Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Micro-Case Study - XYZ Accountants

Here's a mini-Case Study.

I mentioned the concept in conversation earlier in the week in Nottingham so I thought I should share it.

Three firms of accountants had merged, but operated to their own agendas as businesses and individuals. Too many were merely “order takers” which ultimately led to poor client relationships.

A business review showed little clarity of purpose or direction, and no unity of operating systems. Needed to change 1+1+1=3 into 1+1+1=5.

Management and staff seminars created a shared sense of purpose and willingness to co-operate because they would all profit. New system set up by The Directors' Centre and key staff. Training was practical, comprehensive and positively received.

32% increase in services taken by clients transforming profitability. 10% annual growth exceeded.


Directors' Centre Case Studies

Accountants and Professional Service Firms Update

Accountants Update (Oct 2013).

I have been asked to put my accounting and professional service firm blogs etc in one place. These apply to accountants, lawyers, bankers and most professional service firms. Often I am misquoted, but do feel free to add your own comments:

  • "I Love My Accountant" - blog entry. Accountants can be... should be... and, in fact, must be... fantastic for your business...

Saturday, 19 March 2011

SPEED (Kills) - Go Faster?

The 'elephant in the room', the subject that most businesses fail to address head-on, is speed. Speed, actually, is just about the only thing that really matters.
  • Speed of response
  • Speed of decision-making
  • Speed of action
  • Speed of getting back to people
  • Speed of getting feedback
  • Speed of creating subtle changes or modifying your action or responding to the environment
  • Speed of changing direction
It is just all about speed.

Remember, no speed = inertia = death.

So, what are you going to do about it? (And can you make these decisions right now, please!).
  1. Quicker Steps Decide to move much faster. Every part of your body/business... Create momentum; destroy inertia. Create an excitement and a buzz around what you do and how quickly you get things done. (Not just you but also in your business.)
  2. Bigger Steps Decide to move further when you do move. Take bigger, more daring steps.
  3. Deal with the under-performing customers, the ones who don't get how you work best. Try to fix them and if you can't fix them then sack them. But do it all now. Don't wait.
  4. Deal with the under-performing products and services, the ones you never should have taken on. Try to fix them and if you can't fix them then sack them. But do it all now. Don't wait.
  5. Deal with the under-performing suppliers, the ones who aren't giving you the quality of product/service that you had expected. Try to fix them and if you can't fix them then sack them. But do it all now. Don't wait.
  6. Deal with the under-performing staff. Try to fix them and if you can't fix them then sack them (ideally you do this legally). But do it all now. Don't wait.

    The problem with under-performers is not that they under-perform. No, their under-performance is simply a result of you allowing them to under-perform. You not being clear about what you expect or you not telling them when you feel disappointed or you not telling them when they've done well. They under-perform because you have let them. Stop that right away.
  7. Try stuff faster. And fail faster. And learn faster. And pick yourself up again faster.
  8. Employ people who move/decide/act quickly.
  9. Run a team that has at its heart the belief that it must move/decide/act quickly.
  10. Create space to design and develop clarity, direction and purpose so that you can move even faster.
  11. Mix with fast people, people who make things happen. People with experience.
  12. Create simple/fast/effective controls and systems in your business. Measures that are relevant. Dashboards that are easy to create and even easier to read and respond to.
  13. Enable everyone in your business to think the unthinkable and say the unsayable.
  14. Find ways to create prototypes that are good enough so that you can get feedback from the market. Do try to create the perfect solution. You must deliver, deliver, deliver and deliver.
  15. Lead from the front. Show your team, your customers and your competitors exactly what you mean by 'speed'.
The impact of all this speed is immense. You see results quicker, you get more response. You have something to work with, you come alive. You become a magnet for others looking for the leadership and direction that your speed creates. The speed helps you become bolder to take bigger, bolder steps: better or more expensive products that offer more to more people faster.

BUT BEWARE you don't confuse speed with wheel spin. You must create business not just activity; sales not just conversations. Measure and test and use a simple yet powerful and effective time management system to make sure you are being as effective as possible. Don't assume faster always equals better.

What I am proposing here will not make things easier at first.

Doing more things more quickly, things will get messy. Very messy. And, I might say, you have to do more things at the same time. You cannot grow a business one-project-at-a-time. Sequential planning may work in the multi-national... it may look pretty on a GANT Chart but in a growing entrepreneurial business you neither want nor can you afford such an unnecessary luxury.

Rigid adherence to 'the plan' signals the death knell of the small business. Accept that you need to do things fast and as a consequence a lot will happen at the same time. Do things simultaneously and not just sequentially.

All those posters were right when I was a child. They said "Speed kills..." It does kill, it kills your competition!

“To succeed we must stop being so goddamn normal"

“To succeed we must stop being so goddamn normal. In a winner-takes-all world, normal equals nothing.”
[K Nordstrom & J Ridderstrale, Funky Business]

Normal is everywhere. Wherever we look we see a thousand shades of grey and another thousand shades of beige. Just lots of dull, “me-too”, boring, look-alike, tired, safe businesses all too frightened to do anything other than look like the rest. And my word is it boring!

  • In a room full of grey accountants how do I know which one to buy from?
  • In a supermarket with 50 different varieties of toilet paper/toothpaste/washing powder which will I choose?
If they all look identical (promising the same thing in the same way) then my decision will end up based on packaging (or branding). But if the packaging (the promises) all look identical then all I can do is buy on price. Of course the packaging that is different, that stands out, is the one that will get noticed. And as a result the greater the chance of a sale.

People are fed up with characterless products and services designed by a generation of graphic artists and marketers with little sense of the concept of the word ‘unique’. These products either look for some gimmicky characteristic to differentiate themselves or, more usually, they rely on the follower strategy, copying the class leader.

Please note, in a team of huskies it is only the dog at the front that has a good view.

Are you happy being a follower?

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The caterpillar doesn’t know… it's a Butterfly!!!!

The caterpillar doesn’t know…

The caterpillar doesn’t know that he/she will one day blossom into a beautiful butterfly.

Armed with this ignorance it simply goes about its merry way doing what caterpillars do: eating sleeping, shedding the occasional cocoon.

And then one day, and to its total surprise it emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

If it knew that it would one day be a butterfly would it behave differently?
Wouldn’t the ugly duckling have been less worried had he known that he was really just an early stage, start-up swan?

And the same may well be true of your business.

You think you are just an ugly duckling, blissfully aware of what you are about to become.

In fact you become so used to your image in the mirror that you go to great ends to maintain yourself in your current mode.

Is your business just an ugly duckling, ignorant of what it could become? Or is it a swan or a butterfly in waiting?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Leaders show how to grow a business/ FT Entrepreneur of the Year

"The UK has been seen as a less entrepreneurial nation than countries such as the US, because it has lacked the high-profile founders who take their businesses to great heights.

"That is no longer so much the case, as several ambitious British entrepreneurs have come through the ranks." says Jonathan Moules, in the FT (Entrepreneur of the Year: Leaders show how to grow a business)

Businesses change as they grow, so the entrepreneur who can take a company from kitchen table start-up to a multinational company is a rare commodity. One that can then run the company as a publicly quoted business is even rarer still.

It is a point noted by Robert Craven, managing director of The Directors’ Centre, which advises owner-managers on how to grow their businesses quickly.

“Very few people are cut out for that kind of leadership,” he says.

The winner was Richard Harpin, Homeserve

Moules then goes on to sight other “founders who have built":

  • Rob Cotton, chief executive of NCC Group, a computer security business,
  • Charles Dunstone
  • Matthew Ingle, chief executive of Howden Joinery Group

"Clearly, not every entrepreneur has the ability to take a company from start-up to something much larger, but these individuals, all shining lights in their sectors, show that it is possible."


See also Beyond Being a Start-Up

Thursday, 10 March 2011

To Boldly Go

How would you choose to proceed?



Well sometimes you may need to tread a little carefully but don't be a boring old scaredy cat. That will get you nowhere.

How would Spock and Kirk have been had their motto been

"To Go Timidly Where No One Has Been Before"...?

No it doesn't cut it for me.


I will conclude with a well-worn trainer quote from Goethe (well, probably by Goethe, but that's another story!)

"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius,. power and magic in it."

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Accountants, Ostriches and the Insane

Firms need to stop panicking and start taking positive action if they want to survive the downturn

Getting on the phone and actually talking to (potential) clients is brilliant – you get an insight into their world as well as how they see you.

When the recession started, my team asked me to roll my sleeves up and help out phoning potential clients for a seminar we were running. I was given lists of hot, warm and cold leads to contact, and it turned out to be a fascinating exercise. As anticipated, there is a lot of 'doom and gloom' out there.

I spoke predominantly to accountants and what are loosely described as 'professional service firms'.

What I learned
about accountants and PSFs
One accountant said that they had "decided to focus on cost cutting and so the whole marketing budget was frozen". When I suggested a similar package but without any cost involved he said: “We don’t want to do any marketing even if it is free! We are focusing on cutting costs.” Curious - and a little bit stupid.

Another said: “I can tell you that marketing doesn’t work for us so we try not to do any.” More curious, and more stupid. Where does he think his existing customers come from? Marketing is not simply ads and promo; it is everything and anything you do that helps people to buy from you: everything from a word-of-mouth or referral campaign all the way through to a rebrand.

One said: “The last thing we want to do right now is go out and get more customers because then we would have to service them and I don’t think we could afford to do that.” Very curious, and very stupid.

Another said: “We’ll be too busy dealing with our year-end and it has been a lousy few months so that will be our priority for the time being.” Even more curious, and even more stupid.

What’s going on?

Am I losing the plot or are they?

I thought the whole point of being in business was to work with customers and clients. People use all sorts of excuses to get rid of a pushy salesperson but most of these quotes come from people who took my call because they vaguely knew me or my business.

Why are these people in business if they aren’t interested in getting more customers?

All the research talks about how customers inevitably leave you – 20% p.a. on average, according to Harvard Businesses School. This figure probably goes up in a recession, and it will definitely rise if you show no interest in them. What will happen if you don’t get new customers?

I find it incredulous that the majority of people I spoke to are only interested in battening down the hatches and hoping that they can survive the recession without too much pain. This is the strategy of an ostrich.

I worked with a large number of affected businesses during the foot and mouth epidemic...

The businesses that survived were those that sat down and literally planned their way out of it. They looked at the options and made the tough decisions. I am not aware of any businesses that survived because of a simple stroke of luck. It is one thing doing well in a boom, but quite another in a recession. You need more than luck to survive in any economic climate. Right now plenty of businesses have run out of luck.

Don’t rely on luck. Sit down, probably with a trusted advisor, and take out a blank sheet of paper. Where are you now? Where are you going? How are you going to get there? What are the options? Ask the “what if...?” questions. Make the tough decisions. Don’t just wait and hope; death by a thousand cuts is humiliating for everyone concerned.

Hope is not a method. The first sign of madness is to keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Is that you? Welcome to the asylum; there is probably only one way out and that is not via luck but bankruptcy! Stop dithering.

PS I know that there are accountants out there who do want to deliver stunning remarkable service to their clients. Who are business people. Who do 'get it'. I just didn't speak to them on this occasion.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? Yes or No?

Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?

A great quote but I have a sneaking suspicion that it doesn’t just refer to people’s lives but also to their businesses.

We are all so careful lest we make a mistake. We are so hesitant in case something goes wrong.

And the same applies to our businesses. The downside seems so huge. If it all goes pear-shaped then we lose the staff, the customers, our reputation, the confidence of the bank. If it goes really badly then we might even lose our family homes or even our partner and family.

So we become risk averse for fear of losing everything. But that is bonkers. That ‘safety first’ thinking limits us and puts us into an even bigger dead end than when we were employed.

And the downside isn’t quite so grim as it first appears... Rarely is business life totally binary - rarely is it either make millions or bankruptcy – there are lots of shades in between and there are usually lots of opportunities to retreat before the going gets really tough.

So, is your business breathing just a little and you’re calling it a business? Or is it really living to fulfill its potential? Are you seeing the opportunities for what they are? Are you considering all the positive outcomes, seeing the possible upside? Or do you immediately say ‘no’, almost out of habit, and as a result pass up on all kinds of benefits.

‘Business as Usual’ is the safe option. But quite how dangerous is the alternative? I am not proposing that you go crazy and try anything. What I am thinking is that we limit ourselves by trying to never lose. It may not be possible to ‘never lose’. Maybe you will lose and maybe the loss won’t be quite so bad. Maybe you won’t lose. But you’ll never find out if you don’t take some risks!