Thoughts on Accounting Web’s Practice Excellence Conference #PEP15

This week I had the opportunity to be part of the AccountingWeb Practice Excellence Conference #PEP15, as a speaker and a judge.


Here’s what was covered on the day, and why it matters to your accountancy firm:

Live events are back.

There was a spell of time there when everyone pulled back from attending live events – not only accountants, but business owners in general.

As a business who provides marketing for accountancy firms, we’ve noticed a significant upswing in live events – both in the desire of the accountant to hold them, and in the desire of business owners to attend them.

This does not mean that the virtual event, or social media, or digital marketing are falling out of favour. Far from it.  Rather, all of these elements are coming together so that events are promoted, discussed, and directed digitally both before and after the event itself. In some ways, the event is the easiest part. It’s the prep and follow-up that takes all the time.

The encouraging part for you, the accountant, is that if you decide to run a live event, you’ll likely get a better result than you would have several years ago.

Social makes your event better.

The top two social media engines for accountants – Twitter and LinkedIn – will see you in good stead if you really want to get more out of it in the long run. Here’s what I suggest after the event (since it’s over now!):

  • Follow the speakers and sponsors that you met on Twitter. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Ideally you’ll do it as you’re going along at the event, but if you didn’t do it yesterday, take 10 minutes and do it now.
  • Share ideas and ask questions. This is called “engagement”. Accountants have a bad habit of using social media solely tell people things. Make sure you’re asking, learning, and receiving, too.
  • Upload photos. If you took any photos, upload them and tag the person, company, speaker, etc. Remember to use the hashtag #PEP15.
  • Start checking Twitter daily on your phone. This is an incredibly easy way to build relationships, which can lead to new business over time. (Note the important phrase, ‘over time’, which means you are not pushy-selling. You are just getting to know people.)
  • Consider a personal Twitter account. If you have a company Twitter, that’s a great start. But sometimes you get better connections when people can link to you personally. I particularly noticed a huge upswing in opportunities when I created @karenlreyburn and started using it, and letting the team manage @ProfitableFirm.
  • Prepare for your next event. Wherever you’re going next, check the hashtag, speakers, and attendees, and start now – you’ll get more in the end.

“Business advisory” is more important than ever.

Most of you have woken up to this already, but what we’ve known for years as ‘business advisory’ is no longer a bonus extra. Because of the changing nature of the accounting industry, what your clients and future clients want is practical, supportive, results-based advice.

Business advisory is what I call ‘the fun part’ of accounting.  It’s what almost every client of mine wants more of – the strategy, the profitability discussions, the what-if scenarios. The part where you take the data and discuss what it means in a real-life scenario, seeing business owners hire more people and buy new offices and expand into new markets.

The session I delivered alongside Andrew Rhodes from Sobell Rhodes addressed this, and it was particularly useful to hear Andrew’s thoughts on business advisory after years of delivering it successfully in his own firm.  It was encouraging to see that our thoughts and experiences in the arena of business advisory dovetailed so well.

Here are a few of the key points:

  • Business advisory can be a seriously misunderstood word, and it covers a great deal of ground – ‘anything other than compliance’ seemed to be a common theme!
  • Think about your clients – their issues and problems – not just “how to sell more advisory”
  • Structuring your advisory work is imperative. The better you structure it, the more efficient you are, which means it’s more profitable.
  • There’s no point in getting more advisory work if it’s not scalable and profitable.
  • Consider a ‘taster session’ to help the business owner see the value of an advisory session. Andrew’s are called ‘Energiser Sessions’.

“Growth” is more than just numbers.

As I was judging some of the entries for the Practice Excellence Awards, it became swiftly apparent that many accountancy firms are still interpreting ‘business growth’ as more turnover. More sales. More clients. More numbers.

That is a part of growth. But the best kind of growth – the longest lasting kind – is that which integrates far more than just a good balance sheet.

True growth as an accountancy firm includes taking care of your team as well as your clients. Being truly innovative – not grabbing a Xero Certified Advisor logo and sticking it on your website, but coming up with new niches. New avenues and angles. Creating cool design. Running swish events.

Huge congrats to Sharon Pocock and the team from Kinder Pocock who took home the award for Practice Growth of the Year 2015. Sharon’s a truly lovely person, and what encourages me so much about her win is that her growth has gone out in many varied ways, as I mentioned above. Not just the numbers.

Consistent content marketing IS the key.


My absolute favourite part of the whole day was in the breakout session featuring @DrinkMoorBeer, a brewer of beer who was there to talk about what he gets from his accountant, and how it’s valuable to him.

John Stokdyk asked him, “So when you were thinking of changing accountants a few years ago, what process did you go through? Did you do the ‘beauty parade’ and get presentations in?”

The term ‘beauty parade’ caused me to hark back to the days, many years ago now, when I worked with an accountancy firm in Scotland. Back then it was standard for those looking for a new accountant to essentially interview potential firms – to sit back and listen while they made a presentation of some kind.

Justin’s response was, “No, they were sending us helpful information, and they kept inviting us to seminars. We had gone to a few of these, but the next time we went along and had the opportunity to get to know them.”

I was thrilled to hear this – because it’s a confirmation from someone who is not an accountant – or a marketer! – telling you that this is how your future clients make their decision.

Send helpful information, and invite them to connect with you. And be patient.

Successful firms implement their ideas immediately.

Attending a conference of this sort can feel inspiring. Motivating. Exciting.

And it used to be that we would be full of great ideas after a conference, and then the next morning in the office the daily work would intrude, and the ideas would slowly dwindle in the mind.

But now that happens before you’re even back at the office.

You’re taking phone calls at the event. Sending emails in a spare thirty seconds between sessions.  Worrying about that new client, or that long-term project, while you’re staring at a speaker and pretending to listen.

The best thing you can do after a conference like this is to implement something. Anything. You don’t have to implement it perfectly (see my related post, “Not perfect but done”), and you don’t need to implement all your ideas, but you do need to change something.

This point is not new. Most of the speakers will have said it to you, and you thought, “Yes, I know, I know…”, while typing out a quick reply to that new prospect.

But I will leave you with this: the accountancy firms that I see succeeding – and growing in the truest sense, which I mentioned earlier in this post – are the ones who make a change quickly.

My suggestion is that you choose the item which has been ‘hanging around’ in your mind the longest.

  • Been thinking of switching from SAGE to Xero? Not just for a few clients, but for your whole firm, including your own firm finances? Email a Xero account manager today.
  • Keep putting off that new website? Contact your marketing person – or the Profitable Firm! – and put the wheels in motion. (Hint: Be prepared to either spend several thousand pounds, or invest months of time by yourself or a marketing manager.)
  • Mulling over that new tagline or brand? Arrange a meeting with the branding identity experts. (If you don’t know any, ask me.)
  • Still deciding whether to hire that tax expert, or personal assistant, or outsourcer? Just go for it. There will never be a perfect time.
  • Not sure how to charge for management accounts? Try a new approach with your next client, and see how it works. Then adjust if necessary, and do it again.

For those who were there with me, I trust that you not only took away a head or notebook full of ideas, but are already implementing one of them.

As always, let me know how I can help.