On the topic of ‘value’, three experts joined AdvanceTrack MD Vipul Sheth to discuss what value means in the context of an accounting practice, its people and clients.
Andrew Van De Beek, founder of Australian accountancy firm Illumin8, kicked off proceedings with an intensely personal and heartfelt presentation. This tone supported his message: work with clients you like, and understand the purpose of their business, before you can deliver value.
Clients are usually sold an expectation of what it will be like to work with another party, and are then disappointed with the reality.
“When I started my firm eight years ago, I’d already worked in a smaller firm and a Big Four firm. I hadn’t really enjoyed what I was doing – ticking boxes. That changed when I realised there were businesses behind my work – it changed my thinking,” he explained.
Van De Beek and his firm undertook soul-searching of who they were as personalities, and who they wanted to work with. “It was a transition from ‘pretending to be an accountant’ to ‘here’s Andrew… who is good at accounting’,” he said.
His official ‘work photo’ was him in a suit and tie. “I asked myself ‘why am I putting this shirt on?’ The branding was this picture while I was really [a guy in a t-shirt drinking whisky],” he said.
“In other words, the branding was the guy in the suit, but when clients interacted with us they got something different.”
“If we’re pretending to be someone else, act a certain way, do things a certain way… it won’t hit the mark,” Van De Beek added. Accountants often present themselves in a similar way, providing similar services in the same style – “it just won’t hit the mark”.
Karen Reyburn, founder of accountancy marketing agency PF, carried on the thread. She said accountants feared being themselves, but making such a move towards fully representing yourself in your work normally required “small changes over time”.
However, such a move was important in terms of winning and working with clients. “Your brand is not for you, it’s for clients,” she said. “They will ask, ‘is this real? Are these people for real?’.”
When there’s a mismatch “they will hesitate to work for you”, Reyburn added.
The step towards online communication precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic has seen accountants behave more as they are, particularly where they talk to clients from their home environment.
“I hope that those moving through this see one of the big lessons that ‘me and my firm need to be who we are and show it’,” said Reyburn.
Building that authenticity is an aspect of setting out how to understand what value is in terms of clients, said James Ashford.
“Accountants do amazing [technical] things: balance sheets and P&Ls, but I only care about what’s going on in my life. I want to be able to pick my kids up from school and my wife be safe, along with a storm-proof business. That’s where accountants can have an impact,” said Ashford.
On pricing, Ashford said you should be “consistent and profitable in what you need
“And compliance isn’t dead,” he added. “It’s our most profitable work [at the accountancy practice where he is a director] because of how we charge it, manage our efficiencies and deliver.”