We don’t take just anyone

It’s not that we don’t like you. Far from it. We like to serve people where we can provide the most value.

At Hudson Business Advice we only choose clients in certain industries and who have the time, resources, and motivation to implement any agreed actions. We don’t like people to waste their money if they’re not going to do anything. But we also want you to succeed in having the business you first dreamt about as I get my real reward seeing happy business owners with time freedom and financial freedom. (Yes, I do cry real tears of joy when that happens)

At Minerva Accountants we use a lot of automation to operate as efficiently as possible so that clients have up to date management information to make informed business decisions. We can’t provide the sort of service I’d like for people who aren’t tech savvy. We can help them a little bit but will often refer them elsewhere.

Similarly we encourage you to be picky about your own clients so that you can run your business more efficiently without trying to be all things to all men.

Work out who your ideal client is (have a look at your current best clients) and focus on finding more of these by creating valuable content and resources for them.

Know your client

Lots of client meetings this week. Yes, we need to know our clients for AML but chatting to them usually results in extra work. Sometimes it’s a quick query that can be answered straight away and earn ‘brownie points’ and client loyalty but sometimes it is paying work that earns extra fees.

How often do you speak to your clients?

People are more important than things

People are more important than things

This is one of my fundamental beliefs although it may sound a little odd for an accountant who primarily advises people how to grow their business and/or how to make it more profitable. But many of the techniques we use to make a business less dependent on its owners in order to scale are the same ones that we use to make owners less essential so that they can have a better work life balance.

It is really important to me WHO I work with as it’s about far more than money. While it is important to enjoy our work I also believe that we do our best work for people we like and where we are a good fit. That’s why I only accept about half the people who ask me about coaching.

Sometimes it’s the wrong type of business, or they require different expertise, or it may just be that I don’t feel a connection. Because if you don’t trust me you won’t follow my advice. Not that you have to follow my advice but it would be a waste of your money and my time if you NEVER followed my advice.

One element of what helps to develop a connection is shared values.

We donate 1% of our turnover to charity, we make a donation to fund a day’s education for everybody who attends our free webinars (we like to think that it will encourage the right sort of people to attend), we run a paperless office and, when we can’t avoid travel, we offset. Not surprisingly many of our clients also include charitable donations such as 1% for charity and 1% for sustainability. Or they’re members of B1G1 doing business for good.

So, if you’d like to help a girl to receive a day of education please join us for our series of Better Business webinars (for accountants and bookkeepers) or Money Matters webinars for other business owners. Details here.

Confidentiality comes as standard

When I joined ICAEW as a trainee accountant sometime back in the dim and distant past I signed up to a code of ethics. Like most accountants I take that code of ethics very seriously as I believe it is part of being a professional. Amongst other requirements was confidentiality. Everything is confidential so the extent that ICAEW suggest that I shouldn’t even share the names of my clients without their permission, let alone information about their business.

So it was quite a surprise when a prospective client asked me whether our conversations would be confidential. It felt a little like somebody asking whether I like tea (I’m a self-confessed tea addict). It is something so ingrained that I hadn’t even realised that lay people may not know this.

Which got me wondering what else we don’t share as we take it for granted.

We’re so busy focusing on what differentiates us from our competitors that we forget some of these other positives that are shared by many of our competitors.

Anyone can call themselves an accountant, but ‘chartered accountant’ is a protected title in law. I’m proud that I’m not just a chartered accountant but a Fellow and also an elected member of ICAEW Council helping to shape the future of the profession. But we need to make more of this.

Most professional accountancy bodies have similar codes of ethics whereas unqualified accountants or those not belonging to any professional body are not bound by any such code but dependent on the individual’s personal integrity. We’re supervised by our professional bodies so clients have recourse if they believe that we have failed to live up to those standards. We are required to undergo checks to ensure that we are ‘fit and proper’ persons. And we are also required to have professional indemnity insurance in order to protect our clients in the event that we make a mistake.

I have also signed up to a code of ethics as a member of the PSA (Professional Speaking Association) which means that I pay for copyright to use pictures on any slides so that the event organiser won’t be sued. Similarly for any music and videos I use in my talks. It’s not something that most speakers think about and they may not even realise the importance of paying royalties to the creators of those media.

What mundane things do you do instinctively to protect your clients? Can it become part of your marketing?

How to train your clients

I see lots of people complaining or rolling their eyes at the behaviour of certain ‘vampire’ clients that suck far more time and resources than the average client. But what can you do?

  1. Don’t take them on in the first place. Learn to recognise them and say no right from the outset. Unless you’re a lawyer or a licensed taxi driver then you are not obliged to take on every single client who comes to you (and even these have ways of turning down work)
  2. Onboard well with a clear scope of work. Make sure that your onboarding process includes managing your clients’ expectations. Ensure that everything is set up well from the start and that clients know your working hours and who deals with what. For instance, we have a ‘reasonable use’ clause on our telephone support. If we can’t answer something straight away on the phone because it is complex or requires detailed calculations then this is an additional charge.
  3. Service level agreements. Be clear on your turnaround times for answering questions or delivering your finished project/product/services. We aim to respond to queries by next working day and ask clients to reply within 1 week. We prepare year end accounts within 8 weeks and ask clients to send information within 8 weeks of the year end.
  4. Automate reminders in your systems so that you don’t hold up starting work through lack of information.
  5. Charging more is an option but sometimes this just encourages clients to feel entitled to more of your time or to send things closer to deadlines.
  6. If all else fails ditch the client. There are plenty of good clients out there waiting to work with us.

Remember that it is your business and you get to choose who you work with.

What do accountants and dentists have in common?

We’re both viewed as necessary evils.

I was quite shocked when, a few years ago, an old friend told me that she would rather see her dentist than her accountant. As somebody who is terrified of going to the dentist (he’s lovely really) this really made me view myself as an accountant in a different light.

I see myself as an expert who loves to help business owners. Sometimes that’s keeping them out of trouble and other times it can put an enormous smile on their faces. And my dentist probably sees himself the same way.

So I started to think about why I had chosen my dentist and what I could learn as an accountant:
• I choose to pay a little more in the hope of a better service than mere competence. I want somebody to take a little more time to reassure me should I ever need any work done.
• They have a dedicated car park (although I walk as they are opposite my office)
• The receptionist, Belinda, is probably their biggest asset. She always calls 48 hours beforehand to confirm the appointment so there’s never any confusion.
• Belinda is very reassuring with her calm, competent manner. She explains all Covid restrictions clearly as they are constantly changing
• The waiting room is calm and has free Wi-Fi so I can distract myself by checking my emails or messaging a friend while I wait.
• There are calming videos of fish and wildlife, including on the ceiling of each surgery. (I’m not sure what the accountants’ equivalent would be)
• The dentist and hygienist themselves are always friendly and ask about my kids or work; something personal to relax me.
• They take payment as I leave and book in the next appointment.

How much more enjoyable would clients find it if we spent time on creating a welcoming environment in our business? Take a few moments to think about how you interact with clients at every stage.

Communication overload – how accessible should you be?

This is the busiest time of year for accountants and we’re often overwhelmed by contact from clients (in addition to the clients who never respond to any of our chasing letters/emails/calls). How accessible are you? And are you too accessible?

My preferred methods of communication is email and I’m able to file these in Outlook and in my CRM for ease of use if I need them later. Many clients prefer phone calls so I take notes and file them in with their other documents and my CRM.

So far, so good.

But I also do a lot on social media for my businesses so people often message me that way on Twitter, Linked In or Facebook Messenger. And sometimes via Instagram or WhatsApp which I don’t use for business. With so many different channels these often don’t get added to my CRM so I’m left with a vague recollection of a message and having to find which platform it was on.

If you have any ideas on how to manage all this I’d love to hear.

I do have some wonderful tools to help with accessibility:

• VOIP + Answer It takes messages and forwards them to me by email
• Melu chat on both my websites is run by human beings based on a series of FAQs that I sent to them and which they are augmenting. They also forward chat summaries to me by email
• Calendly.com is great for scheduling calls directly into my diary and I receive email notification of these too.
• Voicemail – if I don’t recognise a number on my mobile, or if I’m on another call, my voicemail will record messages for me to follow up later.

How do you manage all your incoming communications or are you too accessible?