Lessons from a remarkably similar period of legislative change and anxious clients
In a recent podcast episode1, I explored the similarities between the significant changes we are currently seeing with the Government stimulus packages and the sweeping taxation reforms that came into effect in July 2000. Those reforms heralded the introduction of the GST and introduced the Business Activity Statement. Then, as now, the BAS was the fundamental mechanism to give effect to the new regime.
By leaving aside the health challenges we are facing today and focusing on the deluge of new rules being introduced, I identified 10 striking similarities with what practitioners were dealing with back in 2000. Although from a period (exactly) 20 years ago, I’d like to share some learning outcomes from those times which you might find helpful today.
In short, there were some aspects that my accounting firm in 2000 got right and other areas where, with the benefit of hindsight, opportunities were missed.
1. Educating our clients for free . . . but without a logical next step: The events we ran2 were well received. They enabled us to explain the new rules to clients and the changes required in their accounting procedures. We didn’t charge for these, which was likely the right call but, knowing what I know now, it would have been the perfect time to roll out annual service agreements for clients, who sure needed our help in new ways. This would have helped us capture the value we continued to provide after July 2000 and importantly, moved us away from the old billing in arrears system.
2. Overdoing the free assistance: For all that agonising we did about how little we would charge and all that rationalising we did about providing servie for free, there were very few client who expressed much gratitude. When the dust settled, they returned to what they were doing and just got on with it. Our free assistance was all pretty quickly forgotten. In hindsight, I think clients would have been just as receptive if we’d had well constructed assistance packages, with prices attached. I venture to say our clients would have more clearly understood the value we were providing and been more invested in implementation.
3. Training the team in the new rules: Even though the rules were changing and evolving as we got closer to D Day, we made sure that the team was up to speed. In fact, we hired an Australian accountant who was very familiar with the GST system in Canada to help us. This training system involved a session each week for several weeks in the lead up to the rules coming in. Now, I know that there isn’t the luxury of time in this new situation but thoroughly training team members in what’s known about the new regulations will help prepare them for what’s to come.
4. Use standard templates but provide tailored advice: We developed a system for tailoring advice to clients, in the form of written reports. We used some wonderful features in Word 2000 to swiftly produce these reports. This entailed authors “assembling” these by selecting from a library of standard paragraphs as appropriate and inserting bespoke aspects on a by-exception basis. We added beautiful coversheets and presentation effects with clip art – that was a big deal back in the day – and Voila! produced a great outcome. So, I think we got this aspect pretty right. By the way, those same auto text features are still available in Word. However, now you can combine them with more sophisticated automation solutions. Quality advice doesn’t have to take hours to produce!
5. Don’t think only old heads can learn new rules: It was great that Partners were highly visible to clients during this time. However, we overdid this, thinking that it had to be a Partner explaining all of the ins and outs in the new rules. The reality of course is that these rules were new to Partners and non-Partners alike. Younger team members were just as capable of absorbing the new rules as more experienced team members. This played out when it came to preparing the first round of BAS’s – it was the younger team members who (a) had to do them and (b) were explaining how these worked to the Partners.
6. Leaders should focus upon what happens next: This follows on from the previous point. I think we as Partners could and should have been more strategic during this time. Empowering team members would have freed us up and given us more headspace to be a step ahead.
– we would have had more to time to consider and determine billing policies
– we would have assessed the clients who were going to be clear winners and recommended additional services to them
– we would have been alert to the possibility of a merger or acquisition immediately after the peak busy-ness, for those practitioners who’d simply run out of petrol along the way. In this regard, I’m delighted to to be coaching a firm now who very much has this on their radar at present – just the thing to utilise the capacity they’ve created by sytemising their back office operations
– And the process would have been more enjoyable and sustainable – a far cry from one of the the Three Musketeers having a career shortening nervous breakdown.
Based upon this hindsight, I urge you to delegate, empower and exercise during this time. Not only will this help you get through the crunch, you’ll have more petrol in your tank for what’s to come. You’ve still got the rest of your career ahead of you, so don’t blow yourself up in the next few weeks!
At times like this, it’s all too easy to throw yourself at the coalface and get busy, busy, busy. However, pulling back from the seemingly urgent demands on your time to look more strategically at the opportunities and where you should allocate resources could yield significant benefits. When the dust settles on this tumultuous period, will you have merely survived or instead put in foundation steps for a more prosperous future?
By Scott Charlton
Scott Charlton is a director of Slipstream Coaching, a company dedicated to assisting financial practitioners achieve their full potential. A long term business coach to both accountants and financial planners, Scott is also the author of three books regarding professionals in practice. Scott can be contacted by phone 07 3221 3796 or via email firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Episode 50 of In the Slipstream FM, “Getting on with it – Smarter IT with Melissa Voss”, (soon to be ) available through iTunes, Sticher, Spotify and www.slipstreamcoaching.com.au/news-and-insights/
2 Without health restrictions we ran actual seminars back in 2000. The prevailing Corona conditions dictate these days that client events are typically run via webinar.