Most firms of accountants are working on the transition from being entirely compliance-oriented, to firms that are doing both compliance and advisory.
Some firms have got a really healthy advisory part to their practices and have that compliance work taking place as well, but very few firms are advisory only. Rob Boll in his firm of 30 people called Evoke is dedicated entirely to advisory work. They use a framework and they use the word SCOPE to describe that framework.
In this podcast, Rob shares the details around what SCOPE stands for and how effective, how useful and how valuable it is asking questions around the SCOPE framework. It's this that enables him and his team to have high value advisory conversations with all of their business owner clients.
We believe you'll get a lot out of the nitty gritty detail of how Rob interacts with his clients to ensure that he keeps his 30 person firm growing around exclusively advisory work.
"Running a business never gets easier, people just get better at doing it'
Connect with Rob Boll
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 insight, 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] Rob Boll: [00:00:20] Yeah. So the accountants to me, there's, there's lots of them, lots of things for them to be doing from that transactional and that specialist advisory work.
[00:00:28] What we're doing is more of that forward-looking strategy and linking all aspects of the business back to the performance of the business, which is, you know, in most cases is going to be measured through a financial scorecard of some kinds.
[00:00:42] Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:42] As the accountancy profession marches to more and more advisory work whilst the technology takes over more and more of it, the compliance work.
[00:00:51] One of the things key questions that accountants in practice are asking themselves is how do they engage with a business owner in a way that [00:01:00] results in that business owner, asking them to advise, to get involved in their business in an advisory way. This podcast with Rob bull. From evoke shares his insights and his team's insight has got a team of 30 people acting as virtual FDS.
[00:01:16] And Rob shares the insight into scope. It's a framework around which him and his team asks questions to generate advisory work for his business. Let's dive into that podcast now. To kick off with Rob, would you just give us a little bit of background about evoke yourself, the history of the business and the sort of clients you work with?
[00:01:37] Just sort of get a feel for who you are and what you do.
[00:01:41] Rob Boll: [00:01:41] Yeah, sure. And thanks Paul, for having me on this podcast say my name is Rob bowl. formally I was a, I'm a management accountant, but I've spent most of my employee career within big corporates. so I spent some time in financial service firms like JP Morgan.
[00:01:56] And a few other smaller brokerage firms in the financial [00:02:00] market sector and five and a half years ago. I, set off to do my own thing when it's gone my own entrepreneurial journey and I saw an opportunity to take some of the best practice. bits of running a business, especially from the kind of reporting and the financial focus that big companies have.
[00:02:16] I saw an opportunity to take that to SMEs and really work with SME companies to give them advice and support that they wouldn't necessarily have access to. On a part-time basis, part-time flexible basis. Being able to give them really strategic advice and support. and that's really in the form of a part-time finance director or commercial director.
[00:02:39] And it's someone, someone that knows what they're doing, that the business can trust and can yeah. Crank up or down the interaction that they have with the business on an ongoing basis. And we're very much focused on helping move the business forward. So we talk to any of our business business clients there, whether it's the owner, the founder, the management team, you know, [00:03:00] how can we help you move your business forward?
[00:03:02] And that could be just going for more profitable growth, could be scaling up, going into different markets, different products. It could be looking at, how to, how to drive the financial performance of the business. As well as non-financial things. So linking the finance, the numbers to anything from marketing operations process systems, really anything that keeps the people running that business up at night, how can we help solve problems and make their life more easier, easier?
[00:03:31] Say, and to me, that's moving the business forward. We could be looking at succession planning. Exit how'd you drive up the valuation. It's a full package of stuff that we provide, but trying to tie back everything to what's really important. And to me, that's, you know, more money, you know, being able to extract more money out of the business, attracting the best talent.
[00:03:53] And making sure you've got the right work life balance in the business. You know, people that we work with often get [00:04:00] sucked into the sucked, into the detail of the business, working all hours. And it should really be, you know, you're building a business asset. Something to give you good cash now, but also building a business asset that at some point you can realize that additional value.
[00:04:16] That's what we strive to do.
[00:04:18] Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:18] What, what, what you're saying there resonates with, whether you're familiar with Michael Gerber and the E-Myth revisited stuff. But Matt Michael talks about, you know, the point of being a business owner is to give yourself freedom. Not give yourself the worst job you've ever had in your life by working every hour, God sends taking their holidays.
[00:04:33] If you have they taking the work on holiday with a year and so forth. so it sounds like you're in that space in terms of trying to create, a good all around human experience for the
[00:04:40] Rob Boll: [00:04:40] business owner. Yeah, no, exactly. And I love this phrase here. Running a business, never gets it easier. People just get better at doing it.
[00:04:48] And if we can help people get better at running their business, that that's, that's what we're there to do. But it's trying to make it as, as transparent as possible, linking the performance of the business, [00:05:00] covering any of those aspects with the financial aspects and making sure that we're driving towards a shared purpose.
[00:05:07] Paul Shrimpling: [00:05:07] how many in your team role, Pam?
[00:05:10] Rob Boll: [00:05:10] Yeah, so coming up to 30, 30 people on the team, and it's a mixture of people that you have been doing portfolio work, I guess, is what they describe it. As, you know, working with a range of clients, say people have been doing that for some time. Some people have gone from, you know, Yeah, good corporate roles.
[00:05:28] I think businesses full-time roles and want to shift into that more flexible portfolio level of work. And then we've just got people that just want to do something a little bit different. and yeah, this is a good option for them and it's, it's not working for themselves. In isolation, you know, it's working as part of a team collaboratively trying to try to solve problems in the SME business world.
[00:05:52] So yeah. Coming up to 30 people now,
[00:05:54] Paul Shrimpling: [00:05:54] no, they all from a financial background, is that the, the, the starting
[00:05:57] Rob Boll: [00:05:57] point, right? It's a combination of [00:06:00] finance and commercial. And when I talk about commercial, it could be operational, could be a bit of marketing, but it is kind of rounded commercial knowledge about how you know, how to improve the performance of the business.
[00:06:11] Paul Shrimpling: [00:06:11] Right. I just want to, if we can pursue a conversation about this. the S you know, we work with SMEs and a bit of a broad subject test server. I just want to get a feel for what the, what you consider to be an ideal type client. And that'll give us a better perspective on you know, who you work with and therefore the sort of conversations you like to have, which is what I'd like to dive into after that.
[00:06:29] Rob Boll: [00:06:29] Yeah. Sure. So I mean our core focus and I guess where we, where we work best is that range of a couple of million turnover up to around 50 million, maybe 20 million, you know, below that, potentially they're not ready for that strategic advice. And then, but. Above that they might start having that more in-house and be less reliant on someone part-time but yeah, to us, yeah.
[00:06:53] What we're doing is getting them through the levels of growth from probably, probably what would be considered more, the smaller end of SME. [00:07:00] Into the medium size and then you need more of this stuff in house. We also, we also spend time working with, yeah. Pre-revenue early stage companies. yeah. What, what the team enjoys is the mixture of, yeah, I don't know.
[00:07:14] I guess from, from our perspective, you've got some bigger clients that can afford to pay for us. and, and that's not an issue. Great. The companies that have got more of a challenge on cash, it's great to be able to add value. Knowing that we, we will get, you know, what we want later on, but it's having that mix is, is great.
[00:07:34] And I think a lot of people that work for me with me love that mix of, of companies. If it gives, it gives a bit of diversity. Yeah. When it was that
[00:07:43] Paul Shrimpling: [00:07:43] variety's the spice of life, they say, don't they say it's more of a too narrow. It can feel a little bit, what's the word I'm looking for? Limiting as opposed to, if you've got people, who've got a good set of t-shirts in the cupboard, from their past experience, they want to apply that to different [00:08:00] styles, different types of issues and different types of businesses.
[00:08:02] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Very good. Very good. So one of the, a, it sounds as though some of the work you're doing is very much in the space that you'd expect to, an accountancy firm to be working in. So I'm curious as to what happens in terms of the way you work with the businesses, the business owners and their accountancy firm is, is the, is the links and connections there?
[00:08:24] How does that work? Yeah.
[00:08:26] Rob Boll: [00:08:26] And every, every business that we work with as an accountant, we're not, we're not trying to do an accounting role. and there's, you know, there's different levels in my experience. There's different levels of accounting interaction, business needs. and there's different people to do those bits as well.
[00:08:43] So if I think about very much the transactional role of an accountant. Yeah. Anything from bookkeeping, financial control. Yeah. More of the process and transactional aspects of finance. Yeah, yeah. That that's not us. And some people would look to just have that in-house [00:09:00] with the, with the, with the finance team, others, others would outsource that.
[00:09:04] And that might be outsourced to an accounting practice if that's possible. you then have, you know, the. The important irregulatory type side of things. So whether that's just that that's true reporting, whether it's stuff related to tax, you know, all of those special specialties. Yeah. That's not a we're not looking to be a specialist in those areas at all.
[00:09:25] Yeah. you know, for me, I've, I've got little patients and interests to be a tax expert, but what we can do is be a good, good go between the tax expert and an accounting practice. Hmm. And what the business is trying to achieve. You, we can help, we can help with that conversation. I think sometimes that conversation is more effective by having a general finance person involved because some of the language is the same or, or can translate some of the language.
[00:09:53]yeah, so the accountants to me, there's, there's lots of them, lots of things for them to be doing from that transactional and that specialist [00:10:00] advisory work. What we're doing is more of that forward-looking strategy. And linking all aspects of the business back to the performance of the business, which is, you know, in most cases it's going to be measured through a financial scorecard of some kinds, whether that's your profit margin, you know, the usual thing.
[00:10:18] Yeah. So w w what I, when I look at, when I think about that, and I think, you know, so the accountants want to be doing the more value adding advisory work. It's not necessarily the same skill set. It's not necessarily the same personalities. You know, you get the kind of work we end up doing with companies.
[00:10:38] Yeah. You, you, you, in some cases, working with very ambitious entrepreneurs that are creatives, they're visionaries that they're coming up with ideas and trying to implement things, and we're there to kind of support make sense of that and try and formalize it in a plan and make sure it can be you. Yeah, it locks down as a plan.
[00:10:57] Cool. Communicated with the team and set some [00:11:00] kind of parameters around what that looks like you then have, you know, potentially founders that are a little bit, you know, reserved in their aspirations and we can help motivate them or say, look, you're doing a great job here. Why don't you do more? You know, you you're doing good.
[00:11:14] What would great look like and really push the, push the boundaries in terms of what they can do. That takes quite a, it's like an entrepreneurial, forward thinking finance individual. That's not afraid to be a challenger or push the boundaries. Someone that's, you know, Wants to be sat during the more transactional side of accounting.
[00:11:35] It's not the same skillset. It's not the same comfort zone and the conversation goes very differently. and I think, you know, when you look at the whole, the whole reach of accountants that you can have, there's different scales. And I think it for, I think it's really challenging for accounting firms to attract the talent.
[00:11:53] And have even have the talent and manage the talent that's needed to give that, you know, forward looking, forward [00:12:00] looking strategic business advice that this is what we focus on as an example. I mean, from my, I often get asked. Yeah. If I've worked for the, I spent time working at a big bank. Like JP Morgan people say what's, what's that got to do with, my SME business.
[00:12:16] And to me, you know, an organization like JP Morgan is just broken up into whole smaller, smaller parts of the business, which almost like SMEs and yeah. What we're doing there is just trying to. Make sense of what's going on, help people run the business better, and it's not the same skill set. You know, you had people in finance that were very, very introverted and wouldn't like to leave a desk or, or do things.
[00:12:42] I was in a, I was in finance, but I'd be walking the trading floor. Talking to traders, trying to understand what what's going on in the business. We'll have the challenges they've got. How can we help from finance? You know, a lot of it was related to use of use of balance sheet, use of capital that the bank had available and [00:13:00] how, how different areas of the business could use that is quite a different conversation to being.
[00:13:05] You know, audit or, or tax relators. And to me, I think the big, big challenge in the accounting world is, is trying to match the right skillset, the right personality, and also how people have been taught to do their job. You know, it's different, it's different. And that's where I see the big difference though.
[00:13:23] Yeah. And, and
[00:13:23] Paul Shrimpling: [00:13:23] I, I would agree with you. I think that there's many a conversation over the couple of decades, I've worked with accounting firms in this space around how, how do you bridge that gap? The skills, you'd call it talent with skill and talent gap in terms of that compliance, regulatory, accountancy approach to the one, which is an advisory approach for want of a better label.
[00:13:45]and, and. The advisory work tends to sit at the partner director level within the accounting firms. And it's hard to scale, you know, they can't leverage it [00:14:00] across the firm. and, and, and all struggle too. Cause I mean, some firms are tackling that and are making progress in that don't get me wrong, but it, it's as much about who you recruiting as it is, how you're training them.
[00:14:11] Yes. If you get those two elements. Right. And it's interesting in the conversation with firms, that they are looking at recruiting a different style of person now than they were five years, 10 years ago. and I'll be, yes, they've got to provide audit services and payroll services and bookkeepers and so on.
[00:14:25] And so there's still that need, but there is an acknowledgement and acceptance that business owners. Especially ambitious entrepreneurial style business owners want more than just the nuts and bolts, which is what you specialize in. And a lot of accounting firms want to play a role in that space, but that's only going to work in a scaled way if they've actually recruited the right people and train them in the right way to do what's needed.
[00:14:51] But there's also this expense experience piece as well. So by the way, you've described your people, Rob, you've got people who've got. some interesting t-shirts in the COVID effect, use that [00:15:00] phrase in terms of their background. So it's not just a recruit talent skill. It's also experienced as well.
[00:15:05] Isn't it? That that must play a big role in influencing the type of people you bring into evoke or have I got that?
[00:15:12] Rob Boll: [00:15:12] Yeah, you're exactly right. Yeah. We've, we've got lots of different talent on the team and yeah, we often. We'll say to a business, you know, clearly we've identified a need for some additional support in that, in that finance commercial aspects of the business.
[00:15:28] But we, what is it? Is it, is it sector experience, you know, is it, is it a different personality? Is it someone that maybe, maybe is more of that ambitious, go get a personality that's going to really drive the business forward? Or is it someone that needs to be a bit more of a steady, steady, steady hand to keep things.
[00:15:47] Calm and collective and, and make sure people aren't you, the business isn't trying to run before. It's really got the structure to do that. And that's, that's different personalities and, and we're very keen to match the [00:16:00] kind of emotional connection someone has. With, with, yeah. With, with one of our people.
[00:16:06] Because if you do that, you immediately are in the right zone to, to give the kind of solid advice and be trusted as well and get on with that person, understand where they're coming from. can we actually use a profiling tool to help us with that?
[00:16:20] Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:20] Well, matching the clients with the right person, your team.
[00:16:23] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:16:25] Rob Boll: [00:16:25] Whereas the profiling profiling tool that we use. which is called perfect teams actually, which we use and it's, I like it cause I'm not a psychologist. And a lot of these profiling tools are psychometric type things. This one designed by an engineer, and it's logical. So it makes sense to me.
[00:16:42] And I can, when we normally talk about it quite easily, but it just, yeah, it might be that we go look, we can tell a particular character type. And all we need to know is that's that character type. And we're going to communicate with that person in a specific way. It might be that we've got a management team, that's [00:17:00] all one character type or particular character types, and they're missing something.
[00:17:04] So the profiling tool comes up with 12 characters, puts people in 12 different characters, and it's just trying to make sure there's a good balance of those 12. So that's why it's called perfect teams. And sometimes we'll. We'll go let you've, you've got too much focus. You're in a technology company, you might have too many people that are your kind of real techie logical process orientated people, which, which also sounds a bit like some accountants, what they actually need is someone that's a good communicator.
[00:17:34] Someone that can kind of run the team has got PIR, got good personal skills and can also help them take a bit more risk, you know, go, you let, you'll never, you've got a great technology products. You think it's great, but are you actually taking it to market and adapting to the feedback you're getting?
[00:17:52] Because you know, technologists tend to, as an example, tend to hire technologists that are like them [00:18:00] because they like to chat to them. Not necessarily the best fit for, for a whole business. If I hear you right.
[00:18:05] Paul Shrimpling: [00:18:05] Or what you're trying to do there, in terms of matching the right member of your team or members of your team to the client's team is, It's actually creating a balanced team that is in the best interest of the firm, rather than putting a note, another process person into a team that's already dominated by creditors.
[00:18:23] Rob Boll: [00:18:23] exactly. And sometimes you can tell that she, you need someone that's going to think alike because that's where they're at other times you go, do you know what? You need someone different to shake things up,
[00:18:33] Paul Shrimpling: [00:18:33] determine which way to go with that one then.
[00:18:35] Rob Boll: [00:18:35] Well, well, I'd like to say it's really scientific.
[00:18:38] It's a bit of a, it's a bit of a gut feel, I think. Yeah. When you, when you start talking about, if I'm engaging with a new business and I start asking questions about, you know, the past, how they've got to, where they are, where they're going and potentially how they feel about that, you know, the pace of how they've achieved, what they've achieved.
[00:18:58] Is that, is that where they [00:19:00] expect it to be, or what's happens. You can sometimes gauge where actually you need someone to try and. Boost boost the energy or boost the speed at which you're doing things. So those are the kinds of things I'd be using. but yeah, what sources are useful is just to understand, okay, you've, you've got a very logical thinker there.
[00:19:18] You've got to explain the detail of the finances. You've got to give them all the info. So they feel they've they get it and they can process it. You've got other people that are more. Yeah, more, more kind of visionary creatives, people that maybe have shorter attention spans. You don't want to go through the detail.
[00:19:37] You just want to give them a very, very simplified dashboard of what's going on. And I, I used to have this working in, in, in my previous life. Yeah. You walk around trading floors and you've got people that are kind of your algorithm focus, traders that are all about the detail. Then you've got sales traders that have got 30 seconds of attention, then you're gone.
[00:19:59] You lost it. [00:20:00] And it's just making sure you can adapt to that. And what people want from finance is, is someone that gets them and the business and can be that partner and the quicker you can interact. With that person you're going to be supporting, you can build that bond. Then you've got that ongoing.
[00:20:19] What I like to call it a sticky relationship, which, which then is great because you'll, you'll you both, you you're aligned. You're, you're helping to drive the business and work towards these goals. And yeah, to me, that's, that's, that's really, really important.
[00:20:33] Paul Shrimpling: [00:20:33] It sounds you making a big play. Having mentioned, you know, you've talked about emotional connections and you talked to the business owner about the other business.
[00:20:41] Ladies your team about the history and how they feel about where they've got to see is that it seems that the conversation pieces you're having is as much an emotional conversation is there are there's. There are, they are a financial conversation. Is have I understood that run?
[00:20:54] Rob Boll: [00:20:54] Yeah. Def yeah, definitely.
[00:20:56] And I'll be honest. That's actually probably the side of what we do that I [00:21:00] enjoy the most. I think working with entrepreneurs. people that have gone off to do their own thing, running a business and yeah, that that's really who we're working with. It's entrepreneurs in, in the SME was I love to just find out why they, why they, why they did this, why they doing this on their own?
[00:21:16] What are they looking to achieve? And sometimes it's not the obvious. It's, you know, in some cases you've got people that just want to prove a point or they, they feel they're on unemployable or they've just got an ambition to, to do something unless you know what that is. And yeah, you're thinking about, you know, where do you want to be in three and five years time, unless you can understand where they want to get to.
[00:21:43] And also why. It's very hard to me to align the advice that we can give. And that's really important for us engineer. You have people that have, I guess, you know, the, the pressures that anyone running a [00:22:00] business has. Is multi-dimensional, you know, you could go, right. Everything is very business orientated.
[00:22:07] Know what? What's the challenge of running a business. It's okay. We've we've yeah, we've got cashflow issues. We've got payroll coming up with, we've lost a big client. We think we might lose a client. We're not winning as much business or yeah. All those things, but yeah, it could be that, you know, there's, there's certain issues going on in their family life.
[00:22:26] That's actually causing a problem. And often that can be something like, you know, we've, you know, rather than being a business cash flow issue it's well, actually I'm, I'm not going to be able to take so much money out of the business this year. Therefore the holiday that I was planning, we haven't got the budget for, and I've got to go to tell my other half and family that we've downgraded on a budget that is actually probably sometimes more of a, more of an issue than other things.
[00:22:52] And if you understand that you can go, okay, well, let's, let's, let's figure out. How, you know, to not let that happen again, you know, [00:23:00] you're running the business. You often, I say to people, you know, you've got to look after yourself. First. You sometimes got to pay yourself first and that often puts someone in a much better position to then come back in and run the business because they're in a better mindset.
[00:23:13] They're not being distracted by. These other things that go on in their lives. And I think that to me is, is super important, especially when it comes to exit. You know, when, when we'll talk to companies about exiting the business. So why, you know, why'd, you want to exit. And often people like, I dunno, cause it feels like the right thing to do.
[00:23:36]and it's okay. But what does an exit mean? You know, you're just looking to have a load of cash in your bank account. Are you looking to semi-retire, you know, what are you looking to do? And often people haven't thought that through, and I don't know about you, but you you've met, I've met a number of people that.
[00:23:52] Have retired almost early because they could afford to and just be bored and then they go and start up another business or [00:24:00] they go and do something else, or they spend all the money quicker than they thought. And know, to me, it's, it's, you know, just questioning these things. You know, if someone says to me, I want to exit the business in two years, I think the business is worth that I'd my first response is to challenge that.
[00:24:17] And why, why do you want to exit in two years? Why do you think the business is worth that? Why do you need that amount of money? Why, you know, and to me, as soon as you start ticking tick in some of those. Those bits of a thought process, you can then start giving the rounded advice, which isn't, isn't just the counting is far, far, far, far, far more than that.
[00:24:41] Well, like you
[00:24:41] Paul Shrimpling: [00:24:41] said, it's, you know, it's as much personal as it is business it's as much emotional as it is financial it's that there's that blend, but it's interesting. One of my favorite words in terms of actually, and to use your company name, evoking, a challenging conversation. In there, there will be emotion [00:25:00] and there will be conflict.
[00:25:01] And it sounds as though you, you, you actually go hunting for that too. Just sense check what w where they're at and what they're doing and why. And sometimes they
[00:25:11] Rob Boll: [00:25:11] don't know, do they? Yeah, no, exactly. I mean, I had a recent example. we had, we we've, we've, we've got experience and I've got a keen interest in, Companies transferring ownership to employees that can be through various things.
[00:25:25] I noticed you've got
[00:25:26] Paul Shrimpling: [00:25:26] someone on your team in that space specifically. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:25:28] Rob Boll: [00:25:28] I was quite interested in that. We've we've got more experience there as well now, and to me, yeah. The ultimate employee ownership that people refer to is John Lewis. You know, you've got the. On a base model, NTA for SMEs. It's a nice option to look out and, you know, a few people that are looking to exit.
[00:25:47] So what I need to leave the business and want to release some equity. I'm going to sell the business. Know you go well, actually would be considered employee ownership and transfer of ownership to employees. And there are certain things about that that make a lot of [00:26:00] sense. You know, you can leave a legacy.
[00:26:02] You can, you know, cause your, your business is going to hand be handed over to your employees and you can have that in a direct or indirect ownership. And if you, if you go down the indirect ownership through what's called an employee owned trust. Yeah. You can, you can get market value for your business tax-free and during control of the process.
[00:26:24]and yeah, we we've worked with a number of businesses that are essentially consultants, you know, like architects, For example, you know, the asset is the people, you know, how much are you going to get for that business if someone buys it? Yeah. If you transfer initiative to the employees, you're locking in that value with the business and you're giving back to your employees and it, it works really well.
[00:26:46] It ticks a load of boxes, right? So I always kind of encouraged people to think about all the options as to why, how, and when, and why they might exit. But then I, we also came across a client that had gone down [00:27:00] this route. And they'd heard about IOTs and they'd gone to their accountant and said, we want to set up an EOT and the accountant set up an EOT.
[00:27:10]and I said, why, why do you want to do any IOT? And it, within half an hour, we'd identify, they didn't need an EOT. It wasn't going to do what they want is, and that was a waste of time and money in terms of see, to me, it's all about just asking those questions and. And drilling in, you know, to find out exactly why someone's trying to do what they're doing or, or are they actually being honest with themselves about what they really want.
[00:27:37] And then we can start advising around that.
[00:27:39] Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:39] Yeah. In simple terms, Robert, is it, is it, is the value that you deliver to your clients? Is it actually revolving around the quality of questions you asked them then?
[00:27:50] Rob Boll: [00:27:50] I th I, I, yeah, I think that's probably probably a fair point. Yeah. I think that the questions that you ask and.
[00:27:57] Yeah. And it, yeah, you don't want to just sit there, just [00:28:00] drilling, drilling someone to death with. Yeah. But you know, I guess what I've been able to do over the last, you know, five and a half years of doing this is, is trying to build an understanding of the kind of questions to ask that that gets you to a point quite quickly that you've, you've got to the crux of.
[00:28:20] What you're trying to solve. Brilliant. which is, is often a Mo you know, a multi dimensional problem, which is a bit of business. It's a bit of finances. Yeah. Sometimes I feel like with we're actually counselors rather than actually business advisors, but yeah, a lot of, lots of people running a business.
[00:28:39] Yeah, you find it quite lonely for some of these discussions and don't often have that trusted person to go and talk to. And I like to think that's what we're there for for there to be that trusted person to talk about, you know, whatever, whatever it is.
[00:28:54] Paul Shrimpling: [00:28:54] yeah. So have you distilled. What this question formula or [00:29:00] framework looks like is that if that's where the value lies and that's where the, you know, the powerful conversations lie and the, your ability to help your clients achieve what they want to achieve.
[00:29:09] And what have you done to distill that, that question framework or formula?
[00:29:14]Rob Boll: [00:29:14] well, there's one, there's one, there's one process that we go through actually quite early on in, in what we do, which we call the, the scope, escape exercise. So we, we say to, to a business that one of the first things we want to do is look at the full scope of your business.
[00:29:30] And we've got, what's called an acrostics if you've ever heard of it. And no, this is need to make one. So an across is where you've got to words. like scope, right? And every letter in scope stands for something we do. So it's just a, it's a handy way to remember something. This is something that we've come up with.
[00:29:48] So when I say that, we look at the whole scope of the business. we look at the strategy, so S for strategy. So what what's that business doing? What markets is it [00:30:00] playing in? What kind of customers does it have? Everything around strategy we start talking about. Yeah. C stands for controls. So we'll start looking at financial controls.
[00:30:10] Non-financial controls, you know, what, what are they looking at? What are they, what are they measuring? You know, how do they, how do they know when they've had a good day, a good week? A good month? Yeah. That's one of my, it's
[00:30:22] Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:22] my next question. Do you actually Rob so people, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:30:26] Rob Boll: [00:30:26] And then, Oh, is O is for opportunities, you know, having, having a third party person come into a business with a fresh pair of eyes, no baggage, no history, not afraid to ask a question.
[00:30:38] Is you, you just identify opportunities, but just asking what, what sometimes appears to me to be a stupid question. Someone goes, that's brilliant. Okay. I do that. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, of course, of course I'm brilliant.
[00:30:53] It surprises me, but you know, you're so some people are so close to the detail and they've go with it. Baggage and the Headspace around where they're [00:31:00] at, you know, you can quite quickly other than for opportunities and then P P of scope, I'm still going through this across the export. So I've got it. I'm on it.
[00:31:08] I'm on it, on it. process and procedure is for the piece. So yeah. What processes are there? What procedures, you know, how much of the business is systemized? What kind of things do you have in place around that? Yeah. And then finally the E is a bit of a cheat. Is everything. Yeah. What else is, is, you know, what I'll often ask.
[00:31:31] Okay. So what else has keeping up at night? What else is, what else is causing you? Grief and, you know, it's, it's anything else around, you know, succession. problematic people. yeah, some people run businesses and they got people that they just hate working for them. And so we just deal with it, you know, let's, let's talk that out.
[00:31:50] Let's, let's get, get some proper HR advice and deal with the situation. So, yeah, that, to me, that's it, this scope is a great framework framework to [00:32:00] work with. And we, you know, we, we, someone I approach us and say, we want to finance threats and we go, okay, well, the first thing we're going to do is we're going to profile you.
[00:32:09] And then we're going to do this scope review. You do this, and you haven't even spoken about, you know, what an FD might do. but to me, an FD, an FDA or commercial director, How we engage on that part-time basis should be so close to the strategic view of the business that they could come in and run the business.
[00:32:30] If I say, do we say to our people, you know, if you're not in a position to take over running the business, you're probably not close enough to what's going on. and you probably haven't simplified the aspects of running a business that you can do that. so yeah, that's, that's one thing. But, but also, you know, you've got to be embedded with it, with every aspect of the business to be able to add value and this strategic stuff that we do.
[00:32:55] It's not something you do every day. You know, you don't need someone at that level in the business, the [00:33:00] size we're talking about every day, because there's just physically not enough strategic thought to be done, but it's being there to, to be that sounding board, to be a sense check. We often often get random calls.
[00:33:15] Because something's gone wrong, but also something's gone really well. And they're just, yeah. So it was really tough to talk about it generally. Isn't it, it's generally not an accounting transaction. They talk about unless the, the HMRC suddenly turned up on their doorstep or something. Yeah.
[00:33:32] Paul Shrimpling: [00:33:32] Well, they just received a tax
[00:33:34] Rob Boll: [00:33:34] rebate.
[00:33:34] That's very large actually, is that fair? But you know, these, these, the little wins that we'd like to. You know, cause you know, no one really gets, you know, yeah. You can have great profit and you can be pleased about that, but it's normally the more, the more tangible things in a business that people get excited about and like to enjoy it, you know, we need to connect with that and make sure that we're aligned with that.
[00:33:58] Cause that's the important, but.
[00:34:00] [00:34:00] Paul Shrimpling: [00:34:00] Brilliant. So how do you know you've had a good week and robot or a good month or a good half year what's how do you determine the success of your business?
[00:34:09]Rob Boll: [00:34:09] well, so I guess one way is, so we, we started this and compared to what we were drinking, so I, I decided to have a glass of red wine.
[00:34:17] Paul Shrimpling: [00:34:17] Yeah. But same to clock in the morning. No, that's a fair bit.
[00:34:22] Rob Boll: [00:34:22] Fridays we're free Friday, middle afternoon. So if that's the first point of the week, I've, I've needed to have a glass of wine, but that's a good way. So
[00:34:33] Paul Shrimpling: [00:34:33] that's stress free
[00:34:34] Rob Boll: [00:34:34] week, but in terms of performance, I mean for me and my business, I, I, you know, I've, I've got ambitions to, to grow the business.
[00:34:44] We we've got capacity on the team at the moment. We've got the ability to, to take on more people and have capacity. So I'm focused on. Number of calls I'm having with companies which are initial calls. So we're kind of fact-find cool. And how many of those lead [00:35:00] on to a more strategic discussion where I've identified that?
[00:35:03] Actually, I think we can help. We should have a further discussion. Okay. Can I
[00:35:08] Paul Shrimpling: [00:35:08] just drill into that role? I'm curious. How many say the fact-find goes well from that moment to then going, yes, you are now working with us. How many points of contact, how many deep interactions are there between you and your team and your clients that.
[00:35:24] Rob Boll: [00:35:24] Yeah, I have to say it varies. It really varies. And I think, and I actually had this conversation with someone earlier in the week. I think everything that we do is, is timing specific. I think no one, no one wakes up. On a particular day and says, gee, the one thing I need today as a finance director, you know, no one, no one says that.
[00:35:47]if they do, I'm happy to talk to them. No one says that, some things normally happens or something's got to the point where they need to do something. And that's where we, we try and be front of [00:36:00] mine. So yeah. I might have an initial call with someone and I've already identified that something we can help with right there.
[00:36:06] And then, and then it could be quite a quick thing. So just thinking about the last couple of weeks, you know, I've had calls on a Monday is a 30 minute call Wednesday. We've had a more detailed discussion. The following week with we're engaged and we're doing something that's great. Other times it could be six months, 12 months, but we, we just try and keep front of mind to go, okay, we can't help you.
[00:36:32] At this point, I would always try and add somebody and you know, some people just aren't ready for us at the moment. And, but I could give them some tips as to what they could go and do. so we, then they try and do is just keep front of mind. So do you do that then? well, yeah, so good question. So we probably don't do it well enough to be honest, and it's something we're always trying to improve on.
[00:36:53]but we, you know, we, we have people on a mailing list. we have people that we give through three CRMs that [00:37:00] we, through our CRM, we will set reminders to touch point, right. yeah. With a number of things that we do to touch point. And what we try to do is, is, is do those touch points in different ways.
[00:37:11] So it's not just. Sending sending a standard thing with trying to put some effort into, into what we do. Yeah. yeah, we, we have, we, we have, a few sources of, of info, that, that give us information about, you know, what what's happened in the SME world, say companies that might have raised investment, they might've won, won awards or various things.
[00:37:32] News that might be relevant in our sector. We would, we would pick up on that and try and share it with someone and say, look. so this been thought of you. Yeah.
[00:37:40] Paul Shrimpling: [00:37:40] It's a brilliant, it's a brilliant strategy. That is if you can make it personally, it's a brilliant strategy
[00:37:44] Rob Boll: [00:37:44] that. I did sometimes we'll then just do a bulk email as well.
[00:37:50] One of the other things we do, we, we, we do a lot of webinars. and we've, I mean, for me, for us as a business and, and generating opportunities, it's it's, it has been very much [00:38:00] hit and miss about how successful they've been. But again, it's about, it's about timing. yeah, the more, the timing, a webinar topic, or a particular thing will catch someone's eye and they'll go, do you know what I want to join that?
[00:38:12] Or I want to come to that. So we just try and run them. Yeah, fairly regularly, points. We've done one once a week, other points once a month and sometimes in between, but it's trying to come up with a topic that's particularly relevant and useful where we can add some value, you know, get people to, to hear us talk.
[00:38:31]we, we try and make a lot of the stuff we do, especially in this current world environment we're in, to make any of the, our online. Discussions interactive. one, when we did a little while ago, we had, we got a webinar. I think we had about 140 signed up, which is good for us. about 50 of them turned up, which is again, normal.
[00:38:54] And what we did. We had some content, we had some, some kind of punchy talks [00:39:00] about things that we thought were relevant. And then we had a breakout discussion say on zoom, which we generally use. You've got this, this breakout. Right. Okay. Okay. That's good. It, yeah, we had everyone broken into rooms of four people with one of my, my parts on directors in each room and everyone's sitting got 20 minutes just.
[00:39:21] Three other business owners and a really experienced director facilitating a discussion about the topics we talked about. Yeah. And, and that's great. And it's a way to add value and, and, and have that FaceTime with people. and actually go. We, yeah, we're not just on the webinar. We've actually kind of reached out and said, right.
[00:39:39] We're gonna have a little chat with you. Yeah. Yeah. It's more personal. Isn't it?
[00:39:41] Paul Shrimpling: [00:39:41] You've, you've, you've, you've made that emotional connection because you've limited the breakout room to fork. and we've been experimenting with different sized breakout rooms and concluded that when you've got three, four, five people plus the facilitator.
[00:39:54]and even if there's no facilitator, that's still, there's, it's the, it's a number that works in a 15 minutes. [00:40:00] Even at 10 minutes, sometimes 10, 15, 20 minute window. Yeah.
[00:40:03] Rob Boll: [00:40:03] Very good. I think, I think one of the big challenges at the moment we've all got is, and I've, I've noticed this in terms of as time has gone on, I think everyone and myself included, we become.
[00:40:16] We, we think we're experts of multitasking and we're really not at all. And you know, if, if there's, if there's an hour webinar, that one, I remember. So I think it was 90 minutes. So it was a couple of 20 minute presentations break out, wrap up, and then, you know, another kind of conversation as well. So there's 19 minutes and, you know, actually to not do anything else for 90 minutes, if you went to an event and you were sat in an auditorium, You would do that.
[00:40:45] You might look at your emails occasionally on your phone, but that's, it you'll be there. Yeah. But yeah, you got people. Yeah. Doing their emails, doing whatever they're doing, picking up phone calls. And it's like, if you actually want to. [00:41:00] Yeah, for me, what I find what's frustrating. These people, I believe were giving valuable content.
[00:41:04] And actually if they, if they just focused on it, it would be more useful to them. But no, one's no one's like that. And I think one of the things about zoom or, or, you know, doing everything on zoom is people multitask. They don't just go, right. I'm not going to look at anything else. I'm just going to focus on this.
[00:41:21] And I think that's a real shame because actually I think having. Having, you know, that 30 minutes, an hour, 90 minutes out of not looking at anything, turning off all your alerts and whatever actually gives you some Headspace. And it, even if you don't, if you're not focused on that content in the webinar, you'll start thinking about things that you haven't had the chance to think about.
[00:41:45] And yet there might be a little nugget. In the webinar that triggers something off. And I think people that can't do that, they're missing a trick and I'd, I'd love to think, you know, the content that we deliver is so, so engaging, everyone's fully focused, [00:42:00] but yeah, it's not, but it's also interesting that, that one we did, you know, I said, yeah, I w I hosted the webinar and I said, right, we're going to break with you.
[00:42:08] And it was said, we're going to have breakout discussion. Yeah. So be prepared. As soon as we did that, we had at least 10 people drop off. Yeah. And it's like, you know, if you're not, if you're not prepared to talk about your business and the useful things we're talking about, then, then yeah. You've got a problem.
[00:42:25] Yeah. But it's
[00:42:25] Paul Shrimpling: [00:42:25] not your problem. So it's okay. But like at any event, there's 20% of the people in the event I'm really up for it. 20% are really not up for it. And the other 60% will play the game depending on how well you create the game. It sounds as though you're creating a good game there. So yeah. So w w where did the name of Oak come
[00:42:42] Rob Boll: [00:42:42] from then?
[00:42:44] That's a good question. I see. And you said earlier, you actually referred to evoke and I thought I should remember that. so, in, in truth, I liked, I liked the concept of it Woking people's thinking or, or challenging the status quo. I [00:43:00] like that. And so I wanted something like that in the name and I, if I'm completely honest, I think I was sat there.
[00:43:09] When I was looking to set my own thing up, looking at company company names that are available and evoke exactly probably was probably probably a bottle and yeah, like management was, was available and I thought that would be, and that, and that's what we've, we,
[00:43:28] Paul Shrimpling: [00:43:28] I find it an interesting, especially in the context of this conversation and the number of times you've referred to.
[00:43:35] Connection emotions, feelings. Do you know if you can evoke a higher level of feeling in the people that you're working with, your team or your clients, then you you've you've you've done something of value. You know, and if that sound like when you've been contracted in and paid to do something, or whether it's in a challenging conversation, which might not generate anything in particular, you know, your, your, your words, you know, you deliver value, whatever dialogue you have with anybody, right.
[00:43:59] It's, [00:44:00] let's chip something in, and evoke a response. and if, you're not asking decent enough questions to evoke a response, then we're not, we shouldn't be
[00:44:06] Rob Boll: [00:44:06] paid to me. Yeah, no, it's okay. I'm not stuck to exactly where the name came from.
[00:44:14] No, I
[00:44:14] Paul Shrimpling: [00:44:14] think that's a good place to stop. I've really enjoyed the conversation. Rob, thank you for taking time out of that's the, you know, for me that, and I've been in this space with accountants for a long time, it's not look, just ask better questions all year, challenge your clients a little bit more.
[00:44:28] Don't take things for rent. Because often, you know, it's, that's where the value lies and you've definitely confirmed that on this call. So, thank you very much. Really appreciate your, your input today. Thank you.
[00:44:40] Rob Boll: [00:44:40] I might have enjoyed it as well. So thanks bill.
[00:44:44] Paul Shrimpling: [00:44:44] You're fine. More valuable discussions with the leaders of ambitious accounting firms at humanized, the numbers.online.
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Evoke's overview with the accountants' role
Team members and customer profiling
Emotional and financial conversation
Finding out what customers need with quality questions
How to determine a successful week
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