How do I compete?

“How do I compete?”

That was a question recently put by an accountant who has another 125 accountants within a five mile radius. The easy answer might be “don’t”. Give in and do something else.

Then again, there is a lot of demand for accountancy services, but clearly plenty of supply.

The answer might be here:

  • The other accountants are not competitors but colleagues.
  • Do you have specialist areas in which you are strong and others might not be?
  • Can you sell your services to the others and outsource some of the work you are not good at or don’t like to them?
  • Can you concentrate on marketing your strong specialist areas to the public, making it clear you are different from the rest?

I am a tax guy, but I do not work in all areas of taxation. I specialise in landlord tax, capital gains on property, non-residents and a couple of other niches. Anything I do not like and am not good at, I simply do not do.

Do you stick to what you are good at? It is more enjoyable and more profitable too.

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Rude and aggressive clients?

“Most clients and people in general I come across are just rude and aggressive.”

That is a statement I saw on an accounting website, posted by an accountant. I am surprised by the comment. Is everyone rude these days? Are they just rude to this accountant? What has he done (or not done) to deserve it? Has he got the wrong clients?

In my previous piece I mentioned a rather rude ex-client. I know it takes all sorts, but if I do not have a good relationship with a client, and feel comfortable working with her or him, I ask the client to go. Of course I find a good reason. “I know another business which would suit your type of work better.” “The profile of my business has changed and we cannot any longer offer you the service you deserve.” “I would need to double your fee”.

All these can end an unsatisfactory business relationship fairly amicably. Certainly I see no reason to put up with uncomfortable communication and rudeness. Why would anyone? You don’t, do you?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.


Shooting the messenger

I had a client “sack” me last week. He did not have the grace to tell me in person. Actually he telephoned to check my email address, which he had used many times, and when I asked after him, he said that he had someone with him and could not talk. Two minutes later I had an email telling me my services were no longer required.

Having been in business for a fair time, I have quite a thick skin as far as rude and graceless behaviour is concerned. I did not know the client was unhappy with me, and I always courage feedback by talking. In this case, the client had got himself into a financial mess tax-wise, I was the one who told him he needed to find some money fast, and I assume he blamed me for this, rather than himself.

I would not be good at business if I did not try to make sure my clients are happy, but some will not talk back.

Have you been blamed by a customer for their own failures?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Encouraging the shrinking violets


Violets (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we are managing a team in business, we will have one or two people who shine more brightly. They will show their talent and volunteer for difficult work. They are great to have working with us.

There may also be some in the team who are more shy and self-effacing. They may have great potential ability, but lack confidence. They may feel intimidated by the unintentionally more forward colleagues.

We need to encourage our quieter colleagues by allowing them more demanding tasks and giving them support to see them through. We may well find that they will flourish, produce great work and push for more, having gained confidence from their achievements.

I was once a shrinking violet. I was fortunate to be given my head in difficult demanding work, which helped me realise I was really very good. I also learned that false modesty gets you nowhere. :)

Were you one of the shrinking violets? Do you nurture them? It can be very rewarding.

No regrets – but learn!

I guess we all have memories of matters we could have handed differently. Should I have gone to that college? Should I have tried harder with that girlfriend and might I have married her? Should I have chosen that career? Should I have taken that job?

The truth is that we will never know the answers to those questions, so there is no point in having regrets. We had an education, we may well be in a happy relationship now, we have made the best of our career and have probably been successful. What is there to regret? We must have learned lessons along the way.

Each time we chose a path, we did not know where it would lead, or where we would have ended up if we had gone the other way.

I have made many mistakes in business. I have wasted money on advertising. I was once scammed out of some money by a bogus “magazine publisher”. I did not accept offers of help when I should. I misjudged a client who never paid me all he owed, and it was quite a lot too.

We have to take our mistakes on the chin. As long as we learned a lesson each time, we have gained in experience and will know better next time.

It is no good beating ourselves up. Lessons learned are profitable and lead to more profits for our business by avoiding mistakes in future.

You don’t have any regrets, do you?

School’s out

The last bell

When I was at school, back in the mists of time, even when the last bell rang we could not pack up and leave the classroom until we were dismissed by the teacher. It might be different now of course. However, a desperate rush for the door would not seem to indicate much enthusiasm for the subject we were being taught.

Not far down the road is the main office of a local vocational training centre. At 5pm there is a veritable stream of employees and possibly some students out of the door and down of the road, many lighting cigarettes or on their phones as soon as they step out of the door. I find that very surprising. I would guess that there is not much job satisfaction there if everyone is so eager to get away, but it seems these people are not alone. The Cabinet Office has apparently found that there is a huge variation in job satisfaction.

Getting satisfaction

Of course I am not surprised that those in authority have more satisfaction than those that do not, and clergy as top dogs work mainly at their discretion, helping people, which must be rewarding. However, farmers come pretty high despite lower incomes, and I suspect that is not so much because they are in charge of others, but because they are actually self-employed and more in control of their own destinies unless weather takes its toll.

We small business owners do have a considerable advantage in having job satisfaction, don’t we? We make our own decisions, do not have reason to resent the boss (unless we really hate ourselves), take time off when we decide to, and should anyway be running a business we enjoy.

I did not originally choose to start my own businesses, but I am so glad that it happened. After all, as referenced in the BBC article, while we should make good profits, our social well-being and life satisfaction are the main elements in being happy in our work. That stems from our independence rather than dependence on less considerate employers. Aren’t we lucky?

Monday, Monday, so good to me

iStock_000011891859XSmall bored womanThe Mamas and The Papas sang:

“Monday Monday, so good to me,
Monday Monday, it was all I hoped it would be”

It seems the rest of their Monday did not work out so well, but I look forward to Monday mornings because I have my own businesses and I am in control of my destiny.

Like many I remember when I was an employee, perhaps with a long commute, to a job I did not enjoy. Sometimes the work was not satisfying, or it was boring, or I simply did not have enough to do.

When I was under-worked I was under pressure to deliver to the firm more fees when I had spare time and no money made available to do my own marketing. There were several people in the same position and I went to find a more challenging position.

Sometimes I had an unsympathetic boss. When I was with a firm that had been taken over, the new partner in charge felt lumbered with staff he did not want. He gave the quality clients to his own people. I was then supposed to report to someone who had no confidence in me and also had that same problem of not enough work.

Then there was the bully boss, the rude man who shouted and swore at his staff. Come to think of it, I had two of those a dozen years apart.

In the end I started my own businesses because I had to in the absence of employment, but if everyone knew what I know now, no one would want to report to someone else if they had any go in them.

Isn’t being in business on your own account so satisfying, and yes, so much fun?

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Working from home constructively

Break-time walk

Break-time walk

I have been in business working from home for more than a decade. Of course working from home doesn’t mean working at home all the time. I do a lot of work at home, but I visit clients all over the place to help them with their businesses and their tax issues, and I go to networking meetings and training sessions.

Not being responsible to anyone else means I have to be responsible to myself. Working from home is not about using the technology. People have been doing it for a long time. It is about discipline.

Discipline is a word my Dad used to bark at us children when we had apprently misbehaved. In a sense it has a bad press, being associated with regimentation. Yet all we are really talking about is being sensible and organised.

It would be all to easy to lie in bed when we have work to do. We need to get up, have a set time of when we work, and broadly stick to it. If we don’t have work, i.e. business to service, or employees and subcontractors to organise to do it, then we should be at our desks, or on the sofa, or somewhere, marketing. Alternatively we should go to that early breakfast meeting.

It can be lonely working from home. Before the internet, we could have our “water-cooler” chats on the telephone, but now we can chat and interact on-line. We can use Twitter for conversations as well as for our marketing.

We have to have that discipline not to allow our social media interaction to get in the way of work. Yes, I like to see whatever everyone is up to by scrolling around Facebook, but there is a time and a place, and that certainly isn’t when we should be working for our clients and customers, or trying to find new ones.

  • Have particular times to work, whether normal office hours, or four in the morning start, but stick to it.
  • Limit the social media marketing time to an hour or so.
  • Set yourself break times and make sure you take them.
  • Try to do the on-line social stuff to the breaks.
  • Don’t work long hours, because if you feel you have to you must be doing something wrong.

What tips do you have?

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Curbing our aggression?

iStock_000011891859XSmall bored womanPerceptions

My very nice Twitter friend, Elaine Clark, commented the other day:

“Why is it that women are aggressive and men assertive – well that is what blokes always tell me!”

I do not have that opinion (and I think Elaine had her tongue in her cheek), but it set me thinking about how perceptions of people govern their success in employment or in business.

Aggressive or assertive?

In large businesses I would have thought that employees perceived as aggressive would not be favoured by their bosses or the owners. However, I have to say that if we think about “assertive” meaning rather pushy and extrovert then I do think that getting noticed does help people to be promoted, sometimes above those who have more ability and knowledge. That goes for both women and men.

Certainly I remember in a previous employment spotting early a very pushy female junior whom I thought would go far. She is now a partner in that international firm. Did her pushiness pay off? It might have done, because another very pushy person but not so clever guy also made partner. I like to think the pushy lady made the higher echelons because she worked hard and is clever too.

I do think it is possible that pushy people get promoted in larger organisations because their managers prefer a quiet life. Do you?

Pushy or confident?

Having met many small business owners since I became one myself, I am not convinced that it pays to be pushy and in-your-face. In fact I know it is not. Don’t you try to avoid those people at networking events who buttonhole you and thrust their flyers and cards at you even though you have not expressed an interest?

There is nothing wrong with putting yourself forward of course. I do, even though it is not really a natural thing for me I am an introvert really, but have trained myself, through watching others, to speak and to do presentations. I try not to talk too much face-to-face about my business unless asked. It is quite different to set out our wares on our websites, or have flyers delivered door to door, because that does not force anyone to look at whatever they don’t want to.

Mainly we need to show what we can do, and what successes we have had, and demonstrate our knowledge. Male or female, we should not be aggressive or assertive so that people notice, because they are likely to react against us.

We need to gain the confidence of our business community. We can have a personal brand which people like without being over-the-top and freaking people out. To me, pushy doesn’t cut it. What do you think?


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Communicating with your employees and colleagues

iStock_000020557146LargeThe team

All successful small businesses need to have their owners, management and employees work as a team. That means quite a degree of commitment from everyone and that has to be based on mutual respect.

When I was a manager in someone else’s small business, and indeed when I was in charge of a department in a larger firm, I always believed in a relatively hands-off approach. I didn’t tell people what to do, although I helped them if they asked. I tried to be approachable and friendly, and I always thought that I got the best response.

I found that way of managing because it worked for me. I think one’s charges respond better if they like their manager. That doesn’t mean that I am making out I am a wonderful guy. I did it because it was the easiest way and I knew it worked.

Everyone wants to feel included as part of the team and to help each other. I know I did when I was further down the ranks, and I also remember (confession coming up) not trying nearly so hard when I was getting blamed unreasonably for things going wrong which were entirely outside my control. The fact I was blamed was a communication failure in the managers not taking the trouble to get to the bottom of a problem. It was counter-productive of course.


Businesses do not always run smoothly and sometimes owners and managers will feel that there needs to be a change in working practices. If they do need to be implemented then it is far preferable if the employees are consulted properly and are on board. If they have specific issues they need to be met.

Communicating the need for change is not always easy. Gini Dietrich, writing here in her excellent blog, highlights how badly Yahoo! recently got it wrong and how they should have done better in asking their work-at-home people to work in the office in future.

It’s good to talk

A well-known telephone company if the UK used to have a strap-line “It’s good to talk” and it is, if you are talking with your employees on a level of respect and understanding. They need to appreciate why change is needed, and “management” needs to empathise and understand what problems their staff may have in making the change.

Do you agree it’s good to talk?

Related posts:

What the BBC can teach us about management and team work

Why managers and workers need to respect each other



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