How to build a millennial firm
The North Shields-based accountancy firm Blu Sky knew from the outset that it wanted to do things differently.
So when a friend’s father, the chairman of a family firm, sneered at accountants being “historians” the firm’s co-founder Jon Dudgeon decided to spin this on its head and “look forward, rather than backwards”.
“We try to interpret what's going on within the businesses, tell the story of the numbers and give the business owners insight into the future, rather than the past,” said Dudgeon.
So Dudgeon and co used this approach to tap into their ideal client: The typical millennial, start-up client. Empathising with these firms came naturally though because they overcame a similar start-up curve.
Emerging from a Big Four background, Dudgeon craved the opportunity to “kick down that stuffy accountant feel” when he and co-founder Dave Gibson launched Blu Sky. “We structured everything around the client as people and business people,” Dudgeon explained. “That's been the ethos of the firm from day one.
“We've never worn suits and dressed as the sector does because that's the type of people we've gravitated towards,” explained Dudgeon.
Integrate yourself into your client’s business
One of the reasons millennial clients gravitate towards the firm is because they speak the same language – not just with words but through tech. Blu Sky’s Sam Wood said that business app Slack has helped bridge relationships with start-ups.
“If we ask [a client] whether they'd like to join our slack or if we can we join theirs, their eyes light up,” he said. Not only does Slack integrate the firm within their client’s team but it enables the client to directly contact them when needed.
As well as this, the firm uses the social media channels their ideal clients use when marketing, focusing on Instagram and Twitter.
We try to interpret what's going on within the businesses, tell the story of the numbers and give the business owners insight into the future, rather than the past
And communication tools like Skype have enabled the firm to be more accessible to their clients and break geographical barriers "the industry was often constrained by - like having to meet face-to-face,” said Dudgeon.
This ongoing dialogue can serve to remind clients of their obligations. According to Blu Sky, the younger generation places less value on compliance services. So, they combat this attitude through reminding their clients of compliance. Through mentoring start-ups, the firm delivers business advice and use this time to “pitch the importance of compliance”.
Be flexible towards clients
This approach upholds the firm’s putting people first mantra and filters into their flexible approach towards their millennial client. “The younger crowd are more open to 11pm, midnight or 1am text messages and slacks,” said Dudgeon. “They expect everything to be now and accessible.”
The firm fits around their clients’ nocturnal working habits by adopting flexible work hours. “The doors don't close at 5pm,” Dudgeon continued. “We're continually talking with our clients into the evening, informally. That's what that generation of business owners expect and demand to some degree.”
In fact, some of their clients don’t get up until the afternoon and will then work through until four in the morning. “If was trying to set a call for midday it just wouldn't get done,” said Dudgeon.
The firm and its team are able to do this through being “100% hosted in everything”. Logging on from a “little £200 computer” the team are able to work from anywhere and anytime while the desktop is hosted somewhere else.
For example, co-founder Gibson joins the team meeting every day via Skype, runs the business and client relationships the same as he would if he was in the office, all while living in Fuerteventura.
Let other people make mistakes
But despite the firm’s insatiable appetite towards tech, they’ve taken a considered approach to choosing software. “We benefited from other people's mistakes when it comes to the cloud and fully embracing it and doing it the right way,” said Wood.
We both wanted to be ahead of the pack but didn't want to rush into things before they were proven and give clients a bad experience or internally have a bad experience.
“We both wanted to be ahead of the pack but didn't want to rush into things before they were proven and give clients a bad experience or internally have a bad experience.
“So we are not the first person to jump on board, but we are second or third. We go with it when we know that it is reliable.”
And like everything else the firm does, their tech choices circle back to their millennial clients’ needs and wants. “In terms of Xero, we liked it nine years ago when we first looked at it but we didn’t jump on it, explained Wood. “The clients dictated what package they were comfortable with and wanted to use.”
We didn’t want to be historians
Looking back, Dudgeon must laugh whenever he thinks of his friend's father's opinion of accountants.
Dudgeon recalls the father's verdict: "You accountants, you're all historians, aren't you?” the father groaned. “Come along, tell us something that happened nine months ago and tell us some bad news that we have some tax to pay."
As a Receipt Bank gold partner the firm has set out to debunk this perception. Blu Sky’s team of millennial account managers have embraced accounting tech so they can act as"mini FCs" for their clients.
“It's well known the time products like Receipt Bank can give you back," said Wood. "You can then spend the time interpreting the numbers and speaking with clients about what’s there, rather than number crunching and producing accounts.” He added: “Technology has brought the relationship closer with the client.”
From seeing their bank updating in real time, clients are able to ask questions on a day-to-day basis. "There's more power in bringing the client into the fold, and they see the value you are adding," said Wood. Because of this, their start-up client is “full of vigour and excitement because they are building a business".
To their millennial clients, Blu Sky are anything but historians.