This is the third of a three part series drawn from short interviews conducted during an annual networking ski trip earlier this year.
I encouraged a number of my fellow skiers, who run their own business, to share their views to provide useful insights for AccountingWEB members.
The first article in the series focused on their frustrations. The second piece referenced their approach to recommending their accountants.
This final part picks up on the comments they made about changing accountants. I hadn’t planned to address this issue but many of them referenced this, and their comments reveal what prompted them to switch accountants and what process they went through.
This topic also revealed frustrations that had not been mentioned previously:
1. “I sacked my accountants recently as they just did the basic stuff and seemed to make no effort to understand my vision and the bigger picture so as to save me from paying more tax than is legally necessary.”
2. “I changed my accountants when I set up a new company for a new business activity to run alongside my old ones. I realised my old accountants weren’t ideal to help me any more as they only seemed to want to do the basic minimum. I’m not sure they had many company clients.”
3. “I found my new accountant by asking around. I asked the people I trust within a couple of networking groups and in a FaceBook group. I only took notice of replies from people in a similar business to me and whose views I trust. I met up with three accountants. One I met networking. The other two were recommendations.
"The deciding factor for me was the one that gave me confidence, through the questions they asked, they would be giving us a great service. The other two just wanted to talk about themselves, the services they offered and their fees. Both were bigger firms and there seemed to be lots of posturing”.
4. “I checked out the websites of local accountants and dismissed those that had loads of information on them. What is it for? I wanted to appoint an accountant who I could get to know and who would get to know me. I also ignored those sites where I couldn’t see anything about who the person was who would be my accountant. I wanted to appoint a person, not a brand.”
5. “I’ve been with my current accountant for ten years. There’s nothing obviously wrong but he often seems to be too busy to give me the advice I think I need. This is especially the case in January each year. And he rarely gets in touch with me other than to return my calls – eventually. I’ve promised myself I’ll find a new accountant before the Spring. Mind you, I’ve said that before and not made it a priority.”
6. “I fired my accountants because they were not creative enough, in a legal sense. They just did the basic stuff and seemed to make no effort to understand my vision and the bigger picture so as to save me from paying more tax than is legally necessary. I’ve asked others on this trip for their recommendations for a new accountant who has the experience to help with my business expansion plans.”
7. “When I wanted to find my first accountant I asked around the people I know. Who did they use? What did they like and what didn’t they like about their accountant? I took more notice of people whose businesses were at a similar stage to mine and I didn’t want to go with a big firm that would be expensive.”
8. “I have a strong community ethos so I asked what the accountants were doing to add value to people around them to their community. One said he does the accounts for his son’s football club and that as they are a charity ‘we give them a 10% discount’. If that was the best he could come up with he was clearly not on my wavelength.”
9. “I focused on finding another local accountant. I wanted one that wasn’t too big or too small. Ideally with 5-20 employees so they would be a similar size to us. When I interviewed them I wanted to know whether we could we get on and did they share our values? In conversation I was able to decide whether I felt I could trust them. This depended on the ease with which they conversed and how comfortable they felt in the room with us.
"I couldn’t work with an accountant who was nervous, hesitant or stumbling. Even though I had told them all that price wasn’t a factor, one old fashioned accountant said ‘I’ll be surprised if you can find anyone cheaper than us.’ This seemed to be their main focus and I felt insulted.”
10. “The same firm had acted for my family business for 80 years. There was nothing obviously wrong with them. They did the work but didn’t seem to do anything beyond the basics. I felt they had got lazy. I wasn’t asking for anything new but they kept pushing up their annual charges. I felt forgotten and not valued in the way we value our clients. Since we sacked the old accountants they seem to have added us to their newsletter mailing list. I never got this when I was their client!”
Once again these conversations reinforce what many accountants already know. Many people choose a new accountant by reference to an enthusiastic recommendation from someone they know and trust.
Websites are nevertheless important to allow prospects to check out that they have been told and to see if what they can find on line matches their expectations. They want to see the name of the person to whom they have been recommended, not just the name of the firm. If they can see a professional headshot of you this helps make it easier to establish contact and rapport even before they get in touch with you.
When you get to meet with a prospective new client, ask questions and listen carefully to find out what is important to them. If you’ve done your research, you may have some ideas by reference to their online profiles and website.
Do not assume they will appoint the cheapest accountant they meet. Yes, I know this is what often happens, but it’s clearly a mistake to assume it’s true for everyone.
Most of the 15 or so networking skiers who I interviewed for this series preferred to remain anonymous in case their accountants could identify themselves!
Others who also kindly agreed to be interviewed and who were happy to be identified were:
- Robert Craven – Business author and expert adviser
- Barnaby Wynter – branding expert and marketing speaker
- Mike Jennings – Owner of business parks and entrepreneur
- Robert Fenton – Serial entrepreneur
- Chantal Cornelius – Small business marketing expert
- Chris Iles – Network marketer of health and beauty products
- Siam Kidd – Ethical and realistic forex trader and trainer
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and a speaker at conferences and in-house events, helping accountants become more memorable, win more work and secure more referrals. He also facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists who provide support to smaller practices
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I provide NED-style mentoring and business development support to sole practitioner accountants who want to overcome feelings of isolation, frustration and overwhelm - being the only decison maker in their practice.
I am also Chair of the Tax Advice Network - a highly ranked online resource for anyone seeking indepdent tax advisers....