Steve: [00:00:00] I don’t think that is particularly useful to accountants because accountants, of course, have this position of trust through which they can be a phenomenal force for good in the world.
Geraldine: [00:00:10] Welcome to Epic Business Growth for CPAs. My name is Geraldine Carter, founder of She Thinks Big Coaching. This is the place to be if you are a CPA who wants to grow your accounting practice. Weekly episodes are full of strategies and action steps that create a clear path for growth without working harder. Time to get inspired and grow your business.
It is my great pleasure to introduce today’s guest. Officially the world’s most highly rated advisor to accountant, Steve Pipe is a bestselling author, dynamic speaker, and founder of Accountants Changing the World and the AVN Association of Proactive UK Accountants.
I wanted to interview Steve to talk with him about where he sees CPAs and accountants getting stuck in growing their own businesses as well as to talk about his current path being a force for good in the world and inspiring and showing business owners and accountants how to do the same in their own businesses.
Please welcome Steve Pipe.
Steve Pipe, welcome to the Epic Business Growth for CPAs Podcast.
Steve: [00:01:16] Thanks so much for having me, Geraldine.
Geraldine: [00:01:17] I am so excited to have you on. There are a lot of directions that we could go in today, but what we are going to talk about is the state of where it, not the state of where CPAs are, but some of the common traps that CPAs fall into, and how they might get out of them, and as they grow their business and their practices,
how can they increase their impact either at a community scale, local scale, or on upwards to a more global scale. So, before we jump into that, though, in your own words, why don’t you give us a quick story of how you got to where you are because you have had quite a journey.
Steve: [00:01:57] Well, I guess so. Yes. I am a 58-year-old now—a chartered accountant. I am married to an accountant. I have three adult children, one of whom was a trainee accountant. The other two are married to accountants. Accountancy is deep in my veins. I love this profession. I qualified with KPMG. I was head of finance for the 150 brilliant turnover division of Kodak.
I set up my own accounting business, sold that. Set up my own consulting business, which we grew to a team of 40 people. That was consulting exclusively with accountants in the UK. Sold that on my 50th birthday to the management team, and for the last eight years since then, I have been increasingly focused on the things I love.
I have always done things I love, but the things I love which are understanding what works for accountants, understanding what works for the world, understanding what works for business. Writing about it and talking about it and creating tools, which I now give away freely to any accountant, any business, anywhere in the world to do those things. So that is where I’ve come from.
And along the way, I picked up a few awards and various things. But the important thing is that I believe passionately in this profession, and through my research, I have got some interesting insights into what the profession can do. What the profession must do.
Geraldine: [00:03:14] Excellent. I love that. And just to call out some of your words, I think the UK is the entrepreneur of the year award. Is that right?
Steve: [00:03:20] Yes. One of the leading trade magazines over here in the UK has an annual award scheme. And I was the first-ever winner of the UK Entrepreneur Year Award through accountancy age. They then stopped that particular category. So, I guess you could say all these years I am still the reigning UK Entrepreneur of The Year.
Because they would else be given that title, but Hey, it is just a bit of glass sitting on the shelf over there. It doesn’t really matter.
Geraldine: [00:03:44] It sounds to me like you are the one and only entrepreneur of the year.
Steve: [00:03:47] That is one way of spinning it if you choose to.
Geraldine: [00:03:51] And also the accountant with the most testimonials on LinkedIn.
Steve: [00:03:54] I am really proud of that. Yes. I mean, you used to be able to do a sort on LinkedIn that would put at the top of the list, the people that you could sort by a number of testimonials received. And someone wanted to do that for me and showed me that I was at the top of that list. It happens we got about 520.
I think the key to getting lots of testimonials on LinkedIn is two-fold. It is an enjoyable thing to do. It is great for your self-esteem, which is one of the issues I think we might choose to come back to. But the key to getting loads of testimonials on LinkedIn is twofold. One, do lots of great, threefold actually, do lots of great things that people love. Help them a lot. Be kind and nice. And then when you have done great things, and you have been kind and nice when someone says thank you, that was really kind to you or that was a really great view. Well, thank you. That was really helpful. Ask them if they would not mind giving you a testimonial on LinkedIn. Because the overwhelming majority of people do.
That is how I have got so many of those three things. I have tried to do a great job, tried to be kind of nice. And then when people who said, thank you, I have said, well, would you mind giving me a testimonial on LinkedIn? You know, LinkedIn testimonies are not a perfect indication of whether someone is good or not, but increasingly we are all using things like TripAdvisor, aren’t we, to judge restaurants, and hotels, and tourist attractions.
And if an attraction or a hotel or restaurant does not have many reviews, we draw a conclusion from that. Certainly, it doesn’t have very many good reviews. The same sort of way, if there is one accountant, leave me out the equation. But if someone is choosing an accountant in Bozeman, let us say, and one of those accountants has got no recommendations, testimonials on LinkedIn, or it got just a couple. The other one got 50 or a hundred, what are people likely to conclude about those two accountants?
One of them is probably better than the other. It is a conclusion. It may not be the truth, but it is a perception based on that stuff. So, I think it is important that that’s one of the things that accountants do. Do great work, be kind and helpful. And then when people say thank you, ask for testimonials.
That was a distraction, but a sidetrack, but hopefully an interesting one.
Geraldine: [00:05:55] I think it speaks to doing great work, right?
Steve: [00:05:58] Yes.
Geraldine: [00:05:59] One of the things you touched on in there that we were going to visit was accountants doing great work and having the confidence and believing in the quality of the great work and the value that they’re providing.
Steve: [00:06:08] Yes.
Geraldine: [00:06:08] And do it so much more, being successful in your business is so much more than simply just turning out a great compliance, 10-40, what have you scheduled will see and more. There’s so much more to that. And I’m curious to know what your journey was in discovering what great work for clients actually is.
Steve: [00:06:28] Well, that simply has not been asked the question in that way before. So, I started as an audit trainee and then an audit manager in what is now KPMG. And so, my skill set initially was all in that field of audit. And then, our first child was born. She’s now a 29-year-old young doctor here in the UK. And when Laura was born, within two weeks, I decided I didn’t want to work stupid hours anymore for someone else. I wanted to hand in my notice. I wanted to be there with my young family. So I handed in my notice with my wife’s permission. And that started my completely different journey from the big blue-chip environment of KPMG and Kodak and through to the small environment.
Now, I decided just to set up my own accounting practice, which I did, but I was six months after Laura was born. But I didn’t have as an auditor any of the skills that were going to be useful to clients. I was never going to win a single client in the UK as an auditor because the rules just changed in the UK audit market, and I wasn’t even eligible to do audits, let alone, even though the only thing I was trained for was that.
So, I had to re-skill completely and what became apparent very quickly was that the small business clients, the startups, the very small businesses, the one-man bands, two or three-person businesses that I was winning that were interested in talking. They were willing to speak to me as potential clients. Yes, they wanted their accounts and tax affairs sorted out and filed with the tax authorities and so on.
But they wanted much more than that they wanted their businesses, their little businesses on which their entire family’s livelihood depended, their family’s entire financial future depended, they wanted those small businesses to be a bit more successful. And the accountants, they had been talking to up until that point had just not helped with that, or totally not taught the right kind of language.
They’re not doing the right kind of analysis. They’re not offered the right kind of help. So, at that very early stage, as a startup business, not being capable of doing audits, which, not being allowed to do, the only thing I was skilled for, I had to rescale myself.
So, I went out and read a lot of books around profit improvement for small businesses. You know, what can small businesses do to improve their sales, their profitability, their success. And I ended up having read 20 or 30 other people’s books. I ended up writing my own book and extraordinarily got it published.
That was back in the days when you couldn’t just put your own book up on Amazon, so I got a proper publisher to publish it. It was called 101 Ways To Make More Profits. They had it translated into 13 languages around the world because it seems to sort of hit the spot, which was punchy, bite-size, plain English. Ready to understand practical advice for small businesses to help them tackle the obvious things that they weren’t doing right or weren’t doing at all in their businesses and do something about them to make the business a little bit more successful. One little idea at a time. The cumulative effect, the combined effect of which often would lead to quite significant improvements in the underlying success, profits of the business, and, therefore, in the family’s finances.
And that was the other thing that I learned at that point is that for many small businesses, while technically there’s a distinction between the business and its profit and loss account and balance sheet and the family, for all practical purposes, those things are so interlinked. They are so dependent on each other that if we just as accountants, bookkeepers, advisors focus on the business issues, the business financial issues, we actually miss something, which is even more important. If you sit down with any client, this is my experience, and I asked the question many times, sit down with any client, and ask them ultimately in the final analysis, which is more important to you, your business, or your family?
They will always say, family. And therefore, why is it that we as accountants focus almost all our effort on the thing that is actually less important to them, the business, and practically no effort whatsoever on something which is fundamentally more important to them, their family’s finances. And given those two things are intertwined.
And given that the skills that we have can easily be crossed over between those two. So, that’s increasingly where I began to focus on helping businesses become more successful and helping the people behind those businesses understand and make better decisions around their personal finances.
Now, I have never been a financial advisor in the sense of regulated work around products, pensions, investments, and don’t have any of those skills. Never have any of those qualifications, never straight into any of those fields. What I’m talking about is much more basic, much more rudimentary, much simpler than that.
And one of the things that I’ve found was the most useful I could do for my clients at all, was to sit down with them and help them produce a balance sheet for their family. There’s an accountant, and there’s bookkeeper accountants. We always provide balance sheets for their businesses, which has some of their assets and liabilities.
Those ones which are sort of artificial in the business environment. But the business is just one of the assets, or if they’re unlucky liabilities that they own, they’ve got a whole load of other assets and liabilities as well. If we were to draw up a balance sheet for the family, taking man and wife, whatever the two partners are, wherever those assets lie and have a combined balance sheet for the family unit. Because of course, the family’s financial future is going to be the bedrock in that balance sheet. And where it goes on to become and over the 20, 30, 50 years ahead of them.
We take that personal balance sheet, and if we couple that with a set of forecasts that open, take the balance sheet today as the starting point and roll it forward one year and under. It was just talking about a spreadsheet with opening balances from the balance sheet now. One column for each year going right the way through to retirement and beyond retirement through to maybe a hundred. Let’s hope we all live that long. And looked and you know the ins and outs, the income, the receipts, the payments, the expenditure, showing the net position and how that moves over time.
I promise you that when you do that for a small business, pennies drop. Things come into focus. Issues are identified. Problems are often identified, but at least they’re identified now, while we can still do something about it. Most of the time, the numbers don’t stack up. Most of the time, they haven’t got a successful enough business to generate enough income to give them the life they want to live.
Most of the time, they are not managing their investments well enough to top that up. Most of the time they’re unrealistic about where they’ll be in retirement and therefore the sort of levels of income and lifestyle, they’ll be able to live beyond that. And when you start identifying this with them, then the motivation to do something is because doing something to improve the profits of the business, for example, it’s not just about this artificial thing called the profits of my business this year. It actually, it’s shaping the whole of the rest of their life. Oh, well, in that context, I’m much more likely to do something about it on site. It’s shaping my ability to retire when I choose to develop my ability to go on the holidays I want to do. To take that gap year, I want to set my kids up with an educational or starter home or some other kind of health or whatever.
It’s shaping my ability to do all those things. And yet most accountants never go there. They never go there with the analysis. They never go there with the advice. When you start identifying those issues, suddenly, you’ve got clients who sit up, take notice, and want more from you. They want help from the person that’s just identified the problem, just identified the issues.
They’re relieved that finally, they’ve got a beginning to get a handle. Even if it’s, even if it’s not, even if the numbers aren’t telling them what they wanted to hear is what they need to hear. And it’s what they need to know in order to start to make things better. So, my journey was really around that.
And I tell you, I’ll give you an example. I think for me, as back in the day when I was running my accounting business, the single most important, valuable, worthwhile piece of work I ever did was for a then 50-year-old called Ken. Ken was working in an industry, the printing industry where technology had overtaken his skills.
He had been phenomenally good. But computers had come along and the things he used to do with his hands, just weren’t needed anymore and had to try and adapt to this whole new world of computers. And it did his head in, and he was getting really ill having to go into work every day as an employee in someone else’s business.
So, it was getting really stressed, really ill actually by the fact that he couldn’t cope with the new technological challenges and pressures. And I sat down with Ken and said, well, why don’t you retire? And he said, well, I can’t afford to retire. He was in his mid-fifties. Younger than I am now.
Can’t afford to retire, Steven. And so, I said, well, okay, let’s look at the numbers. We did a personal balance sheet, and they were sitting on, you know, we’re living in a rather nice house because property prices on the outskirts of London have gone up. So, there’s quite a lot of capital in the house.
We then did one of these sets of forecasts right the way through to when he was lighting to be 95 or so. And I was able to show to him that with the levels of expenditure, the kind of lifestyle that he and his wife wanted. His wife, Joe wanted to live the numbers stacked up. They were not going to run out of money.
He could stop working now. He didn’t have to go through that stress. The whole of the rest of his life could be happy. And the money side of it was already taken care of by the things I had already done. Now I double checked and rechecked those numbers many, many times. I’ll tell you why in a second.
And ultimately, he didn’t initially believe it, but ultimately thought, I’ve got to do this. So, he actually handed in his notice. Now, what I didn’t say before is that Ken and Joe were my mum and dad, and so this really, really mattered. They weren’t paying me for this advice. This was a piece of advice that I, as a loving son, gave them this bit of analysis that was so important that I did it for my parents.
I mean, why they wouldn’t do this for our clients as well, but I did it for my parents. So, it completely changed their lifestyle. He was able to stop working and got, well again. He wasn’t stressed, and they enjoyed another 15 many happy years together. So, I think that’s the most valuable thing I’ve ever done for anybody as an accountant.
And, all it took was a bit of spreadsheet in skills. Any accountant in the world could have done that. And this is the point every accountant in the world should be doing that for their clients. Should do it for themselves first to get a sense of it, and then once they created some templates and so on for themselves, do it with their clients. It’s such an easy thing to do. It’s such a powerful thing to do, and it opens up a whole new set of conversations, a whole new set of advice areas that the client might want to focus on. In dad’s case, the advice simply, stop work. He was never paying me anyway, so that was great advice.
But in other business cases, you know, stopping work is not an option. It’s not the issue either. Then the issue might be, we need to make this business more profitable. We need to drive down our tax bills a bit more. We need to improve the efficiencies, we need to put in technology, so we’re working fewer hours. It’s not going to kill us along the way. These are all things that accountants can help with, and that personal finance approach really helps focus the business owner on why that matters. It’s not just about profits in the business. It’s about the shape of their entire life. Yes. We can make a profound difference as accountants, but mostly we don’t.
Geraldine : [00:18:12] Why not?
Steve: [00:18:14] Yes. Well, I think much of it comes back to the fact that, and I’ll speak more from experience here in the UK because I’m a UK accountant. I’ve spent 20 years working predominantly with UK accountants. So, I understand the profession here. But I think everything I’ve seen when I’ve traveled to the States and beyond, it applies equally elsewhere.
I think the core problem is that the accounting profession typically doesn’t have a very high level of self-esteem. And because we don’t have this self-esteem, when someone else’s at the dinner party, so, what is it you do? I’m an accountant. We hope they didn’t do that. Once we try to get the conversation, move on-off.
We’re almost embarrassed about this. Why should that be? And the problem that, that low self-esteem leads to is when we’re sitting down with a client, and we have the conversation, we get to the point of the conversation about how much it’s going to cost, and we come up with a figure, let’s say, and they go, how much? Because of our low self-esteem, we just immediately crash and burn.
We just, Oh, let me work it out again. Or I can sharpen my pencil, or we reduce the price, we crash and burn. What ends up happening because of that low self-esteem is that most accountants charge too little for most things. And the consequence of charging too little is fundamental and fundamentally damaging at least one and probably all three types of compromises.
You are either forced to compromise your income level. You settle for earning less money because you’re charging, you’re not charging enough, your fees are small. So, you either compromise your family’s entire financial future. Some accountantss go that route or because you’re not willing to go that route.
If you can’t make a good enough living 40 hours a week, you work 70 hours. So, you’ve compromised your work-life balance to make up for the fact that per hour, you’re not earning enough. I wouldn’t suggest charging by the hour, but if you do, the mass per hour, on average, earn enough, so you compromise your work-life balance in order to make up for the gap.
So, either you’re compromising your income, or you’re compromising your health, your happiness, your family connections, your family time, your free time, your hobbies, and so on. Or the third compromise that accountants often make is, okay, if they’re only willing to pay me half or a fraction of what the fees should be. Obviously, at that lower fee, I can only do a bit of the bare minimum service.
None of this personal balance sheet. I mean, I’ve got time for a personal balance sheet. For example, I’ve got time to advise them on improving their profits or rolling forward a set of financial forecasts. In fact, I’ve got time to do anything other than the statutorily required minimum to file their accounts and tax details and so on.
So, that’s what I’ll do because that’s all they’re paying me for. And so, we compromise the service levels. We’re not genuinely proactive. We don’t have enough time, we don’t have enough budget, because we don’t have enough fees. To do a great job, we do an adequate job.
And because we do an adequate job, we don’t attract more of the great kind of clients that want a great accountant doing great work. So, we ended up getting this downward spiral of clients who only come to us because we charge a little, they recommend other people that come just because we charge a little, we do less and less work.
We try less and less attractive pigments. It’s a vicious downward spiral. I’m waving my hands around, symbolizing spirals. I recognize that you can’t see that, but I think everybody gets the point.
In contrast, when an accountant really starts to focus on helping their clients. The process that I’ve learned if I go back and tell you a little bit more about my journey, I did two degrees in economics. I loved economics. In fact, in truth, I would have become a professional economist if there were any jobs for professional economists in the small mining town in Yorkshire, England, where I was getting married, and that’s where my wife lived in the West, where we were going to live.
Inevitably, there were no economist jobs there, so I became an accountant in the state. Turns out though that, almost everything I learned as an economist back then was a waste of time because economics has moved on. Economics used to assume that businesses and people made rational decisions. You’ve got this rational decision making, optimizing equilibrium—economics problem.
Geraldine: [00:22:21] Who came up with that idea?
Steve: [00:22:23] That was the dominant model for hundreds of years until very, very recently, and Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize for economics, for basically, working out what was patently obvious, which is most of the time, most of us don’t behave rationally.
Most of our decisions are not driven by rational analysis. There’s a whole load of others, what they call fast-thinking, instant reaction, knee jerk, the habit driven. All manner of other suboptimal decision-making processes. Now, that kind of suboptimal decision making is absolutely fine over the choice of which beer I’m going to drink this evening.
By the way, red bottles like Budweiser are more appealing. They make you salivate a bit more, so you’re much more likely to want to drink them. wWhich is why most of the high-volume selling food and drink is packaged in bread. You think about it. So, that’s not necessarily rational in the sense of is the beer any good?
But actually, it is. It’s what drives that decision. That’s fine over the choice of beer. But when the decisions are fundamental to the entire shape of your life as they are in business. Your profit decisions, your pricing decisions, your strategic decisions, your personal finance decisions. These were shaped your entire future going forward.
I don’t think they should be made based on the equivalent of what color bottle is, what color is the label on the bottle. They should be much more data-driven. They should be much more rational than that. So, we need slow and analytical, thoughtful decision making. And that’s where the accountants come in because better the logical flow is this.
Our job as accountants is to help our clients get better data. All that technology, cloud technology out there makes that easier than ever before and do better analysis of that data. So, that we help our clients crucially make better, more analytically driven data-driven decisions. Because when they make better decisions with our help, as their finance professional?
Then those better decisions flow through into better results. And those better results create better lives for the people working in running and owning those businesses. Higher levels of profits, more ability to pay salaries, greater wealth being generated. And those things, in turn, flow through to creating a better world.
So, there’s this natural flow, and it’s rooted in better data, better analysis, and better decision making. It’s rooted in the need to restore rationality into the decision-making process. That should be the role for the accounting profession going forward. Not assuming people make rational decisions already, and therefore there’s nothing we need to do.
That’s what the old economic model said. The new kind of economics, which is called Behavioral Economics because it studies how people behave. That’s why Daniel Kahneman won his Nobel prize for economics. Look at what people do and what they do most of the time is they don’t get the input, the advice, the support they need, and therefore they don’t make rational decisions.
Who else, if not the accounting profession, can step in and bridge that gap? Who else, if not the accounting profession, can help businesses get better data, do better analysis, make better decisions, create better businesses, get better results, build better lives, lead to a better world? That’s our role, I think.
And so, the personal balance sheet is one example of the sort of the models, the approach, the methodology we can use to help restore rationality into the decision-making process. Another thing we can do is we can properly understand the profit model in businesses. Now, if you ask most accountants if a client comes into most accountants and says, I’d like to improve my profits. What can I do?
I’ll tell you what most accountants effectively say. They draw in this deep breath as if they’re about to share some huge words of wisdom, and they say, well, essentially, Mr. Client, I’ve been with Dave, all my clients, well, role-plays always involve the other person we called Dave.
So, stick with me describing the other person’s data, so I’m the accountant. Well, essentially, Dave, there are two ways in which you can improve your profits. You can either increase your sales or, you can reduce your profits here and with the lesson. Now, you tell me how useful that is? But it’s because profits are defined as sales minus cost.
That’s where most accountants finish with the analysis. What we can do is we can drill down into the underlying model that drives profitability. We can break the profit equation of any business down into a series of components. And so, I wrote a book with Mark Wickersham that takes those components and makes them really obvious, and it gives you step by step guidance on how to use them.
Anybody listening to this podcast can download a copy of that, but you can buy it on Amazon. Please don’t. You can download a copy of that book from my website stevepipe.com and give it away for free. In fact, I’m giving away all the books I’ve written to the extent that I was only able to do that IP wise.
So, I have a sort of an annoying publisher in the way that prevents me. But to the extent that I can, all the books I’ve written, all of the work I’ve done, all the research I’ve identified, I’m now giving away for free with no expectation of anything in return. And there is a book that sets out that profit.
How we can you take any business, break its profit equation down into the component parts, and then how you can start working with the clients around those component parts to help them start discovering or at least imagining and testing ideas to try and make things better. And if they get better results, they build that test into the business model.
And if they don’t, they try something else in that iterative process with your help and guidance moves way beyond the sale with profits or sales minus cost into something much more useful and practical. So, there’s the second thing that I think every accountant should do is understand how to put together the profit model in business.
And, you can download my book and do that. The first thing is the personal balance sheet and financial projections. The third thing I think every and any accountant should do is, given that we’ve got this need to restore rationality into the decision-making process. And given that, that starts with better data and better analysis that then enables better decision making, rather than overwhelm clients with page after page or screen after screen or volume after volume of data. What they’re really switched on, accountants that I’ve seen are distilling that data down into a really manageable set of metrics. Now, in the UK, we called that a one-page plan. Literally, on one piece of paper, it will be a full paper here or the equivalent of a piece of paper standard size.
Geraldine: [00:29:05] Yes, eight and a half by 11 for us.
Steve: [00:29:07] Sorry?
Geraldine: [00:29:07] Our is eight and a half by 11.
Steve: [00:29:07] So that size of favorites is almost identical. So, an eight and a half by 11 size piece of paper. Imagine if there was one eight and a half by 11 size piece of paper on which every key bit of information that the business needed to make better decisions and create a better future for itself.
Yes, you can do that. There are now increasingly digital tools, cloud-based dashboarding tools that make that possible, but really what you need behind that, that’s some high technology, but you need the thought processes to identify what is it that we need to focus on and measure. Go back to this idea of breaking the profit equation down into the six or seven components.
Each of those six or seven components should be on the one-page plan. On that scorecard, because these are the things that are driving the profitability of the business. And there are other things you should be putting on there as well. But bringing clarity and simplicity to the data so that the clients are in a better position to make decisions and understand what they’re doing.
Understand what’s happening. Understand what the options are. Understand the implications, the effects of the decisions they make so they can unmake them or make different ones, better ones going forward if needs be. So, that’s the third area that I think accountants really need to focus on to be more valuable. And I’ll come back to the final one, which is the one I’m most passionate about, which is turning your business into a force for good and creating an impact scorecard. We’ll come back to that if you’d like us to, but I bet he’s drawn breath.
But let me be here if you don’t mind because if you remember, the starting point for my analysis of the situation was that accountants don’t have enough self-esteem. Our self-esteem as a professional is too low. We don’t believe in our value. We don’t believe enough in the difference we can make.
And therefore, we’re in that syndrome, when they ask us at a dinner party, what are you? I’m an accountant. They didn’t notice that we can move on sort of thing. There’s an embarrassment. There’s an apology almost for being one, or we use words I’m only an accountant. Didn’t you say you’re an accountant? You’re not only an accountant.
The accountant is quite enough. Thank you. That’s an awesome thing to be. The problem was that most accountants didn’t believe that. Most accountants didn’t understand the power at their fingertips. The power that they have in their skill set, in their client base, in the trusted relationship, to must change lives.
So, I spent two years researching the impact that accountants were having, and that resulted in a book called The World’s Most Inspiring Accountants. That book was full of 40 or 50 case studies. 40 or 50 firms of accountants from every continent of the world. Apart from the ones that are full of snow and no people, but from every continent in the world.
And each one of those was the story of how each of those 50 accounts has made a profound difference to the business or life or future or happiness of a client. So, there were 50 examples, 50 powerful, practical, relatable examples of the profoundly positive difference that accountants are already having.
And when any accountant reads that book, which again, they can have for free, you can buy it for a fortune on Amazon. Please don’t. Just download it from my website for free. When any accountant reads that book, they go, well, I could do that. I could do that. We’re already doing that. I didn’t really realize quite how significant that was. Because what we’ve got is story after story after story of clients effectively saying, these guys changed my life, but they changed my life by often doing really simple routine things. Like for example, the personal balance sheet that I did for my dad. That was an incredibly simple thing. Like restoring order where there was chaos in someone’s accounting records. So, there’s one of the stories where the business owner was in such a mess, because of a bit of paper everywhere, and they didn’t really understand what was happening in the business.
Certainly, I didn’t have a finger on the pulse of the numbers. They felt out of control, and in fact, they were, but just by putting in QuickBooks online, I’m making a few changes around that. And bringing clarity and cutting through the confusion, giving the business owner control again, a sense of control, their whole frame of mind, that whole being at ease with themselves, the whole ability to make better decisions.
I’m flattered by the mess. Totally transformed them, and little by little, they lifted themselves up and prayed for a great future themselves. There was story after story after story like that. Which every bit, every accountant who reads the book can go, I can do that. In fact, one of the reviews on Amazons was this isn’t that inspiring?
This is what every accountant does. That’s my exact point.
Geraldine: [00:33:37] That’s the point.
Steve: [00:33:38] Every accountant does things when an accountant thinks of the girl, but that was only putting in QuickBooks online, or that was only producing the spreadsheet. But, from the client’s point of view, it was flipping fantastic.
That has restored clarity, given me control, give me back time, maybe feel happier, reconnect with my kids, or whatever it’s done, whatever the impact is. So, there’s a book there, and one of the strategies that people are going up for free, one of the strategies that some firms have used is like, I sat down every day for a month.
Just read at the beginning of the day, one of those stories collectively as a team, or they each read a story, and then one person in the team has summarized the story that they’ve read that day. Just so that we begin as a profession, as teams, as individuals, as firms, to understand that we have the ability to change lives.
And just by doing what we normally do as accountants, just by using our core skills, whether that’s personal balance sheets, whether that’s bringing together the key numbers so that people can make better decisions. Whether that’s understanding the profit model and helping businesses make better decisions around that to drive up their profits, whether it’s this restoring rationality to the decision-making process through better data, better analysis, and better decisions.
We have the ability to change lives. And once we understand that, then when a client says to us, when we quote $3,000 they’d say, how much? We’re able to confidently look them in the eye and defend that figure because we know it’s worth every penny. Whereas now, because we don’t believe it’s worth 3000 because we don’t believe we’re worth 3000 or whatever the fees. The first time they challenge it, we usually collapse the price. We collapse the price, and then we’re in that vicious downward spiral.
As we said before, we were compromising income or work-life balance or service levels, and it gets worse. Whereas on the other hand, if we focus on doing the sorts of stuff we’ve been talking about, we attract better clients who pay us bigger fees. And if we have more money to do an even better job. Then because we’re doing an even better job, it attracts even better clients who buy even bigger fees. And the virtuous upward spiral is incredible.
It’s a simple choice. Essentially accountants face a binary choice. Those are the two futures. They either go on that downward spiral or the upwards one. It’s each a choice, and no accountant can blame anybody else for the choice that they make. They make that choice themselves, and then either they follow through, or they were kidding themselves. If they choose to go on the upward spiral, then they have to follow through by taking the actions that put you in, taking you on the upward spiral.
Geraldine: [00:36:14] You can’t just say that your prices are $3,000 a month, but not have the value to back it up.
Steve: [00:36:18] Absolutely. So then, you’ve got to focus on identifying what it is that clients want. You’ve got to focus on the right kind of questions. The right kind of analysis. The right kind of language to use when we’re asking those questions, when we’re drilling down to find the answers, when we’re explaining our solutions and crucially, when we’re explaining the price, the right kind of language and process to use there, so that they are much more likely to understand and to say, yes.
Geraldine: [00:36:48] I love this. There’s so much in here. The pieces I was making notes as we were going along and the pieces that really stick out to me because there’s a fundamental disconnect as I see it between when accountants and CPAs start out in the profession. And they’re doing tax audit compliance work compared to where the real value is, not just in making good money in your business, but where the real value is according to your clients, which is very much in the better analysis, the better understanding of simplifying what clients are looking at, right? They do not have the level of fluency in the numbers that you do. You’ve got to figure out a way to be simple, right? It’s like the professor who’s teaching third or fourth level calculus, who is so smart, but not smart enough to be able to simplify it for the student.
Steve: [00:37:39] Yes. It’s exactly that. And we all know what we think about that professor, don’t we?
Geraldine: [00:37:43] Right. Yes.
Steve: [00:37:46] Mumbling, bumbling in full, but senseless.
Geraldine: [00:37:47] Yes, right. A brain, it’s like a mind walking around using a body as a vehicle and nothing else, right? It’s like you’ve got to show up as a whole person and be smart enough to understand what your client needs in the most simple of terms and give it to them at the level that they can learn it.
And if you talk above them, that is classic. That’s a classic way to put somebody off and have them walk out the door with the tail between their legs being like, Oh God, I didn’t understand that again, and they equate meeting with their CPA, with going to the dentist.
Because nobody wants to feel like a dodo for not understanding their numbers in their business, especially when they’re ten years in, making six or seven figures and still not understanding it, because every time they try to understand it, they don’t get a person who can talk to them in basic English.
Steve: [00:38:31] Yes. Now, this is a crucial distinction between, I mean, it really should be our responsibility to make sure we are understood, but as a profession, we often think it’s their job to understand. It’s not. It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re understood.
Geraldine: [00:38:45] Yes. And it’s impossible to understand because far be it for me, it’d be, but CPAs do crazy down math. It is not how the rest of us do the math. Right? We were taught a way to do math in third grade. And it’s simple and straightforward.
And there’s this whole debits and credits things that regular business owners do not have the time to wrap their brains around. And nor do they understand the way the IRS speaks English, because that is a different language unto itself, right?
So, you put the two together, and business owners are just like, they show up, and the minute you say something like debits and credits, they just glaze over, and they check out, and that’s it. You’ve lost your chance.
So, there’s this piece that I haven’t had the chance yet to dive into, but it’s in the sort of training and education of CPAs to shift what they are being taught so that they can be taught where clients find value.
So, that as CPAis not only, of course, we need compliance, we need an audit. But, there’s a gaping hole in support of small business owners, which is so many business owners, right? The vast majority of these small micro-businesses who have little to no financial literacy or support or somebody they can go to help them understand the basics of how to understand their business financials? How money flows into the business, out of business, and into their family?
And then add it to their other spouse’s income if there is a second income and how that money flows through the expenses of the family and then out the other side and hopefully saving for retirement a little bit. No, but there’s, there’s nobody that exists right now as a profession, and this is the opportunity that I see for CPAs.
If there’s interest in reforming it, which is like tall order here. But to really help business owners understand the complete picture, which is what you’re talking about, what you did for your dad. Understand the complete picture of the business. He was an employee, but understood the complete picture of the business, plus the family financials and put it all together and partner with a financial advisor, retirement type person, to help lay out the path for the next 40 years until you’re 95 so that it all adds up.
Steve: [00:40:54] You are absolutely right in everything you say. If I just to underline a couple of those points there about our job is to bring clarity and simplicity and focus on the right things, the right data, the right analysis, or the right and better decisions are made for sure.
And I’ve talked about some easy, but relatively sexy stuff, and understanding the profit model and improving a business’s profit is sort of sexy inverted commons. But if we look at some of the routines like a core set of accounts, profit, and loss, account balance sheet, cash flow forecast, fundamental routine, central everywhere.
What was really interesting to me about 30 years ago when I started in practice was that at that point, the highest-selling, there was a company in the UK that produced training videos for businesses. And they told me that by far and away the highest training, selling training video that they had ever created, it was years old and it was still selling, outselling everything else was called The Balance Sheet Barrier.
And that was essentially financed for non-financial people. If featured John Cleese, it made it lighthearted, but essentially explained in really simple terms business, finance, business accounts.
I was then asked to write a TV series in the UK called Easy Money. It was an eight-part BBC TV series that focused on the same sort of stuff. That went down extraordinarily well. In my accounting practice, therefore, I drew on the same set of ideas, and I wrote a guide. So, at that point, I had two at a number of publications, one of which was the profit focus thing they talked about before which ultimately became a book. But the one that my clients liked even more, was called Accounts Made Easy.
It was basically just a de-jargonization on a set of accounts. It took words like accruals and prepayments and depreciation and made them understandable, and it used metaphors and things to help someone in 10, 12 pages, in simple language, made them understandable.
So, that was even more valuable to my clients than the profit model stuff that I looked at them with. But obviously, it was a starting point because you’ve got to get there first, and you could build progressively through the other things. Then when I ran my 40-person consulting business, which just worked with accountants, and one of the things we did for accountants is we created a set of tools so that they could run a monthly business club.
Each business, each one of these monthly meetings, had a 45-minute presentation around a core business issue, like pricing for profits or, improving client employee motivational leadership skills or sensational service or whatever.
Forty of these topics are really wide-ranging. By the way, none of them were on tax, but they were all on real issues. By far and away from the one that got the best feedback over and over and again. When I run it, but also when hundreds of firms of accountants run these things with their clients was the same sort of way.
It was once called, How to Understand The Numbers In Your Accounts. We thought when we produced that, that was deadly dull. Why don’t these people know it already? They are bound to be bored rigid listening to 45 minutes on how to understand the numbers in the accounts, given that we’ve got all this other sexy stuff and to get more referrals.
How to Understand the Numbers in Your Accounts was the most valuable of the lot, Steve, thank you so much. So, again, we run the risk of not understanding the value that we can bring. We assume that they won’t find that particularly valuable, or they understand that already. But, neither of those two things is true. They will find it massively valuable because they don’t understand it well enough already.
So, if one of the things we do is focus on bringing clarity and simplicity into everything we do. Helping them get clarity through simplicity, then they will thank us forever for doing that. Whereas if we mystify, if we confuse, if we hide behind complexity, if we hide behind technical definitions and legalese kind of language or the wording that they put in the generally accepted accounting principles or whatever. No one else cares. No one else is. So, we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful.
I’m not suggesting for one minute that the things accountants have always done producing a great set of accounts, in a timely fashion, and filing appropriately with the tax authorities are absolutely the right things to do. Of course, they are absolutely valuable to clients. Yes, of course, or they will continue to have the future. They will continue to be fees there, but really our power, the exciting opportunity for accountants is to use those as the starting point to use the relationship we forged through that kind of work to help the clients in other ways as well. For significantly higher levels of fees and profits, most probably. And certainly, for a significantly higher level of reward, emotional reward, or the joy that we get of seeing someone. And I got no fee whatsoever for helping my dad retire and therefore live 15 more years with my mum. I got no fee. But I can tell you that the joy that I got from that, the emotional reward was greater than any fee could possibly have been.
Geraldine: [00:46:04] Yes, I could agree more. When I helped some of my clients who have six-figure businesses, but who are knee-deep in credit card debt, help them understand and get a handle on their business and their income and develop a plan to pay off their credit card debt inside 24 months. It is like the weight of the world has lifted off their shoulders. And there is no amount of money that you could pay me that would replace the feeling of satisfaction that I get from helping a person finally feel the sense of relief from the deep nagging anxiety that has been dogging them for years.
Steve: [00:46:39] Yes, I am at a practical level. When you help someone sort out their finances, they are not only willing but able to pay you bigger fees. Previously they might have been willing but not able because the finances were in a mess. So, they might not have been even willing cause they did not understand the value it can bring. But, by doing this kind of stuff, they will be willing and able.
Geraldine: [00:46:59] Suddenly, their cash flow frees up.
Steve: [00:47:01] Yes.
Geraldine: [00:47:01] And they have more for you.
Steve: [00:47:02] And actually, that leads nicely into the final area that I think accountants can help with because as we help our own business become more successful. And as we help our clients become more successful, whatever their definition of success is, and that is not having a million dollars in the bank for everybody, for sure.
And it might not necessarily be for anybody, but they are all going to have our own definitions of success. We are all going to have our own set of values and goals and aspirations and things we would like to achieve. But I am also pretty sure that all of us want to do good work. All of us want to make a positive impact on the world, and want to leave a positive legacy.
You want to be remembered for the good that we did in the world. The difference that we made, the help that we gave, the kindness that we showed. And that is also made possible, it is even more possible. The more successful we are, the more financially successful we are, the more able we are to give to charities or the more able we are to step back from our work because there is no money in the bank already. And get involved one-to-one in projects or charities or causes or movements that we care about.
The more able we are to plant trees to tackle climate change, the more able we are to help feed the homeless to tackle that problem, and so on and so forth. So, success goes hand in hand with that.
But, what the other thing that I think that I have learned from the other area that I would encourage accountants to focus on is not to wait for success. For more success in order to do those things, not to wait for more success. In order to be the person you want to be, not to wait for more success in order to live up to the values that your family gave you when they were raising you. The things that you believe in, not to wait for more success, but actually start now because the extraordinary thing is that wherever now is, however much or little there is in the bank account now in the business. Financially successful or not the business is, there is still something that every single business in the world can do.
Let us say there is a coffee shop that is just starting out. Now she got debt because it was bought with at least equipment and hired people and has not sold any cups of coffee yet, so actually, its financial position is not strong.
But it nevertheless has a vision of a desire to create a successful business. But it also, the people in that business, and I mean both the owners and the team members have a set of values that say, it is our job as human beings to do good in the world. So, what if that business actually built from the beginning, that coffee shop built from the beginning into its systems, its cultures, its habits, doing good.
And what if it did that and was able to do that because it would just cost 1 cent, one US cents. So, let us say, for example, that there are two coffee shops. There is this one we are talking about. And next to it, there is an identical coffee shop on the parade of shops. And you are standing outside these two coffee shops and you have a choice of which one to go in.
The coffee shop on the left-hand side serves great coffee in a nice environment with nice people, and the cup of coffee is $2, $3 whatever the going rate is. It is that let us say $2. The coffee shop next door serves identical coffee. It’s got identically nice people, identical furniture, identical coffee beans, identical price, also $2. They are literally next door to each other, so they are identically convenient.
You are standing outside the two coffee shops. Well, now, there is absolutely no reason to choose between them as such. But imagine now that the coffee shop on the right, even though it is only just started out, and even though it still hasn’t got any money in the bank to speak of, makes a decision that that coffee shop is going to be a force for good in the world.
It is going to be a business for good. It is going to build into its systems, the same kindness that the people working in that business have. It is showing; you know when they are home, when they are with their family, when they are for the rest of their life.
And it does that by saying, every time you buy a cup of coffee from us for 2 cents, then, as well as you’re getting your cup of coffee or any hot drink that you buy from us, every time you buy a cup of coffee as well as you get in that, the cup of coffee we will also fund a young girl in Africa to get access to clean water for a day in the village.
That way, the young girl won’t need to keep walking to and fro a distant well, which basically takes hours in order to bring water back to the village from a distant well which basically means those hours mean that she cannot go to school.
She does not get an education, and she does not lift herself up. But because your coffee is funding a well in the village, then that young girl will not have to do the walking. She gets clean, safe water in the village. Therefore, she has time for an education. Therefore, she is able to lift her life up and her future for her and her children and her family.
All because you had that cup of coffee. Now, if that is the choice between a cup of coffee that just gives you a drink and a cup of coffee that gives you the same drink for the same money and changes a life, which coffee shop would you go into?
Now, it is a rhetorical question. Everyone listening to this can answer it, but when I have asked that question in front of audiences of thousands, you know, 99% of people say the coffee shop on the right, the coffee shop where the change in life as well as, just selling coffee. Now, if you translate that into a queue, the coffee shop on the left is empty, and the coffee shop on the right has got a massive queue. Realistically, what it means is the coffee shop on the right sells more coffee.
So, the cost of funding one day’s worth of water for a child in Africa, can be less than 1 cent. So, out of the $2 that the business is earning for selling the coffee, and it is now selling a lot more cups of coffee. It invests, it gives, it chooses strategically to give away 1 cent to fund one day’s worth of water for that child. But in the process, not only is it changing by providing thousands of cups of thousands of day’s worth of access to water changing many children’s lives, but it is also selling many more cups of coffee.
It is also building a much more successful business than the one next door that is not doing this. It is also engaging with its team so much more because the people in the team, the baristas will want to sell more cups of coffee because now they are not just lining the pockets of the business owner, but they are changing lives. And millennials and centennials really want to have purpose in their work.
They really want to do things that make a difference. There is study after study, and after study, that screams this out. So, you have got a much more engaged, much more motivated team who works harder to do to deliver better service and sell more cups of coffee for you, so your business becomes massively more successful.
And along the way, if you are giving away lots of 1 cent in days of access to water, that is a tiny amount compared to the increase in sales and profits and success that the coffee shop gets. So, even at the beginning, even when the business is struggling, even when there is not much money in a business in the bank.
Even then, every business in the world, even a business as simple as a coffee shop can become, can use its business as a force for good in a way that both makes the world better and makes the business more successful. And that for me is the final area that accountants could be hit, should be helping with cause nobody else is telling you to go back to rational decision making.
All those two coffee shops rationally as the business owner. Which of those two coffee shops should you model your business on? The one on the left would practically nobody going there because it does not have a purpose in the same way as the coffee shop on the right does or the coffee shop on the right that does have a purpose as an engaged team sells more coffee and makes more money.
If you just make a rational decision as an accountant, which one of those should you model your, your business? Even if you are not a coffee shop or you are an accounting firm or a retailer or a manufacturer or a service business, there is one model that works screamingly better than the other. And yet no one is telling businesses to do this. So, sharing those ideas and helping businesses to build that kind of process into their businesses is another wonderful opportunity for accountants. And the way to think; and there is a really really simple process. I can explain it in about 30 seconds to you.
The process is this, have a piece of paper with two columns, split down the middle, either side. The left-hand column, here’s what you write in the left-hand column. What are the things that you want to happen more frequently in your business? You want to sell more cups of coffee now, for example, you want to win more customers, generate more sales leads, get more referrals, get paid on time, more often, sell more stuff.
So, that’s five. Treat those as triggers. And then for each of those triggers. You decide, okay, when that happens, what lovely acts of kindness are we going to make happen in the world? The equivalent of the day’s worth of water? You can feed a homeless American for 11 US cents. I mean, I find that staggering, but there’s a project called rescuefood.org, I think it’s the name.
Basically, they rescue food from restaurants that would otherwise be thrown away, but it’s still perfectly edible. I have volunteered to rescue, and they recycle it to the homeless. The net cost of doing so is one are 11 cents for a meal. So, you can feed it, provide a week’s worth of meals for a dollar 50 or something to a homeless person, and if you’re selling a big-ticket thousand-dollar item, just imagine the story that you’re able to tell if you’ve chosen. Every time we sell one of these big ticket thousand-dollar items, a homeless American gets fed for a week. Actually, I need you to; I’m just choosing homeless Americans as an example.
It could be, you provide a young child in Africa with vitamin A supplement, which will help prevent child blindness. That’s 1 cent a day, that’s 30 cents a week, and $3 a year. You can prevent a child from buying this for $3 a year or 1 cent a day. Take your pick as to what unit a day, a week, a month, a year you choose.
But for every budget, there is an act of kindness that you can link to the trigger. And then, focus people in the business, not on selling more cups of coffee, but on helping more young girls get access to clean water and, therefore, education and therefore a better life. Let’s say you set a target of, we want to provide a million days of help to young girls in Africa for the coffee shop.
Now, backstage, underneath the surface, as it were, in order to provide a million days of help, we’ve obviously got to sell a million cups of coffee. But we focus not on selling a million cups of coffee, but on providing a million days of help. Then the focus is on that impact goal, which is so much more motivating. If I work in a coffee shop, I’m probably not going to care less about a target of selling a million cups of coffee.
So, why would I care? How does it help me? But a million days of help to young girls, that changes their lives forever. I care about that. I’m going to want to sell cups of coffee, and therefore the business achieves its goal in the process of the world becoming better at the same time. Now, that’s a simple process that accountants can master in two hours within a day that can be shown with their clients.
And that can actually earn fees for doing that. You guys said there’s a profitable service to be earned by helping businesses become businesses for good. And that’s what I was saying. We don’t have to wait until the business is successful. We don’t have to wait to do that stuff in our own businesses until we’re successful.
We can do it now and in fact, now is the only time you’ll do it. If anybody’s listening to this and thinks, that’s a great idea. I’ll do it tomorrow. I guarantee they will not do it tomorrow or any other day. If they don’t actually start now, make some binding commitment or take some binding first step now, they will never do it again.
It will just be one of those, yes, that was a nice idea. Yes, I’ll get onto that one day, and we all know those things. We just push them off and push them off and push them off, and they never happen because tomorrow never comes. There is only today. Today is when we need to do stuff.
Stuff is as simple and easy and powerful and profoundly important as this stuff. And boy, should we be doing it today.
Geraldine: [00:59:05] It is no longer enough to simply operate your business for a profit for yourself. That just is not the model that, like you say, the millennials and the centennials, I did not know they had a new nickname or the name of the next generation, but they are not satisfied with simply a making business, making a profit, and that’s it.
Call it a day and go do your thing. They get the gravity of the problems that we face as a planet and as a society, and they get the climate crisis. They see it coming, and they are not just going to sit on their hands and collect a paycheck at the end of the week from their company and think that that is okay.
Steve: [00:59:36] Yes, absolutely. Go back to the millennials and centennials they get it. Unfortunately, they are not predominantly the decision-makers in accounting firms or many clients. Increasingly, obviously, that is changing. They will be the future of accounting firms and the future clients, overwhelmingly, of course.
And so what matters to them should really matter to the future of the business as well. But at the moment, we have got an older generation of decision-makers who do not get it quite as clearly. That is why I try to paint that picture of those two coffee shops as clearly as I could. Truthfully, rationally, could any accountant, any rational decision-makers, let alone an accountant who lives by facts.
Look at those two coffee shops and say, I am not going to be the coffee shop on the right because although it will engage its people more and although it will sell more coffees. And a lot will make the world a better place. And although the business owner will make more money and have more joy and look at themselves in the mirror every morning and feel prouder, I am going to be the business on the left because I do not give a monkey because I cannot be bothered to be anything.
So, not because I do not give a monkey, because I cannot be bothered to do anything else. That is a simple binary choice. And anybody listening to this who does not make that binary choice, well, I do not think you should be an accountant, should not be a professional of any kind, should not be in business in any kind. Should not be making any kind of decisions because it is crystal clear, which is the right decision.
And yet some people listening to this will still, by default, be the business on the left.
Geraldine: [01:01:02] Most of the people listening to this will by default, be the business on the left until for the next, who knows, three months, nine months at some point. But for a period of time, until they, enough pieces click for them and they go, Oh. Right?
Until they somehow, they need to have a series of checkboxes. We do not know. I do not know what those checkboxes are off the top of my head but probably increased profitability. They need to have certain expenses in their life covered. Maybe they still have two kids in college, or maybe they have medical bills, and they need to pay off.
Or maybe they are not convinced yet of the data because they have not seen enough studies yet, or they have not seen it done. They have not seen a live example. Whatever their checkboxes are, they have not been checked yet. But, in time, work on their boxes will get checked, and they will say, oh yes, it should be the coffee shop on the right.
Steve: [01:01:48] I am sure all of those are reasons why people will stay on the left and use left and right very deliberately, because the left businesses will ultimately get left behind, and the business on the right, they are on the right because they are doing the right thing. There was one set of excuses in there, which I do not accept.
I understand that people will use it as an excuse, but that is all it is—an excusing financial. I cannot afford to do it now. I will wait until I can afford it. That is why in my example, that business had no money whatsoever. If the coffee shop is on the right side, I will be like the coffee shop on the left until I can afford to do it differently.
That is still being the coffee shop on the left that has still had no sales, and someone else would have come in and got all the sales, and their business would have continued to struggle. Is there any accounting firm in the whole of the US when it wins a client could not afford less than the price of a stamp to celebrate that fact?
But not only to celebrate it but also to have a story to tell in the marketplace. So, socially-minded businesses come to them and join them as clients because when they join them as clients, children in Africa’s lives are lifted up. The rational argument there is overwhelming, and I cannot afford it is just a fallacious reason for not doing it. There are lots of other reasons because there is no accounting firm in the UK that cannot afford 30 cents when it wins 100, $500,000 client.
Geraldine: [01:03:10] So, I do not disagree with you. Right? And back where we started was, people do not always make rational decisions.
Steve: [01:03:17] Yes, absolutely. That is the frustration of life. I mean, surely, accountants of all people should make rational decisions.
Geraldine: [01:03:24] The business case is overwhelming, right? There is actual data to support the fact that your business will grow by 43% or what have you when you include social good in your mission. But accountants are conservative by nature.
Steve: [01:03:36] I know you and I believe exactly the same things. I am playing devil’s advocate. I am trying to galvanize action, trying to get a reaction from your listeners, and by that, I mean, I am trying to get action from your listeners. Not to wait until a better day. The better day will only come if we make it, and we make it by taking action straight away.
Geraldine: [01:03:54] So my listeners and my clients will be working on this because it is a necessity. If we want to be inhabiting the planet in the way that we are right now in two generations from now, if we do not do this, we are hosed. Right? So, for me, the motivation is I want my kids to be happy and excited to have kids not terrified of, oh my God, what am I bringing into the world?
What kind of experience of life are they going to have? Right? So, we all have different motivations. And, this is a model that makes it a no brainer for people. So, why don’t you take us to B1G1 and the UN 17 goals, and then we will kind of complete it there.
Steve: [01:04:34] Yes, you are right, Geraldine. And so, I made a decision having sold a 40-person business to the management team on my 50th birthday, which was eight years ago.
And, having been involved in trying to understand what it takes to be a business good for 12 years and doing my best for 12 years. And in my little business, we have managed to create 17 million impacts, 16, 17 million day’s worth of help around the world, just as a byproduct of what the business does, which is an extraordinary thought.
But I made a decision rather than looking to sell my time and sell my books and sell my ideas and sell the stuff that I created. I would start giving those away complete for free, to accountants and businesses. You can download them from my website, and everything I create going forward will be available free of charge as well.
And I did that because it’s my way of trying to step up and play my part in helping tackle the UN global goals. Back in September 2015, every civilized country in the world got together through the UN, and they agreed on a set of 17 goals. Seventeen goals that have to be achieved by 2030. So, that was 15 years after they started.
We’re now five years into that process. We only have ten years left to achieve those goals. And when they were launched, there were various business leaders as well as global leaders there, including Sir Richard Branson. Richard Branson said, then, governments can’t do this on their own. Businesses have to step up.
Businesses have a huge role to play. Now, large businesses, to a greater or lesser extent, get that they all at least pay lip service to it. You know, you won’t find any of the largest hundred businesses in the States that don’t mention, I suspect, I’ve not actually tested this, but the few I’ve looked at that don’t mention, UN global goals or sustainable development goals, as are often referred to somewhere on their website.
They’ll have some kind of goals and vision and mission around it, even if that’s just paying lip service. And it often is the big accounting firms. The big four accounting firms have whole teams of consultants helping businesses do something about those UN global goals.
The challenge I saw was that for smaller businesses and smaller accounting firms there was no one really encouraging them. There was no one really equipping them. There was no one really helping them to step up and do something. So, that’s really why I decided to give away all my time and intellectual property to create processes to create tools.
It’s a great step by step checklist, so that any business anywhere in the world, no matter what it does, no matter where it’s based, no matter how big it is, no matter how old it is, no matter what it sells. Any and every business in the world can become a business for good. Can use what it does as a force for good, can identify triggers.
Like, every time we sell something, every time we get paid, or every time we receive a lead or every time we get a testimonial, they can use those as triggers, to make something good happen in the world. That something good could cost them from as little as one US cent. So, it is a completely inconsequential expense, but it’s extraordinary what that inconsequential amount of money can do.
Especially if we take the focus away from the amount of money we don’t set goals around where we’re going to. We’re aiming to give $10,000 or a thousand dollars or a hundred dollars, but if instead, we set goals around the number of impacts.
The difference that we’re trying to make them were trees we want to see planted, or the number of days of access to clean water or education, or several homeless Americans we want to provide meals to or whatever, and then we can set goals and targets around those things.
The story that we then must tell is so much more compelling. The coffee stops short. If the coffee shop had said coffee shop on the right and said, for every cup of coffee, we give one cent to charity, everyone would’ve gone, Oh, who cares? So, well, that’s mean. The less stingy thing to do, but it’s such a small amount that it would not have impressed.
It would not have, but it costs one cent to fund a day’s worth of water. But then being able to tell the story of how you change a young girl’s life, just because you bought that cup of coffee, emotionally, is fundamentally different, is fundamentally more compelling, is fundamentally more engaging.
So, small businesses can focus on the stories that they tell. What people say about them in the marketplace, what they say to themselves in the marketplace around the impacts that they’re creating, the good that they’re doing, not the very small amounts of money that it costs to do those things. And therefore, every small business can do this.
Every small business, I believe, can do this. And my role, because I’ve chosen it as my role, is to help make that possible. So, in the case of accountants, for example, I created a complete step by step guide called Get and Give A Million. And that is specifically for accountants, it’s everything that an accountant needs to do in order to win new clients and service its existing clients better.
But win those clients and service clients around improving their profitability, the profit model stuff we talked about before. And then sharing a tiny amount of the extra fees that they earn through those extra clients and new work by making the world a better place by maybe funding water or food for the homeless or planting trees or whatever other acts of kindness they choose to link it to.
So that not only do they help their clients become more successful and get more money in their business and personal bank accounts. But they also put more money in their own bank accounts as practitioners because they’re earning bigger fees, winning better clients, and they make the world a better place.
That triple whammy, they make the world a better place because they’re planting trees or feeding the homeless or providing water to young girls. When we can align those three things together, and that’s what that system tries to do and gives you step by step guides and download it for free from our websites, stevepipe.com, and take it and adapt it in any way you choose.
Any of the listeners can get that. They can take it and adapt to it in any way they choose. It’s incredibly easy. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s incredibly joyful.
Geraldine: [01:10:25] Steve, I love what you are creating with the energy, the kindness, the caring that you are putting out into the world, not just for CPAs, but for all business owners.
What’s the very next thing that listeners need to do to get on this path?
Steve: [01:10:41] Probably the easiest thing, and I’ll give you the link, so you can put it in the show notes. They can find out about, I didn’t really mention B1G1, but I’m able to do all those things that I’ve talked about, and businesses around the world are able to do all those things because of a set of tools created by B1G1.
The website is B1G1.com. That’s what I use in order to help me do all of those things and to measure all of those things. It’s extraordinarily useful. One of the things that B1G1 will do for you as you answer a few simple questions on their website, and it will create what’s called a Giving Plan for free, which is an analysis of how you could factor this kind of thinking into your business.
Whatever your business does, whether that’s accounting, bookkeeping, or anything else. So, that’s a great first step. So, we’ll put the link in the show notes, hopefully. And also, another thing you can do is go to my website and just download my stuff, and the website is stevepipe.com. So those are two first steps.
A couple of questions I would probably leave people with to ask of themselves. And I haven’t really thought them through fully still. I might get the numbering wrong, and I might go back on myself, but what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of person were you brought up to be? What are the values?
So, reconnect with those things. What do you really stand, or do you really believe in? And if you really believe in things like kindness and generosity and contribution, and love, and words like that, then rather than just being beliefs, those beliefs have to flow through into actions, don’t they? It’s not good enough to wait until tomorrow to do that, but we need to start doing it now.
I suppose the second similar question, and this is the question I asked myself, and that question is essentially, what would my children want me to do? What will my grandchildren, what would future generations, what will my parents, what would everyone I love, want me to do? And it’s a binary choice, and the binary choice is something or nothing. And many people, by default, will essentially, what we said before, effectively choose the nothing group.
But, we just need to step up and do something, don’t we? So, there’s been lots of practical ideas, hopefully in this session. But if you answer those two questions, who do you want to be? What are your values? Are you going to be true to them? Are you going to do something or nothing? What would your children, what your grandchildren, or future generations, what would previous generations want you to do?
I think the answer for most of us, and certainly for me, was to do something, to do more. To do everything I could.
Geraldine: [01:13:09] Steve, I love what you’re doing and because of this interview, the something that I will start doing by the end of this week is to get started with B1G1 and setting aside a portion of my own income in order to create the impact that I want to see in the world.
And you’ve given us so much to think about and a lot to be hopeful for. Thank you so much for coming to The Epic Business Growth for CPAs Podcast.
Steve: [01:13:35] Thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you so much for humoring me as I got a bit passionate during this session, and thank you so much for believing the same things that I do.
Geraldine: [01:13:44] There are two things that stand out at me. The first one is, as Steve mentioned, the role of CPAs as he views it, and just to touch on those at a high level, number one, restore rationality to decision making for business owners. By number two, distilling the data and clarifying and simplifying it to make it manageable.
So that, number three, they can properly understand the model that their profitability rests on. And then number four, add giving, get and give a million B1G1 some kind of business for good in order to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. If you’re a CPA, there are untold numbers of clients who are looking for somebody who stands out as a CPA who helps make sense of numbers and helps make sense of how to drive profitability.
And the business case for making your business a force for good is a no brainer. The numbers add up.
The second piece that I think is so important is really getting a deep appreciation for the value that you, as a CPA, provide to your clients. When I work with my own clients and we go through their top 10 clients, and for each one we dig and dig and dig for the value that my client has provided to their client, it often amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in both tax savings and business growth over the span of a few years.
It’s quite common that for a single year, it’s in the multiple tens of thousands of dollars. Sometimes it’s even preventing a business, saving a business from going under. CPAs provide untold value to their clients, and sometimes they forget because it becomes so common and so routine for them, and they’re so good at it that they just stopped seeing it.
So, it’s no wonder that sometimes CPAs forget the value of what they offer, and of course, confidence and self-esteem suffers as a result. So, if you haven’t already set aside time to quantify the value that you have provided for your top clients so that it’s easy for you to remember the value that you bring to the table and the pricing that you offer is simply a fraction of that value.
If you want to find out more about Steve and his work, his books, and the links that he mentioned, you can find them all on shethinksbigcoaching.com/071 to get access to all that great information.
All right, everyone, that’s it for me. I’ll see you next week.