The other side of an amazing story...

On 9 to 10 October 2007 I went to an AVN Conference (Landers are founder members since the year 2000) with my then business partner, Finola McManus. We had an excellent 2 days and began sketching out new and exciting things we were going to do to strengthen our practice as a result of what we had heard and been prompted to think about. Exactly one week later my business partner of 12 years announced to me and our team that she had just been diagnosed with a very serious cancer which would require an intensive course of treatment over the coming 2 months. She passed her in-tray across the desk and to make a long story short, never returned to Landers. Finola went on to fight and win her own battle with typical resolve and success. You may have seen her article previously published on Accounting Web. We were at that stage a team of 12 people. I effectively found myself in the position of being a sole trader. I have no issue with sole traders, in fact I have the utmost respect for them, but I know it isn't for me!

So to put it very bluntly and in no way seeking to compare this with Finola's personal challenge at the time, I confess to feeling more than a little daunted at what lay ahead.Looking back now, 18 months later, I need not have worried. Landers, I am glad to say, continues to thrive as a practice with more team members and a stable and growing client base, maintaining turnover and maintaining profit levels. All this despite the suddenness of Finola's departure and the potential gaping hole that might have resulted in any other business by the loss of a co-owner and such a key driver.

I believe there are 3 fundamental reasons why we have been able to adapt, survive and thrive as a business.

1. People

  • I tried hard not to hog the' chunky bits'. We broadened out knowledge and gave the team a chance to try things with clients and prospective clients – trusting people.
  • Prior to and after the sudden change in our circumstances, the engagement of our team in the business of Landers was and remains paramount. It is a core belief that motivated, informed and above all outstanding people, are the single most important factor in the success of our business.
  • Flowing from this is the belief that we thrive by properly looking after our clients. So in the last 18 months the people who make up our team have physically grown in stature through what they do (different and more varied things than before) and how they project themselves to the clients of our business.
  • We achieved this by growing a culture of inclusion and encouraging team members to 'be their own boss'- a concept we were introduced to at an AVN conference.
  • 'Think tanks' were set up by our non-chargeable people to see how they could help out Client Managers with certain non-chargeable work, and the business become more efficient
  • We upped the amount of internal training ,and increased the number of directly relevant courses that our team went on.
  • We took our entire team to the AVN Conference and held brainstorming sessions following this so everyone plays a part in the development of the business and its future success. We encouraged them to be 'mountain 'people – a concept we learned from Frank Dick, at another AVN conference.
  • We carried on with 6 monthly career development reviews with specific goals and specific detailed follow up. ( using ready -made AVN resources)
  • We carried out in-house 360 degree reviews focussing on the team and their work relationship with me, so we got parallel expectations.
  • We all signed up to a culture of open praise, recognition and sanguine resolution of any occasional hiccups replacing blame with a system to make sure no repetitions.
  • We made sure that key elements of the entire team are involved directly in the recruitment of new members to ensure a cultural fit.
  • By being rigorous about recruitment, we have made sure we have got 'the right people on the bus', choosing to recruit by attitude and not qualifications. It creates a wish and willingness to help each other to find ways to solve problems and exploit opportunities. We go the extra mile for clients and each other!
  • We have a rotating chairperson across the team for the weekly WIP meeting, this gives our team full involvement on what's happening within the practice and enables them to take a leading role to make changes.
  • Because we continue to place training high on our list, we were awarded ACCA Platinum status for people development.
  • Our IIP( Successfully re-awarded last summer) Assessor commented, "One of the most enjoyable days he had spent with a company". He felt the" unprompted enthusiasm from the team here".
  • We continue to finish on Friday at 1.30 pm, and give our people their birthday off work.
  • Work/life balance is our primary aim. We live it, not just pay lip service.
  • Encourage your team to put themselves in the shoes of the client – what are your issues as a client.

2. Systems

  • We gave a non-accountant the job of organising technical people and helping them solve their time organisation problems. We gave people with the best skill-set a chance to shine.
  • We have strong operational systems, both background and client facing, using AVN SystemBuilder. This gives certainty about qualitative aspects of the firm's output together with making the practice more efficient internally.
  • Systems were always high on the agenda but with the loss of a key member they become even more important and allowed the team to grow on from them. As Michael Gerber says, if you can't show me the system – it doesn't exist!
  • We have an approach to how to run BoardView (an AVN concept) meetings with clients which enable other team member to be confident and run these meetings without me being present.
  • We use standard systems (another AVN resource) for quoting to ensure we price correctly and consistently and put it in the hands of the clients to choose what they want. This helped take the burden away from me and allowed the Client Managers to actively grow the business.
  • BBFs continue to be very successful and a good source of referrals and prospect conversion. We run Business Builder Forums using AVN systemised resources.
  • We continued with marketing and got team members to write content for press releases, with a systemised approach and systematic follow up.

3. Clarity

  • We have made the practice become a game our team want to play.
  • The progress towards our annual billing target ( and bonus for all, beyond) is talked through every week with everyone from the Cleaner, Client Manager, Managing Director alike.
  • We have a clear incentive strategy using a quarterly 'Pot of Gold' mini- bonus to encourage our team to look for proactive valuable work they can do for clients.
  • We are clear with clients exactly what we are going to do for them, and are transparent in our pricing. We set a basis of our relationship with our clients at the outset and we use it to live by in all our dealings with our clients.
  • We have communicated this clearly with our team so it has become cultural!
  • I have shared my plans and goals, as owner, with our team.
  • Most of all we have tried to be sincere and straight with each about our expectations of one another. We have had no one leave in the last 24 months which if nothing else saved us huge amounts in recruitment fees.

SO, MY ADVICE TO ANY BUSINESS FACING SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES IS...
GET THE RIGHT PEOPLE ON THE BUS, BELIEVE IN SYSTEMS AS THE ANSWER, AND MAKE EVERY MESSAGE SIMPLE AND CLEAR.

Robert Brown ACA
Managing Director
Landers Accountants Ltd

PS My blood pressure is 20% lower than 10 years ago , and I have never enjoyed general practice more than now with our fantastic team of truly exceptional people.

 

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