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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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Lessons for accountants from…. hairdressers

The question of how to set professional fees is an old one. I’ve talked before about easyjet pricing and referenced the way that we pay upfront for most forms of transport and holidays.  But we are not used to doing this when we are engaging someone to provide a personal service – such as hairdressing.

Nevertheless some entrepreneurial hairdressers do operate pricing policies that could be adapted by accountants. Many accountants already replicate the concept of a menu of services and extras – in the same way as these are set out whenever you visit a hairdresser.

Some hairdressers also offer special rates for senior citizens and other favoured categories of customer. I’d like to think this is sometimes simply due to a willingness to help people who cannot afford the hairdresser’s normal rates.  But even then these rates are generally only available at times that suit the hairdresser. And this will typically be when they aren’t otherwise expecting to be busy. If you want your hair cut during the busiest time of the week you’ll have to pay the normal rate.

By offering the special rate the hairdresser gets to move some of their trade to days/times that are less busy. They might not be able to get their normal rates but overall they generate more money than if they charged the same rate to everyone, every day of the week.

Do you offer special rates to new clients who are willing to let you do their accounts/tax during your quiet season?  I say ‘new’ clients as moving existing clients to a lower fee scale would reduce your income so may not have any appeal.

Another variation on this idea is to offer a ‘Stand-by’ service.  I saw a sign offering this facility outside a local hairdresser recently.  It said terms and conditions apply. But the inference was that if you were prepared to take your chances re how long you waited, you could have your hair done at half the usual price.

I suspect that plenty of accountants could offer a stand-by service. You would need to ensure that clients who opt for this appreciate the difference from your usual service. It won’t be much help if you already only service clients in the strict sequence in which you receive their paperwork. Turning this around, you could offer a premium service whereby clients can book in and pay extra for for a special speedy service at certain times of the year.

As I have long pointed out, there is no legal or other obligation to charge all clients on the same basis. Experiment and find what works for you.  I suspect that’s what hairdressers do. Why not accountants too?

 

 

 

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Lessons for accountants from ……a sales training expert

During a recent dinner with my old friend, Andy Preston, I got to thinking about how some of the principles he mentioned are more widely applicable.

Andy is a sales training and cold calling expert. He speaks at conferences and training courses for very large companies all over the world. Our dinner took place in Cape Town, South Africa. I was on holiday. Andy was in the middle of a hectic series of talks.

I was impressed that he kept referencing the benefits of STANDING OUT and assumed he was referencing my work in this area. I was amused later to realise that Andy is the creator of the STAND OUT selling system. Its purpose is to help sales people stand out from the competition, close more deals, and win the business – even when selling at a higher price!  This clearly dovetails nicely with my own work on how Accountants can STAND OUT from the pack.

When it comes to applying the experience of sales people to accountants, I must admit I have always known two conflicting ‘facts’.

On the one hand, accountants generally do not like to operate as or to be considered to be in ‘sales’. On the other hand, it’s hard to build a service based business, like accountancy, if you don’t do any selling!

One of Andy’s firm beliefs is that, these days, it is no longer appropriate for sales people to base their presentations on the ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ of the products they want to sell. This is a traditional approach that no longer works (if it ever did).

These days most purchasers do their homework online before they start shortlisting vendors. The purchaser typically already knows which products suit their needs and uses online comparison sites which invariably focus on the features and benefits, as well as the costs etc. Sales people who do not build rapport with prospects are unlikely to survive in the 21st century. (And it’s one of the reasons Andy is so busy). Who’d be a professional sales person?

The lesson for accountants, I would suggest, is that it is now more important than ever to STAND OUT in ways that prospective clients understand will benefit them.

You’re an accountant so they know you can do the work (or at last they assume you can). In what way will engaging YOU, rather than any other accountant, ensure that the client gets what they want and need (and more)?

As Andy suggests, a great deal hinges on the extent to which you are able to build rapport, to engage the prospect and to get them to know, like and trust you. This does not mean talking about yourself though. It requires effective questioning techniques, evidence that you’ve been listening to them and convincing responses to their questions about how you operate (if they ask).

A failure to execute these key ‘sales’ skills, will mean you don’t win the client, just as it means the salesperson fails to make the sale.

[If you think it would be good to improve your skills in this area, take a look at something I produced recently for accountants. Perhaps it could help you too? Full details here>>>]

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5 lessons on collaborations from….Tony Bennett, Sting and McFly

Those of us who are of a certain age were surprised recently to see the classic American crooner, Tony Bennett, performing alongside Lady Gaga.

They started singing together in 2011 and, despite a 60 year age gap, they have recently released an album of jazz standards, ‘Cheek to cheek‘. They also appear together in the H&M holiday advertising campaign.

Similarly Sting has teamed up with and performs live alongside Paul Simon (of that classic duo, Simon and Garfunkel). And for less mature readers there is a new pop rock ‘supergroup’,McBusted who have been touring and recording together. McBusted is made up of most members of two boy bands; McFly and Busted.

What lessons can we draw from these unexpected collaborations?

  • However long established you are, you can still ring the changes and find new audiences by collaborating with someone from a different generation who has their own fans, contacts and clients;
  • You can also reach new audiences by collaborating with someone of a similar age as you will each attract your own fans, contacts and clients. In so doing they are exposed to a wider range of work and activities than if they only came to see you;
  • Your collaboration could well be newsworthy and generate positive PR – possibly more so than anything you have done alone;
  • Longer-term collaborations develop over time and are built on friendships and small steps before the big reveal of a full scale collaboration;

Although I am unaware of the specifics I would expect that, in each of the cases identified above, the performers’ managers were involved in the financial negotiations. I recall from my own experiences advising professional firms on their merger negotiations, that this topic, more than any other, could scupper a deal. In the simplest cases you may be able to identify a simple split of income and expenses. But ‘normal rates’, differing perceptions as to relative value and distinct past experiences may all need to be considered.

I have been fortunate to have been invited to collaborate with a number of providers of complementary services and presentations over the years. None have become permanent partnerships, nor was this ever the plan. In each case we were simply looking to secure those benefits set out at points 1 and 2 above.

Who do you know and who knows you well enough to be happy to collaborate with you to reap similar benefits for your business?

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Lessons for accountants from….. London cabbies

Last week many of London’s black cab drivers staged a protest against the way that the authorities had treated a new competitor in the marketplace. This reminded me of the strident views that some qualified accountants express as regards the competition they face from unqualified people.

Some of the reports of the cabbies’  protest suggest that their beef was with the new competitor – ‘Uber”, an online app.  Essentially it enables prospective passengers to call for a mini cab which picks them up and then charges them a fare based on the distance they travel.

I understood that the complaint was that the authorities are not upholding the law. As a result, unlicenced cars with the ‘uber’ app are able to operate in much the same way as black cabs but without any of the safeguards or restraints that are imposed on black cab drivers. The app enables minicabs to operate in much the same way as black cabs but without the training, licence or regulation that makes black cabs generally safe, reliable and professional.

The authorities are refusing to get involved presumably as they do not agree that the rules are being broken. What lessons can accountants draw from this stalemate?

  1. There is no point complaining that unqualified competitors are stealing clients. You need to ensure you offer a compelling case for people to engage YOUR services. How do you STAND OUT from the competition?
  2. The marketplace is evolving and cloud computing makes it easier for clients to access their data online. Many will prefer the traditional service, just as many people will prefer to continue using black cabs. If however too many passengers move to uber the black cabs will have to evolve. If you find that many of your clients exercise their right to choose convenience and web, tablet or smartphone focused services you will need to adapt too.
  3. If you build strong relationships with your existing clients they may be more inclined to resist  the temptation of going with a new, easier to use alternative service provider. If you’re lucky.
  4. You need to decide whether to become an early adopter and adapt early to new services and alternative business models.
  5. Good PR can really help you to STANDOUT even if you are not that different to other accountants. The uber app does little more than does Hailo, the black cab app. Hailo enables you to find local black cabs who will then come and pick you up. Uber does the same thing with unlicenced drivers. But Hailo hasn’t had the benefit of the PR that has been generated by the fuss about uber.

What other lessons can accountants learn from London cabbies?

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Lessons for accountants from…. Coffee enthusiasts

During a trip to Cape Town I chanced upon the Espressolab in The Old Biscuit Mill at Woodstock. This is a fantastic little place where a range of bespoke coffees are also being roasted in a laboratory style environment.

When we arrived the owner asked us what sort of coffee we liked. I admitted I was happy with Nescafé instant. He was visibly shocked and, I fear, a tad insulted that such a novice had entered his domain. I realised I’d been a tad foolish – allbeit honest.

He asked what we’d like today and I said I’d chosen to try one of the half dozen specially blended coffees described on the counter. The coffee man asked me how I was going to TRY it? He continued. “These are coffees for connoisseurs”. He told me that if I had one of those I had to have it his way. Black. No milk and no sugar. I realised he wasn’t going to let me spoil, what he considered to be, perfection.

He told me that if, instead, I chose me of the specialist coffees listed on the general menu I could do what I liked to them. I took the point and had a cappuccino – with sugar! It was probably the nicest coffee I’d had for a long time.

What lessons did this bring to mind for accountants?

The manager exuded confidence, a pride in his work and passion about what he does. He didn’t set out to upset anyone but equally he didn’t pull any punches. He didn’t have much time for visitors who didn’t know or care much about coffee.

How do you react when you’re approached by someone seeking their first accountant?

Are you simply grateful they approached you or do you look to determine whether they will allow you to do your job properly?

They often don’t really know what they need. Do you evidence your experience and enthusiasm for the value you can provide so as to give them confidence that you know what you’re doing?

I wonder what would happen if you made your top quality (gold level) service something that you only allow serious clients to access? Others just get the basic service especially if price is their only criteria. Some may express interest in your all-round service with monthly management accounts and regular business review meetings. But you choose who gets that service. It’s not available to everyone. Only to clients who are evidently serious about their business. Maybe one day this new prospect will be ready for it. But not yet. Perhaps you might even create the desire that they want to move to a position whereby you will allow them to pay you more so that they can get your gold level service?

Can you see any other lessons for accountants here?

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Lessons for accountants from…..comedians

Have you ever seen any of those TV panel games involving teams of comedians?

There are typically two teams with 3 comedians on each side and a host who may also be a comedian. I’m thinking of programmes such as ‘Would I lie to you?’, ‘Mock the Week’, ‘8 out of 10 Cats’ and so on. Even the long running ‘Have I got News for You’ typically has 2 or 3 comedians on each show. ‘So what?’ you say. ‘What can accountants learn from this?’

Well, it occurs to me that these comedians all seem to be happy appearing on screen together. They frequently laugh at each others’ jokes and seem quite comfortable with their competitors being seen along side them.  They know that if anyone is looking to book a comedian for a gig or to host a private event that it is their personal qualities that will count most.

I’m simplifying things of course to make a point. And that is that there is NO NEED to fear being in the same room as other accountants at networking events. I know some accountants who are only prepared to attend groups that limit attendance to one person per profession (as does BNI for example).  This is unduly limiting in my view.

First of all you are unlikely to be able to have meaningful conversations with everyone in the room. Secondly there is no point in racing around the room giving out your business card to all and sundry. As I have pointed out many times here: No one refers work to a business card.

But, most of all, you not competing with the other accountants for work. You are competing with them to build relationships with the other people in the room. Again, as I have pointed out many times, you are never just networking to secure business from the people in the room. You are also looking to be remembered, recommended and referred AFTERWARDS.

Most of the people you meet will take it as read, if you say you are an accountant, that this means that you can do all  the basics they assume every accountant can do.  You are not competing to be thought of just another accountant.  Just as comedians are not competing to make us laugh. They can all do that – otherwise they wouldn’t be on TV.

What matters most is how easy it is for other people to get to know and like you. I’d suggest that making them laugh can help here but there is no need for accountants to start acting like comedians!

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

 

 

 

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Lessons for accountants from….dating sites

I was fascinated to hear a friend of a friend bemoaning the challenge of finding suitable guys to date online.

The lady in question (we’ll call her ‘Brenda’) is looking for guys 45-65, but is routinely put off by their photos and their profiles.

It seems that few have thought about how to create the best first impression. And this is the lesson I want to share today.

It’s been a while since I blogged about how ‘You never get a second chance to create a first impression’.

Now it is perfectly possible that the guys who approach ‘Brenda’ are just as choosy as she is. Perhaps they want someone who will accept them, warts and all. For them maybe it’s best that they haven’t tailored their dating profiles. Perhaps there are women who look to date guys who think it makes sense to use a photo that shows them half drunk, with a pint of beer in their hand wearing a football t-shirt that is too small for them.

But I bet it would be easier for such guys to find their ideal woman if they posted more attractive photos and less self-centred profiles.

What impression do prospective clients get from the photos they see of you on your website and elsewhere in your online profiles? If you have a unique name try a google image search. Is the person you find looking back at you approachable and mature or stupid, sad or boring?

Does your profile describe you as the perfect date or as the ideal accountant? By all means include some evidence of your personality and outside interests. But remember your profile’s job is to evidence you as an experienced, able and approachable accountant.

My tip of the week then is to set out the adjectives and description of you that you would like to stress in your online profiles, website and photos. Now ask someone else to review your preferred photo and profiles. What adjectives and description come to mind? If there is a disconnect you had better make some changes.

You might try the same exercise if you are looking for love on dating sites too 😉

Related posts: How to build your personal brand and Online profiles – make sure yours isn’t boring

Related ebook: How to be more than ‘just another accountant’.

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Lessons for accountants from…..personal trainers

When someone decides they want to get fit they could choose the DIY route at a gym or they can engage a personal trainer.

The trainer will ask if the client has has had a trainer before. If so, what did the client like about the exercises, the fitness regime, the advice they received and the way they were treated? The trainer will also listen to what the client wishes to achieve. T

The trainer, who is a expert, will indicate what’s realistic and what is not. They will set out the pre-requisites of success and may refuse to take on the client if they have unrealistic ambitions. If the trainer feels they can work with the client there may be occasions when they push the client beyond their comfort point in pursuit of the goal. And clients are willing to pay for this because they know that they will be fitter and healthier as a result.

I wonder if there are any lessons here for accountants and their clients? How about finding out what they liked and didn’t like about their previous accountant? What does the client want to achieve through the appointment of the new accountant? What are they like in producing all of the information necessary to complete accounts and tax returns?

I rarely hear of accountants pushing their clients to provide the necessary information in good time. Actually that’s not strictly true. The accountants tell me that they do chase up. They send emails, letters and maybe phone. But they only REALLY insist when the relevant deadlines are looming. Until then they leave the client in control. They let the client stay flabby, slow and unfit – as regards their financial/tax situation.

Not everyone wants a tough personal trainer. And I’ve no doubt that some trainers crack the whip, so to speak, less than others. But if you’re paying for a personal trainer you want them to help you get fit and healthy. It’s no good turning up at the gym a week before christmas and expecting the trainer to sort you out in time for the big party or whatever.

Anyone see an analogy here? What could accountants do to be more like personal trainers? Or do you think this analogy has been over stretched already?

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