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 🙂

Oo La La!


You may have picked up from the local press or from my LinkedIn updates that I was part of a group who cycled to Paris at the end of May.

Well I am here to report that the ride was a great success both in terms of the fun we had doing the challenge, and in terms of the money raised for some great causes.

Under the Rotary banner (although only a couple of the riders were Rotary members) our aim is to get as many defibrillators in Wells as we can and we also want to support Reaching the Unreached (an orphan education project).

We think that when all the donations are totted up that we will have raised over £8,000 for our two key causes.

Starting at Wells Cathedral our first day took us through Longleat and via Warminster to Salisbury. Day 2 from Salisbury to Portsmouth was lovely but navigating through Southampton was a bit of a challenge.

Following an overnight on the ferry to Le Havre our longest day on the bike took us to Evreux – 72 miles. Fortunately day four was a half day ride to Vernon giving us the opportunity to visit Monet’s Water Gardens at Giverny. The final day saw us ride into Paris and reach Notre Dame just as the heavens opened!

If you would like to support us go to:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/wellsrotaryclub?

Fiona 🙂

The price is right!

Pricing is an area many businesses struggle with. It is part science, part art and part psychology. Confident pricing is as much about how we feel about our business and our product/service, as it is about rules and processes.

Many businesses will stick to a cost plus method of pricing. They will add up all the components of a job and add a percentage for profit – job done (?). However, this approach takes no account of the market in which they are trading or the value of their product/service to the customer.

If you don’t know enough about your market you run the risk of overpricing by using the cost plus pricing method. If other suppliers are providing the same product/service as you and charging less than you, you need to know! If you constantly loose work it may be that you are pitching to the wrong type of customer for you.

Alternatively if you don’t understand the value of your product/service to your customer, you could be regularly underpricing. Take, for example, an instance which happened to me a couple of months ago. We had just had new carpeting through out the upstairs of our house. You know how it is, for a micro second everything looks great until… the cat gets trapped in one of the bedrooms and rips up the carpet in front of the door!

I phoned our lovely carpet guy who came along and patched in some of the offcut left over from the original fitting. He did such a good job that we cannot actually see where the join is. Obviously for me this job had a good deal of value because our carpet is pristine again. But he priced on a cost plus basis and so only charged me £15! He probably left over £80 on the table because the job was worth at least £100 to me.

Now cost plus as a starting point is not bad, because at least you ensure you get the minimum price you need to cover your costs – as long as you have a very good idea what those costs are. But relying on it alone will mean that you undercharge clients for whom the value you provide is more than the costs of providing it (plus profit).

For effective pricing you need to do your homework. You need to understand the market you are in; who your ideal customers are and what they value; and you need to have a very clear idea of what you need to achieve to make a profit.

For more information about effective pricing please download my guide Pricing

Fiona 🙂

It’s the little things!


Last month my hubby and I went to the US on holiday. This entailed a 10 hour flight to Las Vegas by the end of which our bottoms thought our legs had been chopped of – you know the feeling! Anyway the flight was made so much better because of the little things that happened during the flight – even though we were just bog standard economy passengers.

Firstly, and most importantly, the Virgin staff were good humoured and did everything they could to deal with our little requests – such as getting a green tea bag for me from 1st class! They were cheerful with big smiles, polite and courteous even though they had a full Boeing 747 to cater to. I even had a chat with a couple of lovely stewards as we were waiting to go through immigration – they were so friendly despite being at the end of a long shift of dealing with us passengers and probably desparate to get to their hotels!

Secondly, the in-flight food was really nice and honestly the best I have had. Not only was it tasty but the hot food was piping hot! The peice de resistance was the Gu chocolate dessert which was always going to have me at “hello”!!
It’s great when you get something more than you bargain for and I think we should all try to find the small things we can do to make our clients happy. Of course we need to do the job we are paid to do in the best way we know how.

But, if we want to be recommended and for our clients to be really happy, we need to find those extras that may be unexpected but appreciated.
After all, Virgin’s job was to get us from A to B and there are some airlines who congratulate themselves on doing JUST that – and even give themselves a round of applause for being on time (what we are paying them to do)! But they forget that they are in the service sector – and that customers like to be treated well!

I was once surprised by a client who wrote this: “Fiona…has an incredible ability to collate, simplify and explain financial data that can then be understood and used by any non-finance manager, all delivered with patience, courtesy and, most importantly round here, a sense of humour!”
Who knew a sense of humour was an important attribute of an accountant!”

Fiona:)

Collaboration is fun!


You may well have picked up – because I mentioned it more than once! – that I have a pet project I have been collaborating with Trevor Lever on.

What started out as a one book project soon became two books as we realised that we had enough material to split into two bite-sized, practical handbooks. These will be How to Have Fun Selling and How to Have Fun Marketing.

These first two books will be specifically aimed at accountants in practice but will later be combined into one book for any professional who struggles with sales and marketing.

The collaboration has been a perfect way of focussing on a specific group of people who need help. I know the target audience very well, whilst Trevor knows all about the material we are conveying.

As part of the information gathering stage we had two days of working together to make sure that I captured all his great stuff. Everything was recorded so that I could go back to the converstations when I came to write the two handbooks.

I was able to give Trevor insights into how accountants thought – which he sometimes found astonishing – so he was able to give specific guidance into processes and procedures to help unstick specific problems.

I have learned a terrific amount and, as Trevor has passed on his great teaching materials too, I have been able to confidently transfer some of what I learned into a half day workshop.

My husband Jeff has had ‘fun’ adapting Trevor’s cat images into some great pictures to add some colour to the books. After all you cannot create books called How to Have Fun … if they are not fun to read!

What I have learned (on top of Trevor’s sales and marketing insights) is that if we are able to find fellow professionals to collaborate with, we can enhance our own businesses and provide something different to our customers.

This has no downside and will often lead us into some really interesting areas of learning we had not considered before.

So be open to opportunities and see where they will lead!

Fiona 🙂

The bells, the bells!

You know starting a new hobby can give you a much needed boost after the winter months. For quite a long time I have been loosely thinking about taking up church bell ringing – or campanology if you want the proper term.

Wells is a wonderful place for hearing the bells pealing out and, of course, bells ringing out is often a sign that a special event, such as a wedding or Christmas, is happening. So I have always loved hearing them ring.

As often happens it took someone else to prod me into actually doing something about it, and in this case it was my son Simon.

I have only been to 5 sessions so far but I am loving it. The others in the band are lovely people and we always end up in the pub after practise! I have to say it is much harder than I had ever thought. There is so much to think about from sorting out the right strength to pull the ropes, to managing the ropes themselves, to trying to keep up with everyone else.But it is great to be learning something new that is complex and needs all my concentration to do even vaguely competently. Bell ringing is also a great mix of exercise (even before we start it is 72 steps up to the ringing chamber) and music.

It occurs to me that, as with many things, there is a great similarity between bell ringing and running a business. Both require a lot of skill to do successfully. Even the basics can be tricky to master and it takes quite a while before things are proceding like clockwork. Even if you have a good degree of skill things can still go off track occasionally.

Also both rely on teamwork. Although each bell ringer is in charge of just one bell, they must be very aware of what everyone else is doing to ensure that the peal is rung correctly. Of course it is the same in business. Even if you work on your own you will still have a team of others around you who are key to your business success.

So if you are feellng that you are stuck in a bit of a rut how about starting something new – maybe even bell ringing like me?

Incidentally the picture above is actually 2. On the left are the proper bell ringers and on the right is the complete beginner hoping that it doesn’t all go Pete Tong!

Fiona 🙂

Wonderful Websites

It’s amazing how developing new marketing aids, such as websites, can clarify your view of your business.The process of instructing someone else to produce something which encapsulates your business means that you have to have a very clear view of your business values and goals.

I am very lucky because the person who has the job of representing my business to the wider world is one of the people who knows me best – my hubby Jeff. He has been responsible for the look and feel of my business pretty much since I started out over 10 years ago and its been a gradual development over the years.

When I look at my website and other marketing bits from 10 years ago they seem very dated now, so I am glad that I have made the effort to keep things fresh.

I come across many businesses that have never changed their image since they started out – sometimes many years ago – and their current marketing collateral seems tired because of it.

I don’t think it’s necessary to throw the baby out with the bath water though. There may be a particular theme or image which your are particularly attached to and you don’t need to throw that away. But I do think that the way our businesses are portrayed on our website, and our other marketing, should be regularly revamped (at least every few years) so it keeps pace with the changes in our businesses.

I don’t know about your business but mine has changed quite considerably over the years and is continuing to change as my own goals and ambitions are molded by circumstance and family need.I am much more confident about what I want to achieve and know so much more about the environment my business operates in than I did when I started out.

I think having websites (I have a couple for the different sides of the business) which clearly demonstrate this confidence are a great asset.

So if it has been a while since you looked at your marketing aids perhaps it’s time to give them a refresh – the process can also refresh your view of your business!

Fiona 🙂

Fact or Fiction


If you saw any of the Christmas films over the festive period almost certainly there would have been snow. It’s a strange thing that our perception of the perfect Christmas still includes something which very rarely – if ever – happens. And all because it was very cold over Christmas’s in the Victorian era when many of our traditions became fixed in the public psyche.

Funnily enough this year we did have snow on the Mendips the day after Boxing Day which we enjoyed hugely – but not on Christmas Day itself.

In business there are similar assumptions which lead us to see the world, not as it is, but how it might have been only a few years ago.

We still believe that we are in control of the image our business has in the market place. If our website is great, and we have marketing colleral which is well thought through, we can make sure the world sees us as we would like. But of course this is a complete fallacy. In a world dominated by social media where anyone can write anything they like about us it is very easy for us to lose track of our public image. All we can do is try to give the best service we can, in a way which engages our customers in as positive way possible. Hopefully this will encourage them to give us great referrals that they make public.

This year with the advent of GDPR we will have to make changes to how we hold information about third parties and how we use that information to market our services. We will have to make sure we get people’s explicit consent to send them items such as the newsletter you are now reading. It will no longer be acceptable to assume consent because a tick box has NOT been ticked.

The changes come into effect on 25th May so make sure you are up to date on how they might effect your organisation.

Fiona:)

New Year’s Resolution time


It’s that time of year when we come up with fantastic ideas and resolutions for the year ahead. Unfortunately, these ideas and resolutions, which seemed so fantastic in 2017, will have been forgotten very early on in 20108 The reason for this is that we tend to come up with woolly, general thoughts rather than a real plan for change.

How about making this year different? If you really want to change your business, your work/life balance, your effectiveness or any other aspect of your life, you have to think through what you want to achieve. What are your timescales? What are your specific goals? How will you measure change? What resources will you need? Who do you need to help you?

Once you have thought through all the aspects of your idea write them down so you have a point of reference – and then DO IT!

By taking the time to plan you will find it much more likely that you will keep your resolutions and move forward.

Don’t wish upon a star – reach for it!

A time to review


As 2017 draws to a close its a good time to reflect on the year and what we have learned.

2017 has very much been a mixed year for me and I have been taking the opportunity, with the end of the year looming, to reflect on my 50th year. Unlike 2016, which was a bonkers year on the national and international front, 2017 was more challenging personally.

The beginning of the year started with the death of my father and all the stresses and strains the loss of a parent brings. I had already reduced my workload when he was in hospital, so I could support both him and my mother, so at least I had some time to mourn.

This time was also useful in giving me space to review my business and seize the opportunity to move into a new direction, which I would probably have missed otherwise.

In previous newsletters I have written about the new series of books and workshops I have developed for CIMA accountants who want to be successful in self employment.

Having written 2 books and run 6 workshops, and taken on several mentoring clients, I am now at the point where I am considering how this side of my business might develop in 2018.

I have really enjoyed taking the workshops ‘on the road’ and so far have been to Stirling, Scotland and London, as well as running the first two pilot days in Bristol.

I am thrilled with the lovely feedback I have had from the guys who have taken part in the day workshops so I am happy that the material ‘hits the spot’.

However, I have been well outside my comfort zone publicising the events and getting people I have never met signed up. I haven’t had to do this type of marketing and sales activity before so it has all been new to me.

That said, I think we all need a shake up periodically. Not only does it give us the opportunity to test ourselves, but also gives us more energy to do those tasks which have become run of the mill.

It is easy to continue doing the same type of things we always have done in business. If people like what we do we often don’t see any point in changing. However, a shake up brings challenges and challenges usually lead to a more exciting and fulfilling business life.