You can charge more if you have SEX with your clients

I was speaking at the LSCA Small Practitioners’ 36th annual conference in Cambridge yesterday. The subject matter of my talk was ‘How to make more profits from your smaller clients’. I included in the talk a number of items that have appeared in this blog. Others will follow.

Also on the programme was the founder of PracticeTrack and PracticeWEB, Mark Lloydbottom. I was delighted to meet Mark and to hear him speak for the first time. He particularly caught my attention when he announced from the platform “You can charge more if you have SEX with your clients or if you give your clients SEX”.

I’m sure this idea will resonate with all ambitious professionals so, with Mark’s permission I can explain, as he did, that S.E.X is an acronymn for:

Superior skills;

Experience

eXperitse

In essence what Mark was saying, and as I have also been advocating for some time, is that our fees should not be set merely by reference to how much time we have spent dealing with the client’s affairs.

In my talks on related topics I have long stressed that clients are buying our solutions to their problems. We provide our knowledge, skills, experience and service so as to gain our clients’ trust and confidence. If we can do this and help clients to like us too, we stand a good chance of charging more than we would otherwise be able to so do.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by

I want to be an equity partner

I recently had a call from a salaried partner in a 12 partner professional firm. Let’s call him ‘Andy’. It was a good few months since the last time we had spoken.

Andy is in his early forties and has been with the firm for around ten years. Last week during his annual appraisal Andy had raised the question as to when he would be invited to join the equity partnership. As a result he has been invited to a meeting of the equity partners to discuss the position. Andy told me that he had reviewed the useful material on this blog and would appreciate any additional tips I might be able to offer him.

I’ve listed five of these below for anyone else in a similar position:

1 – Put yourself in their shoes. What will they want from you?

2 – Consider your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). If your application is refused what will you do? You want to avoid a spontaneous resignation that you later regret.

3 – Evidence your commercial approach. Whilst in theory you want to join the Equity group, you would first want to understand the terms that would apply and the liabilities that you would be sharing. Can you see the partnership agrement? Are there any onerous lease provisions? Annuity obligations? Uninsued lossses? If the senior partners will be retiring in the near future it is the newer partners who will have to share the burden of such liabilities.

4 – Be clear as to whether you are prepared to sacrifice the near certainty of your salaried share for a real variable share of profits or LOSSES. Although this should enable you to gain a more equitable share of the fees (and profits) that you introduce, this will be subject to the impact of losses elsewhere in the firm. Are you sure you don’t just want to secure a performance bonus? If not, be sure you can explain why not.

5 – How much do you want equity? How much capital can you afford to contribute? What if partners are all required to contribute £50k of capital? £100k? £150k? What if the firm doesn’t have an agreement with its bank to facilitate the (inevitable) loan to you that enables you to contribute the capital?

These tips all made sense in the context of Andy’s scenario. They will not all be appropriate in every situation. In particular much will depend upon the relationship that you have with the equity partners. If you’re in a similar position to Andy I hope you find these ideas of some use. If you’d like to have a quick chat before you attend such a meeting, by all means call me. I’d be delighted to help you if I can.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by

What do your clients want?

Further to yesterday’s blog about Professor Richard Susskind I am keen to highlight another observation he made during his talk. It’s actually a point I have been making for at least five years myself when advising accountants and lawyers on business development related issues.

There is an apocryphal story about a group of newly recruited executives at Black & Decker in the days when they only sold one basic product. They were asked what it was that their customers wanted from them.The standard answer was ‘drills’. “No” they were told. “Our customers want HOLES.”

In a similar vein the great Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Ambitious professionals need to ensure they focus on the hole in the wall that their clients want. Professor Susskind noted that KPMG’s global mission statement identifies its aim “is to turn knowledge into value for the benefit of its clients, its people and the community”.

The key point for all of us here is that what our clients want are results.They are often indifferent as to how we get them. They will rarely care much about our internal processes and systems.

The next time you meet with a prospective client take a moment to find out what result they are seeking and focus your comments more on how this can be achieved than on how you and your firm operate. You may be surprised at the positive impact this can have.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by

How evolved are your professional services?

Listening to Professor Richard Susskind speaking after dinner at the APP AGM last week I was struck by the logic of his predictions for the future of professional services.  There are lessons here for all ambitious professionals.

The Professor, who has long been a highly respected guru as regards the future of the legal profession, outlined the five stages of evolution that professional services are moving through.

First stage: The original bespoke or tailored service that seeks to directly match a client’s circumstances.  The professional works like an artist starting with a blank canvas;

Second stage: This involves the standardisation of the substance and process of the services such that advisers can avoid reinventing the wheel;

Third stage: Involves systemisation through the application of technology which allows advisers to automate some processes;

Fourth stage: Packaging. This will allow clients to drive and access information directly and will reduce the costs of delivery;

Fifth stage: Commoditisation. This will allow clients to access commonplace information and services directly online.

Many older professional advisers attempt to provide all clients with a bespoke service. This is fine if it’s what the client wants but it is inevitably more expensive than any of the evolved approaches to the provision of professional services.

Ambitious professionals would be well advised to ensure that they do not automatically provide a bespoke service to all clients.  Unless you only act for wealthy clients you will find that many of them would be happier paying the lower fees they would associate with an off-the-peg approach.  Beware too of charging bespoke level fees when you provide a standardised, systemised, packaged or commoditised service.  Once the client perceives this is what you are doing you will lose credibility and the justification for your fee levels.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by

Are you an 'Accidental Sales Person'?

Few ambitious professionals have ever chosen a career in sales. And yet, regardless of your professional discipline you will, almost by definition, have to be able to generate income. Inevitably that income will come from clients and you will have some, possibly a large, responsibility for helping to generate those ‘sales’.

My friend, Richard White, describes those of us who are in this position as “Accidental sales people”. We didn’t choose to work in sales but it is still an integral part of what we do. Richard’s view is that we will be more successful if we adopt a ‘soft-selling’ style rather than attempt to emulate the salespeople whom we hate. You know – those pushy people who try to persuade people to buy things they don’t want.

We need to ensure that our sales techniques are appropriate and that our prospective clients do not feel we are pressurising them to engage us for services they do not want. For this reason traditional sales training techniques are unlikely to be very effective when trying to help ambitious professionals enhance the results of their networking and client development activities.

I have long admired Richard’s ‘soft-selling’ techniques as they are very similar to solution based selling and consultative selling – being the approaches that I learned some years ago and incorporate into my mentoring programme. In essence the key point is to work with rather than against human nature. Rather than attempt to push your services, soft-selling demands that you first understand the primary motivations of your clients and prospective clients. Then, and only then, you should be able to make your services seem so compelling that they attract your clients to want to engage you.

The skills you need to develop are less a hard nosed approach to selling and more an understanding of human nature and a degree of patience.

by

Are you an ‘Accidental Sales Person’?

Few ambitious professionals have ever chosen a career in sales. And yet, regardless of your professional discipline you will, almost by definition, have to be able to generate income. Inevitably that income will come from clients and you will have some, possibly a large, responsibility for helping to generate those ‘sales’.

My friend, Richard White, describes those of us who are in this position as “Accidental sales people”. We didn’t choose to work in sales but it is still an integral part of what we do. Richard’s view is that we will be more successful if we adopt a ‘soft-selling’ style rather than attempt to emulate the salespeople whom we hate. You know – those pushy people who try to persuade people to buy things they don’t want.

We need to ensure that our sales techniques are appropriate and that our prospective clients do not feel we are pressurising them to engage us for services they do not want. For this reason traditional sales training techniques are unlikely to be very effective when trying to help ambitious professionals enhance the results of their networking and client development activities.

I have long admired Richard’s ‘soft-selling’ techniques as they are very similar to solution based selling and consultative selling – being the approaches that I learned some years ago and incorporate into my mentoring programme. In essence the key point is to work with rather than against human nature. Rather than attempt to push your services, soft-selling demands that you first understand the primary motivations of your clients and prospective clients. Then, and only then, you should be able to make your services seem so compelling that they attract your clients to want to engage you.

The skills you need to develop are less a hard nosed approach to selling and more an understanding of human nature and a degree of patience.

by

Good, bad or indifferent?

How do you think the majority of your clients would describe you AND how confident are you of that?

When I ask people to describe their relationship with their accountant I generally receive variations on only 3 basic answers. That is that the relationship is judged to be Good, bad or indifferent.  I would anticipate that the same is true across all professions.

What might we decide the different descriptions generally mean to ambitious professionals?

Good?
This implies that things couldn’t be better. Your clients believe that you do what they want, when they want it and for a fee that they consider to be excellent value for money. They are aware that they get pro-active advice and are very happy to recommend you to friends and family.

Bad?
Your clients feel that they’re putting up with bad service, high fees and/or get little of value. They certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone they know to use you. [How often do your clients give you valuable referrals?]

Indifferent?
This is how I would describe those clients who think their adviser is ‘okay’. This might be because you don’t wow the clients with great service nor do you charge high fees or upset the clients.

In my experience a very high proportion of people think their accountant is just ‘okay’. I think that’s sad and it’s one of the reasons that I look to help accountants provide better value to their clients.

How confident are you that your clients think that you are anything other than just ‘okay’?  The fact that they haven’t complained probably indicates that they they don’t think you’;re ‘bad’.  But equally you can’t assume that they think you’re good. Going back to the question I asked at the top of this item,  How do you think the majority of your clients would describe you AND how confident are you of that?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by

NRG's six rules of good networking

The following six rules are taken from an NRG business networking newsletter I received recently. Although written for a general business audience I believe that these rules are equally applicable to ambitious professionals. Unless you are an experienced and successful networker you will find some surprises here but I can assure you that this is all very good advice.

Rule 1. Don’t network to network. Define your purpose. For instance, your purpose may be to find contacts who can open doors for you, to find people for whom you can open doors (you are less likely to get the former without doing the latter), and to hear the gossip on the grapevine.

Rule 2. Build your network before you need it. People can tell the difference between desperation and an earnest attempt to create a relationship.

Rule 3. Never eat alone. If you’re in a strange city, look up someone on our website who you’d like to meet and have lunch with them.  [If you’re not a member of NRG, you’ll have to reply on your own network].

Rule 4. Ask for what you want. People might say yes!

Rule 5. Don’t keep a tally, so open doors for other people generously, time and again, without counting the score. What goes round, comes round.

Rule 6. Be there!

by

NRG’s six rules of good networking

The following six rules are taken from an NRG business networking newsletter I received recently. Although written for a general business audience I believe that these rules are equally applicable to ambitious professionals. Unless you are an experienced and successful networker you will find some surprises here but I can assure you that this is all very good advice.

Rule 1. Don’t network to network. Define your purpose. For instance, your purpose may be to find contacts who can open doors for you, to find people for whom you can open doors (you are less likely to get the former without doing the latter), and to hear the gossip on the grapevine.

Rule 2. Build your network before you need it. People can tell the difference between desperation and an earnest attempt to create a relationship.

Rule 3. Never eat alone. If you’re in a strange city, look up someone on our website who you’d like to meet and have lunch with them.  [If you’re not a member of NRG, you’ll have to reply on your own network].

Rule 4. Ask for what you want. People might say yes!

Rule 5. Don’t keep a tally, so open doors for other people generously, time and again, without counting the score. What goes round, comes round.

Rule 6. Be there!

by

Worried about prospective PI claims?

Following on from yesterday’s blog there are also plenty of people with whom my question resonates. Some of the partners and sole practitioners present are remarkably honest in their replies:

Those who said ‘yes’ all explained why:

YES:

·Convinced my knowledge is not as uptodate as it should be but working on it

·Anyone doing a proper job will be sued at some point in time;

·Could lose everything;

·Failure to recognise a claim or a potential claim;

·Fear of getting it wrong;

·I have discovered some ‘Donald Rumsfeld’ type “unknown unknowns”;

·I know I don’t know everything!

·Because even though conscious of PI issues I am always prone to human error;

·Due to the ever-changing laws, regulations and the purposive construction of the law;

·In case I do something wrong that I’m not aware of.

·It has done previously on occasion – but I always managed to resolve things; If one has good systems and is confident of advice then all should be ok;

·Lack of internal controls;

·Living in a more litigious environment;

·Occasionally if I have taken too long to do a job;

·Sometimes because I fear the loss of my reputation and self-esteem;

·Occasionally if there has been a problem that involves a mistake by my firm;

·Occasionally! Mainly because of fear of impact on credibility;

·PI cover may not be high enough;

·Professional image, loss of clients, disciplinary issues with the Institute;

·Reputational impact and interpretation of advice;

·Some clients may misinterpret the advice we gave them;

·Sometimes – if I know I have made a mistake.

·The law is changing very rapidly and it’s difficult to keep up to date;

·Very occasionally – financial impact;

I accept that there is little point worrying about something over which you have no control. Remember the old adage: Worry is like a rocking horse; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.

The key point I am driving at when I ask the question during my talk though is whether you are aware of the risks you run in your practice and are taking an appropriate amount of precautions to limit the downside. As some of the respondents implied abov, you cannot be in practice, whatever your profession, and not run the risk of making a mistake that costs a client money or of a dissatisfied client alleging that you have been negligent. Equally you cannot operate effectively if you are constantly worried about these risks.

In my talk about How to avoid professional negligence claims I encourage attendees to recognise that the risk of problems arising can be distinguished between those likely to have a big impact and those that will have little impact. Equally some problems are more likely to occur than others. Your response to different risks should depend upon their potential likelihood and their potential impact.

I have written a 10,000 word ebook drawn from my talk on How to avoid professional negligence claims, containing tips and risk management advice for accountants in practice. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by