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Are you getting the small things right?

Just for a moment forget about the big strategies, the fancy marketing campaign and the impressive training & development programs you have planned for 2015.  How are you doing at the small things?

Here is a checklist you might like to use so you don’t forget the small things. That aren’t in any specific order of importance. See how you go.

  1. Return all phone calls promptly. Try the same business day. If not the very next morning.
  2. Reply to all emails (depending upon the urgency) within 24 hours. If its really important reply as soon as you can – say 2 to 3 hours.
  3. Phone your client for no specific reason and arrange to have a coffee with no agenda and don’t charge for the time. This shows you are interested in the client and want to invest in the relationship.
  4. Do you know your clients hobbies and interests? If not find out and make a note.
  5. With the above in mind, from time to time send you client a small gift (something to do with their interest/hobby) for no reason. It just shows that you’re thinking of them. Sounds corny but it works if done in a genuine way.
  6. Ask your client the question, “What is the smallest change that I could make that would have the biggest impact on your business?” You might just be surprised at what they say. By the way … before you ask the question tell them that they are not allowed to say lower fees!
  7. Here is a big one. If you say you’re going to do something by a certain day/time then do it. If you can’t than make sure you tell the client ahead of the time the reason why.
  8. If you don’t know the answer to something then tell the client that you don’t know but you know how to find out. Clients want honesty not half-baked responses.

Well there you go – hope the above helps.

See you next post,

James E

Are all accounting firms created equal? (3 of 3)

We now move on to the 3rd and final installment of what makes a great accounting firm. Of course there are many, many factors which contribute to the greatness of an accounting firm and the people within. The 3 I’ve chosen simply appeal to me – that’s all.

3. Going the extra mile.

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 traveling 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 traveled 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 $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

What is the most important thing?

Sorry guys. I missed out posting on Wednesday this last week.

I’ve been putting in lots of hours with my day job recently in preparation for a trip to the US next month with my 18 year old son. My son finished high school last year and is taking a gap year this year before going to university next year. Wow that last sentence certainly had a lot of years in it!

Anyway my son is REALLY into music and he has been saving up to attend Coachella – a music festival being held in Palm Springs, California. He wanted to go with his friends but none had saved up enough cash to go. so being the cool and wonderful dad I offered to go with him. My son has never been overseas before and I’ve never been to the US.

So the above is a long way of saying that I needed to make sure that the wheels are turning while I’m away for 3 weeks. Being self-employed one has to consider such things.

In short – my day job has been getting in the way of my other activities like blogging.

Here is a post that I wrote for MYOB last month which I think you’ll get something from. Hopefully it will make up for my omission during the week 🙂

I’m assuming, if you’re reading this article, that you’re an accountant or at least working in the industry in some capacity.  Let me ask you a question … “As an accountant what is the most important thing you do for your clients?”  Over the years I’ve been given any number of responses to this question.

Some say, “Keep my clients safe & compliant”.

Others say,  “Make their lives easier”.

While many say, “Get them a big tax refund”.

However, the most common response I receive to this fundamental question is, “to add value”. Like most business-speak terms, to add value just rolls off the tongue. It sounds right and makes people who hear it (at least at first) believe that everything is going to be ok and that you’re the right person for the job.

However, what does adding value really mean? We all know what adding means so let’s focus on the value bit. What is value to your client? Is your GEN Y self-employed IT contractor client wanting the same value as your 40+ years TAFE teacher? What about the single mother working two jobs or the construction company owner employing 100 staff?

It’s obvious that value means different things to different people. So how do you determine what is valuable for your clients and prospects? The answer is incredibly simple – you ask them.

A few months ago Thomson Reuters published a book I wrote titled, What do Accounting Clients Really Want?The book is a series of 20 interviews of people who buy accounting services for their respective businesses.  Statistically, of course, a pool of 20 interviews means nothing, however, 20 in-depth personal conversations does.  Overwhelmingly, the people I interviewed want their accountants/advisors to invest in a meaningful relationship with them. They don’t mean the odd lunch and/or drinks after work; but rather a relationship that tells them (i.e. the client) that you have their best interests in your mind and heart. By having a close relationship you can truly determine what is of value to them and what isn’t.

Kym Warner is the CFO of The Coffee Club – a national chain of coffee franchises generating over $320m revenue annually. When I asked her,  “What is the most important quality or attribute you look for in an accountant? Her reply was simple

… for me it’s about the relationship. I want to know that I can build a relationship with them…

Kym relayed the story of her first day as CFO for The Coffee Club and her relationship with her new external accountant.

It’s the relationship that we’ve built. I think the fact that when I started, my second day was the first day of our audit partner; we’ve really built a bunch of knowledge together.  We’ve shared the improvements in the business, so she understands where we’ve come from.  The partner herself is a lovely lady.  Very professional, knowledgeable and commercial. If we have any toing and froing, I can talk openly and honestly with her, which is great, because everything they do has to be reported to their sister firm in Thailand, which is where our investors are based.  I think this partner has a real empathy for my position; she seems to understand the pressures I’m under.  I want our auditors to be honest and ethical, and sensitive enough so my role is not undermined with the board and stakeholders within the business.

It’s the relationship rather than the process that means more to your clients than anything else.  What they are really after is someone who can connect with them.  A conversation with a client over a cup of coffee will do more to deepen the relationship than sitting at a computer in your office.  Don’t believe it?  Why don’t you try it a couple of times – you may just surprise yourself!

Until next time,
James E

A good adviser

Now we turn our attention to a good adviser.

One of the CFOs I interviewed last year in my book, “What do Accounting Clients Really Want?” gave the most wonderful & impressive answer to one of my questions. The response is about her experience with a good adviser.

The question I asked was …Tell me about a time when you received the best service from an accounting firm. What made it the best? How did it make you feel?

It was in my last CFO role. I didn’t like the firm but I really liked the tax adviser. This individual just stood out. He was extremely good at what he did. He’d taken on some of the big firms who had provided (in his view) poor advice for some clients and had actually won. However, what made him so spectacular for us was the level of dedication to our business. It was as if we were his only client, even though we knew we weren’t. He was committed to us. He communicated in a way that we understood.
As soon as we had a need, he was there to meet it. The level of service he provided was outstanding. Although he was in a firm that was providing us a service, he always seemed to position himself as if he was part of our business and showed that he cared. I saw that for the other clients he serviced as well. There’s a big distinction about how you make your client feel if you come in and you have a care factor showing, “I’m part of this business”, as opposed to, “I’m a service provider and I know it all – here is my advice”.
As a CFO for this business I felt supported and important. We paid him a small fortune and he was so well worth it. We definitely got our value-add!

How cool is that!

See you next post.

James E

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

Accounting Firms – are all created equal? (part 3 of 3)

We now move on to the 3rd and final installment of what makes a great accounting firm. Of course there are many, many factors which contribute to the greatness of an accounting firm and the people within. The 3 I’ve chosen simply appeal to me – that’s all.

3. Going the extra mile.

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 traveling 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 traveled 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 $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

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