How enthusiastic are you?

In January 2003 the ICAEW published a report “The Profitable and Sustainable Practice”. You can still access it online and I recommend it as many of the points covered therein are as relevant today as they were 5 years ago.

It was aimed particularly at small practices, which operate in the SME sector. Although it’s hard to pull out just one or two ideas I had to highlight this one.

There’s one pre-requisite, one ingredient that sells…and that’s enthusiasm. If you really enjoy your work, that shines through, and you will be successful – clients will want to be with you, and will hire you. It can’t be faked – at least not for very long.

Everyone who knows me recognises my enthusiastic nature. When I was younger I may even have been a touch too enthusiastic. It can unnerve those around you if you are evidently more enthusiastic than everyone else. That was an important lesson for me some years back.

To be enthusiastic means: having or showing great excitement and interest;

So today’s question – which you can answer by way of comment here or simply for yourself is:

How and where do you show your enthusiasm at work?

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Become a rainmaker for your practice

The term ‘rainmaker’ means different things to different people. In professional service firms it tends to be used to refer to a partner who brings in lots of fees. In some firms the rainmaker has no other repsonsibilities. This is increasingly unusual however.

In my role as the Accountants’ Business Coach I have often used the description ‘finder’ rather than ‘rainmaker’. I have distinguished 12 key business skills as falling under the headings of:

  • Finders – who go out and find the new work
  • Minders – who look after the relationship with the clients
  • Binders – who keep the team working well together
  • Grinders – who do the work [this requires technical skills rather than business skills as such]

The point being that to be a good ‘finder’ you need at least 4 of the 12 key business skills.

Finding

  • Networking – meeting new people and generating work through those you meet;
  • Speaking in public – being confident and clear whether talking to small or large gatherings;
  • Pitching – asking for work or responding to invitations to tender;
  • Closing – gaining new work on acceptable terms;

Of course there are plenty of good rainmakers who never have to make a formal presentation to large groups of people. With that exception any good rainmaker will be confident across all four of those key skills.

To complete a piece of research I have been undertaking recently I’m asking readers of this blog:

  • Is it important that someone in your practice is a good rainmaker?
  • Do you relate to that concept better than that of being a ‘finder’? and
  • Are there any other skills or talents that you feel a good rainmaker needs to possess?

Please post your comments below. If you would like to see how you fare against the full checklist of a dozen key business skills, please let me know and I’ll gladly send you a copy.

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Do you really know or are you just trying to impress?

Years ago when I joined a new firm I remember an audit partner telling me about two tax managers in his team He preferred ‘Dana’ because she always knew the answers. He didn’t like ‘Susie’ as much because she was never sure of anything and always wanted to check with a tax partner.

I expressed the view that ‘Susie’ was probably the better tax adviser as she was more cautious. ‘Dana’ was probably more dangerous as it was likely that she was overstating her real knowledge if she never needed to seek a second opinion. Armed with this new insight the audit partner became more open minded and within a few months he found that ‘Dana’ had indeed been covering up her mistakes and creating problems for the future.

The fact is that audit partners and general practitioners generally want their staff to be constructive and commercial. Being cautious is good upto a point but ultimately it is the partner who makes the decisions.If you are always overly cautious you may be seen to be uncommercial. So you need to develop confidence in your own knowledge and ability but this should not come from bravado.

It is generally the partners or the business owner who should decide on the level of risk they want to take when it comes to advising clients. This means that ambitious accountants should never present unresearched technical advice as if it were gospel. So, even if you have to advise in a hurry, qualify your advice if it is unchecked. At worst you will be given more time to research things. At best the person who runs the practice or the department can decide whether further research is required.

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Are you a cost or a benefit?

On his blog Dennis Howlett has been commenting on the suggestion made on another blog(!) that accountants cost money, they don’t make money. And that

 “if your accountant is costing you more money than she is earning, saving, or generating, then either you have a rubbish accountant or you have difficulty tracking your costs and benefits. Of course, sometimes the latter is caused by the former, but that’s another story entirely.”

Dennis notes that:

“Compliance has to be offered at factory prices because it has been commoditized and it is being outsourced. “

I don’t fully agree with this. What matters most is whether your clients perceive that you are doing a good job for them. Whether clients perceive that you are willing to fight their corner. Whether clients perceive that you are saving them money. I wrote a more detailed entry on this blog in August 2006 on the related subject of ‘perception is reality‘. I was reminded of it when I read Dennis’s comments above.

In a similar vein, your client’s perception about whether or not you are saving them money or costing them money is determined NOT by what you do but by what you tell them and show them that you do.

Clients don’t understand what accountants do. They need to be told how much their tax bill has been reduced EACH YEAR as a result of the accountant’s work. Accountants who tell/show their clients the comparatives each year will have happy clients. Those accountants who just do their best work each year and tell the client what tax to pay will have unhappy clients.

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Happy new year – be careful what you wish for

I’m not one for making annual new year resolutions – or indeed ‘predictions’. Indeed, rather than risk ‘predictions’ for 2008 I offer instead three of my hopes for the new year, that Accountants will:

1 – earn more money by advising their clients about their menu pricing models – so that clients know they’ll pay higher fees if they leave things to the last minute;

2 – stop risking PI claims by advising on tax issues where they’re not sure how the legislation really works;

3 – engage a professional business coach to help them achieve their potential;

On a related point I have updated my business cards so that these make clear that I specialise in:

Improving the results of businesses that target or operate within the UK tax and accountancy professions

Three of the principal ways in which I do this are related to my 3 hopes above:

1 – Speaking at conferences and seminars for accountants and tax advisers on business development related and Risk reduction issues;

2 – Running the Tax Advice Network – which provides accountants in general practice with access to their choice of specialist tax advisers; and

3 – Providing mentoring/business coaching to ambitious professionals to help them to achieve more success, peace of mind and confidence at work.

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Filling vacancies at professional firms (part two)

Since posting the first part of this blog on filling vacancies at professional firms I have been delighted by the general agreement that has met my observations. I have also received a number of requests to share what I think could be included on professional firms’ websites to attract the best candidates. And let’s be clear, in some cases we’re not just talking about staff and managers. Some firms are keen to attract prospective partners.

Your website is your first chance to impress anyone who has seen your advert, been approached by a headhunter, or been referred there by a colleague or a recruitment consultant. You will also want your website to reinforce the positive image presented during an interview, whilst networking or through third party referrals.

We all know how important this can be in converting prospective clients and most websites attempt to do the necessary in this regard. But it’s equally important to do the same to attract prospective candidates to fill vacancies. Get it wrong and your website can damage your branding, counter any good impression given previously and negate your recruitment efforts.

I’ve commented previously on the whole ‘websites for professional firms‘ subject so this time I’ll confine my comments to ideas relevant to recruitment. What sort of things might you consider including?

  • Pictures of the office environment – inside and out;
  • Details of any social arrangements that the staff enjoy – eg: football team, quiz nights, regular post-billing celebrations;
  • Quotes from happy staff – especially from some who have joined you from bigger firms and why they prefer your firm – also from some who have joined you from smaller firms and why they prefer your firm;
  • Anything that YOUR STAFF have told you makes your firm special and different;
  • Pictures of happy, smiling partners and evidence that they are nice people to work for;
  • Summary of standard benefits that you provide;
  • A mention of any exciting or unusual clients (eg: TV actors, sportspeople, MPs, models, cartoonists);
  • Evidence of how and when staff can expect to benefit from personal development as well as technical training;
  • A note of the firm’s commitment (if any) to personal coaching and mentoring by a reputable third party;
  • The team spirit that permeates the office;
  • The firm’s commitment to effective communication using an intranet;
  • How the firm endeavours to remove the drudgery of basic tasks – eg: through outsourcing or specific computer programmes;
  • Whether home-working is permitted and, if so, the IT links that facilitate this;
  • Evidence as far as possible to support what are probably pretty standard and common assertions about working at the firm;
  • Reference to any awards for which the firm, partners or teams have been nominated and/or won;
  • Comments that evidence the firm recognises that the quality of its service to clients and its long term profitability are dependent upon the quality and happiness of all who work in the firm;

Overall the aim should be to make it quite clear that prospective staff, managers and parters are just as important an audience as are prospective clients and that you offer careers rather than just want to fill vacancies.

If you’re aware of good examples of this sort of thing or can think of anything I’ve omitted from this list please add your comments and links to this posting.

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Preparing for a coaching session

Following my recent post about preparing for meetings it seemed logical to set out some of the questions I ask coaching and mentoring candidates to consider before we start work.

The precise questions will depend upon the issues that require attention. Sometimes these will have become apparent from a skills self audit On other occasions the individual or their managing partner will have identified key issues that need to be addressed.

So the questions I would ask might be:

  • What prompted you to seek an external mentor/coach?
  • What specific concerns do you have as regards [key issue]?
  • What do you think are the key reasons for any shortfalls?
  • What are the 3 most valuable lessons you have learned to date as regards your personal development?

Any further questions tend to be more specific.

If you have any concerns that you are not performing as well as you could be, you might like to consider how you would respond to the first 3 questions. Answers to the fourth one provide an insight into what and how you prefer to learn things and can help determine the approach I would take so as help you to gain maximum benefit from our sessions.

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Spotting opportunities and going for them

I’ve never been one of those people who thinks that ‘life sucks’. I’ve long believed that keeping a positive outlook is more likely to enable me to succeed than anticipating the worst. I’m lucky, I guess, as the trained Accountant in me ensures that I remain prudent and not TOO optimistic.

You know what they say:

  • To the optimist, the glass is half full.
  • To the pessimist, the glass is half empty AND
  • To the accountant, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.

I’m launching a new venture shortly – an independent network of tax advisers. It’s a natural extension of my current focus on helping ambitious professionals, especially accountants. More on this in due course. The point I wanted to make in this blog though is how important it is to keep an eye out for opportunities and then to go for them. And I wanted to do that with a couple of examples:

I became aware a couple of weeks back of someone else who is also developing a network of tax advisers. His is very different to mine and there will be an element of overlap – but not much. I got in touch and explained that we could both benefit from additional PR. However newsworthy I hope my launch will be, the fact that two such networks are launching at around the same time will surely justify enhanced coverage in the professional press and possibly elsewhere too. I’m pleased to say that my view was shared and I plan to take this forwards in the next few weeks.

I also noted that Chiltern plc has recently been acquired by BDO Stoy Hayward so will no longer be the largest independent tax consultancy in the UK. Once news sinks in that BDO Chiltern is owned by an accountancy firm I wonder what will be the impact on the smaller firms that use Chiltern’s tax support facilities. I posted a couple of observations against online stories about the takeover last weekend. One of my contributions was then published as a letter in Accountancy Age and has led to two quite exciting enquiries.

Again the news is very timely as regards the imminent launch of my new network. If I was purely focussed on what I was doing however I might not have spotted this or been able to benefit from it.

I’m trying to avoid focusing here on my new venture – I’m just using a couple of very recent experiences to highlight the benefits of keeping an eye out for opportunities and going for them.

Let me add one very important caveat: The opportunities I referred to above are consistent and congruent with my personal and professional plans. The opportunities are not a distraction. If they were I would be foolish to have pursued them. You will not succeed in your professional career if you attempt to grab every opportunity without any form of plan as to what it is you are seeking to achieve.

You do have a plan don’t you?

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Managing your online reputation

It is becoming more and more common to ‘Google’ someone before meeting them for the first time – whether for a potential business meeting, to interview them or to be interviewed by them. If someone Googles you now or in the future what will be revealed?

I’ve just given an interview to a journalist who is writing an article about the possible uses of Facebook by certain professional advisers. During our conversation I outlined what I saw as some of the benefits and also the dangers of professional advisers playing around on Facebook. And I explained why my comments apply equally to other forms of online networking sites.

Possibly the 3 most well known and useful such platforms to professional advisers are:

  • LinkedIn – currently largely used by corporate job hunters, those who are headhunting them and those who know them;
  • Ecademy – mainly small businesses and corporate refugees who have set up their own business/consultancy; [Edited: Sadly Ecademy closed down in 2012]
  • Facebook – mainly used for sharing how much fun you’re having in your life. So this is seen as the main ‘social’ networking site.

Until September 2006, Facebook was only available to ‘college students’ but as they graduated so they wanted to continue to CONNECT with the people they knew. And everyone they knew and wanted to stay in touch with was on Facebook. It is now becoming ubiquitous but sadly a lot of people who are experimenting with Facebook or just playing around may be creating problems for themselves down the line.

I titled this blog ‘Managing your online reputation’ for a reason. These days Google is recording history in real time. Everything we post online is there for the future and can be found by Google and the other search engines. That means that when someone Googles our name – before meeting us, interviewing us or being interviewed by us, they can find out:

  • What we’ve said and written;
  • What we like/dislike;
  • What other people have said about us (good or bad);
  • Who we’re associated with and what other people have said about them (good or bad);
  • Where we’ve been and what we’ve done and who we were with;
  • And so on.

Thomas Power, the founder of Ecademy explains that the online networking sites are just like online magazines. Our profiles on the sites are just like adverts in a magazine. We’d always be careful about the impression we gave in an advert – so we should be careful about the impression we give with our profiles. And that presents an interesting challenge for ambitious professionals. On the one hand we want to control what Google finds when people look for us online. On the other hand we want to secure new profitable referral and work opportunities for our interactions on these sites.

If you just create a simple, professional profile on these sites, as your online advert, you will find it about as successful as waving your business card around in a dark room. No one will find your profile unless you shine a torch on it. You do that by interacting on the networking site, commenting on blogs, asking and answering questions, creating your own blogs, postings on the Facebook wall, joining and contributing to clubs and groups. Being seen to be a valuable person online. And this takes time.

Initially it’s best though to take it slowly. Join. Watch. Dip a toe in the water.Explore. Contribute. Help others. All this before you ask for help yourself. And all this whilst keeping in mind the need to manage your online reputation.

Incidentally – why had the journalist contacted me to talk about this topic? Because the editor of her magazine had seen my previous postings on the subject and was aware that I had established a number of groups on Facebook. My online reputation as a writer and speaker on this and related subjects for ambitious professionals is growing. Why? Because I’m managing it. At least as well as I can.

I’ll return to this theme in a future posting on this blog. In the mean time I’d welcome feedback and thoughts about what I’ve posted above.

Here’s a link to my previous blogs about uses of Facebook by professional advisers.

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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Why is anyone Hired or Fired?

Years ago I was told that People are hired because they are liked and fired because they’re not!

Whilst this maxim is no doubt true in many cases I think it does not reflect what really happens in many professional firms. That is that people get hired because of their perceived technical skills and knowledge. Their personal attributes are also important and these will often take priority when it comes to deciding whether or not the individual is going to make partner.

Being technically brilliant and highly chargeable will often help you move up the ranks but it will rarely enable you to achieve partnership. Occasionally it will be enough but more often than not, to paraphrase my opening comment, People are only invited to become partners if they are liked.

Ok. I know that’s very simplistic. It’s worth reflecting on though as the apparent headline reasons that people are invited to become partners are almost always a reflection of the individual’s likeability. eg:

  • A big portfolio of clients that would go elsewhere with the individual if they left;
  • A proven winner of significant profitable new work from new clients;

What personal criteria can you think of that enable people to be made partner and which do not rely on them being likeable in one way or another?

And what have you done today to help reinforce your own likeability?

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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