Although written to the accounting profession, this article is just as pertinent for business coaches & consultants, lawyers, bankers, financial planners, recruiters, and the like. ___________________________
The larger accounting firms are getting larger. Grant Thornton has just bought BDO. PwC is purchasing high-powered boutique firms like Ashley Munro. It’s unlikely there will be any shift from this strategy by the players in the accounting world and in fact they may accelerate and delve deeper into the smaller and specialised end of the market. Competition is king and dangerously so for smaller accounting firms.
Will you be able to not only survive but continue to reward yourself and your people adequately to make the effort worthwhile? How might your firm compete and stand firm against the globals and multi-nationals penetrating your market space and client-markets?
Protect your existing book. Today's clients are your foundation to build future worth in increasingly competitive markets and economies. The big boys have already started cold calling and direct mailing. Examine your work with each client frequently, to assure that you are satisfactorily meeting your client’s current needs. Be sure you understand the client’s industry as well as his or her business. Be sure your person to person relationship is in good shape. And above all, pay strict attention to the quality of your own work.
You are not in the accounting business, you are in the relationship business. Your purpose is to grow strong client relationships that guarantee you are remembered and respected by them. The greater the respect and the more deliberate the relationship, the more likely your clients will contact you when things aren't quite right because they feel safe to confront you. You also can expect that when your competitors go duchessing for their business, they will speak with you before making any decision to leave you for them, giving you an opportunity to protect that client and retain their business.
Proactively seek and secure referrals, recommendations and repeat business from existing clients. Your practice should set an objective to achieve 15-20% annual growth in business from existing clients, in spite of turbulent economic factors. Frequency, recency and front-of-mind: the key to making this happen. Have conversations with clients where you are speaking less than 30% of the time. While ever you are talking you're not listening. And, if you're not listening attentively you may miss opportunities to accept referrals, recommendations and additional work with your existing clients. Be cognisant that your client’s business is no more static than yours, and is understandably, changing and evolving, reacting and responding to market conditions.
Delegates from the Chinese Institute of CPAs in Brisbane with Ric Willmot
Don't assume your practice is of no interest or immune from competition. An economy that is facilitating the demise of firms like BDO to GT is an economy that may very well expose your firm's vulnerabilities.
Make certain you, your people and your practice are better today than yesterday. Continually gain the knowledge, skills and experience to be of continual and ongoing value to your clients and prospects. Accounting is a knowledge-based profession¹. Continuing education in technical skills, professional skills, soft skills, people skills and the like should be actively undertaken by everyone within your practice. Be clear: it's a necessity, not a luxury.
Professional accounting isn't solely about the technical skills of the profession. To be the trusted and valued advisor, accountants must know more about all facets of business, economics, finance, trade, globalisation, technology, staffing, etc. The modern accountant is informed and competent about the global village, and is learned about context, not simply technical skills.
Everyone appreciates that marketing is necessary to grow a professional services firm. In light of increased competition from the "big end of town" marketing is vital for survival. Marketing an accounting practice is not the same as marketing a product or commodity. Accounting professionals need to acquire marketing skills and learn to become comfortable working with marketing professionals. You've lost the option to consider marketing as a discretionary function by dint of the improved and aggressive way your competitors are going about theirs.
Organisational Culture: Accountants have naively believed that clients will flock to them and be in awe of their knowledge. Accountants have a business because it's regulated that taxpaying entities must file returns; and audits must be completed where necessary. However, is your practice the immediate choice for these professional services? Competition is everywhere: services, expertise, standards, service, price, and more. To successfully compete, the culture of accounting firms must shift from an intellectual profession to a value-based, service-centric advisory profession.
Organisational Productivity: Control operating costs, invest in technology that delivers time savings, learn what you need to know about technology to make informed decisions, invest in your people and yourself, and eliminate waste. Manage your practice for profit. If you’re profitable you can afford to invest for growth.
Organisational Innovation: Strive for a culture of creativity, innovation, ownership, challenge, and successful failure. Be a dynamic practice that attracts young, enthusiastic, vibrant, intelligent professionals to you. Finding and keeping quality professional staff is becoming more difficult—it would seem—on an almost daily basis. Innovation, challenge and fun are characteristics that are appealing to people even in the smallest firms. Demand these attributes of your people and provide them with the resources to deliver and contribute. Hire for attitude and educate for skill.
In all of my consulting work with accountants, lawyers, financial planners, recruiters and the like, I have never been witness to an organisation with unhappy, disgruntled, demotivated staff having happy and satisfied clients.
Ric Willmot sharing his Executive Wisdom with CPA Accountants
To win the Green Jacket at the Masters you do not need to shoot four perfect rounds of golf. You simply need to be one shot better than the next best player. The horse that comes in first wins ten times the purse of the second place mount but it need not run a perfect race and be five lengths in front of the other horses. Just simply be a nose in front when they reach the post. Your accounting practice doesn’t have to be seven times better than your competition. However, your existing and potential clients have to be able to recognise an incremental advantage of you over your competition that relates to a clear benefit for them in choosing to engage your services.
Have a better understanding of your market and their needs. Have more visibility in places where your clients will be. Be more active in reaching out, sharing your knowledge and growing your brand and repute. You just need to be a nose in front!
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At conferences and symposiums I sometimes have the opportunity to sit in the back row or skulk in the shadows of the wings and listen to the speaker preceding me. I'm amazed at how much people can talk and not say anything. I'm astounded by how far presenters are willing to beat their audiences up with PowerPoint and not share any insights. I'm flummoxed at how "experts" and "gurus" focus more on the "smiley" sheets and getting a good rating than challenging the delegates to rethink their current behaviours and norms.
Trawl the website scanning the home pages of professional services firms and you achieve the same level of bewilderment very quickly. One example: "Our firm is leading-edge and admired by our competitors in a constantly changing market for legal services by implementing innovative and effective methods of providing cost-effective, quality representation and services for our clients."
What the heck does that mean?
If that's all you've got far better to remain silent.
Brevity reduces not the impact of a message if that message is pertinent, deliberate, and effective. Be provocative, challenging and confronting. Sometimes you not only need to rock the boat, but tip the boat over. Dipping your toes in the water will never deliver splashy results.
Challenge the people in your organisation to change, to improve, to do better, always and repeatedly.
Ask your people: "What can you improve by just 1% to do better?"
How are you delivering exceptional value to your customers so they choose you over all others?
What are you doing every day to deliver sensational value to your customers?
Many work hard to craft the delivery of a message that says nothing at all. Many strive to be liked and receive standing ovations. Your value is not in being liked, but in getting your audiences, employees, stakeholders, partners, etc., to improve organisational and individual performance. In this current economy your organisation needs to stand out from the crowd and get to where the money is. And, where is the money? In value! Not in discounts and price wars. There will always be someone with deeper pockets then you.
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Marketing Whirlpool guides professionals and those responsible for marketing service-oriented organisations on how to build a quality client base of which their competitors would be proud. With this book, the reader is taught and learns every aspect and skill required to build and grow a successful service business by attracting quality clients who pay handsome fees.
The readers discover how to identify or create their special market niche, how to initially contact a prospective client, gather the necessary data, reach conceptual agreement with the client (even before a proposal is offered), write a proposal that’s geared towards receiving a positive response, and even how to dominate and own the sector specific to their area of expertise in the marketplace.
In the past decade, consolidations, mergers, acquisitions, and restructuring of tier-one and tier-two professional services firms (accounting firms, advertising agencies, consulting practices, financial & insurance institutions, law firms, and a host of others), has seen hundreds of thousands of professionals start their own, or have joined other, smaller organisations. The challenge for these professionals, who are no longer sheltered and protected within the major organisations, is that to survive and thrive, they must necessarily learn how to attract and acquire clients who will be an asset to their enterprise and business longevity. This book has the answers to their challenges and to the many “unasked” questions.
Many organisations mistakenly believe that their Mission should be all encompassing and explain everything. The Mission should articulate the corporate objective in a simple manner that all stakeholders can comprehend and embrace. Ric Willmot gives a striking example of how to achieve this.
Pricing is one of the most important keys to the success or otherwise of an enterprise. Yet it is frequently overlooked, understated or just done really poorly. Ric Willmot gives a brief insight into how we can think differently when engaging with prospective customers. At the start of this clip, Ric's client, the CEO of Bradnam's Windows & Doors speaks about the approach of one of his best franchise owners.
Self-proclaimed business experts and gurus love to hear the sound of their own voice, almost as much as they love you listening to their voice. The problem is, many self-proclaimed business experts get it wrong.
You need to discriminate about who's opinion you accept. After all, it's your business at risk.
Challenge conventional and limited thinking; break free of mediocrity and stand out from the crowd by understanding and implementing Executive Wisdom.