Recently I have been presenting a session on delegation in Australia at the Accounting Firm Efficiency Forum that has been organized by Business Fitness. I had the pleasure of interviewing the Senior Client Director of one of Australia’s outstanding new accounting firms. His name is Brett Kelly and his firm is Kelly+Partners. Interestingly, although he describes himself as a Senior Client Director on his business card, he’s actually the CEO. His business card designation reflects the firm’s focus on clients rather than themselves.
Kelly+Partners is the inaugural winner of Australia’s Most Efficient Firm Award. This award is based on an index of performance built up from eleven criteria that cover everything from revenue growth, revenue per person, leverage, expenses, working capital management and so on. The firm was started in 2006 with a fee base at the time of $400k. Within 12 months, they had grown that to more than $4 million and this year they’re expecting fees of around $6 million — now that’s growth! A solid portion of the growth came from acquisitions but a full 38%—$1.6 million of it was organic.
After receiving the award, Brett very kindly shared some of the secrets of his firm’s success and in the course of doing so made a several profoundly important points. One of those points was his comment that Kelly+Partners has had very little trouble attracting and retaining talented people and in this context he mentioned that there is no shortage of talent, there’s just a shortage of firms that talented people are attracted to.
Firms that talented people are attracted to are those doing interesting work, they’re growing solidly (though not necessarily as rapidly as Kelly+Partners), they service interesting clients with a positive mindset and they encourage personal growth and continual learning e.g. Brett’s people are required to read a minimum of 1 book each month. If this does not apply to your firm and you’re concerned about the availability and stability of your team then perhaps there’s something to learn from this.
Brett also mentioned that every time he meets a business person he asks if s/he is has a great accountant? Based on our own research on this question more than 60% of people are either indifferent or unhappy with the service they are getting from their current accountant. Because switching costs are quite high many unhappy clients stay with their service provider BUT they will never refer and some are so unhappy they talk about it even if they don’t switch and if another firm comes along and makes it easy for them to switch, they’re gone.
What this means is that if you’re like most firms and 60% of your clients are in this “at risk” category then if Brett (or someone like him) bumps into one of your clients there’s a 60% chance you’re in trouble. The flip side of this observation is to make sure that 60% of your clients are not “at risk” and the first step in that process is to conduct a client advisory board and/or some other form of client delight survey to get a sense of your risk exposure and then re-build your service strategy.
The other thing you might want to take away from this thought is the suggestion that when someone asks what you do, your response might be along the lines suggested by Brett. Namely, “I’m an accountant, do you have a great accountant?” <listen> “Would you like me to explain why our clients are delighted with our firm.”