Building Referral Partnerships

win win

As with all aspects of networking, a thoughtful approach to follow-up one-on-one meetings will significantly increase your success from meeting new people at group events.

Note that the following is specific to networking with new contacts for the purposes of building a strategic referral partnership. While there are elements that can be used with an old friend or new potential client, the focus of this article is to qualify new acquaintances for referral partnership purposes and then start the relationship on the right footing.

Making the Connection

Asking questions when meeting someone new is a good way to make friends. Asking about the person’s business, inquiring into his or her interests and talking about their loved ones builds rapport. And if you find common interests or natural affinities with the person ― favorite teams, kids, attended the same university or maybe you both have a passion for tennis ― you’ll elevate the conversation and move the relationship forward. You’re off to a good start.

Are they a potential referral partner?

Now you want to ask some questions to qualify (or disqualify) your new contact as someone with whom you should invest your networking time. Revealing questions to ask are:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • What do you look for in a strategic partner for your business?
  • What can you tell me about your networking activities?
  • What can you tell me about the types of people you usually help?
  • Whom do you currently partner with to give and get referrals?

The idea behind asking these questions is to gain an understanding of your contact’s ability to act as a ‘giver’ (of referrals) and possibly as a long term referral partner for you. If you find that the individual is ‘newer’ to the networking, is clearly out only for himself or herself or already has an established partner in your industry you may not want to invest much time, if any, connecting further with this individual.

One very good question to ask a new contact at a networking event is What should I be listening for to know if someone is a good referral for you?  In fact, this is an important question because it accomplishes a few critical things. First, it’s a sign of generosity that you’ve shown interest in helping someone else. Second, it’s a very professional question that is rarely asked by even the most experienced networkers. Third, it shows genuine interest in helping someone to find good referrals, which builds trust. While accomplishing all of these things it doesn’t commit you to taking immediate action. Remember, you asked “What should I be listening for”, which demonstrates interest without making an actual commitment to provide a referral.

MAJOR INSIGHT: Should your new contact ask you back the same question that would be a good sign that they see networking as a two-way street.

The Next Step    

If you feel that there’s a potential referral partnership to be had it will make sense to suggest a follow-up one-on-one networking meeting, say over coffee or a bite to eat. Before ending the conversation, you might say something like, I’ve  enjoyed meeting you. I’d love to get to know more about you and your business. Would you be open to a conversation about how we might mutually support each other’s business? Odds are your new networking contact will agree to this.

Networking tip. One of the best ways to end a conversation when you’re at a networking event is to be up front with the other person and say, I want to talk to some people here before they leave. Please excuse me.

Make your one-on-one meeting count 

Since time is money in business, we must be careful about those we choose to meet. In your call or email to arrange a meeting, I always recommend that you requalify a new potential referral partner. Ask for the contact’s agreement that the purpose of meeting one-on-one is to see if there’s a ‘fit’.

Isn’t that what this is all about anyway? You’re looking for a win-win relationship and need to establish a ‘fit’ as the goal for your meeting. You just say, I’m looking for a win-win relationship. From my perspective, the purpose of us meeting is for us to determine if there’s a ‘fit’ to work together. Does that sound good to you? In my experience, people respond well to the word ‘fit’.

When you actually meet with your contact start with some small talk. Have you always lived (or worked) around here? As you both warm up a bit, ask How did you get started in this business?

Be prepared with other questions that night help further qualify the contact as a strategic partner or prospective client. I’ve had many meetings that started out as a potential strategic partner meeting, but soon turned into a prospective client meeting due to my questions. There are also questions that might uncover the types of leads the contact has in his or her network that might be fruitful connections for you, including:

  • With whom do you network to find new business?
  • Where do you find you get the best networking results?
  • What are some of the networking methods you use to advance your business?
  • What referral sources are best for you?
  • Who are some of your best strategic partners?
  • What industries or ‘verticals’ (groups of people within a certain industry) do you serve?
  • What size companies do you typically work with?
  • Who at the client companies buys your services?
  • Can you describe your clients? Who is an ideal client for you?
  • What makes you or your company unique?
  • Who’s your competition?
  • What are some of the challenges your company faces every day?
  • How does the economy affect your business?
  • What are your expectations from your best strategic partners?
  • Where do you see yourself or your company in 5 years?
  • Can you tell me why you love what you do?
  • How can I bring you/your skills/services up in conversations with my clients?
  • Is there anything more you’d like to tell me about you/your firm that might help me refer business your way?
  • Have you referred any of your clients to people in my field in the past?
  • How can you see me providing value to your clients?
  • What can I do to help you refer clients to me?
  • What can I do to earn referrals from you?
  • If one of your clients asked you to recommend a good (your skill/service) is there someone you trust that you’d recommend to them?
  • I’m very interested in developing win-win relationships with other professionals who are mindful of two-way business. Do you see any barriers that would prevent us from working together in this way?

While there are hundreds of questions you can ask, try to zero in on three to five that make sense for you and the person you’re meeting with. Your ability to listen, ask questions and dig deeper will dramatically improve your success in these one-on-one networking meetings.

If there IS a ‘fit’…..

At the end of the meeting if both of you see that there’s a clear fit for you to help each other, suggest you try taking a small step forward together, such as making an easy connection for one another or inviting one another to attend an upcoming event. Then ask your contact, How would you feel about that? Again, in my experience people respond well to a suggestion like that.

The reason this is so effective is because it advances and emphasizes the quid pro quo of the ultimate goal in meeting: connections. Think about what your new contact might be seeking from you. Most likely it’s the same thing you’re after: a positive connection that benefits both parties. By agreeing to start small you’re not investing too much of yourself and not receiving so much that you might walk away with a sense of obligation to the contact. The goal of the ‘baby step’ is to test the connection without over- or under- committing, much like tasting a wine before buying the whole bottle.

What if there ISN’T a ‘fit’?

If the meeting isn’t going well and you realise that there’s not a fit, don’t hesitate to speak up and gain the contact’s agreement to move on and not work together. Remember, not everyone will be a good fit for you, and that’s okay. If prospects for a mutually beneficial, two-way business relationship aren’t looking good you might say, In lining up this meeting we agreed that the purpose was to see if there was a fit to work together. Based on our conversation so far, it doesn’t appear there is a good fit. Take another 30 seconds to explain why there might not be a good fit and help the contact understand. If you’re completely uncomfortable bringing this up to someone, just let the meeting run its course over the hour and simply move on.

It’s not always black or white.

With some people, it can take years to develop the type of trust and relationship that makes the person comfortable working with you. Sometimes being in the ‘number two’ position pays off when the person’s current referral relationship falls away. You’ll want to be there and come into your contact’s mind when someone else drops the ball. In which case, you’ll want to keep the connection ‘alive’. Plan a follow-up contact with this person. Put them on your calendar to contact them again in four to six weeks. Take note of any special events they mentioned and call around these times to ask how the event went. From time to time, send a note on something pertinent. Look for something helpful, interesting or relevant that you can forward to your contact. Ideally, you identified an issue where you can be of assistance and you’ll communicate on that topic.

Networking Is Not a One and Done

Remember that one meeting does not make a referral partner. It’s essential that the first meeting lead to a second and to a third, a fourth, a fifth and on and on over the long haul. That’s how productive strategic referral partnerships are built and maintained.

And by the way, you’ll want to implement a system to manage your relationships and stick to the system.

I hope you find this article helpful. If you’d like to review some of the main points and dig into a bit more detail just drop me an email and I’d be happy to discuss over a coffee.

Some last words…..

The golden rule in making referral partnerships work for you is your partners need business too. They need referrals to quality prospects, just like you do.

If you fail to generate opportunities for your partners, their commitment to referring clients to you will fall and the relationship will dissolve.

If you can’t refer business to your referral partner, help find him/her someone who can.

Author: Ron Gibson, Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

Ron runs a Web-based Business Growth Masterclass for Professional Advisors. Next Program is scheduled 6th July. More information: CLICK HERE


Left Behind

Procrastination is your worst enemy. Accounting practitioners face a crisis if they don’t make significant changes.

A recent survey revealed that less than a third of practitioners reported having a strategic vision and plan. Of those that did have a plan approximately 50% shared it with managers and staff.

When asked why a plan hasn’t been prepared, the most frequent responses were:

  1. “We don’t have time – we’re too busy!”Client demands inevitably take priority, even though a large proportion of these clients are non-profitable (see my blog on the 140/20 Rule), to the detriment of your own firm.
  2. “We can’t get partners to agree on a vision.” Without a process to do this properly it is likely that individual partners and even staff will have their own personal vision wherein ‘pillars’ are developed with lists of clients rather than any sort of business model.
  3. “We really don’t know how to complete a plan.” I do see plenty of evidence of this where firms attempt to do some sort of planning themselves at a ’Retreat’ but inevitably they become talk fests with no serious actions determined.

Firms, across the profession, that are unable to retain quality staff are unlikely to attract them and today’s best talent expect a digital environment, a clear vision, a change-ready organisation with fast decision-making at the leadership and management levels. Successful firms are adaptable, learn quickly and move with a sense of urgency. Results are directly impacted by employee experiences. Experiences impact their beliefs. Beliefs impact their actions and their actions impact your firm results.


Your skilled, experienced people want to know where the firm is going and whether they will personally be able to play a significant role and grow professionally. There are plenty of choices for them in this fast changing world and reliable economist, Phil Ruthven, was quoted as follows:

“For those fearing the disappearance of jobs, don’t. Over the past five years, Australia created six times more jobs than it lost, and it is well placed to do the same over the next five years. And, yes, the new jobs are in new industries. So the message is don’t just stand there, do something!”

….and they will. The war for talent is just beginning! Young accountants have grown up with an abundance mentality, rather than a scarcity mentality. A vision, mission and core values are integral to a firm’s strategic plan. Potential employees simply do not want to work for firms that do not align with their own core values and beliefs. Partners often insist that they have a vision, mission and core values, but is this really true?

  1. Do partners agree and live up to the core values?Imagine a situation where two second-tier accounting firms that were merging wanted to set aside a day to discuss and identify core values. Imagine if every single partner (a very large group) wanted to list their own specific comments which resulted in pages of ‘values’ for their new merged firm. Would you conclude this process was way overdone and would probably never be implemented? Unfortunately, this was a real situation. Unfortunately, this did happen. And yes, unfortunately the ‘values’ were never implemented. The firm demerged not long after.
  2. Do your employees know the core values and are they held accountable?
  3. Does your firm share your business plan with your staff and key clients?


Of all the reasons given above the most revealing is that partners can’t agree. Arriving at a shared, agreed-upon business plan requires a lot of planning, thinking and allocation of resources to a limited number of prioritised strategies – usually no more than three. Your first attempt might only be 80-90 percent complete. This will not limit your success. Over time the task becomes easier, the planning gets better and the achievements escalate. In our experience it always helps too to have an independent part-time facilitator to keep everyone accountable and on track.


We hear this a lot. Many practitioners are prepared to allocate time to developing strategies but never follow through. With the right processes and commitment of all partners, a plan can be prepared in as little as one to three days (contact us for an outline of a process and, if you wish, facilitation of the process). Remember it should be about progress and not perfection. We use a range of ‘tools’ and processes to engage partners and staff and implement action.

Simplicity is the key and one-page plans and many of the simple tools referred to above ensure a far better outcome.


We are convinced that facilitating the planning process within your own firm is a monumental task. Over great many years we have facilitated in the development of hundreds of plans. Engaging an external facilitator helps to expedite the internal process and provide valuable external expertise. Too often practitioners are convinced of their own ability to attend to this. A great facilitator ensures that strategic action is followed through with implementation and accountability.

ATL Network’s Strategic Planning Process is built on the core tenets of Strategy – Growth – Implementation – Accountability.

Authors: Vale David Connell and Colin Simkin

Advisory Thought Leadership Program

How can remuneration benchmarking impact your bottom line?

Australian Money

The changing Australian economy has resulted in a greater focus on operating costs for many businesses.  Employees are often an organisation’s greatest resource, and typically they also represent the largest cost to the bottom line, so paying appropriately is critical.

Why conduct remuneration benchmarking?

Remuneration benchmarking is a powerful tool that can provide you with the information necessary to answer the following three questions critical to sound financial and employee management:

1. Am I paying legally?  
Employee entitlements including minimum base wages are set by the applicable award, or if the employee is not covered by an award, the National Minimum Wage.

Minimum base rates increase annually on the first pay period on or following 1 July.  This coincides with many organisational pay review cycles, making this the perfect time to benchmark and ensure your pay levels are legally compliant.

2. Am I paying consistently?
In matters of remuneration an individual’s skills, experience and performance, should result in reasonable differentiation.  However, often other factors such as negotiation abilities and length of service can influence remuneration levels, leading to disparity within groups of staff performing the same role.  Not only can this have a negative impact on financial management and sustainability, employee engagement and productivity may also be affected.

3. Am I paying competitively?
Paying at market rate is not just for attracting quality applicants; it also ensures key employees don’t ‘jump ship’ for an increase, and that your remuneration levels and practices are sustainable.

When using market data, consider the industry, role and region carefully; comparing an Office Manager working in a small professional practice to one working for a large corporation is like comparing apples to oranges.

What about outliers?

What do you do if your employees are well below or above the benchmark?

1.  Assess the reason for the anomaly
You should always consider an individual outlier, case by case. If they are well below the benchmark, is it because they are missing a required qualification? Or underperforming?

If they are above the benchmark, is it because they are a top performer? Because they are due for promotion? Or perhaps they were hired during a peak in the market?

If there is a valid reason for the employee being below or above the benchmark, there is no requirement for immediate action. However you should still work toward bringing the individual in line with the rest of your employees.

2. Is there a training or performance issue? 
The ‘How’ of dealing with outliers is not set in stone.  An immediate pay rise is only necessary if the employee is below the applicable minimum wage or well below the market.  However, action will need to be taken if the employee in question: needs to be performance managed; should be on a training plan; needs a promotion; or if a conversation to reduce the pay level needs to be conducted.

3. Is this sustainable?
Your top performer may be worth every penny, but is it sustainable to give them a pay rise if they are already significantly above the average?

It may be time for a realistic conversation. Explain the reason for a smaller or no pay increase, consider alternatives such as: flexible hours; training opportunities; or alternative benefits. It is critical that unsustainable increases are minimised, while avoiding demotivating the employee in question.

Outliers are an issue that will not be solved overnight. It is essential that you plan to bring individuals in line with other employees over a period of time, together with building in consideration for regular workforce increases.

At a minimum, remuneration benchmarking will ensure you aren’t at risk of prosecution.  At best it can have a positive impact on your financial performance and employee engagement. With the minimum wage increase just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start.

Interested in effective recruitment strategies: CLICK HERE

Author: WCA (Warner Consulting Australia Pty. Ltd)
WCA are an Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

Getting Back In Touch With Old Contacts

It happens to all of us. There’s a former client, former customer, ex-colleague, ex networking associate you’ve lost touch with and you’d like to re-kindle the relationship, but you’re having trouble trying to figure out what to say after all this time. Don’t email. Call them up and say something like this:

“Hi (whatever their name is). It’s (your name) here. I was just thinking about you and I thought I’d pick up the phone and call. I don’t actually need anything. Just touching base to say hello and see how you’re going. Got a minute to talk?”

Well, that’s how I handle this kind of situation eight times out of ten. And the experience is typically an enjoyable one―both for me and for them. They’re happy to hear from me. We chat for a while. We laugh. We update each other on what’s going on in our worlds. We’re back in touch. And often we’ll arrange to meet up for coffee or a bite to eat. Sometimes it’s a drink after work. I’m always glad I made the call.

My attitude is if the relationship was once strong and you’ve just dropped the ball, then reach out to re-connect.

Like I say, mostly I just pick up the phone and call the person, but not always as you’ll see. Read on.

BIG QUESTION: How much business are you missing out on by dropping out of touch with people?

Ex clients, ex colleagues, people you went to school or university with, played sport with or just hung out with socially can be your very best source of new business. They already know you, like you and trust you at least to some degree.

But…I will admit it can feel a bit uncomfortable getting back in touch after months/years have passed. Will you look needy? Will it look like you’re after something or trying to sell something?

So we end up not re-establishing those relationships. We miss out and so do they.

If picking up the phone and calling them doesn’t sit comfortable for you, one of the best ways to re-connect with old contacts―and at the same time overcome any psychological roadblock you might have in re-connecting― is to get back in touch via email and in a way that provides value to the other person.

Here’s the deal.

When you are providing something of value to them; when you’re being of service to them; when you’re being helpful you feel a lot more comfortable reaching out to re-connect. They appreciate you making contact and you have a greater desire to do it.

Here are a couple of surefire approaches (techniques I like to use myself) that allow you to comfortably re-establish contact and be a valuable resource at the same time. You’ll reconnect and feel good about it. And so will they.

These approaches for getting back in touch work like a charm because they are about giving value and being valuable and not asking for anything.

That’s the secret to successfully reconnecting with old contacts; reconnect by giving value, by being valuable, by being resourceful, by being helpful―and, I repeat, don’t ask for anything.

So the first way of being valuable when you get back in touch with someone is to invite them to an event or something you’re going to that you think they will find valuable too.

The best way of doing this is whenever you get invited to something yourself, say a networking event, a seminar or any kind of thing that you might find useful, think about WHO in your network or who in your data base you could invite to that as well.

Inviting an ex client, ex colleague or someone who has referred business to you in the past to come along with you is an excellent way to re-establish a relationship. It works really well for three of reasons.

First, they don’t even have to come along to the event to appreciate you thinking to invite them and you’re still back in touch. The invitation itself puts you back in touch. They might turn you down, but they will appreciate getting your invitation. And then you can go back and ask them what they’re doing now, how things are going for them, how’s business, etc. and perhaps even suggest catching up for a coffee or bite to eat to keep the conversation going.

The second good thing that happens is if they do come along to the event with you then both of you are out of the office, away from the pressures and distractions of the workplace. It’s a relaxed social environment. You can sit down together and chat over coffee or something to eat. Or you can stand around chatting at a networking event while you enjoy having a drink together. You get a nice chunk of social time together to rekindle the relationship. You get the idea.

The third good thing that happens is when they come along to an event with you they also get to meet other people―people who might be desirable contacts or prospects for THEIR business. You’re being valuable to them because you’re helping them increase who they know. They’ll be appreciative of you for that.

The second way of getting back in touch with old contacts and being valuable to them at the same time is to organise your own event. This gives you the opportunity to re-establish multiple relationships, all in one hit.

I’m not suggesting you put on some kind of mega conference or host a lavish cocktail party or anything grandiose like that. What I mean is inviting six or more of your old contacts―ex clients, ex colleagues, people who used to know each other―for drinks after work or a pay-for-your-own breakfast, lunch or dinner. It could even be as much as you inviting them over to your place for a barbecue. Either way, you’re getting everyone together. You’re back in touch. And, in the process, you’re creating value for everyone, including yourself. Not only are you re-connecting with each of them, but they’re also connecting and re-connecting with each other. It’s value for EVERYONE.

In addition to this, as the host/organiser you have the opportunity to interact with everyone before the event when you’re doing the inviting and at the event as you welcome people, make introductions and move from one conversation to the next. And there’s a bonus. You’re always a topic of conversation because you’re the host.

Then after the event, as you follow up with everyone to see if they enjoyed themselves you get another piece of time with them. Based on how the conversation goes, maybe then you suggest grabbing a coffee or something like that and enhance the relationship by having a more in-depth face to face conversation.

Here’s what I’ve being doing for years.….
I organise what I call a ‘drinks soiree’ every three or four months as way of re-connecting (and staying in touch) with people who are important to me, with no thought of what I might get back in return. Through a mix of text, email and phone I extend a personal invitation and I let everyone know that they’re buying their own drinks.

There’s always a good crowd. I greet people as they walk in the door. I make lots of introductions. I make sure I get to talk (albeit briefly) to all my guests before they leave.

I’m a topic of conversation because I’m the host. That’s a bonus!

After the event, I follow up (usually by phone) with a number of my guests. They’re always happy to talk. It gives us a more time to chat. I look to nurture the relationship by offering to introduce them to people they didn’t get to meet at the event. And, with a subset of them, I will arrange coffee to continue the conversation. It’s an effective way for me to keep some of my relationships ‘alive’. It’s all good fun and very good for business.

QUESTION: Who are six or more people that you would like to re-connect with? Think of people who can help you achieve your business goals.

ACTION: Don’t hesitate. Set the date for your event and get on with inviting your guests. You won’t regret it.
By the way, are you on LinkedIn?

If you’re anything like most people who are, you’ve probably collected a whole swag of contacts that you haven’t communicated with in ages―people you’ve worked with, done business with, had meetings with, discussed opportunities with―all kinds of people that you’ve fallen out of touch with. You haven’t been thinking about them and they haven’t been thinking about you.

BIG QUESTION: How much direct business and referral business are you missing out on―business that your rivals are getting instead―from all those LinkedIn contacts that have forgotten about you?

Try this valuable exercise….

Find three of your LinkedIn contacts that you’d like to re-establish a relationship with. Send them a note. Ask how things are going for them, what they’re doing now and how’s business. That kind of thing. Let them know that you don’t actually need anything, but you’re just checking in to see how they are doing.

How good would that make you feel if someone you haven’t spoken to in a while just dropped you a note that said they were thinking of you and wanted to say hello? That would make me feel pretty good. Spread a little goodwill today and reach out to some of your old contacts. And while you’re at it, tack on a few lines about what’s new with you, but don’t ask for anything. And no selling!

Odds are, people will be pleased to hear from you and they’ll come back to you. Some of them in a flash. So you’ve swapped notes. You’ve re-connected. Maybe you then suggest a phone call or grabbing a coffee if they’re nearby or something like that and enhance the relationship by making it more personal. That can lead to anything. Maybe something big.

QUESTION: What’s the point of making all those connections on LinkedIn in the first place if you never interact with them?

ACTION: Send three notes today and keep sending three notes each week until you have reached out to all those LinkedIn contacts you want re-connect with.

What about all those old business cards sitting on your desk or in a draw of people you met at networking events and other situations, but didn’t follow up with? Some of these cards are leads you’ve generated, but aren’t likely to result in anything meaningful because you’ve let them go cold.

ACTION: Go through those cards and pull out the ones you think are potential opportunities. Of those that you’re not connected to on LinkedIn, send them an invitation to connect.

MAJOR IMPORTANCE: Don’t do the generic thing that says, “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”. Instead, say something personal like, “Hi (whatever their name is). Just trying to re-establish connection with friends and colleagues who I’ve lost touch with. Would you like to connect here on LinkedIn so we can stay on top of what’s going on with each other?” That’s all you need to say at this point. The invitation itself puts you back in touch.

Chances are, most people will recognise your name and ‘accept’. Now you’re trading messages. You’re back in touch. The door’s open to start a conversation. Maybe you could invite them to an event you’re going to…..or your own event. Maybe (based on what you’ve gleaned from their LinkedIn Profile or their website) send them a link to a podcast, video or article they might find useful. Maybe suggest grabbing a coffee together. But it’s not the time to ask for anything or sell anything. Your goal is to re-new the connection.

Already connected to some of these people on LinkedIn? You know what to do. See earlier in this article.

Stuck for words when you re-connect? The following might help……….
● I thought it was time I gave you a call.
● I’ve be meaning to call you.
● Just wondering what you’re up to.
● Long time, no talk,. What’s new?
● It’s been so long since I last saw you. How are you?
● Amazing how time has gone by.
● Where does time go?
● Just touching base to say hello and see if you’re ok.
● I saw something today that made me think of you.
● I had cause to think of you this morning when……
● I was thinking of you today because……
● Your name crossed my mind/came up in my head when I was……
● It’s been way too long. Let’s catch up. My shout!
● We connected on LinkedIn six months ago. I see from your profile that you……
● I noticed your LinkedIn profile and……..
● If you’re looking to reach out simply for the sake of not being forgotten, LinkedIn is a great option. If you’re not already in each other’s networks, send a brief personal message and ask to connect. Already connected? Endorse your contact for skills you know s/he has.
● Just a quick update.
● Good to see you lighting up the social pages in (name of publication) when you noticed their photo.
● When I saw this I immediately thought of you.
● I thought you would find this interesting.
● I just wanted to touch base to see if you’d like to meet for coffee and swap updates on what’s been going on in our worlds. Let me know if you’re keen.
● I have so missed seeing you.
● I see you’re working in Sydney now, which explains why you’re not at the Local Chambers meetings I used to see you at. I hope everything is going nicely for you.

Reaching out to old contacts can be hugely beneficial and it’s not something that needs to be painful. Use the tips above to reach out and odds are your old contacts will be pleased to hear from you.
I hope you find these ideas for re-connecting useful.

That’s it for now.

Until next time.

PS. NOTE WELL: When you re-connect with old connects, try not to let them go cold again. You need to keep in touch. The secret to that is to prioritise and systemise. And that’s a topic for another time.

Author: Ron Gibson, Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

Ron runs a Web-based Business Growth Masterclass for Professional Advisors. Next Program is scheduled 6th July. More information: CLICK HERE

Blame or responsibility: Knowing the difference can change your business

ActionWarren Buffet, perhaps the most successful investor in the world, got it wrong once, and some of his followers lost money by taking his advice. When he apologised to investors, a number commentators lauded his action, saying he was taking “responsibility” for his actions.

I disagree. While Buffet’s apology was a noble and honourable gesture it did not constitute taking responsibility. He was taking the blame.

What’s the difference between taking the blame and taking responsibility? My definition is quite clear. The parts of the word hold the answer: it is the ability to respond, whether it be to a problem, challenge, trend or future opportunity.

The evidence of responsibility is action. If someone claims they are taking responsibility, they are taking or planning action. The conversation is about action – they are focused on what action to take today that will make the future better. Responsibility is a forward looking, action-oriented concept.

Taking the blame – I’m sorry, it’s my fault – is not taking responsibility. In fact blaming oneself can be the ‘soft option’ and often substitutes for action and, in so doing, stifles taking responsibility.


Why the difference matters

Laying blame and taking responsibility are diametrically opposed; where one is, the other won’t stay long. Yet many managers act as if they are interchangeable. This creates problems for leaders; serious problems, when there are issues of bullying, for example. And the business can suffer too, due to the lack of an action orientation.

Blaming others has nothing to do with action and nor is it about the future. It is about the ego and making people feel guilty about a past event. Blame often leads to conversations of accusation, justification, excuses and back-side-protecting, not action!


What you say can change what they do

If this is happening in your organisation, and you want it to change, it starts with your conversations, as a leader (irrespective of your job title). Move the conversations away from blame toward action.

This means not only avoiding conversations where one blames another but also where people blame themselves – “it’s my fault”. Neither conversation is constructive. I cut people off when they move into the blame space by asking a very simple question: what are you going to do now to address the situation? This moves the conversation into a far more positive and productive space.

Focus your conversation on:

  • The actions needed to fix the current problem.
  • The actions needed to make sure the problem can never happen again.

Until both these are dealt with the problem has not been solved and responsibility is not complete.

If we have to delve into the past to be able to address the problem (and you will, in most cases) it can be easy to slip into a blame mentality. Avoid this by focusing on process – the process that created the problem. Don’t get drawn into the personalities.

It matters less what words you use, it’s the way it is said that counts. If you find yourself (metaphorically) wagging your finger at someone and saying, “you need to take responsibility for this” then it will be interpreted as blame. One of the most common blame statements I hear comes out of the USA – it happened on your watch.


Ability is important, too

So far, I have concentrated on the word ‘response’; but what about the word ‘ability’? Do your people have the ability to respond as the business needs. If not, what are you doing about developing their ability to respond?

If blame and responsibility are mutually exclusive approaches, which is it to be for you?

About the author: Warwick Cavell, an Alliance Advisor with ATL Network,  is a thought leader in communicating for results and strategy implementation. For over 25 years, he has helped leaders improve business performance by changing the way people communicate and work to solve problems – both internally and with their clients. He is a highly respected facilitator, coach, speaker and trainer, and author of regular blogs.

Complacency Breeds Complacency

Why Should I Worry?

Professional Complacency

When it comes to profit many firms are complacent. So long as the bills are being paid and I draw a reasonable sum each month why should I worry? That raises a most interesting question just how much is enough?

I frequently ask principals/partners in workshops to write down on a piece of paper just what they think their profit should be? Invariably there is a very diverse range of opinion and there should at least be some attempt by partners to come to agreement on a suitable amount. But the point I wish to make is that a large sum is inevitably left on the table. Complacency breeds complacency and as long as partners are reasonably satisfied a serious effort to change is unlikely. Yet most professional firms invest so little in areas like innovation, staff training, the latest technology, professional marketing, systems and procedures improvement, furniture and equipment, office presentation, and much more. If there is cash in the bank at the end of the month then a suitable drawing is on the cards!

So few firms complete a budgeting exercise that drives the firm. Ideally the overall firm budget for the year/s ahead should have a number of budgets branching off and supporting it where a serious drilling down is evident. I refer to the Personnel Budget, the Work-in-Progress and Debtors Budgets, the Capital Expenditure Budget that itemizes future investment in equipment especially information technology, the Training Budget that links into the skills audits and individualizes or tailors the training needs, the Marketing Budget, the Cash Flow Budget as distinct from the accruals Profit and Loss Budget, the Balance Sheet Budget, the Drawings Budget, and all of these should link in so that what if scenarios may be considered up front. The DuPont analysis is also an outstanding tool for assisting in these projections.

Detailed Drilling Down

Now I did say ideally and the reality is that this sort of detailed drilling down enables decisions to be made in advance and not on the run. For example, what percentage of our revenue should we outlay on training? What is realistic to enable us to grow our people and skills to reach the vision we have already determined in our Business Plan and strategies? In light of our growth projection what is a reasonable percentage to spend on marketing in order to achieve that growth. This should lead to what I refer to as laser beam focused marketing rather than the scattergun marketing that most professionals engage in (if any marketing at all!).

Rule of Thumb

Most professional firms work on the rule of thumb of 1/3rd, 1/3rd, 1/3rd, i.e. 1/3rd of revenue is taken up in overhead, 1/3rd of revenue is absorbed in wage costs and 1/3rd remains for profit  suggesting that professional firms should earn 331/3 % net profit but this is where the illusion of profit comes in. Because no adjustment is made for realistic commercial salaries for principals, or interest on capital and current accounts this simple formula can lead to complacency. And note that the interest is calculated at commercial rates and after regular, realistic revaluation of Balance Sheet items  especially Goodwill, Intellectual Property and other intangibles. my book, “Earn Your True Worth”  I explain in greater detail the options for calculating commercial salary.

A Reasonable Return ?

Where these adjustments are made in a commercial manner invariably I have found that Net Profit (before tax) drops dramatically to around 5% pa or less. Losses are not uncommon. In my experience listed corporations on the stock exchange generally seek a return in the order of 15-20% pa or more and they are punished in their share prices if they don’t, so accountability is very strong. It seems to me that this is a reasonable minimal guide for professional firms. Return on investment should also be examined (allowing for revaluation of the intangibles). Is the firm receiving a reasonable return on their investment after the above adjustments?

A True Costing System

So where is the net profit we should be earning? Waste is a big factor and time sheet recording for many professionals has made us lazy. There is a strong move to value pricing, i.e., a more serious examination of the value to the client and negotiation and management of expectations with the client. I am not advocating cessation of the time sheet system; I am simply advocating a return to the use of time sheets as a costing system that is a reference point only (as originally intended), not the means of calculating the bill. As already explained when professional firms have such low productivity there is something seriously amiss.

The Practice Cannot Run Itself!

You simply must take the management of your professional practice at least as seriously as you do when attending to the needs of your largest client. My book will provide you with an approach to truly earning what you are worth but you must be willing to take action, apply resources and make decisions. The practice cannot run itself! And avoid being misled by the illusion of strong profit.

David Connell, Co-Founder, ATL Network.