Are you a humble accountant?

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?

A while ago I was surfing the web and came across an expanded definition of humility on a site called “Two Paths” ( 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 to long a bow! 🙂

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

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

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

The human touch

In today’s busy business world we are often encouraged to be assertive, front foot forward and always, always looking for opportunities to promote ourselves. In the right context there is nothing wrong with these traits. However, I’m a big believer in the power and wonder of showing oneself to be more human.

In the great majority of my dealings with business owners, MDs, CEOs & CFOs I’ve noticed they tend to buy accounting services from people that they connect with, like and want to trust. Items like the firm’s brand and the individual’s technical expertise are taken very much as hygiene factors, that is to say, their importance and significance is only really noticed when they (the factors) are not present.

Look at your own behaviours when purchasing products or services. For instance, I live in a suburb in Sydney that has over 25 hairdressers/barbers competing for people’s haircare needs. My wife goes to a certain hairdresser, not because of their skilled staff, nice decor or cappuccinos – most of them have all that.  No, she goes to a particular one because she likes the lady who cuts and styles her hair.  They talk, learn about each other and have a laugh. I don’t think they have a lot in common in terms of their age and their interests, but they seem to have gotten to know each other and have developed a level of trust and understanding over a long period of time. I dare say that if Mary (the hairdresser) left that particular salon – my wife would follow her to her new one. My wife’s relationship is with Mary not her employer. My wife’s decision is not particularly influenced my Mary’s amazing skills or her stunning banter and repartee – my wife just likes Mary and trusts her with her hair.

Now I’m not saying to all you accounting professionals out there that when you leave your current firm your clients will blindly follow you. Notwithstanding the non-compete clauses in your partnership and employee agreements, clients will of course make their own decisions what to do. The take away lesson here is that by exercising the human touch clients tend to be more loyal and sticky with their advisers who treat them as people – believe it or not!

See you next post,


The power of shoes (2 of 2)

Here is the rest of the extract from the David Maister article. In this piece David specifically looks at the range of human emotions going through the mind of a prospective client.

I’m skeptical. I’ve been burned before by these kinds of people. I get a lot of promises. How do I know whose promise I should buy?

I’m concerned that you either can’t or won’t take the time to understand what makes my situation special. Will you be one of those typical professionals who are hard to get hold of, who are patronizing, who leave the client out of the loop, who befuddle the client with jargon, who don’t explain what they’re doing or why, who…, who…, who…? In short, will you deal with me in the way that I want to be dealt with?

To a degree, I am also exposed. Whoever I hire I’m going to have to reveal some proprietary secrets to, not all of which are flattering. I’m also a little threatened. You will be working on things for which I am responsible (marketing consultants are hired by the vice president of marketing, lawyers by the general counsel, actuaries by the benefits manager). By the very fact that you are suggesting improvements or changes, there is the risk that you will uncover things that I haven’t been doing right up till now. Are you going to be my ally or my enemy?

What all this reveals is that from among the set of qualified candidates I am looking for the one I can trust. The act of hiring a professional is, by very definition, an act of faith. I must, inevitably, believe a promise. In selecting a professional I am not just buying a service, I am entering into a relationship. Your selling task is to earn my trust and confidence—with an emphasis on the word “earn.”

See you next post.

All my best,

James E

The power of shoes (1 of 2)

As most of you have no doubt discovered by now I’m a big fan of the writings of David Maister. Here is an extract from an article he wrote 20 years ago. Although there has been much change in the world since 1991 – the internet probably being amongst the biggest sources of change – its amazing to see that core human nature are still at the heart of how clients make decisions.

This article, written in 1991, was published as a chapter in David’s book Managing the Professional Service Firm (Free Press, 1993)

Buying professional services is rarely a comfortable experience. Among the unpleasant emotions frequently felt are the following:

First, I feel that I’m taking a personal risk. By hiring anyone, I am putting my affairs, or my company’s affairs, in the hands of someone else, and I’m giving up some degree of control. This is my area of responsibility, and even though intellectually I may know I need outside expertise, emotionally it is not comfortable to put my affairs in the hands of others. Even if the matter is a relatively routine one, I need to be convinced (beyond protestations of good intentions) that my problem will receive prompt and serious attention.

I’m feeling insecure. Since I find it hard to detect which of you is the genius and who is just good, I’m going to have to commit myself without feeling totally confident about my decision. What is more, I don’t yet know if I’ve got a simple problem or a complex one; that’s why I need you, the specialist, to help me. But I’m not sure that I can trust you to be honest; after all, it’s in your interest to convince me that my problem is complex. Professionals are always making mountains out of molehills. Nothing is ever easy.

There is a lot of power in standing in your prospective client’s shoes and seeing things from their perspective. Tune in next time to read the next installment.

All my best,

James E