depth personal conversations does.  Overwhelmingly, the people I interviewed want their accountants/advisors to invest in a meaningful relationship with them. They don’t mean the odd lunch and/or drinks after work; but rather a relationship that tells them (i.e. the client) that you have their best interests in your mind and heart. By having a close relationship you can truly determine what is of value to them and what isn’t.

Kym Warner is the CFO of The Coffee Club – a national chain of coffee franchises generating over $320m revenue annually. When I asked her,  “What is the most important quality or attribute you look for in an accountant? Her reply was simple

… for me it’s about the relationship. I want to know that I can build a relationship with them…

Kym relayed the story of her first day as CFO for The Coffee Club and her relationship with her new external accountant.

It’s the relationship that we’ve built. I think the fact that when I started, my second day was the first day of our audit partner; we’ve really built a bunch of knowledge together.  We’ve shared the improvements in the business, so she understands where we’ve come from.  The partner herself is a lovely lady.  Very professional, knowledgeable and commercial. If we have any toing and froing, I can talk openly and honestly with her, which is great, because everything they do has to be reported to their sister firm in Thailand, which is where our investors are based.  I think this partner has a real empathy for my position; she seems to understand the pressures I’m under.  I want our auditors to be honest and ethical, and sensitive enough so my role is not undermined with the board and stakeholders within the business.

It’s the relationship rather than the process that means more to your clients than anything else.  What they are really after is someone who can connect with them.  A conversation with a client over a cup of coffee will do more to deepen the relationship than sitting at a computer in your office.  Don’t believe it?  Why don’t you try it a couple of times – you may just surprise yourself!

Until next time,
James E

Is your head in the cloud yet?

I’m often amazed how technology has changed our lives. When I started my business back in the late 1990’s I used a fax machine almost every day, made regular trips to the bank to deposit & withdraw monies and when things started to build started to hire staff and bought all the necessary computers, networking and software that came with an office of 6 people. When the dot-com crash came I had to downsize dramatically – cut costs wherever I could. Thankfully I survived intact and things started to improve a year or so later.

The above experience taught me a valuable lesson. Only spend money when you have to. The web, and now “the cloud”, offer an amazing array of free and low-cost alternatives to traditional methods of procuring and using products & services. One such area is software. Data storage, secure backups, document management, website analytics, market research, email, diary, international online collaboration & publishing are just a few examples of items I use almost everyday without any charge – completely free.

Now of course I run a one-man band (with the occasional help from one or two close associates) and its easy for me to set myself up in such a way. But I’m convinced that many accounting firms out there aren’t taking advantage of the low-cost environment that the cloud can offer.

Putting aside the usual objections of risk and “what would my clients think?” the cloud can offer accounting firms tremendous cost and flexibility advantages. Do a little reading in the subject – you may just surprise yourself who out there is using the cloud to run at least part of their businesses. A recent study indicated that the sample survey reported around 80% of respondents use the cloud in some way to run their businesses (see http://www.virtela.net/press-room/industry-news/cloud-news/new-study-reveals-80-percent-of-companies-using-cloud-computing-applications-800623031)

In fact there has been an explosion of accounting software available for business and professional firms that is exclusively cloud based. At last count there are around 200 available in the world market today. Here are just a few: Xero, Zoho, Outright, Kashflow, Freshbooks, Ledgerble, Bill.com, OpenBooks, Wave Accounting, Pransform, myERP, AccountRight, Concur, 24SevenOffice, Financial Software Solutions, Liquid, Compleat, Kashoo, TRACT Billing, WorkForceTrack, Priority, Averiware, Acumatica, Tallyzip, Yendo, e-conomic, ERiS, Remotia, Intrix, Skyledger, Clear Books, RSA eBusiness, MyB2B, Pansys, Slingsot Software, iWebNotes, Deskera, Replicon, Ofipro, Chrome River, AppFolio, Bill4Time, Cleanbill liteBooks, Expensify, Texthog Receipt Bank,LiveStream, Captoom, Crunch, Fanurio, RSDataWeb, Point of Sale Software, Digital Invoicing, Centerpoint Fund Accounting, FreeAgent, SurePayrol, Less Accounting,AccountsPortal, Aqilla, Portfolio Genioius, TurningPoint, Twinfield Online, NECS entreeWebExpenses, Merchant Mirror, myTooq, AccountExact, Reporta, Pantonium …

In fact the local (i.e. Australia) favourite MYOB is about to launch their  “Accounts Live” platform in the cloud in the next couple of months.

Maybe its time you put your “head in the clouds” (sorry I couldn’t help myself) for a while and had a think about what this brave new world can offer!

All my best,

James E

 

 

A frustrated CFO named Jackie

The other day I was in a meeting with a CFO of a large privately owned business with an annual revenue of $120m +. We were chatting about his thoughts regarding the accounting profession. Let’s call this CFO Jackie as in Jackie Chan.

I came to a question of what can the profession do to improve its service to clients.  There was a pause. Jackie paused and then his face started to look redder and redder.

“You know what frustrates me the most James?” he asks rhetorically. “I resent the fact that we hire a firm of accountants/advisors to help us with a particular issue for which they have the right expertise and I end up managing their people for them! I’ve got enough things on my plate without having to set deadlines, follow up and provide guidance when it should be the partners job to take care of their own people. I really get sick of it”

Is Jackie being unrealistic here? What do you think? To my mind I don’t think he is. If you were to hire a building company to build a house for you is it up to you to deal with the various tradespeople directly and make sure the job gets done on time and on budget? Clearly it’s not. The building company would usually have a project manager with whom you can liaise to discuss progress and work through any issues that might come along. Is accounting any different? Or perhaps should accounting be different?

What are some ways in which accountants can offer their clients better service so that CFOs like Jackie don’t get frustrated and tear their hear out! I’ll share some thoughts in the next post.

Thanks,

James E

The importance of culture

The other week I was in a meeting with a few partners from a mid-sized accounting firm. One of the themes of the discussion was how they could effect change in the culture of the firm. It seems to be a common challenge to firms I meet.

Recently I read a fabulous article by Arshad Chowdhury who blogs for Fast Company Magazine. See http://www.fastcompany.com/1801014/culture-isnt-costly to read the full article.

Here is an excerpt from the article which, I dare say, will help you an dyour firm think about culture and how to effect change. Enjoy!

Successful company culture can make the difference between a workplace people dread and one they brag about. You don’t have to have a Google-sized budget to offer great culture. Many culture-changing initiatives have no direct costs to the company. In fact, when properly executed, culture-improving initiatives can lower company costs in both the short and long term.

I’ve spent the past 10 years learning about and implementing solutions to make work better for employers and managers alike. I’ve touched hundreds of companies large and small and have seen many distinct cultures. Based on this experience I offer these simple initiatives to encourage a peaceful, productive workplace that people love.

Make Rules for the 95%, Not the 5% 

Most of your employees are hard working, motivated, and professional. Workplace rules should be designed to give maximum autonomy to the vast majority of your workers. Don’t burden people with rules designed to control the 5% of employees who are constitutionally unmotivated or undisciplined. From dress code to work hours to meeting attendance, fewer rules in the workplace are better.

For one, fewer rules can start saving you money right away. Get rid of expensive firewalls blocking Facebook and YouTube. At the same time, access to these tools can help your employees research and network faster.

Celebrate Going Home Early

It’s not true that the longer you work, the more work you will get done. According to a 2010 study, flexible work hours can lead to increased retention and productivity. You can quickly improve culture by focusing on work output instead of hours of input. If you’re going to leave the office early, go ahead and announce to your coworkers that you just closed a mega account, sent out that TPS report, and are now heading for the golf course. There’s no shame in going home after hitting a home run.

Stop Swearing

Not all rules are bad. Implement a “no swearing” rule today: no swearing about or at your coworkers or customers. By cutting out swearing, you will elevate discourse to expression of thoughtful ideas instead of base emotions. An environment where people swear at one another can quickly turn toxic. The no swearing rule can save you millions by avoiding costly lawsuits where disgruntled employees–with good reason–strike back.

Cultivate Experts

Imagine if every one of your employees was an expert in what they did; if, no matter how mundane their subject, they could teach it with passion. The benefits to you, your company, and your employees would be profound. Encourage people to become experts by having them research best practices in their field and share those with their colleagues on a regular basis. At my companies, we encourage book clubs for every level of employee. We incur cost here by buying every book club member an e-book. The $79 e-book, however, pays for itself twice: once when employees brag about their incredible work environment with their coworkers, and again when employees learn to do their jobs better through ongoing learning.

Talk About the Future

Start taking people out for coffee, one at a time, to ask them where they want to be in five and 10 years. Armed with this information, help them achieve those goals, even if the goals aren’t related to your company. If an employee tells you he or she wants to be an actor, support them when they want to take acting classes. This way, in the time that they are with you, they’ll be loyal, committed, and thankful for the support.

Let Employees Manage Their Own Energy

Our metabolism is guided by our bodies’ circadian rhythms. We all experience peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day, and the highs and lows differ for each person. One-third of your employees experience a dip in energy so steep that between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. each day they need to nap.  So let them nap. According to a NASA study, a nap of just 26 minutes can boost productivity by 34%.

Recognize Your Team Every Day

People don’t work for just money. They work for recognition, too, so don’t deprive your employees of this vital form of compensation. They are working to build your company every day. As such, give them specific words of thank-you the moment the occasion calls for it. You should be thanking each person you directly work with at least two times a week. As my mentor Chester Elton (coauthor of The Carrot Principle) says, reward behavior you want to see repeated.

See you next time,

James E