Sean Farnell from his six office firm Burgis & Bullock talks about how the number of contacts between himself and his team has directly impacted on the productivity of his firm.
Sean also talks about the importance and now the expectations clients have on the volume of contact between his team and the team within those business owner clients.
Hope you enjoy the podcast.
" Since lockdown in March we now have daily team meetings, which we didn't do previously and that's been really interesting and really useful as well,
Quite empowering, I think for both the team and myself. Productivity has actually gone up through, through lockdown.
It's a bit bizarre, but it is brilliant."
Connect with Sean Farnell
TRANSCRIPT - unedited
[00:00:00] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:00] Welcome to the humanized, the numbers podcast, series leaders, managers, and owners of ambitious accounting firms, sharing insights, successes, and issues that will challenge you and connect you and your firm to the ways and means of transforming your firms results. Cause since
[00:00:20] Sean Farnell: [00:00:20] lockdown, or since, since March, we now have daily team meetings, which we didn't do previously really.
[00:00:26]and that's been, been really interesting, really useful as well, quite empowering, I think for both, both the team and myself, as far as productivity is concerned, productivity has actually gone up through, through lockdown. But, we actually, it is, it's a bit bizarre, but it is brilliant.
[00:00:40] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:40] Have you ever wondered if you'd get greater productivity from your team, if you had more contacts with your team on it?
[00:00:47] Weekly or possibly even a daily basis. Well, Sean Farnell from Burgess and Bullock on this podcast interview talks about how the number of contacts between him and his team has directly impacted on the [00:01:00] productivity of his firm. Sean also talks about the importance and now the expectations clients have on the volume of contact between his team and the team within those business owner clients.
[00:01:13] Let's dive into that podcast interview with Sean final. Now. Really excited to welcome Sean, final to human eyes, that dumbass podcast on welcome. Thank you very much for taking time out today and joining us and to kick off with, would you give us an insight into who Burgess and polar car please? And your role in that and a little bit about your team and your customer base, if you would.
[00:01:36] Sean Farnell: [00:01:36] Sure. Thank you, Paul. Nice to be with you too. So Buddhists and Bullock is a regional firm of accountants. We have six offices based primarily across the Midlands across work share. what, while we were three active partners, eight partners, and approximately 65 team members, long established. You could say we're a fairly traditional firm in a lot of senses.
[00:01:57] So we've been around for 135 years now. [00:02:00] do full service, full service, regional firms, as you would expect. So the only thing that we don't do for businesses is, liquidations, insolvency, but everything else from sort of birth through to growth, through to, exit.
[00:02:12] Paul Shrimpling: [00:02:12] Right. So, now I know we, we worked a little bit together, a good number of years ago when there was three offices.
[00:02:19] So, moved on a tad since we were last, interacting with each other. How do you, how do you, make a, six office firm feel like it's a. Human place to work, you know, it's, it's that, that connectivity pieces, as opposed to it being, disparate, you know, corporate style business, what what's going on to ensure that, it feels human.
[00:02:40] Sean Farnell: [00:02:40] That that's. Yeah, that's, that's actually really easy. See, all you do is yes, you, as you grow, you continue to work and operate and deal with people in the same way that you always have done. I think, with your a sole practitioner with two members of staff, or whether you're a multi office, multi-partner, 50, 60, 70 member team.
[00:02:58] If you deal with people, [00:03:00] as people, as you speak to clients, you speak to team, you speak to contacts as human beings and you have fat. Yeah. Casual. Yeah. Professional relationship, but it doesn't matter how big you are. I mean, a wise man once said to me, you know, it doesn't matter the size. It's just an extra North on the end of a number.
[00:03:15] Paul Shrimpling: [00:03:15] Yeah. Very good. Very good. So it's, it's just, people are, people doesn't matter about levels. It's just that they are who, who, who they are. w w w what about, working with those people in such a way that, they embrace change? Is that got easier as you've got bigger or has it got harder as you've got bigger as a firm?
[00:03:35] Sean Farnell: [00:03:35] Killer question. I would be lying if I said it, it got easier. Right? I don't think it's necessarily got any harder though. I think the human condition is one that we, or most people naturally resist change. There are, they are suspicious of change. fortunately, or unfortunately for my funding partners and team, I'm not one of those I like change.
[00:03:56] I always have to, I've always embraced it and you'll know we've, we've known each other for quite a number [00:04:00] of years now, but. What you have to realize. And I think what I've realized as I've got older and as the firm has developed that everybody is different. So some people's motivations will be completely different to your own, just because I can see something as being really easy and obvious doesn't mean that the rest of the team or individuals within that team will necessarily do so.
[00:04:18] So. The answer to your question. This one hasn't really got any more difficult, but it hasn't got any easier.
[00:04:22] Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:22] Right. Okay. Okay. So it's, it's the, the challenge isn't associated with the number of people or the scale of number of offices. It's just hard. Cause you're saying it's an intrinsic part of who people are or be it some a different you're different.
[00:04:36] Sean Farnell: [00:04:36] Yeah, exactly. People are people, you know, and we're all weird in our own little ways.
[00:04:41]Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:41] I couldn't possibly comment. Sure.
[00:04:46] Sean Farnell: [00:04:46] the, the,
[00:04:48] Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:48] tell me about, in, in, in given the nature of your firm, what is it that's, exciting you and your fellow partners about the profession at this moment in time? Or if you want to [00:05:00] take a longer-term perspective over the last, you know, and I'm trying to avoid a pandemic lockdown and all of that, but what's exciting you about the profession and your role within it?
[00:05:10] Sean Farnell: [00:05:10] I think, I think what gets me out of bed in the morning is that one word, again, it is changed. We live in unprecedented times and it's not. Just because of the pandemic. Although the pandemic in some bizarre ways has actually helped the accounting profession to face up to the changes that have been coming for the last 20, 30, 60 years or so.
[00:05:30]and I'm talking about the challenges around things like technology around things, for example, knowledge being much broadly shared. Then it was 20, 30 years ago before the internet. If you wanted to know a piece of tax legislation, you would have to go and see an accountant and wait a week in the reception area and then pay a fee for having that conversation.
[00:05:50] Whereas, today, all we do is pop along to professor Google and those types of things in, and you've got an answer now. That is both a serious challenge to the profession [00:06:00] and it is a serious challenge to the profession, but it's also a real opportunity to the profession as well. I think, you know, the old adage of a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
[00:06:07] It's absolutely true. And, and, I don't see Google as any different to the man in the pub. Who the made in the public always had an answer for whatever the question was that that your client would be asking them it back in the, you know, seventies, eighties, nineties is now just Google. And yes, that answer might be right, but the likelihood is there's no nuance attached to that.
[00:06:26] And that's where I see the profession really sort of earned it gets caught in, in the future. So, so. I change is good. I like change any, any profession, any business, any individuals who don't change are, are asking for trouble. The rate of change has really accelerated over the last or particularly over the last 12 months.
[00:06:45] But I would say probably looking over the last five years, it's it's really sort of taken off from a technology perspective, but I see that as giving us many more opportunities to be what accountants have always said, that they are, I [00:07:00] E. Partners with their business clients, rather than just somebody who gives a bit of advice and, you know, expects a fee at the end of it.
[00:07:08]and that in itself is a challenge, as I say, both for both for firms and for individuals. So
[00:07:13] Paul Shrimpling: [00:07:13] you, you're talking about the move from maybe a, a transactional way of doing businesses and accounting firm to one, which is a relationship driven piece.
[00:07:22] Sean Farnell: [00:07:22] Yeah. And that's not going to be wrong. Yes. But, but the accountant client relationship has always been very much relationship driven.
[00:07:29] Good firms of accountants have always had people in them that that can build relationships on a personal level. Now they might not then want to take that relationship further than just that transactional piece. But I think that's been a real strength of the profession. I mean, you know, 30 plus years that I've been in it, I've met some really, really brilliant accountants who are really, really nice, you know, men and women, I met one or two and it has been one or two that would fit that archetype Paul Gray man in a gray suit sort of image that we are the John, please, please issue.
[00:08:00] [00:08:00] That might be, I don't know whether that's because the profession as a whole is genuinely made up of good people who are good communicators or whether it's just because the people that aren't sit behind their desk and I never get to meet them. So I'm not quite sure, but I think on the whole. The profession is all about relationship building.
[00:08:16] And it always has been when you say that, but
[00:08:20] Paul Shrimpling: [00:08:20] I I'm challenged by that. I agree the profession is full of good people and, you know, with good communication skills. But I I've been into too many firms where we've looked at the, the average number of meetings discussions between the accountancy firm and the client.
[00:08:36] And the average comes out at about 1.2 meetings a year. Across, you know, and I've been into dozens of firms, and it's, and as much as, yes, that's a, an annual relationship, you know, if we see each other once a year, over seven years, you're going to build the relationship as opposed to, you're not think there's even more pressure than now for that to become, you know, two or three or four or more times a year because of the, the, the, the professor [00:09:00] Google to use your phrase, actually, you know, creating arguably more uncertainty and therefore the need for having that professional.
[00:09:09] Contact, deeper, and therefore more regular relationship. Do you think there's this, this D are you feeling as a firm that pressure to have more dialogue with more clients more often?
[00:09:19] Sean Farnell: [00:09:19] Not yet. it's, it's a route we've been traveling down for quite a number of years now, 10 plus years is to, is to have that different level of relationship with our clients and to be offering a slightly different service on top of the compliant service.
[00:09:33] You know, I think compliance work. Isn't dead.
[00:09:36] I vividly remember it partner's meeting. It'd be about 15 years ago now where we, we sort of came to the conclusion that within 10 years, at that point in time, there wouldn't be a single fee for doing the personal tax return. They would all have gotten, and here we are now 15 years on and we're still doing it.
[00:09:50] You're still getting, yeah, maybe, maybe less than we did 15 years ago, but we've still got plenty of them. And it's still an important source of income to, to every firm. Yes. [00:10:00] I think that the, that, that shift is changing slowly. I think possibly the accounting profession has tried to drive that before necessarily businesses were ready for that.
[00:10:11] I think there's a perception issue. And, I remember some years ago and Paul you're probably remember this. I was up at Durham university and we did an exercise with a group of other accountants and some local business owners. And one of the things that we did is we asked the business owners to tell us what they thought of accountants.
[00:10:28] And tell us what, what our range of services were, you know, and we're all sort of thinking, well, we've got a range of services that's as wide as mine. Oh
[00:10:35] Paul Shrimpling: [00:10:35] yeah. 43. Yeah.
[00:10:37] Sean Farnell: [00:10:37] Yeah. That's right. As a business owner to say it's sort of shoe box size. And in the end, every business owner, every man and woman said it would fit into a matchbox.
[00:10:44] And that really shocked me. That really surprised me, that I knew there was a perception gap, but I didn't realize it was quite that big. Yeah. So I think the profession has probably been trying to, or many of us within the profession has probably been trying to move into that more sort of consultative relationship, regular [00:11:00] meeting, ethos with, with all of our business clients before many of the business clients have been ready for that.
[00:11:05] However, that is definitely changing, certainly over the last three or four years now, we're starting to find that more of the new businesses, whether they're startups or whether they're businesses moving to us are asking for that. Increased contact are asking for that greater relationship. And of course come 2022 making tax digital comes in.
[00:11:25] That's a complete game changer again. Mm.
[00:11:29] Paul Shrimpling: [00:11:29] So what, what do you think is differentiating those younger business owners wanting more contact as opposed to the older crusty ones wanting less contact?
[00:11:36] Sean Farnell: [00:11:36] I think it's as simple as habit. To be honest, Paul, I think a lot of the older business owners have had that relationship where they maybe met their accountant use at 1.2 times per annum.
[00:11:46] And that's probably a point to more than most accounts I was being generous.
[00:11:54] So the annual contact where all you do is you see your accountant as a cost center. And it was, it is a necessary evil. I've [00:12:00] got to have one set of accounts repaired. I've got to have an audit, I've got to do my tax returns, whatever it might be. And really all I'm interested in is what's the tax number and that's the relationship.
[00:12:08] Right. And I think there has been. A good number of generations you think back pre nineties. Certainly that was very much the way that the majority of the profession was run and the majority of businesses would expect that you're going to go to the next part of my once said. And, and, there was a newspaper article in those days.
[00:12:27]you know, a visit to the accountant is very much seen like a visit to the dentist. So, you know, you, it's something you don't look forward to, you know, it's going to be painful while you're there. And at the end you get a big bill. And I think that traditional mindset, within some of the older business owners, whereas the younger ones and gentlemen, not necessarily younger people, but newer businesses is probably the safer way of saying it can see the benefit in having that more consultative, more open flowing dialogue with their professional advisors.
[00:12:57] Paul Shrimpling: [00:12:57] Well, I'm still wondering what is it? That's dragging that [00:13:00] though. If it's not an age thing, they're a newer business. Is it the fact that we're in a more tech savvy world and therefore, that's, there's, there's more uncertainty attached to that and therefore they want more advice. What do you, what do you think that's about?
[00:13:13] Sean Farnell: [00:13:13] I think there's two things I think, yes, to a degree there is more, we are much more tech savvy tech savvy, so we expect to be able to get answers to things quicker. And if that means I've got to speak to somebody or WhatsApp them or email them or whatever it is, And it's my accountant, then, then that's what I do.
[00:13:29] Yeah. I also think, I was listening to a podcast actually just at lunchtime when I was outside of run. And it was Emil Heskey
[00:13:35] Paul Shrimpling: [00:13:35] talking and the car Sean was that,
[00:13:37] Sean Farnell: [00:13:37] no, I wasn't on a run. Got my legs out and everything. I know, I know looking at me, you wouldn't think it was too, but it did happen. Honestly. I couldn't resist.
[00:13:47] I couldn't resist. So it was Emil Husky was talking about, the way that society has changed since he started as a, as a young footballer, and the problems that he'd had sort of sort of depression and, and, racial [00:14:00] inequality and all.
[00:14:01] Paul Shrimpling: [00:14:01] Yeah, love it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:14:03] Sean Farnell: [00:14:03] And, and the fact that.
[00:14:05] Conversations would had in those days, you know, you couldn't say to somebody, I feel depressed or I feel a bit, you know, I'm alone and whatever. Cause you'd have been seen as weak and you wouldn't have got in the team. Whereas today it's almost expected that you have those conversations. And I think that psychological shift has been a societal Shaq, psychological shift.
[00:14:21] So newer businesses are expecting to be able to share the facts. But, you know, I've got a challenge here, you know, it's the somebody that can help me or, you know, am I doing this right? Or is this really such a stupid idea? And then that's where the conversations that we're having now. All right.
[00:14:35] Paul Shrimpling: [00:14:35] I thought that's interesting.
[00:14:37]so, so if we, if we take that on the chin around this, there's a, there is a societal shift towards, more conversations that there's more merit was more openness and maybe more candidness as well. And you look at, you know, the movements like black lives matter, where all of a sudden there's a conversation taking place that didn't.
[00:14:55] And thank goodness for that, XRP and another one, I guess, in terms of the environment and this [00:15:00] there's those sorts of shifts, but I just want to take that and go a lot. W we talked about humanizing the numbers and there is this shift towards more conversations, newer businesses wanting more interaction.
[00:15:10]how has that influenced the numbers that you track and measure in Burgess, Burgess and Bullock? To prove to demonstrate, to hold people, to account the fact there are more conversations meant to happen and therefore they do. How, how are you tracking and measuring that?
[00:15:24] Sean Farnell: [00:15:24] Are we still challenged on that one?
[00:15:25] Paul, I'll be brutally honest with you. Right? so we actually task our guys, our guys and girls to have conversations with clients at times when the clients hasn't instigated them. you know, so we, we said, well, they said there's a couple of us. Yeah. I am old enough to be of the generation that, you know, we were, we were sort of pre email and all the rest of it.
[00:15:44] So if you wanted to go and see a client, you either picked up the phone or you popped in and saw them. So if we were out and about visiting a client where there was another one on the way home, we'd generally get pop in and see them on an app. And it was amazing how. That quickly builds up a relationship and how often those [00:16:00] visits visits result in, you know, you just have a cup of tea and a chat and you end up with a piece of work at the end of it as well.
[00:16:04]that's an ethos that I think particularly some of the younger members of the team struggle with. and, and. Talking. I think some of the young people find quite difficult to talk. I think texting and emailing is second nature, but actually picking a phone or speaking face-to-face is a little bit more of a challenge.
[00:16:20] So I'll be brutally honest with you. It's a KPI that we're trying to implement, but we haven't quite got a handle on how we would do that in a way that was fair to each of the individuals fair to the team, and yet open, open for the, for the broader. BNB. So if you've got any ideas on that, I'd be glad to hear them
[00:16:38] Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:38] well, and it's not just a person bullet thing.
[00:16:40] It isn't a profession thing, but it's interesting talking to firms about, CRM, customer relationship management software, because it it's, there's seems to be more of an appetite for that dialogue in order to record and therefore measure. The number of interactions between team members and clients.
[00:16:56]but actually th th the issue there though, is, can you, [00:17:00] can you, it's what, it's that easy to open a piece of, you know, install a piece of software or install a new cloud app, but actually we're still back to your comment earlier about how do you get people to habitualize habitually make a record of the fact they've had a conversation.
[00:17:15] Yeah. But, in terms of trying to respond to your request for help, if then you track and measure the number of calls. That is a captured in the CRM and those number of calls per client bank show up in an appraisal then, and, or in the, activity numbers for the week. Cause I'm I'm of the view that, unless we track and measure numbers on a weekly basis, you ain't going to get any sort of habitual.
[00:17:45] Buy-in because every, every one of us dress back to our old habits, that's just the science of habit. They've, you know, the, the mile in our brains has just been so hard, wired that we'll always drift back to doing what we've always done, in terms of installing a new [00:18:00] habit, then it's, you've got to have something that triggers a discussion triggers that habit on it.
[00:18:05] Daily or weekly basis. And what's neat about an accounting firm. And certainly when I look at all the firms, I work with the firms that have grasped whole heartedly. The fact that the rhythm of businesses every week, not every month. And there's a, there's a process of tracking and measuring two or three or four KPIs every week without fail.
[00:18:27] They're the ones that gain the shift, gain the habitual buy-in and it's, you know, if you've got a target number for the number of meetings or zoom calls with a client, EV with clients each week, per person, per manager or whatever, then. The KPI drives the accountability, which drives the nurturing of the new habit, which drives the recording, recording it in the CRM.
[00:18:50] So maybe that's, that's the piece that, has to be taken that that number has to be taken as seriously as the volume of billing done that week.
[00:18:58] Sean Farnell: [00:18:58] Yes. Yes. [00:19:00] It makes a lot of sense. So we have our challenges around CRMs. We've had two or three CRMs, I think in the 20 odd years that I've been at this firm and each one of them has fallen flat on its face through a lack of people, actively using information into it.
[00:19:13] Yeah. So there's a little bit of a reluctance, CRM route again, I think. Having that as a, I could actually do it as a daily KPI because since lockdown, or since, since March, we now have daily team meetings, which we didn't do previously. Right. and that's been, been really interesting, really useful as well, quite empowering, I think for, for both, both the team and myself.
[00:19:33] So quite an easy thing for me to do with just that at the start or the end of those meetings, just to have a review of who each individual has spoken to and who they've initiated the. The conversations with, as opposed to the other way round
[00:19:45] Paul Shrimpling: [00:19:45] as it being a responsive one. Yeah. And it's, and that that's it's if you, the, the science of habit, which is captured brilliantly in a book by a guy called Charles Duhigg, and, and he talks about there's.
[00:19:59] If you look carefully [00:20:00] enough, you'll find a key stone. trigger the Keystone habit. And that D daily team meeting is the source of that I think, in, in, in your firm. and yeah, you bolt it onto something that's already working. The chances are you'll, you'll bring an appreciation that that's as important as anything else in the firm.
[00:20:17]Sean Farnell: [00:20:17] and it enables us to give that consistency of approach then as well. Doesn't it?
[00:20:21] Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:21] If it shows up in everyone absolutely does. Yeah. Yeah. So daily team meetings now, that's, that's humanizing workflow. Isn't it. If you checking in with everyone in the team every day, presumably that's not you checking in with everyone in every six office.
[00:20:38]so do you have an agenda for that?
[00:20:40] Sean Farnell: [00:20:40] We have a loose agenda for it. We don't have a written agenda it's sort of developed over. Probably over the first couple of weeks back in March.
[00:20:46] Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:46] Yeah. but,
[00:20:47] Sean Farnell: [00:20:47] but yes, so effectively what we do is we, we always have, you know, just a bit of niceties at the start. Yeah.
[00:20:52] And then we run through each individual. What work they're doing on that tape, what challenges they've got for for the day. And then we have an open session where we [00:21:00] look at, challenges, problems, issues, and questions that they can either bounce between themselves as a team, or they can ask me. And obviously I respond as, as appropriate.
[00:21:09] And that's part of the wrap-up if something's changed. So if there's been a new piece of legislation or a new announcement where the furloughs changed or something along those lines, then I'll use that as an opportunity to prove the team. Before we sent out a written documentation that goes out to clients and goes on the web.
[00:21:23] Paul Shrimpling: [00:21:23] Okay. So, I've had pushback on this because what I'm seeing Sean is across all the firms that have worked with the firms that have instigated much more team contact team interaction. Over this year, 2020 are the ones that have actually succeeded more than the ones who've done less. No, it's it's as plain as the nose on the face that, that, that works.
[00:21:46] And when I get pushed back from the firms who aren't doing it go, now that just feels a little bit too intense, uses up too much. Management time feels a bit like big brother that we're watching them every day. Tell me how, how have your team responded to that? Daily, [00:22:00] 1984 style. Check-in
[00:22:04] Sean Farnell: [00:22:04] it's only 1984 from the perspective of the clothes that I wear during the meetings.
[00:22:11] But no, it's not big brother. It's an opportunity for them to discuss what they're doing, whether they've got any issues. Yes. Don't get me wrong. Obviously I am keeping tabs on who's doing what and how jobs are progressing, but, but it's, we're not going into the nitty-gritty. You know, somebody says to me, And no I'm going to do this job today.
[00:22:29]and then they're still doing it tomorrow when they're still doing it the day after. Well, that's fine until he gets to a point at which he might go, well, you know, are you having some issues with this? And then they'll share that with a wider team. It's no different as if we were all sitting in the office, people would naturally have those conversations, obviously being remote.
[00:22:45] Remote working, you haven't got that same level of, banter sharing, communication. So the team meetings is a real opportunity to do that. We've never done it. It's never been set up from the perspective of this is big brother looking to check up on you to make sure you're [00:23:00] do what you're doing. And we've been quite open with the guys as well.
[00:23:02] We sort of said right from the start look, you're working from home. We know, things are different. We know, you know, you might have childcare, you might have dark. She might have, I don't know, in a bank. Yeah. Written. Yeah. and it might be more suitable for you to work at odd hours during the day. You can do that.
[00:23:21] Do what you like doesn't matter to us. But the only thing we ask is you just make yourself available at whatever time it is happening. So what our team, we decided to 10:00 AM was the time for us. So every morning between 10 and 10 30, we have that blocked off. And it's compulsory, but, and the blood is obviously if there's something else that happens, if there's a client call that comes in, you take the client call.
[00:23:41] If you're one of my team members, who's still going out to management accounts on site in that, obviously it COVID secure manner. That's fine. And I wouldn't expect them to break away to take a team meeting during that. But everybody else that sits in on that, on that meeting, no, it's not been at all seen as being dictatorial or, you know, big brother ESC.
[00:23:57]it's genuinely been seen as positive by all the [00:24:00] team members.
[00:24:00] Paul Shrimpling: [00:24:00] So th the responded positively, and that's the story I'm getting from the other firms as well.
[00:24:06] Sean Farnell: [00:24:06] Yeah. And I think how you approach it matters, doesn't it? I think if you, from the point of view exactly. You know, w we, you know, we're, we're, we're caring, sharing.
[00:24:15]team where we, you know, as employees, we genuinely want the best from our people and we want them to feel happy, comfortable, yes. Productive at the same time. But this is an opportunity in recognition to the fact that we're all remote. It's all a little bit weird. It's nice to be able to get together and physically see the people that we are working alongside once a day.
[00:24:32] One of the other things that we have done and we do from time to time. In fact, my corporate audit team do this particularly is they'll have a time during the day of that may be a three hour slot. Where they'll just have a zoom meeting open and anyone can jump on the zoom meeting and they just work.
[00:24:48] You know, they're not necessarily talking to the other people in the meeting, but the, I can see the other people in their team working away in their own homes. and some people have found that quite useful. Some do some don't, but we give them the opportunity to,
[00:24:58] Paul Shrimpling: [00:24:58] yeah. Yeah. I've heard, I've heard of the [00:25:00] firms doing the same.
[00:25:00]just, just that, you know, if it, rather than having to work out that you get all the tech work and it's just there it's live exactly. Having that, that, that life piece. So, How has the performance of the team been, with these daily check-ins? Is it gone up, has it gone down? Has it stayed about the same or has it, has it?
[00:25:20] Sean Farnell: [00:25:20] I think my team have performed exceptionally well through, through, through the pandemic. they've dealt with an awful lot, particularly through March, April, may time when everything was a little bit more up at the other end that maybe it's this time around, As far as productivity is concerned, productivity has actually gone up through, through lockdown.
[00:25:37] Brilliant. We actually, it is. It's a bit bizarre, but yeah,
[00:25:40] Paul Shrimpling: [00:25:40] no, no. I'm seeing it in the unit. And again, it's back to the firms. Who've got more, more contacts, more communication with their team on a daily basis or three times a week or five times a week, or even more in one or two cases. They're the ones who've seen productivity increases.
[00:25:54] Sean Farnell: [00:25:54] Yeah. And I think that's, that's that's right. I think the fact that you're, you're giving back, well, the opportunity, if there is anything, if [00:26:00] there are any challenges or even if it's a case of, Oh well, such and such client, hasn't come back to me for three days. Well, if we all know it and someone else is talking about something else with them, or, you know, there might be.
[00:26:09] Yeah. Some of them they'll drop me a stupid WhatsApp joke and I can just ping back and go. Yes, very funny. You know, can you speak to John and get X, Y and Zed sorted? And it just makes that whole communication piece. It's all about communication. We started off with communication. It's all about communication and making things easy
[00:26:26] Paul Shrimpling: [00:26:26] for people.
[00:26:26] Yeah. and, and that works as much of the teams it does for clients, isn't it?
[00:26:29] Sean Farnell: [00:26:29] Absolutely. Yes.
[00:26:30] Paul Shrimpling: [00:26:30] Yeah. Yeah, sure. You brought up that at the time in Durham. And I know we were involved in that, that process together during business school. And, and I, I tell a story about those meetings with accountants, talking to business owners and business owners, talking to accountants who weren't customers of each other.
[00:26:46]and, and the piece that stood out for me was the fact that all the business owners, without almost without exception, and we did it a little bit. Your year. And I did it with two other years and the same question generated the same answer. And you know, the business owner say, [00:27:00] look, what we want is advice.
[00:27:02] We want you to be on the front foot, giving us advice. how do you think that's changed and what, how long does it go? Is it since we were in Denver, 15 years.
[00:27:10] Sean Farnell: [00:27:10] So at least,
[00:27:13]Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:13] so what's different now. What's working better now in terms of the profession being better at advising, as opposed to doing the compliance
[00:27:22] Sean Farnell: [00:27:22] work.
[00:27:23] I'm not sure the profession necessarily is,
[00:27:26] Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:26] or I, well, let's talk about Burgess bullet then.
[00:27:27] Sean Farnell: [00:27:27] Okay. I think elements of the profession are, and I think tech has been the big difference. Right? I think, I think the advent of technology to enable you to be over your client's numbers on a day-to-day basis, whether you're involved in the data processing or not is almost irrelevant.
[00:27:44] Yeah. But the use of cloud technology in particular, Enables you to have that overview, of what's happened, what's happening and what's going to happen all three of which being, being crucially important and enables you then to be much more proactive with the clients. I think the other thing that's [00:28:00] probably happened comes back to my societal change is that business owners are much more prepared to listen maybe now than there were in the past.
[00:28:07] And I think maybe as a profession, we're better at. Keeping stuff away. And I know that's kind of, I shouldn't say that listening to this, but, but being prepared to share knowledge, to offer their ideas without expecting an immediate payback in the form of paid work. I think, I think we've as a profession, we've got better at that because society is better at communicating and sharing generally, I think, than it was here 15 years ago.
[00:28:33] Paul Shrimpling: [00:28:33] Yeah. Yeah. There's something you said there in terms of, you know, because we've got the technology, we're better able to see what, what has happened, what, what, where they're at now, but also, look to the future a little as well. How good a Burgess and Bullock it about having those future focused conversations and connecting your clients or challenging your clients on the future perspective of their business.
[00:28:57] Because. You know, it's [00:29:00] still in the profession still very much seen as a profession that looks backwards, historical numbers, historical data, but actually, I can't tell you when you announced, see, I know you'll be nodding your head around, you know, if you have a future focus conversation, you'll have a more engaged client than if you have a conversation about some numbers that showed up three months ago or six months ago or even last month.
[00:29:18]how could a burgeoning bullet now about having, and I want to load the question here, having future-focused conversations. Across the firm. Cause what, what, what, what, quite a lot of firms are good at is one or two people in the firms are good at having future focused conversations that partner or savvy manager level.
[00:29:38] But, what about what's going on at Burgess and protocol? What's changed. What's improved in Burgess and Bullock around having these future focused conversations in their leveraged way.
[00:29:48] Sean Farnell: [00:29:48] I think it was probably better is a better understanding of the clients as people, as opposed to businesses. Right. I [00:30:00] think at a team level that relationships are, but stronger than maybe they were 15, 20 years ago, I think we've always been very good as a safe communicating, but I think that's always been much more top level.
[00:30:12]yeah. It's been driven much further down now. And tech has helped with that. So more junior people. Now we'll be speaking on a more regular basis with clients and naturally they build a relationship. And naturally, because of the way I think in which we, we encourage communication both within and external to teams, they have conversations at the time just around the numbers and aren't just around the business.
[00:30:33] So the real, there are many more of those conversations going on. I wouldn't say it was. Perfect by any stretch of the imagination, you know, sort of like most firms, bit of a curious egg, some people are better than others and you know, obviously the more senior, an individualist, the more comfortable they feel in having those unscripted conversations that could go anywhere, you know, the scary stuff, you know,
[00:30:53] Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:53] the ambiguous stuff.
[00:30:54] Sean Farnell: [00:30:54] exactly good. Heavens I'm not qualified to do this. They didn't teach me this in FRS, whatever it might be. [00:31:00] But I think generally that we are, we are much better. I think even, And I kind of hesitated to, to, to, to pull out or to highlight any individual department, but even the departments where you think they're probably going to be more hist, historical focused, more compliance, like for example, processing tax returns, for example, I think even, even those teams now are much better.
[00:31:25] And I'm much happy to have those forward looking company, which to be honest, you've got to have, cause you've got to put whatever it is you're doing today into context. Yeah. So w we're not, we're not there. We're not there by any stretch of the imagination. There's an awfully long way to go, but we certainly have moved across the board.
[00:31:38] Paul Shrimpling: [00:31:38] Yeah. You're saying stuff that I'm hearing from that. Th, if I look at the younger businesses, not 134 years old, younger firms, who are very much driving the, volume of contact at all levels within the business. With the client and [00:32:00] I'm interviewing, another guy, Luke Smith from purpose in, in, in Jersey in a couple of weeks time.
[00:32:05] And I know Luke's made a big play out of tracking and measuring the number of points of contact at the bookkeeping level. Okay. And the number of points of contact at the financial controller level and the number of points of contact at the FDA level and the number of points of contact at the MD level.
[00:32:20] And since we're asking people in the most about that business at the FC stroke bookkeeping level, they know more than the directors do. Yeah. so actually, if you can pull that knowledge on clients, And all of a sudden you've, it looks as though you know, more about their business and they do very powerful, very powerful.
[00:32:35] If you can systematize it and knowledge capture it, which then I guess in a roundabout sort of way brings you back down to, that CRM piece because people, it, it's still not taken seriously enough in most businesses, but, you know, it's, you know, Customer relationship management. It's a powerful,
[00:32:54] Sean Farnell: [00:32:54] powerful concept.
[00:32:55] Isn't it? There's a clue in the name isn't that
[00:32:56] Paul Shrimpling: [00:32:56] there is, there really is. There really is. so it'd be interesting [00:33:00] to have a conversation with you about a year's time, Sean, as to whether you've got KPIs that are tracking the number of points of contact between your team. which I know it isn't easy.
[00:33:08]it's, you know, capturing, you know, write-offs and chargeable time and all those other wonderful numbers, maybe, tracking and measuring the hardest stuff sometimes can deliver a better result for the businesses. and it's interesting. I was talking to a guy earlier this morning and they, they make an, a big play out of, tracking and measuring the number of points of contact.
[00:33:28] As important as the, you know, volume and value of work completed each week and belt. Yeah. What a good one. So last question then. what are you most proud of about Burgess and bullet now you've been in there a long time,
[00:33:45] Sean Farnell: [00:33:45] which is an achievement. What is it?
[00:33:47] Paul Shrimpling: [00:33:47] We're interviewing this towards the end of. 2020, you know, if you look back over the last 12 months, what, what, what, what makes you feel most proud about the business?
[00:33:55] Sean Farnell: [00:33:55] I think the adaptability of the team, I think the way in which they have stepped up to the [00:34:00] plate through the pandemic and beyond the level of contact that they've had with clients that have been my guys, girls were.
[00:34:07] But we're phoning clients on a weekly basis through March, April and may, as things changed, you know, they, they, they were, every single client had at least four or five completely proactive phone calls as well as emails, as well as the help sheets that we were providing as well. And, and that was brilliant.
[00:34:23] So we probably spent the first six or eight weeks. Do you mean completely on chargeable time as a result of that, but that in itself has paid dividends sort of, as things have progressed. So we're now seeing, or we've, we've not enough. I'd like to see more business planning, forecasting sort of coming through recovery and all the rest of it.
[00:34:41]but th the, the, the feedback we've had from clients during that period has just been absolutely astronomical. So that's, I would say my team I'm most proud of my team without a shadow of a doubt.
[00:34:49] Paul Shrimpling: [00:34:49] And the, and the fact that they've cemented those longstanding relationships between your firm and your clients firms.
[00:34:56] But I, I liked your point earlier. It's not Burgess and Bullock and [00:35:00] clients, their business, it's your people and their people. Correct. They're connected stronger. And therefore you've got a more human businesses, a consequence. Correct. D what do you think? so that was the last question, but something else, you know, what do you think has changed about the expectations of your clients in terms of the volume of content?
[00:35:18] Sean Farnell: [00:35:18] Well, I think clients are now, expecting to be spoken to when they're not necessarily any, any reason to, as opposed to even a year ago, that probably wasn't the case. Which is again, it's great because that's what we want. But again, it's a challenge of it comes back to your point of earlier. So how do we measure and monitor that on a daily, weekly basis?
[00:35:38]so yeah, but I think you're right. I think asking that question, you're, you're absolutely right. That has changed. And I think that's great because as I say, that's, that's where we are as a firm. That's where we want to be. And that's where the profession is going to have to be going forward. It's all about relationships.
[00:35:50] Paul Shrimpling: [00:35:50] Yeah, because the technology is going to be taking over more and more of the number crunching stuff. Isn't it? Already. Yes.
[00:35:56] Sean Farnell: [00:35:56] Well, it already is absolutely at the moment we're kind of in the sweet [00:36:00] spot aren't we, because Tech's come so far that there's a lot of stuff that we couldn't do cost effectively in the past that we can now do.
[00:36:07] So I think a lot of firms like ourselves are picking up a lot of compliance, bookkeeping, sort of transactional type work. And we can now do that really, really efficiently, efficiently. But it's not, it's not going to be many years before it goes out step further where that's just going to go completely, completely automated.
[00:36:25] And, and, and then you're looking at things like the year end accounts and the tax, et cetera. They're, you know, they're, they're next in the firing line. There's no two ways about
[00:36:32] Paul Shrimpling: [00:36:32] it. I agree. I agree. And I'm glad you respond with, yeah, I think on like a rubber band you stretch and it goes back to the same shape it was before your clients have stretched their expectations of your firm through more intimate.
[00:36:44] And regular contact with your team and, you know, to go back to the way it was, they'd probably be disappointed in Burgess and bullet games.
[00:36:52] Sean Farnell: [00:36:52] Yeah, absolutely. Paul, but he creates a two-way street because when we're noticing now we're [00:37:00] getting more concept from clients about. Things that they would probably just gone and done previously or not thought to say, you know, is it worth my while doing this?
[00:37:08] So they're seeing real value in having those conversations as well. So it's a two-way street, but I think that's great. I think because they say that's really the way it's professionals we're we are going to have to go if we want to earn a living in the 22nd century
[00:37:20] Paul Shrimpling: [00:37:20] and just to hammer home, my early point is, have you got any choice, but to track and measure the points of contact between you and your team?
[00:37:30] Sean Farnell: [00:37:30] But, you know, I've been banging that drum for 18 years, but all of a sudden, maybe just, maybe
[00:37:35] Paul Shrimpling: [00:37:35] there's, there's a balance of some bandwidth for that show. And this has been brilliant. I really appreciate you taking time out and being so open and candid and honest about what's going on in person, but thank you very, very much, indeed.
[00:37:45] Sean Farnell: [00:37:45] Absolute pleasure. Thank you, Paul.
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More conversation & the importance of communication
Effectiveness of daily meetings
The advent of tech allows front footed advice
Future focused conversation
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