Keeping Your Referral Partners Happy and Loyal

Thumbs up

One of the biggest concerns I hear from accountants and lawyers is their ability to provide enough value to the referral partner relationships they have. This usually occurs when one party has more referrals or business to give than the other party. As I commented in one of my earlier blogs, ‘Building Referral Partnerships’, a referral partner relationship must be a ‘two-way street’ to remain healthy. That said, value isn’t only about providing new client referrals. There are a number of things you can do to bring value to the table for your referral partners.

Here are 10.5 ways you can be effective in keeping your referral partners engaged and loyal to you:

  1. Drive direct business to your best referral partners by sending your clients, colleagues, vendors, friends and family to them.
  2. Make high-level introductions to other referral partners in your network, which can sometimes be more valuable than providing direct business. That’s right, if you can’t refer business to them, find a good referral source for them.
  3. Set them up for a speaking engagement. You’ll help them gain visibility and credibility.
  4. Provide accounting advice (if you’re an accountant)/legal advice (if you’re a lawyer) to help them solve a business or family problem.
  5. Post their information on your website or send it out in your next client mailing. Ask them to guest write an article in your newsletter or quote them in your newsletter as an expert. Find ways to do joint promotions/projects/marketing with them.
  6. Be your referral partners’ ‘go to’ person for anything they need whether it’s a home mortgage broker a social media guru for their business. This is much easier if you’ve been networking for a while and have built up a network of quality contacts.
  7. Invite your referral partners to join you at networking events, board meetings or charity events where you can introduce them around. Buy an extra ticket to a big event with a top-shelf speaker. Sit your referral partner at your table and have him/her meet your clients in a relaxed social setting.
  8. Start your own private networking group and include your top referral partners.
  9. Be awesome at what you do! In some cases your referral partners just want to refer someone who takes care of his/her people. They’re not looking for reciprocity, just excellence.
  10. Nominate your top referral partners for recognition and awards. You’ll help them gain prestige. Write a recommendation of them on LinkedIn. Provide them with a glowing testimonial they can use on their website and in their marketing materials.

10.5. Be social with your best referral partners. Invite them to join you at the ‘game’ with one of your best clients or just meet them at the pub for a drink after work. Buy them lunch and have an in-depth conversation. Remember their birthday. Occasionally stop by their place of work and bring a bottle of premium wine with you to share.

By using one or more of these tactics, you’ll keep your best referral partners happy and loyal to you. Sometimes we have to be creative to ensure we’re being valuable to the relationships we value most. Without doing for others on a regular basis, we open ourselves up for disappointment when one of our partners changes teams.

When you stop being valuable, you’re no longer valuable. Ouch!

I hope you found this helpful. If you’d like to dig into a bit more detail just drop me an email and I’d be happy to discuss over a coffee or the phone.

Author: Ron Gibson Alliance Advisor with ATL Network
www.atlnetwork.com.au

Delivering Out-Sourced CFO Services

CFO Financial Performance

When agreement is in place for out-sourced CFO services to be delivered, it is critical to the success of the assignment that the external accountant gains as much background information about the client as soon as is practically possible as well as specific financial goals, if any exist.

A good starting point would be to analyse the most recent set of annual financial statements together with any interim financial statements that may be available. The analysis will reveal key points about the business such as sales trend, gross margin, profitability, cash flow status, working capital management, financing profile ie debt/equity etc.

Where multiple branches, departments or subsidiaries exist, similar information for each trading entity should be obtained and analysed. At this initial stage, the information may, of necessity, be high level and is intended to give the virtual CFO an insight and better understanding of the financial status, both good and bad, of the client. Being aware of any crucial issues facing the client, such as bank pressure, is also essential. As the CFO becomes more familiar with the business, he/she will in turn, seek more information by “drilling-down” into the financial records.

The more interaction the CFO can have with the business owner, CEO and senior management the better, as much relevant information can be gained via informal discussions. Likewise, walking around, observing and interacting with operating staff will gain more invaluable information, often in contradiction with what management thinks is happening.

Don’t ever overlook the value of developing working relationships with key personnel such as the CEO, GM, accounting staff and if relevant, with the bank manager.

If the client doesn’t have a current budget, encourage and assist them to develop both an operating budget and cash flow forecast. These will be extremely useful in assisting the client to monitor future financial performance. With time, these budgets can be developed around branches, departments, subsidiaries and in some cases, products.

Investigate the accounting system as to both suitability and correct operation as many systems are either out-of-date or poorly implemented. Often, if the accounting system is adequate, it often doesn’t take much tweaking to improve the reporting. Equally, most modern accounting systems have easy to use report writers allowing the CFO to obtain customised reports that will provide different insights into the financial performance. Another aspect to consider is whether the chart of accounts requires modification so as to improve the quality and content of the reports.

Encourage the management team to meet at least monthly to discuss an agenda that includes the prior month’s financial performance including variances from budget. Review and, if necessary, revise the budget for the remaining months of the current budget cycle.

A virtual CFO has a very privileged role in an organisation gaining a wide range of insights into how the business operates. Drawing on his/her broader experience, the CFO can make a significant contribution to the client’s underlying financial performance and related value enhancement.

Author: Geoff Storey CPA CA, Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

Learning and Development on a Budget

Budget

Your budget for the next year is set and one of the casualties is learning and development; meanwhile your employees are asking what training is available in the coming year.  Believe it or not, the two are not mutually exclusive and a reduced L&D budget may actually be the perfect opportunity to ensure you are maximising the return on training investment as well simultaneously meeting employee and business needs.

The following three areas hold the key to getting the most out of your L&D dollar:

  1. Policy, Process & Structure
    A clearly defined policy, process and structure will assist you to maximise the benefits of the learning and development activities you invest in.  Key areas to address are:
  • Ensuring alignment between individual and business objectives i.e. rigorous analysis of skills and/ or training needs versus your business strategy;
  • Actively evaluating the effectiveness of learning and development activities by reviewing their application in the workplace;
  • Reviewing supplier contracts with any external providers. This may involve negotiating discounts or consolidating suppliers;
  • Maximising internal organisation of training requirements to leverage economies of scale.  This may have the added benefit of bringing together employees from different parts of the business and be a positive influence on internal culture and relationships.
  • Ensuring a clear policy is in place detailing eligibility requirements, approval processes and retention clauses such as co-contributions, claw backs etc.
  1. Select Effective Learning and Development Options
    When seeking to reduce costs, the obvious first step is to reduce the use of external providers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to reduce your commitment to learning and development.  The following options, if managed properly, may even result in a more comprehensive program that delivers more bang for your buck.

Some key inexpensive options are summarised below with benefits and things to consider:

L&D Options Benefits Considerations
On-the-Job Training · Fit for purpose

· Information tailored to individual

· Manage delivery – who and what?

· Have systems to minimise the perpetuation of “bad habits”

· Ensure adequate time scheduled for trainee and trainer

Internal Training Sessions · Development of presentations skills

· Fit for purpose

· Knowledge sharing

· Missed opportunities for networking

· Monitor content to ensure quality and currency

Embedded Knowledge Experts · Limit L&D outlay to key personnel

· Development of specialised knowledge and skills

· Structures in place to ensure retention of knowledge/ expertise
On-line learning · Flexibility of timing and location of L&D activity

· Reduced non-productive time

· Compensate for limited interaction with other participants

· Ensure strategic alignment of learning

Mentoring · Knowledge transfer and retention

· Enable talent development

· Application of appropriate selection criteria for participants
Higher duties / Secondment · Increased employee engagement through career development

· Supports succession planning

· Ensure management of employee expectations
Trainees and Apprentices · Mix of formal and on-the-job training

· Supports succession planning

· Subsidised employment costs

· Ensure a retention strategy is in place post-qualification

· Ensure the allocation of appropriate resources (including supervisory requirements) throughout training

  1. Maximising Available Financial Support
    Depending on individual circumstances, businesses and/ or individuals may qualify for either State or Federal Government incentives to supplement investment in apprenticeships, traineeships and training/ career development initiatives.  In some cases incentives are available from both levels of Government and may take the form of payments, allowances, reduced wage rates or taxation concessions.

Actively reviewing and managing learning and development within your business to maximise your return on investment has the potential to reap many benefits, including:

  • reduced costs;
  • career development;
  • knowledge retention; and
  • fit for purpose programs and structures.

But perhaps most importantly, an effective learning and development function will ensure that you have capable and engaged employees, best placed to drive the future success of your business.

Author: WCA – Warner Consulting Australia Pty Ltd, Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

Staying relevant … what more can you do?

Rolling Stones

We recently engaged in a conversation with a practitioner who highlighted the issue of ‘needing to stay relevant’ for his clients. The more we investigated, the more we discovered that this is a very real concern – the challenge to stay relevant.

There is clear concern in some quarters about the commoditisation of services:
– ‘I-Returns practically complete themselves’ … what more can you do?
– ‘Financial programs practically tell clients exactly what they need to do to fix their business problems’ … what more can you do?

This view of ‘relevancy’ is further explored by Gail Perry, Editor-in-Chief of USA CPA Practice Advisor Magazine in her editorial ‘New York Show Focuses on CPA Relevance’. In this article, whilst acknowledging the emergence of this issue, the author’s clear message was focused on embracing technology in your practice to aid what you do, with empathy, to help your clients see the ‘real picture’ within their business. By embracing leading edge tools, not only can you add excellent value to your clients and remain truly relevant, but as an aside, you also make your practice more attractive to the best talent.

When your nose is to the grindstone, perspective can be easily lost. When a client leaves you, which is followed by a staff member resigning, which follows a software glitch that causes days of lost productivity, which follows a conference that provides no new insights, which follows your receptionist calling in sick, which follows clients not paying on time, which follows a drama at home … perspective can be easily lost.

So back to the question: relevance … what more can you do?

Perhaps the very answer can be found in perspective … a clear perspective … a client focused perspective. Having engaged with thousands of accountants over the journey, perspective is everything.

It would be all too easy to suggest, of course, that the most successful practitioners focus on the needs of their clients, and this is why they are successful. The truth is, there are many reasons why they are successful. It is also true that the most successful practitioners, more often, focus on the total needs of their clients. Many successful practitioners look at their client’s needs beyond compliance; they look at their client’s business operation and how the business is performing today and where is it going tomorrow; they look at their client’s net wealth position; they plan, they forecast, they challenge and they respond to their client’s needs. All the while, using tools and technology to assist in delivering key outcomes for their clients.

An interesting conversation recently with one of Australian’s most profitable and successful accountants revealed he has one goal – to look after the best interests of his clients. Most accountants, of course, would say that this is their objective as well – nothing new here. The difference lies in the subtlety of delivered services and delivered outcomes. This particular practitioner is not focused on tax lodgement deadlines; he’s not focused on fee pressures; he’s not focused on clients paying bills on time. He is focused on helping his clients create wealth through their businesses and helps them build wealth outside of their businesses. This practitioner delivers value for his clients, day-in, day out, and is extremely busy. This approach has intuitively been his focus ever since he started in practice 30+ years ago. Today, this practitioner could not be any more relevant for the clients he serves.

So whilst it might seem a little trite, surely the question is not ‘how do we become more relevant’? Surely the question is, how can we better serve our clients? There is so much value accountants can bring to their clients, but it would seem some are holding back, to the detriment of their own practice and certainly to the detriment of their clients. For many, there is so much more that you can do.

Author: Colin Simkin, Co-Founder, ATL Network
Mobile: +61 417 435 212  |  Office: 1300 796 627
Email: colin.simkin@atlnetwork.com.au
www.atlnetwork.com.au