What if Einstein was an accountant?

Come on – admit it. Einstein the accountant? – that would be one interesting situation. What if Einstein was an accountant rather than a physicist? Would the accounting profession be different than it is today? In my humble opinion the profession would be different for one very important reason. Einstein was smart enough to realise a very simple truth. This truth is so profound that if you really think about it it makes perfect sense. Unfortunately given the tendency of human nature to adopt the path of least resistance coupled with the centuries old tradition of the profession doing things a certain way we have a situation where things don’t change that much. What worked last year or even 5, 10 years ago seems to be  just fine for a lot of accounting firms & practitioners out there. This is not a good or healthy situation.

Einstein is one of the most quoted figures in history. From life & hope to God & education – Einstein brought his genius  to many, many topics. One of my favourite Einstein quotes is one I use in practically all my training and speaking work.  In this quote our good friend Albert defined what he thought insanity was. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

It drives me crazy when I meet individual practitioners and whole firms that seem to keep on doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Many in the profession are complaining about commodisation of many services, downward pressure on fees, demanding clients, higher staff turnover among junior & middle ranks, a flat growth market and the threat of offshoring of many processes. Fine – all this is true and will not stop. However, these forces should be seen as motivation to change the way you serve clients and run your firm and embrace new ways of working and growing. I know you have heard this all before, but at the risk of you clicking out right now – let me leave you with one just thought. Would your firm operate better if your clients paid you by direct debit for an agreed fixed fee each month or quarter? Be honest – would it? Well believe it or not there are firms out there doing that and releasing many hundreds of hours each year spent in chasing up unpaid bills, writing off bad debts and emotional energy doing things the “normal” way. That is – doing the work, sending out an invoice and waiting to be paid.

Thanks for your time & attention.

See you next time.

James E.

Accountants – don’t 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 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.

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

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.

Head of Accounting Firm Blues

I’m sad and blue. What I’m about to write is completely fresh. It happened about two hours ago.

From time to time as I travel around Australia seeing clients and the like I make an offer to accounting firms that I bump into to come and present the key findings of the book I authored last year titled “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?”  I do this for no charge. However, I really like it when they give me a sandwich to munch on.

I’m travelling to another mainland city next week and wanted to meet with the managing partner of a top ten accounting firm. I know this firm’s national network quite well. If he was interested I was more than happy to present to his partners/staff. If there was no interest I suggested in my last email that perhaps we could get together over a coffee and chat about subjects of mutual interest. So over the last couple of weeks I sent two emails and followed up with a phone call and got no response. Which I thought was odd.

Never wanting to lose the opportunity to meet someone new I tried one more time and phone the managing partner’s office. Within a couple of rings he picked up. I explained in a polite tone who I was, referring back to the dates of my emails and my phone message. The reply he gave me make my jaw drop.

“I would have thought that my non-response to your emails and phone message would have told you I have no interest.” He stated in a slow and clear manner.

I replied that I thought a person of his station as the managing partner of a top 10 accounting firm would have had the professionalism to write me a one line email saying “thank you, but no thank you.”

If I had a second jaw it too would have dropped in reaction to what was then said by the managing partner. He stated, “I’ve been accussed of being too curt in my use of email. So there is no point sending you one”

Hmmm …. in other words our managing partner “doesn’t do email.” How disappointing that this particular chap is not comfortable with the no.1 communication medium in business – not just now but for the last 15 years!

Its guys like this that reinforce the image that the accounting profession is behind the times 🙁

All my best,

James E

 

Accountants being human!

Hi everyone!

I was going to post the 2nd part of understanding your accounting client but wanted to share a wonderful video clip of an audit team doing some interesting things in the UK. It is a great example of accountants being human. Clients like that. Click on the link below Enjoy!

Until next time,

James E

PwC Audit Song

Reese – an example of of an almost great accountant (2 of 2)

In the last post you’ll remember reading about Reese – 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 Reese 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 Reese 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 Reese 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 Reese to think about; they are a good reminder to the seasoned professional services campaigner!

All my best,

James E

Reese – an example of of an almost great accountant (1 of 2)

Recently  I met a potential job candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Reese as in Reese Witherspoon .

Reese 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.

Reese 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 Reese 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 Reese 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 Reese’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.

Reese 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 Reese do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James

A careful & helpful accountant beats a big 4 firm!

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 Adam as in Adam Sandler.

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