David Beharall on people, talent, and sustainability


Photo 16-03-2016, 18 27 05

I was at a There Be Giants event in Manchester this week, and David Beharall (ex footballer and current MD of Candidsky) was speaking on leadership, and people, and hiring.

There were excellent and powerful ideas flowing all evening, but the one that stood out to me the most was this:

“You can win without talent,” David said, “but not sustainably.”

Photo 16-03-2016, 18 35 48


People, and hiring, and recruiting, and talent, are all topics extremely relevant to accountants right now.  Almost every accountant I talk to lists recruiting as one of their top challenges.

Partly this is because the accounting industry has been going through such a period of change. Many firms have plenty of people – but not the right kind of people.  Accountants who simply want to tick the boxes and fill in the cash books and work 9 to 5 like in the old days.  Accountants who aren’t qualified.  Accountants who are afraid of change.

None of that is going to work anymore, and the best owners of accountancy firms know it.  Some firms I’ve spoken to have begun to let people go, even if it means everyone else has to work double-time, because the employees wouldn’t use Xero, or wouldn’t adapt to the new cloud systems, or just wouldn’t change in some other area.

You can win with team members who avoid change, but not sustainably

Photo 16-03-2016, 18 40 49

It’s fairly shocking to me that some accountancy firms have team members who literally “refuse to use anything besides SAGE” – even if the firm itself, and the accountancy firm owner, have taken the decision to use Xero, or some other cloud accounting system.

Granted, people take time to change.  It’s good to be understanding, and helpful, and provide every opportunity for your existing team members to get on the new path.

But if they don’t – and won’t – then your firm isn’t being run by you anymore.  You go to Xerocon and come back all enthused and excited, with new add-on integrations to use and share with your clients, and then discover that one of your team are on the phone to that same client saying, “Oh, no, just stay on SAGE – it’s much easier for us to update.”

We’ve all read the business books. We know that your firm has to have a vision, and a ‘why’, and the whole team has to be on board.

But if your team members are avoiding change, to the point that they point-blank refuse to do it, you won’t win in the long run.  It’s not sustainable – because the accounting industry has already changed, and your firm has to change with it.

As I mentioned above, this requires change on your part, as well.  Xero certification for team members.  Regular training events – for the team and the clients.  Paying a cloud integration specialist to get that new CRM system in.  Team away days that are actually fun and enjoyable.  Sacking those clients who are making your team members’ lives miserable (those who do actually want to change).   There are things you can do to bring your team along with you, and the right people will thank you for it.

I’m no recruiting expert (and this is unfortunate, because if I could start a business that sourced quality accounting talent for my clients, I would!), but this topic of recruiting, and leadership, and people, is extremely relevant to marketing, which IS my area of expertise.

Which leads us to marketing.

You can win without high quality marketing, but not sustainably

David’s comment above about winning without talent is also absolutely relevant when it comes to marketing for your accountancy firm – particularly content marketing, which is the type that occurs on a drip feed.

You can win new business based on really poor marketing – or even none at all.  And many accountancy firms have been doing it for years:

  • Newsletters “designed” in house, rather than by a graphic designer. An administrative assistant, or even an accountant, puts it together, perhaps in Word. Graphic designers, of course, cost the earth.
  • Blog posts or articles that are dry and full of tax tables. The accountant who wrote it found it fascinating, no doubt, but no thought was given as to whether your readers did.
  • Websites that are brochure-only. We did a website review for an accountancy firm recently, and the site was clearly years out of date. Stock imagery, content that sounded like everyone else, an old template.  We suggested they may want to consider a full website rebuild…and were told that the site was 6 months old.
  • Branding and logos thrown together, not properly designed. You may even have “designed” it yourself, as the accountancy firm owner – or perhaps someone in the family.

Naturally, I could go on.  No CRM systems, emails sent using Outlook, advertising that is paid for because it’s always been paid for –  and yet in spite of all this, you’ve still been able to get new business.

So far.

You can win with poor quality marketing, but many firms who come to us are realising that it’s no longer sustainable.

What happens when your prospect gets your generic newsletter (which has clearly not been written by you or in a way that is interesting to the prospect themselves), but they also get a nice shiny-new, brightly coloured, well designed newsletter from another firm of accountants?

If you’re still winning business the old-school way, my prediction is that within 6 months to three years (depending on your location), you’ll begin to notice that you’re not getting leads the way you used to.

And after that you’ll begin to lose clients.

And after that…well, you get the idea.

Content marketing is the form of marketing that helps you win….sustainably.

The concept of content marketing – as opposed to “just marketing” in general – is so powerful for accountants because it helps you win, sustainably.  It’s a drip feed.  It occurs over time.  It focuses on your clients more than yourself. And the reason it sustains you is that it’s based on talent.

Your talent.

Content marketing presumes that you are the expert.  You’re the talent.  And it takes all your talent and expertise, and puts it into a format that is visually appealing and that is relevant for your prospective clients.

That’s the reason you win, and continue to sustain more wins on a regular basis. It’s not a magic marketing wand. It’s not the latest fad.  It takes all your own (considerable) talent, and strengthens it, and then showcases it to the world.

And that’s sustainable.