I was participating in an online forum last week when one of the participants, Ursula, interjected to say that, “No way is our number one issue, winning new clients.” She went on to observe that finding and keeping staff is by far the biggest challenge the profession faces. I found her observation of interest in that both winning new clients and staff retention have long been major issues for accountancy business owners. Is one more important than the other?
My observation is that neither of these are new challenges. Ever since I started consulting some 30 years ago finding talent (the new term for staff) has long been advanced as being a problem facing the profession.
Global firms find that once the hurdle of examinations have been overcome the newly qualifieds tend, over a period of four years to leave the profession. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are just a few:
- Career focus. They only came into the profession to gain the qualification. This is true of my youngest son who was trained by BDO Birmingham, UK and actually left before the end of his training contract. He preferred to enter corporate finance with a specialist firm rather than remain with BDO. He had a clear focus on his future and never intended to stay one day longer than necessary. “Dad, I cannot stand doing audits” he said to me one day.
- Disillusionment. Others have become disillusioned with the profession as a consequence of the primary focus on compliance – we are seen by some as historians offering services that relate only to the past and not the future. As technology changes our lives on a regular basis they seek the opportunity to work in the here and now, cut and thrust, of industry.
- Work-life balance and demands of compliance. Some achieve the status of manager but find the pressures all round to be a serious challenge to work life balance and job satisfaction. Pressure from those above, budget constraints, client and staff challenges. This is all accompanied by the requirement to create a high quality file that passes all the regulatory requirements – which seem to be ever increasing. I know this to be the case as over the years I have sat one on one with hundreds of managers and know first hand the challenges and frustrations they face.
- Salary scales. Money is always important to those newly qualified. It’s interesting that one challenge with finding staff is often the low rate of remuneration compared to industry. Surely, we should be able to match rates of pay in order to at least reduce loss of talent?
- Prospects. In my experience of working with managers I would suggest that fewer than 25 per cent have firm ownership as a career objective. Yes, there are certainly some career managers in most firms. The challenge for firm owners is that their salary cost can increase overtime with the result that their cost per hour is greater than it needs to be.
- Other reasons? Of course, there are – relocation, health, family, change of career and no doubt others that you have experienced.
Key threat: Surveys during the pandemic suggest that there is a significant percentage of staff who may well consider leaving once your country’s economic health has been restored.
Key recommend 1: If you have not thus far prioritised improving good staff relations and management you may well find yourself in a difficult situation. This article isn’t the place for a long list of recommends. However, I will advance one which will not come as surprise if you have read my ‘working from home’ (WFH) articles that if you do not allow staff to WFH they may exercise their right to seek alternative employment.
Key recommend 2: Be prepared to invest in the IGNITE Module 4 – Improving staff productivity and job profitability. I guarantee you will find this invaluable. This course comes with a money back if not satisfied guarantee.
So, how important is staff retention? I am inclined to agree with Ursula. Talent retention is surely a number one issue for many firms. Remember your greatest assets goes home at night. Or these days maybe they are at home 24/7!
Winning new clients
I believe that there are some easy steps to take that will enable you to fill up your pipeline and win new clients. Some simple essentials:
Make sure your website is up to date and that you have no 404 pages:
- Make sure that your service portfolio goes way beyond compliance
- Ensure you include areas of specialisation
- Include testimonials – others need to see your credentials from an ‘independent’ standpoint
- Include details of your key people (firm owners and managers). Bio not more than 200 words. Last sentence something about you personally. Include a contact email to provide easy access. Add in your pic (important). But only do this if you have a professional photographer and ask them to be creative!