How much free advice do you give to prospective clients?

As we’re providing professional (personal) services many of us tend to think we have to give some of our time away for nothing to strangers (whom we describe as ‘prospective clients’).  This is quite a standard approach for accountants who are offering recurring annual services including accounts and tax work.

But when it comes to specialist advice that is to be provided as a one-off to a ‘new’ client, how much time is it worth giving away?

Well, if the advice in question is likely to result only in a low fee, the answer should be – Not a lot. Equally, the longer we spend with someone who has yet to agree to pay us, the more we are likely to be ‘giving away’ such that they then ‘go away’ having found out enough to do it themselves.

There are techniques that some successful advisers use to limit the time they have to give away and to prequalify callers earlier in the process. Even those of us who are aware of (and teach) these techniques sometimes forget. One key tip is to note down your preferred sequence of questions. You have to be comfortable that the sequence and the questions suit your style and approach of course.

Related post: How to avoid giving free advice to prospects

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Accountants' alumni – revisited

I wrote about the good and bad of alumni lists on this blog recently.

Last night I attended another alumni do – this time it was at BDO Stoy Hayward’s beautiful new offices on Baker Street, London.

Regular readers will know that I remain a big fan of BDO. Last night reinforced such feelings.  It might help others who are considering arranging alumni functions if I set out some of my related thoughts:

  • I was invited by the alumni manager who found me on the LinkedIn business networking site. Anyone who doesn’t use this new facility to track alumni isn’t really trying.
  • As part of the invitation process guests were asked who are our ongoing contacts at the firm and who we worked most closely with, what positions we held and how long we worked there (or at a predecessor firm)
  • All guests received a list of the guests (which I’ve learned is quite normal). The BDO list though went a stage further and included a couple of paras about many of the guests (self penned).
  • The managing partner was present and made a well paced welcome speech – it included some upto date facts and stats about the firm and stressed that the firm hoped that we (the alumni) would continue to be good friends and advocates for the firm.  And it wasn’t too long.
  • Other offices of the firm will be hosting similar events over the coming weeks – it’s not just a London centric issue.
  • Plenty of partners attended the event and did what they always do – acted as great ambassadors for the firm. Those with whom I talked seemed genuinely pleased to see me and the other alumni present.
  • The food and drink was great and the event was hosted in the main reception area at the firm’s new offices.

I gained the impression that BDO were not simply going through the motions. They are committed to their alumni and recognise the value in having ex employees and ex partners being well disposed towards the firm.  It’s an approach I would commend to other ambitious accountancy firms of all sizes.

Given the nature of the event all guests seemed to find it easy to hold conversations with people all around them.  Many of the other networking challenges about which I often speak to groups of accountants, were less apparent than usual. I was amused though by the number of guests who either didn’t have a business card with them or struggled to extricate their cards from their bag, wallet or pocket. Some things never change.

Do you have any stories to share about alumni lists or functions?

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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Accountants’ alumni – revisited

I wrote about the good and bad of alumni lists on this blog recently.

Last night I attended another alumni do – this time it was at BDO Stoy Hayward’s beautiful new offices on Baker Street, London.

Regular readers will know that I remain a big fan of BDO. Last night reinforced such feelings.  It might help others who are considering arranging alumni functions if I set out some of my related thoughts:

  • I was invited by the alumni manager who found me on the LinkedIn business networking site. Anyone who doesn’t use this new facility to track alumni isn’t really trying.
  • As part of the invitation process guests were asked who are our ongoing contacts at the firm and who we worked most closely with, what positions we held and how long we worked there (or at a predecessor firm)
  • All guests received a list of the guests (which I’ve learned is quite normal). The BDO list though went a stage further and included a couple of paras about many of the guests (self penned).
  • The managing partner was present and made a well paced welcome speech – it included some upto date facts and stats about the firm and stressed that the firm hoped that we (the alumni) would continue to be good friends and advocates for the firm.  And it wasn’t too long.
  • Other offices of the firm will be hosting similar events over the coming weeks – it’s not just a London centric issue.
  • Plenty of partners attended the event and did what they always do – acted as great ambassadors for the firm. Those with whom I talked seemed genuinely pleased to see me and the other alumni present.
  • The food and drink was great and the event was hosted in the main reception area at the firm’s new offices.

I gained the impression that BDO were not simply going through the motions. They are committed to their alumni and recognise the value in having ex employees and ex partners being well disposed towards the firm.  It’s an approach I would commend to other ambitious accountancy firms of all sizes.

Given the nature of the event all guests seemed to find it easy to hold conversations with people all around them.  Many of the other networking challenges about which I often speak to groups of accountants, were less apparent than usual. I was amused though by the number of guests who either didn’t have a business card with them or struggled to extricate their cards from their bag, wallet or pocket. Some things never change.

Do you have any stories to share about alumni lists or functions?

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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Good agendas for meetings

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my views on the benefits of good agendas for meetings with clients.

The subject of agendas for in-house meetings came up recently on a business forum and I shared the following thoughts which are worth recording here too.

I’m thinking here of the weekly or monthly team meetings and partner meetings that occur in many firms of accountants.

All too often the agenda for such regular meetings is more of a simple crib sheet of the topics that the group has always discussed. In my experience of working in various places where this happened, meetings could become pretty lively whenever a new item was added to the ‘list’ – whether under ‘any other business’ or earlier in the agenda.

The reason for new items livening up the meeting was not always positive. Typically only one person knew why the item had been added. As a result the ensuing discussion and debate was a struggle. No one else had thought about the issue beforehand and statements were made based on assumptions  and vague recollections.  Inevitably the whole process was repeated at the following meeting as by that time everyone had done their research. The reason this was so common was that no one knew the context or reason for the additional agenda item. Each person arrived at the meeting with a different set of assumptions.

My preferred starting point is to ensure that each agenda item has a sub-note that indicates what information will be required, who will lead the discussion and, where relevant, what the desired output is. Here are some examples that highlight how easy it is to cause confusion if you just add a simple item such as ‘sales leads’ to a traditional agenda.

Sales leads
Discussion led by Nick as to how we could increase the number of sales leads.

Sales leads
Report by each team member as to opportunities identified in the last month and progress on converting last month’s leads

Sales leads
Mark to explain why he thinks we’d get more leads if we used a different telemarketing company

Without the clarification it’s unlikely that more than one or two people will know what is to be discussed or why it’s on the agenda. WITH the clarification there’s much more chance of having a focused discussion first time round. And this means less wasted time in meetings and that has to be a good thing.

Do you have any other agenda tips to shareby way of comments on this blog post?

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Setting fee rates – using costs incurred or value provided?

Pricing the work that we do for clients is never easy.  When I worked for larger firms many years ago fees were determined by reference to ‘costs on the clock’ – ie: the aggregate of staff and partner time costs as measured by timesheets.  Charge out rates were commonly set at about three times the related salary costs. The rough rule of thumb being one-third salary, one-third overhead and one-third ‘profit’.  A more modern formula perhaps being one-half, one quarter, one quarter respectively.

I don’t want to get into the whole ‘trashing the timesheet‘ and value pricing debate here. I would like though to share a point I recently contributed to an online forum.  It will be especially relevant if you are a sole practitioner and thinking about your pricing policy.

Sole practitioner A works from home and uses a pay as you go telephone answering service so has few costs to cover. Sole practitioner B works from offices and with secretarial support so has more costs to cover. They provide the same service. The client perceives no difference. Indeed sole practitioner B may previously have been working from home just like sole practitioner A.

Why shouldn’t A and B charge the same fees? If A charges less because he/she is based at home, what happens when the decision is made to move to an office? Cost base goes up. But clients perceive no difference in service so wouldn’t want to pay more.

Answer? Fees should be set by reference to the value provided to client as perceived by the client. Practitioners will aim to keep the costs of servicing clients to a minimum but those costs are rarely relevant to the fees charged.

I used to work in large firms with varying charge out rates for different grades of staff. If a job could be done by a junior member of staff but they were unavailable and a manager did it instead the client should not be asked to pay more – unless they perceive they have benefited – ie: received more value than they would have done if the junior person had done the work. This rarely happens in practice.

Does this make sense to you?  How do you determine your fees?

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 memorable are you?

Although now focused on ‘ambitious accountants’ this blog started life as containing advice and ideas for a more generic audience of ‘ambitious professionals’. The following idea is SO good that I’m going to share it here anyway, although, I have yet to identify a way to adapt it effectively for accountants.

At a business networking event recently I met Christopher Higenbottam. I asked what he did and he told me he is an architect. (Indeed it transpires he is the MD of Tempietto Architects). We talked for a while about his work.  After a few minutes I think I asked him whether there was anything specific that distinguished his practice from that of other architects I might know.  I often ask variations of this question.  And it’s an important one for professional advisers (especially accountants) to be able to answer convincingly.

Most professionals, in my experience, fall back onto the hackneyed stand bys. They often talk about offering a ‘personal service’ (sometimes they even seem to believe that this is special, just like ALL of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors who say the same thing).  Other common  replies, that also fail to make the adviser memorable or distinctive focus on other intangible service elements.

When I ask the question it’s because I want to know what to listen out for when talking to people who might need the person’s services. If I’m not a potential consumer of the  services myself I want to know why I should remember and recommend that person rather than any of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors I have met.  Knowing that a solicitor, for example, specialises in employment law is not enough.  I know dozens of employment lawyers.

Equally, when you meet people at networking events you need to appreciate that they have probably met loads of other accountants in the past.  I have addressed this need to be memorable many times on this blog.

So what did Christopher Higenbottam tell me that made him stand out? He focused on one element of his services – homes for individuals. I recall he talked about some special homes that he had designed.  Then he did something no one has ever done with me at a networking event before. He pulled out his iphone and showed me a short slide show containing 6 photos of beautiful homes he has designed. And guess what? I REMEMBER him.

As I said at the start of this blog, I’m not sure how this idea could be replicated by accountants. Showing a few photos of a well bound and balanced set of accounts for example wouldn’t have the same impact!  I’ve had a few thoughts whilst typing this post. None of them serious.  Perhaps you can do better?  Do please add your thoughts 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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WikiJob – for ambitious accountants

I came across an intriguing website recently that is worth referencing on this blog.

It will be of interest to ambitious accountants seeking a new job or who work in one of the larger firms.  One of the guys behind  WikiJob tells me that:

We challenge large accountancy employers by offering their employees and prospective employees (students and graduates) the chance to rate and discuss them and their recruitment procedures.

The list of around 70 firms’ profiles discussed on the site already includes most of the ‘usual’ suspects and some smaller ones too – including a fair few that are NOT centred on London.

The Wiki profiles are open for anyone to edit, which means the information inside them has been written by both candidates and companies. For those whose only knowledge of a Wiki is Wikipedia it’s worth noting that a wiki is a collaborative writing effort where users can create, edit and publish articles. Wikipedia is simply the most well known wiki.

Here’s a great 3 and a half minute video that explains what a wiki is in Plain English and how it works. It’s very clear – if you can bear the heavy american accent.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/-dnL00TdmLY&hl=en&fs=1]

I think I would have enjoyed contributing to such a site earlier in my career. I would probably also have  benefitted from using it as, over the years I was in practice, I worked for or had interviews with many of the firms listed!

Have a look at  WikiJob if it’s of interest and do please provide some feedback here by way of comments on this post.

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Unsolicited testimonial for an unknown accountant

I saw this on a private business network forum yesterday:

“Our accountant charged us £150 per month for the first 12 months of the business, including payroll, quarterly VAT returns and annual accounts. We pay extra for our own tax returns but he does those too. After a year, he said he needed to put his price up to us – having given us a special start up, first year rate. I gulped and prepared myself: he asked for £250 per month, including migrating us to Sage et all. Very good value I think.”

Hats off to the unknown accountant concerned. The business concerned has only a handful of staff and turns over less than £100,000.  First year’s fee £1800 plus additional for the directors’ tax returns (husband and wife).  Next year’s fee will be £3000.  AND THE CLIENT IS CLEARLY VERY HAPPY!!!

Why do you think that is and what lessons can you draw from this story?  Please add your comments to this thread.

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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