This question is for you.
Normally I’m answering your questions (following the ‘they ask you answer’ principle), but today I’d like to ask you something.
The idea, of course, came from a conversation with a client, who was really struggling with a few situations in her firm.
She had issues with a few team members, and was getting increasingly frustrated with their lack of willingness to be on board with cloud accounting and the apps. She had a big opportunity that she wasn’t sure how to approach. And I could tell she was tired of even thinking about these things, much less making progress with them.
We talked for a while about these issues, and then I asked her, “Do you have a mentor? A coach or advisor or someone you can go to for help with the big-picture issues like this?”
She said no.
I’m beginning to notice that the owners of accounting firms who have a mentor are the ones who are making major progress in their firms – not least of which in the area of marketing.
A mentor is someone outside the business you go to not only for more formal meetings with the business numbers (perhaps a monthly or quarterly board meeting), but also for these one-off questions which weigh heavily on you, or to discuss those opportunities which seem like a once in a lifetime thing and require a little guidance.
For those who do not have a mentor, there are many reasons to resist getting one (and I know this because I’ve been there):
- A mentor is just a fancy term for a business coach, or a consultant, who doesn’t really understand me or my business.
- I’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. I didn’t like them and it didn’t work out.
- A mentor is someone who pushes you and quite frankly I’m tired. I could use a bit of encouragement instead of more pushing.
- It’s expensive and I don’t see the value in it.
- What does a mentor actually do, anyway? It seems useful for a one-off opportunity or project but I don’t know how it would work on a regular basis.
- I don’t know how I would find someone that I trust. There’s a lot of sensitive information about me and my business that I would need to share.
- I have business partners and directors. (Or my significant other, or a family member.) They serve as my mentors.
All of these are justifiable concerns. I’ve had them myself, and have had some negative experiences (and fortunately some positive ones too).
But they’re still preventing you from getting help that will seriously drive your accounting firm forward. Will help you act like a business owner instead of an accountant. Will encourage you and give you relief and support when you need it.
On a side note, to help you see how serious these concerns are if they’re not dealt with….do you see the similarity in these objections to how people might feel towards getting a new accountant?
Perhaps they have been burned by an accountant before. Don’t understand what an accountant does. Think that they have an in house bookkeeper who sorts out the accounting issues. Find your services expensive and don’t see the value in them.
And yet you know exactly how helpful you can be, and have been, to your clients.
You know that when someone begins to trust you, and work with you on a regular basis, that their business is better. Their numbers improve. Their health and outlook improve too. You know that, because you have countless case studies and stories you could tell which prove it.
They don’t know it yet.
And when it comes to a mentor, you may not know it yet.
I’d like to challenge you to consider a mentor, if you don’t have one.
The good news is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all mentor relationship. You can get access to a great mentor in a variety of ways, to test the waters and begin to see the opportunities available to you and your firm:
1. Join a community led by someone who is a great mentor.
Like many of you, I had some not-so-great experiences with people who said they were mentors, or pretended to be, or were okay but not amazing. One of my resistances was thinking that a mentor is someone who pushes you. Forces you to do things. Gets in your face and shouts at you (rather like a drill sergeant in boot camp).
That may work for some people. It doesn’t work for me – it just pisses me off and de-motivates me. I’ll either get angry or upset, and neither one is inspiring.
Chris doesn’t motivate by fear or anger or pushing people around. He is one of the best listeners I know, and he genuinely cares about the people in his community (as well as any person he meets).
When I’ve got an issue I can’t seem to solve, he not only makes time in his diary to talk to me (or takes my call), but he listens well, gives me a different perspective, and lets me come to the conclusion on my own.
The Thriveal Community is a good example of this for accountants. Their tagline is “accounting for the brave”, and they work with accountants who consider themselves creative. Jason Blumer, who runs Thriveal, also owns an accounting firm, so he knows what it’s like and can give direction and mentorship.
Don’t restrict yourself to communities of only accountants, though. Stretch yourself. Those are great, and I do recommend them. I also recommend that you become part of a community with all kinds of different people and businesses. You’ll be glad you did.
2. Build actual friendships (not just business relationships) with people you admire and respect in business.
One of mine would be James Ashford, who is the owner and creator of GoProposal. He’s made massive leaps into the accounting industry since the first days (I knew him before he was famous), and we spent hours talking about what accountants need and how he could help them.
We still talk regularly, and he’s one of the people I can ring up at any time to get an outside perspective on an issue in my business or life. Plus he’s someone I would hang out with even if we didn’t talk business – he’s always good company and passes the Google “airport test”, which asks whether, if you’re stuck in an airport, this is someone who would make the experience better (or worse).
The accounting industry – thanks to all the cloud accounting tools and the 600+ apps that integrate with them – is full of people who get the industry, but think about it from a different perspective.
You’ve got access to so many people who are great at business, and when you build actual friendships with them, they can serve in a mentor capacity for you.
3. Make use of grants and local programmes which include a mentor
We heard of a grant in connection with a local government programme (local to Manchester, which is where our head offices are). It provided executive training and support, and was loose enough that we could adapt it to our purposes in a variety of ways.
I heard good things of a particular person and company who helped deliver this (Isla Wilson from Ruby Star Associates), so I decided there wasn’t much to lose and I may as well give it a try.
I admit I wasn’t looking forward to the first session. I had a lot on my mind, it was a full day out of my business, and I was still expecting a mentor person to be harsh and challenging and pushy.
Isla was none of those things. She was (and is) friendly, and personable, and most of all encouraging. One of the things that struck me the most was that at the end of our session she said, “You do realise that you’re doing really amazing things here. You’re doing so well in this area and in that area, and it’s quite impressive.” I was so surprised I didn’t know what to say (you know me, that’s pretty rare) and it helped show me what a mentor can actually be like.
She was such a fun person that we ended up inviting her to join us at our team day at the Harry Potter studios in London. That’s a good sign when it comes to a mentor, too!
4. Make sure you have an amazing accountant, too.
I know you’re already an accountant. And you have a firm, and perhaps a team, and all your accounting needs are taken care of.
But do you have someone who takes the role of a great accountant in your life?
The CFO, the advisor, the person that you are to your clients. Who does that for you?
This needs to be someone outside of your firm – because as great as your fellow partners and directors are (if you have them), they’re not going to challenge you with an outside perspective. They’re going to be more likely to agree with you, or keep resisting with the same resistance they’ve been giving for years. Neither one will push you and your firm to be better.
One of the traits that makes a great entrepreneurial accountant is that of being willing to be a mentor to other accountants. People like Will Farnell, who advises accountants on how to build a scalable digital firm. Make sure you’ve got someone like that in your camp.
My accountant, Paul Barnes, is absolutely someone I can go to for major issues or opportunities in the business. Best of all, he’s known me for years, from the very early days of PF. So he knows me well enough to be able to say, “Well, knowing you, Karen, I wouldn’t recommend that,” or “This is the type of thing you want, though, isn’t it?”
The best mentor does listen and guide – but they actually give advice, too. I’ve known some people who claim to be mentors, but they’re really more like therapists. They listen and repeat back what you say and let you get to it on your own, with no judgment or direction.
That’s okay, and is needed in some areas of life. But you do need someone (or a few someones) who will actually give you advice – and then it’s up to you whether you take it.
I remember a significant, major issue in my business at one point that I went to Paul about. I was quite relieved after much hassle to get to a potential solution and I shared it with him.
After I finished telling him, he said quietly and said nothing. (Saying nothing can be quite revealing.) “What?” I asked. “Don’t you think that’s a good solution?” He said, “Well, I can see why it’s appealing, but have you thought about this?” and presented me with a future option that could appear in five or ten or more years, and I suddenly saw the whole thing differently. “It’s your call, and your business,” he said, and I knew that he meant it.
If I had gone with that decision he would have supported and helped me through it. But his perspective changed mine, and as it turns out he was absolutely right – I would have had a lot more trouble, and a lot more pain and financial cost in my business and life – if I had gone with the original solution I was considering.
Start now to build relationships with people who can be mentors in your life. It may be a formal, official, paid position, or it may simply be someone (or a combination of someones) whose experience can help benefit you.