Why mentoring?

A mentor does more than coach you. The sessions will normally be confidential and take place by phone or meeting somewhere convenient and private.

Your mentor will help identify your development needs, give advice, open doors and help you to think through issues and problems. They will also ask you for feedback as regards what has changed since the previous session and remind you of ideas and suggestions raised previously. This form of tailored, personalised mentoring is, by definition, far more effective than conventional generic personal development courses.  The key characteristics to look for in a mentor are: Someone who will give you quality time, is empathetic, can spot unusual but effective synergies for you, can open doors and make connections, will give you independent advice and a fresh perspective – and whose judgement you can trust.

Ask your firm about mentoring.  You may be able to identify a suitably experienced and capable partner with whom you have a good relationship.  You’ll also want to be comfortable that they have the time, talent and training to do more than merely make encouraging noises.  The other option would be for your firm to engage a credible, independent and experienced mentor to provide the necessary guidance and support.


HMRC Interventions (updated)

Another year, another controversial issue for accountants and tax advisers.

For reasons best known to themselves HMRC decided to press ahead with their interventions project last month. This is despite the severe misgivings expressed by the professional bodies, the wholly inadequate consideration given to a range of practical consequences and the complete absence of legal protection available to taxpayers who are found to have additional tax to pay.

I would concede that the interventions project has a logical rationale. But it is riddled with practical and legal problems. Moany of these could have been avoided if HMRC had not ignored calls from the professional boides to postpone the pilot until these issues had been properly considered.

As it is the pilot is progressing, accountants and their clients are getting concerned about the implications and both the ICAEW Tax Faculty and the CIOT are beefing up their representations.

In the meantime I was delighted to be asked by CCH to chair a workshop on the subject of these compliance interventions next month – details below.

If you have any colleagues who might be interested please advise them by forwarding a link to this blog. Anyone wanting to attend should reply directly to CCH please.

Interventions Workshop

Enabling? Insulting? Inescapable? Avoidable?

Workshop including expert speakers and panel discussion

Chaired by Mark Lee (past chairman, ICAEW Tax Faculty)

Venue: Council Chamber, Chartered Accountants Hall, Moorgate EC2

Date & Time: Friday 8th September 2006, 9.30 start – ending with lunch.

9.30 – Chariman’s intro

9.40 – HMRC speakers

10.20 – Phil Berwick (head of Investigations at Tenon)

11.00 – coffee break

11.20 – Eamon McNicholas – Tax Barrister – the legal perspective

11.40 – Panel session including all speakers plus CCH reps

12.25 – Conclusion

12.30 – Buffet lunch

Cost: £ 55 per person (to include buffet lunch)

(If you are a CCH Fee Protection client you will receive a full refund of £55 per person against your next fee protection renewal)

Two representatives from HMRC will be amongst the speakers.

Full details and confirmation of speakers will be available from CCH in the next 10 days.

Places are limited and we expect interest to be high.

To arrange your place please call CCH on 0800 542 6648.


Getting straight to the answer may not be best

Imagine your client collects all their receipts and asks you as their accountant to produce accounts (if required), a tax return and then to advise how much tax is payable. Alternatively the client may collate the information onto a spreadsheet or into a simple accounts package and then ask you the same question.

What approach do you take to get to the answer?

Most accountants’ go through everything and then come up with the answers. In most cases the accountant will have had to make a choice as to whether various expenses can be offset against the client’s income for tax purposes. Again, in most cases the answers will be obvious, especially after years of experience. Where there is room for doubt the accountant may make an informed guess or may just ask the client to clarify the nature of the expense and the reason they spent spent the money.

To some people that approach sounds fine. It’s certainly all too common. The accountant has used his experience, knowledge and skills to best effect and has avoided taking up much of the client’s time.
There are three problems with this approach though and they contribute to the widespread view that some accountants don’t help their clients save tax:

  1. the accountant’s informed guesses will occasionally be wrong; and
  2. the client has no way of knowing how much the tax bill has been reduced by virtue of the decisions made by the accountant.
  3. The client will assume that the accountant hasn’t tried to reduce the tax bill. If the accountant had tried then surely he/she would have told the client how much he/she had saved them.

Two step
An alternative approach would be for the accountant to reach an initial conclusion re the profits and tax and to communicate this to the client AND to make it clear that “we may be able to reduce the tax bill depending on how we treat a number of items.”

Accountants who follow this second approach can be sure their clients will see them as helping to save tax. Now the odd thing is that the final tax bill may not be any different to the tax calculated by an accountant following the first approach.

Many accountants go the automatic route because it’s faster and because their experience is such that they feel confident that they can make the right informed guesses. As this route is faster they can charge their clients less than if they ‘budget’ for a two-step approach. So at first glance this would seem to be the best approach all round.

But put yourself in the shoes of the client who wants to be confident that their accountant has saved them tax. If you go the automatic route HOW WILL THE CLIENT KNOW WHAT YOU’VE DONE FOR THEM? You must tell clients what you’ve done and how much tax you’ve saved them. It’s too easy to forget and, as a consequence, to lose (or never get) the confidence of a client that you do help them to pay less tax.

It may take a little more time in the first year to dance the two-step but the client will be happier and will be more confident you’ve done your best for them.


Finders, Minders and Binders

In a previous blog I referred to the classical categorisation of professionals:

  • Finders – who go out and find the new work
  • Minders – who look after the relationship with the clients
  • Grinders – who do the work
  • Binders – who keep the team working well together

It seems to me that most CPD is focused on enhancing one’s technical knowledge and skills ie: it helps us to become better ‘Grinders’. Beyond this there are some ‘soft skills’ courses but these are rarely tailored to the needs of individuals. This means that the effectiveness of such courses is variable.

The mentoring programme I have developed covers the Finding, Minding and Binding aspects of professional life. My research suggests that the key business skills that fall under these three headings can be summarised as follows:


  • Networking – meeting new people and generating work through those you meet;
  • Speaking in public – being confident and clear whether talking to small or large gatherings;
  • Pitching – asking for work or responding to invitations to tender;
  • Closing – gaining new work on acceptable terms;


  • Becoming a trusted adviser – understanding how to manage clients so as to encourage the right sort of referrals;
  • Handling tough clients – managing difficult relationships profitably;
  • Commercial billing – recognising the need to evidence value from the client’s perspective and appreciating the commercial value of our time;
  • Developing clients – identifying opportunities to encourage clients to instruct the firm re additional profitable services;


  • Managing teams – building trust, confidence and leadership potential;
  • Motivating staff – understanding common differences in behaviours, preferences and motivators;
  • Delegating – recognising the key elements of effective delegation and what can be delegated to increase efficiency;
  • Self/time management – avoiding common traps and keeping an effective work/life balance.

Where appropriate I am also able to lead group development sessions on each of the above topics.