​In a bid to start 2019 with a host of valuable insights for you and your accounting firm I thought I’d focus on my key learnings from 2018.

I hope at least one of these insights provides inspiration, or challenges your thinking as you start to make the most of this New Year.

1. Single biggest learning this year?  Thank you, Amy Purdy at #QBConnect San Jose – “every challenge is a gift”. This from a young woman who lost both legs aged 19 because of meningitis. Amy’s story is ‘as-inspiring-as-it-gets’ as she goes on to win Olympic medals for snowboarding (on prosthetic legs) from two Paralympics and gets to the final of the USA version of Strictly Come Dancing!

Amy’s life philosophy: “Every challenge is a gift” – humbled and educated at the same time. Thanks again Amy.

2. Knowledge is so over-rated unless it’s knowledge that helps you ask a better question. The future is determined by the questions you ask yourself, the questions you ask your clients and the questions you ask your team. Ask great questions and you’ll make great decisions, take great actions and help your team achieve higher levels of performance and your firm achieve better results. And also help your clients perform at a higher level too. The work with the 11 firms on the Accountants Growth Academy has shown the impact of asking a few provocative questions followed by a few more questions, digging in and clarifying details. For example: “When MTD results in quarterly reporting, how will your firm manage the tsunami of March year-ends and tax returns in December and January?”

My most inspirational quote on questions:

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

– Peter Drucker

Are you asking enough of the right questions in your firm and with your clients?

Consider this question...

3. How do you keep and recruit great people? This is one of the biggest and thorniest issues facing accounting firms. Every firm I advise would love a pantomime genie to grant them three wishes and all three would involve the recruiting, the improvement and the retention of key people.

What transformed a room of 36 accountants (at another Accountants Growth Academy workshop) was a statement by Simon Chaplin from GreenStones in Peterborough: “You have to earn the right to keep and recruit great people.”

Which leads on to the question “What do we have to do to earn the right to keep and recruit great people?”. Simon talked about values and a sense of purpose. Since the workshop session with Simon, I’ve been challenging the firms we work with on what their purpose is in their business. The value in these discussions is hard to measure, but the response shows how relevant this important question is if you want to keep and recruit great people. The long-term impact on any firm’s ability to win high-value clients also shows up in every discussion on purpose, mission or raison d’etre.

What’s your firm’s raison d’etre? – your firm’s reason for being? - your firm's purpose?

If you want the questions I ask firms on this issue of 'purpose' drop me an email or message me in LinkedIn and I'll share it with you.

4. How much time do you need? Transforming a multi-partner firm into a 21st century, cloud-based, quarterly reporting, highly profitable firm takes more time than we’d all like. But boy can you make a lot of progress in a year when you adopt a weekly mindset for action! Sole practitioners can change even more, even faster!

So, have you made enough progress, enough change, enough improvement in 2018?

The world of accountancy is changing fast. And the speed of change is increasing. What will you do differently in 2019 to make sure you change and improve enough as the year progresses?  To help prepare you so that you tackle the coming changes find out about our Accountants Growth Academy programme here.

5. Make it real or be found out. The era of ‘why’ is over and the era of ‘who’ is now alive and kicking (thanks Linzi Boyd – from ‘Business of Brand’)

​          Who are you? What do you stand for? Why should I believe in you?

The book and brilliant ‘Ted Talk’ - ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek encapsulated the power of purpose in a business. Sinek used ultimate examples like Apple Inc to show that the ‘reason why’ they do things is the root cause of customer and employee brand engagement and loyalty.

What Linzi Boyd is now suggesting is that the ‘reason why’ isn’t actually over, it’s just got much more personal. Making it more about us as individuals (as well as our businesses).

The success of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels points to the importance of ‘who’ in a business setting. Putting your personal ‘brand’ out there may make accountants a tad uncomfortable but non-the-less necessary if we’re going to build client loyalty and team engagement. Make 'who you are' and your personal passions and priorities more visible, more accessible. And make sure it’s real!

One example is the use of ‘istock’ photos on websites. ‘istock’ images are immediately recognisable as ‘istock’ images and so everyone knows they’re not you, your office, your people. Therefore, they’re not authentic, therefore you’re not as trustworthy as you could and should be. With this in mind we've just had another bunch of photos taken so that our team feature in our website and social media images.

Is what you stand for obvious to your people, your customers and your future employees and future customers? Greater clarity is needed on this of course, but a competitive edge awaits you when you do.

6. One thing deep is better than lots of things shallow - deep learning brings deep insight. Writing a book is a lot of work but the depth of learning gained from writing the book is immense. ‘The Business Growth Accountant’  was published this year and I’ve been immensely proud of the comments some of my heroes and some very well-respected firms have made. And when firms buy 12, 9 or 6 copies for their team you know you’ve written something of value.

The thing is, I learned so much from writing the book. Just like I learn so much when I prepare a presentation for an audience or write one of our 4-page Business Breakthrough reports. And of the many events this year, the QBC San Jose workshop I presented at taught me that focusing on one thing in a deep way means there’s a more valuable insight for the audience and a greater likelihood they’ll take action.

What was the one deep thing at QBC?

​          “Ask every one of your clients a signposted question about their goals.”

To find out more about signposted questions check out the ebook Intuit asked me to write about advisory work for accountants.  The ebook is available to Intuit Gold ProAdvisors and above, you can access it by logging in to the ProAdvisor portal here​ or join me at QBC London in February – book your place here.

7. Pain results in greater action than any motivational speech or positive reasoning – earlier this year with the firms on the Accountants Growth Academy we clearly mapped out the impact of not making their firms MTD ready and completely cloud savvy. We shared both the glaring short-term issues and the longer-term issues. How much more nightmarish the tax return tsunami in December and January, and the March year-end bubble at the end of the year becomes in a quarterly reporting world…

What a result!

All 11 firms on the Accountants Growth Academy have made significant progress on flattening both their March year-end production curve and flattening their tax return performance by doing more of them early in the year and less later in the year. Seeing the challenge in true (and garish) light has driven decisions and actions, and all 11 firms now have accounts production and tax returns more under control, have reduced stress and overtime and are now better placed to be genuine cloud accounting and quarterly reporting heroes for their clients in 2019 and beyond.

Find out about the Accountants Growth Academy here.

Are you seeing the challenges you face in a true and bright light or trying to play the changes and difficulties down? In the landmark research by Jim Collins for his brilliant book ‘Good to Great’ one of the common strategies of the truly great companies is to “face the brutal truth”.

The brutal truth around MTD and all the tech change that's 'here and now' is a real challenge. It pays to face up to it sooner rather than later and get yourself a competitive edge as a result, and the profits and capital value growth you seek for your firm.

8. Well done and thank you to Hallidays for our January ‘shot-in-the-arm!’  It pays to be different. Christmas cards are lovely, sharing the joy is always a good thing.

However, sharing success wishes in early January is different. It stands out. It’ll be remembered and even talked about (in blogs like this one!).  Simple yet effective customer care and also showing prospects you’re genuinely different in your thinking.  Nicely done Hallidays!

See the blog image above - it's Hallidays' new year card image.

And to bring this blog full circle thanks again to Amy Purdy:

          "Every challenge is a gift”

We wish, for every accountancy firm on this humble planet of ours, a 2019 of great client conversations thanks to the simple yet valuable questions you ask them. And every challenge will prompt questions and the resulting decisions, actions and rewarding outcomes.

You’ll then be helping them with their challenges and making a big audacious difference.

Go for it this year.