An increasing number of accountancy firms are hiring business coaches to help them achieve their financial and personal goals. So how does it work?
Business owners know that when the pressure is on it can be difficult to service clients and also focus on growing the business. Sometimes outside help is the answer.
Gary Keating has been a leading business coach for more than 25 years and his company ActionCOACH Bristol has accountancy firm clients. He also advises lawyers and independent financial advisors who he says have similar challenges.
“Many people running accounting firms just see themselves as being in a job,” he said. “They have not thought properly about where they want to be in five years’ time. They do not have a proper vision beyond thinking they will sell their book or be bought out.”
He adds that although accountants work with entrepreneurs, they do not consider themselves to be such creative business people. They may have dreams of buying a yacht, working a two-day week or retiring, but their current business and financial model means such a future is a fantasy.
“A business coach would work with you on a five-year plan and assess how your current financial situation aligns with your life goals. Often someone is at full capacity and putting so many hours into the business they are not spending enough time on the business.”
So, what is the answer?
Keating says accountants need to work to the clock and not the activity they are being asked to do.
This means improving their time management by focusing on what is important but not urgent and ensuring that if they are busy they are working on things that will help them achieve their aims.
“The secret is to prioritise what will get you closer to your five-year goal,” said Keating. “Accountants, like lawyers, do not make good entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs run their business as if they are going on holiday every Friday – until they are.”
Andrew Bunn works for the Launchpad Programme and advises businesses, particularly start-ups. He says no business owner should be afraid to ask for coaching advice.
“It can also be helpful to consult member organisations such as the Federation of Small Business and your local Chamber of Commerce. Both organisations provide a wealth of useful resources for business owners,” he said.
The role of a good coach is to provide real-world advice and a fresh perspective on the issues facing a business. Many accountants talk about working to live, but if their professional and personal lives are not aligned the reverse is almost certainly true.
Accountants need a strategic plan to grow their business and achieve their goals.
Many firms are built on referrals, but this is not always the route to success because the quality of clients being referred may not be as good as the ones a firm already has.
A good coach would get a business owner to work on all several areas of the business at the same time. For example:
Lead generation: What are you doing to get leads and what is your conversion rate? Find a method that plays to your strengths. Maybe you are great at networking and meeting people at events? Do this rather than being in the office working on something that could be delegated.
Be confident about your pricing: Accountants can be terrible at putting up their prices because they fear they will lose clients. A business coach will boost your confidence in this area by advising on how many clients you might lose if you raise your prices by, say,10%. The reality is you would not lose that many because clients tend to be loyal. Also, undertake some competitor research to see where your pricing sits in the local market.
Boost your number of transactions: One key to business growth is making more money from existing clients by upselling. If you are asked to set up a new company ask the client if they might also want help with their tax? Would they prefer to work with a junior or a senior partner?
Grow your own gross margin: Accountants can be poor at studying their own accounts and looking at where they could cut costs to improve their gross margin.
The idea of coaching is having another pair of eyes – a professional who can help you identify strengths and opportunities, set clearer goals and accelerate results. Often this requires a change in thinking.
Coaching made me think differently
Sara Whitton is co-director of cloud accountancy firm My Management Accountant and says working with a business coach has helped her to think differently.
She and her business partner Martin Brown meet regularly with The Alternative Board (TAB), a specialist company providing coaching and mentoring support.
“I quickly realised that I could be very single-minded when it came to the business,” she said. “Now if we have issues with staff I can focus on alternative thinking. Coaching has improved my leadership skills because I can use different tactics to get people to adapt to change, for example.”
TAB also provides peer board support which means Sara can see how other businesses are experiencing similar challenges and share advice.
She is now focusing on the business and not just the work she has to do.
“Our vision is much clearer and we can communicate it to the wider team. The coaches have helped us fill any gaps and find alternative ways to cope when, for example, there is no spare cash around to solve a problem.”
She cites the example of recruitment and on-boarding which have been difficult.
“We identified other resources and looked at who within the business could be trained to do something that was not being done.”
So, will she continue to use business coaches?
“Yes, but we always change the type of coaching we have based on the requirement of the business at a particular time. A good coach will understand your needs and adapt.”
The sceptic who turned his business around
Paul Light is Managing Director of Lite Tax in Bristol and was sceptical about business coaching before he began working with Gary Keating at ActionCOACH.
“I thought I knew how to do things and bringing in a coach looked expensive, like having another member of staff,” he said. “But I can honestly say he has turned the business around.”
Light says turnover and profits have doubled over the four years he has worked with a coach and he is currently working on his next five-year plan.
“We were just going about our business but Gary got us thinking more about sales and marketing, so I started to concentrate on that.”
He added: “He has also become a listening post for me because there is illness in the family and I need to make sure the business keeps ticking over if I have to take time out.”
Light meets his coach every Thursday from 0830-10 am. Over the past year, the sessions have been via Zoom, but face-to-face coaching has restarted.
“I am 60 next year and my vision is to get it to a stage where I can come into work two or three times a week if I want to and look after my family.”
Where to find a business coach:
There are online resources such as Find a Business Coach , but it is advisable to ask your network for recommendations. You could talk to your local Chamber of Commerce or put a message on LinkedIn.
Steve Hemsley Is a journalist, media trainer, and podcast presenter. .