Accountants should be more expert

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Robert Craven caused a storm on AccountingWEB last year when he said clients should sack their accountants. Mark Lee catches up with him to see if his views have changed.

Robert Craven’s latest book, “Grow your service firm” is not aimed solely at accountants. It is intended to be of use by all manner of professionals and service based businesses. But accountants are at the top of the list – alphabetically at least!

I read the book earlier this year and asked Robert about it when I met up with him recently.

ML: What prompted you to write the book?

RC: I actually wrote it while nursing an injury I sustained early on during a ski trip. But the ideas and lessons are based on over twenty years of experience and observation. It was ori...

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not read it...but it seems

a bit of a paradox to have a book written for service firms in general, only to be told you should become an 'expert' on your subject in order to carry credibility....perhaps a book specifically written for the services provided by accountancy firms would carry more credibility...!? 

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not read it...but it seems

The book is written specifically with service firms in mind... firms that can benefit from focusing on their technical expertise. It applies to accountants, lawyers and so forth.


The point about writing just for accountants is very interesting. As the specifics of accounting are not my expertise I defer to people like Mark Lee. My expertise is in helping service businesses to grow significantly by focusing on their area of expertise. 

I trust that makes sense.



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Wise words of corroboration

Hi Mark,

This blog post from Seth Godin today seems apposite:


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"Management consultants........"


With the greatest respect to Mr Craven who I have not met and who's book I have not read this reminds me of the sort of gobbledygook "management consultants" used to spout in the 1980's before they disappeared in the recession.

I had a little bet with myself before looking him up that there was an American influence somewhere and sure enough Mr Craven is based in the US and before you think it I'm not anti-american in the slightest, in fact I have relations there who I love to visit.

If you are an accountant/tax adviser and you do not already know you need to offer something proactive to your clients well..............



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American influence

I have a practice in Romania, and after many years of American influence I agree with the comment - Europe is a different market.  We should stay away from being experts at this or at that, keep the profession what it is - Accountancy and follow the Attorneys who do not have a license for every expertise in the book.  We are a service (serving) profession. Accountants always add value to their clients.  Otherwise they go out of business.

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Robert is based in Bath and, so far as I am aware has no connection with the US whatsoever.


ps: my apologies for any confusion. Seems I provided the wrong link at the end of Robert's credits at the foot of the article. Now edited.

The main one is:

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I stand corrected although I clicked on the link on your article which took me to his site in the US

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Robert...that makes

complete sense.....but if you are going to 'create' shock headlines then I think it is fair for you to expect some questioning.


If I were to write a headline....'Business consultants know sweet FA'.....then you may be critical of me (if perhaps the article then sets out to establish that the majority of business advisers are just a sounding board, and effectively add nothing more than joe bloggs in the street could by sitting in a room with a business owner and listening and allowing the owner to then come up with his/her own solutions).




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reply to Robert...that makes

Dear "Justsotax"

I think Mark Lee created the headline but he probably knows that my views ("there are buckets of opportunities and the switched on accountant can grasp these by giving the client a remarkable experience rather than the mediocre one that is sometimes the case...and part of that is done by standing out and demonstrating your expertise") aren't always received totally positively by some of the accounting community.

I agree my 'ology' can be applied to many professions and service firms including management consultants, authors, lawyers, architects etc



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Making money out of being critical

I think we have all heard this before and to be honest it just seems another method of drumming up a social status.  Clients are not stupid, we have enough networking, meetings, forums for clients to know a pro-active and not so pro-active accountant and to be honest many clients just wont pay for better informed planning, or do not have the income to participate in higher level service even if that service does bring tax benefits.

Steve Pipes research and support work on our industry has made many firms have a re-think on their services, but often it comes down to our individual resources and money - myself having financial commitments that meant i have had to put my client planning on hold for two years. 


You get rhetoric in every industry - for example in the manufacturing world, the operations is full of it on a weekly basis in the production i agree with other comments - targetting your service profession is an easy target - the whole business community is full of bullshit but i think the majority of us are discerning enough to walk away.


Can someone write a book on how to be a pro-active customer!

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("there are buckets of opportunities and the switched on accountant can grasp these by giving the client a remarkable experience rather than the mediocre one that is sometimes the case...and part of that is done by standing out and demonstrating your expertise")


like i suggested the same could be said of any business consultant who chooses to release a book suggesting the '20 best ways to improve sales' or '10 ways to increase your turnover' etc etc.....there are many many books suggesting they have the answer to a business owners dreams......if only one could demonstrate his/her technical expertise in order to stand out from the crowd.


Like I said....paradox is the word that comes to mind.


And just to clarify i am a whole hearted supporter of mark's, his article are informative, and offer guidance for all levels....

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Forget the messenger - Consider the message


As an ex-practising accountant it surprises me not that a number of responses are focused on the headline rather than the message. The view seems to be that a generic unshocking headline would be less offensive. It is probably somewhat ironic that it is the same approach taken by many in professional services to market their wares. And in turn that leads to practitioners complaining that clients do not appreciate the value that we can bring them. These are the same clients that can understand the value proposition of purchasing a house, a car, a Lotto ticket. Although when it comes to understanding the value of the accountant they "just don't get it". If it takes a shocking message to help the audience to take notice then it is a smart decision to use it. Whether that is the title of an article or the marketing message we use to reach our audience or how we are to position our firm within that market. The problem is that most professional service firms use a scattergun approach and try to both specialise and generalise without any sort of strategic intent. It doesn't work.

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How much is RC paying

you to lick his bum Mark. (no offence intended)

You know my feelings on these sort of sales "gimmicks". This book is ok for number cruchers, but Accountants will, by training, experience etc. already have the qualities that a client is looking for. Just as Accountants get to know their clients, clients will get to know their Accountant. This book rather takes the mick out of clients and treats them as people that can be conned left right and centre.

Don't forget IFA's were going down this route and had to be regulated. Now look at the industry.

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I can't speak for everyone in practice, but i would suggest that the vast majority realise there is more to being in business than merely adding up a column of numbers.  To attract clients you must offer something they want (as usually they already have an agent....and if not, you are often in competition with others).  That may be some basic services like accounts and may be more specific and/or specialised.  


The shock is not necessarily in the title...but the same old message that it specialist/have a really isn't ground breaking, the only choice then left to the practitioner is whether he/she wants to carve out a niche....or is happy being a general practitioner....




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We've had this debate before @JohnJenkins

I choose what I consider to be useful material for my articles in AccountingWeb and the editors have final say and often choose their own headlines.

There is much I like in the book but I don't agree with everything which is why I wanted to speak to Robert and felt it would be helpful to share our conversation.

I genuinely consider the book to be a very useful tome for accountants in practice. Maybe not those as experienced and arrogant as you come across, but certainly to most others.

You and I seem to live in different worlds. In mine many accountants (not just 'number-crunchers' as you so dismissively refer to them) seem to find most, possibly all, of my articles useful. They certainly get pretty high levels of 'views' - and I hope of 'reads' too.

You seem to be passing comment on the book by ref to my review above - which is harsh to say the least. I disagree with your conclusions but if they are due to any inadequacy on my part as a reviewer then it is I who should apologise. And I do.

As I have concluded previously I see little point in continuing this debate with you, but no doubt you will seek to provoke me into doing so. I will endeavour to resist as, on past experience, I'd be wasting my time.


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Ah come on Mark

don't give up on your debating and banter skills, eventually you might even become an expert. I don't think we live in different worlds. The strive for the "sale" and "maximising profits" etc. etc. has caused no end of problems. You only have to look at the banking and finance industries to see what the effect is.

I will say this again Mark. IMO a real Accountant does not need "marketing gimmics" more like Jack of all trades - master of some. (for a small fee you may use that in future articles)


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"Management consultants........"


Hope I didn't start all this! All I was trying to get across was that IMO being an 'expert' is of no use in the real world except in the very big firms or if providing advice to other firms.

I have worked for large and small firms (now a sole trader) and I don't believe I need a gimmick or advice on how to keep clients i.e good service and proactive advice they understand works. Clients come in all shapes and sizes and as mentioned above will pay for advice only if they understand it and it is of relevance to them.

The advice I need (and I suspect I'm not alone) is how to find more clients with wealth not bothered by the recession who are prepared to pay my (reasonable) fees. I don't feel being an expert would help at all, perhaps a different personality to attract clients might do but I don't think I could buy one of those. Either that or having contacts from going to a select school/uni but I can't turn the clock back.


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This is what being an Accountant is all about. Before you start giving advice (not expert) you really should be up to speed. It is what the client expects. How can you possibly advise clients if you don't know how to get them. No dis intended but this really is the difference between an Accountant and a number cruncher.

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Not sure I follow you on this one; are you saying because I'm struggling to get more 'good clients' I'm just a number cruncher? I already have quite a number of very wealthy high profile tax clients most of whom I've known for years and who are very happy with the service and advice they receive. I've never advertised since becoming self employed over 20 years ago having relied on referrals which served me well until the recession really took hold. I believe I'm pretty up to speed with things in that I attend regular courses etc but I don't pretend to be an expert in anything just a good experienced 'GP'.



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"Wounded inner child[ren] lash out"
Maybe it's because I'm coming from a Big4 background, or because I'm not from tax ... or because I have only seven years of experience and I just don't know anything. But, it sure seems like the responses so far are coming from an insecure place, somewhere deep down, that strikes out in fear when it feels threatened.

The only problem you're all facing is not meeting enough people [clients] and that developing a reputation, and getting your name out more wouldn't help to get you more work... Did I get read that right?

So I guess I can understand your feelings' that since you're selling a commodity (tax returns) you couldn't benefit from from having a stronger reputation for knowing what you're talking and how to maximize value in your field. Hmm.. Nope .. Never mind .. That makes no sense. Gosh.. I wish I was smarter so I could comprehend these comments... But luckily I'm just a generalist and can't think at levels above the rest of my peers! Now if only I could find more articles to read with more inane comments.. I could get all of those comments into my brain .. Because that's my problem .. There's not enough good articles with comments!.. What a sad world is mine.

Now, on the other hand, someone that's smarter than me might be able to see some value here. That the specific tactics and methods being offered here actually do work, do get your name out, do sell more engagements. But alas that's not me... Cause I'm just a good 'ol commodity accountant.. Oh look .. a flower ... happy days.

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Hmmm ... Nope baxtermann...
Just say as I see.... Nowt new in the suggestions.....and nowt deep and meaningful in my comments....just suggesting the slightly contradictory nature of the comments.

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Being an Accountant, you have to think outside the box. Your clients may well like the service you provide and there is obviously a reason for that. You should be able to evaluate that reason and take it forward to a new level (sounding a bit like RC now). The point I was making was that how can you give advice to improve and expand your clients' business when you don't know how to expand your own. Perhaps if you were to make a donation to a charity for the amount that you would charge one of your clients for expansion advice, it would spur you on to expand your own business.

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