How would one of your favourite business owner clients feel if they were approached by another accountancy firm that was genuinely wholeheartedly committed to building a better future for them and their business.
I've just interviewed that accountancy firm - they're called Wood and Disney.
I've interviewed Brendon Howlett, one of the owner directors of Wood and Disney.
And he shares what's behind the firm's corporate focus...
Building Better Futures, which I'm fairly certain applies to the team, just as much as it applies to the clients. Brendon shares some insight, some knowledge around what and how they make the most of that central purpose. He also shares how their central purpose influences their conversations with their clients and the impact it has on client loyalty.
That commitment to building better futures brings them new clients, especially given the challenges we've had in recent months.
And, when you've had a chance to listen, I'd really appreciate you dropping me a line. Let me know what you thought and what you've got out of this podcast interview.
Hope you enjoy it.
"During the early Covid period we were really able to embrace the situation and talk to our clients.
Perhaps more, and on a more regular basis than we've ever done before.
And I think that's really cemented some of those relationships - it's really strengthened them and they've stayed with us. "
Connect with Brendon Howlett
TRANSCRIPT - unedited
[00:00:04] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:04] 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.
[00:00:20] Brendon Howlett: [00:00:20] I think as well, it's, it's, it's being prepared to not.
[00:00:24] Forcing your views on clients as to what they should do. It's it's really listening. To the clients when you're having that interaction. And what you might have to say might not be that, technical complex, it might be very simple, but it can be incredibly profound and clients appreciate that. And you kind of think, well, how, how, how can we put value on that?
[00:00:46] We'll put value on it because, it's taken us years and years of experience and expertise to get there. That's what we're doing. And the client's happy with the outcome. I
[00:00:56] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:56] wonder, how would one of your business owner clients feel about [00:01:00] an accounting firm who was committed to building a better future?
[00:01:06] That firm is wooden Disney, and on this podcast interview Brendan Howlett shares insights in how that's folded into the way they work. Brendan also on packs. The goals they have for client contact for the different categories of clients and interestingly, how committed they are to those points of contact.
[00:01:29] So Brendan to kick off, would you give us an introduction about yourself, the firm, and just a little bit of background, just to get this into some sort of
[00:01:37] Brendon Howlett: [00:01:37] context. Great. Okay. Thanks, Paul. Yeah. on the joint, owner wouldn't Disney, limited we're based in culture in Essex, it's myself as one owner and Peter Disney is a joint Nova we've been going now coming up to 10 years.
[00:01:53]both of us has got checkered past with various other, accountancy PR firms in the. Big [00:02:00] four and top 20. And, we felt that if we merged our minds back in 2011, we could do better, and be more fulfilled in what we were doing in the, in the profession and with our clients. We've got a team around us, 10 of us in total, and we're all in one office.
[00:02:18]half the team have probably been with, with Peter beforehand. And now they're, I think three of them. I've hit a 20 year anniversary. So terms of staff turnover, you know, that's, that's something we can be proud of. People don't tend to leave us, which is great. And we've also got some, you know, thriving, good young people with us as well that are very enthusiastic.
[00:02:38] And that's, that's a big part of, wooden Disney's the people not only internally, but also our clients as well in terms of, the clients. That we work with, we've probably got about 150 limited company clients and then a good number of sole traders and tax return clients as well. We're trying to build up [00:03:00] the advisory only clients, but that's, that's, very much in its embryonic stages and work in progress.
[00:03:06]and I guess working with Peter, when I joined him in 2010, it became. Clear very early that the firm is centered on innovation and technology. And we're always looking ahead, Peter loves all that stuff and trying to get to the next big thing, which is great. And I'm, if you're not perhaps the rains on the vehicle to stop it speeding off and just slow it down and bring it back and operationally, make sure we were working together.
[00:03:32] So we, we, I think we've got a good fit. I like to think so. I'm sure Peter would say the same.
[00:03:36] Paul Shrimpling: [00:03:36] It sounds it. So tell me, when I look on your website, Brendan, you wouldn't Disney real time accountants with a human touch. What does actually, what does that actually mean?
[00:03:48] Brendon Howlett: [00:03:48] Well, I guess, we look at the human touch first.
[00:03:53] Although the technology is there and it's all about numbers and it always has been with accountants. [00:04:00] I think there's a good number out there that perhaps affirms that perhaps. See their clients once a year, they might not even see them in person. The books come in, the work gets done. It gets pushed out with an invoice.
[00:04:11] We'll see you in a year's time. So there's no human interaction there. And I think over the last five years with the, March of the cloud and cloud accounting software and technology, it's become clear to us that the machines can do all of that. Mm, I can crunch those numbers. They can prepare the accounts, they can do the tax returns.
[00:04:34] So how do we differentiate ourselves from all these other firms that are out there or from the machines it's by maintaining that human touch, we want to have human interaction. We want to, speak to our clients, see our clients more than once a year and not just about your end accounts. It's actually turns it's about them, their lives, their businesses.
[00:04:56] Their goals or ambitions their problems. So we [00:05:00] talk to them, we'll listen to them. And part of that is just jumping slightly head. Their Paulie's. What we want our aim is to build better features for them the real time accounts accountants, but it comes from, I think we realized that, well, anyone can call themselves an accountant.
[00:05:19] There's no regulation speaking to our clients. I don't think. One they care, whether you're a chartered accountant, you're a chartered certified accountant. You're a management accountant or you're just an accountant. So again, it was, well, let's try and take advantage of real time accountants and let get it across that we're not focused.
[00:05:41] On the past, we focused on the here and now, and again was still getting that across, you know, like you've asked me that question. I'm really having to think here is what, what are we trying to achieve there? Yeah. Just a bit of something different rather than, you know, Monty Python. I've got a lot to answer for.
[00:05:58] You're an accountant, you know, [00:06:00] you're, you're boring as anything. You're great. Just something to help perhaps. Give us that little bit of an edge over the competition. Just does that give you enough to
[00:06:10] Paul Shrimpling: [00:06:10] go in there? Let's go. Just to pursue that line a little bit further, how do you actually track and measure your firm's performance against, the.
[00:06:20] Real time accountants with a human touch. What KPIs are you tracking and measuring every week or every month that proved that you really do deliver on that real-time accountancy and or that human touch.
[00:06:31] Brendon Howlett: [00:06:31] Okay. So we, we re probably two, three years ago, we, we brought in center as our, CRM system. I don't know.
[00:06:39] Do you know that one? Yep. Yep. Yep. And part of that also allows you to, manage your workflow. Part of that, allows you to set whatever goals you want to deal with your clients. And one of those is communicate with your clients on a regular basis. So that links into how we graded our clients. [00:07:00] So our, a clients where we have reminders come up for the team to talk to them at least once a month, be clients probably once every other month and other clients.
[00:07:10] It's it's we, we aim to do it at least once a quarter. And whether that that might not always be a meeting. Yeah. But for the iCloud clients, it's certainly w we go that way and over the last six or seven months, zoom meetings have just taken off. So that's, that's one measure in terms of, other. Areas w we, and you'll be pleased to hear this, Paul, as a result of the AGA, initiative, you and Doug suggested that we have, weekly lead generation meetings.
[00:07:39] And we brought that in couple of months ago. So we're now, Peter, myself, one of our senior guys, David rod, regularly going through our existing clients and saying, well, look. These are icons and we're doing all this work for them. And they're generating X number of fees for us, a year. Why are we not pushing up our B [00:08:00] clients to become A's and generate an equal amount of fees?
[00:08:03] Right. So we're challenging each other. And then taking an action from that to contact them, to say, and again, another thing that's come out of AGA pool. I sounded like a plug for you. It's no, no, I get that. And it's, it's not, it's, it was the, the session we did around, quarterly reporting, because I think initially you told us to go out and think about management accounts and we kind of think, well, no one wants to management accounts.
[00:08:28] We've tried with clients, but when you just change that. Wording slightly to quarterly reporting. And it was like, wow, it was a real apifany for us. This kind of thing. Well, yeah. Okay. They might not need quarter, the management accounts and the old traditional style, but they do need a quarterly report and interaction of how are they doing it fits nicely with us in terms of the real time information, because the vast majority of our clients are using cloud software.
[00:08:56] Yeah. So that's, that's another [00:09:00] measure that we've brought in. okay.
[00:09:02] Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:02] So, so if I hear you, right, Brendan, so you all you way clients, you're speaking to practically once a month, whether, you know, phone, zoom or face to face.
[00:09:10] Brendon Howlett: [00:09:10] Yes.
[00:09:10] Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:10] And you've got a measure that actually tells you that that's happened or not thanks to the use of center and, you be clients, every other month.
[00:09:18] And everyone else. Every quarter minimum. Yes. Yeah. All right. And are you seriously telling me that you track and measure those numbers to ensure that all those numbers, every quarter, for example, have been hit?
[00:09:32] Brendon Howlett: [00:09:32] Well, they should be
[00:09:34] Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:34] to suggest that maybe you're not quite on it there, Brenda do fight back.
[00:09:41] Brendon Howlett: [00:09:41] It should be happening. And there's no reason why it shouldn't, but again, it's. I, I completely get what you're saying. They should, there should be some kind of measure as to make sure it does actually happen rather than.
[00:09:53] Me relying on the team to say, yes, I
[00:09:56] Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:56] can. Absolutely. Absolutely. And I, and I think, you know, it's, [00:10:00] you know, I've worked with firms for the last 18 years and, and it's it's as if the accountability bone is, is starting to grow for the profession. but it's around what exactly. And there's a number of things that you can apply accountability to, but clearly an, an obvious one, the easiest one or the, the, the core numbers that drive.
[00:10:18] What your firm's about. And if you're serious about the human touch, you've got center setup, which is brilliant. And you've got a measure, which is a clients every month without fail, be clients every other month, without fail every other client every quarter without fail you, haven't got an accountability process in around that.
[00:10:34] Then it may be that the odd client it gets, they get missed.
[00:10:40] Brendon Howlett: [00:10:40] Yeah,
[00:10:40] Paul Shrimpling: [00:10:40] but maybe they don't, but we don't know. and if you're deadly serious about, you know, real time accounts since real real time accounts with a human touch, then you'd be taking that measure really quite seriously. So
[00:10:53] Brendon Howlett: [00:10:53] that's fair comment, Paul, I take that on the chin.
[00:10:56] Paul Shrimpling: [00:10:56] Just, just twist it a little bit. You, you, you, you made the phrase build [00:11:00] better futures. And, and I'm just wondering, what's the connection, what what's, I'm hunting for? What's the central purpose, you know, what do you want to be known for as a firm? Is it build better futures or is it real time accounts with a human touch or is it, is it something else?
[00:11:17]Brendon Howlett: [00:11:17] I think really what, w w if we go back to what, why we do what we do, and we've done a lot of soul searching internally on that. And where we came out with this, ultimately we really enjoy and we want to help our clients. And that evolved to, well, what, what are we doing for them? We're actually helping them build better futures.
[00:11:38] Yeah. But I, I, I guess it's, the technology, the cloud has helped us really, put that down, put, put a marker down for that because. In the past. Yeah. As a traditional accounting practice, we were probably doing that. We were talking to clients, we were listening to them, helping them reach their goals, doing all that stuff.
[00:11:59] But there was [00:12:00] no formal framework around it. Okay. If you're not the, the technology has given us that push to say, well, we need to formalize this process. because we know we've been helping clients for years to grow. We know we've been talking to them and listening to them and we've built up a huge amount of.
[00:12:18] Experience and expertise. We've got a great team and we've also formed strategic strategic alliances with other professionals, right? So that's really led into, so all of that comes to, we're not, we can prepare accounts, we can do tax returns, but that's not our real purpose is to help those clients that want to be ambitious entrepreneurs out there, build themselves a better future.
[00:12:46] And also. For their families, their communities, whatever it might be. So it's all encompassing. Really?
[00:12:52] Paul Shrimpling: [00:12:52] Yeah. Yeah. It's I love the phrase, Brendan, because th th there's an argument to say that the profession has over the [00:13:00] years, historically been guilty of providing historical information to their business owner clients.
[00:13:05] Brendon Howlett: [00:13:05] Yeah,
[00:13:06] Paul Shrimpling: [00:13:06] and it's well, that's what you, that's what I came to track and measure is the historical information of profit and loss account and a balance sheet and a tax calculations based on historical figures. but is, is it not trending because of the technology taking up so much more of it in being able to do so much more of the compliance style work over time?
[00:13:26] Is it not that actually we're trending from accountants that are. Past focus to accountants that are future focused. And if you're talking with every client or every client every month about their future and building a better future, then you're very much on that path. Aren't you? In terms of yes, we were once past now we're future.
[00:13:45] So that, that lens is yeah. Self to this question is it's one thing to track and measure the number of meetings or the number of client interactions. Do use your word, the human touches, your phrase. [00:14:00] What about the actual quality? It's one thing to pick up the phone or have a zoom call with the client. But if you're not talking about the future with that client, you haven't necessarily lived what it is you want to achieve.
[00:14:09] I'm just wondering, what do you do to ensure that that build a better future conversation takes place every month with every eighth grade client?
[00:14:17] Brendon Howlett: [00:14:17] Yeah. That's that's that's again, another good question, Paul. It, perhaps it isn't happening on every call. Yeah. But the focus certainly on our, a clients, it is.
[00:14:32] And it's also given us the opportunity to perhaps revisit, reset some of the grading, which, which it did. And to be honest, because there were one or two clients that, you know, perhaps Peter and myself, where I've worked with a long time, we're cozy, great relationship, great people. But if we looked at it objectively, They probably weren't looking to build a better future with us.
[00:14:56] So I don't either, you know, got there perhaps another professional [00:15:00] that we're talking to. I know, I know one business has got, the, the chap, his business partner is a multimillionaire. I've got a huge business. So he goes to him for his. Coaching and
[00:15:10] Paul Shrimpling: [00:15:10] that side of mentoring. Yeah, exactly.
[00:15:12] Brendon Howlett: [00:15:12] So he doesn't need anything or he thinks he doesn't need anything from us to help.
[00:15:16] So we, you know, it was, it was a hard decision for, for Peter, but perhaps that client is a C or a B client, not to mean we don't like them any less
[00:15:25] Paul Shrimpling: [00:15:25] for them any less.
[00:15:27] Brendon Howlett: [00:15:27] No, no, we w we, we, so. In some ways that's good because rather than saying, Oh yeah, they're an eight client. They're nine client is what we're going to do about it.
[00:15:34] And, Oh, well I just need to have another conversation. It's, it's moved them down the path, freed up time to look at others, and put more focus there and given us a clear understanding of, of who our clients really are and who we are and who we want to work with.
[00:15:50] Paul Shrimpling: [00:15:50] Yeah. Yeah. So, I'm guessing I need you to respond to this, Brendan.
[00:15:55] Yeah. You must have pretty clear idea for all your A-grade clients, [00:16:00] what their business goals are, for example, is that a case of you? Can you put your hand on your heart and go, yeah. For every eighth grade client, we know clearly what their goals are for their business and their, their personal ambitions as well.
[00:16:11] Brendon Howlett: [00:16:11] There's, there's my hand on my heart, Paul. Yes. Okay. we, we do actually record that center so flexible. We can record what their goals are. so for each of those, there are three goals. Noted. Incenter so anyone can see them internally. And we've told the client that we're recording them. Right.
[00:16:29] Perhaps what we should do as, as we move forward is just revisit and maybe reset those. now, now that both they and us have become comfortable with that.
[00:16:41] Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:41] Right? How long has that process been going on? Brendan, not catching of the client goals.
[00:16:46] Brendon Howlett: [00:16:46] It's probably a good. 1218 months.
[00:16:49] Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:49] All right. So it's not, it's not like a new invention.
[00:16:52] Brendon Howlett: [00:16:52] right. No, no, no.
[00:16:52] Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:52] Okay. And, and, and so are you, you walk through a 12 month cycle, are you, have you got a process which revisits [00:17:00] what their goals are that was gone in and it stays in and that's it,
[00:17:04] Brendon Howlett: [00:17:04] some of that's something we need to look at and revisit. Definitely. I'm just making a note on that.
[00:17:11] That's a good point, actually. Because, yeah, we probably felt great. We've got their goals down, but have we really challenged them again? And where are they meeting those goals?
[00:17:23] Paul Shrimpling: [00:17:23] Yeah.
[00:17:23] Brendon Howlett: [00:17:23] How, you know, you mentioned accountability earlier, perhaps we should be holding clients accountable to how far they've got to achieving those guidelines, those goals.
[00:17:33]are they still realistic? Do they want them, so that, that, that gives us an F if nothing else, it gives us another topic of conversation.
[00:17:40] Paul Shrimpling: [00:17:40] Brilliant one. You know, if you look at the possible outcomes there, Brendan, if, if once a year, one of, you know, if you've got your A-grade clients, you've got 12 interactions.
[00:17:47] One of those interactions is exclusively about their goals, for example. So one of the 12 every year is exclusively around their goals, for example, and if that was the case, you might walk forward 12 months revisit their goals [00:18:00] and you client's really frustrated.
[00:18:02] Brendon Howlett: [00:18:02] Hmm. And,
[00:18:02]Paul Shrimpling: [00:18:02] can you hear, I'm trying to avoid my colloquial language from Burnley, which involves swear words there.
[00:18:07]but that you're not know if, if within a 12 month cycle they're frustrated that they've not moved forward towards their goals, then they might be tempted to want to do something about it.
[00:18:17] Brendon Howlett: [00:18:17] Yes,
[00:18:18] Paul Shrimpling: [00:18:18] which might involve your support, your guidance, your involvement in some way, shape or form, even if it was to direct it to one of your, your, your network that you mentioned earlier of other business advisors and professionals, to help them.
[00:18:32]you know, ultimately Brendan, one of the key issues, isn't it around, business owners, making decisions is that that they experienced some difficulties or frustrations and pain. And if they experience pain, they'll make a decision to do something about it. If once the pain gets big enough, Yes. Once it pain gets uncomfortable enough.
[00:18:49] And I just wonder if there's a real opportunity there with your, that 12 months goals checking with the client every year without fail is an opportunity just to revisit, you know, [00:19:00] how are they feeling about it? Cause it's not just about the numbers, it's about the feet, how they feel about their
[00:19:04] Brendon Howlett: [00:19:04] goals.
[00:19:05] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. No, that's, that's a really good point, Paul. I'm just scribbling down a note on that. I'll make sure. I'll catch up with Pietra on access. That's definitely something we should do to take away from it
[00:19:14] Paul Shrimpling: [00:19:14] and easy given what you've already got in place, which is brilliant. It's just an easy, easy fix.
[00:19:18] Isn't it? And then, you know, if we were to have this discussion in a year's time I go, are you tracking those numbers then? You know, Brendan, and at least you're having a conversation with every client every year about what they want to change. Priorities change. Don't they, you know, grandchildren come along, children come along, people leave, you know, priorities change.
[00:19:37]so let's, let's just go down that, backed numbers versus feelings piece, which is, a bit edgy when it comes to talking to accountants. but if you're having the human touch, and we're looking forward, if we were to throw something, which is arguably even even more powerful, is that, you know, how, how are you client?
[00:19:53] How, how are you interacting with your clients? And maybe even just turning this onto your team, your [00:20:00] team, in terms of how they are feeling about their business, working with you, in what ways do, the conversations you have with your clients reflect discourse, challenge clients about how they're feeling about the business and about the work that you're doing with them.
[00:20:16] Brendon Howlett: [00:20:16] That's. Yeah, that's
[00:20:19] Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:19] a bit of a question, isn't it? That I guess
[00:20:21] Brendon Howlett: [00:20:21] it is. Yeah. I, if we jumped to the team first, yeah, I think that you're absolutely spot on there. That was a, that was a real, and is an ongoing challenge to get some, all of them to, accept that perhaps they need to go about their work in a different way.
[00:20:39] Right. But they've got the, the full support and backing of Peter and me to do that. so they shouldn't. Yeah, they're going to feel uncomfortable about it. And you know, I'm thinking of a couple of the guys in the team immediately spring to mind, but others like David he's, he's really embraced this and it's, it's different.
[00:20:59] And, [00:21:00] and, you know, he loves it. He, he doesn't want to be sitting at their desk crunching numbers through a spreadsheet. He'd much rather be talking to a client about their goals, that their problems, how we might be able to help solve them, how they're going to get there. What help can we give them? So that bit is, and hopefully that will just, you know, cascade down to the other guys in the, in the, in the team that it's not just about taking their professional exams and that's it, they know everything.
[00:21:26] It's this, there's far more to it now, particularly today in the change environment we've had over the last five, five, 10 years with technology. And then you overlay that with the way the world's changed in the last seven or eight months. It's. We we know we've got to be constantly evolving in the way we deal with our clients.
[00:21:46] It's not just a case of the books. Come in, you do the job. It goes back, you know, eat, sleep, repeat not that with our, with our clients. there are some know, be honest with you. It's that, that didn't like that approach. They just wanted [00:22:00] them, their accounts done once a year for the lease possible amount of money.
[00:22:04] Oh, you're far more expensive than so-and-so down the road. yeah, but have you thought about that? Some of them, we put up, without wishing to sound, sound arrogant, a, a small fight to keep them and understand why others we've said, just wave them off with a big smile on our face. Once they've gone.
[00:22:20] It's because it's made perhaps, you know, accounts, aren't the most ruthless of people, but it's my saying goodbye to them a lot easier and for the right reasons for, for the, for them and for us. Yeah. I can't remember what else you asked in there
[00:22:35] Paul Shrimpling: [00:22:35] Well, Brenda, if I can just point you, you, you mentioned something earlier on, in the, in the, in the discussion about wanting to work with ambitious business owners.
[00:22:42] Yes. So it sounds like you've got clarity on actually, there's a, there's a certain type of business owner that you want to work within a certain type of business owner you don't want to work with.
[00:22:49] Brendon Howlett: [00:22:49] Yeah.
[00:22:49] Paul Shrimpling: [00:22:49] And if you stick to your knitting on that, then it's going to lend itself. Isn't it to those future focused, helping them achieve a brighter.
[00:22:57] Future as their better future, as you say, [00:23:00] which is going to result in conversations that reflect the emotional impact of the last year's work and whether they have, or they haven't achieved their goals. So for all that, the next stage of their goal.
[00:23:09] Brendon Howlett: [00:23:09] Yes. yeah, I'll pick up on that. Paul that's that's, that's a good point because there was a lot of noise, from other.
[00:23:17] Advisors to the profession, conferences. Oh, you've got a niche. You've got to niche. So we patronize, racked our brains and thought, well, okay, we've got a good number of construction clients. We've got a good number of clients that operate in healthcare or consultants, but it didn't really feel right for us.
[00:23:36] And we didn't feel comfortable of just being in that one niche. But again, I think it was working with, With Doug and internal your, your colleague, Doug and internal discussions amongst ourselves that we thought, well, who do we really like working with? It's the entrepreneur. And then I say, yeah, but we want them to be ambitious entrepreneurs.
[00:23:56] So that's what that's really, if you like our niche, [00:24:00] right by that, we mean people that share our vision, Pete, Peter, and I want to grow. App business grad team. We've got our own aspirations to take it forward, and we feel that that's a direct fit with our clients where they run businesses that they want to grow and build.
[00:24:17] Well, again, we're linking back to a better future. So, and who we, we felt that the people that are primarily doing that in the small business market. The clients that, that we operate in are what we call ambitious entrepreneurs so that they want to take it forward. They're looking to, develop to grow, perhaps take on something completely new, you know, we've had some, some clients do that over the last six or seven months.
[00:24:43]one, one guy, he, he made a great business out of, flash drives. Then he moved to, All the other paraphernalia that you've got around, logo stuff. And of course that all dried up because these were coming from China, they were routed through Holland, [00:25:00] he's contacting Holland deals with PPE, and now he's getting contracts for PPE, how he's managed to do that.
[00:25:06] I do know, but that's exactly the type of client that, that we're not working with. That I've got that agility to shift with the times.
[00:25:13] Paul Shrimpling: [00:25:13] Yeah. Yeah, but it's very entrepreneurial, isn't it? You know, there's a, there's clearly an ambition there and you know, an ambitious business owner is going to be comfortable having a conversation with you guys about the goals aren't they?
[00:25:22] Brendon Howlett: [00:25:22] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, for sure.
[00:25:24] Paul Shrimpling: [00:25:24] So tell me about, let's just turn the table slightly here. Brendan, if you look back over the last 12 or 18 months, what would you put down as being one of the lumpy successes of the fir.
[00:25:39] Brendon Howlett: [00:25:39] Okay. I, you know, it's, it's, it's, it's going to have to be the C word, isn't it? Corona virus with w with what that meant for us initially the shock, the horror, the anger, and what it might mean. Not only for us, but for our clients and, and our team, to be honest, but we've come [00:26:00] through that and I feel very.
[00:26:02] Proud that we've come through it and we've, we've not had to furlough any of the team. They're all very happy with what they're doing. So that's, that's a big plus, cause you know, right at the outset, Peter and I were having those conversations, you know, what do we do? What's it going to mean for us, for our clients?
[00:26:19]yeah, we, we lost a few, but we were really able to, embrace the situation and talk to our clients. Perhaps more and on a more regular basis than we've ever done before. And I think that's really cemented some of those relationships strengthen them and they've stayed with us. They've continued to pay us because the vast majority of our clients pay us monthly, almost like a monthly subscription for the service.
[00:26:48] We provide various packages and they've not all stripped it back and said all, no, I don't want to pay you or can I have a break? They've been happy so clearly. If they're parting with their cash through some tough times. [00:27:00] Yeah. We, we must be doing something right. And, and I think as well, it's given Peter and I time to take stock of where we are.
[00:27:08] I know we've, we've spoken at length internally and with Doug and yourself about how do we get through this? What are we going to do the other side? So I think it's, it's really sharpened our focus. On wooden Disney as a business. If I, if I'm honest, that, and that perhaps we wouldn't have done that without this pandemic going on, we would have just carried on until something else proverbial.
[00:27:36] Might've hit the fan or just thought, Oh, actually we need to do something here and take action because we're not growing. Or getting the, positive responses from our clients that we should be because we were too comfortable. So it's okay. Yeah.
[00:27:54] Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:54] Well that, that, that's interesting. I'm just wondering two things on that.
[00:27:57] One is, it sounds as though maybe your A-grade [00:28:00] clients have had more than one contact with you each month over the last six or seven months. Yeah, definitely. Is that, is that, am I putting words in your mouth there? Or is that actually how it is you, so you don't need to track and measure it because you've blown that target out.
[00:28:12] So I'm just throwing a pillow.
[00:28:16] Brendon Howlett: [00:28:16] Okay.
[00:28:16] Paul Shrimpling: [00:28:16] You know, I I'm, I'm, I'm curious as to how many points of contact in the last six months have you had with your A-grade clients? Wow.
[00:28:22] Brendon Howlett: [00:28:22] I think certainly in that initial period through April and may is probably. Weekly for some of those wow. Fortnightly for others. Yeah.
[00:28:33] Yeah. And if you look at it from a commercial perspective, you could say, well, we didn't get a return on that, but if we look at it over a longer term, so we'll actually, they've stayed with us, we will get that return on investment through the future. And it's also emotionally made us feel better because we know we're looking after our clients for the right reason.
[00:28:55] And for them, they know they've got. Someone that they can talk to openly. And [00:29:00] honestly, some of those conversations weren't even about their business. It was just perhaps a chat. Chew the fat about various things, you know, what's happened in the last week.
[00:29:10] Paul Shrimpling: [00:29:10] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:29:11]Brendon Howlett: [00:29:11] just blow off some steam with us about perhaps their team and what was going on, you know?
[00:29:15] Yeah. Has it,
[00:29:15] Paul Shrimpling: [00:29:15] has it not created some challenges though? Brendan in such, cause she invest so much time in that con client contact piece. One-on-one has it not created some challenges in terms of actually getting work done and out the door?
[00:29:26]Brendon Howlett: [00:29:26] it, it was frustrating at times cause I'd be, Cracking the whip in terms of operations and our own fee targets and work, turnaround targets to achieve.
[00:29:40] But the team work, you know, stepped up to not, we didn't hit the targets, but we weren't. Why you short, so you kind of accept, well, hang on, they've been talking to clients, they've still been doing good stuff. Yeah. I've just got to perhaps give them a bit of Slack while we get through this bumpy period, because it will, it will, it will come back [00:30:00] and it has.
[00:30:01] Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:01] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Okay. So you, you seem it back on track in terms of, production output on a weekly.
[00:30:07] Brendon Howlett: [00:30:07] Yeah. I mean, a statistic we found last week when we finished October, was that I think after. Our financial year started in April. So after three months we were down in terms of fees, about 20% on the previous year.
[00:30:21]at the end of October, we'd clawed that back to about just over, we were 9% down. So we're thinking, well, that's, you know, really, really good. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. But from our perspective,
[00:30:32] Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:32] so you seeing that it's progressing in the right direction. Yeah. but you've cemented far stronger, deeper relationships with your clients, which fits with that, human touch focus and that build a better future
[00:30:43] Brendon Howlett: [00:30:43] focus.
[00:30:44] So, yes. And we've also, you know, I think getting out and being talking to so many clients, they've spoken to their contacts and networks, we pushed out a lot of stuff and deciphered. All the information that the deluge of [00:31:00] data that was coming out from the government and various other sources. And it's that in itself pulled new clients in for us.
[00:31:08] Oh, you know, so-and-so is going to contact you because they've said they haven't heard from their, their accountant for three months. There's just an answer phone ringing. They can't get through. They want someone like you. Yeah, talk to them. So it's, it's, it's amended the relationships with clients and it's also put down some markers with, with, with new prospects and some of them have come across clients already.
[00:31:29] So that's, that's been
[00:31:30] Paul Shrimpling: [00:31:30] good. Okay. That's interesting. Isn't it? That, you know, investing client care, keep clients when new clients Hmm. cause maybe some ripples in the, production pond temporarily. probably clients are more accepting of that as well during difficult times, but they appreciate the relationship contact.
[00:31:48] So the net loss is, far outweighed by the net gains in that set in that setting by the sounds of it. Okay. So, I'm curious now last, last question, I guess is [00:32:00] the way the firm, your team have behaved. In that relationship management piece over the last six, seven, eight months because of the virus, how has it changed your view on how you do business going forward into 21 and beyond, you know, what, what, what things have you and Peter concluded, need to be the new way of working for, for wooden Disney as we March towards the end of 2020 into a very soon into 2021.
[00:32:30] Brendon Howlett: [00:32:30] I think it's, yeah, very strands to that. a big part of it is we have to continue, contacting our clients on a regular basis, having conversations with them, not just waiting for them and re reacting to whatever they want or need. so yeah, it's this, it sounds cool. You know, but be proactive in that respect it's I think as well, it's, it's, it's being prepared to live, not forcing your views on clients as to what they [00:33:00] should do.
[00:33:00] It's, it's really listening to the clients when you're having that interaction. And what you might have to say, you know, with both of us have got, you know, 30 plus years experience in the, in the profession might not be that, tech technical complex. It might be very S. Simple, but it can be incredibly profound and clients appreciate that.
[00:33:22] And you kind of think, well, how, how, how can we put value on that? We'll put value on it because, it's taken us years and years of experience and expertise to get there. That's what we're doing. And the client's happy with the outcome.
[00:33:34] Paul Shrimpling: [00:33:34] Yeah. Yeah. So is, is that, one, one practice client contact a month, the right measure for your A-grade clients in that context, then Brendan.
[00:33:46] Brendon Howlett: [00:33:46] As a minimum. Yes, I think, yeah.
[00:33:48] Paul Shrimpling: [00:33:48] Okay. So you think it is, so you think, you know what you'd already got set up and running one times a month for your eight grades? you've you've learned that during tough times, a higher level of [00:34:00] contact is needed with a grades with all clients during that difficult time.
[00:34:04] But actually looking forward, you, you, you confident that that once a month proactive, meaningful point of contact. Where the client is at the right level.
[00:34:15] Brendon Howlett: [00:34:15] I, I, yeah. I really believe that because it's okay. We might sit here and say, yes, we want to get into that advisory space. And we're all waiting for that really plum project to land in our laps.
[00:34:28] But that, I think that's a bit, yeah, it's great. If that happens, but being realistic that might not happen or is unlikely to happen on a regular basis, but what. Is more likely to happen is you're having that interaction with clients. They're going to open up and give you another example. What happened a couple of weeks ago, Sam?
[00:34:50] He's one of our newly qualified. chartered certified accountants and he was having a conversation and he's w w one of these catch up calls with a big client. And it was [00:35:00] as simple as well. We can't start your accounts because you've, you haven't reconciled your bank and QuickBooks, I don't know client responded and how to do, I've got time to do that.
[00:35:09] He said, well, look, we can do it. And he quoted him an astronomical figure. I don't know where he got it, but fair play to him. And the client said, Okay, just do it. And we're thinking, wow. You know, again, if we've not been having that regular interaction that wouldn't have happened and it's a simple piece of bookkeeping.
[00:35:26] Yeah, yeah, yeah. Very profitable.
[00:35:28] Paul Shrimpling: [00:35:28] So what, what is it, what is it that's prompted the client to say yes to that. Do you think?
[00:35:33] Brendon Howlett: [00:35:33] I think it's knowing, knowing us better and knowing that they can, that, that, so there's a relationship there. Yeah. To start with, it's not somebody different phoning him every day.
[00:35:43] Yeah. So set period. Yeah. He knows who's of wooden Disney. He knows, or other members of the team and what we're all about. And I think it's, it's it's trust really because we've maintained that contact with him. When, when times were really tough at the [00:36:00] outset. Yes. He knows he can't get it done himself.
[00:36:04] He's got to pay someone. He might get it done cheaper down the road from a, from a small bookkeeping firm.
[00:36:09] Paul Shrimpling: [00:36:09] Yeah,
[00:36:09] Brendon Howlett: [00:36:09] but I guess it's, we're a lot closer now, a lot more wedded. And you've got that, that, that phrase I hear a lot is, you know, that financial intimacy with us. So there you go, guys, that's you can do that piece of work and I know you'll get it done.
[00:36:25] No fast, quickly sorted. I've got a worry and I'll go and do what I do.
[00:36:29] Paul Shrimpling: [00:36:29] Well, you've mentioned, you've mentioned the magic T word trust there. You know, you you've, you've earned the right to, I liked to talk about it. Have you earned the right for the client to have no qualms about just saying yes to an extra piece of work?
[00:36:38] Just because it needs to be done? you know, yes. Let's communicate with them, the price in advance of doing the work so that they don't get a surprise bill for sure. Cause that, that downgrades just isn't it, if you take it that way. but I love that word you used. There is, we're we're we're we're wedded.
[00:36:52] More strongly with our clients because of that, those regular points of contact, you know, what, what stood out for me on this, on this discussion, Brandon is [00:37:00] that you've, you're deadly serious about, building better futures. you've got evidence to prove that because you're having a regular contact with clients, a grades once a month.
[00:37:09] B grades every other month. And you, you earning the right to levels of trust so that when extra works needed, or they'd got issues that they'd need some help on there, they're going to speak to you about it. And which may, may or may not result in face, but actually you're focused on building a better future with them.
[00:37:26] So sometimes it is fee-based and sometimes it's not.
[00:37:29] Brendon Howlett: [00:37:29] Yeah, definitely.
[00:37:30] Paul Shrimpling: [00:37:30] That was brilliant. Brendan, I've really enjoyed this. I think, you know, what people have, firms have a strap lines. And on under their logos, and yours is real time accountants where the human touch and when, when I was preparing for this discussion, it's like, Oh, given that this podcast called humanized the numbers, it's just, it's almost like the perfect discussion.
[00:37:51] Isn't it? You know, we are the numbers experts, sorry. Accountants are the numbers experts, but actually you're in a human business. And it's the quality and [00:38:00] the quantity of those touches that determine whether you establish and maintain the levels of trust, which results in yes. Additional cross sales and yes, the client's staying and yes.
[00:38:10] Recommendations and referrals. And it sounds as though you very much on the case with that. Thank you very much.
[00:38:16] Brendon Howlett: [00:38:16] Thank you, Paul.
[00:38:17] Paul Shrimpling: [00:38:17] It's been great working with you today.
[00:38:18] Brendon Howlett: [00:38:18] Thanks a lot guys. Cheers.
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Introduction to Brendon and Wood and Disney Chartered Accountants
Real time accountants with the human touch
Tracking and measuring the firm's performance - what are the KPIs
What do you want to be known for as a firm?
What do you do to ensure that that build a better future conversation takes place every month with every A grade client
Over the last 12 or 18 months, what would you put down as being one of the lumpy successes of the firm?
Client contact and Covid
What's the new way of working for Wood and Disney in 2021
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