Mentor and Speaker for accountants BookMarkLee
Share this content
Tags:

Ten lessons from the ICAEW practice conference

23rd Nov 2015
Mentor and Speaker for accountants BookMarkLee
Share this content
ICAEW

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.

No time

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.

Technical changes

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.

Successful practices

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.

Ten tips

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.

Mark Lee FCA is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and helps individual accountants who want to be more successful in their practice or career. He is an authorspeaker, mentor and debunker. 

Tags:

Replies (7)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

bike
By FirstTab
23rd Nov 2015 17:33

Different Perspective

HERE is a different perspective on working on your practice. It is for the work shy and for those who are bored with doing REAL work. 

I think they are 100% right. But I will still do it MY way. 

 

Thanks (1)
avatar
By AndrewV12
24th Nov 2015 11:05

Point two- websites

 Extraty above

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?

This got me thinking unless you can guide a potential client to your website (through advertising  or recommendation), are websites any good, bearing in mind if everyone has one, surly we are all back on an even keel.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Harrison88
25th Nov 2015 12:52

Important

AndrewV12 wrote:

 Extraty above

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?

This got me thinking unless you can guide a potential client to your website (through advertising  or recommendation), are websites any good, bearing in mind if everyone has one, surly we are all back on an even keel.

 

Websites are massively important. As a client, I would avoid companies with an out of date or bear website, even if I got good recommendations. I think it really shows your attitude to your practice. If you leave your website to look like something out of the 90's, or even a really out of date blog, then what does that say for your attitude to CPD and the likes? I'm not saying everyone values the same thing but a website is the new shop front. If you were going to get legal advice you would go to somewhere with a professional looking office rather than a dusty market stall.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By Char
24th Nov 2015 11:31

Biggest lesson learnt - not to take advice from the ICAEW

Firstly ICAEW invited an unqualified firm to speak about growing a business and doing business well. This firm - Wow Company has a large banner on their home page which reads "Make more profit, pay less tax and have more fun".  This is not only misleading and dangerous marketing, something we should not condone considering the fact we have a responsibility to the public as a whole, it also gives an unfair advantage to the unqualified market.  Is this really the stance the association should take?  How does this protect the members and the value of our qualification?

Another interesting fact I took away was the lack of commercial knowledge and reality by the ICAEW itself.  One of them stood and told a room full of individuals that older firms look at passing over non favourable clients to newer firms setting up.  Tell me, in a market which is further saturated and most accountants are losing clients and need more work, that this would occur?  Also add in the fact that brokers sell block of fees where the buyer pays 5% so there is no cost of selling to the seller?  There were quite a few pointers as ridiculous as this and it concerns me this is the level of advice offered to members in practice, or considering it.

The greatest tip I took was the association is no longer to be relied upon and it protects the interests of a select few.  Mainly the big boys. The fact the event was sponsored by a few large providers of accountants and there was no due diligence over the speakers, it made me think it was a money maker venture and a poor one at that.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By Wits End
24th Nov 2015 19:17

This is probably the BEST comment I have ever read on this site.

Char, we are facing an unprecedented number of people peddling "the emperor's new clothes" to our profession.

Those firms who "ridicule" compliance work fascinate me. HMRC's failure to maintain a reasonable level of investigations has allowed firms to ignore the basics. Clients haven't been affected (yet).

I'm just glad I didn't go to  the conference " not due to an almost masochistic desire to hear what they could and should be doing differently but would probably never get around to doing" but because I was too busy.

How old fashioned!

Thanks (2)
avatar
By 68fw
02nd Dec 2015 13:03

compliance/sa investigations/standards

 

>>>

Those firms who "ridicule" compliance work fascinate me. HMRC's failure to maintain a reasonable level of investigations has allowed firms to ignore the basics. Clients haven't been affected (yet).

<<<

You only have to read an ICEAW member's "approved" letter of engagement to grasp the endemic cultural cynicism with which the so called qualified professionals conduct themselves and also read some of their comments on this forum...

Commenting as an unqualified accountant of over thirty five years standing and now, thankfully, semi-retired for over five years, my thriving practice is very much as a result of the bad service, bad attitude and bad faith of such professionals... as they say, you can fool some of the people some of the time... indeed my experience suggests you could learn much from non-ICEAW members, amen.

ps

even the most meek of clients eventually objects to being served bad beer!

Thanks (0)
7om
By Tom 7000
24th Nov 2015 12:03

wow

Did the ICAEW really have non members there telling members how to operate....

 

Wonder how much they got paid for speaking?

 

I notice none of their staff have any qualifications or they didnt put their ACA or ACCAs after their names so we will never know

Thanks (1)