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Practice Excellence Conference 2015

Boot Camp revisited: Eastbourne 2000

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5th Oct 2015
Editor in Chief (interim) AccountingWEB
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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.

Replies (6)

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
05th Oct 2015 14:41

Interesting

Not for me this type of thing. For a start for me the main aim is not to build a valuable business to sell on to someone else.

I'm sure this approach works for some of the attendees.

I wonder how many of the 111 viewed the £3k and four days as money and time poorly spent six months later?

I for one certainly won't be drinking the Kool-Aid.

Thanks (2)
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By nottstax
06th Oct 2015 10:57

Well I'm a boot camper...

......and it changed the lives of myself and many others I know in the profession.

We are all trained as technicians by the Institutes, to charge by the hour, to hide behind our qualifications in providing compliance services and holding ourselves out to give business advice. 

The accountancy world are highly trained, and highly capable, but need our mindsets to be opened up to what is really important to clients... including the value proposition .

I went to the original Boot Camp with my five partners at the time. Did all stay with the practice after?... NO! 

Yes it was like a 'legal high' but it changed the practice and the attendees forever.....

... well those who allowed their mindset to be opened.

It took us out of our comfort zone and onwards we were the better for it.

For those in the category ' I wonder how many of the 11 viewed the £3k and four days as money and time poorly spent six months later?' ... shame on you!

Thanks (0)
Replying to Wilson Philips:
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By Sheepy306
07th Oct 2015 03:40

Don't (always) believe the hype

nottstax wrote:

Yes it was like a 'legal high' but it changed the practice and the attendees forever.....

... well those who allowed their mindset to be opened.

Reminds me a little of Tim Minchin's classic song......."if you open your mind too much, your brain will fall out"

Only joking, for some people the boot camp/AVN/Bob/other practice guru talk and philosophy is what they need to change their thinking and business practice. Personally it's not for me, but then I'm more of a lifestyle practice than all out growth.

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Locutus of Borg
By Locutus
06th Oct 2015 12:47

I went to York in November 2000

The small firm I worked as an employee for started the Accountants Boot Camp programme in 1999 and I got sent on the 3 day course held at York in November 2000.

Paul Dunn was there, although taking very much of a back seat role.  I think he had sold the UK business on by that time.

It was interesting and challenging, although by the time I was sent to York the process was already floundering in our firm.

We had all read the "Who Stole My Cheese" and "E-Myth" books, graded our clients A-E and ditched the E's, hired a girl for reception and called her "Director of First Impressions", did a couple of business development programmes for our clients, plus a number of fairly superficial things.

The owner of our firm had big ambitions but lacked the ability or work ethic to see them through.  I think he went into the process for the wrong reasons and saw it as an opportunity to charge much higher fees and do less work.

I don't regret being involved in it at the firm, but was real glad I didn't pay for it - I think our firm "invested" something like £20k - £30k.

We were told from the outset that the process would fail in most firms which attended the Accountants' Bootcamp.  In my opinion it did in ours.  About 6 months after I attended York, the firm downsized and I got made redundant.  As far as I can tell from their website, they are still as small as when I left a decade and a half ago.

On the plus side, after being made redundant it gave me the confidence to set up my own practice and ultimately become happier and wealthier than I was as an employee.

Looking back, although there were nuggets of good advice (like ditching your "E" clients) and devoting time to working "on" rather than "in" the business, it was difficult to implement a lot of it here in the UK in a small firm.  Many of the clients were not prepared to pay thousands for advisory services and in truth we were ill-equipped to deliver it.

Now there is a new evangelical church called AVN run by Steve Pipe, doing much the same thing.  However, the difficulties in implementation probably remain.

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Man of Kent
By Kent accountant
06th Oct 2015 14:11

Same book

...different cover

@Locutus - I've attended two AVN courses and I get that impression.

The selling is the easy part, its the delivery which is difficult when something very different is to be implemented - which (sounds like) is what the firm you were working for found out.

Interesting that your were told about the failure at the 'Bootcamp' - they were still happy to take your firm's money though, or was there a money back guarantee - I know that AVN do offer that.

Thanks (1)
Locutus of Borg
By Locutus
06th Oct 2015 15:17

Yes much the same book

If I remember correctly, Results Accountants Systems offered a loan whereby the process fees were paid up front and the loan repayments made over 18 months or so.

I think they did offer a no quibble money back guarantee on a sliding scale over time and they encouraged us to do the same with clients.  Research apparently shows that when you offer this, take up of whatever product you are selling increases substantially, but requests for money back are only something like 1%  The reality is that if you have committed at the start, then you are likely to try and see the process through.  If the process wasn't working in a firm them the belief was that they were suffering from FTI (failure to implement) and needed to try harder.

They emphasised at the start that the process would be difficult and thinking back now, they probably didn't say quite as starkly that most firms would fail, but you learned fairly early on that most firms would not fully implement the process for one reason or another.

As with all of these things, whether it is the original Accountants Bootcamp, the more modern AVN or even an evangelical church, there is a certain amount of "group think".  People become convinced in the belief system, because there are so many other people like them doing exactly the same thing - so they can't all be wrong.

I went to a free AVN Proactivity seminar last November and it seemed very similar to Results Accountants Systems philosophy.  There was a big sales push in the last hour to sign up, which I resisted, although around half the audience signed up.

Some of the ideas from Results Accountants Systems / AVN are good, but if you do your research from books, the internet and free seminars, you can pick many of these things up for a few tens of pounds.  If you want to belong to a happy-clappy church of other believers then that will unfortunately cost you many thousands of pounds.

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