Do accountants make NY resolutions?

Hope all is well with you as you come back from your Christmas & New Year breaks.

I was cruising the web today and came across a nice article written by Sandi Smith Leyva who leads an interesting business in the USA called Accelarator Websites (see It is quite a rare thing for me to read an accountant suggesting possible New Year resolutions for the profession!

So here it is (

If you were making resolutions for the accounting industry, what would you suggest?  Here are five for your consideration:

1.   Recognize how valuable your skills are 

I’ve worked with a lot of accountants who do not realize how valuable their skills are in the marketplace.  Most people can’t do what we do with numbers.  We need to shake any self-limiting beliefs we have in this area because it limits our ability to serve more clients.

We rock at our technical skills, but the reason many of us have trouble communicating our value is because we could use some help on our writing and speaking skills.  Improving those skills just a little bit (or hiring others to do them for us when possible) will also help us make a better impact.

2.   Help educate others 

Financial literacy is needed everywhere.  The world needs help at both the basic and advanced levels.  One shocking example is how little press the largest financial scandal in the world, the Libor scandal, got last year.  I personally don’t understand why there wasn’t an incredible uproar unless no one understood what happened.  (Maybe one of you can explain this media gaffe to me).

3. Be curious

Often, I hear of clients driving the change in our profession, and accountants being “dragged” along.  I think we can be more proactive here!

I love finding out what clients really want; it helps me change my products to better serve the marketplace.  I think if this was done more often in accounting, the industry would be better off, as would our clients.  One easy way to do this is to send a client survey.

4.    Do your part to improve the economy

You have a very unique perspective that others don’t have.  You see dozens of financial statements across a large number of companies.  Many of you can easily spot a company in trouble; the question is, how many of you feel like you are in a good enough position with the client to help them with it and make a difference in their lives?

Sometimes they don’t listen, I know.  But they don’t listen because they are either afraid or they need more education, both of which we can help them with.  I don’t know the answer to this completely, but what I do know is we have the solution and they don’t.

If we want to make an impact on the economy, we have to find a way to be heard so we can share our wisdom.   No one else has the perspective we do.

5. Recognize how exciting the times are 

2013 may be the year that several key innovations gain the momentum they need to move into the mainstream.  One of these is cloud accounting which reduces the need for servers within the firm and minimizes the role of the desktop.  Another trend is the proliferation of tools to reduce data entry and other time-consuming compliance tasks.

One ongoing trend is the need for firms of all sizes to better embrace marketing to deal with either their competition or the ‘best-kept secret’ dilemma small firms and solos face.  A subset of marketing is pricing.  New efficiencies with technology plus changes in technology pricing will drive the need for new pricing models, although I think it will be a very long time before the billable hour is dead.  In both areas of marketing and pricing, our profession is light-years behind most other industries in this area of knowledge and skills; however, the early adopters are rocking here.

Globalization is another trend.  My tiny business has clients in about 10 countries now, a few of which I will never visit.

Thanks Sandi – well said!

Until next time,

James E

Are you an accountant who asks good questions? (3 of 3)

Lets recap.

In the last 2 posts we have discussed the two hallmarks of effective communication – being simplicity and the ability to listen. We now explore the third hallmark – asking good questions.

The third hallmark of effective communication is the ability to ask good questions.

You would have heard me bang many times over the last year about one of my favorite maxims – “If you want a better answer … ask a better question … then listen”

Clients are impressed by accountants and advisors that ask questions they weren’t expecting or that they haven’t been asked before. It shows a preparedness on the part of the questioner that he/she invested time and effort in understanding the clients business and circumstances.

One of the best questions one can ask is “why?” If asked in the right way, the question of why can uncover a treasure trove of insights. There is a body of work that claims that asking “why” at least 3 times in the one meeting or conversation can uncover the root cause or motivation behind any aspect of business activity undertaken by people both internal and external to an organisation.

For example, a business owner may be asked the question, “Why are you in business?” The first response would most likely be “to make money” Further in the conversation, the business owner may then be asked “Why is it important to make money?” The next reply could be something along the lines, “so I can invest in my business” At a later point in the same meeting, the owner can then be asked, “why is investment important to you?” The answer may well be, “my core market is declining and I need to develop offering to new markets.”

By asking “why?” just 3 times the questioner has moved from making money to the business surviving. How interesting. The quality of advice that can be given based on the 3rd response rather than the initial 1st answer is chalk and cheese!

The above of course is an obtuse example but you get the idea!

Keep well,

James E.

Are you an accountant who listens? (2 of 3)

Hi everyone!

Hope you all had a great Christmas & New Year.

Sorry about being a bit spotty in my blog posting over the last few weeks. In 2013 my intention is post a blog everyone Monday & Thursday (Australian time).

My last real post was on Monday 17 titled – Are you an accountant that can talk simply? so I thought it best to continue the next 2 parts – so here we go.

The second hallmark of effective communication is the ability to listen – really listen. In earlier posts you would have heard me bang on about the importance of listening when meeting and discussing issues with clients and pitching for new business.

I found an excellent list of barriers to effective listening and strategies to promote better listening.

Barriers to effective listening

There are many reasons as to why individuals fail to listen successfully, These include:

  1. Interrupting
  2. Faking attention and tuning out
  3. Becoming emotional
  4. Jumping to conclusions
  5. Getting distracted
  6. Pre-judging the subject
    Wrong focus
  7. Gathering only facts
  8. Inflexibility while listening
  9. Avoiding complicated subjects

Strategies to promote better listening

You can improve your listening skills by following some of the strategies mentioned below:

  • Maintain eye contact with the speaker.
  • Provide clues that you are actively involved in listening.
  • Focus on content, not delivery
  • Avoid emotional involvement
  • Avoid distractions
  • Refrain from formulating an immediate response
    Ask questions
  • Use the gap between the rate of speech.
  • Be willing to accept revisions
  • Choose the right environment
  • Stay active by asking questions for yourself


I remember my dad saying to me years ago … “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a very good reason … make sure you use them in the that ratio” It took me some time to work out that meant you should listen twice as much as you talk! Admittedly I was quite young at the time 🙂

Until next time.

James E

A break for Christmas

Hi everyone,

That time of year is here again. I’ll start to post again in the week beginning 7 January 2013.

To all my wonderful readers – have a blessed Christmas & a great New Year!

All my very best,

James E

Are you an accountant who can talk simply? (1 of 3)

What are the hallmarks that make a professional services provider like an accountant be an effective communicator?

As I see it there are 3.

The first hallmark is simplicity.

Have you ever been in a presentation or a meeting when someone insists on using long & complex words and phrases rather than simple and plain language? Of course you have! It’s as if they believe that they will impress people with their command of language by using words & jargon that show just how smart they are. Doing this helps no one.

I’d like to share with you a story. The moral of this story will give you a tremendous insight into how to more effectively communicate with your clients, prospects, staff, suppliers … in fact anyone you need to speak with and whom you want to understand the words you are using.

Many years ago I attended a student residential conference whilst at university. The conference was held in a wonderful bushland setting a couple of hours drive south of Sydney.

The keynote speaker was a terrific & engaging guy with the somewhat unusual name of Winkie Pratney (that is a name you don’t forget in a hurry ) He was sharing insights on leadership and value-driven work.

Winkie’s style of instruction/teaching was great. He peppered each seminar with real life examples and anecdotes. One such story has stuck in my mind since (25+ years!). Winkie called it the “3 Stages.” Here is how it went.

There are 3 stages in effective communication – be it written or oral.

Stage 1 – This consists of small ideas in small words. We all go through this stage. From our first acts of speech we use smalls words like da-da, mummy, bye-bye and eat to convey simple greetings and requests. As children grow & develop, the volume of words increase but not so much their length and the ideas behind them are still small … “Dad can I have $10 please?” I think you get the idea.

Stage 2 – This stage is big ideas in big words. This is the use (& sometimes overuse) of jargon and technical language. Have you had a meeting with an “average” tax lawyer lately? Tax legislation is typically complex, verbose and detailed. However, sometimes the interpretation or the explanation given by the tax lawyer is equally complex, verbose and detailed – a definite case of big ideas in big words.

Stage 3 – The 3rd and final stage in effective communication is simply this: you will never become a great communicator until you translate big ideas into small words.

To unpack this simple rule a little more, consider this. If a person knows and understands their subject matter extremely well then he/she should be able to explain the material to someone new to the area. For example, I have no understanding of physics whatsoever having done no study at either school or uni – it just doesn’t interest me for some reason. However, I once saw an interview with a Nobel Prize winning physicist on television explain in small words the big idea of Einsteins General Theory of Relativity. Not bad!

Conversely, if a person doesn’t know their subject matter that well they will tend to hide behind jargon or big words. Keep this in mind when listening to a politician speak about some so-called “complex issue.”

Here is a question for you – “When you communicate with your clients do you use small words or big words?”

See you next time,


Are you a trusted accountant?

I was doing research on a book project the other day and came across a most interesting article on the web. Although it was originally published in April last year – its lessons are still pertinent. It talks about the position of trust that accountants have in the business community as well as some other professions. The full article appeared in Brisbane Business News – see

A SURVEY of more than 600 Australian and 240 New Zealand business owners conducted by an accountancy, financial planning and law association has discovered that accountants are the most trusted advisers when it comes to business advice. The MSI Global Alliance March 2011 survey scanned a range of business and personal financial advice areas, where participants were able to select their lawyer, accountant, bank, business coach or financial planner.

While much has been written about the lack of professionalism of financial planners, participants rated them as the most trusted source of retirement planning advice (40 per cent) with accountants following closely behind on 37 per cent. This rated accountants highly despite the fact individual accountants are not allowed to offer investment advice to clients.

The banks, on the other hand, were harshly rated with only 10 per cent of participants agreeing that they are the most trusted source of advice when it comes to business finance and retirement planning. It also asked participants to comment on how each category of adviser could improve.


Common perceptions

• In advice terms, too focused on past performance, not the future
• Do not like to leave their offices
• Partners in firms can be inaccessible

Suggested improvements

• Don’t charge for face-to-face meetings. It stops clients going to their accountant for advice and disables a proactive client-adviser relationship
• Visit clients in their offices. The fees will flow.
• Focus on assisting with forward planning and business strategy rather than being retrospective


Common perceptions

• Fees always end up being higher than quoted
• ‘Legalese’ is difficult to understand and lawyers do not compensate their language for clients

Suggested improvements

• Estimate the work to be done and associated fees more clearly upfront
• Communicate immediately with clients if additional fees will need to be charged
• Breakdown fees charged more clearly
• Talk in a language that is easy to understand
• Be more proactive and instigate client meetings on matters such as estate planning


Common perceptions

• Lack of formal qualification/credibility
• Rely on self-help books more than genuine experience with business

Suggested improvements

• An ‘institute’ is required that can regulate and accredit business coaches
• Focus more on coaching budgeting/savings planning


Common perceptions

• Still charge commission, dressed up as a ‘percentage of funds under advice’
• There is no uniform qualification for financial planners, reducing their credibility
• Push clients into funds from which they receive the highest commission

Suggested improvements

• Charge a dollar based fee-for-service
• Clearer analysis and distribution of super fund performance compared with other funds
• Clients would consider performance fees when performance is better than market averages
• Be transparent and offer more individualised recommendations than managed portfolios from other financial institutions

What do the CEOs and MDs Really Want from Accountants & others

I’ve been working on a new book the  few weeks titled “What do the Bosses Really Want?” the subtitle of which is: conversations with CEO’s, MD’s & Business Owners about what they really want from accountants, lawyers, consultants and others who sell them advice. 

The premise of the book is quite simple. When someone reaches the exalted station in their working or business life called CEO,  Managing Director and/or business owner they suddenly appear on all manner of marketing lists, databases & radars. Then the inevitable happens – they are inundated by people who want to sell something – them products and/or services. A good chunk of this selling frenzy is committed to the provision of advice; advice to help these important people better operate, grow and on occasion exit their business.

I’m in the early stages of interviewing the no.1s in all manner of businesses and industries from ball bearing distribution to ice cream manufacture to event management and everything else in between but already there have been some interesting red flags being waved.

Only yesterday I was meeting with the CEO & co-owner of a gourmet food producer. The business employs around 25 people and has been in business for more than 20 years. I was interviewing this chap for the above book and was again reminded just how much professionals like accountants fall into the same old traps time and time and time again. As a person who has worked with the accounting profession for more years than I care to remember it frustrates the absolute heck out of me!

Tune into the next post to read.

See you next time,

James E


A challenge for accounting firms everywhere!

A few weeks ago I was presenting to a group of 30+ partners from accounting firms from regional NSW & VIC. The group was a cross-section of age, gender, experience and market outlook. However, the common thread among the partners is an overwhelming concern about “selling themselves” This of course is nothing new. Be it accounting firms at the big end of town in the cities or at the small end of town in urban suburbs or in regional centres in Australia & beyond most accountants (and indeed professionals in law, engineering, management consulting and the like) seem to not like to sell.

With the above in mind, I gave an interesting challenge to one of the accounting firms who attended the presentation.

I asked the managing partner of this particular firm the following questions:

How many staff (professional & support)  are in your firm? The answer: around 40.

Do the staff know people in the community? Answer: Yes

Would your staff know at least 3 people who either own or are employed by businesses in the local area? Answer: Yes

So this managing partner has given all his staff the challenge over a period of two weeks to do the following:

Name of the person the staff member knows

The name of the business/organisation they own or are employed with

The accounting firm’s connection to the person (i.e. family member, friend, went to school/uni with, sports service club etc …)

So within 2 weeks the managing partner will have 120 names of people that he didn’t know before. Now of course there will be overlap and some doubling up of names across the firm. So let’s assume the degree of duplication is 50%. That means there are potentially 60 names of people in businesses that the firm “knows” and has some connection with. Now you’re probably thinking “so what – some of that list will already be clients of the firm since the firm in question is the biggest one in town” Fair enough. So let’s slice off another 50% of the names so now we are left with 30 names that represent “green fields.”

Two important things come out of this challenge.

1. Potential clients that are “known” to the firm.

2. The firm having a much better understanding of their connections in & around the community. For a regional firm to have this knowledge (and to act on it) is pure gold.

Down the track I’ll share with you Phase 2 of the challenge – that is once you get the 30 names what do you then do?

See you next post.

James E.


Are you an accountant who can sell?

It might sound harsh but most accountants that I meet are no good at selling themselves or the services they/their firm provides. Its not because they aren’t intelligent or capable – far from it. Why is this the case?

I think there are two reasons accountants aren’t proficient at selling. Firstly, they aren’t trained specifically in the areas of business development & selling. Secondly, a lot of accountants believe it is beneath them. How sad!

Earlier this week I was in a meeting with the MD of a small to medium business (annual revenue around $12m) and he specifically told me that he believes that not only accountants, but all professional services people & firms, aren’t really any good at looking beyond their immediate assignment/project. Or put another way they don’t tell clients and potential clients what else they can do for them, that is sell.

A few weeks ago a good friend of mine told me about a simple sales methodology called the Gaddie Pitch. I’m not going to pretend that I can do justice to the Gaddie Pitch by trying to summarise it. So read it for yourself at the Anthill magazine link below. I’ve been using this technique now for the last week or so and it is great and most importantly … works if you let it 🙂

See you next post.

James E

What do Financial Planning Clients Really Want?

Well after a long 8 months of researching, interviewing, writing, editing, emails & phone calls the “What do Financial Planning Clients Really Want?” book is officially released today. Yeaaahhh!

With the recent global financial crisis, the professional financial planning market within Australia has changed significantly. With the market becoming more regulated and competitive than ever, clients expect more from their advisers to not only guide them through the complexity of investment and risk products but to help protect and grow their financial wealth through quality and professional advice. Never before have financial planners been in a position to make a real and lasting difference for their existing and prospective clients.

What do Financial Planning Clients really want? gives advisers the necessary insights to better understand the mindset, motivations and expectations of people who have never used, used once or have an ongoing relationship with a financial planner.

Through a series of 20 interviews I asked questions like:

What do you think a financial planner does?

Was your financial planner experience different to what you were expecting?

When it comes to choosing a financial planner, are age and/or gender important?

If you were to use a financial planner, what are the things you would look for?

The interviews were conducted with real people from all around Australia. Their names were changed to protect their identity, but they gave me their frank and open thoughts on financial planners and the industry.

The survival of financial planning firms will lie in the ability of their advisers to initiate and build long-term relationships with their clients. It is the professionalism and strength of these relationships that translates to the competitive advantage gained for the firm and its long-term business prospects.

See you next post.

James E