How to be happy & successful accountant (1 of 3)

One of my all time favourite writers and thought leaders when it comes to the professions of accounting and law is David Maister. (visit http://davidmaister.com/ for more information).

A couple of years ago David Maister blogged about a speech given by a senior lawyer at a university’s school of law commencement for new students. Stephen C. Ellis is the managing partner at the law firm of Tucker, Ellis & West, what follows are extracts from his address to new students.

Although, Stephen’s address is aimed lawyers, the wisdom he shares can be applied to any professional – lawyer, accountant, management consultant, engineer, architect etc…

Over the past few years I’ve come to some conclusions on finding guideposts that will give us lawyers the best chance of being successful, in the sense of truly enjoying our lives and careers as lawyers. They are simple, some might say “trite”. But 36 years of listening to happy and desperately unhappy lawyers and watching colleagues succeed as lawyers and people, and some fail, I know that these may be cliché’s, but I also know they are true.

I’m going to talk about a handful of these “truisms”, only a couple of which I’ve made up, on being a successful lawyer in the sense of being fulfilled. Just so you know how close I am to wrapping up, there are nine of these, and they’re pretty short.

1.  Be someone others count on. Most folks talk a good game; very few come through. Clients come to you because they have a situation they cannot solve on their own. Most are not looking for an analysis of the law. Most want you to solve a problem. So solve it, don’t add to their problem by being hard to find, by missing deadlines, or by simply describing their problem back to them. It’s like going to the dentist when you have a toothache. You want it fixed and you want it fixed now. That’s what a client wants every time they talk to you. Walk in with a problem, walk out with a solution.

What they want is someone they can count on to make their lives simpler, to accomplish what they want accomplished. If you can simply do that, you’ll be sought out as an extraordinarily effective lawyer. And there is a real difference in your sense of self between being simply a resource; somebody who knows the law, and the person that people count on to solve their problems.

2. Be an interesting person, for your own good and so that clients think of you as more than a lawyer. A decent definition of hell is a dinner party companion who is a first year lawyer on the day after his or her first trial. Law stuff is interesting mostly to lawyers. In fact, it’s real interesting to lawyers, so that’s what we talk about all the time, just like you talk about law school all the time.

Force yourself to do be able to talk about more than law – read books, go to movies, be part of politics, go to lectures. You’ll meet people, you’ll be able to talk about things that other people find interesting, and you won’t burn out on your job.

The horror stories you hear about associates working 2500 hours a year? You will be surprised when you see how much of that is self imposed. These young lawyers get caught up in the chase and find that what they’re doing more interesting than anything else- so they become that boring self absorbed dining companion. The world’s full of great people with jobs and hobbies that are just as demanding and just as fascinating as yours, (assuming you make yourself get a hobby). Learn about them. You’ll be happier and much more fun to be with.

Tune into the next two posts (Wednesday & Friday) for the other seven pearls of wisdom from young Stephen!

All my best,

James E

You’re not an expert until you’re 31!

A few years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell (pictured & the famous author of The Tipping Point & Blink!) titled Outliers.

The book is unusual, thought provoking and definitely worth reading.

One of the themes the book examines that struck me the most, was what Gladwell calls the 10,000 hour rule.
Rather than reinvent the wheel here is an excellent summary I found on the web.

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.

Even Mozart, the greatest musical prodigy of all time, couldn’t hit his stride until he had his ten thousand hours in. Practice isn’t the thing that you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.

The other interesting thing about those ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage, guide and support you. You can’t be poor, because if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program, or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.

Is the ten-thousand-hour rule a general rule of success? If we scratch below the surface of every great achiever, do we always find the equivalent of the Michigan Computer Center or the hockey all-star team – some sort of special opportunity for success?

Let’s see the idea with two examples: the Beatles, one of the most famous rock band ever and Bill Gates, one of the world’s richest men. What truly distinguish their histories are not their extraordinary opportunities. The Beatles, for the most random of reasons, got invited to go to Hamburg. Without Hamburg, the Beatles might well have taken a different path. “I was very lucky,” Bill Gates said at the beginning of an interview. That doesn’t mean he isn’t brilliant or an extraordinary entrepreneur. It just means that he understands what incredible good fortune it was to be at Lakeside in 1968.

These outliers were the beneficiaries of some kind of unusual opportunity. Lucky breaks don’t seem like the exception with software billionaires, rock bands and star athletes. They seem to be like the rule. http://www.bizsum.com/2page/b_Outliers.php

So there you have it. Assuming you’re working at something around 20 hours a week for 10 years (which is roughly 10,000 hours) you will more than likely be an “expert”.  So for the professional accountant, lawyer or adviser you really don’t know what you’re doing until your early 30’s.

Controversial or what?! 🙂

See you next post (I hope)

James E

Is this any way to treat someone? (2 of 2)

Following on from my last post here are just some of the things that happened in the meeting with said accounting firm.

I started the presentation. Just to remind you this was a presentation about their market so I would have thought they would have been somewhat interested. However, of the group of about 12 people, only 3 were paying attention. The other 9 were doing a combination of checking their Blackberrys, reading the notes for the next meeting & one guy even took a call!

My presentation style is very interactive and as such it depends on people listening to what is being said and of course making some effort on their part when asked to. At one point I asked one of the partners to tell me & the group what the term “proactive” means in the context of accountants working and communicating with their clients. Believe it or not, after a slight pause, he replied “I don’t know.” I (of course) don’t mind if people don’t know the answer to a question but what really disappointed me about this particular exchange is that he didn’t even try. When I asked him the question he was reading some notes for a meeting later that day; after he replied to my question, he went back to reading his notes.

A little later in the presentation I asked another partner about his thoughts regarding a section on accounting client expectations I had just finished outlining. He looked up from his sandwich and said “Sorry, I can’t answer that question … I wasn’t listening” Ironically a big part of the proceeding segment of the presentation was on the importance of listening!

The icing on the cake was the arrival of a 13th partner just over an hour late to the meeting. His excuse was that he thought the meeting was scheduled on daylight savings time since we had moved back to Eastern Standard time the day before. Hmmm … I don’t want to comment on what I was thinking at the time 🙂

I’m really sorry if the above sounds like a rant. I was just saddened that this one meeting almost typified so many things that people out there believe about accountants – dull, unengaged, conservative and unimaginative. In my experience over many years I’m glad to say that the opposite is true of the majority of accounting firms I have worked with and that I know 🙂

Until next time,

James E

Is this any way to treat someone? (1 of 2)

I had a most interesting experience last week. I was treated like a lost dog.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for any amount of time you would know that last year I wrote a book “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” published by Thomson Reuters. Since the book has come out I’ve presented to many accounting firms the salient points of the book as a way of getting the word out and promoting the book.

What I usually do is send the managing partner of an accounting firm a copy of the book along with an offer to present to the partners & selected staff followed by a q & a session completely free of charge. Nice and simple.

Well, I presented to a top 25 accounting firm last week that was one of the most telling speaking experiences of my entire career.

Here is how it all unfolded.

I was to present at a lunch time meeting of the partners of the firm set down for 1.00pm. It usually takes me about 20 minutes to set up my laptop and check that all the connections and my slideshow is working properly. So I asked this firm if I could have access to the meeting room at 12.30pm – this would give me a full 30 minutes to set up and not eat into the partners precious time in the meeting itself.

I arrived at the firm just before 12.30pm, spoke to the receptionist and was given access to the room along with the one the firm’s IT team to help connect my laptop to their in- house data projector. Great! Fantastic! Everything was going fine.

About 10 minutes into my setup I was asked to leave the room because it had been double-booked by one of the partners for an internal meeting. Hmm – not real good. I was confident everything would work fine so I left the room and waited outside as requested. Funny … I booked the set up time over a week before the meeting and was told it would be fine. This was dog moment No.1.

For most of the time I waited I was standing in a short hallway that led to the meeting room I waited there for about 15 minutes. About 8 people walked past me and not one person asked if I needed help or even who I was. This was dog moment No.2.

Just before 1pm I knocked on the door and asked if I could come in and finish setting up my equipment. I was told in rather short language to do it and got busy to make sure the presentation was working which only (thankfully) took about 3 minutes.

I then turned from the screen and laptop and faced the long boardroom table as people were speaking amongst themselves, checking their mobiles and reading papers. I stood there for 5 minutes. Everyone could see me and not one person introduced themselves let alone ask who I was. 5 minutes. Count to 300. That is a long, long time for someone to stand in front of a group of say 12 people and not one person acknowledge my presence. These are not just 12 random people from the street – they are 12 educated, experienced professionals who aim at helping individuals and businesses grow and prosper. This was dog moment no.3.

It may sound a little self serving but I could have been anyone – what if I was a client or key strategic supplier to the firm? Man alive – it is not a good look.

Ironically, the chap who invited me to speak was half an hour late to the meeting he arranged! Although to be fair he did apologise afterwards for his lateness.

Read the next post to find out what happened in the meeting!

See you next time.

James E.

Do Accountants matter anymore?

Last week I came across a group in LinkedIn that intrigued me so I joined.

What really got me was the title of a discussion with Ron Baker. – Do Accountants matter anymore? Ron is no light-weight. He is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountant’s Group of One Hundred, a think tank of leaders to address the future of the profession, named on Accounting Today’s 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 Top 100 Most Influential People in the profession, and received the 2003 Award for Instructor Excellence from the California CPA Education Foundation.

Here is an extract from an interview with Ron in the official LinkedIn Accounting group that enjoys close to 500,000 members globally. Ron the founder of the VeraSage Institute, explains why the industry is on the verge of becoming irrelevant.

Question: What is the biggest risk to the accounting profession?

Answer: People are not going to like this, but I see the biggest risk to the accounting profession as irrelevancy. They’re high-priced bookkeepers and unless they move away from the idea that they’re historians with bad memories, who can only report on the past, who can only report on lagging indicators (they’re in trouble). … You go into a lot of these firms and they’re doing very low-level work and then they sit around and complain and moan that it’s a commodity. Well, sure. It’s low-value stuff, and if that’s all your doing, then you’re going to be stuck with government regulation revenue, and I see that as the biggest threat to our profession. I actually question whether CPAs are a profession anymore. We don’t have self-regulation. We don’t have autonomy. We’re ruled by peek-a-boo, we’re ruled by state boards of accountancies in a lot of states that are a majority regulated by non-CPAs. That’s not the definition of a profession. A profession stands for something. I don’t know what the CPA profession stands for anymore.

Visit the group’s link for the full story:  http://www.linkedin.com/groups/LinkedIn-Accounting-4297170?trk=myg_ugrp_ovr

See you next post,

James E

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

A little light relief :)

I’m thinking its time for a little light relief. I found these funny accounting client stories on the web a while back. Enjoy!

An accountant reviewing a sale of a small salvage company:

“So, who are your primary suppliers?”

“Auctions, 70%. Liquidations and Cash distressed contractors, 20%. Gypsies, 10%.”

“Gypsies?”

“Yes. They go to auction, they buy at auction, then they sell back to you. Gypsies.”

“I’m just going to write down arbitrage resellers…”

A junior auditor seconded to our firm who used to work with me was performing some analytics over expenses. As not much activity had occurred, one of the larger expenditure accounts was actually the audit fee (which had increased). Oddly enough, the junior decided to ask the CFO why it had increased, to which he replied, “you tell me.”

(A client calls us requesting we email him a scan of a document. We promptly send this over to him and he calls back almost immediately.)

Client: “This scan you have sent me only has one page of the document and the rest of it is pornography!”

Me: “I’m sorry? There is certainly no chance that this contains any pornography. It looks perfectly fine from our end.

Client: “But there is. I am looking at it right now!”

Me: “Which button are you clicking?  The one that says ‘Next Page’ or ‘Next Document’?”

Client: “Why does that matter?”

Me: “Well if you are clicking Next Document, you are currently looking at all of the pornography that you have recently been viewing on your computer.”

Client: “F***!” *hangs up*

… and of course we must end with a joke about accountants.
A young accountant spends a week at his new office with the retiring accountant he is replacing. Each and every morning as the more experienced accountant begins the day, he opens his desk drawer, takes out a worn envelope, removes a yellowing sheet of paper, reads it, nods his head, looks around the room with renewed vigor, returns the envelope to the drawer, and then begins his day’s work. After he retires, the new accountant can hardly wait to read for himself the message contained in the envelope in the drawer, particularly since he feels so inadequate in replacing the far wiser and more highly esteemed accountant. Surely, he thinks to himself, it must contain the great secret to his success, a wondrous treasure of inspiration and motivation. His fingers tremble anxiously as he removes the mysterious envelope from the drawer and reads the following message: “Debits in the column toward the file cabinet. Credits in the column toward the window.”
Keep smiling and bye for now!
James E


The meaning of professional service

When looking at the meaning of words & terms it is helpful to go back to basics and look at the components. In the case of a professional service we have two words: professional AND service. So lets individually look at the meanings of these two words.

A professional is a person who is expert at his or her work (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/professional).

A somewhat more comprehensive definition … a professional does something as a profession, or receives payment for some activity. The adjective “professional” can indicate that someone has great skill in a craft or activity, or that something demonstrates such skill. To conduct oneself as a professional (exhibiting “professional behavior”) would indicate that the person’s actions remain in accordance with specific rules, written or unwritten, pertaining to the standards of a profession. (http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Professional)

Now lets look at the word service. I saw several definitions of service on the web, but one struck me as capturing the gestalt.

Service is the action of serving, helping, or benefiting; conduct tending to the welfare or advantage of another; friendly or professional assistance (Oxford English Dictionary)

Putting the two above meanings together we get something like …. a professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help. Now I know this is not an “official” definition but it should serve us well as a starting point. For the sake of reinforcement lets repeat this definition and put it in bold typeface.

A professional service involves a person or group of persons who are experts in their field who aim to benefit the people and/or organisations  that seek their help.

For this blog this will be our reference point when it comes to a professional service like accounting, law, engineering and the like. If you’re not happy with the above definition please drop me a line and we’ll talk!

See you next time.

James E

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.