The curious incident of the dog and the nail
There’s a proverb about a young man walking down the street. He comes across an older man sitting on his porch, with a dog lying next to him, whining in pain. The young man asks the dog’s owner “What’s wrong with your dog?”. The owner replies “He’s lying on a nail”. The man asks “Lying on a nail? Why doesn’t he move?”. The owner replies “because it’s not hurting bad enough.”
Why are business development services not mainstream?
This proverb got me thinking. Why are Accountants not approaching Business Development services in the same way they do compliance services?
Compliance services are delegated throughout the team, they’re fully systemised, there’s training and support offered and there’s a constant drive to improve margins and efficiency. Leverage is achieved by having more people offering the services (in-house or off-shore) and through efficient software and systems.
But Business Development services like Business Planning, Quarterly or Monthly Coaching, business improvement seminars and workshops are, at best, delivered on an ad-hoc basis. There is generally no leverage achieved as only one or two people can do this work and rarely is there a system being used to ensure consistent high quality and efficiency.
I believe Business Development services are not mainstream because there’s simply not enough pain … yet. There’s still plenty of compliance work and clients are not demanding Business Development services.
There’s not enough demand for business development services – a cop out
Generally speaking, clients don’t associate their Accountant with someone who can help them to run a better business. Most business owners I talk to think of their Accountant as someone who does their annual accounts, tax returns and associated services. The associated services are generally ‘on-demand services’ only requested by the client when either their bank has demanded them (think cashflow forecasts or finance proposals) or when they’re starting up or buying a business (think entity establishment, due diligence and the like).
The fact that there is no demand does not mean business owners don’t need help to run a better business. They just don’t see Accountants as the people who can help.
As an industry we need to build the demand for these services.
Not because we can make more money from our clients this way, but because most business coaches have little or no qualifications or understanding of numbers. Businesses that enlist the skills of a coach to drive up marketing and sales activity with no understanding of the impact on the balance sheet can, and often do, go broke. Accountants have a duty of care to help their clients more here.
How do we build the demand for business development services?
We must educate our clients.
We need to take people from DKDK to KDK. Most business owners don’t know that business development services (like an annual business plan, annual forecast and on-going reporting and accountability) are just best practise and can help them to run a better business.
We need to teach them that these services are essential. At this point they’ll know that they don’t know how to do these things and demand some help.
"People don’t know what they need until you show it to them." - Steve Jobs
- Articulate your Core Ideology. Your business exists to serve your clients (not make a profit) so articulate your why, as well as your vision for your clients.
- Deliver constant and consistent marketing messages. Educate your clients using case studies, testimonials, short videos, blogs and social media. Get in their faces and show them what they want.
- Deliver internal marketing. Educate your team, as well that those who are your main source of referrals. They should know about the services you offer, the problems they solve and the benefits they deliver. Gap members are provided with custom branded flyers specifically for this purpose.
- Provide educational marketing events for clients. Deliver webinars, seminars, and workshops, large or small scale, these are highly effective. Deliver topics that help clients to understand where they can improve their business… then deliver the antidote via these BD services. The Gap has several seminar and workshop kits available.
There’s not enough pain … yet
There is no doubt that margins in compliance are reducing. At the same time the technological advances that will eventually make traditional compliance essentially redundant are allowing firms to remain profitable.
Most Accountants I talk to are still super busy with compliance work so don’t have the time to invest in business development services. It’s largely only the innovators and early adopters that are getting into this space in any real scalable or leveraged way. These two groups of people are respectively the technologists and visionaries.
Two things are apparent to me here:
- Compliance-only firms are in a race to the bottom. Technology creates efficiency but at the same time it will create an expectation in the eyes of savvy clients that fees should reduce. That’s a painful pathway to business development services – in other words a decision made out of desperation.
- Business development services will become core services over time. It’s a matter of time before the Early Majority get involved in a large scale way. This is exciting for the industry as pragmatic accountants will see social proof that they can help clients run a better business (and they must to survive). This is a far less painful pathway; a decision made out of inspiration.
The only question is when will the pain be big enough for those pragmatists to swing into action? Sure as cheque butts and bank statements are history, I wouldn’t want to be a laggard in the business development space.
“Will you offer business development services in a scalable way out of inspiration or desperation?”
Ready to move towards a world beyond compliance but not sure how? Download our eBook ‘Beyond Compliance: A guide to implementing value-add services’.
*This blog was inspired by the book “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon, in which a boy with Asperger syndrome is trying to come to terms with his parents splitting up. Are we as Accountants like this boy struggling to come to terms with the change in the Accounting Industry?
Written by Mark Jenkins, CA