25 reasons people change their accountants

The following list is a salutary lesson in what not to do if you want to keep your clients.

I have collated these points from various ideas found around the web. Such lists are normally aimed at encouraging clients of one accountant to move to another one.  I thought it would be instructive to consider the same points from the perspective of an accountant.

Some of what follows will be facts. Some will be feelings and some will be false. But, even in the latter case, as I have often said: Perception is Reality. If any of your clients think of you as boring or uninterested you may well be at risk of them being poached by a more stand out and successful accountant.

You are at risk of clients being tempted away if:

  1. Their phone calls are not returned promptly
  2. Promises, expectations and agreed deadlines not met.
  3. Their work is not completed on a timely basis affording clients practically no time to make changes or ask questions.
  4. You are providing poor value for money.
  5. You are not evidently trying to help them to pay less tax.
  6. You are not providing what they perceive to be a proactive service.
  7. You make mistakes or have to accept there is a better solution when clients question your advice.
  8. They have unexpected tax liabilities
  9. They get charged penalties and interest charges about which you had not forewarned them
  10. You charge unexpected or additional fees without warning clients of these in advance.
  11. You seem to lack sufficient relevant technical knowledge.
  12. Your resources are limited such that clients don’t feel they are getting prompt attention.
  13. You are only really in contact with them once a year.
  14. Their business has out-grown you and the resources you are able to muster.
  15. They perceive that you are more interested in last year’s accounts than planning for the future.
  16. You rarely talk about ways to help them increase their profits.
  17. You have not discussed (in recent years) their exit plans – for selling the business or retirement.
  18. You never call them to enquire “How’s business?”
  19. You never ask them tough business questions.
  20. They perceive that you use too much jargon such they they find it difficult to understand you.
  21. They feel that they never know what you will charge them
  22. You don’t explain your ideas, preferring instead to act “the expert”, and expecting them to find enjoyment and value in listening to you pontificate.
  23. They perceive you to routinely say “no” rather than listening to what they want to do.
  24. They perceive that you don’t attempt to formulate ideas to help them reach their true goals.
  25. They perceive that you only talk numbers and taxes, nothing else. Clients feel absolutely no chemistry or rapport with you.

I doubt that all clients would have the same perceptions.  But if you think about that subset of your client base who may be unhappy you can at least start to turn things around with them. The actions to take are implicit in the above list.

The bottom line is to help ensure that clients recognise that you are interested in them, that you care about them and that you are helping them. Any client that perceives you to do be doing those 3 things will see you as a standout accountant. And that will help you to become more successful too.


Lifetime achievement award for Robert Maas

I was thrilled to be seated with Robert when he was announced as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Taxation Awards ceremony last night. I am proud to count him as a friend and as one of my tax mentors.

In the light of last night’s award I think it appropriate to share my own thanks and admiration for Robert. Here is a man who really stands out in my eyes.

Whilst I no longer give tax advice I did initially start my career in tax shortly after qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1982. Robert was already well known and respected in the tax world even then. I believe he started in tax in 1965, the year that Corporation Tax and CGT were first introduced. It is also almost 50 years ago!

Some years later I think I met Robert at a conference. I assume I must have already started writing on tax matters as Robert recognised my name. He encouraged me to join the London Society of Chartered Accountants Tax Committee. Robert was the Chairman at the time. I was so proud and thrilled to be invited. In time I became Vice-Chairman of the Committee. Robert also then encouraged me to join the ICAEW Tax Faculty Committee, which in turn then led to me being invited to stand for election as Vice Chairman and then Deputy Chairman of the Faculty.

I benefitted from working with Robert on various Institute committees over the years including the ICAEW Tax Technical Committee, the Personal Tax and Finance Committee and the main Faculty Committee. I think I also provided a little support when he initiated the Faculty’s Younger members’ Tax Club and also the Faculty’s Tax Investigations Committee. Over the years Robert has kindly invited me to speak to various groups of which he is the prime mover. It is also due to this chain of events that he started which led to me recently being appointed Chairman of the ICAEW Ethics Advisory Committee.

In 2001 when I left BDO I seriously considered moving out of the tax world. I remember Robert, on hearing me suggest this after the CTA Address that year, taking me for a drink and persuading me to stick with it. He complimented my communication skills and said my departure would be a loss for the Tax World. I always thought he was exaggerating but I took his advice and this also allowed me to then go on to be Chairman of the Tax Faculty from 2003-2005. In the end I stayed active as a tax adviser until 2006 when I finally gave in and concluded that my brain just isn’t big enough.

During one of my talks (at least) I quote Robert. He taught me long ago that there is no shame in admitting you don’t know the answer to a tax question or problem. Despite his general reluctance to accept how highly regarded he is, he did tell me once that he couldn’t understand how any general practitioners could cope without ever engaging tax specialists. “If I have to stop and check with someone else every now and then, how much more likely is it that someone less experienced should need to do the same and more often?”

Robert is a giant in the tax world. But he is also a very unassuming man. Nevertheless I am aware that there are many other tax practitioners who have been influenced by Robert during their careers. Whether by attending one of his lectures, reading one of his books or articles or through his personal encouragement to join a committee. Many more people have been influenced by Robert than probably even he knows.

I recall attending Robert’s 65th birthday party some years ago – I have lost track of how many. I was so touched and proud to be invited. More recently Robert has taken up blogging. He loves tax and although he is still in practice at Blackstone Franks, he continues to write regular articles for the professional press. But if no one wants to publish what he has written he posts it on his blog – ‘Two cheers for the Chancellor’. This now has over 130 insightful and educational pieces on it and is well worth reading. Robert has also taken to LinkedIn but is reluctant to connect with anyone there he doesn’t know.

I don’t imagine Robert will ever retire. For now though his unswerving commitment to the tax profession has been recognised and rightly so. The announcement last night was met with a standing ovation. Robert is well-loved and much respected – with good reason.


6 reasons people without accountants think accountants are boring

I am both astonished and disappointed by the number of people who assume accountants are boring. Some of them have accountants, but most I suspect, do not and are simply repeating the stereotyping they have heard others reference. This is evident from the increasing number of young people who routinely tweet variations on the idea that being an accountant is, in their view, the most boring job in the world.

Many of the people who don’t have an accountant but who think accountants are boring really mean either:

  1. I don’t understand what it is they are going on about;
  2. I have heard other people say accountants are boring so it must be true;
  3. I saw that old Monty Python sketch about a boring accountant who wanted to be a lion tamer and it had a ring of truth about it;
  4. All that accounting stuff sounds boring as it doesn’t interest me;
  5. Accountants are more intelligent than me so must be boring in comparison; or
  6. Anyone who talks about something other than me is boring.

It’s probably true that sometimes, some accountants are boring. But most are not. However the prevailing view that accountants are boring cannot be good for the profession as a whole or for individual accountants specifically.

What can we do to change the general perception?

[Edited June 2014] In 2012 I made a start with my ‘Boring Is Optional‘ campaign and my INABA awards (I‘m Not A Boring Accountant). I have since moved on as neither idea won widespread interest or support within the profession.

My other contribution has been to focus on helping accountants to STAND OUT and to be more successful. Please get in touch or share your ideas below as to what we can do to change the stereotypical perception.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STAND OUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>


What makes you or your firm stand out?

I’m often struck by the difficulty many accountants have when trying to identify what’s special about them or their firm. When asked, almost everyone uses the same adjectives, the same aspirational service levels and the same so-called distinguishing features. What’s really special? What really makes you stand out and memorable?

Not a lot, it would seem.

Do you use variations on any of the following to describe how your firm stands out?

  • We provide a partner-led service
  • We don’t just prepare your accounts and tax returns
  • We aim to be your long-term business partners
  • We avoid surprise fees
  • We specialise in helping SME businesses
  • We keep in touch with you throughout the year

Good, good. But what’s really memorable, special and different  about your firm? Why should a prospective client who is comparing you or your firm with another one choose you? In what ways do you or your firm stand out as different to the other options? By ‘different’, I mean in what ways will a client benefit more from working with you than with any of the other accountants out there?

If you haven’t thought about this you should do – assuming you want to win more clients.  And you can only do this if you know what the competition are claiming make them memorable, special and different. Do you?

This is also a critical issue when networking. How easy do you make it for the people you meet to act as your advocate? Even if they like you and want to help you, what do you expect them to say? “I know this ‘great’ accountant” or “I know this ‘great’ employment lawyer” or whatever. What can they say to evidence what makes you ‘great’? What makes you stand out? What would you want them to say about you? How do they know this?

Few accountants or other professionals have thought about HOW they market themselves, WHAT messages they project and WHY anyone else should recommend them. Too many focus simply on an ‘elevator’ type statement that simply sets out what they do and who they do it for. It’s a start, but’s not enough.

Do share your thoughts below as comments or get in touch direct to let me know what makes you standout from the crowd.


How do you know when a blog is worthwhile?

Regular readers will know that I do not spend time encouraging accountants to blog. Whilst it can be beneficial, too many accountants get encouraged to create a blog but then struggle to maintain it. Some pay good money for the blog to be created and possibly updated by someone else. This often defeats at least one of the purposes of the blog. It can also be an expensive way to secure the related hoped for SEO benefits.

Last year I outlined 5 blogging myths for accountants; my blog post also put the other side of the argument. I had to do that as I enjoy blogging and have been a regular blogger here for nearly seven years. My conclusion though was that all too often blogging is not a worthwhile allocation of time for accountants in practice. Yes, you can derive some benefit from it but this will typically only follow if blogging forms part of a structured marketing plan.

Having said all that, the question arises as to how do you know when a blog is worthwhile? By this I mean, how do you know when the blog has a sufficient following and that if you stopped blogging it would be disproportionately detrimental to your reputation?

In December I explained why I think that: Only one website metric really matters to accountants. The same is probably true of an accountant’s blog. If it’s not evidently helping you secure profitable work then it’s probably not worthwhile.

I stopped writing my Tax-Buzz blog at the end of 2011. I had posted over 400 items over a 4 year period, but for reasons I have explained elsewhere, I concluded there was no point continuing the blog.  Almost no one seemed to notice or to care when I stopped blogging there. Despite my best efforts the visitor numbers rarely peaked above a few thousand a month. I had also noted that the majority of readers were in the US (not a target market for me). This is an important issue. If the people visiting your blog are unlikely ever to become clients what’s the point?

What about this blog then for ambitious accountants?

Well  we had significantly more visitors (>19,000) and more page views (>30,000) in April 2013 than ever before. [Edit: And the figures have been getting much higher than this towards the end of 2013]

My wordpress stats are not identifying any specific blog post or page of the website as having become more popular than the others so the increase seems to be more generalised.

I’m hoping that the increasing level of interest in my website and blog is because readers find what I have to say of value. The level of feedback is pretty low – which is very common I understand. I do appreciate and acknowledge all those who take the time to comment. I hope I continue to share ideas that are of interest and value. If you have any suggestions for topics I might address here by all means let me know by email or by comments below. For the moment though I reckon this blog is worthwhile and so I will continue to update it at least once a week.