A 5-minute read.
Will Farnell knew he had a purpose to change the accounting world when he started his firm, Farnell Clarke back in 2007.
With an entrepreneurial spirit, he was curious about how digital advances could make his business more efficient and has long been a pioneer of cloud and digital accounting.
Now, the firm he started in his garage is 75-people strong, he published his first book, The Digital Firm, back in 2018, and his latest book, The Human Firm shot straight to the top of the Amazon best sellers’ list in April 2023.
Will chatted to us to deep dive into a key section of ‘The Human Firm,’ sharing an actionable checklist you can follow to make your firm human again.
What is The Human Firm?
Will defines The Human Firm as:
“A firm that has built a high performing team, committed to the purpose of the organisation, with a deep understanding of client goals and aspirations, enabling them to deliver world class experiences to those clients, without detriment to their own goals and aspiration.
It’s about blending people, process and technology to deliver services effectively.”
The Human firm is about coming back to where we started, but now with the power of data insights, we have more informed relationships than we did in the past.
Relationships are more powerful than ever before.
Why is it so important?
Our profession is undergoing an enormous shift in attitude, from relatively impersonal compliance-based processes towards a deepening of authentic human relationships.
It takes us back to how accountancy started, when people and relationships were what drove our work and how we judged success.
But it’s taking us back with huge advantages; new developments change how we work, automating the mundane. When we embrace the tech at our fingertips, it enables us to give better quality, and a more personal service.
We can have more informed relationships than we ever did in the past.
How can you bring your firm into the future, and implement a human-centric approach effectively?
Will identified 2 things that were the primary drivers of success within his own firm…
Harness the Power of Purpose
“I didn’t know it was my purpose at the time, but in my first office, my garage, I knew the way we presented professional services was broken. I resolved to change this and change the way these services are perceived. Clients weren’t getting what they deserved.”
Perhaps you don’t yet know what your purpose is. But think about the problems you wish to solve. As Will did, this can help unlock your purpose.
Implement a ‘pod’ structure
Will swears by structuring his team in ‘pods.’
“Pod structure is critical; through this we’re able to generate 300k of revenue per pod. Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how many clients that is, it’s the revenue that is the limiting factor.
When we hit 300k we start a new pod.”
So, what is a pod structure?
Will has a central payroll team, then everything else is managed through pod structures, consisting of a client accountant, accountant associate, and two accounts assistants, providing a clear path for career growth, as demonstrated in the diagram below.
Create Experience through Touch points
In Will’s firm, client satisfaction levels went through the roof during lockdown.
They were talking to clients on a more regular basis, to keep them informed on government updates. This increase of touch points improved trust and strengthened client relationships, creating a world-class experience for them at a time when it would have been easy to have doe the bare minimum.
What can you do to maintain frequency of client touch points post-covid?
Will’s team set reminders in their practice management software to call all clients monthly, as well as quarterly face to face meetings.
Worried what data you will have to talk about on such a regular basis?
You don’t have to dig deep to find you soon have plenty to discuss. Good record-keeping of the following checks will ensure you can give your client the clearest picture on their accounts and their business progress.
- Daily bookkeeping is critical to getting closer to your clients – Will’s team process transactions on a daily basis.
- Missing paperwork is chased once a week – They don’t have to work hard to build regular contact points.
These two simple, regular checks provide opportunities to build understanding what clients are doing and the challenges they are facing.
There is no need to look at the client’s accounts and think, ‘what else can we sell them?
Instead, ask yourself, ‘what extra value can we bring to them?’
- Current, quality data – empower them with a clear, detailed overview of their accounts in language they understand
- Better understanding of their own accounts – if they want to take ownership of some elements of their accounting, offer training for them to do so.
- Increase the value they give their customers, to in turn help them generate more revenue (& invest further in the finance function of their business!).
REALLY Know Your Client
“If you don’t know someone you can’t help them.”
With that in mind, the REAL purpose of Know Your Client (KYC) checks isn’t simply a formality, it’s an opportunity to understand what your clients really need and want.
How can you start to ask those probing questions?
Through the touch points you’ve already created in the step above. For example, calling a client to confirm payroll is done gives them the chance to ask any questions they might have for you.
Bring it all together
Before you cover the systems and strategy you plan to implement for your clients, we first encourage you to talk about vision & purpose, and pricing.
Here are 3 things you need to outline to them:
1. Explain why you do what you do
It’s easy to grow your accounting firm if you have strong message and clear purpose. This is relevant to employees as well as clients.
When Will stopped sharing his vision, he started employing people who weren’t a good fit, because they didn’t align with the firm’s vision and purpose.
2. What you do
The client doesn’t know what they don’t know, so it’s your job to deliver what they need, not what they ask of you. It’s your obligation to educate your clients on what you do.
3. How you do it
Develop a firm ‘personality’ people can buy into: Will and his team decided to put a pub in the office. They lost some clients who didn’t feel it was professional, but attracted new ones who loved the culture they’d created, who were attracted to their sense of fun.
Having a client relationship with this kind of depth enables you to have nine lives; so long as you hold your hands up when things go wrong, it won’t impact their loyalty to you since they know you on a deeper level – a Human level.