Where smaller firms of accountants are going wrong

Accountancy Age has published a profile piece on Peter Hargreaves (Chartered Accountant and founder of Hargreaves Lansdown).  In it he is quite scathing about certain elements of the profession. None more so than the smaller practitioner:

“They’re not doing a good enough job for clients, hence they can’t charge much for the work. A self-defeating spiral, where pressure on fees is rife from client and competitors.‘The problem is they can’t command the fees to do the job properly. The profession has failed singularly to create the right aura for the charging of fees. They’re different to lawyers, who tend to make good businessmen.”

“The problem is the mindset of accountants. They tend to be ‘mean’ with money, which makes them fear charging. ‘Because there are a few doing it for nearly nothing, the others feel they have to compete, but they’ll give you a bad service. A false economy.”

“Those who want accountants don’t know who’s good, and they try and pay very little.”

“Adding value is the key for practices, instead of just preparing accounts from a ‘bunch of invoices’, because ‘if that’s the service they’re offering they don’t service much for it – and if that’s what the client wants they don’t deserve a good accountant”.

“They should say to clients “we want to be in your offices every three months finding out what’s going on, where you make money, to help financially plan your business. If you make a big profit, should you do something before then, perhaps a marketing promotion and spend it this year while we’re profitable” etc. but of course lots of business don’t even know if they’ve made a profit until the accountants produce the accounts.”

Do you find that insulting or does any of what Peter says strike a chord? It’s pretty much the same sort of message as is offered (a little more gently perhaps) by organisations such as AVN, the 2020 group and Probiz. Please tell me what you think by way of comments on this blog.

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3 time management tips

I was asked for these when contributing to a business survey recently.

1 – Set up rules in your email management system to reduce the time absorbed by incoming emails.
2 – Book time in your diary for regular activities such as bookkeeping, invoicing, personal development, replying to emails etc. If client work has to be done in a slot reserved for key activities, move them to another date – in the same week.
3 – Set up a simple strategic plan with month by month activities to ensure you focus on working ON building your business beyond simply working IN the business. Then monitor and work that plan. (And reserve time in your diary to do this each month)

What else do you find works for you?


Facilitated partner meetings

A couple of recent enquiries have led to the same conclusion. It’s something that I was first engaged to do about 3 years ago but less often recently.  Maybe there has been an article somewhere or a speaker recommending the idea?

I don’t recall mentioning it myself in any of my articles, blog comments or talks. Still the idea is one to consider – and there are plenty of people around who could provide such a service if you have the time to check them out.

Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • “The junior partners are suspicious of our motives and plans”
  • “Our partner meetings are less productive than they could be”
  • “We need the partners to contribute more equally at our meetings”
  • “Why don’t we ever stick to the agenda and spend time on the important issues?

Each of these has been expressed to me in the past along with requests for me to help by facilitating partner meetings. Most recently the idea arose early in a partnership restructuring exercise. I was asked to play a key role in helping to manage the process and to address the concerns of junior partners by providing an independent view and explanation of the formal advice from third party advisers.

So, do consider the idea. If it appeals then by all means get in touch. I only have limited time for such engagements and, of necessity they need to be within easy reach of North West London. For those further afield I’d be delighted to put on my thinking hat to help find you someone suitable.

And if you’ve tried this and are willing to share your experience, do add your comments to this post. Other views also welcome.


Two top interview tips

Having been asked to contribute some tips to a careers magazine I thought I’d replicate them on this blog too.

I have always remembered the first time that someone I was interviewing asked if they could make notes. Of course my reply was ‘yes’.  Indeed I was impressed that they were evidently prepared, had asked my permission and noted down only key facts. Their notebook also contained prompts for questions they asked of me later in the interview.  This took place 20 years ago. I still remember it because it was the first time. But looking back I don’t recall many other candidates for jobs doing the same thing and when I was in practice I must have interviewed dozens and dozens of people.

So that’s my top tip. Remember that an interview is quite distinct from sitting an exam. I explained this to a young family friend recently before she attended her first ever job interview. I explained that she wasn’t “cheating” if she needed to check her notes before asking a question. I also stressed that it can look very professional to make notes during an interview as long as you don’t lose too much eye contact. So only try to note down key points. You can always supplement the notes later.

Tip number two is something that I would do if I were ever again an interviewee. I would look up the interviewer on the web. I’d check the firm’s website, I’d look them up on Google and on LinkedIn. I’m assuming that you will have already checked out the firm or company online before applying for the job or when the interview is arranged. But these days you can go a step further and look up the interviewer too.

I always try to check people out online before I attend pre-planned meetings. I note down a couple of salient facts and may use these or refer directly to the online profile during the meeting.  This can help you prepare for the meeting as you may find a photo of the person, you’ll remove a little of the uncertainty and you’ll often pick up a couple of things that will help you in building rapport with your interviewer.  But you do have to be careful when you do this. Not everyone I meet is net savvy (and the same will be true of some interviewers). It’s all too easy to freak someone out by revealing how much information you have found out about them online. And that’s something to avoid doing during an interview (and indeed at any time). So be careful!