Event tip: Where are you from?

I was one of the hosts at a recent business event and had invited a number of guests. As is the norm all received name badges that also had their company name on them.

Well, almost.

Those guests who had a single permanent role with one firm or company had that business name beneath their name on the badges.

I had sat down with a colleague before the event to help her decide what business name to put on the badges for those where it was less than clear. The reasons for the lack of clarity were due to certain guests having multiple roles, consultancies and/or business activity. In each case they had accepted the invitation by email but had not confirmed the business name that should appear on their badge.  We plundered my memory and checked Linkedin. In many cases it just wasn’t obvious.

In almost every case this was a missed opportunity as all names also appeared on the guest list either with no business name or perhaps simply that of their personal services company or the smaller of the companies with which they are associated. And this despite my best efforts to help our guests gain maximum exposure and benefit from their attendance.

My tip then is to ensure you always make clear what business name you would like used on guest badges and guest lists when you are invited to events.

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Invest time in the right things when formal tenders are required

I have long been Deputy Treasurer of a large charity in the care sector. My role means I sit on the audit committee (among others) and have a say in the appointment of new auditors.  We have just been through the process for the third time in 11 years.

Once again it was a revelation. I say this as someone who, when in practice, had contributed to many formal tender documents and presentation pitches.  If only I knew then what I know now. And I remember feeling exactly the same way after the first time I was on the receiving end of the tender documents and pitches for the charity.

Let me just share a few absolutely KEY points:

  1. The document is important and needs to be read through by someone outside of the bid team before it is finalised. Two of the 3 firms who bid this time round had missed key errors in the fee quotes which did not add up!
  2. The document does not win or lose you the job. BUT it does determine whether or not you are invited to a formal pitch. Once again we eliminated a firm whose tender document revealed the firm’s lack of experience and knowledge of our sector.
  3. At the formal presentation CHEMISTRY is key. Each member of the team needs to look interested in what their colleagues have to say, even if they have heard it many times before. Partners need to respect the role of managers – and simple body language clues can give a very clear impression of what’s really going on. I’ve seen non core members looking bored as if they had been dragged along against their will, I’ve seen an audit partner waiving dismissively in the direction of his audit manager when ‘introducing’ them and I’ve seen audit managers who only became animated when it is their turn to speak.
  4. Firms should invest MORE time in preparing for the presentation than they do in putting the bid document together. The choice of language used by the bid team and their ability to deal with questions and challenges in a professional way are key. They need to be sure that they will effectively evidence relevant skills, experience and expertise. Firms that have invested in appropriate presentation skills training and put the bid team through rigorous rehearsals stand out. Done well this puts them head and shoulders above the competition who will look second rate in comparison.

One or more of the above lessons have been apparent on each of the 5 occasions I have sat on the client’s side of the table for tenders (That’s 3 times for audit pitches and twice for investment managers).

I know of one firm whose managing partner insists that all bid teams present to him the day before they present to prospective clients. However good that is I would think it better that such rehearsals involve someone who the bid team have not met before. That could be a partner from another office, a third party friend of the firm or maybe an independent consultant. In the latter case perhaps it should be someone with relevant experience and insights to the audit tender process gained from sitting on both sides of the table. Let me know if you’d like to discuss this!

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Avoid this mistake when a client disputes your fee note

We’ve all had them. The client who sends a detailed letter/email listing a load of issues and problems.  Sadly I can recall having the odd one or two such missives when I was in practice.

I remember the feeling of indignation. The frustration at the unfairness of the accusations. The unreasonableness of the assertions and the one-sided nature of the complaint which totally ignored anyone’s perspective other than that of the client.

Yes, I know. The client is always right. Except they’re not. Sometimes they’re wrong, mistaken or liars.

I recall one occasion over ten years ago when I received a detailed list of issues from a client in response to the invoice issued by my tax manager. I went through the list and made a few notes. I gave these and the client’s letter to the tax manager to comment on. We crafted a point by point response. We were satisfied we had addressed all the points thoroughly and fairly. We sent our letter. This had the inevitable consequence.

We got another letter. With the benefit of hindsight I suspect the client was playing with us and playing for time. I don’t remember if there was another exchange of letters or not, but I do recall a meeting where we went through things line by line again.  Eventually the fee was paid and the final amount was not much different to the original bill.

I had made a fundamental mistake in replying to the complaint letter point by point.

What I should have done was to pick up the phone, apologise for any misunderstandings and ask what the client wanted. And then deliver that or discuss it in order to reach a fair result as quickly as possible.

Few clients WANT a line by line, point by point response to their letter of complaint. Your detailed reply simply invites another round of the same game. Perhaps the client is simply trying to buy some time before they will pay you in full, maybe they just want a small reduction in the fee or a change in the personnel dealing with their affairs. Maybe they want a big reduction in the fee. Maybe they are going to be so unreasonable that YOU should decide you don’t want them as a client any more.

Far better to reach one or other of those outcomes asap and get paid what you’re going to get paid asap. Don’t you agree?

Related posts:

7 steps to resolving client complaints

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Billing attitudes to quicky items of advice

The Tax Advice Network includes a private forum area where the tax adviser members can discuss and share ideas and issues. No one else can see or take part. A recent discussion concerned how different tax advisers deal with calls that only take 10 or 15 minutes.  A number of different views were expressed. My contribution was to refer back to a blog I posted last August: “I hope they’ll tell someone about me”

Of all the contributions from advisers who promote their services through the Tax Advice Network, this one seemed to be the most commercial. What do you think?

I am set up to bill small pieces of advice and  regular clients use me as an ad hoc advisory service for both large and small matters so I have no problem in charging for small bits of work. I see no benefit in giving free advice to professionals who phone up a stranger expecting something for nothing because that mindset probably repeats itself and they move on to the next mug. I am surprised that accountants would seek to do this because they, like us, are selling their time and expertise!

As an expert who only does one off work I stay well away from the notion of  a free initial consultation because there’s often nothing more to come anyway.  I have a different view of private individuals who are a riskier issue altogether and I am not surprised with the something for nothing chancers here. I tend not to advise at all without a formal engagement. There is little chance of any repeat work from this source but if bits of advice are given too freely and misused or misunderstood can we get sued and do we always have the full story anyway? I am very cautious with this in mind where I do not know the client.

Finally, why would we want to give our expertise away free? Even small bits of advice are often the product of years of experience and may save large amounts of tax. Surely this is worth something and I am reminded of a discussion at a partners meeting many years ago as to how to value the bit of advice that takes 15 minutes and save £1m. Do you charge 15 minutes or say £10,000+ (OK – it was a big 4 firm) for the umpteen years of training and experience that enables that answer to be given quickly?

It seems to me that if it is good advice then its worth paying for and if it’s good advice at a reasonable price then there should be a potential of good repeat work afterwards.

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Who is credited with writing your newsletters?

This is more of a question than an advisory piece although I don’t know how many readers of this blog will know the answer.

I was looking at another tax newsletter recently that I had received from quite a large firm of accountants. It’s a nicely produced bespoke newsletter with professional photos of each author alongside their name and contact details. The same newsletter is also available online. Most of the articles were attributed to tax managers, consultants and directors. The firms’ tax partners seemed not to have been very involved.  I’ve seen many similar such newsletters from smaller  firms that don’t have any specialist tax tax partners.

Does this absence of any reference to tax partners give the desired impression to recipients and readers of the newsletter?

Reasons for adopting this approach could be a mix of:

  • Allowing or encouraging those who have yet to make partner to get involved in PD activities
  • Tax partners are too busy
  • Giving credit where it’s due (rather than crediting tax partners for pieces written by staff)

If the recipients and readers of the newsletter are principally clients of the firm who know one or more of the tax partners I suspect all is well. For new contacts of the firm though I think this approach may be counter-productive.

What do they think about receiving a newsletter where the articles are not attributed to tax partners?

  • Doesn’t this firm have any tax partners? I’m not inclined to use or refer work to them if the most capable tax advisers have not made partner;

Or do they think:

  • I’m pleased this firm doesn’t waste their tax partners’ time on writing articles for newsletters. Better they focus on client work and resist the temptation to take credit for articles written by their staff;

Or do they think something else?

I wonder how many accountants who send out such newsletters KNOW the answer?

What do you think?

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