Are accountants really “Trusted Business Advisers?”

The term “trusted business adviser” is often used to describe the pinnacle of the accountant–client relationship. Everyone seems to want to be a trusted business adviser. The key element of this exalted title is trust.

However, like most pedestals or sort after titles, through their overuse the term quickly becomes cheapened. It seems these days that anyone with a business card, website and is wearing a suit becomes a trusted business adviser. This, fortunately, is not the case. Becoming a real trusted business adviser takes commitment, passion, patience and lots of hard work.

One definition of trust is the strong belief or confidence in the honesty, integrity and reliability of another person. Such a belief cannot be fostered in a quick coffee meeting or drinks at the cricket. Trust is built through a series of interactions that show you are honest and consistent, and have the best interests of the client in mind. Trust is something that is easy to lose but difficult to earn. Here are some characteristics of a trusted business adviser:

  • They invest time and effort in initiating and building a relationship
  • Often they give out to the client before receiving anything in return.
  • The focus of their activity is not fees.
  • They consistently look for ways to help the client.
  • They are patient and long-term in their thinking.
  • They are flexible in the ways they do business to suit the client, not simply themselves.

If you were to were to use the above six points as a gauge for your professional activities with your clients how would you rate? Are YOU a trusted business adviser?

Keep smiling and bye for now,

James E

Should accountants eat lunch? (2 of 2)

Following on from the last post I now finish relating the story of Ron & Jim. Here is where we left them …

“I have to be honest here Ron. When you said at that first meeting that we’ll get together over lunch, talk some business and get to know each other I thought it was one of those empty & passing lines people use all the time.”

“Why do you say that Jim?”, Ron replied.

“Well my last accountant who was a great bloke and seemed to do an OK job for me didn’t take me out to lunch once. So its nice to have lunch and to get to know each other better”

“How long were you with your last accountant?”

Sadly, Jim said “14 years.”

There it is 14 years! Jim the client and his accountant hadn’t once met and broken bread together. I was almost too scared to ask Ron how many times Jim had had a coffee with the accountant (I’m probably thinking 14 – a tea or coffee was probably offered to Jim each year he visited his accountant’s office!)

I don’t know about you, but I think something special happens when you share food and drink with someone. It doesn’t have to be fancy – coffee & cake or sandwich & an OJ – it could be anything. What happens when you break bread with another person is that the barriers tend to come down. You’ll find that you will be talking about subjects and situations that you will never think would come up. That is the wonder of the meeting – because through that open conversation you as the accountant will definitely get to know the client much better and learn the things that excite, motivate and inspire them. You will also gain insight into those things that concern, fear and disappoint them.

Set against this background you will be in a much better position to help their business operate better and grow.

So … should accountants eat lunch? The answer is a resounding YES!

Until next time.

James E

Should accountants eat lunch? (1 of 2)

Last week I presented at a conference of small accounting firms gathered from all around Australia. I was asked by the conference organisers to give a talk on my pet subject of “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” Although I was only needed to speak at the main dinner on the Tuesday evening I decided to attend all 3 days. I’m glad I did. I always enjoy the opportunity to meet new people and listen to their stories.

At breakfast on one of days I met a chap whom I’ll call “Ron” (not his real name of course). Over our meal I asked Ron about himself. He shared with me his background and family details and then moved on to tell me about his business. Ron is a partner in a small accounting firm with about 20 staff in Adelaide, capital city of a state called South Australia (since most readers of this blog come from outside Australia!) He told me a story about a client experience which I just have to pass on to you.

Ron, through a referral of one his long-time clients, won a new client. After the initial meeting to sort out what the new client’s needs were, Ron indicated to the other gentleman that he will be in touch down the track to meet again, talk through business and get to know him better. Let’s call this new client “Jim”.

A little less than 3 months later Ron contacted Jim and arranged to meet over lunch. They set a date, time and a place. At the lunch, Jim couldn’t help himself and told Ron exactly what he was thinking.

“I have to be honest here Ron. When you said at that first meeting that we’ll get together over lunch, talk some business and get to know each other I thought it was one of those empty & passing  lines people use all the time.”

Tune into the next post to hear what Jim says next. Hopefully you won’t be too surprised! Here is a small hint – 14 years 🙂

See you next post.

James E

Accountants – how to really upset your client! (2 of 2)

Following on from the last post, here is the second example of how the incumbent accounting firm upset “Jeremy” the CFO of a major law firm (as if the first example wasn’t enough!)

Once the tender was announced, and the accounting firms invited to prepare the documentation and presentations ready for the selection panel, Jeremy noticed that the incumbent firm didn’t show much energy or enthusiasm for the process. When they came around to actually present to the panel they came up with a standard, average run-of-the-mill pitch. Nothing really stood out. Jeremy got the impression that they had already given up.

Ironically, in spite of the weakening relationship over the last couple of years, the incumbent firm still had the advantage of knowing practically everything about the law firm since they had been the auditor/adviser for the several past years. They knew things about the law firm that none of the other 5 firms could possibly know.

I get the feeling from Jeremy that if the incumbent firm pulled something put of the bag and had directly addressed the problems with the relationship they would have been in there with a much better chance. Also I was surprised to learn that the incumbent accountants had helped (and were quite successful) in referring clients to the law firm. In spite of helping the law firm grow their fee base it wasn’t enough to help the incumbent accountants keep their business. They needed to do their core job better. Just goes to show – accounting firms need to do much, more more to keep their clients happy. Being a “standard accounting practice” is simply not enough these days.

The other lesson here is to not give up. There is always scope and room to reinvent & strengthen the relationship you & your practice has with its clients no matter how difficult or strained.

In summary, the law firm they went with a big 4 accounting firm and the incumbent lost between $100 to $150k of ongoing work a year – not including special advisory projects. Quite a price to pay!

Catch you next post,

James E

Small accountant beats big accountant

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 was 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 Matt as in Matt Damon.

Matt 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. Matt 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 – Matt. Not because of his technical ability or size of his firm – he went back to Matt  for two simple reasons. Matt 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

Should accountants exaggerate?

If you’re more than a one time reader of this blog you’ll know that I’ve been a big fan of the work of David Maister.

Here is a piece David originally posted in June 2006 which was titled “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy” It is definitely worth a read!

I have noticed something very strange about engaging in discussions (and even disagreements) with people.

The more you disagree with them, taking the other side in an argument, the more vehemently they push their original point of view. However, if you don’t disagree, but restatetheir point in an exaggerated form, they often back down, or at least tone down their original statement.

This works so well, I’m thinking of copyrighting the idea and calling it “Maister’s Exaggeration Ploy.”

(I know, I know, there’s little new in this world and someone else probably thought of it before me, but I don’t think I stole this from anyone. And if I did, I can’t remember from whom.)

To see how my principle works, imagine a family member, say, a brother, who is upset at how he has been treated by a cousin. Your brother says: “I’m really upset with Jimmy. He had no right to speak to me that way!”

Because you want you brother to calm down and get over it, you might say: “Don’t let it bother you. Perhaps he really didn’t mean to be unkind.”

As valid as your point may be, you can bet your remarks will only serve to annoy your brother. After all, you appear to be defending cousin Jimmy by downplaying his intentions. This will set your brother off on another tirade, and also, probably, cause him to get annoyed with you, too.

But what if you had said: “You’re right! Jimmy’s a louse. He always has been! I think we should have nothing to do with him, ever again! Let’s leave him off the invitation list for all family gatherings from now on!”

Nothing with people is a certainty, but I would bet that your brother’s next remarks will be something like: “Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. I’m upset, but there’s no point over-reacting.” You have calmed him down by agreeing with him and exaggerating his own point!

The same principle of exaggeration applies in the workplace. If your boss (or client) berates you because you were late in delivering something, don’t fight back, saying it was his or her fault (especially if it was!)

Instead, say: “I realize what a problem this has created for you. I’m really sorry that I caused you such turmoil. Can you help me figure out a way to prevent this in the future?” The boss (or client) will, with high probability, calm down and you’ll survive! Or at least the odds will be more in your favor!

Try my approach out. Let me know if it works for you!

See you next post.

James E

How should accountants 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