Readers have asked me whether this site is bringing in any revenue. I reckon they're secretly trying to pick what's left of my brains to figure out whether the risks associated with using blog tools and the blog 'style' of communications is worth the effort.
Yes. Despite taking time out to go trolling up and down Spain and France to fetch furniture (that was an economic decision) - readers kept coming to the site. That's good news because in this environment, keeping content fresh is as important as the content itself. The fact that a 9-10 day gap didn't kill AccMan off is a comfort.
In terms of deals, I've been commissioned to create a bunch of material aimed at role-based individuals that need solutions to specific challenges. In addition, I've been asked to produce a complementary series of podcasts to go with the material. I didn't 'sell' that service - it sold itself. The overall deal value runs into five figures (without the .00 on the end wise guys).
One of my long standing clients is extending the range of content I help produce for use across multiple markets and in multiple geographies. We are toying with the idea of turning some of this into 'bloggaable' material that can be used globally as an adjunct to their main site activities and may extend to multiple languages.
Another client has commissioned a series of case studies (10) that seeks to inject 'real world' experience' instead of PR fluff. These cases range from household names like Sony to others I won't bother mentioning as they're either US or Europe specific.
Elsewhere, a number of practices raise questions over email or by phone (yes you can call me but please arrange in advance) that may lead to advisory services but which I happily answer free of charge. I don't 'sell' services in the conventional sense. Rather I try and enable folk to do it for themselves, explaining the ups and downs of doing this stuff.
Some people ask why I do so much for free. Dead easy. I can make a decent living through content creation and I'm not in this to be a mega-uber-blogerati though it would be nice to think there will come a day when I don't have to be at the keyboard at midnight.
Second, I really would like to see the smaller practice (which is my heritage) make a new and positve impact in the communities it serves. I believe we're at the cusp of something that's both exciting and disruptive. The time is right for the smaller practice, even with the difficulties of fee pressure, to become dynamic in ways that capitalise on the many years' industry specific experience built up but as yet untapped inside many many practices. This is completely different to the functionally led audit and tax approach.
Is it working for the firms who read this stuff? You're the best judges. But, as one example, my comments about Stuart Jones and his passion for business have apparently got Stuart thinking about how he expresses that passion. I won't take plaudits for that because at the end of the day, change is always an individual choice. I'd prefer to believe that what I say encourages others to think differently.
"In 1996, I wrote : "Here's an invitation to truly embrace the creativity of others. Instead of beating your breast about how great you are, try saying how great someone else is. Look for win-wins, make that your new religion. Establish a policy that nothing will be announced unless it can be shown that someone else will win because of what you're doing. How much happier we would be if instead of crippling each other with fear, we competed to empower each others' creativity."
Now, in 2005, almost ten years later, we may be grown-up enough to actually work this way."
This coming from a software person with donkey's years' experience would have definitely been seen as laughable in 1996. Now it is reality. And if you want to know what the fuss is about then here's a good summation .
How might this idea be applied to the business of building a creative accounting practice? Is it doable? Are 'we' so afraid of the guy down the street we have no idea whether we could offer something complementary? You could of course always enter into an unholy alliance with your bank manager...
One of the most common problems I hear about is the pressure on fees. What I don't know is whether this is a pressure on rates per hour or overall rates for work done. There's a big difference. Some practices, offer fixed prices across a menu of services. The idea is to create certainty for clients. I like that model. It means I get rewarded for the effort I put in. Even when there may be SNAFUs waiting for me.
Curiously though and despite the fact most firms have a good idea how much to quote a given client, there is enormous resistance to giving up hourly rate pricing and a reluctance to quote. Per hour pricing causes huge problems because it limits the amount a practice can earn to the available hours. It has nothing to do with value. It is both uncertain for the practice and for the client. It doesn't allow for flexible planning or budgeting and tells you little about how to manage growth.
I recall running tax avoidance schemes for which I got paid £1,500 a shot based on £100K profit at risk. These schemes could be put in place and then replicated 6 times a day. The number was restricted by the physical activities involved in the scheme that had to function in a specific order and which relied on third parties providing assistance. How's that for value pricing? 1.5% of turnover?
I'd be delighted to sell bread and butter services at a fixed rate. And I'd make sure they were lower than most of the competition. Because then I'd be at the start of following the Wal-Mart pricing strategy. Which has everything to do with value and customers.
Oh dear - head honcho at Chantrey Vellacott, Michael Tovey has been slapped a fine of £5,000 by the Institute and 'severly reprimanded' for being a naughty boy in his capacity as treasurer and trustee at an un-named charity.
The firm chose not to comment. I will. Chantrey Vellacott was an inspiration to me in the late 1980s and early 1990s for several reasons. First, it was highly focused. Second, it made smart investments in IT. It's a pity this has happened.
We'll find out in the fullness of time whether Tovey will fall on his sword though I'm assuming the misdemeamour was relatively trivial. The fine wasn't even a couple of days profit for El Tovey.
Relationships exist between individuals but they can have business consequences. Today for instance, Oracle's CFO stepped down. Not remarkable until you realise he's only been in post since June. Arch rival SAP jumped on the announcement with gusto. Forbes reports:
"The loss of a trophy CFO like this puts a very interesting question mark on Oracle," SAP spokesman Bill Wohl said. "Right now, Oracle is doing a pretty good job of making SAP look like a better choice for customers."
Your practice may (or may not) have the kind of profile of a Land or Anstee but the impact that a key player in your team has can be striking. The question for you is simple: Have you identified the best people to represent your practice? Despite immediate thoughts to the contrary, it might not be the managing partner.
I've recently started to read Tom Peters. He's the guy who's taken Drucker econo-marketing to a new level and who gets people out of their comfort zone. The text from one of his slides given at a presentation delivered in Sydney, June 2005 says:
“Value innovation is about making the competition irrelevantby creating uncontested market space. We argue that beating the competition within the confines of the existing industry is not the way to create profitable growth.” —Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne (INSEAD), from Blue Ocean Strategy (The Times/London
My next thought on reading this was: 'Hmm, I've operated that way for years.' So while I was smugly congratulating myself on having discovered something before the great man I then read this text from the same slide deck:
Do right and damn the odds - this is one of the principles on which Google is founded Stagnation is the curse of life - GE had this problem in the 1970s, until Jack Welch turned up The best is the cheapest - open source software (OSS) is being gobbled up at a rate that far outstrips anything being 'sold' today Emotion can sway the world - Walter Kronkite announcing Kennedy's death Mad things come off - Free software sounds like the dumbest idea in the world. It's not. See Google Haste in all things - The current crop of web-based applications are released on a 3-month or less cycle. If you're lucky, you'll get an annual upgrade to your Windows apps Any fool can obey orders - No comment! History is a record of exploded ideas - Dotcom mania Life is phrases - Global conversations are springing up everywhere on every topic under the sun...and then some. That's what this site is about.
Source: Jan Morris, Fisher’s Face, Or, Getting to Know the Admiral
I had the great pleasure of having a long phone conversation with a senior manager at Beevers Struthers yesterday. He made a number of insights that at once saddened and gladdened me. The question I put was "How much has changed in 25 years?" he said:
"Everyone's offering the same basic thing, telemarketing for clients doesn't work (note: nothing new there then). I see this whole blog thing as a genuine alternative. Podcasting could really change things where there are internal territorial boundaries to cross." (great!)
This gentleman is senior to me. And I'm 52. So you don't just need your bright young things to get it. Sometimes, vision comes from another generation.
The professional practices I speak with are usually organised along functional lines - audit, tax and so on. Rarely do I find practices specifically aligned to industry specific client groups. Where this happens, partners are usually the 'collection point' for industry expertise. From a communications perspective, that's a real problem.
When people work in functional silos, they become highly territorial. Their perspective narrows. That's necessary for the development of expertise but it doesn't help client and internal relationships. This is particularly problematic when firms are geographically spread. Some staff may never meet each other and so lose the opportunity to share experience. Permanent file notes help but they don't provide a collective flavour of how common client group issues impact results for instance.
Sedgwick Claims Management in the US has found the start of an answer to this through internal podcasting. Each week they create a minute podcast that's available to every employee. The results are staggering. They are discovering many things they didn't know about their employees and customers. It's a global first but one where there are great lessons to be drawn.
Shel Holtz interviewed the leaders of this project and his podcast can be found by clicking the podcast icon at the top of this post. I thoroughly recommend investing the 25 minutes the podcast takes. It is a fascinating and forthright insight you rarely come across. If you don't have the time, Shel's excellent show notes can be used to access different parts of the conversation.
I wonder how many practitioners look at the lifetime value of a client. Probably the only time is when the practice is sold. My interest was piqued by a great article I found. It's American (don't switch off, it's immensely instructive) and talks about a Ken, a plumber who comes to you with a $150 problem that turns into $28,800 over a 5 year period. Fantasy?
When I was in practice I was asked to do a forecast for a £250 rental income client who was going into a new business. By the time I left the practice, he had four major businesses, had bought an additional house for his own use, was running around in a Prosche 911, we'd established offshore trusts and on an annualised basis, we was worth the think end of £15,000 per annnum. His admin was doing nearly all the accounting spade work and basic book-keeping.
His bank recommended clients to us. As did his lawyers. As did the professional association with which he is linked.
Ok - so it's an exception. But most of my clients wanted a range of specialist services. That was because we'd moved beyond number crunching and tax compliance. It is possible.
Gapingvoid Outrageous blog pimp/whore Hugh McLeod's anarchic look at the world of advertising and 'Cluetrain/Hughtrain' thinking. He's a change agent but you need to read his stuff with the door closed!
Extreme Accounting CODA's PR department went bonkers when they created this. Since which it has taken on a life of its own.