As an accountant in practice, your position when a cost-of-living crisis hits is two-fold:
- You’re a business owner, responsible for steering your team through the storm. Even if you’re a one-man-band, you’re responsible for forming a strategy with every area of the business in mind.
- You’re advising fellow business owners to help them weather the storm and thrive.
When you’re tasked with staying positive and proactive for you and your clients, it’s imperative that you guard your mind against the barrage of negativity we can be exposed to.
Over the years, we’ve provided GoProposal members with every strategy we’ve learned while successfully leading our business through unprecedented times.
Managing a SaaS company is one thing, but what does this advice really look like in an accounting practice? Does it really work?
We talked to GoProposal member and successful accounting entrepreneur Cheryl Sharp, founder of Pink Pig Financials, about how she’s navigating her team through the cost-of-living crisis with unwavering confidence…
An unstable economy causes nervousness for many. As someone who has actively worked hard on your confidence, do you feel any risk of slipping into old ways of giving more value that you’re getting paid for?
If you’d asked me this 2 years ago I’d have said yes. I’d be stepping back, giving discounts and giving things away for free. But the work I’ve done on my mindset and building my own confidence made me realise that I am worth what we charge.
We don’t charge more than we’re worth, it isn’t ridiculous amounts of money. We are good value for money. I’ve got lots to thank James for in this respect. He helped me to see that we are worth it, and we don’t give away our value.
What systems do you have in place to prevent this?
One of our big goals as a team last year was to stop giving things away for free and it was a positive move. Everyone holds each other accountable and pulls each other up on it. If someone in the office says ‘X has happened with Y client, should I charge them?’ Everyone jumps in and says, ‘Yes!’
As a practice owner, you can’t make strategic decisions and get into the thick of client work every day. And to lead a company through any kind of storm, you need a resilience mindset.
How do you instil that into your team, to keep you free to work on the strategy of the business?
The whole team are crystal clear on what is and isn’t in scope. We communicate clearly among each other and to clients. GoProposal helps with this, because I’ve set the prices in the back end – the team don’t have access to that. This was an intentional strategy because it means when they’re out conducting proposal meetings they physically cannot adjust the price of services. If a client asks for a discount, they wouldn’t know how to.
This strategy isn’t built on a lack of trust, but rather to give them confidence in saying no to discounts. They’re telling the truth when they say they can’t discount. And even though I can, I know I have to walk the walk and set the example for the rest of the team.
Not long ago, I was asked for a discount and James’ voice popped in my head; I explained that if we were to give a discount, we couldn’t give them the level of service they deserved. Right away they came back and signed up.
We’re at a point where the team come to me and propose what they think we should be charging. Likewise when a new situation occurs, they don’t come to me asking what to do, they come to me proposing what they think we should do. They just want the confidence from me of knowing that they’re on the right path. We’ve all worked really hard to get to this point.
In times of uncertainty, it can be tempting to set the bar lower. One of James’ core rules to succeed in a recession is to ‘Aim Higher.’
Have you set any high bars this year? Do you work with your clients to do the same? How?
We’ve set some high goals to get a good increase on our turnover this year, but we’re not just focussing on the financial goals. We have some other goals which will raise the bar in other ways for us as well.
For so long I didn’t think I could achieve what I have, and now I’m able to be a cheerleader for my clients too. They know our stance on discounts and I encourage them not to give their value away for free either.
The recession doesn’t come into the conversation unless they are really concerned as to whether they are robust enough to deal with it and they bring it up. In that case, we’ll discuss it, but otherwise we stick to asking them their goals and what they want to achieve.
If they complain about our prices going up, I encourage them to put their own prices up, which can be met with the argument that nobody is buying – but they are buying! You just need to walk around Westfield shopping centre to see they are. It’s like James says, people are buying what they want to buy.
This is when being an accountant can be similar to being a mentor: I push them and help them see things in a different way.
It sounds like you’ve practiced guarding your mind and encourage your clients to do so too…
Absolutely. I don’t watch the news so I don’t really know what’s going on. And the things I get told they are reporting on aren’t even true. It’s not that we try to dismiss it or ignore reality, we’re just focussing on other things.
Without giving a discount, do you have to alter how you communicate your fees to prospects when they raise concerns about the cost, using the cost-of-living crisis as a factor?
We turn it around on them and ask if it was their business, what would they do? That’s when it twigs for them that they’re asking exactly what they hate people asking of them. That’s all we do, it only takes that one reframing question for people to get it.
What would your one piece of advice be to business owners starting out who are worried the current climate will affect their chances of success?
Look at all the companies that have started in previous recessions. Look at what they’ve achieved. Look at people that have set up in, not necessarily recessions, but during COVID, for example.
In terms of business, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the rest of the world if you can move forward and drive your business forward.
I know there are some factors that will go against you, but 9 times out of 10 it’s your own doing. You’ve just got to stay in your lane, ignore all the negativity and just focus on you and doing the best you can.
”For so long I didn’t think I could achieve what I have, and now I’m able to be a cheerleader for my clients too. They know our stance on discounts and I encourage them not to give their value away for free either.Cheryl SharpPink Pig Financials
How (if at all) does GoProposal help you and your team to communicate the value of your services to more nervous clients?
The breakdown shows them exactly what they’re paying for, which they really appreciate. I’ve had people admit that they didn’t know what they were paying their old accountant for, so having the breakdown on the screen, itemised and in black and white helps them understand.
It helps us communicate all we do, that. We’re not just ‘year-end’ accountants.
We’ve also taken time to properly think about what possible objections there might be and then answer them within the additional parts of the quotation or the proposal.
How often do you review your fees and how long does it take? Are you keeping that consistency throughout this year?
We don’t have a set period for fee reviews, I get more of a gut feeling that a price increase is due. I have done quite a few price increases since being with Goproposal and I’m now at a level where I’m happy that our pricing feels fair.
When I see our costs are going up, I reflect, and question whether we need to increase our prices off the back of it.
But mainly it’s just a gut feeling that either now’s the time, or we’ve got pricing wrong and need to change it. It might not be a full fee review. Last time we needed to change one line item.
Talking with peers and seeing what they charge can also help. We’re advised not to copy what others do but it is helpful to know you’re in the ballpark per service you provide.
Thank you, Cheryl for being so generous with your pearls of wisdom!
Cheryl left practice in 2013 to set up her own business in 2014 in a new hometown. With no contacts or networking opportunities in the area that fit in with the school run schedule, she started from scratch. Networking with mums she discovered the Women in Business Network (WBN).
She didn’t start with the confidence she now has to steer her business through any storm that comes her way, but from day one she has pushed herself out of her comfort zone and reframed her feelings of imposter syndrome into a positive thing.
Whatever stage you’re at on your entrepreneurial journey, Cheryl’s mindset tools can help you build resilience to handle whatever storm comes your way.
- You don’t have to have a niche in a specific industry. Find people who share your values
- Challenge the inner monologue that gives you imposter syndrome. Turn it on its head and logically list all the reasons you should be given opportunities when you get them
- Say yes to every little opportunity that comes your way – it’ll spur you on for the next challenge