Our industry is full of people who have worked hard to build their practices or reach upper management. They’re intelligent, highly skilled, and hardworking. But only a handful have reached the pinnacle in our industry and attained the mantle of ‘the trusted advisor’ in the eyes of their clients.
Why is that? Interestingly, it is only subtle nuances that separate those stand-out performers from the rest.
It has often been said that ‘what got you to here won’t get you to there’, and if you think about it, this premise makes a lot of sense because if the skills that you currently have are capable of establishing you as the trusted advisor, then most of your income will be coming from strategic and advisory services.
Right now, there are a handful of success breakers (workplace habits or skills shortages) that are holding you back from making the next big leap forward. The key is to identify what those are and discover some practical solutions you can use to make the next big leap.
Let’s examine one of the most common success breakers in our industry and the implications it has for you as you move your practice away from compliance and toward strategic and advisory services: withholding information.
This is the refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others.
For a very long time, accountants and bookkeepers have been the gatekeepers of the most vital knowledge in business – financial literacy. Cloaked in jargon, rules that take years to master, and systems that obfuscate financial performance, we have inadvertently created an industry shrouded in fear and mystery.
Most of what accountants do on a daily basis is incomprehensible to a lay person, and for many decades we have gotten paid well because we are in possession of this mysterious yet valuable commodity.
When I speak to accountants and bookkeepers about educating their clients in plain language, one of the most common objections that I hear is, “But if I teach my client how to understand their financial reports, they won’t need me anymore”. Unfortunately, too many have bought into the mindset that keeping clients in the dark is an essential ingredient to maintaining relevance and value.
This argument holds no water when held up to careful scrutiny. It makes no more sense to perpetuate this mindset than it does for a parent not to teach their child how to walk, use utensils, read or graduate from diapers to the toilette. Our job is to support, teach and nurture our clients to become the best and most successful versions of themselves, not to hold them back for fear they won’t need us.
Education enables understanding and growth, and growth is vital to the health of each small business, your practice and the whole economy. As your clients’ understanding and competency grows, so do the complexity of the problems they are confronted with. This growth allows them to turn to you for more challenging, strategic and interesting advice.
Cloud accounting and machine learning are also breaking down those purpose-built walls of specialised accounting knowledge and putting more information, insights and power directly into the hands of our lay person clients. As a result, there is a very real possibility that your job today, as you know, it is going to go away and be replaced by something else.
That is the sole reason why thought leaders, industry bodies and training organisations are urging you to focus on becoming ‘the trusted advisor’. But that mandate is both misleading and elusive.
Our entire industry and the way we educate and train new recruits are focused on technical skills, legislative changes, and GAAP processes. From day one, you are taught to speak to your clients in terms of financial statements, key performance indicators, reconciliations, and forecasts. That is your language and your domain of expertise, not theirs. No matter how colourful or beautiful your reports are, they are still incomprehensible to most of your clients who have never studied accounting and don’t wish to do so.
When you sit down to advise your clients, it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘explaining accounting’, as opposed to focusing on the specific steps and strategies that your client needs to implement to grow profitably. There is very little training in university, on the job, or in industry bodies to show you HOW to become ‘the trusted advisor’. But unfortunately, there is an overwhelming and distracting emphasis on social media, apps, sales, and marketing.
However, you marketing yourself as ‘the trusted advisor’, no matter how convincingly, doesn’t make it so. It isn’t a designation that we declare ourselves, but rather an honour and a privilege our clients bestow upon us for curing the pain points that keep them up at night.
Becoming ‘the trusted advisor’ is about connecting with your clients and communicating in a way that inspires and empowers them to take action to improve their results. The skills to achieve this are more in line with coaching and training, than sales or marketing.
Where to from here?
If you don’t accept the premise, that your job as you know it is about to change drastically, then you do not need to do anything. You may simply sit back and watch as more and more of what you do is replaced by cloud technology and apps.
However, doing nothing is rarely a viable option in any business or industry. Change is inevitable. It is already upon us.
What got you here – to the success and accomplishments you have already achieved – is not going to get you to where you need to be as our industry continues to evolve rapidly.
Right now you are facing an uncertain future. What that means is that traditional approaches, such as hiding behind the complexity and jargon of our industry, are unlikely to be helpful. In order to evolve and remain relevant despite the changes, you must find a new set of tools, skills, talents and behaviours that complement the ones you already have, not replace them.
Here is a list of strategies that you can use to identify and acquire the new tools, skills, talents and behaviours that will catapult you to the pinnacle of our industry and enable you to become even more successful this year:
1. Specify in writing your targets for growing the advisory services of your practice. These targets must be written down in order to be effective, compelling and measurable.
2. Identify one or two specific niches of clients that you will focus on this year to achieve those targets.
3. Create a list of the two to three most important pain points that these clients have right now (the things that worry them and keep them up at night).
4. Identify and document the key strategies and steps that your clients must take in order to cure the pain points and prevent them from recurring again next month.
5. Critically evaluate the reports, dashboards, metrics and graphs that you present to your clients. Remember, your clients are not accountants and they have no desire to learn accounting. They merely want you to help them fix the problems so they can make more money while doing what they love.
6. Identify and develop the materials that you need to gain leverage on your clients and empower them to take action. When in doubt, ask for advice from trusted colleagues who have proven experience delivering impactful advisory services. It pays dividends to work collaboratively with your colleagues and it also means that you avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’.
7. Be open to trying new things (this includes technology, processes, communication styles, delivery channels, etc). It is only by trial and error that you will uncover what works and what doesn’t.
8. Identify the new skills, talents and behaviours that are needed by every member of your team, and the courses or programs that will help you achieve those results.
9. Create a comprehensive budget for training over the next 12 months and a formal plan for evaluating the progress and competency of each team member. Money spent on your team’s skills to deliver effective solutions is far more impactful than advertising and social media.
10. Start tracking the progress of each client to ensure they are following through on the action plan discussed with them.
11. Open a dialogue with your clients, ask for specific feedback from them about what they have learned, how it has impacted their business, and what you could do better.
This article originally appeared as an interview with Lara Bullock on Accounting Daily website.
It’s impossible to pick up an industry publication without encountering headlines that scream “automation will eliminate most of what you do in your practice in the next decade”.
The concern is a very real and global one – it affects every industry, not just accounting. Proof in point, a 2013 research study estimates that nearly half of employment in America is at high risk of becoming automated in 10 to 20 years, with the accounting profession ranking in the top six of the most automatable occupations.
According to an Australian research paper released by the Centre for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), “in the next decade there is a high probability that occupations such as accountants, estate agents and even economists will not exist or will be significantly depleted.”
The researchers even go so far as to hypothesise that 94 per cent of what you do right now as an accountant or bookkeeper will be replaced by machine learning and artificial intelligence by 2030.
That is only 13 years from now.
And it’s precisely why thought leaders, industry bodies, and training organisations are urging you to focus on making the shift to advisory.
While some would have you believe that talk of jobs and revenue lost is just simple fear mongering, many firms are right now seeking to move away from backward-looking compliance work (work that describes what has happened in the past and present) which is increasingly being automated by cloud accounting packages and apps. These firms are exploring new value-added advisory services that are not so easily automated and are forward-looking (helping the client to anticipate and deal with change, challenges and opportunities).
These advisory services, can help accounting and bookkeeping firms to future-proof their practices and create faster-growing, recurring, or high-margin revenue streams that make it easier to let go of compliance work.
So, it begs the question, if the future of our industry is cloudy, how many firms are already providing advisory services and what is real the outlook/potential for our industry?
A recent survey by Sageworks found that while many practitioners would like for a large share of their revenue to come from advisory services, the reality is that for many, very little revenue is actually derived from strategic, consultative or advisory work.
Participants of this survey were asked two questions:
- what percentage of firm revenue comes from advisory/consulting work? and
- what percentage would they like to come from advisory work?.
The graph showing the responses to each question are virtual mirror images of each other. While many would like to offer advisory services, most are in fact not doing so today.
Surprisingly, nearly half of respondents said less than 10 per cent of revenue comes from advisory/consulting work, and more than two-thirds put the estimate at less than 20 per cent of revenue. Only 13 per cent said 40 per cent or more of revenue is advisory/consulting.
As for the first question – how much they’d like to come from consulting/advisory work – nearly half of respondents said 40 per cent of revenue. The majority of the respondents said they’d like at least 30 per cent to come from strategic, consulting, and/or advisory.
Unfortunately, our industry and the way we educate and train new recruits is focused on technical skills, legislative changes, and GAAP processes. These establish you as an expert but they are not enough to elevate you into the realm of coaching, consulting or advisory. When you sit down to advise your clients, it’s just too easy to fall into the trap of “explaining accounting” and focusing on ‘what’, as opposed to focusing on the specific steps and strategies your client must implement to grow safely and profitably.
Compounding this, there is very little training in university, on the job, or in our industry bodies to show you how to make the shift into advisory. Contrary to popular belief, advisory is not about selling dashboards, forecasts or apps. It’s about connecting with your clients and communicating in a way that gains leverage and influences them to take action to improve their results.
Right now you are facing a cloudy and uncertain future. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
In order to evolve and remain relevant, you must acquire a new set of tools, talents, and thought processes that complement the financial acumen you already have. The skills, focus, and mindset required to excel in the fields of audit, tax, and compliance are vastly different from those required to excel in the disciplines of strategy, advisory services, and coaching/consulting. The core distinction lies in the difference between whether you are seen to be an expert, or to have expertise and insight.
The client will always pay more money for expertise and insight because their perceived value to the business is much higher.
As an accountant or bookkeeper, you are already a deep subject matter expert in all things financial. However, most of what you do for your clients is focused on the numbers that describe the past and present of the business. These compliance tasks are highly price-sensitive, the scope of work is limited, and it is almost impossible to leverage them to create influence with your client.
In order to create influence, you must move into the domains of ‘why’ and ‘how’ — these hold the key to helping your clients move forward. Coaching and advisory services are the gateways to ‘why’ and ‘how’, respectively. Figure 1 sets out the three gateways and illustrates the path from accountant/bookkeeper to coach and trusted advisor.
Both ‘why’ and ‘how’ require a future-based, big-picture focus as well as a broad, inter-disciplinary approach. While all three dimensions require deep subject matter expertise, only the trusted advisor possesses the key set of skills, focus, and mindset that leverages their specialized knowledge in a way that is impactful and influential.
*This article originally appeared in the Aug 18, 2017 edition of Public Accountant magazine.
Rhondalynn is also the co-founder of the world’s first advisory mastermind for accountants and bookkeepers Make The SHIFT
11 Feb 2015
Is Shark Tank Bad for Small Business?
If you’ve ever watched reality TV (and don’t say you haven’t because we all know it’s too easy to get sucked in by the drama and controversy), you may have noticed a specific formula…
First you find a cause – dating, small business, cooking or home improvement. Next, you add a few unassuming characters – some very relatable but also few who are downright crazy, nasty or delusional. And last but not least, you add just enough controversy, intrigue, shock and cutting remarks to keep the masses coming back for more each night.
In the end, are any of these contestants (or their small businesses in the case of Shark Tank) really any better off? Probably not, but what you have done is create some compelling TV and sold a bucket load of ads to big brands like iSelect, Swisee, Safeway, NAB and Mitre 10.
The other night, I watched Channel Ten’s latest reality TV import, Shark Tank. The premise is pretty straightforward.
A few naive and nervous and numerically challenged small business owners lined up to pitch to a panel of cool, critical and cashed-up potential investors.
Some ideas got funded for relatively small amounts. Most ideas (and their creators) got ripped to shreds by the panel.
So, the show is essentially Survivor, The Apprentice and The Bachelor all rolled into one with Australian small business contestants, and a catchy brand that has the ominous word “shark” in it.
How could that possibly fail?
As I watched, I wondered, ‘Are any of these small businesses likely to breakeven or become profitable and cash flow positive?’
And, perhaps not suprisingly, the answer is “not likely”.
Why is that? Because some of the ideas were pretty interesting. The cricket cooler, the motorized skate board and the hamdog may actually have global potential, but to be viable in the long term, the owners really need to do their homework first and know their numbers.
Case in point – not one of the small business owners who pitched had done market research with their product (or prototype) and could quantify the size of their market. Without that vital information, how can they possibly estimate topline revenue, market penetration or the value of their business with any precision or clarity?
And without those last three things, it’s impossible to give a meaningful pitch or ask for the “right amount” of capital. I’m sure you will agree, other than the guy who thought his hairbrained rental resume idea was worth $2.5million, most of the entrepreneurs vastly underestimated the amount of working capital that they needed.
Several contestants floundered when they got asked the big questions about breakeven, margins and cash flow. Yes, the dreaded cash flow question pretty much stumped everyone.
Most were asking for arbitrary sums of money to commercialise their inventions without regard for how much it might really take to get their brand out there and win their first major customers. One pair even thought it was clever to ask the investors to chip in $150,000 so they [the founders] could leave their secure day jobs and start working in the business full time. Crazy right? If you the owner don’t have skin in the game or work in the business full time, chances are you should still be writing your business plan, not pitching it on national TV in front of 5 sharks and a million viewers.
The cricket cooler duo were the most polished in terms of delivery and presentation. They recognized that patents and intellectual property were vital to their valuation and attractiveness to the sharks, but drastically underestimated the value of locking things down in India – the number one cricket market in the world. And the sophisticated sharks knew that Australia is just a mere drop in the bucket, compared to the potential in a market like India.
Unlike the really trashy stuff – Bachelor, Idol, or Real Housewives of Melbourne – the show didn’t make me feel icky or shocked while watching the sharks tear the flesh off the bones and gnaw away at the contestant’s dreams. I sort of expected that would be the main draw card and the whole premise of the show. Why call the show shark tank if you don’t intend to set up a blood bath and feeding frenzy?
But as an entrepreneur, I did feel genuinely remorseful for each of the contestants. The small businesses who got funded gave up decent chunks of equity for relatively small injections of capital – which may or may not be enough to get them to market and earn their first customers. And the ones who didn’t walked away without any constructive advice or tangible instructions on how to go away and get their idea investor-ready.
Breaking Bad, one of the most beloved television shows of all time, came to a close this year after six successful and gripping seasons. Viewers finally got to witness Walter White’s unforgettable exit and find out which of the key characters made it out alive.
For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the series is set in a post-GFC, recession ravaged America. The protagonist Walter White is an understated high-school chemistry professor who is forced to take on a second job at a car wash to make ends meet for his young family. After being diagnosed with lung cancer and realizing that he does not have enough health care to cover his treatment, he puts his expertise in chemistry to use and begins cooking the most pure crystal methamphetamine (meth) on the market. But as this career teacher quickly realizes, starting and learning to grow your business successfully, isn’t as easy as it looks.
But there’s more to Breaking Bad than exciting science, shocking drama and riveting character development – there’s plenty here for you to take and apply to grow your business. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur and be even more profitable than you are right now, you should consider these practical lessons from Walter White at Heisenberg College.
1. Technical Expertise is Not Enough
When faced with insurmountable medical bills, Walt realizes that he is never going to make enough money working as an employee. Like so many other entrepreneurs, Walt is passionate about his technical skill (chemistry) and he starts a business that has the potential to maximize the return he can get from that expertise, albeit in this case, an illegal activity.
What he quickly discovers is that he knows nothing about actually running a business – inventory, distribution, marketing, collections etc. So he does what most entrepreneurs do – he wings it and finds out with disastrous consequences that he needs to educate himself quickly on how to operate a successful business and how to outsource the things that he does not have the skill or the time to do himself.
The Lesson: If you really want to grow your business, you need to invest in your development, put a good strategic plan in place, outsource tasks to others who can do them well and learn to manage your team members properly. Don’t expect success to be easy. Every business faces its own obstacles and challenges. Those who succeed, do so because of their ability to adapt quickly and take responsibility for their actions.
2. Establish a Premium Brand Then Establish a Premium Price
Walter White was a world class chemist and as a result, he consistently produced the highest quality crystal meth that you could buy. In fact, his trademark “blue sky” was widely recognized by both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and drug users as “the bomb”. Walter could easily have cut corners and produced a mediocre range of product that appealed to the mass market at a discount price, but he didn’t. His pride in his own expertise and his commitment to excellence meant that he owned the upper end of the market.
By creating unprecedented demand for his unique formulation, he could dictate the terms his product was sold under and the price consumers would have to pay. In Walter’s own words – “Corner the market, then raise the price,” White says. “Simple economics.”
The Lesson: If you insist on competing based on price, you are doomed to failure. Anyone can cook crystal meth (or make a mediocre version of the product/service that you are currently selling) but only one person can truly be the best in the world at creating the most pure version on the market. To grow your business and succeed, you must be willing to do what it takes to cure the #1 pain that your customer has with buying your product/service.
3. If You’re Good Enough, You Can Get Away With Murder
There is no denying the fact that Walter White was the best in the world at cooking crystal meth. This fact rendered him virtually untouchable. Walter’s unparalleled cooking skills kept him alive over and over again. Even Gus Fring (the chicken man and notorious drug lord) could not afford to kill him after it became clear that both Walter and his junkie sidekick Jessie, were loose cannons. When Gus came close to finding a replacement, Walter was quick to eliminate his competition, thus restoring his own unassailable status.
Even Jessie, as flawed and messed up as he was in his personal life, was excellent at distribution and sales, thus making it difficult for Walter or Gus to eliminate him easily.
The Lesson: If you are without question, the best at what you do, you cannot easily be fired or replaced and you can charge a premium for your expertise.
4. If You Can’t Decide, You Won’t Succeed
Throughout the fast paced six seasons, Walter was continually forced to adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions. When Gus hired a hit man to kill Walter in Season 3, the only thing that saved him was his clever last minute call to Jessie. Armed with the address of Gale Boetticher (the chemist that Gus had hired to replace them), Jessie was then forced to put a bullet into Gale’s head.
This episode and in fact the one that followed were not for the faint hearted or the squeamish but they illustrate one important point very clearly for you as an entrepreneur – your success or failure relies solely upon your ability to make quick and good decisions… and then take action immediately, based on those decisions.
The Lesson: In order to be the boss and grow your business, you have to be willing to make decisions and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals. You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines of your business hoping and praying that things will change. You need to be the change that you want to see and you need to get good at making decisions today.
5. No One is Ever Successful Without Help
Nothing is impossible when you have the right team around you. As flawed as they were as individuals, Walter and Jesse were successful together because they each brought different skills to the table, they divided up the tasks and they trusted each other to deliver on their responsibilities. On their own, neither one of them would have survived two weeks in the meth business but together, they thrived for years and built a multi-million dollar enterprise.
The Lesson: If you want to grow your business and build a scalable, robust business that runs without you (or is saleable), you need to stop trying to do everything yourself and learn how to delegate and lead others.
6. If You Can’t Negotiate, You’re Doomed to Fail
Ever wondered why most people don’t say “yes” to your product/service? Without a doubt, it’s because you have no idea what they need to hear in order to make a decision in your favour. Walter White started off with absolutely no clue how to run a business or negotiate with suppliers, colleagues or customers. And more than once, this shortcoming almost cost him his business and his life. He stumbled upon a universal truth – that if a person’s pain is bad enough and you provide the only solution, they will decide immediately and won’t need “time to think about it”.
The Lesson: The best negotiators know how to persuade others. In order to succeed you need to master the art of identifying, quantifying and curing your customer’s (employee’s or supplier’s) #1 source of pain. If you do this well, you immediately disqualify your competition and are much more likely to get a “yes” today.
7. Distribution Can Make or Break Your Business
As phenomenal as Walter’s blue sky crystal meth was, he would never have achieved market penetration, leading brand recognition and phenomenal sales without Jessie’s distribution efforts. Jessie’s ability to build relationships, enforce collections and find distributors who were willing to do the hard yards to reach customers, was integral to their commercial success.
Walter didn’t know the first thing about pricing, competitive analysis, money laundering or channel management; he needed to connect with the right people – Jessie, Saul Goodman, Gus Fring et al.
The Lesson: If you insist on doing everything yourself, then you must be prepared to accept the fact you will never have a scalable, successful and saleable business.
8. First Impressions Are Everything
Gus Fring was by all outward appearances a legitimate, respected member of the Albuquerque business community. He owned a chain of successful fried chicken restaurants and he was a vocal and public supporter of the DEA. He was also the most feared and successful drug lord in the southern states. Even though he was targeted and questioned by the DEA, Gus avoided investigation and culpability by always putting his best foot forward. He was articulate, well-dressed, outwardly legitimate and successful. He made it difficult for anyone to identify and convict him as a drug trafficker. Both Gus and Walter understood that first impressions are everything.
The Lesson: You only get once chance to make a good first impression. The part of your customer’s brain that decides is highly visual and hasty. If you don’t appear credible and trustworthy, it will be infinitely more difficult to influence and persuade others to do business with or believe in you. Fail at making a good first impression, and you will never grow your business successfully.
9. It Pays to Manage Your Liabilities
Slowly over the six seasons of the show, Walter and Jessie go from being small time players (much like the typical consultant or start up) to fully fledged business owners of a manufacturing and distribution empire. But there’s just one problem. No matter how much they make, it seems that the overheads (fixed costs of running the business) just keep getting bigger and bigger. Sound familiar? Not only does Walter have to pay Saul Goodman for legal protection, but there’s also plenty of money going towards collections, enforcement and dealers who “know too much”.
While Walter is initially disgruntled about all these expenses he learns an important point – while it’s important to keep your overall expenses as low as possible, you should never skimp on items that are crucial to your success. Although you might be frustrated with fixed expenses, you can afford to pay top dollar for the best employees, legal services to keep your business on the right side of the law, or an advisor/coach to help you grow your business profitably.
The Lesson: If you want to grow your business you cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish. If someone or something is integral to your success, ensure that you invest your time and money here. You can always find money in the budget for everything that is worth spending on or investing in.
Breaking Bad was poignant, provocative and powerful on many levels. And the genius of the show is this – despite all his shortcomings, killings, and character flaws, Walter While has longevity and likeability as both a character and successful business man. When it comes to learning how to grow your business, these 9 lessons from the Walter White School of business, are a whole lot more applicable, memorable and engaging than a boring, introductory business book like the eMyth.
**This blog is taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seduction–is in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com
Imagine you’re the CEO of an established private healthcare business when the economy plunges into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Up to then, your team has delivered extraordinary results; your bottom line is growing steadily each year and your services are recognized as world class by the hospitals, city councils and large public health facilities that refer work to you.
Imagine choosing that time to tell your Board and senior management team that, in essence, you want to walk away from about half of that business and pursue a very narrow niche market.
No doubt, you may at this point be imagining yourself out of a job. But hear me out…
As you may have guessed, this story is not a fictional one and the “you” in the story is actually a business coaching client of mine. I’m happy to report that the discussion with the Board went quite well, the business has nearly doubled since that day, and my client is still the CEO.
And along the way we both learned some valuable lessons about how to increase sales and become the dominant player in the marketplace. In fact, there is a big difference between being just a good company and being one that your customers can’t live without.
Solve Your Customer’s #1 Source of Pain
Consumer sentiment and spending have decreased dramatically in the past few years and those changes are being felt across every industry. Everything you thought you knew about your customer and why he/she was buying from you has probably changed. And if you do not take the time now to re-discover your prospect’s main source of pain and the reason why she needs your product or service now, you will never increase sales. In fact, you risk losing more sales and more ground to your competition.
Now some of you may think – but my industry is different