If You Want to Break From The Pack, Innovation is the Key

As I prepare material for our up-coming Practice Innovation Workshops I’ve been doing a lot of research into the process of creative idea generation (specifically how to teach it and how to implement it) because at the end of the day that’s what ultimately gives business enterprises (and that includes accounting firms and their clients) a competitive edge. Continue reading “If You Want to Break From The Pack, Innovation is the Key”

It’s probably time to give your firm a makeover. Here are a raft of things you can do right now.

Joe Calloway, author of Becoming a Category of One, makes the point that your past success can be the enemy of future success. This is an interesting thought and is consistent with the suggestion I made in a previous post that complacency tends to sneak into the management style of businesses that have been around for a while and are giving their owners a “reasonable” and “acceptable” return on their investment of money and time.

The accounting service industry is one of many (I’d suggest, most) industries that are caught in what Calloway calls a commodity trap. Customers see parity everywhere they look and when they ask the question “why should I do business with you?” what’s your response? Are you really different from other firms, are you doing things differently to the way you were doing them 5 to 10 years ago?

Much of what you do places you in the commodity business and that’s perfectly OK. You don’t need to fight it, embrace it with open arms. Why? Because as long as your competitors continue to do what they’ve always done you have a fantastic opportunity to break clear of the pack not by pretending to do something different or better or cheaper but by consciously working on the experience your customers have when they deal with you. You may not be able to easily and significantly differentiate your product but you certainly can differentiate the process by which it is created and delivered together with it’s usefulness (read “ultimate value”) to your clients.

Irrespective of whether you’re just starting out or you have an established firm, ask yourself the following question: “If we were starting from a zero base what would I want my firm to look like?” In other words, “what vision do I have for my firm? How big and challenging is that vision?” Remember, the size of your vision will determine the size of your accomplishments! Read The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz to understand the importance of those words.

This will get you thinking about things like …

  1. The clients you would like to have – this will lead to consideration being given to your client communication (read marketing!) processes and to your business value proposition
  2. The products/services you’d offer – this also touches on your business value proposition and pricing decision as well as your team sales and technical training processes
  3. The prices you’d charge – see above – your profit starts and largely ends with this decision. Know your costs but price on perceived value delivered.
  4. The team you’d employ – see above – excite them give them purpose and get them closer to your clients
  5. The office facility you’d have – what your office looks like defines in the minds of team members, clients and prospects how you see yourself, they won’t see you as a leading edge firm if you don’t look like one and your pricing decision needs to be consistent with your public image.
  6. The management processes you’d have in place.

Every firm should have a makeover every 3-5 years. Here are some thoughts as to what you could do:

  1. Start with a big office clean out e.g. get files off the floor and now that you can actually see most of your carpet, why not get it shampooed.
  2. Re-design your branding and logo. Take a critical look at your firm brochure—does it pass the WIIFM test or is it a recital about who you are, what you do and where you are located? Here’s the real test question: Does your brochure tell your client or prospective client how s/he will benefit from working with your firm? As a Principa Alliance member you have access to a bunch of brochures that are print ready. Use them, they’re part of the re-positioning process! By the way, if you click on links in this post that go to our website, you you will need to be logged in at the appropriate membership level to access the document or page.
  3. Revamp your website – if you’re a Principa Member get your web people to install your FREE co-branded member website and make a statement to the world about the business development services you could be offering. If you don’t know what I’m talking about call your Principa PDA now.
  4. Do you have messages on hold or do your callers have to listen to the news, other firm’s advertisments or silence. As an Alliance Member you can use messages on hold for free. This is one way to advise your callers of services that they probably do not know you can offer.
  5. Refurbish your reception area e.g. re-paint, re-carpet, replace stained and threadbare upholstery, replace hard uncomfortable waiting chairs, rid the area of horrible dated and dusty artwork and artificial plants/flowers.
  6. Install a flat screen monitor in your reception area and hook it up to an old computer to run a PowerPoint slide deck promoting the value-adding services you offer, client testimonials and/or Principa’s lobby slide deck. Because the lobby slide deck is a 60mb PowerPoint presentation you’ll need to contact us for copy on CD but it comes free with your membership of the Alliance.
  7. Buy new coffee cups, glasses, water jugs and serving plates. Get a Nespresso Coffee machine (www.nespresso.com) and delight your guests with affordable, high quality and fast serving coffee.
  8. Start, or re-start, your client newsletter and in it tell them something they might actually be interested in, something new and exciting (and that will not be something about the latest change in tax law!). If you’re a member of the Principa Alliance you have a newsletter system you can implement immediately that is one part of the smorgasboard of marketing tools and resources at your fingertips.
  9. Run some seminars a couple of times a year and schedule monthly client breakfast meetings that will be of interest to your clients. Principa has dozens of turn-key seminars and workouts for you to choose from and you can also host guest presenters and thereby widen your sphere of influence and your network.
  10. Never give your business clients a set of financial statements without a GamePlan Three Bottom Lines Report and/or an Annual Business Performance Review and allocate at least 90% of the review meeting talking about future opportunities rather than past outcomes. A quick discussion on the four ways to grow a business makes a great starting point. Given the current economic climate you might want to add the blog posting I wrote on the strategic opportunities that the current economic climate offers savvy business people.
  11. In addition to cleaning your office you should give your client portfolio a makeover. Undertake a Pareto analysis of your client base to determine who amongst them are your major profit contributors — you’ll need to find a way to assign a servicing cost to each client to do this which will be the subject of a White Paper I’m about to publish so keep your eye open for that. There’s also a basic framework for this analysis in the 3-Year Planning Model in FirmPlan. Explore ways to lift the profitability of the bottom 20% of clients or seriously consider referring them to another firm that is better suited to their needs so that you free up capacity to work with other customers.
  12. Talk to your clients. You can do this in several ways, your newsletter is one way, another is to take one day out of each week to visit with your clients just to see how they’re going and how your firm is performing from their perspective — these visits will pay for themselves many time over. Yet another way is to conduct a Client Advisory Board at least once every year.
  13. Talk to your team members. They are close to the action. Ask them to complete a Team Member Feedback questionnaire. You’ll be amazed at the ideas your team will come up with that you can use to delight your customers. We have compiled a list of more than 1,000 ideas from team members of our member firms. Contact us if you’d like a copy.
  14. Re-engage your team in the process by revisiting Towards Awesome Service and Phone Right. The latest DVD versions of these fantastic business-changing products are now available and Members of the Alliance can also view TAS, Phone Right and Building a Better Business online. These make great lunch + learn material that will get your team thinking about what you could be doing for clients as well as your firm.
  15. Purchase and read a copy of Paddi Lund’s book The Absolutely Critical Non-Essentials, it’ll give you a great understanding of why little things are important and lots of ideas for some implementing CNEs in your own practice.

For a very small investment of time and money you could give your firm a makeover that will help you stand out from the pack. In the same way that your vehicle needs a clean out and routine maintenance every 5,000 miles so too does your business. These initiatives are not superficial, cosmetic window dressing. They will give you a new look and feel, they’ll make your team feel good about your firm and themselves. Interestingly an article written by Rachel Kelloway in the Weekend Australian (August 2-3, 2008) titled “Office fit-outs count in chase for productivity” made precisely this point. You’ll see the same growth that you experienced when your firm first started out if you are willing to back up the makeover with the same commitment, passion and action that you exhibited then.

There are four success drivers. They are:

Desire – have a very specific set of written goals that you can break down into 10, 5, 1 year success benchmarks. Break your 1 year goal down in to monthly targets which in turn can cascade into weekly and daily activity activities. Our simple one-year strategic plan template will help you focus in on this process.

Direction – this is your strategy. It follows from your goals and defines your the framework for action. We have created a simple one page strategic plan framework that builds from your firm’s Mission Statement (do you have one? If not you should create one. A business without a Mission (read Purpose) is like a ship with out a rudder.

Discipline – everyone in your firm must be disciplined; especially the leaders. Do what you say you’ll do and expect your team to do likewise. Keep focused on your result-yielding initiatives and if they cease to yield the desired results change your strategy or your activities. Remember Activity (not ideas and not talk) Produces Results. Focus will be achieved if you conduct a daily 15 minute meeting with your team using a 3-Point Agenda (with everyone standing so you don’t get too comfortable): what’s happened since yesterday that you should know about, what do you plan to get done today? what decisions must be taken, or what help do you need, to accomplish your plan today?

Determination – Rome was not built in a day. Success may take more time than you’d like and it often involves many iterations. Adopt a mindset along the lines of “what would I do if I knew I could not fail.” In fact take that thought to another level and purge from your brain any thought of not succeeding. Take some time out to read a book (or download the audio version to your iPod) called the Law of Attraction: The Science of Attracting More of What You Want and Less of What You Don’t by Michael Losier