Boot Camp revisited: Eastbourne 2000by
At the recent Practice Excellence Awards, Results Accountants Systems founder and B1G1.com philanthropist Paul Dunn was given a new Outstanding Contribution award for his pioneering efforts in practice development. To give readers a feel for Dunn’s mould-breaking approach, we reproduce an extract from this June 2000 report by John Stokdyk on a Results Accountants’ Boot Camp at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne.
The Boot Camp itself is the most visible element of a practice re-engineering process that can take two years or more. Walking in off the street, a Boot Camp lecture is what you would expect from a high-powered motivational sales seminar.
RAS founding chairman Paul Dunn has the charisma and crowd-working skills of a TV evangelist and makes the most of slick production values and audio-visual aids. (You can learn how to do a PowerPoint presentation like Paul by attending an 8am seminar). He is backed by a smiling, well drilled support team.
The lectures form a major part of the Boot Camp. Beginning at 8am, they continue until 10pm on some days of the programme. By the end of the second day, the audience was beginning to look a little shell-shocked by the volume and intensity of the information they were being given.
One participant at Eastbourne voiced some misgivings during a tea break. He was talking about his clients, but the question could just as easily have applied to the Boot Camp participants themselves.
“Last week I was an accountant. Next week, I’m a business development expert. Isn’t there a danger that you’re just pumping stuff at the client?” he asked Dunn. “They might just get fed up and get bored of you.” Another participant wondered when the talking would finish and when he would get to hear some practical advice about systems he could deploy within his practice.
Dunn acknowledged that Boot Campers do get a lot of information thrown at them - it was a deliberate part of the process to shake-up their existing assumptions. “What we’re doing is giving you lots of dots that are all over the map. It’s difficult to see how they fit together. On Day Four, we connect the dots and then you’ll really see it,” he promised.
Dunn is the undoubted star of the show. With a laser-like glint in his eye, he doles out a mixture of common sense and enlightened self-interest backed by systematic research and homespun tales of business successes in his native Australia.
Dunn regularly picks out members of the audience to illustrate his points and rewards contributors with fluffy koala dolls and other “strokes”. A new innovation proved particularly popular at Eastbourne. Three masseuses took up positions at the back of the room and gave neck-rubs to a queue of grateful Boot Campers during the afternoon session.
One of the conditions of the Boot Camp is that you agree to abide by Dunn’s idiosyncratic disciplinary code. Anyone who mentions their “staff”, for example, is fined £2 per transgression; they can earn back the same amount by using the term “team” instead.
The Results philosophy is based on the idea that there are just four ways to grow any business (to make the points easier to remember, RAS has printed them up on mouse mats and cardboard desktop reminders):
- increase the number of customers of the type you want
- increase the number of times customers come back
- increase the average value of each sale; and
- increase the effectiveness of each process in the business.
The whole point of work, according to Dunn, is to build up a valuable business that you can sell on to someone else. Systematising expert knowledge holds the key to this process, so that less skilled - and less highly paid - “team members” can do most of the footwork for you.
“Spend less time working IN the business, and more time working ON the business,” is Dunn’s mantra.
The curse of the accountancy profession, Dunn argued, was the time/rate nexus. Clients do not buy your time, he explained, they buy your expertise and the value you can add to their business. Almost every accountant in the room held their hand up when Dunn asked if clients had ever told them their fees were too high.
Value is equal to the benefit divided by the cost, he explained. Rather than reducing the cost by agreeing to fee cuts, the Results-oriented accountant should thank the client for their feedback and reply: “You may feel you don’t get enough value out of us - how together do you think we can increase the value?” said Dunn. The resulting conversation should give both parties a useful action plan for further engagements.
If Paul Dunn is the inspirational figurehead, UK general manager Colin Dunn (no relation) and his international counterpart Ric Payne are responsible for the paper materials, follow-up and implementation work that goes on between Boot Camps.
Accountants are a tough bunch to win over, said Payne. “They typically want to go to the bottom line.” He explained that the RAS process applies a more rounded methodology that melds practice management issues with business development techniques that they can go out and use to help clients improve their businesses.
The four-day Boot Camp costs £3,195 for the first person from a firm (a second member can come along for £895). Following the Boot Camp, there is a 26-week structured support process in which an RAS professional development counsellor will work with RAS members to apply what they have learned and implement the new systems.
Some would argue that the regimented, pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Boot Camp would not appeal to the average, repressed British accountant - and in proportional terms, there are bigger RAS communities Down Under and across the Atlantic. But the 111 willing participants at Eastbourne confirmed that growing numbers of UK accountants are ready to try Paul Dunn’s prescriptions for success.
Practitioners with a strong idea of what they wanted to achieve, good market niches and imaginative business development plans already in place could probably put their £3,195 to more effective use elsewhere. But the Boot Camp has a lot of solid, practical ideas to offer on most aspects of professional practice. The four-day experience is designed to shake up most people’s comfortable assumptions and could be just the sort of motivational jolt to get a firm out of the doldrums.
Results Accountants and the people quoted in this article have all gone off in new directions, but how has the practice development scene changed for you in the past 15 years? Tell us about your experiences - either of Boot Camps or more recent experiences.
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