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Clients4Life: An interview with Mark Lloydbottom

20th Oct 2008
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Rob Lewis talks to the author of Britain’s only book dedicated to improving client relationships in the accounting profession, the accountant, speaker and management consultant Mark Lloydbottom.

One summer morning in 1988, Mark Lloydbottom had what you could describe as a moment of clarity. The managing partner of a busy and successful practice, Mark nevertheless found his level of motivation diminishing. His in-tray was piled so high the top tray had cracked. Surely, he thought, this can’t be the best possible use of my time?

The next morning he arrived in the office at six and delegated every single last piece of paper in that tray to his colleagues, a task he completed by mid-morning, and then spent the rest of the day rethinking what a managing partner could really achieve. That life-changing morning was the start of a mental journey that, three decades later, is still continuing.

It eventually saw Mark left practice after 16 years to found Practice Track, a marketing and publishing company to the UK accounting profession, and later PracticeWEB, a sister-company of AccountingWEB and this country’s leading accounting firm website provider. Since that morning Mark has given countless seminars, presented at hundreds of conferences, recorded a series of audio tapes and consulted with professional service firms in seven different countries.

Finally, together with US CPA and author David W Cottle, Mark has crystallised the fruits of his discoveries into book form. Clients4Life was published by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland earlier this year. The Institute describes it as “the definitive guide to delivering outstanding service in your firm”, and while it’s true that there are several British books detailing how the professional services might improve their service offering, this is the first that specifically address the accountancy profession.

“If I asked you to recommend a good restaurant your eyes would probably light up,” Mark explains. “People are always happy to recommend somewhere nice to eat. Whenever does anybody ask the question, can you recommend a good accountant?”

For many, the services of an accountant are perceived as an unwelcome regulatory expense rather than an opportunity for growth or change, and therein lies the profession’s long-standing problem with client relationships. A majority of accountants are uncomfortable to push themselves much beyond the role of box-ticking compliance or technical tax issues, and plenty of those who actually do realise the importance of client relationships are only paying the idea lip service. It may be why such a book is sorely needed.

One of the questions I’ve asked accountants over the last ten years is how much time they actually spend eyeball-to-eyeball with clients,” Mark reveals. “Typically the average answer is about 90 minutes a year. If you could summarise the book, it is about saying to the accountant that everybody regards you as a business mentor and advisor, but truthfully you’re only spending about an hour and a half eyeball-to- eyeball, and some of that is social interaction.”

Solving this conundrum is what Clients4Life is all about. After all, doubling the time you spend with clients would be far from excessive, but for an accountant with 200 clients this would mean an extra 300 hours work; and that’s clearly a massive increase. Practitioners need to know why this is necessary, and how it can be achieved. For some, it might invoke a complete change of perspective.

“Ultimately, half of the people I talk to will say the purpose of their practice is to make a profit,” Mark says. “That’s the wrong answer. The purpose of the business is to identify and meet the client’s needs. The difference between a good accountant and a great accountant is that the great accountant asks better questions.”

To the extent that you meet those needs, you will make a profit, certainly, but you can’t identify those needs without a solid client relationship. It also calls for something that the profession has also fallen far short of, on occasion: a focus on the future. The essence of the accounting industry is that we are effectively historians (“we take the rear view mirror approach to somebody’s life”, as Mark puts it). It doesn’t always put practitioners in the best place to drive things forward or win referrals. Yet the profession cannot delude itself about what sort of service it’s really delivering. In that regard the book is a challenge as well as a guide: what have you actually done to make yourself more valuable to clients this year?

“And that answer to that isn’t ‘I’ve been on a tax course,’” as Mark explains. “Clients expect you to know about tax and other technical matters. You’re an accountant. It’s like when you get into a car, you expect the engine will work.”

Innovation and engagement is the order of the day. Of course, achieving this is perhaps easier said than done. After all, Mark and his friend and co-author, Texan David Cottle, disagree themselves on practice issues about half a dozen times throughout the book (sacking clients, for example). Yet this clearly doesn’t bother Mark, perhaps because in spite of his CV, he seems to shy away from the notion of being some kind of guru.

“It’s okay for you not to agree with us,” he told me. “It’s not about you taking on everything we say and believing it, or disagreeing with it, it’s about going on a journey to find out what you should be doing with your practice. In that regard it’s a very healthy book.”

This is one of the pleasant things about Clients4Life (although I will admit its title does sound oddly ghetto for a book about accountancy). Much of the advice available on practice development comes from those selling networks or other ad-hoc commercial solutions, and if not it often comes from eloquent, motivational performers who I sometimes think are just, in effect, selling themselves. The arguments and ideas within Clients4Life, as helpful as they are, do not pretend to be the incontrovertible and ultimate truth. It makes a refreshing change to the usual one-day seminar, will take up far less of your time (and money), and give you something to refer back to when feel inclined to dwell on such things.

After all, when Mark says the book is about going on a journey, he has done some travelling in that line himself. I suspect he is a great deal more philosophical these days than he was when was living in the shadow of his in-tray.

“We all live about 600,000 hours, we all work for 25,000 days, and one of my drivers was that I didn’t want to get to the end of my career and look back and have regrets,” he said, when I asked him why he wrote Clients4Life. There are, after all, easier and more profitable things to do than write a book. “I hope what [David Cottle and I] have achieved is to have brought together about 50 years of expertise, and make a difference to practitioners who want their lives to be successful and meaningful and benefit others with whom they interact.”

Fair enough. Yes, the difference between a good accountant and a great accountant is that the great accountant asks better questions - and not just of his clients, perhaps, but of himself.

You can order Mark's book online from his website,, here.




Replies (2)

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By AnonymousUser
25th Oct 2008 11:08

Connecting for Profit

Good luck with the book.

Finding time for clients is a problem for most accountants. Over the last three year's we've worked with a number of firms and our most successful is now chasing work down because they've run out - mainly because they are so organised and their clients books are up to date and accurate! Consequently, they won't experience the typical January hassle.

This seems to work because they're growing at around £100,000 a year with a £3,500 marketing spend. It takes them less than five hours to do Ltd Co accounts at the year-end. Oh, and they work from home!

If you're interested in the strategy they use we have a whitepaper which explians how to do it. And, the Credit Crunch makes it even easier to implement.

[email protected]

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Steve pipe
By Steve Pipe
23rd Oct 2008 08:31

Great book... and free training too

I read Mark’s book earlier in the year and can highly recommend it.

For me its most important message is to proactively work “with” your clients – not “on “ their affairs. In other words, to proactively spend more time with them, rather than spending time on your own working on their affairs.

And NEVER has that kind of personal proactivity been more important than today when the Prime Minister, Governor of The Bank of England and everyone else says we are about to enter a recession.

Clients are scared – or at least anxious. And it is lonely being a business owner. So they need to know you care, that you are on their side, and that you can help.

My 13 October Accountingweb article “The professional way to respond to the recession” (see link below) spells out a simple action plan for how to spend time with clients proactively helping them strengthen their cashflow so they can weather the recessionary storm.

The big challenge, of course, is where the time comes from to do it. You certainly can’t “find” the extra time – ie stumble across some time you didn’t know you had in reserve. Instead you have to “create” the time – ie take positive action to free up time.

The good news is that, thanks to Accountingweb, my article also offers a full day of FREE training, the “How to be more proactive” seminar, to show you:

1 How to design and launch a proactive anti-recession service for OMB clients

2 How to deliver that service profitably, and how to use it to win new clients

3 How to fit proactivity seamlessly into your existing workflows and budgets

4 How to use proactivity to generate referrals and sales leads, and turn them into new clients and earn extra fees from existing clients

5 The precise systems you need to be more proactive than ever before around tax, accounts and general business advice

6 How to create the time by improving efficiency so that you can cope with all the extra work without taking on new people

Over 65 people are booked already – but there are 100 free places on offer - so there is still room for those who want to help their clients survive and thrive through the recession.

To claim one of those places for you contact me on [email protected]

PS My article is here:

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