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Written by Martin Pollins MBA FCA CTA + guest bloggers

Martin Pollins’ blog  on this site brings you information, commentary, news, insight, opinion and debate.  We would love for you to post your comments on any of the issues discussed to foster useful and constructive debate.

It’s much better to be different than it is to be better

This is a rallying cry to professionals – accountants and lawyers – who are in danger of being caught in the headlights. As business professionals, we think we have a pretty good idea of what it takes to run a successful professional practice. Attention to detail and a close eye on billing recovery rates are the benchmarks in an industry that is sadly still clutching onto the past. Well, the bad news is that the future is here and it’s here now. What do we really provide to our clients? An important service, certainly, but for the most part, clients only employ us because they have to. This is not a recipe for growth or optimal earnings. We mustn’t kid ourselves that our firm has qualities that surpass anything our competitors can offer. If you don’t believe this… Imagine for a moment a prospective client asking what makes your firm stand out from the rest. Certainly, we’d respond by saying that our fees are reasonable, that we are very approachable and knowledgeable etc. But the truth is, that if the prospect were to go to our competitor next door and ask the same question, they would get pretty much the same answer. What does it mean? What this means is that we don’t have an advantage at all. We are probably no better than most other firms that the prospective client meets. To stand out from the crowd, a practice has to offer greater value than its competitors. Clients look to us to solve their problems; we are in the problem solving business, so we need to offer help...

Corporate Governance: Positivity adds greater value

A more positive approaches to corporate governance could add greater value. Too many boards focus upon compliance rather than business development. Many boards could contribute much more to business growth and development if they adopted a different approach to corporate governance according to Professor Colin Coulson-Thomas, the author of Developing Directors. Speaking in Singapore he told Asian directors, board chairs and company secretaries that his recent investigations have identified opportunities for boards to add greater value by shifting the focus of their attention. He finds: “In seeking to avoid interference in operational matters many directors are overlooking areas that are properly the responsibility of the board.” According to Professor Coulson-Thomas: “The approaches to corporate governance adopted by some companies are excessively negative and are inhibiting innovation, entrepreneurship and responsible risk taking. Directors need to understand that competitive success can require both prudence and creativity, and practical and cost-effective approaches are available that can reconcile the two. For example, building checks into performance support tools can make it easy for people to comply and difficult for them to act in ways that cause quality, commercial, regulatory and other problems while exploring different solutions, bespoking responses and developing new options. ” Hoping for the best is no longer enough Coulson-Thomas’ evidence of what more effective directors do differently reveals how much more value boards could contribute if they shifted their questioning to areas such as ensuring executives focus on better supporting those work-groups that contribute the most to key corporate objectives: “Handing demanding objectives to a CEO and senior executive team and hoping for the best is no longer enough when...

Here’s the way to a better practice

It’s funny (actually, it’s not funny at all) how some accountants and lawyers throw money down the drain by not charging clients for the work that they do. Most problems arise because without a template to start with, it takes too long to draw up an engagement letter for additional work that is undertaken. Not so with Contract Engine. It’s the market leading engagement letter system and if you don’t believe it, just glance at the list of templates you can choose from: click here for lawyers click here for accountants Subscribing is easy. When you do, having a better practice, happier clients, more fees and a better future can never be easier. Click here to subscribe now   Guarantee We’re so sure you’ll love Contract Engine, that we’re offering you a 30 day money back guarantee. No questions asked. Product tour Press play to take a product tour before you buy:   Testimonials Still not sure? See what our subscribers say about Contract...

Here’s how to find the time to…

  Unproductivity and loss of drive can result from something nasty called decision overload. DelanceyPlace (here) tell me that, “we live in a world with 300 exabytes of information (that’s (300 billion, billion) an amount that is rapidly expanding to ever-greater amounts from this already Brobdingnagian level. And yet the processing capacity of the conscious mind is a mere 120 bits per second. This presents a challenge to not only our processing capacity, but also our decision-making ability: Neuroscientists have discovered that productivity and loss of drive can result from decision overload.” For the less clever clogs among my readers and those who may have forgotten, Brobdingnagian means hugely gigantic. Click here if you don't want decision overload You definitely don’t want decision overload. It seems obvious that making things easier is the answer. My company, BizeziaTM do just that – make things easier. I don’t want any of my readers to suffer from decision overload. What’s needed is organisation. So, to start with, here’s a book recommendation: The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload Author: Daniel J. Levitin Publisher: Penguin Group The author is a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University, and this book is an ambitious attempt to bring research in neuroscience and cognitive psychology to bear on the more ordinary parts of our lives. You can watch him on YouTube, here. You never know, you might end up doing the really important things. Round up Here is my regular round-up of marketing and business promotion issues plus other interesting things over the past week. Each week, I have included a section titled Technical Stuff. Also featured...

The number 1 way to make more money and not get sued

In this article, I hope to show you that having a formal letter of engagement in place can help you avoid getting sued. And how, if you do it properly, you can earn more fees too. It makes sense… Setting out your terms of business with your clients, with specific agreement on the work you do for them and the fees you charge, is the only sensible way to deliver professional services. To do anything else is professional suicide. I feel very strongly about that. We can’t complain if we get into trouble with our clients. After all, our professional bodies have been telling us for years that we must issue engagement letters. Nevertheless, for many busy practitioners, the whole business of issuing an engagement letter to clients is a bit of a nightmare. And when something goes wrong, not having an engagement letter is going to bring you problems and cost you shedloads of money. There had to be a better way and I found it! When I was in public practice, I found the whole process of writing something down and agreeing it with the client to be a clumsy and time-consuming exercise. It often got in the way of doing the work itself. There had to be an easier way, I thought. Although there were plenty of standard formats available that covered a few situations, all too often the particular client assignment didn’t seem to fit those formats. That’s when I set out to create an engagement letter system (called Contract Engine) to simplify the whole process, eliminate uncertainty with the client, and make it very...

What’s happening in the Law?

What’s happening in the law that’s different? Actually, quite a lot. Last month, here, the UK’s Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) and the Legal Services Board (LSB) reported on their research into how law firms (and others providing legal services) are changing the way they operate. The research aims to understand what innovation means in the legal services market, explore what is driving innovation, including the impact of competition in inspiring firms to try new approaches, and understand the barriers to greater innovation. Richard Collins, SRA Executive Director, said: “This is our first large scale research study on this topic and will help us to understand the new and different approaches law firms and others are taking and any potential barriers they face….” Also, last month, a Legal Futures Special Report, published in association with Thomson Reuters, looked at how SME law firms are driving change in the delivery of legal services. Innovation Nation – how SME firms are driving change in delivering legal services. The report, Innovation Nation, is available for download or viewing online here. I came across two other interesting examples of other changes in the legal landscape: see what you think: AdventBalance AdventBalance is the largest and fastest growing alternative legal services business in the Asia-Pacific region. Based in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Singapore and Hong Kong, this is what they say about themselves: We know and understand the business of law and have responded to market demands, creating a model that is a win-win for both lawyers and clients. Our clients have access to a team of lawyers and consultants, combining the expertise of outside counsel...

How to win

Before 1984, accountants and lawyers didn’t really need to worry too much about communications or marketing. There’s a simple reason why: they weren’t allowed to engage in any marketing as we know it today. Back in 1984, it was unethical to engage in any marketing. So, most firms did not have a brochure describing what they did, what services they offered and so on. It was virtually unknown for a competitor to “steal” a client from you. In October 1984, professional firms were liberated from the no-marketing or advertising constraints by the OFT. I remember it well. My firm was one of the first in the UK to have a coloured logo and a powerful brochure. In fact, we were the first accountancy firm to advertise on British Television. Roughly four times a night for seven weeks, my firm brought a new message to prospective clients across Southern England… But that’s another story. Today, firms have to communicate information to clients quickly and efficiently. If you can’t keep your service documents and information brochures up to date, you’re wasting a real marketing opportunity. Providing technical and other information to clients and prospects There are three ways in which a firm can maintain relationships with its clients and prospects in providing technical and other information in response to a request for information from clients and prospects. Buy in publications from publishers The problem with this is that this is a costly thing to do. The information can easily go out of date and it’s a clumsy way of providing information to those who ask for it. What happens in practice...

Here are 7 ways to appear more intelligent than other people

I read an interesting article last week in the Telegraph. You don’t have to know the entire works of Shakespeare or the square root of Pi to seem highly intelligent, says Rebecca Burn-Callander, Enterprise Editor of the Telegraph. There is no fast-track route to wisdom but intelligence, defined as the way that we comprehend, analyse and respond to the world, is a far more malleable concept. Scientists once claimed that intelligence quotient (IQ) levels were hereditary. This meant that human beings had no control over their brain power; it was decided by their genes. However, recent studies have shown that IQ scores are barely linked to genes at all. They can also be extremely volatile, changing significantly – by up to 20 points – over time. The Telegraph has scoured the writings of neuroscience experts, business leaders, technologists, and psychiatrists to find out how ordinary people can instantly boost their IQ levels by making small tweaks to the way that they comprehend the world. The idea is to increase mental agility. The seven techniques in this article cannot make anyone appear well-read, or replace life experience. They are: Distrust everything you hear The modesty bias Look people in the eye Use your middle initial Become a night owl Surround yourself with smart people Keep schtum Read more on the seven techniques here Warning to accountants and lawyers (and banks) Watch out: Danny Alexander threat to firms that facilitate tax evasion. In City A.M., Charlotte Henry reports that Danny Alexander has proposed a new law penalising firms who assist with tax evasion. The chief secretary to the Treasury said in...

Why most SMEs don’t want to invest in your business advisory services and what you can do about it.

History If you’re an accountant, you will surely have heard of Ric Payne. Ric, together with Paul Dunn pretty well changed the face of the accounting profession in the 1990s through their transformational boot camps across the world. Today, Ric runs Principa – its object is simple: Principa was created solely to turn the challenges facing the small and medium-sized business communities around the world (SMEs) into opportunities for forward thinking accounting practices and business consulting firms. Upcoming Webinar Ric has an upcoming webinar titled: Why most SMEs don’t want to invest in your business advisory services and what you can do about it. What’s it about? There are few, if any, SME owner-managers who would not benefit from the help of a competent external advisor and yet the vast majority of them do not accept this. For this reason most SME advisors confront a “sales barrier” that is not only disappointing but can also be a serious waste of time. In this webinar Ric Payne will share his insights on how to deal with the cognitive, interpersonal, motivational, and resource scarcity challenges that result in so many business people refusing help from business advisors. Ric will draw on his personal successes and failures as a business advisor in practice and, for the past 20 years, as a coach to advisors in the accounting profession. He will complement his practical experience in selling and delivering advisory services by incorporating contemporary research findings from the behavioural and neuro-sciences that explain why there is a natural tendency for people to reject assistance, and he’ll explain how you can use this understanding...

Zero Hours’ Contract Interview

Introduction There has been much ado recently about zero hours’ contracts.  So much so that a zero hours’ contract bill is currently passing through parliament. The purpose of the bill is to limit the use of zero hours’ contracts and it had its first reading on 2nd July 2014 and the second reading has been postponed until 27th February 2015.  This bill is an attempt to remedy the current mischiefs. Employers that offer zero hours’ contracts have to treat workers the same as employees with fixed regular working hours. They are also required to give reasonable notice on when they are needed as well as notice in writing of the minimum hours their workers are required. Other current practices that are to be stamped out include: Considering zero hours’ contract workers for regular working hours every 12 weeks If they have worked continuously for that period of time the employer should have a duty to offer the worker fixed and regular working hours It will also be unlawful to subject zero hours’contract workers to detriment The dismissal of a zero hours’ contract worker who refuses to work at the employer’s request will constitute an unfair dismissal A zero hours’ contract worker is also regarded as being employed when he or she works or does not work for that employer So what is the current landscape?  The term ‘zero hours’ is not currently defined in legislation.  However it’s generally understood to be a contract between an employer and an individual worker under the terms of which: The employer is not obliged to provide the worker with any work at all,...

How not to lose everything

Did you know that anyone with access to your Mac computer can bypass your password unless you do something quite easy to stop them? If fact, anyone can bypass and reset your password on any operating system you might be using. It’s impossible to completely protect any computer from an attacker if they get physical access. But, unless you set up your Mac properly, it just takes a reboot and a few seconds to bypass your password — or wipe your hard drive. For all the talk about security vulnerabilities, the ability for anyone to quickly change a Mac’s password is rarely thought about. Read what you should do about it here Passwords can be reset or bypassed on every operating system. On Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, it’s easy to gain access to a computer’s unencrypted files after resetting the password — the password doesn’t actually prevent access to your files. On other devices where you can’t gain access to the files, you can still reset the device and gain access to it without knowing a password. These tricks all require physical access to the device. Read what you should do about it here Ok, the above will probably prevent loss of data and valuable information on your computers. But, don’t miss out on the latest marketing and technical update if you want to keep your clients. They deserve your attention. Marketing and Business Promotion Marketing ideas from Marketing Profs More marketing ideas and tips have been published by Marketing Profs. Here they are: Innovation Is Vital for Your Brand’s Survival: 10 Must-Learn Lessons Digital Ad Benchmarks by Channel...

Lone Working – what should employers do?

Many employers are unaware of the obligations that apply when they have employees who work alone. I have to confess that I didn’t know too much about the subject so I did some research and am happy to share with you what I found. First though, here is my acknowledgement that the following text includes public sector information published by the Health andSafety Executive and licensed under the Open Government Licence. Defining “Working Alone” The HSE suggest the following definition: “Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. They are found in a wide range of situations”. HSE Guidance The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide guidance on how to keep lone workers healthy and safe. It is aimed at anyone who employs or engages lone workers, and also at self-employed people who work alone. Following the HSE guidance is not compulsory, but it should help employers understand what they need to do to comply with their legal duties towards lone workers under: the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974; the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Is it legal to work alone and is it safe? Working alone is not in itself against the law and it will often be safe to do so. However, the law requires employers to consider carefully, and then deal with, any health and safety risks for people working alone. Employers are responsible: for the health, safety and welfare at work of all their workers; and for the health and safety of any contractors or self-employed people doing work for them. These responsibilities cannot be...

The Economy – what’s next?

Last week, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said inflation in the UK could temporarily turn negative in the spring because of falling oil prices – it was reported here. Rising prices were always seen to be a bad thing – nobody likes to buy something this week and pay more for it than last week. But the flipside of the coin, when you’re selling something, is just the opposite. Great if you can sell something this week for a higher price than last week. But like most things, it’s better to happen in moderation. Not too much, nor too little. Slowly does it… Launching the Bank’s inflation report, Mark Carney added: “Prices are likely to rebound around the turn of the year, so this did not mean the economy had entered deflation.” Deflation – Now, that’s a new word for many people. We have all been brought up on a diet of inflation and the National Debt. But it seems we now need to worry about other things as well. As fool.co.uk put it: “Deflation is just about the last thing you want at a time when your economy desperately needs to start growing. It is retail demand that drives the whole thing, and if goods are going to be cheaper in the future then there’s little incentive to spend now — and it’s compounded by the value of debts getting bigger. We’ve already seen the same thing happen in Japan, which suffered a 20-year cycle of deflation that proved extremely hard to get out of.” Germany knows about deflation. Official figures from Germany show that...

Are you cognitively challenged?

I’m not sure why, but there’s a lot written about them. I’m talking about brains (and heads). They’re everywhere. I’ve got one and so do you. Here are a few stories that caught my attention. They don’t have anything directly to do with my businesses – Bizezia and OneSmartPlace – but see if you find them interesting anyway. New Brain Cells… don’t lose them! Every day, the excellent Delanceyplace send me a snippet from a book. I was reading an email from them the other day which mentioned something about brain cells. What caught my eye was: ‘How to Save New Brain Cells’ by Tracey J. Shors written in the Scientific American magazine in March 2009 (pages 47-8) . Apparently, the brain can grow new neurons but these disappear unless cognitively challenged. The book says: “Fresh neurons arise in the brain every day … Recent work, albeit mostly in rats, indicates that learning enhances the survival of new neurons in the adult brain. And the more engaging and challenging the problem, the greater the number of neurons that stick around. These neurons are then presumably available to aid in situations that tax the mind. It seems, then, that a mental workout can buff up the brain, much as physical exercise builds up the body…” Don’t think that brain development is reserved for young developing minds. Apparently new brain cells can develop in adults too but are not generated by clockwork. Brain cell production can be enhanced by exercise but retarded by alcohol consumption.  The bad news is that whilst exercise can help to produce new brain cells they don’t always stick around...

Bad News: The Recession hasn’t really gone away at all

I’ve written before to say that perhaps the recession hasn’t actually gone away: here, here, here, here and again here. We already knew (from what we’ve been told by the papers and on TV) that France was doing badly.  But most people thought the Germans were running a strong economy and were the powerhouse of Europe. Now, there’s even a suggestion that the German economy could lead Europe back into recession. German business confidence has fallen to its lowest level for some considerable time. Last week, the Telegraph reported that Germany, the euro area’s economic titan has joined the rest of the currency bloc, and has entered deflation in January, for the first time since October 2009. It may not see inflation again before the year is out. Analysts had expected deflation – but not at this pace. The Greeks are taking a tough line over their debts and it will be interesting to see if other Member states who received bail-outs, challenge the deals they made. But the really worrying thing is that we are all in for a second dose of the recession. Rachel Savage wrote last week in Management Today – she says that Crispin Odey, the hedge fund manager who correctly predicted the financial crisis in 2007 that brought the world to its knees, believes the global economy is about to crash again but this time it’s going to be even worse. Lightning can strike twice. ‘We are in the first stage of this downturn. It is too early to see what will happen – a change of this magnitude means the darkness and mist is very great. This down...

National Debt in the limelight once again

Last month, I wrote at some length about the UK’s National Debt – see here. We’ve been told that we face a financial Timebomb which is worrying for all of us.  I tried very hard to unearth who our creditors are. I discovered that we owed about £1.45 trillion which, to put it into perspective, is about 30% of the value of every single home in the UK. But, when I tried to find out who we owed the money to, I came up against a very thick brick wall. Whatever name you give to the public debt, it’s really a loan to Britain from various sources, such as: The Bank of England £375 billion Overseas Lenders £? Insurance Companies and Pension Funds £? Building Societies £? Investment Trusts £? Local Authorities and Public Corporations £? Private Individuals £? You’ll see only one definite figure in the above list of creditors. The Bank of England engaged in quantitative easing (QE) which is an unconventional form of monetary policy – it created £375 billion as part of the asset purchase program which represents about a quarter of the total national debt. But despite my efforts, I couldn’t get reliable figures for the remaining creditor groups. Shrouded in mystery. Jargon. Obfuscation. Defeat. Even my request to HM Treasury under the Freedom of Information Act, produced no meaningful answer for me. Then along came Greece And there my analysis remained… Until today when I read an article about Greece’s debts by Ian Ball, the chair of CIPFA International and the former chief executive of the International Federation of Accountants: Mr Ball opened...

Why did you choose the job you’re in?

We’re all different but what motivated you to choose your line of work? A recent survey by the University of Law found that nearly half (49%) of prospective solicitors said that they wanted to become lawyers so that they could help people. And some 61% of aspiring barristers said the same thing. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, an accountant should be a detailed-oriented, analytical thinker with good communication and organisational skills. I don’t personally know all of the tens of thousands of you who receive my weekly bulletin. But I’m willing to bet that a desire to help people is a key element of what drives you on. Or it should be. How badly do you handle your phones? I was interested to read about how badly accountants handle their phones. Last Friday, Chis Warmoll wrote in AccountancyAGE that although accountants may be good with the numbers and making sense of “Gordian tax knots”, their telephone manner is leaving their clients less than satisfied, a new survey has shown – less than a quarter (22%) of the 1,000 British consumers quizzed in the survey, are happy with the way accountancy firms handle their phone calls. This is much the same as Arthur Daley-esque car dealers (21%) but on a par across all British businesses at 23%. Now, perhaps this is a bit controversial but I’m willing to bet that lawyers aren’t all that good at handling phone calls either. Strangely, dentists are pretty good at it – whether it’s a phone or a drill, they do it well. You could handle your telephone better couldn’t you?...

Who was William Edwards Deming?

Put simply, he was a man with prodigious knowledge yet was able to express his ideas to those he spoke to in such a way as to bring about profound change. Deming was an American engineer, statistician, professor, author, lecturer, and management consultant. He knew a lot about numbers but he wasn’t an accountant. In fact, he specialised in something which is called mathematical physics (if you want to understand what that is, click here). Deming was a very, very clever chap. He is credited with the rise of Japan as a world-leading manufacturing nation, and with the idea of Total Quality Management (TQM). One thing always leads to another Deming went to Japan just after WWII to help set up a census of the Japanese population. While he was there, he taught ‘statistical process control’ to Japanese engineers – a set of techniques which allowed them to manufacture high-quality goods without expensive machinery. In 1960 he was awarded a medal by the Japanese Emperor for his services to that country’s industry. The ideas Deming taught were: 1.  The problems facing manufacturers can be solved through cooperation, despite differences. 2.  Marketing is not sales. It is the science of knowing what repeat customers think of a product, as well as whether, and why, they will buy it again. 3.  Initial stages of design must include market research, applying statistical techniques for planning and inspecting samples. 4.  The manufacturing process must be perfected. Deming said one disease was: Running a company on visible figures alone because many important factors are “unknown and unknowable.” Perhaps there’s a lesson here for all professionals:...

Do as you’ve done before and you’ll get what you deserve…

You’ve heard it thousands of times before. You know, the statement by Henry Ford: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” If you are absolutely happy with what you’ve got, well done. What does the statement mean?  It probably means: “If you continue to do what you’ve done before but it failed, the chances are that if you keep doing it in the future, you’ll continue to fail.” What’s the lesson? “If you aren’t sure what to do, and what you’ve tried before has failed, then try something different.” It worked for Apple. If it worked for Steve Jobs, it could work for you. View their “Think Different” Ad. The marketing guru Drayton Bird emailed me today with a helpful hint. He said it is so brief and simple, that he was tempted to apologise for giving it. It is: Start with the truth, not what you wish it to be. However, far too many people seem unaware of the importance of this, which is prompted by something Drayton read in a New York Times obituary in 1984: “Honesty is not only the best policy. It is rare enough nowadays to make you pleasantly conspicuous.” Unless you are a most remarkable organisation around, you aren’t perfect, and admitting this, wins you big brownie points with your prospects. When you admit to your shortcomings, people are far more inclined to believe other things you say. My message to you today is: Read the last few articles I’ve sent to you. Doing something different doesn’t happen by magic. But when it works, it’s...


The information contained in this Blog is intended only as a general review of the subjects featured.  No advice is provided by Bizezia Limited. If advice is required, you should contact a professional person or firm experienced in the matter on which you require advice. Accordingly, specialist advice should always be taken before taking or refraining from taking any action.

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