Is it time for a different conversation with your clients?

Conversational Listening

Accountants are experts who solve technical problems. Their solutions are largely based on technical knowledge and clearly established principles. Compliance services that address technical problems – preparing financial statements, lodging a tax return etc. are done using well-established methodologies. Clients come for advice; accountants provide it. That’s the business model.

But, technology is destroying many aspects of that business model. Digital disruption is profoundly effecting the profession.

Some commentators estimate that even if an accounting practice did not lose one client over the next five years, their revenues will plummet 40 – 50%. My work with accounting practices indicates that this prediction may not be too far wide of the mark. It is getting tougher for the accountant in public practice.

As a result practices are needing to look beyond compliance work and move more strongly into other areas such as Business Advisory Services.

While accounting practices have been embracing the Business Advisory space for many years few have developed these services into sophisticated core service offerings in the same way as their Tax or Audit services. For many, Business Advisory Services remain an adjunct to the core compliance services, delivered by a relatively small number of people in the practice who have a passion for the particular service offering. Rarely do the methodologies used in these service offerings form part of the training for the broader firm.

As accountants seek to grow their Business Advisory Service offerings they will encounter a new challenge that most have not anticipated – the mix of problems business will need assistance with will be different. A bigger proportion of the problems will be adaptive challenges rather than technical problems. In simple terms adaptive challenges are the human element of a problem. For example, while a succession plan contains some complex technical problems, it is often how the human problems are dealt with that are the ‘make or break’ elements to the plan.

Each type of problem – technical problems and adaptive challenges – requires a different approach and a different conversational style.

Type of problem Technical Problem Adaptive Challenge
Conversational style Advocacy Inquiry
Approach Expert Facilitative
‘Solved’ by Expert Client
These problems are… Solved Evolved
Level of client ‘ownership’ in the solution Low to medium High

In their book “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership” the authors Heifetz, Luisky and Grashaw make the comment that, “The most common cause of failure in leadership is produced by treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems”. Based on my experience of over 35 years running my own accounting practice and consulting to practices the same could be said about accountants in their approach to addressing adaptive challenges with their clients.

Addressing adaptive challenges and using an inquiry conversational style is more than simply asking questions. Indeed accountants are more than familiar with asking questions, they do it regularly. It is more about the nature and quality of the questions that are asked and also the underlying strategy behind the questions.

To demonstrate this, I often start my training sessions by breaking participants into small groups to solve problems. One person nominates a problem they would like to address while the others in the group help this person solve their own problem. And I have two rules – those helping are only allowed to ask questions or respond to questions. They are not allowed to make statements or give unsolicited advice. In effect I am taking their default conversational style (advocacy) away from them. They struggle, initially, but then start to see the power of this type of conversation as they practice it and become proficient at asking quality questions.

The objective is to help the person (i.e. the client) think more deeply about their own problems and guide them in finding the solution rather than providing an expert solution.

As digital disruption starts eroding the value of this expertise, accountants risk being relegated to the status of technicians and remunerated accordingly. If they are to continue to be relevant and flourish into the future, accounting practices will need to start thinking more about how they converse and work with their clients, particularly in the Business Advisory Space.

Author: Warwick Cavell, Partner, ATL Network
Mobile: +61 411 122 860  |  Office: 1300 796 627

Leadership without the HYPE

leadership-without-the-hypeIt seems that many of the leaders whose virtues we extol do not exhibit too many of the so-called essential competencies that leadership schools and consultants are so fond of promoting.  While the competency approach helps fill classrooms and online forums as well as sell consulting gigs it probably does little to improve leadership in the workplace.

“More leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit, or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together.”      Warren G. Bennis

The fact is leadership is a natural part of your development as a human, or as Warren Bennis (widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies) put it so succinctly; “Let me state a personal bias that Leadership is really a matter of character.  The process of becoming a Leader is no different than the process of becoming a fully integrated, healthy human being. Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.

The key message is simple: the answers you seek about leadership lie within and are unlikely to be achieved with an outside-in (competency) approach.

So let’s put leadership into perspective.

The Principles of Leadership
  • We have known for some time that leadership is the difference that makes the difference. Even as far back as Alexander the Great. His quote “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion” says it all. The extensive research carried out since that time backs up the central role of leadership.
  • What makes leaders so valuable lies is in their ability to get results through others. They do this by:
    – Providing direction
    – Engaging people in that direction
    This is the essence of leadership and is what all leaders have in common.

“Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.           Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • There are numerous ways leaders engage people (leadership styles). Daniel Goleman, the ‘father’ of emotional intelligence (EQ), identified six leadership styles indicating that four of these styles are effective styles. He asserted that the ability to move smoothly between these four effective styles, depending on the situation, is the most successful approach. Such flexibility requires higher levels of EQ.What we can conclude from this is that there is no one right style of leadership because leadership depends on the context. Different styles will be required in different situations. And therefore the ability to be flexible will assist you in becoming a more effective leader.
  • The evidence of leadership is the presence of followers, for without followers who is a leader leading?
    The measure of leadership is in its ability to achieve superior results through others.
    Therefore, the key attribute of a leader lies in their ability to influence others.
  • As a leader you only have two ‘processes’ by which to influence – your conversations and your behaviours – and it is how you use these processes, in any given context, that will determine your effectiveness as a leader, in that context.

High Performance Spaces

How can we use our conversations and behaviours most effectively?

We recommend that you use your conversations and behaviours to create High Performance Spaces. But, what are ‘spaces’? Spaces are opened every time you communicate, whether that be in person, by phone, by email, by text, online etc.

If you make every space, you operate in, a high performance space – one where people can perform to their optimum – you will be going a long way to becoming a more effective leader.

But what makes a space a high performance space?

We believe there are five key elements to a high performance space. The space needs to be:

1. Safe Physically and psychologically safe where people can be honest and open without fear of reprisal or attack. Where people and their different views are respected. It’s safe to be vulnerable.
 2. Accessible Physically and psychologically accessible where people are able to participate. No jargon, in jokes, crudities, pace/tempo, enable people to prepare for a meeting (e.g. agenda) etc.

Safe and accessible spaces build higher levels of trust and rapport. With higher levels of trust you can have challenging conversations. Without trust challenging conversations become threatening. You will accept comments from a close friend that you would not accept from others simply because you trust they have your best interests at heart. This now opens up the space so we can be…

3. Challenging Honest and open, naming the elephants in the room. Dealing with the real issues in a safe accessible manner. Addressing the sacred cows.
 4. Productive While it’s great to have a challenging and stimulating conversation, it is worth little if nothing productive comes of it. This element of high performance spaces is therefore about actions, results, responsibilities, follow-up mechanisms etc.
 5. Connected Finally, ‘connected’ is the communication piece and is about connecting this immediate space to the broader spaces in the organisation. How does the broader organisation need to inform what is occurring in this space and how does what came out of this space need to inform the broader organisation?

Although these five elements seem to flow in a linear fashion, in reality, it is an iterative process, not linear. It is also worth noting that different situations will require different approaches to make the space a high performance space.

When any of these elements are missing it will not be a high performance space and, as a result, it is not likely you will achieve the outcomes you are looking for.

Some leaders and managers struggle with ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’ and want to go straight to challenging and productive – “they just need to do what I tell them I don’t have time to engage them –  it’s unnecessary”. As a result, these ‘leaders’ fail to develop their people. They then blame this on the Millennials or the fact that there are no quality people in this region. They wonder why they have people with so little initiative and why they, themselves, have to do so much of the work. What these ‘leaders’ don’t seem to understand is that their processes – their failure to create High Performance Spaces – lead to these outcomes.

Others are very good at building ‘safe’ and ‘accessible’ spaces but they don’t achieve much – they do not make it a ‘challenging’ and ‘productive’ space.

While still others achieve a lot in the space they fail to ensure that there is good communication into and out of the space – this reduces the effectiveness of the space and regularly causes misinformation and confusion.

Your challenge is to…

…make the very next space you enter or open a high performance space. Then back that up with the next space and so on – build a high performance organisation one space at a time.

  • How could you make your next team meeting a high performance space?
  • How could you make the difficult staff appraisal you have to give a high performance space?
  • How could you make your next client meeting a high performance space?
  • How could you make that difficult phone call, you have been putting off, a high performance space?

As you learn how to do this, in every space you open or participate in, you will be developing flexibility and the other essential attributes of a leader needed for the situation you find yourself in. Leadership occurs and is developed in daily interactions, not in text books and classrooms. It comes from within. Start now!

And remember as you embark on this journey, the measure of whether you have been successful is in the results you have been able to achieve through others.

 “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” 

Lao Tzu

Author: ATL Network

Building the right board


Video: Setting up Boards to drive performance

Video: Practitioner Panel – Providing a Board Advisory Service

To lack another set of skills is not a criticism. What is important is to recognise the value and validity of other skills in other people and to combine the people with the necessary skills to attain the collective objective.

J.B. Reid, Commonsense Corporate Governance, Sydney: AICD, 2002

Board composition is a broad term that encompasses issues such as who is on the board and the skills mix of the board. It involves both structural and cultural issues and board effectiveness depends on obtaining the right mix of skills and experience. Board composition varies significantly between organisations and is influenced by:

  • Legal requirements including the organisation’s constitution and purpose;
  • Board size;
  • The balance of executive and non-executive directors;
  • Director competencies;
  • Terms of office for directors; and
  • The structure of the shareholding or membership.

Stable boards with long-serving, committed members will have the advantage of a thorough knowledge of the organisation and its mission. However, it is important that the board represents and reflects the interests of its owners/members by injecting some new blood occasionally. Selecting new directors to build a board that is right for the organisation is not a simple task.

Director selection

More and more boards are engaging in more structured and professional processes for director selection. Such processes will generally take into account:

  • Alignment of skills with strategic direction;
  • Value added to the current board composition;
  • Cultural fit with the board;
  • Time it will take to be an effective contributor; and
  • Succession planning.

Building the right board requires an understanding of director competencies, which involves consideration of the directors’ experience, skills, attributes and capabilities. Director competencies encompass two distinct areas: technical competencies and behavioural competencies. Technical competencies are a director’s technical skills and experience (“what you need to know and are able to do”) such as accounting or legal skills, industry knowledge, experience in strategic planning and corporate governance. Behavioural competencies are a director’s capabilities and personal attributes (“how you apply what you know and your personal and interpersonal skills”) and include, for example, linkages to the “ownership”; an ability to positively influence people and situations; an ability to assimilate and synthesise complex information; time availability; honesty and integrity; and high ethical standards.

Boards often pay less attention to director capabilities that may not be evident in a CV that lists the director’s qualifications and experience. Consideration should therefore be given to whether the board needs a mix of directors who can:

  • Assimilate and synthesise complex information quickly;
  • Develop and deliver a cogent argument;
  • Be innovative and think beyond the square; and
  • Understand issues at both the detailed and “big-picture” level.

All directors need to have the ability to make points succinctly and effectively at board meetings and not be either the “silent” director who never speaks or the “loudmouth” director who seeks to dominate all discussions.

Prior to reappointing, nominating or appointing individuals as directors, the board should:

  • Consider what competencies and skills the board, as a whole, should possess, recognising that the particular competencies and skills required for one board may not be the same as those required for another;
  • Assess what competencies and skills each incumbent director possesses. Since it is unlikely that any single director will possess all the competencies and skills required, the board should be considered as a group in which each individual makes their own contribution;
  • Consider the character of directors and their fit with the current board culture. Some attributes worthy of consideration include self-awareness, integrity and high ethical standards. Boardroom dynamics will be impacted by the personalities and behavioural types present, so attention should also be paid to these qualities.

The Board competency matrix shows a simple competency matrix that can be employed to assess the board’s capability requirements against the mix of current directors.

For more information on board skills/competency analysis, see

Author: James Beck, Effective Governance

The five most ‘Expensive Mistakes’ when Selling an Accounting Practice

magnifying-iconWhen you are contemplating the potential sale of your practice, there is a lot to consider and a lot to do. We have come across many situations that have led to really poor outcomes for practitioners. Listed are what we consider to be the five most expensive mistakes you can easily avoid with a little planning and preparing.

Mistake 1. No plan to maximize value.

Without preparation, it is highly likely that any prospective offers will only be at the lower end of the scale. You do not know when an opportunity may walk in the door. Be prepared! Spending the time to analyse you practice and focus on those areas that drive value and those areas that detract value will pay handsomely if done well.

Mistake 2. Ignoring ugly financial warts.

Having unprepared financials can be a real problem – excessive cash lockup, poor debtors management, slow processing of work in progress, unrecognised liabilities such as long service leave, declining revenues due to the loss of key clients, etc. These issues will present ‘red flags’ to potential buyers and should be appropriately managed well before sale.

Mistake 3. Lack of preparation time.

If you’ve worked for 20-30 years building your business, you’re not going to ‘action’ over a weekend, all items to prepare your practice for sale. Most likely, there is much to be done. The best prepared usually secure the best deals. You can do a lot in 6-12 months, but most practices will benefit from a preparation period of two to three years to help them maximise their sale value.

Mistake 4. Head in the clouds.

Don’t delude yourself by expecting an outlandish price. Check the market and know what it is really worth – ‘the market’ is rarely wrong. We would recommend you have a valuation prepared by an independent valuer. Protect yourself by ensuring you have multiple parties interested in purchasing your practice.

Mistake 5. Managing your own negotiation.

You don’t get what you deserve in life, you get what you negotiate. It never ceases to amaze us when we learn of practitioners running their own sale/negotiation process. The long list of expensive mistakes continues to be recycled. Seek quality external advice for the sale of your practice.

More information: Sale Ready Program

Author: ATL Network

How many lunches does it take to grow your business/your practice?


You want to grow your business with referrals, but what does it really take to see real returns? How many lunches should you spend connecting with people who can refer business your way?

I hear a lot of numbers from business owners and professionals (lawyers, accountants, engineers, consultants, and so on) who try this kind of networking and most of those numbers are low. These people are not investing in themselves or their referral sources and they give up ─ not because networking lunches don’t work, but because they underestimate the kind of commitment it takes to reap success.

I started my business with nothing but referrals. I’ve trained many business owners and professionals to build a referral-based business and I reckon I’ve gotten it down to a science. The number of lunches it takes to start generating a steady income is surprisingly doable.

You’ve got to eat. Why not be using that time to build relationships and generate referrals and introductions?

Read on to learn the numbers that will work for your business or practice.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately who are doing lunches, breakfasts and coffees in order to build up their professional network in order to grow their businesses and it got me thinking about what it really takes and whether the people I’m talking to actually appreciate what it takes.

I was talking to an accountant this week who was really proud that he’s doing one lunch a week. And for him that feels a lot. To me that’s not an extraordinary number. I hear that number from a lot of people and they’re all pleased with themselves for doing one lunch a week.

So let’s talk about one lunch a week and what that looks like when we pull it apart and think it through.

If you’re doing one lunch a week you’re probably doing something like 40 to 45 lunches a year. That takes into account that you’re on holidays 3,4,5,6 or 7 weeks during the year and there are other ‘things’ that come up and come along that make it hard for you to be at lunch with someone.

So let’s be realistic here. One lunch a week doesn’t mean fifty two lunches a year. The number is more like 40-ish. And that’s great if those lunches are producing the all the referral business you want.

Now it’s my belief that at least in the first three to five years of a relationship with a referral source you need to be at lunch with them four times a year. That’s how you build trust and understanding. That’s how you stay top-of-mind. That’s how you maintain the connection.

And in my networking course, I actually advocate that you not only do lunch (or breakfast) once a quarter/4 times a year, but you also email or do something to be ‘in touch’ a couple of times in between your lunches so that these people are hearing from you once a month. That might be that they receive an invitation to your drinks soiree or you might send them an article that relates to their industry or a funny story or something like that. Maybe you pick up the phone just to say ‘hello’ and update each other. It doesn’t mean that you’re devoting a lot of time to this, but you’re at least staying in touch so that you’re top of mind.

If you buy my argument, and I think it’s a legitimate one based on a fair amount of personal experience (that you need to see these people four times year) it means that at 40 or so lunches a year you can handle about ten referral sources. And that’s fine if those ten people can refer enough business to keep you going. If referrals are a big/important source of business for you, you need to be sure those ten sources are pretty good.

Let’s just pick a number. Let’s say we need those ten referral sources to send us roughly $1/2 million in business a year. Well then each one needs to refer about $50K in revenues. If your referral sources aren’t doing that for you then you need more than ten referral sources and that means you probably need to do more than 40 lunches a year.

I just want to put this in perspective for you.

This is really a math problem you’re trying to figure out. How many lunches does it take to grow a business or a practice?  Answer. It’s the number of referral sources times 4 lunches a year. That’s your number.

So, if your revenue target is $1/2 million and you’re ten referral sources are each sending you about $50K worth of business then you’re hitting your target. And that’s great! However, if each of those ten  referral sources are sending you only $25K in revenues you’ll need to bump up that number to something like twenty referral sources. Twenty times $25K is your $1/2 million a year.

By the way, I think twenty (referral sources) is a good number. With a methodical, systematic and disciplined approach to people it’s very possible to handle twenty referral sources. But twenty referral sources means 80 lunches a year which is more like 2 lunches a week.

So you have to know what your numbers are ─ then you can figure out how many lunches you’re going to need to do in order to hit your revenue target.

Now keep mind that when I’m using any of these numbers (i.e. 20 referral sources each sending you $25K worth of business) they represent a mature and productive referral network of solid relationships that are consistently generating business for you. You’ve invested quality time in these people, you’re staying top of mind with them and they are referring you a regular supply of good business. That does not happen overnight.

It takes a while to build relationships with people to the point where they are referring a steady supply of business to you. And so, when you’re priming the pump in the first few years ─ as you’re building mutual trust and understanding with people ─ you won’t get as much business as you would like from them. You haven’t bedded down those referral sources as yet. Nor have you ‘weeded out’ the weaker ones and replaced them with stronger ones so your numbers may not work out in the first few years. You may have to keep getting to know these people so that they trust you to send you the good business.

Then there’s always the issue of needing to ‘refine’ your referral network. You’re going to find that some of the people you’ve built a relationship with just can’t refer to kind of business you need. They don’t have the relationships themselves. So you’ve got to replace these people with better people and that means doing some ‘exploratory’ lunches. That means getting to know some new people and adding them to your list and seeing if they are going to be part of your referral network over time.

You’ve got to recognise that when you’re building your referral network, you’re going to be doing even more lunches because you’re adding more people into the mix.

So you need to play with this and give it some thought. It’s great if one lunch a week is working for you, but my experience is it’s not enough.

My experience is that people that try this networking approach kind of get started with a bang. In the beginning, they do two, three and sometimes four lunches a week and they actually get some people in their network, but then they cut it back to more like one lunch a week or one lunch a fortnight ─ and that doesn’t keep the machine going the way you want it to go.

Give all of this some consideration. If you’re just starting out; if you’re in that development stage you need to go harder. If you’re in maintenance mode than you can potentially go at a more moderate pace.

I know a guy who has built up a very busy and very successful mid-size law firm and he does three breakfasts every week (and sometimes four and five breakfasts a week in the lead up to the end of year holiday season). My point here is that it’s possible to do this. I can be done. It is being done.

If you’re already so busy that you’re going to say “I don’t have time to do all these lunches because I’m generating so much business already” then that’s fine. You don’t have a problem if the business is pouring in week in, week out. In which case you’re in maintenance mode. You just have to keep your referral sources on a regular cycle. And the reality is that once you’ve been doing this for a while and you have really strong relationships you can potentially stretch those lunches out even further.

You know how it is. You catch up with somebody you were friends with at university or worked with previously and it’s just like ‘bang’ ─ you’re right back in that relationship even though you haven’t seen each other in years. Well lunches can be the same. Once you already have that strong ‘connection’ then it’s easier to stretch it out a bit. My hope is you don’t have to do that and you find a way to incorporate these people into your life so that you’re bumping into them at industry events, at your kids’ parties and  sports fixtures, in the clubs or groups you’re involved in or whatever. So lunch isn’t necessarily the only way that you maintain these relationships.

That said, having one-on-one time where you get to sit down and update each other without the distractions of everything else is an important part of maintaining your relationships. So don’t put those lunches (or breakfasts) off for too long, too often. You really want to stay in touch. And the best networking is accomplished one-on-one over a bite to eat.

Remember, relationships can change over time. There are other people (your competition) out there building relationships with your referral sources and whose goal in life is to be the person that gets these referrals instead of you. So keep that in mind. Don’t be complacent about your relationships.

I want you to think about the number of lunches/breakfasts you’re doing per week and do the sums. If that’s working for you, great. But at one lunch a week if you reverse engineer things my concern will be that’s it’s not generating for you what you could be generating.

I say this time and time again, you’ve got to eat and there’s no reason that you can’t use that time to be building your business.

So how many lunches does it take to grow a business or a practice? My gut tells me that it takes more than one a week to get where you want to go. If you can hit your targets by doing one lunch a week that’s really good. But my sense is that you ought to be seeing more people, connecting with new people and nurturing your network more than once a week and that it needs to be a big part of what you’re doing.

Going to lunch is such a powerful, such an effective way to grow your business. It’s the highest ROI thing you can do. You ought to do it!

So again, how many lunches to grow your business? Well one a week is good, but more than that would be a lot better.

Author: Ron Gibson, Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

Ron runs a Web-based Business Growth Masterclass for Professional Advisors. Program details: CLICK HERE

You Better Look at Your LinkedIn Profile Right Away

LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile should be like a resume on steroids. In other words, you should go way beyond your one- or two-page traditional resume. You’ll want to share lots of relevant information about yourself and your company, and it should be especially compelling to your target audience.

Complimentary Webinar: 5 Simple Steps to start your LinkedIn Referral Machine. Tuesday 13th September: CLICK HERE

I suggest you start with the most important sections of your profile. If you can’t answer “yes” to all of the questions below, get busy and beef up your profile with the help of the resources I’ve provided.

  1.  Photo. LinkedIn’s research says your profile will be viewed 14 times more frequently if you have a photo. Some people will not even connect with a person who doesn’t have a photo.
  • Do you currently look like the person in your photo?
  • Is your photo a headshot?
  • Are you smiling?
  • Are you dressed in your typical workplace attire?

For a more detailed look at the best practices for LinkedIn photos, read “A Professional Photographer’s Guide to Getting the Right LinkedIn Profile Photo.”

  1.  Headline. These are the most important 120 characters in your profile. If you don’t edit this yourself, LinkedIn will grab your current job title and company until you take the time to write a dynamic 120-character explanation of who you are and where you’re trying to go.
    Blog Image - LinkedIn Profile
  • Does your headline clearly state your current business or explain why you’re actually on LinkedIn?
  • Does your headline include a few of your most important keywords?
  • Does your headline encourage people in your target market to want to read more about you?

For additional help with your headline, download my free worksheet “The Definitive Worksheet to Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile Headline.” 

  1.  Summary. This section is your virtual cup of coffee with your readers or the cover letter for your job application. You have 2,000 characters to summarize the best stuff on your profile and clearly tell readers where you’re trying to go and how they might be able to be part of your journey.
  • Is your Summary written in the first person?
  • Does the first paragraph of your Summary clearly tell me why you’re on LinkedIn?
  • Does your Summary include several of your most important keywords?
  • Does your Summary include at least one call to action for the reader?

For more guidance on improving your Summary, be sure to read Chapter 7 of my book, “The Power Formula for LinkedIn Success.” 

  1.  Current Experience – (Job) Title.You’re missing a big opportunity if you simply put your official title here. Maximize the 100 characters LinkedIn allows in this section. LinkedIn’s search ranking algorithm gives extra weight to the words in your job titles, and the extra words will increase clarity as well.
  • Are your most important keywords in your current job title?
  • If you’re a salesperson, did you include a few of your products and services?

For additional examples of good job titles, check out my LinkedIn profile. 

  1.  Current Experience – (Job) Description. This section has a 2,000-character limit and should include specifics about your individual position (use keywords) and additional information about the company you work for so the reader clearly understands both of these important points.
  • Have you included a detailed listing or discussion of your specific job duties and responsibilities and used your most important keywords?
  • Have you included specific awards, honors or recognition you have received?
  • Did you describe the promotions you’ve received?
  • Have you gotten two recommendations for this job?

For more helpful tips, check out “Does the Experience Section of Your LinkedIn Profile Impress Anyone?”

Make good use of these five important LinkedIn profile sections, and you’ll get more exposure than even a top-notch resume can garner.

Author: Wayne Breitbarth,  Alliance Advisor with ATL Network

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

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


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