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

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

Understanding your accounting client (2 of 2)

Sorry about not blogging on Friday. Life has just been getting waaaay to busy lately!

Here is the 2nd installment of my conversation with John which appeared last Monday (see http://whatdoclientsreallywant.com/understanding-your-accounting-client-1-of-2/)

The core of the post last Monday was around the question that I posed to the accounting firm partner named John “what is the single most important aspect in serving clients?”

John’s answer was to really understand how their business operates from top to bottom.

I then asked John how he goes about understanding how his client’s business works. What John told me next blew my socks off! In all my years in working with the accounting profession and their clients I have NEVER heard this method of really understanding how a client’s business works.

Here was John’s method. He took a year off working as an accountant and worked in his client’s business. For a whole year! John determined that the only way that he was to fully understand his client’s business was to work in it full time.

At the time John had worked up a speciality in franchising – specifically the McDonald’s system. John had many clients who operated McDonald’s franchises. At his peak John was working with clients that operated over 80 franchises around Australia. John wanted to be the absolute “go to person” in Australia who had the right skill set and experience to provide the best possible business advice to any McDonalds franchise operator. How can he not given his above commitment.

John went on the training program and the follow up courses and did everything in the McDoanld’s store: from serving customers, to flipping burgers, cleaning toilets, cooking fries and taking out the garbage.

After his year, John HAD to be the only professional accountant in Australia at that time who can say hand on hear that I really understand your business to his McDonald’s franchise clients.

What a guy! Good on you John.

Until next time,

James E

 

Understanding your accounting client (1 of 2)

Recently I was meeting with a partner at one of my clients over a coffee. Although I had been working with this specific accounting firm for more than 2 years it was the first time we had met. As always to protect the innocent let’s call this chap John (as in John Wayne) rather than use his real name.

During the meeting we discussed the usual things about the market, clients and the accounting profession in general. John certainly knows his stuff – he has a great mix of skill and a deep and wide pool of experience from which to draw.

I asked John what is the single most important aspect in serving clients.

John didn’t need a long time to think about the answer … he replied in an instant, ” that’s easy James – to understand the clients business – to really understand how their business operates from top to bottom.

John’s answer was solid and predictable and of course absolutely right. I’ve heard it many times before. However, what happened next was real eye opener.

I asked John how he understands how his client’s business works. What John told me next blew my socks off! In all my years in working with the accounting profession and their clients I have NEVER heard this method of really understanding how a client’s business works.

Before sharing with you this method I need to emphasise the absolute importance of investing the time, energy and resources into understanding the business of your client. Leaving aside form-based compliance services, how can anyone advise a business in the right way if they don’t possess a strong understanding of how they operate?

I heard the other day something that struck a chord with me. It was a school teacher on a radio interview  talking about a mathematics. You can’t successfully solve an equation if you start with incorrect information or assumptions. If you start off on the wrong foot, the more you work on the equation the further and further you will move away from the right answer.

Tune into the next post to find our John’s method!

All my best,

James E

Don’t show me the money!

I was in a meeting recently with a couple of senior partners with a big accounting firm (think top 10).

We were discussing with a marketing consultant I introduced to the firm what do people operating their own businesses really need and want from their advisers – in this case accountants.

The conversation went the usual way regarding client compliance needs, opportunity to value add, be proactive and the like. I’ve been in lots of discussions like this over the years and I’m sure you have too. Too often these conversations revert to motherhood statements, platitudes and the bleeding obvious.

However, towards the end of the meeting, something interesting happened. One of the senior partners, leaned forward and said the following (paraphrased):

We have to be upfront and completely honest with people that we meet who may or may not become a client. If we can help them improve their business and grow then we need to show them how we can do that. If we can’t help them then we need to tell them and step away.

I really like that statement. So often accounting professionals have so much pressure on them to meet their budgets, keep their write offs to a minimum and use everything in their power to make sure productivity is kept at a high level. Rightly or wrongly their is a (over) focus on fees.

The sad fact is that if you, as an accounting professional, are preoccupied with fees and the paraphernalia that comes with that, then clients will feel, see and smell it. No amount of soothing words, gifts, seminars/workshops, and invitations to the corporate box at the Rugby or Cricket will or can change a clients view that you and your firm is only interested in the money.

Wouldn’t clients prefer and want advisers (be they accountants, lawyers, management consultants etc…) to focus on them and their business, personal wealth and wellbeing and view their fees as a byproduct of a committed and strong relationship?

This is the sole reason I have stayed with my own accountant for more than 10 years now. He takes care of me and he knows the fees will take care of themselves.

What do you think.

All my best,

James E.

How to get clients (4 of 4)

By way of recap, in the last couple of posts, I’ve been writing about how to get clients by starting to think like a client; seeing things from their perspective. The first way was to help clients make money, the second way to help clients save money. The third way is to help clients SAVE TIME!

We are all familiar with the cliche time is money. As I’m sure I’ve said before in earlier posts, cliches are often cliches because they are true. So it follows that if you can save your client time you in effect help them make money or save money. For the most part, if your client can spend less time on a business process that you identified can be streamlined then you give your client “more” time to focus on other areas that can help the business grow.

As one of the key advisors to your client’s business, you are in a wonderful position to identify ways and methods on how you can save your client time.

To wrap up this 3 post series … if you can’t either make money, save money and/or save time for your client you are little more than a commodity provider of compliance services. Unfortunately when a service becomes a commodity you are locked into a cycle of high volume/low margin service provision – since there are literally thousands of providers in Australia and offshore that can produce tax returns, accounts and the like for rock bottom prices. I wouldn’t have thought this is the path to growing your practice into a team of trusted advisors making a difference for your clients.

Until next time,

James E

How to get clients (3 of 4)

Last post I introduced the idea that one great way to get clients is to start to think like a client.

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

As mentioned in Friday’s post, accountants tend to have an intimate knowledge of how their client’s businesses work.

Here is one example one of the CFOs I met with gave me about how their accountant saved their business money. Granted it is a story of an accountant doing better with a current client (rather than getting a client) but it is still a great example!

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

Not a bad way to save money.

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

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

See you next post for another way to get clients.

All my best,

James

Increase your fees by not selling!

Last week I was reading a great article on the Forbes website written by Mike Myatt. It doesn’t speak specifically about professional services but it presents a strong case for not selling when wanting to build your business revenue. Confused? Read on … The full article can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/05/01/to-increase-revenue-stop-selling/

Creating or expanding business relationships is not about selling – it’s about establishing trust, rapport, and value creation without selling. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to talk to someone who wants to manage my account, develop my business, or engineer my sale. I want to communicate with someone who desires to fulfill my needs or solve my problems. Any organization that still has “sales” titles on their org charts and business cards is living in another time and place, while attempting to do business in a world that’s already passed them by.

Engage me, communicate with me, add value to my business, solve my problems, create opportunity for me, educate me, inform me, but don’t try and sell me – it won’t work. An attempt to sell me insults my intelligence and wastes my time. Think about it; do you like to be sold? News flash – nobody does. Now ask yourself this question, do you like to be helped? Most reasonable people do. The difference between the two positions while subtle, is very meaningful.

The traditional practice of sales as a business discipline has become at best ineffective, and in many cases flat out obsolete. You see, good business practices are not static. Stale methodologies and disciplines simply die a slow and very painful death, and it is my contention the overwhelming majority of sales processes I see in today’s marketplace are The problem with many sales organizations is they still operate with the same principles and techniques they were using in the 60′s, 70’s and 80’s. While the technology supporting sales process have clearly evolved, the traditional sales strategies proffered by sales gurus 20 or 30 years ago have not kept pace with market needs. They are not nearly as effective as they once were, and as I’ve alluded to, in most cases they are obsolete.

Trust me when I tell you that your existing and potential clients have heard it all before. They can see the worn-out, old school closes coming a mile away. They can sniff antiquated selling strategies, and will immediately tune out on presentations not deemed relevant. If your sales force is still FAB-selling, spin-selling, soft-selling or using any number of outdated, one size fits all selling methodologies, your sales are suffering whether you realize it or not. If you want to create revenue, increase customer satisfaction, and drive brand equity, stop selling and start adding value.

Lest you think I’ve lost my mind, I want to be clear that I’m not advocating taking your eye off the revenue creation ball. Rather what I’m recommending will help you generate more revenue, with greater velocity by simply doing the right thing in putting your customer’s needs first.

I hear a lot of noise about the tough economy, and revenue being down for many companies. I hear complaint upon complaint that companies just don’t have money to spend, and that nobody is buying. If you’re experiencing this type of reaction from your customer, it’s not because they don’t have money to spend, it’s because you’re selling and not adding value. It’s because you’re talking and not listening. It’s because you don’t get it…

It’s not about you, your company, your products or your services. It’s about meeting customer needs and adding value. When you start paying more attention to your customer needs than your revenue needs, you’ll find you no longer have a revenue problem to complain about.

Not much to add here folks!

What do you think?

All my best,

James

 

Leverage your asset

I just love the web. There is such rich content if you know where to look. One of my favourite sites is inc.com – which focuses on the needs of entrepreneurs and business owners. A lot of its content is of great use to professional services like accounting.

Here is a wonderful piece on the importance of leveraging one of the most important assets any accountant has – relationships.

Ask any entrepreneur or salesperson (one might argue there is no difference) about their greatest asset and you’ll often hear the same answer: their network and relationships.

Countless bestsellers have been written on how to cultivate and nurture relationships.  Why is it then that we see so many people not taking advantage of the opportunities to broaden their network and engage with those who could potentially be their next great partner?

As our firm continues to grow and we bring in top talent from a variety of companies and professional backgrounds, we realize that each of us has a strong network of relationships that we aren’t fully leveraging.

Here are three ways to improve the way you nurture your network to get the most out of your professional relationships.

1. Focus on the value that you can provide to your network and not necessarily on what the person can provide for you. If you can provide value to someone in your network with limited time and resource investment, do it! Aside from the fact that it is a nice gesture, you can be sure you’ll be top of mind next time this person or someone in their network has a need that fits your area of expertise.

2. Being a relationship “broker” can offer significant benefits to your personal and professional brand. While you should always be sensitive to busy people’s time, simply making an introduction between two people in your network who share a common interest or challenge can do wonders for each of these individual relationships.

3. Don’t let personal fears get in the way of forming new relationships. It is far easier to talk to people you already know than it is to form new relationships. Explore the boundaries of your comfort zone to put yourself in a position to form new, productive relationships whenever an opportunity arises.  It is never an easy task, but proactively expanding your network can pay off in dividends for your personal and professional development.

It’s generally preferable to have fewer high-quality relationships than hundreds of low-quality relationships. By following these simple steps, you can begin to improve the quality of your professional relationships – a skill that is admired by many but mastered by few.

See http://www.inc.com/karl-and-bill/relationships-in-business-3-rules.html?nav=linkedin

See you next post,

James