All about Kate (2 of 2)

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

All my best,

James E

All about Kate (1 of 2)

The other day I met a potential candidate on behalf of a client of mine. Lets call her Kate as in Kate Winslet .

Kate 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.

Kate 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 Kate 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 Kate 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 Kate’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.

Kate 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 Kate do this? Tune into the next post!

All my best,

James

Honesty & accountants – a good marriage

A few days ago I was interviewing a CFO for an extension to the book “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” and he shared with me a most interesting (& disappointing) story about an recent experience he had with a top 10 accounting firm.

This CFO, lets call him “Jack”,  asked the accounting firm to provide with advice relating to a specific & complex tax issue. Given the importance of the task he was expecting a fairly sizable bill so he wanted to make sure that he got the scope for the work as well-defined as he could. So he did some basic research – read through some articles on the web and in journals and the like and presented the accounting firm with, Jack thought, a clear task and expected outcome.

A week or two passed and the accounting firm presented their advice and a bill for $30,000. As he was reading through the document, Jack noticed that a lot of the content look familiar. With a few clicks of his browser, he discovered that much of the advice in the document came straight from a government website. All the firm in question had done was to write the background & introduction and provide a summary at the end. In other words, they “top & tailed it”, put it on their letterhead and passed it off as tailored advice.

Understandably Jack was annoyed, disappointed and angry and for obvious reasons refused to pay the $30,000 bill. When “found out” by their client, the accounting firm had no decent response to make to Jack and were embarrassed by the situation. The real issue for Jack in this whole sorry affair was not that they did it in the first place, but thought they could get away with it.

Jack will never use this firm again. Not only were they unprofessional, but were dishonest in the claim that they were providing Jack the tailored advice his business needed. Clearly, they weren’t tailoring anything. As Jack told me he could have got one of his primary-school aged children to do what a top 10 accounting firm had done and pay them a whole lot less than $30,000!

See you next time,

James E

The true story of two bananas

I was in a meeting with a top ten accounting firm recently.

The purpose of the meeting was for me to introduce a friend of mine who needed some specialist advice regarding an upcoming transaction.

My friend & I were on one side of the table; two partners on the other side. Lets call them B1 and B2.

B1 was engaging and attentive to my friend and the concerns of his business. He was a good listener and asked the right questions.

B2 seemed to be very interested for the first ten minutes of the meeting and then for some reason “turned off” for the remainder. In the following forty or so minutes he looked at his Blackberry about 10 times and sent at least 3 emails or txts during the meeting. He asked a few questions but gave the impression that he was too important for such a “small” client.

B2 is an absolute expert in his field and commands  high fees for his services. However, in spite of his technical prowess he didn’t get the assignment. I think my friend said it best shortly after we left the meeting… “what a w_ _ _ _ _ !”

What more can I say?

🙂

Try not to be an ASS!

Over the course of the last year I have I have met with and interviewed dozens of CFOs. Although they come from different backgrounds and work with organisations in a variety of industries it is quite amazing to note the common threads they have in their thinking of working with external accounting firms. One such thread is the importance of understanding the client’s business and not assuming anything.

Here is a quote from Ashley Selwood, CFO, Australian Rugby Union.

… I find at times that external accountants already have some preconceived ideas about what the solution is before they spend the time to actually get to know our business.  We’re a sport and nine out of ten people who walk in the door are either followers of Rugby or at the very least know a bit about Rugby.  When you’re dealing with sport there’s a lot more heart than head involved and sometimes people will walk in the door as a consultant or an accountant and the first thing they’ll do is spend an hour telling you what’s wrong with the Wallabies! Once you get through that, they always seem to have quite fixed ideas of what the solutions are without actually spending the time to get to know our business. In my view this is a fundamental mistake. It not only applies to accountants but all other external professional consultants irrespective of their discipline.

Ashley goes on further to cite some interesting examples of how  accountants have come into the business and not really taken the time and effort to invest in really understanding their business. Too often accountants assume too much without first asking their client questions. As my dad used to say to me when I was growing up (and still does) when you ASSUME you make an ASS of U and ME!

The morale of this post – don’t be an ASS!  (or a donkey for the non-Americans out there).

All my best

James E

Life is like a card game …

A friend and past client of mine is Mark O’Hare – a shrewd and highly skilled business adviser based in Brisbane, Australia with Grant Thornton. This is Mark’s response to the question:

What has been the most unusual client experience you have ever had and what did you do about it?

My view of life is that it is like a card game: many hands are dealt to you, over an extended period (my career being 30 years to date) and a few of those hands are bound to be special.

The most special hand I have received was in the form of a casual referral of a business, owned by a husband and wife team, by a regional banker. At first I did not recognise this event as the dealing of an exceptional hand: they had outgrown their existing provider and all I had to do was make the call to tee up a meeting. I promptly made the call, had the meeting and – in less than one hour – had formed the bond that would be the foundation of an extraordinary relationship. The meeting was with the wife in the partnership, who I was advised was a very tough operator, so it was crucial that I impress her. I am fortunate to have been reared by a mother who is of a similar nature, so we hit it off from the first minute. The engagement of both my division’s services, and those of three other divisions of the firm, was sealed on a handshake – a firm one, I might add!

The remarkable success that followed over the next 12 months could not have been anticipated nor planned. During that time, we rendered fees of around $1 million. These fees were all paid within seven days of being issued, sometimes sooner.

The client’s business, it should be mentioned, had commenced some 10 years earlier with a modest turnover ($3 million) and had grown to its current turnover of $200 million per annum and $50 million in net assets. This growth was all under the stewardship of a husband and wife team, residing in a remote area, with no formal business qualifi cations. To achieve this, there was determination and integrity in spades!

The best part of this story is the fact that the net cost to the client for our services over this fi rst year was nil. This was due to our successful submission to the ATO to have $600K of interest on overdue tax waived and $400K of GST repaid, on the basis that it was never properly claimed by their former provider.

As a result of this event, I have learned not to be quick to judge circumstances on face value and to build all relationships on both deep commitment and trust. Then, sometimes, magic happens!

Nice on Mark  🙂

Until next time,

James E

A little bit of humility …

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?

The other day 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 too long a bow! 🙂

The importance of win-win

I’ve heard many stories throughout the years of business clients telling me about outstanding experiences with advisors. In the case of accountants, the common thread of these experiences seems to be the tendency of the accountant to more often than not leave something on the table. This means that the accountant always does that little bit extra and goes the additional mile when providing a service. It might be some extra service you don’t charge for or some market news you heard that your client may not be aware of.

A good example of that little bit extra is a partner friend of mine travelling to the store opening of one his clients at his own expense. He wasn’t invited or expected to be there – he just turned up. The client saw him in the crowd and just smiled. My friend had travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne to go and show his support for the thirty minute launch. A big deal? Perhaps not – but it meant a lot to my friend’s client.

Incidentally, it might interest you to know that this particular client is a member of the Australian BRW 200 rich list (he is worth about $US 400m +) and has used my friend’s services for many years. This client has been so impressed by my friends attitude that he has recently asked my friend (and his staff) to personally mentor and coach his three children (aged in their twenties) in the ways of business, finance and personal wealth management. Not a bad gig.

Simple rule: Leave something on the table = the table will get bigger = a win-win

See you next post,

James E

A tale of two bananas

I was in a meeting with a top ten accounting firm recently.

The purpose of the meeting was for me to introduce a friend of mine who needed some specialist advice regarding an upcoming transaction.

My friend & I were on one side of the table; two partners on the other side. Lets call them B1 and B2.

B1 was engaging and attentive to my friend and the concerns of his business. He was a good listener and asked the right questions.

B2 seemed to be very interested for the first ten minutes of the meeting and then for some reason “turned off” for the remainder. In the following forty or so minutes he looked at his Blackberry about 10 times and sent at least 3 emails or txts during the meeting. He asked a few questions but gave the impression that he was too important for such a “small” client.

B2 is an absolute expert in his field and commands  high fees for his services. However, in spite of his technical prowess he didn’t get the assignment. I think my friend said it best soon after we left the meeting… “what a w_ _ _ _ _ !”

What more can I say?

🙂

Always leave something on the table

I’ve heard many stories throughout the years of business clients telling me about outstanding experiences with advisors. In the case of accountants, the common thread of these experiences seems to be the tendency of the accountant to more often than not leave something on the table. This means that the accountant always does that little bit extra and goes the additional mile when providing a service. It might be some extra service you don’t charge for or some market news you heard that your client may not be aware of. 

A good example of that little bit extra is a partner friend of mine travelling to the store opening of one his clients at his own expense. He wasn’t invited or expected to be there – he just turned up. The client saw him in the crowd and just smiled. My friend had travelled from Brisbane to Melbourne to go and show his support for the thirty minute launch. A big deal? Perhaps not – but it meant a lot to my friend’s client.

Incidentally, it might interest you to know that this particular client is a member of the Australian BRW 200 rich list (he is worth about $US 400m +) and has used my friend’s services for many years. This client has been so impressed by my friends attitude that he has recently asked my friend (and his staff) to personally mentor and coach his three children (aged in their twenties) in the ways of business, finance and personal wealth management. Not a bad gig.

Simple rule: Leave something on the table = the table will get bigger!

See you next post,

James E