"It's more important to be different than it is to be better"

I was speaking at the CIMA members in practice annual conference last week about ‘Making more money from your tax work – without fancy tax schemes‘.

Also speaking at the conference was my old friend Chris Frederiksen of the 2020 group. Elements of my presentations have been inspired by Chris over the years – indeed ever since I first heard him speak some 15 plus years ago.

One of the many key points that Chris shared last week was a quote he attributed to Jeremy Harbinson:

“It’s more important to be different than it is to be better”

It struck me that this reinforces a similar point I have been making in various posts on this blog recently.

Even if you are ‘better’ than your competitors, very few prospective clients will be able to judge this – especially before they have engaged you. If you are ‘different’ however, you can stand out, be remembered, recommended and retained.

When Chris asked the audience few of them were able to express REAL differences in ways that would be understood by and appeal to prospective clients. What about you?

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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“It’s more important to be different than it is to be better”

I was speaking at the CIMA members in practice annual conference last week about ‘Making more money from your tax work – without fancy tax schemes‘.

Also speaking at the conference was my old friend Chris Frederiksen of the 2020 group. Elements of my presentations have been inspired by Chris over the years – indeed ever since I first heard him speak some 15 plus years ago.

One of the many key points that Chris shared last week was a quote he attributed to Jeremy Harbinson:

“It’s more important to be different than it is to be better”

It struck me that this reinforces a similar point I have been making in various posts on this blog recently.

Even if you are ‘better’ than your competitors, very few prospective clients will be able to judge this – especially before they have engaged you. If you are ‘different’ however, you can stand out, be remembered, recommended and retained.

When Chris asked the audience few of them were able to express REAL differences in ways that would be understood by and appeal to prospective clients. What about you?

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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Ten top tips to avoid professional negligence claims

I created this list recently for a forthcoming article in the professional press. It’s drawn from my talk, How to avoid tax related professional negligence claims, which I have been presenting all over the UK for the last few years.

1 – When providing tax advice always state the known facts on which your advice is based – in writing;

2 – Equally state any assumptions you have made – in writing;

3 – Create contemporaneous notes of all material advice and of the assumptions you provide during meetings and telephone conversations;

4 – When advising, ask yourself whether you’d be happy for a close friend or family member to rely on the advice. If you’re not sure, do additional research, get a second opinion or involve a tax specialist colleague or trusted third-party (such as a member of the Tax Advice Network)

5 – When advising clients of forthcoming deadlines, focus their attention on the date that you need to the information to beat the statutory deadline;

6 – Avoid under-pricing work and introducing time-pressure that could exacerbate mistakes;

7 –Stick to what you know. If a client requires or requests advice on subjects outside of your comfort zone, involve a tax specialist colleague or trusted third-party (see above!);

8 – Stop working for those clients who are more trouble than they are worth. These are the clients who resist paying decent fees, don’t contribute to the growth of your practice and who are most likely to complain, given half a chance.

9 – Manage client expectations and avoid over-promising and under-delivery. Remember that a client’s perception of these may be very different from yours.

10 – Keep uptodate – eg: with the free weekly email containing practical topical tax tips for accountants in general practice from the Tax Advice Network.

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>>>

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Networking groups are a waste of time – or are they?

I’ve heard plenty of accountants express such views. Equally I’ve heard plenty of accountants extol the virtues and benefits of the networking groups to which they belong. Is it a question of luck, who else is there or is the reason for the differing views more a question of the accountant’s attitude and approach?

A friend of mine, Andy Lopata, who is a networking strategy consultant, recently shared the following story:

I have seen people turn up to networking events without any focus, they’ve had no idea as to why they are there. As a result, they’ve achieve nothing. I’ve even seen an accountant stand up at a BRE meeting for his 60 second presentation, only to say ‘I’ve got nothing to say this week’!!! That’s what a lack of strategy, a lack of planning, a lack of focus will bring you.

Now I know that there are plenty of accountants who attend regular breakfast meetings of networking groups like BNI, BRE (now BRX), BoB and the like. If you’ve tried one and considered it was a waste of time, have you thought through why you felt that?

Did you have realistic expectations or did you expect people to immediately ask you to take over their accounting and tax affairs? Did you expect them to take your card, know who you could best help, why you were special and different to the other accountants they already know and then to refer their family and friends to you?

In my own case, I know that BNI meetings are not for me. I do enjoy NRG meetings however – they are mid day events, include a useful seminar and a lunch with other professional people. They are right for me and I have realistic expectations as to what benefits I can hope to achieve by attending them.

What about you?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Confidence – inside you or through others' views of you

In 2001 after I joined WJB Chiltern, the tax consultancy now owned by BDO Stoy Hayward, I became head of the Tax Support for Professionals (TSP) team.

The main backbone of the TSP service was Taxline, a tax telephone helpline service. Each day a different member of the team was allocated to answer the phones. Calls came in from accountants wanting advice on all aspects of tax. I recall sharing my admiration of the guys in my team who had the confidence to pick up the Taxline phone. On one occasion I said to John (an older member of the team) that I didn’t think I had a deep enough knowledge across the tax spectrum to answer the Taxline myself. I’ve long remembered his reply as he was evidently quite shocked:

You’re being harsh on yourself Mark. You invariably suggest additional points when we debrief on the calls of the day. And I’ve heard you on the phone often enough to know that you do have a broader knowledge of tax than you give yourself credit for. You wouldn’t have got to where you are otherwise.

John’s comments were not intended to have a long lasting and powerful impact. They were simply his instinctive response to my apparent reluctance to man the Taxline. That, in turn, was partly a reflection of a lack of inner confidence – a common enough feeling for many of us. I’m well over that now! Indeed John’s words have stayed with me and helped force a change in the way that I subsequently described my tax knowledge.

In some respects that conversation was also a catalyst for the creation of the Tax Advice Network. I may well have a good broad knowledge of the tax system but I’m not confident that I am uptodate sufficiently to give advice on which accountants or anyone else can rely. I know sufficient about what’s going on to comment on developments, to write and to lecture but I’m no longer interested in giving definitive advice myself any more. So now I refer anyone who asks me for tax advice to members of my Tax Advice Network.

One of the most powerful factors that affects whether an accountant will refer tax queries to us is the level of confidence that they have. Are they

  • Rightly confident that they know enough and that there is little chance of being wrong?
  • Over confident and reluctant to seek a second opinion?
  • Lacking in confidence and worried that clients will think less of them if they admit what they don’t know? (They’ll certainly be unhappy if the accountant gets it wrong, that’s for sure. Most clients recognise that their accountant is like their GP and that sometimes there is a need to go to a specialist);

What about you?

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Confidence – inside you or through others’ views of you

In 2001 after I joined WJB Chiltern, the tax consultancy now owned by BDO Stoy Hayward, I became head of the Tax Support for Professionals (TSP) team.

The main backbone of the TSP service was Taxline, a tax telephone helpline service. Each day a different member of the team was allocated to answer the phones. Calls came in from accountants wanting advice on all aspects of tax. I recall sharing my admiration of the guys in my team who had the confidence to pick up the Taxline phone. On one occasion I said to John (an older member of the team) that I didn’t think I had a deep enough knowledge across the tax spectrum to answer the Taxline myself. I’ve long remembered his reply as he was evidently quite shocked:

You’re being harsh on yourself Mark. You invariably suggest additional points when we debrief on the calls of the day. And I’ve heard you on the phone often enough to know that you do have a broader knowledge of tax than you give yourself credit for. You wouldn’t have got to where you are otherwise.

John’s comments were not intended to have a long lasting and powerful impact. They were simply his instinctive response to my apparent reluctance to man the Taxline. That, in turn, was partly a reflection of a lack of inner confidence – a common enough feeling for many of us. I’m well over that now! Indeed John’s words have stayed with me and helped force a change in the way that I subsequently described my tax knowledge.

In some respects that conversation was also a catalyst for the creation of the Tax Advice Network. I may well have a good broad knowledge of the tax system but I’m not confident that I am uptodate sufficiently to give advice on which accountants or anyone else can rely. I know sufficient about what’s going on to comment on developments, to write and to lecture but I’m no longer interested in giving definitive advice myself any more. So now I refer anyone who asks me for tax advice to members of my Tax Advice Network.

One of the most powerful factors that affects whether an accountant will refer tax queries to us is the level of confidence that they have. Are they

  • Rightly confident that they know enough and that there is little chance of being wrong?
  • Over confident and reluctant to seek a second opinion?
  • Lacking in confidence and worried that clients will think less of them if they admit what they don’t know? (They’ll certainly be unhappy if the accountant gets it wrong, that’s for sure. Most clients recognise that their accountant is like their GP and that sometimes there is a need to go to a specialist);

What about you?

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Services that accountants outsource within the UK

Funny how some topics become topical. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece ‘Outsourcing – doesn’t have to mean an overseas call centre’. Then last week I noted that a new debate has started on AccountingWeb: “We believe British Accountants can only benefit from growth in outsourcing.”

For those who don’t visit that site let me repeat here much of what I posted by way of an early comment in the debate:

To my mind, ‘outsourcing’ means sourcing suppliers of work that will be performed OUTside the firm and that would otherwise be done by employees INside the firm.. As Steve mentions, outsourcing OVERSEAS is not the only way to outsource.

So let’s move away from the preconceptions that outsourcing is synonymous with off shoring.

In recent weeks alone I have come across firms who outsource (within the UK) the following:

– Bookkeeping for clients (indeed, some weren’t even previously offering the service to clients);
– Payroll services for clients;
– Company secretarial work for clients;
– Tax planning and support (in effect avoiding the cost of having high level tax expertise in house and on tap 5 days a week);
– Provision of credit to clients who want time to pay their fees (why act as a bank by allowing clients extended credit terms – often at no charge?)
– Typing and transcription services;
– Telephone answering;
– Writing newsletters for clients;
– Tax return preparation work in the UK.

To my mind all of the above constitute outsourcing. I suspect however that the focus of this debate is intended to be of the outsourcing of accounts preparation, tax return compliance an similar services to offshore suppliers in places like India, Israel and South Africa.

The tax planning and support operation to which I refer is of course my Tax Advice Network (Register your name and email address on the site to receive our free weekly practical tax update, written especially for accountants in general practice). Beyond that, if any readers of my blog would like further details of the suppliers of any of the above services please let me know I’ll be happy to effect an introduction.

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Why don't accountants like to earn commission?

I realised recently that this is the unasked question behind a number of approaches I have received in recent months. Such approaches tend to come from business service providers who want my views as to how they can best work with accountants.

Invariably they start from the premise that accountants would want to promote the new service and the provider to their clients as there’s a healthy commission in it for the accountants. Easy money. And yet the service provider is struggling to generate interest among the accountants they know, let alone the ones they have yet to approach.

In this connection I was recently asked an interesting question:

Does the offer of money for referrals dilute the proposition of a partnership?
In my view few accountants will make a referral purely because of a possible referral fee/reward. Some will have no interest in one at all. Others are more commercial and can see it makes sense especially if they’ve saved the service provider spending as much on more direct marketing costs. However I also think that the ‘offer’ can undermine the prospect for a longer term relationship if mentioned too early.

What do you think?

Of course, when it comes to regulated financial services advice there are specific regulations and rules with which qualified advisers must comply. I guess that for some people that’s more hassle than they think it might be worth.

Equally I’m aware of statistics suggesting that most accountancy firms could generate at least 20% more turnover (if not profit) by providing financial services to their client base.

I’d value your views and comments on this post.

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Why don’t accountants like to earn commission?

I realised recently that this is the unasked question behind a number of approaches I have received in recent months. Such approaches tend to come from business service providers who want my views as to how they can best work with accountants.

Invariably they start from the premise that accountants would want to promote the new service and the provider to their clients as there’s a healthy commission in it for the accountants. Easy money. And yet the service provider is struggling to generate interest among the accountants they know, let alone the ones they have yet to approach.

In this connection I was recently asked an interesting question:

Does the offer of money for referrals dilute the proposition of a partnership?
In my view few accountants will make a referral purely because of a possible referral fee/reward. Some will have no interest in one at all. Others are more commercial and can see it makes sense especially if they’ve saved the service provider spending as much on more direct marketing costs. However I also think that the ‘offer’ can undermine the prospect for a longer term relationship if mentioned too early.

What do you think?

Of course, when it comes to regulated financial services advice there are specific regulations and rules with which qualified advisers must comply. I guess that for some people that’s more hassle than they think it might be worth.

Equally I’m aware of statistics suggesting that most accountancy firms could generate at least 20% more turnover (if not profit) by providing financial services to their client base.

I’d value your views and comments on this post.

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Are accountants as 'stupid' as lawyers?

I recently listened to a podcast by professional services guru, David Maister. It was a recording of a presentation he had given to a group of lawyers in which he accused them of being ‘stupid’. Vividly, loudly and sincerely. When he explained why he had levelled this accusation at them they had no choice but to agree.  Listening to this exchange I realised that David was making the same point as one that I highlight during my talks and training courses on Making more profits from your smaller clients.

To an extent I also paraphrased my advice on this point in a recent post on this blog: First focus on what you have – before you try to win new clients

What David did was to ask the lawyers how they got most of their new valuable work. The most common response was that such work typically came from word of mouth personal introductions and referrals. I tend to get a similar response when I ask accountants the same question. Is it true for you too?

During my talks I highlight the often quoted statistic that it typically takes ten times as much time and effort to secure valuable work from a new contact as it does to get similarly valuable work from or through an existing client. TEN TIMES.

Now let’s consider how you allocate your non-billable marketing and networking time. Do you or your bosses or colleagues sanction time spent preparing adverts and marketing events? What about attending those events, networking meetings and external functions? If you’re like most accountants looking to grow their practices you will make time for many such activities.

What about your existing clients? Again, if you are like many accountants, and certainly those in larger firms, you will be encouraged to record all time spent with clients as potentially billable. Irrecoverable time costs are frowned upon so best avoided. What behaviour does that approach, that VERY COMMON approach, discourage? In effect it acts as a disincentive to spend time building and developing relationships that could, indeed should, help you to win more valuable and profitable work than your more general and unfocused networking and advertising.

So tell me, are accountants as ‘stupid’ as lawyers?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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