A virtual conference?

If, like me, you are getting a bit of Zoom fatigue after so many months of restrictions to face-to-face events and meetings, the thought of a virtual conference is probably not appealing.

However, in the world we currently live in it is a case of a virtual conference or no conference at all. So in that spirita large number of CIMA Members in Practice attended last week’s virtual conference. 

For me, it was particularly interesting from two view points. Firstly, I was a speaker so I was interested in how it would feel to present in the virtual conference environment and secondly, as an attendee I was interested in how the networking side (which so important with these conferences) would go.

On the first point I have done various webinars and workshops on Zoom so I wasn’t too phased by presenting into my computer. However, I am usually using a tool I know well and know exactly what to expect. Fortunately in this case we were able to have a dry run and were well supported by the conference team on the day.

Networking was certainly a very different prospect to usual. Much of the networking at conferences happens in the bar or over lunch. Or you see an old friend over in the lobby and can easily catch up over a coffee. Of course these types of face-to-face networking are unavailable at a virtual conference.

Instead you have to do a bit more work to find the people you want to connect with. There was a virtual lobby with all the names of the people at conference so you could message them. There were also virtual tables in a virtual lounge so you could have Zoom style chats with people around the table.

I was very impressed with the conference platform and the support given by Fresh Start Events who hosted the event. Although there were some technical hitches due to presenters’ varying access to broadband, this didn’t detract from the content delivered.

In all the conference was a great success. It delivered great CPD for the delegates in a way that is becoming all too familiar. Whilst I do not think that this format in anyway replaces face to face conferences, I do think it has enabled great training to happen in challenging circumstances.

We do need to keep our skills up to date and to connect with our peers – perhaps this is more important than ever – so we have to be open to alternative ways of doing so.

What have you learnt lately – part 2

Last year I wrote about learning and keeping our skills up to date. At the time I had just taken part in a Charities and Not-for-profit series of workshops run by my professional institute CIMA. Before the course I had not had much to do with the charities sector but was interested in the possibility of working more in the third sector.

However, it is very interesting how the world works.

The last couple of management accounting clients that have come to work with me have, indeed, been charities and I am loving the opportunity of working in an environment where the focus of the organisation is altruistic rather than profit driven.

So, would I have taken on these clients if I had not done the earlier training? Probably. But I am much more aware of the issues around accounting for charities than I would otherwise have been. This meant that I was more able to get on the same page as them from the outset, than I would otherwise have been.

You never know where opportunities will come. So my message is the same as it was last year – up-skilling will increase your confidence and you ability to maximise the value you offer to clients.

Fiona

A reminder to feed your cats!

I thought I would take this opportunity to remind you about the sales and marketing book I wrote with the fabulous Trevor Lever.

Although my name is on the cover and I did the actual writing, all the great ideas included in the book are Trevor’s. So if you are looking for some inspiration on getting your business kick started following Lockdown this may be the book for you.

It is available on Amazon – just type Catfood Trevor Lever in the Amazon search box and you will find it. It is even eligible for free delivery if you are a Prime member!

Are you authentic?

I have been thinking quite a bit about authenticity recently.

I have been to a couple of tribute band gigs over the last couple of months – Bjorn Again, T Rextasy and Fleetwood Bac.

They were all excellent and certainly knew the material of the iconic bands they were imitating.

But, at the end of the day, their acts were just imitations of the real thing. As good as their musicianship was they just did not have that spark that sets truly great bands apart from the rest.

My friends and I had a great time at the gigs and I am not saying that I wouldn’t be happy to see any of them again (indeed it was the second time that we had been to see Bjorn Again). But I know that if I ever had the chance to see the real thing the experience would be more amazing and more authentic.

The real thing will always trump an imitation.

Dave Harries and Angela Jones produce an excellent podcast called the Communication Paradox and much of their focus is on discussing the benefits to business people of being authentic.

In January their podcast was recorded as we did a Metwalk around Portishead harbour. They interviewed the people at the event asking if this type of networking helped people to be more authentic than traditional forms of networking. The resounding view was that yes it was.

So, if being authentic is the best way for us to behave in a business setting – which I definitiely agree it is (and, in fact, in our lives generally) – how do we make sure we are our authentic selves?

For me it is about not trying to copy what someone else is doing, or how someone else is being.

It may seem easier to look to copy what other businesses in our fields are doing to promote themselves, or to try to imitate their businesses, but at the end of the day people buy from, and interact with, people.

Our biggest assets are found in our own personality, and the interests we have, that make us genuinely unique. 

They are our superpowers!


It pays to be brave!

You may have picked up, if we are connected on LinkedIn, that I ran a successful Webinar for CIMA in October.

I have never done a webinar before and so I was quite nervous about the whole thing. Not only because the participants could see me but I could not see them, but also because I was not sure I would get the timings right.

An hour is a long time to be talking for but time can soon run away with you if you don’t time things right – so preparation is key.

Fortunately I did not have to worry about the material as I have written, talked and run courses about how accountants in practice can move their businesses more towards the work they love – and clients really value.

I also did not have to worry about the techie side as Emma Bailey from CIMA was my partner in crime and dealt with that side of things.

On the day itself, however, I was surprised to learn from Emma that 350 people had registered to take part! I knew not everyone would be listening live, but had registered to get the recording of the webinar to watch later – but I still found it a little intimidating to have so many listening (either live or later)!

In the end I could see the counter of participants gradually increase until it stopped at 180 people This was far more than I had bargained for.

Once the webinar had started I did find I got into the swing of it pretty quickly and the hour sped by – and I did not run out of time or material!

The feedback has been great and I came away from the experience with a spring in my step and a desire to do more webinars – and to restart my workshop programme for accountants.

What this whole experience re-enforced for me is that it pays to be brave and try new things. Our comfort zone is stretched when we do (something I wrote about last month), and we are more likely to continue trying even more new things.

Incidentally, I was also asked in October whether I wanted to do a wing walk – but I am not feeling quite that brave yet (or ever!!).

Remember the days 2

This time last year I was inspired by the youngsters who were just getting their GCSE and A’ level results. This year I am taking you back to when you got your first job.

The reason for this direction of reflection is that my eldest son has finally become a fully, tax-paying, contributing part of society after 5 years of university life. He is all set to start as a maths teacher in Cambridge.

This got me remembering when I started my first job at Siemens 30 years ago. I was so naive about the world of work – even though I had had the usual part-time jobs and had done a year’s placement.

When we start out, over-confident in our abilities and sure that the world of work will deliver job satisfaction and plenty of money, we have very little incling of how our careers will develop.

Even 30 years ago there was the expectation that we would stay in the same job, and certainly the same career, our whole working lives. There was a comfort in this, but also a certain lack of imagination.

I certainly never expected that I would start my own accountancy business and have to spend so much time on the edges of my comfort zone – in fact as a youngster my comfort zone was so much wider than it is now as a more cautious adult.

We gradually lose the ability to stretcour comfort zone as we get older and more secure. We are more likely to take the easier path rather than the type of brave new steps we were often taking in our youth.

As business owners we are probably better than most at accepting change and happier to work at the edges of our comfort zone, but I think, even for us, this zone is contracting over time.

But to be successful we do need to push against this trend and ensure that we are as open to new opportunities as possible – even if it means stepping out of the familiar and exposing ourselves to being challenged. 

So take the plunge on a regular basis by finding new things to challenge yourself with so that you exercise the elasticity of your comfort zone!

Talking of taking the plunge, below is a piccie from the Moat Race at Wells last Monday – some teams ended up taking an unexpected plunge!

Help with pricing

One of the most common problems I come across amongst SME business owners (and, in fact, businesses of any size) is deciding how much to charge customers for their products or services.

It’s an important problem to solve as it can make a huge difference to how profitable a business will be. Price too high and you won’t find customers. Price too low and you won’t make money – and perhaps put off potential customers because you are too cheap.

You may well ask how can a product or service being cheap put off customers? Well, if you are advertising a high quality offering to customers, but pricing too low, they will not trust that it actually is high quality.

The place to start when reviewing your pricing strategy is with your costs. If you don’t know with enough detail where the costs in your business occur – as a direct result of producing your sales or as overhead expenditure – you will not be able to price effectively.

As we know, to be profitable a business must at least cover its costs. So knowing all the business’s costs will help to ensure that products and services are priced in a way that covers these costs.

Pricing is such a fundamental skill for all business owners, that I have decided it will be the topic for my first business owner masterclass on-line course – which is now available on the Qintil learning platform. (https://courses.qintil.com/Courses/MiPsmeanbusiness/business-owner-masterclass-pricing).

I have come to think that online learning is a great way of sharing expertise to a wide audience. The tools available to help create an engaging and effective learning experience are getting better and better. 

If, like me, you have been in business for a long time and now feel you have want to share your knowledge with an audience wider than your immediate client base, how about having a go at creating your own online course?

Personally, I use a tool called Easygenerator. It is very easy to use and you can upload videos and audio files as well as the usual written content. You can try it out for free and see if you like the quiz templates provided and the format of the courses.

I have certainly enjoyed playing around with what I can produce for business owners who need inexpensive help in key areas of their business finances.

Of Course

Last month I had a fantastic breakthrough!

I have loved running the series of workshops up and down the country for accountants in practice but have got to the stage that I have to take a break – because it is very difficult to market courses around the country in the post GDPR environment.

I was getting quite discouraged until I had a chat with my good friend Alison. She is a business coach and has delivered quite a lot of training over the years. She suggested developing an on-line group of courses.

So I decided that’s what I am going to do. I will use the course material I have already developed, along with new quizzes and other fun learning aids. Furthermore, I will also develop a series of courses for business owners to help them master their finances.

Well, much of October was spent investigating on-line platforms and training tools – along with putting together the first 3 courses (hopefully the first of many).

It’s been hard work but a lot of fun!

What I have found exciting is that I have been able to make use of quite a lot of material that was in my back catelogue. Not only have I been able to make use of material I gathered for my books but, in the past, I have had some great opportunities to gather  material in other mediums that I can use now.

For example, I have been interviewed by Alan Philpott of Glastonbury FM for their Packed Lunch programme. Alan sent me all the interviews and I have been able to use extracts to liven up my courses.

Similarly, when I ran my first day workshop last September on How to Build a Management Accounting Business for CIMA members in practice, my great friend Angie Cussell videoed it for me. This turns out to have been a great decision. I have been able to use snippets of video in the courses to bring them alive.

As I mentioned, last month Alison got me started on the whole journey but other people have also helped me to develop the course concept.

David Ringsell put me in touch with Qintil which is the platform the courses will be hosted and Sam Easen got me started using the Easygenerator tool to create the courses.

Several people have been Beta testers and given me feedback on any changes I should make to ensure the courses are as good as I can make them – including hubby Jeff.

Trevor Lever and Andrew Stinchcomb have also helped me to crystalise how the whole venture might be promoted.

So it’s been a team effort, for which I am very grateful. In fact most of the best things that have happened in my business have been as a result of the great peeps I have around me – thank you all!!

 

Fiona 🙂

Good, Bad and Ugly

I am not a football follower and this does not change when the World Cup is in town – just thought I would get that confession out in the open from the start.
But I would be very unobservant if I didn’t know that such an event is happening and that a good proportion of the population are fully absorbed by what happens to the national team over the next few weeks.

The mood last Sunday afternoon was euphoric, even in sleepy Wells, when the team resoundingly beat Panama. The whole country takes part in the celebrations when there is success – and falls into depresion when there is failure.

This phenomenon does not just happen when football is in town. Nearly every other major sporting event captures the nation’s imagination in a way that we don’t see in other walks of life.

The collective expectation can lead to unexpectedly good results – such as with the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – or can put so much pressure on sportspeople that they cannot perform to their best abilities – such as iwth most World Cups since 1966.

As we all know business, and the economy in general, is driven by confidence. The economy grows if consumers are confident their jobs are safe and so can spend rather than save. If everyone is negative and pessamistic the spending reduces and the economy suffers.

The press has a big role to play in the national confidence but unfortunately it loves to concentrate on bad news rather than good.

Our business attitudes effect our chances of being successful in a similar way to the way consumer confidence effects the economy. If we believe that our business will succeed it has a much better chance of doing so than if we don’t. According to the news the economy is going to jump off a cliff with Brexit – not a great confidence booster for business.

Recently I have tried to avoid watching too much news – it’s just soooo negative. I find that I am much more positive as a result – and this helps me to have a more bullish attitude to business decisions.

So let’s resolve to follow the national highs and lows of following sport (and the economy) but reserve the right to be stoically optimistic – even in the face of apparent obsticles!

Fiona 🙂

Are you your own worst enemy?

I talk to many self-employed Chartered Management Accountants up and down the country who are not quite achieving the success they deserve.

As with many business owners one of their key problems is a lack of confidence, not in their abilities as accountants. This means they have difficulty in determining the value they bring to their clients. As a consequence they take on work which is below their qualifications and experience, because it is easier to ‘sell’ lower level work if you don’t understand the value to clients of more challenging projects.

It is then very easy to get onto the tread mill of having to take on lots of low value clients/projects just to pay the bills. Because all their time is taken up servicing clients, rather than developing their business, they don’t have time to go after higher value work. This then means they find it very difficult to break out of the rut they have dug for themselves.

Another problem is that, even if they are trying to go after higher level projects, they are not clear enough on what their ‘perfect’ client looks like. To the ‘perfect’ client the work professionals can do for them is of real value. They want the service and are prepared to pay an appropriate fee for it.

Other clients may have been told they need the service but it has less value to them because they do not get why it is important to them. These clients will view a professional’s fees as a cost and are much more likely to want the service at a cut down fee. In this situation the management accountant (in this scenario) may still be in the position of doing a large number of hours for a relatively low rate and have the same problem as detailed above.

They have become their own worst enemy!

The key to understanding the value you can bring to customers is to talk to them! I know this sounds obvious but we are often put off from talking to our clients because we are afraid they will tell us something we don’t want to hear. However, it is more likely they will tell us something we DO want to hear!

If you don’t have any ‘perfect’ clients you will still have introducers and other business professionals with whom you can talk to chrystalise your value proposition.

Although this blog has focused largely on accountants the same problems can be found with other professional service providers and the solutions are the same:

– Have confidence in yourself and your abilities

– Understand the value your clients realise from what you do and charge accordingly

– Concentrate on projects in which you have particular expertise

– Identify your perfect clients and market to them

Become your best friend and give yourself the best chance of running the business you deserve

Fiona 🙂