Ten lessons from the ICAEW practice conference
Mark Lee reports on some of the learning points that were highlighted during the ICAEW’s recent practice conference.
Hundreds of chartered accountants descended on this conference last week to attend one or two of the four streams. What follows is neither a summary nor a review of the whole conference. Instead I have focused on some of the common themes that came up a number of times across the two days.
Chatting with some of the attendees, I learned that they had come for various reasons. Typically for some CPD and, reading between the lines, due to an almost masochistic desire to hear what they could and should be doing differently but would probably never get around to doing.
None admitted to having had been attracted by the opportunity to hear celebrity speakers Robert Peston or Lord Digby Jones. Nevertheless these two talks were well received – albeit not really contributing to the enhanced knowledge, insights and ideas that constitute valuable CPD for smaller practioners. Still “it added to the variety and was better than working”, as one member put it to me.
Many attendees claimed that they just don’t have enough time to work on building or developing their practice. How then did they manage to make time to attend the conference (typically just for one of the two days)?
Speaker after speaker encouraged them to identify ‘just one thing’ that they would do differently when they return to their practices. And then to ensure that they carve out time in their diaries, repeatedly to work on their practice strategy.
Predictably the best attended sessions were those which focused on upcoming changes in the advice accountants might need to give clients.
These topics have all been addressed many times on the pages of AccountingWeb and were also covered at last year’s Practice Excellence conference.
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How did people like Aynsley Damery, Paul Bulpitt and Jessica Pillow make the changes that resulted in their success and led to them running, what are now, award-wining practices?
Each had a different approach. But there were overlaps and similarities in each case. And they all made the same key point.
They take time out from the weekly work load and schedule slots in their weekly diaries to progress the changes they want to effect in their practices. As their firms grew, they involved their teams. Anyone who didn’t look to the future was encouraged to leave rather than to hold the firm back.
They didn’t just allocate out one day to do stuff during the week after attending a conference. They didn’t just allocate a day a month to making changes and running their business, rather than doing client work. They took time out every week and continue to spend time working ‘on the practice’ each week. Every week.
I was amused by one question directed at Aynsley. “Do you still consider yourself to be an accountant now you are focused on running the practice?”
Maybe I misunderstood the intent. But it seemed to be suggesting that Aynsley couldn’t be both an accountant and the MD or CEO of his practice. The implication seemed to be a belief that if you love doing compliance work you have to choose between this and building a more successful practice. I sensed a degree of fear from those who feel this way.
No one is forcing anyone to move their focus away from doing compliance work for clients. But if you have ambitions to be more successful you probably need to be prepared to do things differently in your practice. To make some changes and to keep doing things differently to before.
If you carry on doing things the way you always have, at best you’ll carry on getting the same results and outcomes. In practice you may well slip back and, in time, you may start haemorrhaging clients. That’s the stark warning that has been repeated at accountancy conferences over many years. It hasn’t happened yet, but even I am now prepared to accept that it’s closer to happening in the near future than ever before.
Here then are ten tips that were shared, one way or another, by multiple speakers across the two days:
- You will never get to the bottom of your to do list, so do not wait until you have ‘time’ to work on your strategy.
- Even those prospective clients who come to you via referrals probably check out your website first. Does it convert them or deter them from getting in touch?
- Treat interactions on social media sites like those at a cocktail party. This is very different to conversations that start with sales messages as these are unlikely to lead to new business.
- The ICAEW website has evolved in recent years and now has much in the way of support materials to help small practitioner members (eg: cyber security advice for members and their smaller clients)
- It is not enough to be good at your job, to be an expert or to be visible online. That just gets you to the ‘starting line’. You need to stand out positively and memorably from others who seem to do the same as what you do.
- Instead of trying to sell what you do, focus your marketing messages and offers, online and offline, on people who are looking for the services and expertise you offer.
- It is easier to be congruent in your messaging and approach if you start with clarity as to ‘why’ do you do what you, why do the clients your target need help and why do clients chose to come to you? Starting with ‘why’ is more likely to lead to greater practice success too.
- Be clear about what you don’t do and who you don’t want as clients, as much as what you do and who you do want to serve.
- Focus on the value that clients want and will pay for rather than the price people pay. NB: Value needs to be seen from the client’s perspective not from yours.
- The more joined up are your marketing efforts (including your online activities) the more worthwhile and successful they are likely to be.
These days Mark Lee focuses his business actiities on two key activities:
1 - He loves being engaged to speak on stage to audiences of accountants in all size of firms. His latest keynopte talk is: The rise of Robo-Accountants - and how to beat them. He is an accountancy focused speaker, futurist and influencer with a positive reputation...