As an accounting firm coach, consultant and mentor, most of you know I’m constantly looking at the world through the eyes of my accounting firm clients and looking for ideas wherever I go. A recent experience with Matt the tree guy provided a great reminder about some things I reckon accountants can and should be consistently doing.

Kate and I had decided that the ageing Avocado tree in our backyard had to go for a whole range of reasons I won’t bore you with. As is standard operating procedure with most people, we did an internet search to find a few possible people to do the removal. I found a couple who felt like a good match and one of them was Matt’s company. From what I can see he runs this small business with his wife and based on my experience does a great job.

So here are some things Matt did that accountants should do too:

  1. He scoped the job up front and provided a fixed price based on that
    It didn’t take him long – five minutes in the backyard and he had what he needed to give me a fixed price. That small investment of time meant there weren’t going to be any surprises for either of us. We had an agreed fee for an agreed scope of work.

    Like Matt, you are an expert at what you do. It doesn’t take long to scope most jobs so you know what is required. Some accountants seem to worry about getting this wrong. Sometimes you probably will but not often and the impact is unlikely to be big. So no excuses – invest a bit of time up front to get the scope clear and agreed and fix a fee for that scope of work.

  2. He did exactly what he said he would do
    He gave me a date and time, and estimate of how long he’d take. It unfolded exactly as he described. Three hours after starting we were delighted with the result. He and his team worked efficiently and with great skill.

    If you tell me the work will be completed in two weeks then you must complete it in two weeks. In a recent article on learning from Appliances Online I was pushing accountants to think about how to speed up delivery.

  3. He had well trained people and the right tools to do the job
    Matt had a couple of other people on his team and it was obvious that each had a different role and each was clear about what he or she was responsible for. Plus he had what looked like exactly the right equipment for the job. This included chainsaws, harnesses and ropes, a custom stump grinder and an industrial strength wood chipper which was astonishing in its ability to turn tree limbs into chips at a very rapid pace.

    I’ve long said accountants could benefit from more time training their team members on “how we do things around here”. This is the application of technical and other knowledge to get each job done your firm’s way. This is exactly what Matt had done with his team. They also had great tools which in the case of accountants should be top notch hardware and software and the appropriate guidance materials. Again, there is an investment to be made here but in my experience it pays great dividends.

  4. He had a plan to do things in the right order.
    Taking the tree out was not straight forward as it was an large tree with quite a lot of limbs and some of them were well over a neighbour’s fence. But Matt had a plan as to the correct order for the removal of limbs. This was critical as he needed to be in the tree and stand on or hang off limbs to do his work. Plus there were other preparatory tasks to be completed first so as to be ready. If he got the order wrong it would have been very hard indeed. While Matt was going over the plan in his head his colleagues were doing the necessary preparation. The right person doing the right thing at the right time was very much on display.

A key part of doing things in the right order for accountants (after the scope and fee have been agreed) is making sure you have what you need from the client before you start the job. I still hear of way too many firms just jumping in to start the work without first checking that they have what they need. Inevitably they don’t and inevitably it’s hello again to pick up put down and WIP write offs. It doesn’t have to be this way if you do things in the right order!

  1. He billed on completion and was immediately paid
    Matt made it clear that the agreed fee would be invoiced and due on completion. His wife generated the invoice from her mobile device while standing in our driveway and I made the payment. Easy! Matt didn’t ask for a deposit, and I forgot to ask why. He probably figured it was just additional admin.

    Matt doesn’t have debtors because his clients pay on the spot and there is really no reason why you can’t do the same. I’ve written about this many times. One common option is to take 50% up front and 50% on completion (that’s what my accountant does). Another is to have a direct debit to a bank account or credit card on a monthly basis for the agreed fee. If you have debtor days more than 10 then I reckon you need to change how you work.

So there you have it – five great ideas from Matt the tree guy.

  1. Scope the job upfront and agree a fixed for the agreed scope
  2. Do what you say you will do
  3. Train your people well and give them the right tools to use
  4. Have a plan you follow to do things in the right order – right task done by the right person at the right time
  5. Bill no later than on completion for immediate payment

Do these things and you will have gone a long way to having happy clients and making a good profit for yourself. What’s not to like!