Networking groups are a waste of time – or are they?

I’ve heard plenty of accountants express such views. Equally I’ve heard plenty of accountants extol the virtues and benefits of the networking groups to which they belong. Is it a question of luck, who else is there or is the reason for the differing views more a question of the accountant’s attitude and approach?

A friend of mine, Andy Lopata, who is a networking strategy consultant, recently shared the following story:

I have seen people turn up to networking events without any focus, they’ve had no idea as to why they are there. As a result, they’ve achieve nothing. I’ve even seen an accountant stand up at a BRE meeting for his 60 second presentation, only to say ‘I’ve got nothing to say this week’!!! That’s what a lack of strategy, a lack of planning, a lack of focus will bring you.

Now I know that there are plenty of accountants who attend regular breakfast meetings of networking groups like BNI, BRE (now BRX), BoB and the like. If you’ve tried one and considered it was a waste of time, have you thought through why you felt that?

Did you have realistic expectations or did you expect people to immediately ask you to take over their accounting and tax affairs? Did you expect them to take your card, know who you could best help, why you were special and different to the other accountants they already know and then to refer their family and friends to you?

In my own case, I know that BNI meetings are not for me. I do enjoy NRG meetings however – they are mid day events, include a useful seminar and a lunch with other professional people. They are right for me and I have realistic expectations as to what benefits I can hope to achieve by attending them.

What about you?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Confidence – inside you or through others’ views of you

In 2001 after I joined WJB Chiltern, the tax consultancy now owned by BDO Stoy Hayward, I became head of the Tax Support for Professionals (TSP) team.

The main backbone of the TSP service was Taxline, a tax telephone helpline service. Each day a different member of the team was allocated to answer the phones. Calls came in from accountants wanting advice on all aspects of tax. I recall sharing my admiration of the guys in my team who had the confidence to pick up the Taxline phone. On one occasion I said to John (an older member of the team) that I didn’t think I had a deep enough knowledge across the tax spectrum to answer the Taxline myself. I’ve long remembered his reply as he was evidently quite shocked:

You’re being harsh on yourself Mark. You invariably suggest additional points when we debrief on the calls of the day. And I’ve heard you on the phone often enough to know that you do have a broader knowledge of tax than you give yourself credit for. You wouldn’t have got to where you are otherwise.

John’s comments were not intended to have a long lasting and powerful impact. They were simply his instinctive response to my apparent reluctance to man the Taxline. That, in turn, was partly a reflection of a lack of inner confidence – a common enough feeling for many of us. I’m well over that now! Indeed John’s words have stayed with me and helped force a change in the way that I subsequently described my tax knowledge.

In some respects that conversation was also a catalyst for the creation of the Tax Advice Network. I may well have a good broad knowledge of the tax system but I’m not confident that I am uptodate sufficiently to give advice on which accountants or anyone else can rely. I know sufficient about what’s going on to comment on developments, to write and to lecture but I’m no longer interested in giving definitive advice myself any more. So now I refer anyone who asks me for tax advice to members of my Tax Advice Network.

One of the most powerful factors that affects whether an accountant will refer tax queries to us is the level of confidence that they have. Are they

  • Rightly confident that they know enough and that there is little chance of being wrong?
  • Over confident and reluctant to seek a second opinion?
  • Lacking in confidence and worried that clients will think less of them if they admit what they don’t know? (They’ll certainly be unhappy if the accountant gets it wrong, that’s for sure. Most clients recognise that their accountant is like their GP and that sometimes there is a need to go to a specialist);

What about you?

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Recruitment tips for accountants seeking new staff

Another day, another request for me to to help find someone to fill a vacancy at a smaller firm. On this occasion it’s for a sole practitioner in the Berks/Oxfordshire area. I thought it might be helpful to list out some of the elements of my advice:

– Create a simple job spec that identifies what the new recruit will need to be able to do (ie: the must haves) and also what else he/she could do if they have the skill, experience and interest (the nice to haves); If you can, go further and determine what personal characteristics the candidate must have – but do think carefully about these. Do you need someone who has gained a specific professional qualification or is their practical experience of more value? Experience doing what exactly? The more precise you are the fewer unsuitable  people you will see and the less time you will waste interviewing them.

– Determine an appropriate salary range for the role. You may need to seek input from specialist recruiters to get this right. You will generally struggle to attract anyone if you haven’t decided what the pay range will be. Equally you will waste your time interviewing people who want more than you’re offering.

– Ask around your contacts, friends, family and anyone else if they are aware of anyone who might be suitable for the role. (Provide a copy of the job spec if asked);

– Remember that most suitable applicants will probably look at your website before deciding whether or not to attend an interview, so ensure that the vacancy is promoted on your website (if you have one); If you have other staff, you are in a good position to make your vacancy and firm more attractive than the alternatives. I’ve addressed this issue before in a couple of posts here about: Filling vacancies at professional firms

– Speak to the specialist recruiters for accountancy firms (or indeed the tax specialist recruiters if the role is a tax one); Seek their advice and input. They generally only charge a fee when they secure a placement. The more experienced recruiters will give you honest unbiased advice. It’s worth taking this on board rather than guessing at what is a reasonable salary for the role, even if ultimately you are able to fill the vacancy without the agent’s help.

Do readers have any other related tips to share?

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Whose relationship is it anyway?

You’ve been instrumental in bringing a new client into the firm and you’ve looked after them well. Or, perhaps you weren’t the finder, simply the minder of the relationship and the client thinks of you as their main contact at the firm.

What happens when you leave to join another practice or to start up by yourself?

  • Let’s assume that the firm will want to retain the client.
  • You may want to ‘take your client’ with you.
  • The client may want to go with you or may want to stay with the firm.

Your employment contract or partnership agreement will almost certainly contain a no poaching clause. I’m lucky. Whenever I’ve moved firms it’s always been on good terms and I’ve always abided by the terms of the agreements I’ve signed. The alternative approach is to look for legal loopholes and/or to risk legal proceedings.

New partners with a following are very attractive. I was going to qualify that and say a ‘profitable’ following. In practice what tends to matter is the value of the fees that are expected to follow the new recruit. Prospective partners in a firm are more attractive if they have client relationships that would be at risk if the individual was to leave and seek partnership elsewhere.

Whose relationship is it anyway? And does anything other than the client’s choice really matter? That’s a pretty simplistic view as a decent adviser can ensure that the client is more or less reliant upon them as individuals than might otherwise be the case. Is this simply down to morals? Good business sense? A commercial attitude?

Questions to ponder I think.

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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Do you hold back due to fear of failure or fear of success?

What’s holding you back? Fear of failure or fear of success? That may not make sense initially but it’s a concept worth thinking about. I asked one of my mentoring candidates this question recently as I felt that they were inadvertently sabotaging their plans for the future.

I shared with them a famous quote by Marianne Williamson, taken from her book, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. I set it out in full on this blog last year. It starts:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…”

Are you one of those people who feels they are not worthy of success? Why? Of course you deserve to be successful. Your experiences to date have brought you to where you are. You have a unique lifetime of experiences to draw upon and to learn from. You are worthy. You can succeed in your ambitions. But first you need to believe that you are worthy and to take steps to realise your ambitions.

Or are you one of those people with loads of great ideas and yet you take very little action towards making any of them a reality? Hard to choose which way to go? Hard to choose which option to pursue first? Not choosing is an option in itself.

I’m all for trying to anticipate the consequences of our choices. Indeed doing this can help exclude some options. It’s not always possible to wade through our choices and options alone. You may need the honest support and challenge of a third party, be it a friend or family member with whom you are comfortable sharing your ambitions and who can ask informed challenging questions. Or someone completely independent. 😉

Or you may simply need to be honest as to what’s holding you back? Fear of failure or fear of success?

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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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?

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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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.

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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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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