This year, the conference took place at the lovely St Ermin’s hotel in Victoria on one of those rare days of sunshine. I was surprised that the numbers appeared considerably down from last year

Creating an award winning firm – Jeremy Newman, BDO

After a brief introduction by Peter Williams (financial journalist of BizMedia) the keynote address was presented by Jeremy Newman, Former Chairman of BDO International. In answer to the question “what does an award winning firm look like?” he responded initially “growth that outstrips the profession”. A key nugget shared here was the US research indicating that providing four services or more to a client increased the margin by 70% compared to when two or less were provided.

There was then some consideration of the value of winning awards and whether award criteria drove a firm’s values and initiatives or whether it was the other way around. He quoted Pralahad and Hamel’s famous line from “Competing for the future” – “The future belongs to companies with a clear and compelling vision of the future who are changing now to address that market”.

I liked his use of “turn left one mile before the pub”, illustrations of a strong commitment to values and how awards helped to build pride in the business. There was another nice quote from Michael Porter “The worst error in strategy is to compete with rivals on the same dimension – operational effectiveness is running the same race faster. Strategic positioning is choosing to run a different race”.

There were questions about the key lessons learned (“we didn’t remove the bureaucracy fast enough”) and how to change the culture. The answer included: staff workshops, engaging with the most difficult partners, changing the partner gene pool and awards to promote confidence.

Using knowledge management to drive best practice

This was a panel session and I’m afraid that having spent a lot of time with law firms who have really got to grips with professional knowledge management, I didn’t learn anything. Furthermore, the focus was on capturing the information for internal efficiencies rather than using it to add value to clients in innovative ways.

Pitching to win – PACE

I have long been a fan of PACE and their books. This workshop for about 20 people went through the basics of pitching – the preparation, planning, projecting and polishing. There was some discussion of concentration and the primacy and recency effects and a nod to non verbal communication. There was some thought about the processes involved once an invitation was received, but the main thrust was on focusing on proactive business development and relationship management activities during the 18 months or so before a tender was issued.

Stepping away from the time sheets – Price Bailey

Peter Gillman, managing partner of this eight locations and £19m firm, started by singing the praises of the book “Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing” (Ron Baker). He stated the compelling reasons why time sheets work against good behaviour and stated “there’s no correlation between time recording and profitability”. My property clients would certainly agree with that!

He talked about moving to a model where client time is measured in terms of chargeable, contact and target time with partners aiming at 1,000 hours pa (and in 2011/2012 they averaged 1,059 with 709 chargeable and 351 other). It reminded me of the law firm that made the bolder move of recording blue time (chargeable for today’s profits) and green time (non chargeable for the development of future profits). One of the by products of this approach was that they managed to generate £500,000 fees from the academies sector.

He pointed out that new skills were required for scoping projects properly and, combined with a keener focus on sales process, they had increased income by 17.5%

Managing client expectations 24/7 instant access world

This workshop was run by Paul Shrimpling of Remarkable Practice. Readers of this blog will be familiar with the broader market changes driving radical changes in client expectations which Paul touched on (see, for example,

Paul focused on the value of the habit loop (cue, reward, routine) that helps new behaviours become established. He encouraged practitioners to consider the three or four most important client relationship habits and to encourage these throughout the firms and identify additional ones that will have a big impact. The consensus on the keystone habits were frequency of contact, planning, availability and proactive. (As an aside, one of the interesting points gleaned from this session was that the most effective way to lose weight was to keep a food diary). There was then a little discussion about “moments of truth”.

Viewing your firm as a business

The final panel had representatives from Shelley Stock Hutter, Hurst and Hadlow College. Discussion points included internal and external values, KPIs, developing soft skills, core competencies, celebrity chairmen and branding (e.g. 16% growth following internal alignment exercises).

Overall, I was a little disappointed with the conference as I recalled getting much more out of it last year. Still, I suppose that as a consultant I should be reassured that I am pretty much up to date on developments and activities within the accountancy profession!