Do you always get the same old results no matter how hard you try?

Towards the end of a number of my business development related talks for accountants I often put up a slide containing the following statement:

If you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll carry on getting what you’ve always got

The point I’m seeking to make in highlighting this is quite simple.  There is no point in attending a training course, a lecture or a motivational talk (whether presented by me or anyone else) and then going back to work and doing the same as you’ve always done.  Listening, making notes and resolving to take note of the speaker’s advice and ideas is not enough.

You may have been entertained, educated and enthused (my audiences normally are anyway) but it’s of little value if you carry on doing things the same way as you’ve always done them.   If you do then you will continue to get the same outcomes as you always have before.

You have to do things differently to get different outcomes.  Doing things differently (eg: cold calling prospective clients) may involve just changing the time of day that you call people. But it’s also likely to require a change of style, approach and words.  But it will always involve YOU doing something differently. If YOU carry on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll carry on getting what you’ve always got.

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No one refers work to a business card

How often do you attend networking events where someone shoves their business card in your hand without waiting to be asked for one?

I learned long ago never to be a card shover. There’s no point. I always wait to be asked if I have a card AFTER we’ve spoken for a while.

I would stress that I’m referring here to networking events. It’s quite different when you attend a business meeting and everyone exchanges business cards. That’s normally to ensure that all those present know who else is there and which company they are from.

What is the point in shoving your business card into the hand of someone who hasn’t expressed any interest in it?

At best the card will be added to a database of contacts and the person in question may be able to claim to have met their quota of new people that week or month.

At worst you’ll get added to their mailing list (and start receiving emails and/or post that you may or may not want). There is also a good chance that the impression you give is a bad one; that you struggle to build personal relationships and are simply yet another boring accountant.

There is next to NO CHANCE that the person who gets your card will refer work to you, act as your advocate or decide to engage with you. Why? Because no one refers work to a business card.

Edit: I posted a follow-up to this blog post at the end of 2012 after sorting through and throwing out hundreds and hundreds of business cards collected over a six or seven year period.

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It's not merge or die – it's network or die

At a recent conference I attended the question was asked of smaller professional firms – ‘Merge or die’? Is there a future for smaller firms and one man bands?

In my view the answer is unquestionably ‘yes’. Indeed it is becoming ever easy to run a profitable and successful smaller firm (whether it comprises just one sole practitioner working alone, a few staff or a small number of partners).

There is no need to merge small firms. Indeed, I’ve seen too many mergers achieve very little other than to delay the inevitable. The failure of merged practices is more to do with the fact that merging two small weak practices does not of itself create a strong sustainable practice.

Rather than ‘merge or die’, I would suggest a far more relevant mantra for smaller firms and sole practitioners – ‘network or die’.

In this context ‘network’ has two meanings:

1 – To become part of one or more networks of complementary suppliers or services. To ensure that you know who to turn to when clients require services or advice on issues that are outside of your expertise. [If the client needs tax advice that’s outside your area of expertise, do consider the Tax Advice Network – the UK’s first independent network of tax advisers]

2 – To be an active and effective networker.

That means understanding that networking is a long game. It’s fishing not harpooning. Networking requires you to create advocates, people who know you and what you do sufficiently well that they can identify situations when they can make valuable referrals. That’s likely to be more valuable than simply knowing you’re an accountant or a solicitor and listening out for when someone wants a new accountant or a new solicitor. If that happens you are just one of many indistinguishable potential new accountants or solicitors. How much better to be evidently different and more highly recommended than the others. I also mentioned a similar point in a recent post on this blog: What’s special about your firm – really?

I have also explained more about networking in 35 previous entries on this blog – this one in particular explodes the myth that you need to be outgoing and extravert to be an effective networker. On the contrary…

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It’s not merge or die – it’s network or die

At a recent conference I attended the question was asked of smaller professional firms – ‘Merge or die’? Is there a future for smaller firms and one man bands?

In my view the answer is unquestionably ‘yes’. Indeed it is becoming ever easy to run a profitable and successful smaller firm (whether it comprises just one sole practitioner working alone, a few staff or a small number of partners).

There is no need to merge small firms. Indeed, I’ve seen too many mergers achieve very little other than to delay the inevitable. The failure of merged practices is more to do with the fact that merging two small weak practices does not of itself create a strong sustainable practice.

Rather than ‘merge or die’, I would suggest a far more relevant mantra for smaller firms and sole practitioners – ‘network or die’.

In this context ‘network’ has two meanings:

1 – To become part of one or more networks of complementary suppliers or services. To ensure that you know who to turn to when clients require services or advice on issues that are outside of your expertise. [If the client needs tax advice that’s outside your area of expertise, do consider the Tax Advice Network – the UK’s first independent network of tax advisers]

2 – To be an active and effective networker.

That means understanding that networking is a long game. It’s fishing not harpooning. Networking requires you to create advocates, people who know you and what you do sufficiently well that they can identify situations when they can make valuable referrals. That’s likely to be more valuable than simply knowing you’re an accountant or a solicitor and listening out for when someone wants a new accountant or a new solicitor. If that happens you are just one of many indistinguishable potential new accountants or solicitors. How much better to be evidently different and more highly recommended than the others. I also mentioned a similar point in a recent post on this blog: What’s special about your firm – really?

I have also explained more about networking in 35 previous entries on this blog – this one in particular explodes the myth that you need to be outgoing and extravert to be an effective networker. On the contrary…

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Ditch the duff clients

Given the hundreds of posts on this blog it’s quite feasible that I’ve shared this advice before. But it’s a natural follow up to yesterday’s posting about focusing on current clients.  It also seems to crop up in almost every lecture or talk that I present to accountants and tax advisers.

Simply stated – if you were to categorise your clients and to distinguish the best from the worst, you would find you have a rump of D-list duff clients. You know the type.  They probably don’t like paying commercial fees. They almost certainly pay late. They may expect you to drop everything for them. They may need you to work late, to do things last minute, to take chances and possibly even to lower your standards.

If you have staff, they probably don’t like working for the D-list clients, they put off dealing with their stuff or maybe they hate them so much they put the D-list clients ahead of  Good clients – just so as to get them out of their hair asap.

Last month I raised this issue in the context of the Pareto principle, better known as the 80:20 rule.  If you’re spending a disproportionate amount of your time on D-list clients you owe it to yourself, to your staff and to your GOOD clients, to ditch the D-listers.

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First focus on what you have – before you try to win new clients

So many professional firms seem to focus on winning new clients – it’s scary. What about the existing clients? In some firms around 90% of fees come from the same clients year on year. Here are some questions to ask about your recurring clients before you start focusing on trying to win new ones:

  • Are they well served? Are you sure that’s what THEY perceive? How do you know?
  • Would they be happy to recommend you to other people? (yes – Are you sure? no- what would you need to do to improve their perceptions?)
  • Are you aware of what other services they need that you or your firm could provide? (That’s not the same as focusing on what additional services you could sell them!)
  • If the client expresses a need that you’re not best placed to satisfy, Are you well placed to introduce complementary service providers, who are not in competition with you? [If the client needs tax advice that’s outside your area of expertise, do consider the Tax Advice Network – the UK’s first independent network of tax advisers]
  • Have you asked your clients to recommend you to people they know who might need your services?
  • Do your clients know what sort of people you are targeting or where you have a degree of expertise or specialism?
  • Do your clients know HOW to introduce you when they act as your advocate? Is it sufficient to say ‘My accountant’ or ‘My solicitor’? Do they know of any specialisms that help distinguish you from other accountants or solicitors?
  • Do you spend too much time working for ‘duff’ clients? – I’ll explain this further in a future post on this blog

It has been suggested that it can take 6-10 times as much time and effort to win new work from new clients as to win new work from existing clients.  That’s why it makes sense to first focus on the ones you have before devoting enormous time and effort to win new clients from scratch all by yourself.

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>>>

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How to develop good listening skills

These are so important as ambitious professionals need to be good listeners. We have to listen to our clients, our colleagues, our staff, our partners, our suppliers, our prospects and our prospective clients.

So here are a number of tips that, if practiced, will ensure that you are seen to be a good listener:

  • Stop talking – you cannot listen if you are talking.
  • Put the client at ease – help the speaker to feel they are free to talk.
  • Show the client you want to listen – sound interested.
  • Remove distractions – don’t doodle, tap or shuffle papers. Can you reduce the surrounding noise?
  • Empathise with the client – try to put yourself in the client’s place so that you can see their point of view. First try to understand then try to be understood.
  • Be patient – allow plenty of time. Do not interrupt.
  • Control emotions and temper – an angry person gets the wrong meaning from words. Avoid jumping to the wrong conclusions.
  • Go easy on argument and criticism – this puts the client on the defensive. They may ‘clam up’ or get angry. Do not argue: even if you win, you lose. “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”
  • Ask questions – this encourages the client and shows you are listening. It helps to develop points further.
    Concentrate on what the client is saying – follow the main ideas; sometimes we hear only the examples, stories and statistics. Don’t allow your reactions to distract you from the key concepts.

Nature gave us two ears but only one tongue, which is a gentle hint that we should listen more than we talk. To become better listeners, we must be interested in what others have to say and less preoccupied with ourselves.

Can you think of any more tips to add as comments on this post?

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>>>

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