Are you a “commercial” accountant?

Sorry for not blogging on Friday – no excuses just too many things to do 🙂

A while back I met with a CFO of a privately owned steel fabrication business. Their revenue was over $100m and they employed a workforce of just over 200. To protect the innocent, lets call the CFO Jack as in the great Jack Nicholson. I asked Jack the following question – What is the most important quality or attribute you look for in an accountant?

Integrity, supported by the capability to get the job done. A strong, considered independent viewpoint with the comfort to communicate in a frank and open manner. Having a clear understanding of the genuine incremental value of what can be provided to an organisation. Maintaining a consistent reputation with an acceptance of past failures and an ongoing focus on improving the quality of their offer. An attribute that I would like to see more of is the nurturing of commercial acumen across the range of individuals in the accounting firm and the application of that into the dialogue of business thought and sentiment.

Jack is offering a most interesting insight here: nurturing commercial acumen across all the professionals in the accounting firm, not just the partners or directors. The definition of the word “acumen” is to have the ability to make good judgments and quick decisions, typically in a particular domain. So it follows that commercial acumen refers to an individual’s ability to exercise judgment and make quick decisions in a commercial setting. It is vital that individuals coming into a firm as graduates, and those moving through the ranks, are given the opportunity to develop and grow their abilities to judge a situation and make an informed decision. No number of courses, workshops or reading books can ever take the place of a younger inexperienced accountant being mentored and nurtured by more experienced professionals within the firm. If you’re a partner or a director, a key part of being a leader is to grow those in your team. By doing so, you will help your clients, your firm and yourself. Sounds like a great deal!

Until next time,

James

The Accountant & the $10 Man

Recently I met with Margaret Scott, CEO of RMG Partners, a mid-tier accounting firm based in Sydney Australia.  A dear friend of mine, Karalyn Brown, called me a couple of weeks ago and told me this wonderful story about her client (Margaret) and a chance meeting she had one lunch time with Phil – ‘the $10 man’.

The story was so compelling that I wanted to hear it for myself so I caught up with Margaret over lunch.  Here is her story:

Around 2.30 one afternoon I left my office to grab something for a late lunch. I went to a sandwich store in a nearby arcade that I occasionally frequent and queued at one of the stores. When it was my turn to be served I placed my order and waited for the sandwich to be made, the lady told me it would be $7. While she was making the sandwich I looked in my purse for money to pay and was shocked to find I had no cash! Remembering that my teenagers had cleaned my purse out that morning, I asked the sandwich lady if they took credit cards and she replied no, they didn’t …Aarghh – what do I do, I asked myself?  The lady suggested I go to an ATM but I knew that was a block away. So much for a quick lunch break I lamented.

Whilst I was wondering what to do, a gentleman to my left who couldn’t help but overhear the exchange, opened his wallet and handed me a $10 note. I tried to protest but he insisted it was his pleasure to help. He then paid for his sandwich (being made by another lady), smiled at me and walked away.

I didn’t know what to say. Here was a total stranger giving me $10 to pay for my lunch and now he’d gone, he didn’t even wait for the change! I paid the lady and she was just as surprised as me when I told her I didn’t know the man. I asked if she knew him and after conferring with a couple of the others behind the counter, told me his name was Kelvin and that he comes regularly to their shop to buy his lunch.

As I walked back to my office I decided that I couldn’t let such a good deed go without proper recognition. A few days later I went back to the shop and asked the ladies if they remembered the $10 incident. After a little prompting they did remember – they must serve a lot of people during any given week! I asked them to give Kelvin an envelope which I passed over the counter. The envelope contained a thank you note, my business card and a $10 note. I thanked the ladies for their time and went back to my office.

A couple of days later I received an email from the $10 Samaritan – Phil (not Kelvin – the ladies in the shop had his name wrong). His email told me of his great surprise to be warmly greeted by the shop staff that day and given my envelope. He thanked me for the $10 and said he ‘was happy to assist a damsel in distress’. I replied and offered to take him out for a coffee; the following week we met and chatted about ourselves, life & business.

During our coffee meeting I invited Phil to a breakfast seminar my firm was holding the next week with guest speaker Jane Fleming predicting the outcome of the London Olympic Games for the Australian team.  Phil came to the seminar and the next day, sent me a thank you note saying how much he enjoyed the presentation and meeting people at our firm. Since then we’ve kept in contact and I’ve no doubt that his company (Phil works for a large real estate organisation) will become a client of RMG Partners sometime in the future. All because of me following up on a random act of kindness!

Nothing to add here 🙂

See you next post.

James E

Who said accountants don’t have a sense of humour?

I was looking through the traffic statistics for this blog a while back and noticed that one of the most clicked on posts was one titled “Some funny client stories” published a few months ago month. So in the spirit of today being Monday & the start of a new working week and me believing in the truth that if we don’t laugh we will all probably start crying, here are a few one-liners to get you smiling. Enjoy!

What do accountants suffer from that ordinary people don’t? Depreciation.

What’s the definition of an accountant? Someone who solves a problem you didn’t know you had in a way you don’t understand.

 

What’s the definition of a good tax accountant? Someone who has a loophole named after him.

What’s the difference between an accountant and a lawyer? The accountant knows he is boring.

Why did the accountant stare at his glass of orange juice for three hours? Because on the box it said Concentrate.

What do you call an accountant without a spreadsheet? Lost.

When do accountants laugh out loud? When somebody asks for a raise.

Why do accountants get excited on Saturdays? They can wear casual clothes to work.

How does an accountant make a bold fashion statement? He wears his grey suit instead of the blue.

If an accountant’s wife can’t get to sleep, what does she say? “Tell me about work today, dear.”

And a few more …

My accountant told me that the only reason why my business is looking up is that it’s flat on it’s back.

A fool and his money are soon audited.

A businessman tells his friend that his company is looking for a new accountant. His friend asks, “Didn’t your company hire a new accountant a few weeks ago?” The businessman replies, “That’s the accountant we’re looking for.”

An accountant is talking to the young child of one of his friends and says, “Do you know what I do?’ “Daddy says you’re a CPA.” “That’s right. Did he tell you what CPA stands for?” “Well, he says you’re a Complete Pain in the Arse.”

Keep smiling and bye for now!

James E

Are you a productive accountant?

The other day I was surfing the web and came across a most interesting article which appeared on the Business Insider site. Although it refers to general employees I think it has some salient lessons for accounting professionals.  The full article can be found — http://www.businessinsider.com/12-things-killer-employees-do-before-noon-2012-8 

A recent study published in an American Psychological Association journal, Emotion, suggests that early birds are generally happier than night owls.

More than 700 respondents, ranging from ages 17 to 79, were surveyed and asked about their emotional state, health, and preferred time of day.

Self-professed “morning people” reported feeling happier and healthier than night owls. Researchers hypothesize that one of the reasons could be because society caters to a morning person’s schedule.

It’s certainly true that the working world does. Working “9-to-5” is more than an expression, but a standard shift for many Americans. It also stands to reason that those who like rising with the sun are also the most productive employees in the office.

Do you want to be more like them? Then take note of the tasks these high-functioning, productive, and more awake employees have completed before lunch:

1. They make a work to-do list the day before. Many swear by having a written to-do list, but not everyone agrees on when you need to compose it. According to Andrew Jensen, a business efficiency consultant with Sozo Firm in Shrewsbury, Pa., the opportune time to plan a day’s tasks is the night before. “Some people like to do the to-do schedule in the morning, but then they might have already lost office time writing it out,” he says. “It helps to do that to-do schedule the night before. It also will help you sleep better.

2. They get a full night’s rest. Speaking of sleeping better … lack of sleep affects your concentration level, and therefore, your productivity. Whatever your gold standard is for a “good night’s rest,” strive to meet it every work night. Most health experts advise getting a minimum eight hours of shut-eye each night.

3. They avoid hitting snooze. Petitioning for nine more minutes, then nine more, then another nine is a slippery slope that leads to falling back asleep and falling behind on your morning prep. Ultimately it also leads to lateness. “Anyone can be made into a morning person,” Jensen says. “Anyone can make morning their most productive time. It could be that for the entire week, you set your alarm clock a little bit earlier, and you get out of bed on the first alarm. It may be a pain at first, but eventually you’ll get to the point where you’re getting your seven to eight hours of sleep at night, you’re waking up with all your energy, and accomplishing the things around the house you need to before going to the office.”

4. They exercise. Schedule your Pilates class for the a.m. instead of after work. “Exercise improves mood and energy levels,” Jensen says. Not only that, but “there have been studies done on employees who’ve exercised before work or during the work day. Those employees have been found to have better time-management skills, and an improved mental sharpness. … Those same studies found these workers are more patient with their peers.”

5. They practice a morning ritual. Jensen also recommends instituting a morning routine aside from your exercise routine. Whether you opt to meditate, read the newspaper, or surf the Web, Jensen says “it’s important to have that quiet time with just you.”

6. They eat breakfast. Food provides the fuel you’ll need to concentrate, and breakfast is particularly important since it recharges you after you’ve fasted all night. Try munching on something light and healthy in the morning, and avoid processed carbs that could zap your energy.

7. They arrive at the office on time. This one is obvious, right? Getting a full night’s rest and keeping your sticky fingers off the snooze button should make No. 7 a cakewalk. If you’re not a new employee, then you’ve already figured out the length of your average commute. Allot a safe amount of time to make it to work on schedule.

8. They check in with their boss and/or employees. We all know the cliche about the whole only being as good as the sum of its parts. In other words, if your closest work associates aren’t productive, then neither are you. Good workers set priorities that align with their company’s goals, and they’re transparent about their progress.

9. They tackle the big projects first. You can dive right into work upon arriving in the office, since you made your to-do list the night before. And Jensen suggests starting with the hardest tasks. “Don’t jump into meaningless projects when you’re at your mental peak for the day,” he says.

10. They avoid morning meetings. If you have any say on meeting times, schedule them in the afternoon. “You should use your prime skills during the prime time of the day. I believe that mornings are the most productive time,” Jensen says, also noting that an employer who schedules morning meetings could rob his or her employees of their peak performance, and ultimately cost the company.

The exception to this, he adds, is if your meeting is the most important task of the day. “Sometimes you have to schedule a crucial meeting, or a client meeting, in which case you’d want to plan for a time when employees are at their peak.”

11. They allot time for following up on messages. Discern between mindless email/voicemail checking and conducting important business. Jensen’s company, Sozo Firm, advises clients that checking their inbox every couple of minutes takes time away from important tasks. Instead, set a schedule to check and respond to email in increments. Consider doing so at the top of each hour, to ensure that clients and colleagues receive prompt responses from you.

12. They take a mid-morning break. Get up and stretch your legs. Or stay seated and indulge in a little Internet surfing. According to Jensen, it’s actually good to zone out on Facebook and Twitter or send a personal text message or two. “You should take 10-minute breaks occasionally,” he says. “Companies that ban any kind of Facebook [use], texting, or personal calls can find it will be detrimental. Those practices increase employee satisfaction.”

Just be sure not to abuse the privilege. “The best employees will respect their employer’s time, and the worst-performing employees will find a way to waste time even if the company forbids personal Internet use,” Jensen explains.

See you next post,

James E.

Are you a humble accountant?

Cliches, as I’m sure I’ve written before, are cliches because they are often true.  The old saying that a little bit of humility goes a long way is one such example.

Be it accounting or any of the other professions clients want, no let me correct that, they need their advisers to have a little humility and not be full of their own self importance. Now that might sound a bit harsh, but do you really think clients want to work with, or take advice from people, who show little respect for them?

A while ago I was surfing the web and came across an expanded definition of humility on a site called “Two Paths” (http://www.twopaths.com/humility.htm). I think it is worth reading … so here it is.

Humility or humbleness is a quality of being courteously respectful of others. It is the opposite of aggressiveness, arrogance, boastfulness, and vanity. Rather than, “Me first,” humility allows us to say, “No, you first” Humility is the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs and demands of others.

Friendships and marriages are dissolved over angry words. Resentments divide families and co-workers. Prejudice separates race from race and religion from religion. Reputations are destroyed by malicious gossip. Greed puts enmity between rich and poor. Wars are fought over arrogant assertions.

Where do you rate on the humility scale? I dare say the majority of “trusted business advisors” would rate high on such a scale.

Until next time,

James E

PS: I try to include an image in each post that graphically reinforces the main point of the piece. I think the above image doesn’t quite do that. Apple pie … humble pie? Sorry … way to long a bow! 🙂

Are you an accountant that waits for the phone to ring?

Last week I was talking to a bunch of accountants who either ran or were employed by small firms. I get a kick out of meeting accountants and having the opportunity to get to know them and better understand their views on serving clients both big & small.

One of the ice breakers I use when speaking to small groups is to go around the room and ask for people to share three things. 1. Their name, 2. How long they have been in professional practice, and 3. One unusual feature of their practice.

The first two questions usually bring standard answers. However, the third question generates some very interesting and often insightful responses. One chap I asked had the following answer to question 3. “James … We call our client filing areas by first names – Trevor, Brendan, Florence etc… Each name represents a different type of filing area dependent on points in the client work flow.” I asked this chap why the names. He replied, “It’s much easier to say to each other ‘take this file to Trevor’, ‘Brendan has that file’ and so on. Of course they just have to make sure they don’t employ anyone in the future with the sane first names!

The insights of the above response I came away with was that this firm had a sense of fun, friendliness and didn’t take themselves too seriously. That being said – I got the impression that they are very professional in the work they do.

On the other end of the spectrum there was a gentlemen who in response to question 3 said the following, “I never phone a client. They always phone me for my help” With complete respect to the chap who made this statement, I think the sentiment behind it is rather poor and self-serving. One of the big themes of this blog, the book I authored & the speaking I’ve done over the last year is that clients want their accountants to be proactive. Unfortunately the above chap doesn’t fit into what most clients in the market want.

I hope you fall into the proactive group rather than the other bunch.

See you next post,

James E

Attention all Accounting firm Managing Partners!

Recently I had a meeting with the Managing Partner of a top 15 Accounting firm.

I originally approached him earlier in the year to talk about me coming in and giving a high level presentation of the key points to partners and staff I learned in researching and writing my book “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” This presentation was to be done for no charge. It was just my way of sharing some valuable lessons and of course to promote the book.

It took me a while to get into his diary, but I eventually got an appointment.

He apologised for being 20 minutes late. I don’t mind that so much but why is it that so called C-level people think it is OK to be late for any appointment? I just don’t get it. It shows such a lack of respect for the person that you are meeting with. I (almost) ran from the other side of the city in pouring rain to make sure I made it in time for an appointment inhis office. Perhaps I’m ranting unfairly – but being late (I don’t think) is good form.

Anyway, leaving the above to one side, the chap I met with seemed like a nice guy. He certainly knew his stuff and no doubt is a good solid manager. He has made some difficult decisions in his tenure as Managing Partner and has made some good improvements to the way the practice operates.

But is this enough? I can’t help but think that the head of a professional services firm needs to be someone that can inspire and motivate the partners & staff. The firm head needs to be able to simply and powerfully communicate the story of the firm to their clients, prospective clients and the wider market. They also need to be someone who personifies the values of the firm. If the firm purports to be acting in the best interests of the client then does the managing partner visit clients on a regular basis? Do they ask clients questions about their views on business and bring back what they learn to the firm and share with the partners & staff?

I might be dreaming, but I really think the No.1 of the firm needs to be someone special – someone who is a leader not just a manager or administrator.

No offense intended – these are just my thoughts 🙂

Until next time,

James E

What is the best way for Accountants to communicate?

You would have heard the old saying, the medium is the message made famous by Marshall McLuhan the renowned Canadian educationalist and communication expert. Although Marshall coined the phrase almost 40 years ago, in today’s information smorgasbord, it is as relevant as it was back in the 1960’s.

Below is an excerpt from a good friend of mine – Antoni Lee. Antoni advises clients on how to perform at their peak when communicating in public. He is one of Australia’s most in-demand communication trainers for journalists, business leaders, corporate spokespeople, politicians, academics and the arts sector. Suffice to say he knows a thing or two about communication.

Below is an excerpt from Antoni’s site. It is titled “Which Communication Medium is Best?” You can read the full article by visiting http://www.rhetorica.com.au/?p=404

Given the need for accountants/advisers to clearly communicate to their clients and stakeholders, Antoni’s wisdom below will be most useful.

Choice confers freedom—or paralysis

An overload of options kills decision-making. At gut level we know, and statistically it’s true, that the more options we have, the lower the chance we’ll choose the ‘right’ answer. A prevalence of opinions and conflicting theories doesn’t help. In communication, it’s rich media versus media naturalness versus social naturalness, etc. How can we know which one is right? Neither do Internet searches provide clarity. Google’s 200m results for ‘Which communication medium is best?’ gave several stupid answers on page one, including three links to psychic hotlines.

Before answering our headline question it will be helpful to ask a few more questions to narrow down the communication context:

  1. Who is your audience?
  2. Why are you communicating?
  3. What is your message?
  4. What is your urgency?
  5. How much money do you have?

Your answers will likely point to some media over others.

Qualifications aside, below is a non-exhaustive, non-academic, discussed-over-coffee, list of strengths and weaknesses in a short list of mediums.

Internet video is best kept short and sharp

  1. Easy to record and upload. Sometimes too easy. See (2).
  2. Weak content and production are obvious.
  3. Easy to find, download and watch, if your audience have broadband connections and can find your content.
  4. File sizes can be a drag.
  5. Requires full audience attention. Most of us don’t watch videos while driving.
  6. Can work for big screens or small. Think before you leap.
  7. Potentially engaging, human, intimate, but too often wooden and inauthentic, in spite of the potential.
  8. Relatively inexpensive to produce, even if you decide to buy cameras and chromakey screens, etc.
  9. Relatively visual. You can creatively incorporate demonstrations, locations, props and other aids.
  10. If loaded to a public site (e.g. YouTube), your video could be on the Internet for a long time.
  11. Linear, chronological. Great for stories and gags and conversations, but offers limited audience selection and control.
  12. Prone to rambles and inefficiency, the hallmarks of natural speech. Proper planning and preparation can alleviate these problems, without harming effectiveness.
  13. The illusion of spontaneity.

Summary: Video is mostly one way, but great for short lists, updates, entertaining and conveying personality.

Podcasts offer portability, repeatability and the opportunity to educate

I have downloaded more than 500 podcasts onto my MacBook Air and iPod—but only listen to a couple of podcasters regularly.

  1. Podcasts are easy to get repeat access and to download.
  2. Portable. Audiences can download podcasts to all kinds of devices, including smart phones, and listen while walking, riding, commuting, gardening, etc. (Hopefully not while performing brain surgery.)
  3. File sizes are usually much smaller than video.
  4. Easy and inexpensive to make.
  5. Unless it’s instrumental, you’re reliant on words and how you say them. There can be a lot in that. Requires a broader communication repertoire than most people have, to pull it off well and consistently.
  6. Prone to rambles and inefficiency.
  7. Linear, chronological.
  8. Searching through is not as efficient as with text, but the fast-forward and rewind tools are getting better all the time.
  9. Great for conversations, interviews.

Summary: Podcasts are also mostly one way, but great for updates, lectures, seminars, lessons, conversations, interviews—and telling stories.

See you next post.

Keep well,

James E

Accountants – do you pre-judge prospective clients?

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 Norm.

Norm, with complete respect, looked every bit the quintessential 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 Norm did every day he looked dirty and had a certain aroma around him. Norm 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, Norm, 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 Norm was driving and as he walked through the big glass doors, what he looked like.

Norm 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 Norm, “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.

Norm 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, Norm left … very angry and embarrassed.

Fast forward 4 weeks …

Norm, 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 Norm leave the showroom, go back to his car, jump in and drive off. Norm 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.

Can accountants save the business world?

This morning I was at the gym. Don’t  be too impressed. I joined a group about 4 months ago that goes to the gym every Monday & Friday morning and I hate very minute of it! The only reason I go is that I know it is supposed to be doing me some good.

Between some boring weight exercises I chatted with one of my fellow victims at the gym. We both knew each other before the gym and have been friends for a few years. My friend is the Head of Design at a small to medium manufacturing firm which designs, builds and distributes catering equipment. The firm employs around 100 people and has been locally owned & operated for more than 20 years.

I asked my friend how business was going. To cut a long story short, the conversation moved to the impact of the so called “carbon tax” For my readers overseas, the Australian government introduced a tax on carbon producers so as to penalise emissions on 1 July this year.

My friends firm, as one of the inputs into their productive process, uses refrigeration gas. This gas is one of the long list of items that attracts the new carbon tax. I was amazed to learn that before 1 July this manufacturing firm was paying a wholesale rate of $25 per kilo. Come 1 July the rate for the same gas increased to $160 per kilo. A whopping 640% increase! By the way … this manufacturer doesn’t use a kilo or two of gas a year – they use hundreds of kilos! And this is just one expense item that has been increased due to the carbon tax.

How do business owners and management cope with such a shock? In steps the accountant to the rescue. Given my work with accountants over many, many years I would have thought that  the above example is a golden opportunity to enter the business and use their expertise to help with solutions to manage such impacts on the business.

Numerous examples come to mind of accountants that I have met and worked with who are able to develop innovate ways to run business more efficiently and effectively. Its not just about numbers of course its about the helping the business do better!

Are you an accountant that can save the business world?

All my best,

James E