This is podcast four of five in the ACCA strategy series.
Where's the payoff for an accounting firm in getting absolute clarity on the values and the behavioural standards that are expected in their firm?
In this podcast discussion, you'll hear from Cheryl Sharp of Pink Pig Financials and Phool Ashraf of Gains Accountants on how the behavioural standards and values they have in their business impact on their lives as business owners, their teams' lives and their clients' lives too.
"It's the whole person, it's the whole business, the whole journey. It's more than just the numbers. Unfortunately, not every client understands that initially, but as they get to know us, they get to realise, and then they get to see the magic happen, and they get to understand why we're asking these questions and how we can help them.
"They (the team) are not just here to work. I would not go by their technical skills and their intellect. I would go by who they are and whether they fit within the firm, whether they are committed to do what we want to do only, then we can add value into their lives beyond careers and they can bring value into our firm."
Connect with Phool
Connect with Cheryl
Connect with Paul
Paul Shrimpling: [00:00:00] This is podcast four of five of the ACCA Strategy Series. Welcome to the Humanise 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 firm’s results.
Cheryl Sharp: [00:00:25] I don't think you can only focus on the numbers. Just like Paul said, it's the whole person, it's the whole business, the whole journey. It's more than just the numbers. There's a lot more to it than that. And, unfortunately, not every client understands that initially, but as they get to know us, they get to realise, and then they get to see the magic happen, as we say, and they get to understand why we're asking these questions and how we can help them.
Phool Ashraf: [00:00:53] I mean yesterday, I was having a conversation with one of the potential clients who said that he wants to work with us, but he's not yet there. He said that it is the strategy business plan. It sounds very big words, very complex words, but we do not want to make it complex. Necessary, but in a simpler way.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:01:10] Where's the payoff for an accounting firm in getting absolute clarity on the values, the behavioural standards, that are expected in their firm? On this podcast discussion, you'll hear from Cheryl and Phool and how the standards in their business, the values they have in their business, impact on their lives as business owners, their team's lives and also their clients’ lives.
Let's go to that podcast discussion with Phool and Cheryl now.
Phool Ashraf: [00:01:38] Hi, I'm Phool Ashraf, and I'm founder of Gains Accountants. I started my accountancy career about 12 years ago, and most of the time I've spent working with the hospitality businesses. It’s, I wouldn't say I'm a foodie, but I it's my love of the culture that took me into the hospitality industry besides being able to have opportunity to work with them. So I run a dedicated, small team at Gains. We are quite close, very friendly, open, chilled environment in the office. Sometimes it does get stressful. Since we are accountants, we have to work with numbers and challenges, particularly during COVID time, but we still try to help each other.
And we particularly work, in addition to hospitality service sector, which is food and beverage businesses, initially was restaurants, cafes. But now we are moving into take-away or, as we say, docketing or cloud kitchen. I am quite confident, and I pride myself to say that we equally know hospitality industry, as we know accountancy now, by working with hospitality business owners, working through and helping them to overcome their real challenges and then knowing what exactly they need to do in their businesses to make it successful.
As we often hear, hospitality businesses are very challenging, but I equally see accountancy in the same way. So I'm proud to say that we have got to a stage where we understand both industries equally and are glad to work together.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:03:14] Brilliant. Before we move on to Cheryl, Phool, can you just give me an idea about your background before you founded Gains?
What scale, what type of accountancy firms did you develop your knowledge and your skills with?
Phool Ashraf: [00:03:26] Sure. I started working with, I started my career by working in the telecom industry. So, in central London, Waterloo, where I got most of my training, then I went into working for accountancy practices as, you would imagine, as a trainee accountant, moving to the next step of accountancy. And then I started working as a freelance consultant for some time. And then working with quite a lot of different accountancy firms, and I chose to work with the most progressive firms. When I started my accountancy training, things were very different, 12 years ago. We were not into Xero. We were not into cloud space. It was, we were entering that space. So I had that experience of transitioning from debit and credits and quite desktop-based software to completely cloud-based right. And then I would say I've been very, it's been a great opportunity for me to see both areas and learn from that.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:04:26] Fantastic. Thank you very much. So, Cheryl, if you would, give us a little bit of background about yourself and your firm as well.
Cheryl Sharp: [00:04:32] Yeah. So, hi everyone. I'm Cheryl Sharp. I'm the founder of Pinkpig Financials and actually I started in telecoms industry as well, in a business. And similar to Paul, when I first started my career, about 18 years ago,
Sage was the thing. Everyone was on it and that's how I learned. And then I actually went back a little bit and went to a company where they were still on paper records. So I've done the paper records, I've done the Sage. And then when I was in practice, that's when I fell in love with working with loads of different companies and actually helping them to get more out of their businesses really.
And then I set up on my own as Pinkpig Financials. Well, actually going back a little bit, it was called CH Accountancy before then. So we've evolved ourselves. And from day one, I needed to have the flexibility of being digital. So I wanted a goal of being cloud-based from day one. Didn't quite happen as I wanted, but got there eventually.
Paul Shrimpling: Cool. How many in your team, Cheryl?
Cheryl Sharp: So in my team, we're currently a team of four. In the next five weeks, we'll become a team of six, which I’m really excited about. We predominantly work with parent-led companies. So, being a mum myself, it kind of felt that natural step – I can interact with other parents. Initially, I worked mostly with mums and that's now moving to both parents, quite often husband and wife companies.
But I think it helps me because I know exactly what their challenges are. I know that juggle of mum or children and a business and trying to fit in school runs. And then working within school run time, because come three o'clock, you're running around like a headless chicken, trying to get them to all the different clubs and stuff.
So I get that. I get where they're coming from and their struggles. And it's easy for both of us to sympathize with each other. And one of our core values, I'm going to hit it already, is understanding, because we do understand our clients and equally they understand where we're coming from. So if we say to them, oh, I’ve got sports day that day and I can’t actually do a meeting or something, they totally get it. And they're fine with it. Whereas previously I've found that's not always been the case.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:07:06] Let me dive into, given that you've brought us straight to values, which is great, cause it's a key component of any successful strategy, if that's what we're setting the scene for, which is exactly what we're doing, the fact that you've recently interviewed a whole raft of people and narrowed that down to two people that are just starting with you. Explain to me, would you, Cheryl, how you (and I've looked on your website, so I know there are seven values there) how those values showed up in the interview process, if indeed they did at all.
Cheryl Sharp: [00:07:37] Yeah, they did, so initially we asked for videos from the candidates and in there I wanted them to state how at least one of the values they live by and then that's helping us to get to know them a little bit better. And throughout when we had the team meeting with each of the candidates, we could get to know them a little bit better.
We would ask them some things around our values. We probably wouldn't make it as formal as how do you fit in with our value of X, Y Z kind of thing. We kind of ask questions around it to get it out for them without them realising, so we can understand. And then, of course, just in general conversation, we can understand.
And quite often, I think, because we're quite publicized – what our values are and we use it in our hiring process – we find candidates will come to us and say, well, this is what I do that fits in with your values. And it's really nice to see that they go into that, those links initially.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:08:39] Right. So you've gone public on your website with the values. If a candidate’s not referencing them, presumably that raises a question mark in your head as to whether they’re serious about you, does it?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:08:49] Yeah, definitely. And it helps to spot any red flags. So certain things people may say may be against one of our values, in which case at that point, I probably, very rudely and shouldn't be, but I do switch off and just, they get the red cross and it's move on to the next one.
Paul Shrimpling: Do you finish the interview at that point?
Cheryl Sharp: Oh yeah, of course I do.
Paul Shrimpling: You do? Oh you're not really gentle and kind in the next 20 minutes.
Cheryl Sharp: I am gentle and kind, but at that point, we do kind of just...
Paul Shrimpling: Work out how to wrap it up?
Cheryl Sharp: Yeah, we wrap it up. I'm not blunt and like, that's it, you're out the door kind of thing. We do just wrap it up.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:09:28] Right. My next question is to you, Cheryl, and I'm going to just have a quick chat and get Phool involved in this, but my next question is going to be about why value is so important. But before we get there, I just want to get to Phool’s views on how values show up in your firm, on a day to day, week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter basis. What're your views?
Phool Ashraf: [00:09:49] So for us, when I say us, I mean, all the team, we have five. And so it's for customers, for team, for me, for everyone around us. It's all about people. It's people behind businesses, people behind the computers and, eventually, for me, Gains is about people.
And then when we talk about people, it's all about their beliefs, their attitudes, their behaviours, and that we need to make sure that we know that certainly there are differences. So values at that stage guide us, who we want to work with, who we want to be part of in their businesses, who we want to build our community with.
So values, I think would be for us to have utmost value. This is something that leads us. For example, Cheryl was talking about hiring, and I've got a new team member. We had to replace because of COVID, one of our team members, and what I was looking for in a member when I was hiring a team member, I mean, I would never call them an employee.
I mean, I don't, it's just kind of giving them some sort of respect or making them feel like they are part of something. They are not just here to work. So I would not go by their technical skills, their intellect. I would go by who they are and whether they fit within the firm, whether they are committed to do what we want to do. Only then we can add value into their lives beyond careers and they can bring value into our firm, and beyond that, the people we help. Because it's having a wider impact than just helping a few businesses, getting their accounts and compliance done, and maybe going into advisory.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:11:41] Yeah. You've said something very powerful, which is, you know, can we run our businesses so that all the people involved and I mean, yes, team members, yes, clients, and maybe the broader community, feel part of something? So, Phool, what are people part of at Gains? What is the core thing that you folks stand for?
Phool Ashraf: [00:12:04] It's about helping people achieve what they desire, which is much more beyond numbers, beyond money.
I mean, we often talk about financial freedom, mental freedom and time freedom, but it's not only these things. I mean, I'm a mum and I appreciate for me, at times there are certain things that matter. Throughout my career of 12 years of accountancy, I see there have been a lot of changes – when I was an individual, and then when I became a mum of young kids and now mum of school-going kids, then my priorities change as a result. My aim is my ultimate goal, but I do require different things at different stages of my life. And then we try to cater for those internally as well as externally. So if I have a mum working for me, we would want to accommodate their needs, compared to if I have a trainee accountant working for us and we want to accommodate them, maybe their lifestyle. It's much more beyond that. It's, as I said at the beginning, it's all about people.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:13:09] Yeah, it is. So I just want to recap that, cause you mentioned three freedoms. What were the three freedoms? That was a brilliant set piece.
Phool Ashraf: [00:13:15] Time freedom, money freedom, and mental freedom. And I believe mental freedom is the top one that, I mean, if I would prioritize any of those out of any of those three, I would prioritize mental freedom.
Paul Shrimpling: How come?
Phool Ashraf: Because it's my personal experience. I have, at points in my life, I had a lot of money at points in time. I had a lot of time, but the mental freedom has always been a challenge. I mean, when you start working for, to get some money, then you sacrifice certain things that put pressure on you. On the other side, when you try to manage time, then you are somehow sacrificing some other things in your life.
So it's managing the balance in your mind. So ultimately you achieve satisfaction. You feel that you are somewhere that makes you happy ultimately. I mean, we are living life and we are doing business, not just, I mean, obviously people run their business for hobbies, but those are not real business.
So there are always people behind it. And then it links to this and affects your happiness.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:14:16] Cool. So that part of something is adding value to their lives so that they are actually contributing fully, wholeheartedly to you in your business.
Phool Ashraf: [00:14:24] Absolutely. It’s a three-way relationship among us. I always refer to it as a triangle.
I mean, three parties involved, not three relationships, three parties. I always refer to itas a triangle. One is firm, the other one is team, the third is client. And we need to make sure all of these three parties keep everyone happy, contributing positively into each other lives and goals.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:14:46] Brilliant. And so, therefore, the behavioural standards you have in your firm, the values that you set for your organization have to work for all three parts – the firm, the team and the clients. So, Cheryl, why are values so important to you and your business at Pinkpig?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:15:03] I think the fact is, very similar to Phool, actually, is you've got a purpose and…
Paul Shrimpling: What’s that, then?
Cheryl Sharp: My purpose is to provide for my family and give them what they want out of life as well. And our purpose for clients is to help them achieve what they want out of their businesses and their lives. And for us, I didn't just want to focus on the numbers and things like that.
I wanted to build something bigger, and I wanted to really feel like we had a purpose and that we were making a difference to people. And it's funny, my values have changed over time as I've changed as a person. And I think, having those values gives me something to live by every day. So, it helps me to make decisions.
It helps to hire and fire, team members, it helps with clients, making sure we're working with who we want to work with and who fits in with our values. I want my team to want to come to work and not dread speaking to a client because they don't fit with our values or they don't treat us very well or something like that.
So we also use our values with the clients as well, similar to Phool and make sure that they fit with us as well, so that we can work better together at the end of the day.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:16:46] So if I dropped into a team meeting, Cheryl, and asked the team to describe and list out the seven values you got on your website, how well will they be able to share them?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:16:57] They should be able to share them pretty well. I'd like to think they would, anyway. We don't necessarily talk about them as in, let's talk about this value today or that value today, but just in our everyday conversations, it's all around the things… it's just ingrained in us.
And everything comes back to those values really. I’d like to think they pretty much know what they are off the top of their heads, but…
Paul Shrimpling: [00:17:24] One of the challenges, because I worked with many accountancy firms over many years, and one of the challenges in this value space and purpose space (because those two things are connected, aren't they) is, it's like, well, it's so difficult to get clarity on what they are, on what, you know…You use the phrase ‘part of something’, Phool, and Cheryl, you use that, you know, ‘you’ve got to have a purpos’e, you know, very much a similar thing. But you know, I've gone to several firms and I've sat down with the leadership teams and gone, right, let's work out what we stand for here as a firm, or, you know, what's the raison d'etre for this business. And they go, ahh, that's too hard, Paul. Is there a real value payoff, you know, hard-nosed cash, money, wealth payoff for getting clear on what you stand for, what your purpose is, do you think? How would you respond? How would you help me in those meetings, where I think we’ve got to go here, but they're not, you know, they're not necessarily getting it. Cause it just feels either too airy fairy in one way or too difficult in another. Where's the payoff?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:18:34] I think, for us as a small team, we needed to make sure we were all on the same page, more so than because no one can hide, no one can go and do something without us all knowing. So we all need to be on the same hymn sheet, really. So for me, that's what is key is making sure that we're all on the same hymn sheet.
So that's why probably we don't do it as formally as such, but we all know what the end goal is, where the end result is and where are we going and how are we going to do it. Because that's what makes you gel as a team.
Phool Ashraf: [00:19:15] For us, I mean, we live and breathe. I mean, I can't make people to remember our values.
The only way I can make people remember is first, they are on the same page. And that's what we do when we get any clients on board or when we get any team member on board and then we live and breathe every day. I mean, our values are not very long, less complicated. It's just three simple words. Having clarity about that. You are a client. You need to have clarity of what your why you are doing business. What's the reason, core reason behind it. As a team member, you need to know why you are working with Gains. And as a firm, we need to know what role do we want to play, and that is having an impact, a positive impact on our community.
Then effectiveness, everything that we do in our lives, including in our businesses, must be effective. Otherwise, in such a busy world, we are not utilizing our resources and time efficiently, so we need to make it effective. And then empowering. And that's being part of every day that we do something, whether we spend money, whether we spend our knowledge, whether we share something, it should empower you and others.
And we live and breathe. I mean, simply we do not use these words every day, but certainly we share. Does client know this? They don't know, it's okay. Whether it's part of the engagement or not, let's educate them. And I have been saying over the past 12 months, after having a lot of planning, marketing campaigns, everyone I meet, I say, I'm not, I do not want to make sales or generate sales.
All I want to do is educate people. Create awareness. And that's the only way I can get right kind of clients coming on board. I don't want people who are not ready to learn because for me, knowledge is power.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:21:01] So have I got the three words right, Phool – clarity, impact and empowering.
Phool Ashraf: Clarity, effectiveness, and empowerment.
Paul Shrimpling: Effectiveness, sorry. Brilliant. Okay, so have you ever asked a client to leave because they contradicted your values?
Phool Ashraf: [00:21:20] Yes, not very long ago, recently.
Paul Shrimpling: How did that pan out then? What happened and how did you resolve it?
Phool Ashraf: [00:15:21:31] We started working with them recently, but what we found is that they were not aligned. They were, they wanted to do things very fast. They did not want to have clarity over what actually they want to achieve before taking any actions.
And that was some sort of hindrance in how we can make everything effective, every action that we do for them, or whether they do it in their business. As a result, despite our extensive efforts, they could not see the value we were bringing into their business. And whether it's a client or a team, or even myself, I would immediately disengage where we are not adding value into any of these three parties.
Paul Shrimpling: So I get that. So how can you be effective if you're not clear on what you're doing or why you're doing it? And therefore, if you've not got both clarity and effectiveness, there's no way you're going to be empowering anybody, are you?
Phool Ashraf: Absolutely.
Paul Shrimpling: And so you kick them out. Did you kick this client out?
Phool Ashraf: [00:22:32] Obviously we didn’t. We politely said that where we are, what we are thinking and what we suggested them, they might be better off working with someone else.
Paul Shrimpling: So, you politely kicked them out.
Phool Ashraf: Politely disengaged.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:22:47] Well done you. Cheryl, what about you? Any experience of either a client or a team member that didn't stack up to your values and that you've, you know, politely and professionally, like Phool, let them go, as opposed to my style, which is just kick them out.
Cheryl Sharp: [00:23:02] Yeah. I mean, not directly as such, but there's some that we've noticed, one of our values is continuous improvement. And we have lived by this quite a bit, especially in the last few years where we've been improving our processes and things, and we've found that some clients don’t want to move with us, they're quite happy to do it the same way they've always done it. So naturally that relationship has got to come to an end because we're not still doing it that way.
We're doing it this way and this way. And obviously we would…
Paul Shrimpling: That sounds a bit like my way or the highway, Cheryl.
Cheryl Sharp: I was just about to say, it does sound like that. Obviously we try and educate them as to why we're doing it this way, what the benefit is, and why we've changed and why we won't do it the old way, because it's of a benefit to them. And to us, because obviously we want to understand it both ways as well. So, yeah, there have been a few occasions where it has felt like my way or the highway, but at the end of the day we’re doing this for a reason and we're improving for a reason. And if they're not willing to see that and benefit from it, ultimately, then there's going to be friction there, so why continue the relationship?
Paul Shrimpling: [00:24:24] Right. So you've both there, by definition, limited the revenues and profits of the business – by one client in this case, because they didn't fit with your behavioural standards, the way you wanted to work with them. Where’s the payoff of that? Where's the benefit of that?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:24:44] For me, I see it as, if you're disengaging with one client that doesn't quite fit, you're making room for more clients who do it. So you are making space. Because initially at one point I was very like, oh, I can't let them go because we can't afford to. But then I've had a very, very shift in my mindset, very big shift.
And I can see now you are making space for those who are more aligned.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:25:09] Yeah, there's a great line, I think it's from either Paul Dunne or Ron Baker, I can't remember which, and this is for, you know, every client you work with, every hour you invest in the client that doesn't fit is an hour you can't invest in someone who does fit. And so you're disenfranchising your team, your clients, yourself, and what really matters. Phool, what are your thoughts on that? Okay, so you're actually restricting the revenue, the fees and the growth of your business, because you're actually asking, politely and professionally, a client to perhaps find another accountant.
Phool Ashraf: [00:25:40] I don't think so. I have a different opinion. I'm not restricting, I'm opening opportunities better and more. Because if there's a friction, that means that both parties would not get any value, and the value, we can not only put it into monetary value. I mean, for me, time is of more importance than money.
So if we are saving their time and our time, then we are playing smart. We are making room to make more money. And that has happened actually at Gains. We started working with almost everyone. Then we gradually found our way. Because we had to build the practice, we had to build resources to survive.
And then what I found is now the more and more we are, I wouldn't say picky, but the more we find aligned and people who fit within the way we work, then the more benefit we can give to them. And then we have, we are growing at a much faster pace, more enjoyably. We, I mean, one of the things I use in, during my interview calls and meetings, I say with our clients and mostly with our team is, I want everyone to wake up and say, yeah, we are going to work. Yes, we are going to work. We are not, it's not like, oh, it's another working day. So you need to feel motivated. I mean, I discourage any sort of de-motivation among our clients and our team. That makes me come to work.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:04] Very good. Very good. Well, let's just shift this to clients then. So to begin with, let's just have a couple of numbers. So total number of business clients. How many have you got, Phool? How many of you go, Cheryl?
Phool Ashraf: We've got about 80.
Paul Shrimpling: You've got 80 clients, Phool?
Phool Ashraf: The clients we have are kind of multiple side businesses, hospitality businesses are not like one business and that's it. They would have three, four or five different locations.
Paul Shrimpling: Yeah, of course. Multiple businesses within one unit, but you've got 80 of those. Great stuff. Cheryl?
Cheryl Sharp: We've got about 94, I think, on our books at the moment.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:27:39] So I wonder if you can point to a client that either does or does not have a crystal clear set of values and the challenges and problems that the client has as a consequence of not working this out. And there's the clients who've worked it out and they get the upside benefits and there’s clients who haven't worked it out and they're getting the downside results of that. So I just want to see if you can think of a client who's maybe struggling, without naming them, clearly, because they haven't nailed the values, and the client who's succeeding because they have. Where can we go with this? What story would you like to tell us?
Phool Ashraf: [00:28:14] I mean, my personal experience with the hospitality industry is that yes, they are in serious trouble with team members because they haven't locked their values. And as soon as they lock it, I mean, one of our oldest clients I've been working with, I see them – as soon as they are clear, what they want to achieve, how they want to achieve, what are their business values, then they start to, they immediately start retaining their staff. And as we know, hospitality before COVID was mainly human resource based industry. Now it's no changing. It's very important for hospitality businesses to have staff retention, at least for the key management, staff retention. And what I've recently, one of the examples I would like to use, one of our clients, massive business potential.
Everything was restricted. Even they had to… I mean, they joined us fairly recently in 2021. Before that, they were working with general accountants, and they were not getting that sort of insight and value from the general accountants that we add, we are now adding it and the journey, I will just explain then…
It’s understanding. And the understanding makes a huge difference. So what happened was that they were struggling to retain staff members. Business was picking up through docket and online sales, but they had to restrict their operations, they had to reduce their working times, opening times, they had to reduce their deliveries.
And at one point they had to even close their online operations, which was the core of the business for survival, and purely because they didn't know exactly what they wanted to achieve. What's the business about? What are the core values of the business, how did they want to work? They could not bring everyone onto the same table.
Everyone was doing things in a split way and business was not getting anything out of it. It's just a high staff turnover. Now what we did is, we had a few conversations with them, even it was beyond our engagement, but as a help, because we've been wholeheartedly helping hospitality businesses.
So we were, we had a few discussions and we unlocked quite a few things after having, I mean, they understood what exactly was the problem, where they were going wrong. What is the business about, what are the potentials? And it's all, at the end it goes back to their understanding and their assumptions and beliefs in one way that we help them to understand clearly and then do things in a way now they are on set to grow in 2021.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:30:54] So it's perhaps a bit early to point to whether it's made a real difference sustainably over time, but your sense is that they're in a better place now than they were.
Phool Ashraf: [00:31:04] They have made a difference. They have, they have, they were based on two outlets. They have opened the third one in a short period of time, so we can already see things are moving. They are open, they are set to open their operations up in preparation of opening the online operations again at a bigger level.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:31:18] Right. Okay. It's interesting. There was a point you made in there, Phool, about, we're talking about purpose and values, mainly values, but ultimately they result in the behaviours.
It's the things people do that, you know, it's not what they say, it's what people do that determines whether they’re living the values or not.
Phool Ashraf: [00:31:34] Exactly. It all comes from having clarity of where you are in the business, what, how you want to do things as a business owner.
Paul Shrimpling: Well, there's two big questions then – Why – what's your purpose, and How – they’re your values. They’re the two big questions and interesting that, yes, it's not the normal remit of an account visit to have a conversation about values and purpose, or is it? I would argue that maybe that's where the profession is heading.
Phool Ashraf: [00:32:02] I would say, certainly, this is the future of the profession.
I mean, we are often seen as accountants. I mean, pardon me if I'm speaking on behalf of others and they disagree, but we have much more power than just crunching some numbers, and why shouldn't we use it? And I think this is, when we talk about advisory, I feel that this is what we need to do, beyond just management reporting and beyond. Yes, that's necessary. Absolutely. I don't disagree, but then getting to the bottom of it, I have often seen over the past 12 to 18 months that we provide advisory, some sort of reports, right. Won’t make much difference until we go down into the exactly how and why you want to do things.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:32:42] Yeah. And actually helped your clients to make decisions and therefore do something, which then results in taking actions, which then results in you having an accountability conversation. And then all of a sudden we're not behaving like an accountant, we're behaving as an advisor, which, actually the two together is where the real power is.
I got into working with the profession, you know, 18 plus years ago because of my experience as a business owner two times, working with accountants who gave me reports that I didn't understand. And it's like, well, where's the value when the accountant just gives me reports that I don't understand.
So, thanks, Phool, that was brilliant. Cheryl, example of a client who either has, or has not, nailed the values and the impact it's had on their business.
Cheryl Sharp: [00:33:25] I was trying to think of one in particular to speak about and I think it comes back to one that's probably one of my longest serving clients, really.
And when I first met her, she kind of had an idea of what she wanted, who she was, where she was going, but hadn't really nailed it. And she kind of went around the houses, did a little bit, did quite well, and then all of a sudden, I don't really know what happened, but things started to go quite badly, and her business got smaller and smaller and smaller.
And I don't know if she lost the love for it or what, but for awhile, she was just plodding along, aimlessly. And then she kind of got some clarity of what she wanted out of her business. She got some clarity on who she was and who her customers were and what service she wanted to give.
And I think that was the biggest part of it – what service she wanted to give, because her industry was changing in social, well, in marketing in general, the industry was changing, and what she started off with, I think, well, that's where she realized is what she was offering wasn't needed anymore because the market was over saturated.
So she changed her offering. Really defined who she was as a person, her values, her purpose, what she wants to have for business, what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it, who she wanted to work with. And as soon as she'd made those, really got those clear and put that down on paper, her business just completely turned around, fairly overnight.
And her business is absolutely thriving now. Two years later, she's just growing and growing and growing and it's so lovely to see.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:35:27] I bet it is if you’ve worked with her for a long time.
Cheryl Sharp: Yeah, it really is. It’s amazing. It's life-changing, I think. I know that's a really bold statement, but it is… once you actually know where you're going and what you want and who you are and who you want to work with, I think it just, it makes all the difference. I don't feel you can grow as a person or grow as a business until you know exactly what you're doing and how you're going to do it.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:35:54] So how do you, what sort of conversations, what sort of questions do you ask clients to help them establish what their values are and what their purpose is?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:36:02] So we've got a set of questions, but I usually go completely off script with them. We kind of just have a conversation and I ask, I usually kind of ask, so what's the dream? What do you want out of life? Where do you see yourself? And then the conversation just goes from there. And every single conversation is different.
And then it's just listening out for those little cues of little things, and sometimes they don't even realize it themselves. And it's just those little ah-ha moments. I mean, I have it all the time with my own coach, when she's digging deeper, and I've probably actually learnt quite a lot of techniques from her as well, to question and go, but what about this? Or what about that? Or what if? What if is a brilliant one she's taught me. What if there were no barriers? What if there was no issue of money, no issue of time, you know, what if you could have whatever you want in life, what is it you want, and just giving them options. And sometimes I think it's things they don't even think about that actually is what they want, or they're just maybe too scared to say it.
But you've got to build that trust first, haven't you? So it's hard to pick it out. It could take quite a while to do some of them, we’re not actually getting those juicy things out until two or three years down the line, because they're not so open initially. So it is like peeling layers.
Paul Shrimpling: Yes, the proverbial onion, like Shrek. It is from Shrek, if I’ve got that right. He talks about peeling the onion. So if you've got children, you must have watched Shrek. If you haven't, you've got to watch Shrek.
Cheryl Sharp: I’m probably the only parent who hasn’t.
Paul Shrimpling: It’s very funny, it was one of my kids' favourites. But you’re right,
Cheryl, you can only help those who want helping.
Cheryl Sharp: Yes, definitely.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:37:57] And if you stay in the race and then, you know, they match in your values and fit with your business, then you play the long game with that. And if you’re consistently asking those questions over time, without being too overzealous and rude, eventually maybe you'll establish the trust that comes with time, because trust is, it requires time, doesn’t it? It's not something that happens in one meeting with one business owner, it doesn't. But there was a point there, Cheryl, about the questions talking about the goals and vision of a business owner, as opposed to something which is very different, which is the purpose and values of a business.
Have you got other particular questions that focus in on, you know, what people stand for? Is that scripted, even if you do go off script?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:38:51] No, I haven't kind of scripted that it, well, I normally find it comes out as part of the general conversation, the goals and the vision. So it kind of then goes from there. When we do business planning meetings, quite often I will ask specific questions, what are your goals? What do you stand for? What are your, what is your purpose? And we'll get to go into that a bit further.
Paul Shrimpling: Do you not get quizzical looks when you ask that, you know, what do you stand for, what’s your purpose? Do you not see them go, I just don’t know?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:39:25] Yeah, sometimes, sometimes it's really like they haven't got a clue what I'm talking about and even more so, like, you're not meant to deal with this, you're meant to be dealing with numbers, and I'm like, yeah, I know, but this is how we get to the numbers side of it. You can’t, I don't think you can only focus on the numbers. Just like Phool said, it's the whole person, it's the whole business, the whole journey. It's more than just the numbers. There's a lot more to it than that. And unfortunately, not every client understands that initially, but as they get to know us, they get to realize, and then they get to see the magic happen, as we say, and they get to understand why we're asking these questions and how we can help them.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:40:10] Brilliant, that was gold dust. Thank you, Cheryl. Phool, what's your process for engaging accountants, typically, and I don't mean to offend anybody, accountants typically are uncomfortable with ambiguity. So asking a question they don't know what the answer is going to be, about, you know, goals, vision, purpose, values, all those strategic style questions, some accountants feel uncomfortable with that. There's a high degree of uncertainty attached to it. So what do you do to overcome that, Phool, in your business?
Phool Ashraf: [00:40:44] We have trained ourselves. You're absolutely right. It was very difficult at the beginning to ask people questions which we think are unrelated to numbers, or we are not engaging to ask those sort of questions, but we understood that this, if we want to impact our client’s business positively, if we want to add value, if we want to offer them solution rather than a service (and I often say we do not provide service, we provide a solution to your problems), then we have to go into those kinds of conversations. We have to raise those questions. And for us typically, I mean, even before we engaged, during our initial conversations, we would, we start with, related to purpose and values, we would start with two key questions. What are your goals? What are your challenges? And we go in reverse order? They would say, for example, often from the hospitality industry, we say that VAT is a bill that they often fall behind to pay, and then we start digging into it and then it often ends up where they understand how, why, what of their businesses and, eventually, purpose and values and why things are going wrong. What they are….
Paul Shrimpling: [00:41:59] Hang on, hang on, hang on. So we’re having a conversation about VAT problems and it turns into a conversation about their purpose and goals? How do you manage that one?
Phool Ashraf: [00:42:10] Often, I mean, this is one of the common problems I hear, that VAT is something that takes their profits away.
I mean, margins are quite slim and then we start – why do you think so? Have you checked your numbers? No, we know on a rough basis. Okay. Then, now what do you mean? Are these close to what exactly should happen? Is VAT a real problem, or is it that you don't save up enough, or you use the VAT? Yes, we kind of manage cashflow to save up for VAT or keep it on the side, but it actually doesn't happen. Okay. And then how do you manage cashflow? It's not regular, because we are so busy working. It’s quite dynamic and if we are busy. Okay. But why do you work in your business, why when you have full team to manage your business? But it happens during busy time again, then there is some sort of operational things that you need to do.
Okay. Operations are fine. And then it leads into, like, how you have set up operations. And if you have set up operations that way, why have you set up operations in that way? Because that's how I started business. It does not necessarily mean that’s how you should do it. And why did you start a business in this way?
Did you actually want to do this? No, I wanted to do this. This is what I have planned, but things have changed through the way. And then by the end of the conversation, and it typically takes, I mean, we plan 15 minutes, but typically such kinds of long conversations does not happen with every client, but who is entrusted, ends up in 30 minutes, I almost get to a point where I understand why they are doing things wrong and whether they have realized, not even locking and having clarity of it is something completely different. Have they realized why they started, how they wanted to do and what's going exactly wrong?
Paul Shrimpling: [00:43:58] Brilliant. So here we’ve got … I think that's genius. You've got to focus on their challenges and their goals, but then they throw up the challenge to VAT. And then the conversation goes from VAT to profits, to cashflow, operating systems or processes for managing the cash flow. Why are you involved? Is that how you want to set up the business in the first place?
No, it's not. What do you want? And then all of a sudden you've gone from VAT in three or four or five steps to a place where they share, bearing their soul on why they set the business up in the first place.
Phool Ashraf: [00:44:28] Exactly. I mean, if I say it's strategy – I mean, yesterday I was having a conversation with one of the potential clients who said that he wants to work with us, but he's not yet there.
It said that it is a strategy business plan. It sounds very big words, very complex words, but we do not want to make it complex. Necessary, but in the simplest way.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:44:49] Brilliant. So I'm just capturing notes. I'm sorry if I'm delayed, it's just so many great comments here. So, we've got, there's a strategy for Pinkpig, I’m guessing, and there's a strategy for Gains. And if there is a strategy, we've got a crystal clear vision of the future of your business. What is it?
Phool Ashraf: [00:45:16] So at Gains, we want to have, I mean, obviously if you say I want to have an impact on businesses, it's a very big thing to say. And, to be honest, I'm still working through to what extent we can make an impact and for how many businesses. But what we want for the next, so I said to plan in stages, our first immediate goal over the next three years is to have a bigger impact on hospitality businesses, restaurants, cafes, and take away, and help them transit from human resource based industry to more technological based industry, as we see the transition. Cause I've gone through that. And then for Gains, the strategy is to have automated, digitized workflow to give well-informed decision-making power to our clients and support them on their journeys to achieve what they want us to support. I see our success to success of our clients.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:46:20] Brilliant. Well, it's great that you start that piece, Phool, with, it's sort of work in progress, but we've got a sort of vision. And then you say very bluntly, it’s also digitised workflow process and that we have a bigger impact on our clients so that they move from HR to tech and then..’
Phool Ashraf: [00:46:35] Absolutely. It’s the gap in the market. Sorry to interrupt you. It's a gap. I've seen a big gap in the market that I want to fill in for hospitality. I mean, I might be naive to say that, but I have researched industry. And to the extent I have researched it, I haven't seen any organization related to numbers where the financial advisors, accountants, tax advisors, or management advisors offering the kind of service that actually hospitality businesses need, which is having weekly latitude, having operational efficiency over their numbers, over what's happening in the business. And that's the gap we want to bridge. We often see either management, tax or business, and we are just bringing everything together for them.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:47:17] Yeah. You know, retail and hospitality, it’s a weekly business, isn’t it, there's a weekly rhythm to it.
Just in my view, that's the same with accountants, by the way. I think there's a weekly rhythm to accountancy, not monthly or quarterly, it's weekly, or possibly daily, depending on your perspective. But the fact is you set out something which is very close to my heart, Phool, which is our role is to help our clients make well informed decisions.
The accountancy work enables that. Where's the value – in the accountancy or in the well-informed decision? It's in the well-informed decision. I love that. Well done. What's your’s, Cheryl?
Cheryl Sharp: [00:47:53] Big thing is to help our clients do the things they love with the people they love. That’s one thing that we are really key and focus on and trying to lead by example a little bit, to show that it is possible.
It is possible to run a family and also achieve your goals. And I've got quite a few personal goals. I've got one very big one that we're working towards and hoping to achieve in the next two years, and I think the fact that I can work towards my goals helps me then in turn to help clients work as well to their goals.
And I'm also helping my team to work to their goals. They've got things they want to achieve, they've got things they want to do. And thankfully, all of our goals are aligned. We made sure that was part of the interview process so that our goals were aligned and it's helping them to grow as well.
So we've been a very small team up until now and growing and seeing where they're going is, it's been amazing, and giving my team the opportunity to have a career around the children is really key, I think, as well, because what I found, especially when I had my children and was trying to find work, there wasn't the availability there, there wasn't the opportunities. So being able to give that back to other working moms that do only want to work part-time, but they've got such fabulous skillsets and they're often overlooked. So it's all about helping everyone achieve their goals and make sure that they’re all working towards what they want out of life.
And I'm actually enjoying life.
Paul Shrimpling: [00:49:42] What a great way to finish a podcast discussion about humanize the numbers, with a strategic focus, when we end up talking about, you know, look what you're doing, look where you're going, love the journey you're on. And the point you made there, Cheryl, about leading by example.
You know, if we don't, then it's a falsehood, isn't it? You've got to be real and authentic. And that's very clear from the discussions today that you two are both very much leading by example and driving your businesses. And actually I would suggest maybe even leading the profession a little in this softer space, which is more meaningful conversations in order to help our clients make bigger and better decisions.
Thank you for reassuring me. I set this business up for 14 years ago and my goal was to have every school holiday off with the kids, which is what we did. And the kids have now all left home and we still have all the school holidays off, which has limited the performance of the business.
However, you know, there's a life to be lived, which is part of business, which we love/ And one of my values is wholehearted. And if you can't do it wholehearted, then why would you want to be in business? And, Cheryl, Phool, I've loved this today. Thank you very, very much. I really appreciate you taking time out and sharing your views and thoughts on purpose, values and that whole strategic setting of our businesses, your businesses and clients as well. Thank you very much.
Phool Ashraf/Cheryl Sharp: It's been a pleasure. Thank you, Paul.
Paul Shrimpling: You'll find more valuable discussions with the leaders of ambitious accounting firms at HumaniseTheNumbers.online. Go to the show notes for this podcast and click the link to get access to the full series on strategy for accountants. You can also sign up to be notified each time a new podcast is made available.
Values within the recruitment process
Values on a day to day basis
Gains' values and the 3 freedoms
Values at Pink Pig
The advantages of getting clear on values
Making time for the right clients
The challenges in not having clear values
Helping clients to establish their values
Channelling conversations towards values
What is the vision
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