3 lessons for accountants from….. personal trainers

I recently heard John Hardy the Founder of FASTER Health and Fitness introduce his business.  He mentioned he throught there were similarities with accountants. I have taken what he said and adapted it to provide some lessons for accountants from the business side of personal training and fitness.

1  Personality

John has noted that a bad trainer with a great personality will keep their clients for longer than those who focus on simply helping someone achieve a short-term goal (eg: weight loss).

Equally there are plenty of bad accountants who hang onto clients even though they’re not doing a very good job. The clients don’t really know what they could expect from a good accountant, so they stay with the bad accountant as long as they seem like a nice person.

Lesson: It’s easier to hang onto clients if they like you as a person. If you think you may be perceived as more of a traditional boring accountant, get out there. Attend  a local networking group on a regular basis and help people get to know and like you. It rarely happens overnight, but practice can help.

2  Context

Successful trainers do more than simply explain to clients how they can get fit. They also reference ‘how unfit you’re not getting’. They encourage and congratulate small successes.

Many accountants will tell clients what books and records they need to keep and leave them to it until the next set of accounts is required. Then the client finds out they haven’t been doing things as they should and that the accountant is having to do more work than planned just to get things straight.

Lesson: Check-in with clients to see how they’re doing – not just with their books and records, but generally. I have often pointed out the benefits of simply calling clients and asking them “How’s business?” and evidencing a genuine sense of interest and desire to help them to do better.

3  The technicalities

Apparently the training that personal trainers receive largely addresses just the medical and physical side of things. This leads to them focusing on all kinds of measurement, numbers and statistics. When they then go self employed they quickly learn that they need to also understand the business side of things. Being a good personal trainer is not enough to build a sustainable income as a personal trainer.

Can you see the analogy here?  Accountants’ training is focused on doing a good job as an accountant – from a technical perspective. There’s rarely any reference to the skills and activities you need to build a successful accountancy practice. As a result lots of well trained accountants struggle to build their own practice.

Lesson: You cannot rely on your technical expertise to build a successful accountancy practice. You need to apply good business planning skills too.

Sole practitioners who want to build a  more successful practice can tap into my guidance and support through the Successful Practice Programme (emails), The Sole Practitioner Breakthrough Programme (webinars), or 1-2-1 mentoring and support.

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Be proud and positive about your profession

This week’s blog post is derived from the response I received from a recent attendee at one of my talks. She had been very enthusiastic so I asked her what she had learned specifically. This is her reply:

Things I took away from yesterday:

  • That it’s OK to be on the quiet side at networking events – I am surrounded by [male] ‘chest-beaters’ all justifying their own existence and who talk at people rather than to them!
  • To be specific about what I am looking for in a referral – something that I need to work on …. It’s not all about [a type of target she mentioned during the course] … and that this may vary depending on my audience.
  • And to stop apologising for being an accountant, which I often do and a close friend tells me off regularly for it. This must come across in my ‘first impression’ but won’t be a good impression to make on someone. I can stand out from my peers by being me and being proud and positive about my profession! I definitely need to work on the impression that I leave people with ….

She added: “Your presentation yesterday was very engaging and entertaining.”

Just to amplify her 3 key main points:

1 – I had explained that introverts are often more effective networkers than extroverts. The latter tend to talk too much whereas introverts are better at listening to what other people are saying. If you listen more effectively you can ask better questions and learn more about them. The more you learn the better you can focus the stories you tell so that they resonate. This will help you and your stories to be more memorable.

2 – It’s too easy to sound like ‘just another accountant’ when you talk with people such as bankers, lawyers and fellow attendees at networking events. This means they are unlikely to remember you or to refer business to you. You can ensure such conversations are more worthwhile if you can be more specific about the referrals you seek. This means talking about the type of people you want to meet in terms that are memorable and distinct.

3 – Absolutely accountants should be proud and positive about being an accountant. If you’re not giving a positive impression why should anyone believe that you are the right accountant for them or for anyone they know?

All of these points are also addressed in my Successful Practice Programme, come up in my other work with sole practitioner accountants and in my talks at conferences and seminars.

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The end of accountants is nigh. Or is it?

Let me save you some time. Yes, the accounting profession is going through (another) period of unprecedented change. There will be fewer jobs for accountants in the future. There will be fewer large firms of accountants in the future. But there will continue to be plenty of work for savvy sole practitioner accountants for many years to come.

The remainder of this blog post explains my thinking. I’d love to know whether you agree.

Another period of ‘unprecedented’ change

Many commentators are (again) suggesting that the move to cloud accounting has reached a tipping point and is now creating a period of unprecedented change for accountants. I’ve tracked similar warnings about cloud accounting back to at least 2009 when I dismissed the warnings as being too loud and too soon.  There has been an increasing move into the cloud over the years and accountants have adapted – as they will continue to do.

Another big change ‘now’ is the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Again, I suggest that the real impact of AI is somewhat down the line. And no, I do not see how it can replace the role of sole practitioner accountants – any more than the move to quarterly reporting to HMRC (part of the Making Tax Digital initiative) will decimate accountants’ client bases.

Fewer jobs for accountants in future

This prediction follows two key changes. The first is the (now) increasing move to cloud accounting, the influx of apps and automated facilities that reduce the need for so many accounting staff in finance departments and in firms of accountants.  The second change is the rise of AI which, over time, will only add to this trend. But neither of these changes will reduce the need for savvy sole practitioner accountants. Their activities may need to evolve but, as always, nothing will change their client base overnight.

Fewer large firms of accountants in the future

This seems obvious to me as the costs of running large firms continue to increase without any commensurate rise in productivity or quality of service to their smaller clients. Every decade sees more mid-sized firms merging and claiming this will help clients. Typically though the mergers are driven more by a desire to reduce overhead costs and thus maintain profits per partner.

Clients, on the other hand, are increasingly looking for lower fees and want evidence that they are better served by a larger firm with higher staffing costs than smaller firms. Over time this means that more and more smaller clients are moving to smaller firms of accountants. The exceptions are those who perceive that they are better served by a larger firm with higher fees and staffing costs than smaller firms.

It is no longer cost prohibitive for smaller firms to promote themselves aggressively in competition with larger firms, thanks to the internet and low-cost online marketing opportunities.  I have long seen a future where accounting firms are increasingly polarised – a few very large ones and thousands of very small ones. This will better match the demographics of the business world. Although many people glibly talk about SMEs, the official stats reveal that over 99% of  UK businesses are small (not medium-sized). And a very large proportion of them are, in fact, micro businesses. How many of these businesses or individual taxpayers need services that cannot be provided by smaller firms of accountants?

 Sole practitioners

A while ago, I decided to focus my advisory and support services on sole practitioner accountants. Yes, I also have plenty to say that is of value to those in larger firms and this is why I am engaged to speak at conferences for larger firms and for international associations. But I love working with savvy sole practitioner accountants who are keen to become more successful. And so yes, of course, I see there is a future for them. Their roles and activities will continue to evolve, as they always have done, and I will be there to help them.

I have worked with sole practitioners for many, many years. And I have constantly been debunking the ill-informed nonsense they are fed about the short-term impact of major changes.  When the first Accountex conference took place in November 2012 I was invited to write an editorial for the show guide. In it I set out dozens of ‘major’ changes to the accountancy profession that we had witnessed over the preceding twenty years. Most had been predicted (by others) as likely to have a major impact on accountants.  However, in every case accountants adapted. Some retired early but they were replaced by more accountants choosing to start their own practice. Many of these new entrants had been made redundant by the larger firms who were slimming their workforce as a result of mergers (see above). This trend is continuing.

The rise in home working and mobile working is also contributing to a rise in the number of sole practitioners and smaller local firms. For some years the professional training syllabus has been evolving to ensure that newly qualified accountants have better business skills than ever before. This, I suggest, is fuelling a desire to be one’s own boss, to run one’s own practice and to move away from the politics and cost pressures of working for mid-sized firms. An increasing facility to allow staff to work from home and whilst mobile can only increase the desire to cut loose from the mother-ship and go it alone or to create a new smaller and local practice.  As I noted earlier it is much easier and cheaper to market a smaller practice than ever before.

Those sole practitioners who are resistant to change will become increasingly frustrated. More will retire early (as did their predecessors) rather than adapt and develop their skills. Other commentators talk about the need for accountants to develop new skills. In many cases though, it’s simply a case of refining and repackaging services to highlight the benefits to clients and the value delivered.  Guess what?  These are topics I have long addressed through my own service offerings to sole practitioner accountants.

Conclusion

The future for accountants depends on whether you are employed in industry, employed in practice or engaged in practice. And on whether you will be in a large firm, running your own accounting firm or running a niche practice of some sort. I believe there is a strong future for savvy sole practitioners who are willing to adapt and move with the times.

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Connect, know, like, trust, need – what do you do to make this work for you?

I frequently hear networking gurus stress a mantra that originated in the book ‘Endless Referrals, written by Bob Burg:
“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to people they know, like and trust.”

I understand this is also the mantra shared at certain networking groups. The focus then is on encouraging you to make an effort to ensure you are easy to get to know, like and trust. But I think it is too simplistic.

There are two further elements I believe that demand your attention. One at the start and one that can float around at either end of the chain:

Connect – Know – Like – Trust – Need


Connect:
– People may connect with you face to face (eg: at a networking event) or online (eg: via social media, Linkedin or by engaging with you initially though commenting on your blog post or getting in touch after reading an article you have written or after hearing a talk you have presented).

Know
: People can only get to know you after you have connected with each other (face to face or online). Typically they will want to know more than just your name and profession. They are more likely to engage you or to refer you if they have more to go on than this. How easy do you make it for people to get to know you? Your background? Your interests on a professional and personal level? Which organisations do you belong to? What makes you you – as distinct from just another accountant?

Like
: People rarely engage or refer work to people they don’t like. There are exceptions to this principle. We tend to refer people to surgeons if we rate them even if they have no bedside manner. And some legal work is best done on our behalf by really tough negotiators. But in the main, likability is key. People like people who are helpful, kind, and not pushy.

Trust:
 People tend to choose accountants they can trust in two ways. to know your stuff (do you have sufficient expertise?) and to be a decent person?

Need:
No one ever engages an accountant unless they need one. Equally they rarely go around promoting their accountant until they hear that someone they know needs one. If no one you connect with needs an accountant or knows anyone who needs one, you won’t get much work!

So

Where do advertising and other forms of marketing fit into this analysis? At the beginning of course.  It is simply a way to encourage people who need an accountant to connect with you. Once they have done this you need to help them get to know you, then to like and trust you. This is why I suggest that ‘Need’ can float around either end of the chain. If someone realises they need an accountant but doesn’t know anyone suitable they may respond to your advert or your other marketing promotions and connect with you.
When you recognise that there are 5 links in this chain you may be able to see why your networking, marketing and online activities are not generating the business or referrals you seek. Are you meeting, engaging or connecting with enough people who need your services? Are you going to the right places? Are you active online in the right places? Are you encouraging the right referrals? Are you then helping your new connections to get to know, like and trust you – both generally and specifically to do the work and give the advice they need?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, feel free to connect with me 😉  I’d love to do something to help you. Let’s have a chat and see what I can do >>>>
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How accountants can take control of their career success

Duncan Brodie is a former Finance Director who helps accountants build successful careers. I’ve known him a while and feel his views are worth sharing here.

Duncan’s views will be especially helpful to you if you are nearly or recently qualified.  As he explains:

Once upon a time a professional accounting qualification almost guaranteed that you would progress pretty far in your career. These days this is no longer the case. There are many who get qualified but fail to achieve the success that they had hoped for.

If you want to achieve success in your accounting career you have to take control. So what should you do to take control of your accounting career?

Determine what you want from your career.

This might seem like a statement of the obvious. Yet in truth most just drift along. People usually only give this any significant thought when something significant happens like being made redundant.

This was true in my day too. I originally studied accountancy simply as a way to get a business focused qualification whilst deferring the decision as to what I would do career wise. When I qualified I was no closer to knowing what I wanted. I moved into tax – as that was the only exam I passed first time. And I had realised that clients would gladly pay good money for good advice on how to reduce their tax bills. (The top rate of tax back then was 98%!)

I stayed in tax for another 25 years before concluding that I enjoyed the non-tax aspects of my career more than the tax focused ones!

Duncan continues:

It’s also worth remembering that what matters will be different at different stages in your career. Money and earning more is definitely a consideration when starting out.

As you progress other factors like enjoying your work, gaining the right experience and being challenged matter more.

He advises that you:

Plot out your key moves. There are certain important points in your career and the decisions you make can help or hinder.

The first key move is when you qualify. It can be tempting to jump ship too quickly.

The decision you take at this point can have a huge bearing long term.

I’ve already mentioned that I moved into Tax when I qualified. Duncan’s first job after qualifying was as a Head of Internal Audit.  Why?

I knew that I would get the chance to set up a new function from scratch and also get exposure to Board level working.

If you don’t know what you want to do long-term (and why should you?) make a conscious choice about to do first. You can review your choice down the line. At worst you will have discovered one of the things you do NOT want to do long-term!

Duncan also advises that you take responsibility for your professional development:

In the early stages of my career there was little or nothing available to me in terms of professional development.

That all changed when I went to work for a bank. Areas for improvement to make you more effective were openly discussed and then courses found to build capability.

When I worked in the Big 4 this was even more evident.

Despite it never being easier to access professional development opportunities, it’s surprising how few take personal responsibility for it.

That is really good advice. When you ask for permission to attend specific courses, make sure you can identify for your bosses why you will be more of more value to them after you have been trained in these new skills or enhanced your abilities.

Duncan also suggests that you actively seek out new challenges and responsibilities

You can very easily just plod along doing what you can do extremely well. The problem is that if you are not challenging yourself you are probably not growing.

I found that getting involved in business projects was a great way of building knowledge, skills and attributes.

And adopt a long term outlook.  Yes some make it to a senior level quickly. For the vast majority it is a much slower progression. I encourage people to take a long term view of their career. In my experience a career is more like a marathon and less like a sprint.

Don’t expect it to be plain sailing. There will be:

  • Setbacks
  • Disappointments
  • Rejections
  • Judgements
  • People who don’t rate you

The important thing is to stay positive and believe in yourself, even when the going gets tough.

Many thanks to Duncan Brodie for sharing his careers focused advice for accountants. You can access his free guide The 7 Biggest Barriers To A Successful Career In Accounting here >>>

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What are your top skills and expertise?

The top ranked personal skill or expertise on my Linkedin profile is currently ‘strategy’.  It has been moving up the list over the last year.

I am flattered that hundreds of people have endorsed me for ANY skills and expertise on Linkedin. Until recently ‘Accounting’ was top – presumably by reference to my background in and knowledge of the UK accounting profession.

The reason for this post though is because of the question in my mind since I started considering why hundreds of people were endorsing me for ‘strategy’. As I admire so many other strategic thinkers and advisers, I am quite thrilled anyone should feel this word is relevant to what I do.

After I comment on this below I share some lessons that may be of use to you re your Linkedin profile.

Do I do ‘strategy’?

I have not, to date, referenced ‘strategy’ as a skill, topic or expertise in any of my online, author or speaker profiles. So why does it appear to be so popular among my Linkedin connections?

It could be simply a function of Linkedin’s algorithm such that it is the most often promoted skill when anyone visits my profile on Linkedin. Or it could be a down to the impression people get through much of what I write about, speak about and share. Or, most likely, a combination of these two reasons.

This has caused me to reflect on the impression others get from what I do.

I frequently find myself debunking over-hyped ideas and forecasts about the speed of impact of changes on the professions. I also tend to discourage anyone from chasing the latest fad without first thinking about their target audience and focusing on ways to engage with them.  And I always encourage my audiences to clarify what it is they wish to achieve; then I recommend having a plan rather than just experimenting with new ideas all the time.

Hmm. And what is business strategy all about? It’s about identifying your objectives and creating a plan as to how you will achieve them.

So, yes, perhaps I should reflect on how others see my advice as being strategic. If you agree by all means add your endorsement to my Linkedin profile

How much importance do you place on the endorsements you get on your Linkedin profile? Remember, that endorsements are very different to recommendations.

The skills and expertise on your Linkedin profile

When Linkedin introduced their endorsements facility in 2012 I saw it as a bit of a game. I determined that it wasn’t important to get loads of endorsements. I have however long maintained that it was key to only accept onto your profile endorsements for skills you really have and which you want to promote. (See: What I like about Linkedin endorsements – October 2013)

Linkedin asks visitors to your profile, with whom you are already connected, to endorse you for a range of skills. Some of those skills may already be on your profile. Others are on the profiles of people who Linkedin thinks are a bit like you. In theory people who know you should only confirm you as having skills you really have. But, in practice, many users think they are helping you if they confirm you have skills as suggested by Linkedin. There’s no guarantee that they really think you have those skills.

Over time though it seems that Linkedin stops asking about random skills – especially if you haven’t added new ones to your profile even after people confirm you have them. This is certainly true in my case. I don’t recall the last time I had rejected the addition of a new skill that someone had endorsed me for (prompted, no doubt, by the Linkedin algorithm).

I would encourage you to reflect on the top 5 skills/expertise currently showing on your profile. Do these reinforce the message in the summary of your profile and in your profile title? Or will these skills/expertise confuse your message?

My advice is to delete any reference to skills/expertise that you do not have or that you know are not relevant to what you wish to be known for. And then, maybe ask some of your close connections to visit your profile and to endorse you for just 3 or 4 skills/expertise that you genuinely feel are relevant and justified.

This will serve three purposes.

  1. It will help you to understand what people really think you’re good at;
  2. It will encourage Linkedin’s algorithm to focus more on those popular topics when it invites other people to endorse you; and
  3. It will enable you to revise your profile to better reflect what you’re known for which should make it easier to achieve your business or career objectives

So I suggest this is a sensible strategy to pursue 😉

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Seven tips to develop your career in accountancy

This post is quite distinct from most of the others on this blog. Instead of focusing on accountants in practice, what follows is intended to help those accountants looking to develop their career. I am often asked for my advice in this connection so have gathered here some of my top tips and links.

1 – It is quite natural to find the options ahead quite daunting. Your next choice need not define who you are or what you will do for the rest of your career. Those days are long gone, even for qualified accountants. Consider your answer to these questions:

  • What type of work have you most enjoyed to date?
  • In what sort of environment have you enjoyed working?
  • What are your strengths? and
  • What talents, skills and experience do you have to offer an employer?

2 – Search online for specialist recruitment consultancies that offer help and advice to accountants like you. Do not rely on email or on submitting your CV online before you have actually spoken to someone with relevant expertise. Talk to 2 or 3 recruitment consultants to find one you can trust and who isn’t simply after a commission for placing you in a job quickly. You don’t have to pay for this advice. The consultancies get paid a commission by your new employer. Good consultants will give you independent advice as they know that you will return to them as and when you want to change jobs in the future – and you will recommend them to friends and colleagues.

3 – Register on LinkedIn and complete your profile there so that it is attractive to prospective recruiters and anyone looking there for someone like you.  Once registered you can then use LinkedIn to connect with past colleagues and business contacts. In due course you can then seek their advice and help to find your next role. These previous posts contain more tips on this topic:

4 – Cut your CV down to 2 pages. Remember the key point is that a CV is not about getting a job. It’s about getting an interview. It needs to describe you as a person, not simply what you’ve achieved at work. And 2 pages is all it needs to be.  In practice you will also want to tailor it to each role you go for.

5 – Think about your friends and other people you know who could introduce you to the sort of new employer you’d like to work with. Then talk to your friends etc and ask their advice about how to secure intros to those people. Have a clear story as to what value you would be to a new employer.  By the way, the more specific you can be as to the type of business you are looking to work with, the more you increase the chance of someone being able to effect a suitable introduction.

6 – If, as is likely, you are on facebook, make sure that your profile and activity there work FOR you rather than AGAINST you. Here are nine career related tips re accountants’ use of facebook

7 – Keep in mind that whatever you want from your next job is upto you. But you need to recognise that the only people ever likely to recruit you will be focused on what they want and on what you can do for them. Your online profiles and your CV need to make this clear and you need to be ready to explain this during job interviews too.

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Key business quotes for accountants

Not everyone likes seeing trite quotes that purport to inspire us to motivate us. Actually I do like them – in moderation. I’m not a fan of a quote a day, though I do have two calendars that offer me this option. If only I remembered to move them on every day….

For now here are a few that seem especially relevant to accountants. Hope you like them.

You don’t get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring to the hour
– Jim Rohn

The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlights reel
– Steven Furtick

It is a mistake to try to look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.
– Sir Winston Churchill

You’ll never regret what you couldn’t afford
– Unknown

I’m where I am because I’m willing to do things others are not willing to do to get what they say they want
– Jim Ziegler

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.
– Lawrence J. Peter

Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.
– Unknown

Prescription BEFORE diagnosis is Malpractice
– Tony Allessandra

It is not always the strongest who survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who adapt and change the most.
– Charles Darwin

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude
– Zig Ziglar

Whether you think that you can or that you can’t, you are usually right.
– Henry Ford

Feel free to add any others, by way of comments, that inspire or motivate you in practice.

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