In the Slipstream – Episode 22 – Lighting Up Your Accounting Firm – Guy Pearson

 

 

Scott Charlton: 
Hello and welcome to In the Slipstream FM, the podcast dedicated to helping accountants and financial planners run a better business. My name’s Scott Charlton and I’m the director in charge of the coaching program here at Slipstream Coaching. The topic for this episode is lighting up your accounting firm. Amongst other things, we’ll be discussing smarter ways of getting paid, and other technology efficiencies. I’m sure you’ll find this compelling listening.

My guest today, Guy Pearson of Practice Ignition, is an expert in this field. In going into this interview, I was highly expectant that Guy had cracked a lot of the problems that always seemed to be dragging along behind me when I was in practice. Picture a great big ball and chain attached to my ankle and you’re starting to get the picture. Guy certainly didn’t disappoint. Then, after the main interview is finished, stay on the line. I’m going to share with you some thoughts and observations about how most professional services firms rate in terms of standing out in the marketplace, and if that assessments seems a little close to home, I’ll provide you with some simple suggestions regarding what to do with your website. It doesn’t take much to be a lot, lot better at marketing than your competitors. Let’s get started.

Recording: 
Now here’s some great ideas for your firm, where we’re all about success on your terms. Get the knowledge, the tools and insights from special guests. Everything you need to become your very best. So come and build the business of your dreams. Settle in and listen now to In the Slipstream.

Scott Charlton:
I mentioned at the outset that today’s guest is Guy Pearson, who for the past six years has been the driver behind Practice Ignition. Guy’s company has made a name for itself in helping practitioners with proposals, engagement arrangements, and getting paid much, much faster. As a coach, that sounds pretty good to me. As the days ticked down I found myself really looking forward to this interview. I had a sense that the things that Practice Ignition does could make a profound difference to the accountants, and even the planners, who listen to this podcast. You be the judge. To get the ball rolling, I started the interview by asking Guy what a Chief Ignitioneer does.

Guy, welcome to the show.

Guy Pearson: 
It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. Thanks so much for having me, Scott.

Scott Charlton:
Oh, that’s good. Straight off the bat, I’d like you to tell me what a Chief Ignitioneer does.

Guy Pearson:
Well, we had to make up a name that sounded entertaining, and I really don’t like labels such as CEO, et cetera, so Chief Ignitioneer, I am the guy who is in charge of Practice Ignition and looking forward where we’re going, and secondly I fill the rest of the gaps left by anyone else, so usually I refer to myself as the CEO and the janitor at the same time, so if we’re moving offices, I’m usually doing that. If we’re pitching to VECs, I’m doing that. If we’re talking to large firms and strategic partnership deals, I get involved with that as well, and then I even do our bookkeeping still, if you can believe that. Being an ex-accountant, it’s more like the really nice, repetitive, routine task that keeps me up to date with what’s going on in the accounting industry as well, and what tools can be used. So a bit of a Jack of all trades, really, and Chief Ignitioneer, as I say, was just a fun way to describe it.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, great. Years ago I remember a speech that the incoming principal of my daughter’s school gave, and she said that your children are going to be doing jobs that don’t exist yet, so maybe she had Chief Ignitioneer in mine when she made that prediction.

Guy Pearson:
Maybe, but I’m not completely sure. I think I’ve got more odd jobs than anyone else I know, so I think it’s very important, and your daughter’s principal’s rather wise, that people need to be multifaceted and multi-talented, particularly in this day and age.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. Just a backfill for our listeners, do you mind just giving a thumbnail sketch of your career, maybe starting life as an accounting graduate through to now being the Chief Ignitioneer superhero?

Guy Pearson:
Sure thing. I’ll try not to waffle on as I’m accustomed to. Long story short, started off as a paperboy in high school, and then changed from paperboy to, if you like, cadet accountant at the age of 18, in mid-tier practice here in Sydney, where I’m from. Went from one practice, which was very top-down structured and compliance-focused, to a very flat-structured practice after about four years’ time. By that stage, I was in my last semester of university, working full-time, studying full-time at night, and then went on to do my CA, but that flat-structured firm was really what gave me the kick up the ass that I needed.

I was encourage, if not pushed, to push myself a bit harder, and I got exposure to how a firm runs, so I planned all of our conferences. I was in charge of grab recruitment. I was in charge of marketing BD, and I ran by own team by the time I was 24, with our own clients and all those sorts of things. It was kind of a let’s say snail’s pace development on compliance, and then a rapid expansion as I hit that flat-tiered firm where I sat right next to the partner that I worked for, for instance.

As a part of that, the change in thinking also happened from tax being the most important thing that made the world go round to focusing on having the most money in the bank at the end of the year. It’s sort of a different focus, but entrepreneurs, typically the successful ones particularly, understand that you’re gonna pay tax. The more money you make, the more tax you pay, but the more money you’ve got in the bank accounts, you’re doing more exciting things with in the future. That’s the, if you like, the kicking off point for everything that followed, so I was offered partnership just before my 25th birthday.

Scott Charlton:
Wow.

Guy Pearson:
I’d just finished by CA, and I turned it down to go traveling the world. That firm was about to become a part of a listed group. This is 2009. I liked being able to make a change and seeing the direct outcome, which is a lot harder when you own shares in a listed company and there’s 20 firms in there, because even if you had an outstanding year, you might see the fruits of that labour of an extra 10 cents, or an extra 15.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
Shares, right, versus a tangible difference. I also didn’t like financial planning that much. I’m not a huge fan. I really wanted to be a business accountant, because I wanted to focus on helping entrepreneurs and helping businesses grow, and most of those guys, the primary asset is their business, not what’s in their Superfund, et cetera. Particularly guys and girls. I took a job at a pub before I went traveling, in the evening, so I was working at 4 Pines, which recently was sold, being the first acquisition of a craft brewery, by the world’s largest beer company.

Scott Charlton:
Wow.

Guy Pearson:
I worked there at nights pulling beers before I went traveling, and I set up the name for my new firm, and with the waves of technology coming along, and having used Skype with friends, and I’d used Gmail personally, and a whole bunch of other apps, and I had good friends who were working companies like Atlassian. I was introduced to Xero, and decided amongst other online accounting tools, and basically I had a half-decent personality as an accountant. I was pretty good at all facets of accounting and tax, and I knew I wanted to work with businesses, and I knew I wanted to do it online because I hated wasting time on paperwork, basically.

I wanted connected data systems, and so I’d always sat with the tech teams all of the funds that I’ve worked with, or right next to them, and so the whole trajectory to the move online became [inaudible 00:08:32], and I started my accounting firm and incorporated it before I went traveling, and then went around the world for nine months, came back, pulled beers at night, worked my ass off during the week, and slowly built an accounting firm as a 25-year-old, shaved head, jeans and T-shirt-wearing kid, called Interactive Accounting.

I guess as I wanna continue the career, I sort of made my redundant there as early as possible, so made sure … not fired myself necessarily, but made sure that I wasn’t required in the day-to-day operation of accounting and tax. Went to work on the business, and then started having little side hustles of different technology plays, so Interactive was, I think, incorporated in 2009, but opened its doors January 2010, when I returned home from traveling. In the next subsequent three years, I started another four companies, all of which were technology/accounting focused. One was acquired by Interactive Accounting, one was shut down, and the other one remains dormant today, and the last one was Practice Ignition.

I tried my hand at a few different things. I started companies instead of doing NBAs and things like that. I had more than enough initials after my name, I didn’t see the desire to have a few more, and basically that brings us to today, and once Interactive was independent and Practice Ignition had passed the minimum viable product stage, I made the move towards becoming full-time CEO there after we’d hired a couple of employees to build the product.

The upside and the interesting thing is that when the other partners joined Interactive, it was made completely clear that at one stage I would do those actions, and so I tried to hire people who could be far superior to me in their facets, but also run a company, and thankfully they managed to do a very good job, and so I built two reasonably, moderately successful businesses, and put great people at both.

Scott Charlton:
Fantastic. Well, there’s any number of juicy hooks that you’ve thrown in there, and I applaud your thinking about wanting to be a business accountant, and certainly one of the things that you mentioned in terms of entrepreneurs and how they wrap their mind around paying tax, and what I used to say to those clients who were that way inclined is I’d say, “Look, I want you to pay an absolute truckload of tax. Just oodles and oodles, oodles of tax,” and that really stunned them, and I said, “Because that’s gonna mean you’ve made lots of lots and profit.” It always struck me that that should be the focus rather than doing all these clever things at the end of the year to get profit down, like, let’s get profit up.

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, and the irony is is that if you go for funding in any way, shape or form, whether that be bank, car loans, line of credit, investment, if you have bad results for tax funding, that does not help you.

Scott Charlton:
That’s right.

Guy Pearson:
So yeah, the irony is is that it then reduces your ability to get capital to grow a business. Yeah. Tax planning is great if you don’t need the cash, basically.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
To your point, the most interesting phone call I had as a very young gentleman, I think I was 22 when I rang, and 23. Rang an agent and entrepreneur who’d sold his company to tell him that he had a, personally for his share of the profits, had a 6.2 million dollar tax bill.

Scott Charlton:
Oh my goodness.

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, right, so he did very well, and he had earn outs, which then we had to go on a members returning, he did even better, but the said gentleman, when I rang him, you can imagine. 23 years old, I’m gulping this down going, “Oh, shit. A, I hope this is 100% correct, and B, I hope he’s expecting this.” The great thing about this guy was I rang him and he was like, “Oh, really? I thought I was gonna pay seven. That’s great news.”

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Back in the time to the early 2000s when there was 8%, six, seven, 8% term deposits available, so his extra millions had been sitting in the bank earning another 8%, so another 800 grand, whilst he was waiting for the tax bill, basically. He was a very … not happy about paying tax, but he was completely fine. To your point, the guys who make squillions don’t care.

Scott Charlton:
Yes, and one of my wise owl mentors that I have a lot of time for, he helped me out with this. He said, “These entrepreneurs, it’s not so much a matter that they don’t like paying tax, it’s where they haven’t provided for it.” This guy clearly had, and all good.

Now, one of the others things that you’ve referred to, and this is, I guess, the bittersweet part of the conversation for me because back when I was doing what you did to start your firm, well, with mine, this technology wasn’t available, and I suspect when you had to cover a lot of territory, that where I was breaking rocks with my hands, you’ve got far more elegant ways of handling that now. Also I’m pleased for the current gen and the like. Look back over the shoulder and think, “Oh, if only,” but … If I sob just once or twice, you’ll have to make some allowance for me. Okay.

Guy Pearson:
No problems.

Scott Charlton:
I haven’t actually visited your firm, Guy, the accounting firm, that is, but I have cruised around its website, and marketing and team culture appear to be two aspects that you’ve done really well. It just leaps off the screen. Would you care to comment what you did in those areas to get those outcomes?

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, for sure I’ll preface that by saying that the marketing side has not been updated since 2011, so the fact that it still leaps out is great. I had a big hand in choosing the design and I wrote most of the content, but the funny thing is is that it doesn’t really explain what the firm does these days, which is a huge no-no. But if we circle back to that time and place, being 2010, 11, 12, we focused particularly on the marketing side, and as I said earlier, I basically made that part of my full-time job, so I wasn’t really doing any accounting work, I was working on the business.

We hired a full-time designer for nine months, and we went to town on absolutely everything. We rebuilt the website a couple of times, so I think three times in a year. We launched a video, which is no longer on the site but is on the about page. Basically we were sick, or rather, because I was handling all the sales and leads in bound, I was sick of explaining what we did, so if you rewind the clock back to those days, that accounting was almost a niche in itself, but no one actually knew what the difference was between that and normal accounting, and normal accounting services. Xero wasn’t on the backs of buses. There was not an Australian version of Xero at that point in time either, so it was all disjointed tech still, so we were still breaking some rocks with our hands, sadly. Maybe with a hammer, but not too much further along.

What I meant was is that marketing was pretty much us explaining who we were and what we did. First thing was Cloud, back then, so explaining what we did, what the Cloud was, what it meant for you in terms of working with an accounting firm that was in the Cloud, and that was one thing that we focused on, and the second was when we targeted marketing particular industries. We identified early on that, just back in 2010, 11, that if you wanted to move to the Cloud and have an online accounting firm with a focus on data, then we were your natural fit, and over time that morphed into high growth businesses. We have a legacy customer base which is from those older days where it was just move to the Cloud, get connected, and we typically have kept the larger groups and entrepreneurs where they have franchise businesses or a train of businesses, those sorts of types.

Scott Charlton:
Yep.

Guy Pearson:
Then further as we went along, we became the accountant for start-ups.

Scott Charlton:
Okay.

Guy Pearson:
Since then the accountants for everything around start-ups as well, so the main ownership entities of the founders. We actually look after a good half a dozen private equity and venture capital firms. We look after a few limited partners of those firms. We look after some very wealthy individuals that invest in start-ups. Incubators. Coworking working spaces. The list goes on. The way we always thought about marketing was if we want those clients, we wanted to be the enabler of the things that they wanted to hear and know about. They don’t really wanna hear about tax. They wanna know about R&D grants, and how they get money out of certain programs, from the government, for instance. But more importantly, we were trying to provide access and be self-identifying with them in their daily struggles, and so we used to run entrepreneurs’ meetups once every six months. I think we ran four in total.

Scott Charlton:
Yep.

Guy Pearson:
This was when we had three staff, including myself, and we’d have 100 people turn up. We’d have speakers from Atlassian, Xero, Zendesk, and so on and so forth, talking about the digital funnel. There was only three of us. We hosted it. We’d make sure that we got all the content possible, so we filmed all the talks, took photos of everybody. We had surveys after the event. We had a prize for … people would vote for best speaker, best presentation, which were only five minutes long, and then we sent out an email, and if anyone wanted to learn more about what we did, we got information and got customers that way. But what it did for us is we were providing an event, having been to start-up events, that was very akin to how they’re used to doing networking.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
And so we were the enabler. It was like, “Shit. My accounting firm would never do anything like this,” right? So that was what we were going for, and it was to build the brand synonymous with that industry, and we took it a step further with something called Start up Years, which was thrown up on Eventbrite. By signing up, you’re adhering to our terms and conditions you’re becoming a client of Interactive Accounting for an afternoon, so we can talk about anything we want, hands open. No fee. We’ll provide pizza and beer. Come in and ask your questions. Then the third one was similar, but earlier we used to do something called Xero Coffee, so when Xero was brand new, and it was our chosen platform to go to the Cloud with at the time, we would find coworking spaces with big, open boardrooms or whatnot and run Xero Coffee, and so same thing. Eventbrite, and we’d ask for your coffee order, and it was free, you’d turn up, and there’d just be coffees.

Obviously we built our databases off the back of this. Once again, photos. We’d film it. Surveys. And the whole idea was it was just to be having all of our own collateral, so rather than using stock images, we would have photos that we’d took from our events, with our logo in the background, videos that we took, case studies. “Oh, what did you think of the event?” All that sort of stuff, and once again, this is 2011, we’d then distribute it. We may not have ended up with direct customers from the evening, but the flow-on effect really kicked in once we were three years old. Usually when I do a presentation I show our revenue graph and the growth for IA, and there’s a nice low inflection point, so we doubled every year for the first four, five year, but year three particularly there was an inflection point, and that was the year that I resigned to come over to PI. It was proof that referrals started kicking in, the team was set up and running, and literally I was not needed.

Sorry. Going back to it. We focused on ROI in the long term. We focused on targeting a niche industry that we wanted to be involved with, and rather than hosting a black tie formal event or taking out a table at an awards night or something like that, we hosted an event that that target market would feel comfortable in. Start-ups like pizza, beers, they like low-key, they like good content, they don’t like fuffle, and the same with typically in the early days, entrepreneurs moving to the Cloud was a very similar mindset.

Scott Charlton:
Awesome.

Guy Pearson:
Target a niche, market to that niche, make sure you’re thinking about what they want and how they wanna be spoken to rather than telling them about tax updates or something else.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
We were always trying to be the enabler. The other point you asked about was culture. Still a bloody hard one to solve. We had a rule that basically I needed to be the biggest arsehole in the team, and if that was the case, then we could hire really good people, but trying to find accountants with personality who understand and are good at tax accounting and numbers is incredibly difficult. It was then, still is now, but over the years we’ve managed to build a reasonably stable team and hire some really good people. It’s a constant challenge, but I’m more involved with it here day-to-day at Practice Ignition, where that same policy applies, so once again, if I’m the worst person on the team then everyone gets along, but basically it’s people being humble. They’re being positions only because people have to make decisions and wear them, as opposed to a hierarchy, if you will.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. Okay. Look, when I see the photos on the team members on the website, and they’re all in T-shirts, and there’s just this sense of fun, even irreverence about them. Now I more clearly understand that that’s going to connect with the target market of the entrepreneurs who are probably also wearing T-shirts and have an irreverence or a rebellious streak in them, so it seems to be a happy like for like.

Guy Pearson:
For sure. I’m sure you’ve done some sales training with Sharon. If you go to meeting and you’re dressed and you look the same as the person you’re speaking with, then they feel comfortable, so for us we just had a no suits policy because the most successful entrepreneurs I’d met at my previous firm were just some of the wealthiest folks in Australia. None of them wore a suit to any of our meetings. They wore what they were comfortable in. The mind makes the man rather than the suit, as far as I’m concerned, so it’s what comes out of your mouth that’s important rather than what you’re wearing.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. Yeah, actually, the entrepreneur who headed up the business that I used to work for, he said that his observation was that the people who make the decisions didn’t wear ties, and very highly qualified people who were the audit takers and the doers, they wore ties, so he said, “Scott, you and I, we’re not wearing ties,” and that makes a lot of sense to me.

Guy Pearson:
Exactly.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. Look, I’m really impressed with what you shared with the marketing, Guy, and it seemed that for a small team of three, you were punching well above your weight. There was certain courage with what you did with some things, like the designer for nine months. I can’t think of many accounting firms, even if they had a couple of extra zeros on their profit line than what you would have had at that stage, that they’d be bold enough to do that, but you courageously saw that was an investment, so yeah, was there any gulp swallow, or is this something you think, “No, we’ve just gotta do this.”?

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, I mean, I was fairly lucky. Starting my firm, I came back and the GFC had kind of happened whilst I was traveling, and all my money had been in mutual funds, and so not only was I withdrawing bit by bit but my balance was going down due to the losses.

Scott Charlton:
Clunk by clunk.

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, right? I was supposed to back home with some cash, and I came back with pretty much nothing. There was a bit of a, not personally, but in my family there was a bit of a family breakdown at the same time, and it’s like you put a dog in the corner and they come out fighting, right?

Scott Charlton:
Nothing to lose.

Guy Pearson:
I think I just called myself a dog, but the funny thing is is that I looked at how software companies grew. I looked at what the new Cloud business model looked like, and how it was switching to recurring, and a whole unit economics side of how you run a business, and the idea was, “Let’s just focus on growth. We can turn down wages, we can do all kinds of things to make a profit.” The biggest thing was to get as much of the market, so if you think the bell curve of adoption.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
We were trying to get as much of our relevant market as we could, in which case everything else was irrelevant because people don’t like changing accountants as well, so if we could get them in, keep them happy, and then grow the relationship and help them grow their business and be the best darn accountant they’d ever had, then they’re gonna tell their friends, but if we get enough momentum then we’re gonna be bigger than … well, not bigger by everyone else, but we’ll grow into a decent-size firm, which we are today. If there’s only wave of this adoption at this particular instance in time, we wanted to capture as much of it as possible.

Scott Charlton:
In every way, it seems that you mirrored your market, the entrepreneurs you were seeking to attract. They wouldn’t have been interested in just small thinking, that you could readily relate, and they could see that you were actually walking the talk, so that seems to be a very good fit for your target market.

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, I mean, I think so. I think they identified a lot with us now. Yeah. One of the things I talk about, and I think it’s a bit later in the outline of the talk that you gave. Very much thinking about what is your … so if you have a sales meeting, and part of Practice Ignition is closing sales, and what I did at IA was closing new clients.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
It was all about trying to identify what is it that your client focuses on and what’s the most important thing to them, so for us it was basically, once again, by building a niche. We’d have a software app, or a marketplace, or an audio coffee a head at a time. Folks would come in. We knew exactly what the problems were, in theory and in practice, from A, having used that technology, but B, understanding how the business model would work, and so when we had the first meeting it was like, “Oh, you’re probably having issues with X, Y, and Z.” They thought we were rocket scientists because we weren’t talking about tax and we understood what they were facing on a day-to-day issue, but reality was is it that we just dealt with lots of similar businesses, so it really didn’t … I guess my point is is that we focused on something, we got really good at it, and therefore we grew. We just, like I said, to your point, we understood our customers.

Scott Charlton:
Look, I think that that’s really awesome. If you are very focused on your niche, you get to know them and understand them, and that just gives you confidence when you’re having those moment of truth conversations with the clients that you not only understand their issues, but you can confidently say that these are the things that we recommend, and they will help you enormously, just leads for a really good, exhilarating conversation, so well done.

What’s your current relationship with the firm, because you mentioned that you’ve gone onto other things, which I’d like to explore in just a moment, but just to close off on your accounting firm, what do you currently do with and for the firm?

Guy Pearson:
I must admit, up until probably about five months ago, not a whole lot. I sat on the board, but I travelled a lot with Practice Ignition, so I probably went to one board meeting in the prior two years, physically.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
I’d drop in to make sure I was at least present with the team and that they knew they had a mentor if they … well, not mentor, but someone they can ask questions to who’s done the day-to-day business but cares about the outcomes. I tried to make myself available for the folks there, and aside from that, I’m still the largest shareholder there, so … I sit as the chairman of the board, director, largest shareholder. I don’t wanna use the word mentor, but I’m available if someone needs an answer. Ask a question and wants to chat about their personal career or anything like that. More recently I’ve been getting involved with some special projects, so mostly a lot more active in the last couple of months. Actually helping out with a couple of our clients, just on the side. Yeah. So going through funding, or business model questions and things like that. Yeah, not a huge role, more like an advisory role, and a bit of a project role every now and again, and just sitting on the board.

Scott Charlton:
Right. It’s definitely not your typical role of a founding partner with a majority interests who’s probably punching on every day at six, seven, eight o’clock at night, carrying the weight of all the firm’s problems on his or her shoulders.

Guy Pearson:
Don’t get me wrong, sitting on the sideline is incredibly stressful.

Scott Charlton:
Right.

Guy Pearson:
Not because people aren’t pulling their weight, but it is a sizable, I guess, part of my investment thesis, if you will, or my potential wealth, I guess, and you’re letting other people control that.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
I had a couple of partners that worked at the firms that I were at, where they were similar to me now but they didn’t do anything else, and they’d come in, “Ah!” Wave their hands around and scream how things should be changed, and then walk out and hop into their $500,000 sports car, or probably more like $200,000 sports car because they were only accountant, and drive away, and not to be seen for another month, and so very, very conscious not to do that, and it’s either be in for a penny, in for a pound, so help on a particular issue, which is what I’m doing with some projects, or just be there as a friend of the business, basically, as far as the team is concerned.

Scott Charlton:
Cool.

Guy Pearson:
Just didn’t wanna be that former example of the raving lunatic that comes in unhappy, and then doesn’t actually help fix anything.

Scott Charlton:
Going to change tack now and talk about the pricing of professional services, and ultimately getting paid. It’s obviously highly relevant to your firm, and likely the firm of every person listening to this podcast. I thought it might be useful if you just provide just a brief overview of Practice Ignition, which there’ll be varying levels of knowledge about Practice Ignition amongst the listeners. How it came about, because we’ll doubtless be making reference to it as we get into this particular topic, so just give us the reader’s digest version of Practice Ignition.

Guy Pearson:
Sure. In a nutshell, Practice Ignition is Shopify for an accounting firm at present, so if you’re not familiar with Shopify, it’s an ecommerce platform, and why it’s relevant is Practice Ignition allows you to build a library of your services you offer your clients. You can then drag and drop those onto a digital engagement letter, or contract, if you will, that’s a smart contract. Send that out to your clients. They can comment on it, you can turn payments on, so you can collect payment details, but also allows your client to sign on any device, and then linkages to that are then provided into third-party workflow invoicing system, so you can have what’s on your engagement, actually go and create clients, deploy your workflow, and basically handle your onboarding. For a new client, for an existing client, you can do rollovers and have the new work deploy. There’s scope group issue. You can change the engagement when your workflows deploy.

Very much aligns what’s in the contract with what work your team is gonna be doing, so there’s a straight line there, not only for compliance but easy workflow, and then that same straight line exists for invoicing, and so whether you’ve got an investment, a monthly retainer, an hourly engagement, the idea is that once again, your contract has a direct link to invoicing, and because you know what invoice is being credited, we also have payments. We can then process the payments for you, so go get the money from your client, transact it over to yourself in full. We take our fees out once a month when we bill you for the software, and then we reconcile your accounts foreseeable, so you end up with clear line of sight between contract, driving workflow, invoicing payments, no admin on anything, and then a beautiful layer of BI over the top., business intelligence.

Dashboards, being able to dive into what clients have what services, what price they pay for them projected revenue for the year, cashflow, how many clients you actually have, what’s in your funnel currently, conversion rates, all those sorts of things, and then you’ve got taggings that you can customize those reports throughout the app.

The idea being that it’s the smartest way to run an accounting firm, and it was born out of Interactive, so we used to have … it was an online system, but it generated basically a word doc or a PDF. We’d then upload that into a different signing system to get that signed, and then it came back, we’d mark it as one. We’d then go and create the jobs and the workflow, allocate those to the team, then go send out manually a direct debit form that had to be filled in, or a credit card form, and then credit the invoice, and then match it all up manually. That was just ongoing every month with the invoicing and data management. The idea being that this just ties it all together. It really allows you to focus on what services do you provide to your clients.

Stage one is let’s Shopify this online way of running an accounting firm. Stage two is what do you do with all the information once you have it, and you’re gonna see a lot of that coming out this year, but we recently announced Zapier integration, which basically allows you to get 1,000 applications and go, “Okay, how do I want to pre-qualify, filter, onboard, and arrange my first meeting with my client?” and then have all that data flow into practice ignition. Also my calendar meeting has been booked, video links all there, all those sorts of things. Then when they hit accept, what workflows, what reminders, what information collections, what forms, what surveys do you wanna send out to them, and for all that to me automated. That’s what Zapier allows you to do, which is why they built it, because it basically allows you to have end-to-end workflow.

What we’re going to do is start bringing in some of those thing so that they’re … let’s call it PI apps, and they’ll likely be able to replace some of those things that you’re building, and have it all in one, which some people like but some people really love having the best in breed of each of those particular things, which we’re gonna be able to replace, so we figured we’d start with that, solve workflow problems, and then move onto an in-app solution.

Scott Charlton:
Okay. I think if you were to line everything you’ve just described and put it to item-for-item, task-for-task, and what I did back in the day in my firm, there would be no correlation whatsoever, with every aspect from start to finish, you’ve got a smarter, more automated way of doing that process, so that’s a total-

Guy Pearson:
To bear in mind, I hijacked a lot of this stuff at Interactive. I could show you to apps that we used to have, and part of the reason I built PI is I begged about six different application companies to build some of the stuff, and yeah, went, “I’m stubborn enough,” and hey, stubborn is probably a really good word. I’m probably pig-headed enough to go, “Hey, I reckon I could do this,” and go off and have a crack. But it definitely makes running a firm these days a hell of a lot easier.

Scott Charlton:
It’s funny. I’m just in the process of reading the biography of Steve Jobs, and there’s quirk about him that just wouldn’t accept the impossible, and he just would, by sheer will, make the impossible doable, and it was. Perhaps there’s a little bit of that in you as well.

Guy Pearson:
I don’t know. That’s quite a large accolade. I’m not sure I’ve had the balls to throw the first prototype of the iPhone into a water tank to prove that there was still air, therefore there was still space in the phone.

Scott Charlton:
Right.

Guy Pearson:
How he did that …

Scott Charlton:
Okay. I’m just thinking that … I listened to this podcast and heard this, this sort of glimpse into what’s your current reality, but is sort of like what their future firm might be contemplating, so to break that up, like we say, a traditional practitioner who might still, to a greater or lesser extent, be issuing an invoice after a job is completed, “Please pay within 14 days. Send it in the post or maybe even email in,” and hoping that the client will think it’s okay, just perhaps counsel someone in that situation, in terms of perhaps some of the shortcomings and how the world that you’ve created might elegantly move someone into a better situation.

Guy Pearson:
Okay. I think the easiest way to think about time cost, and billing and the way you present something, and billing at the end, probably with no indication of what you were going to charge upfront. If you just take your accounting hat off for a moment and then think about your last interaction with a tradesman.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Or anyone, for that matter.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
If you had a plumber come out to your place to fix a leaking tap, and you asked them how much it was gonna be and how long it was gonna take, and they said, “Well, I charge $150 an hour, and it’ll take as long as it takes, plus there’s this call out fee which is a minimum of $100.” Think about your willingness to actually engage that person, and then your level of pleasure when they hand you a bill for $1,500 at the end, when you thought it was gonna be 300.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson
If we just take that mindset, we’ve probably got a huge adoption across all markets now, even in the trades industry of quoting at least estimates, if not fixed prices.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
We’ve got an increasingly larger percentage of the population, and ironically, and this is something that surprised me in my early days, running my firm, is we have an 80-year-old client whose husband had been an entrepreneur, and she had the shared portfolio.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
The fact that we fixed priced it and charged her every month, it was just like, “Oh, I don’t even have to worry about all that.” She liked the assurance. She had a limited revenue, limited income, therefore knowing what your bill is makes things a lot easier, and so I think, if you take that approach of communication that’s transparent and is upfront, even if it is gonna be time-cost to provide an estimate. Look, I would love to say that it should all be online and connected, and plug Practice Ignition, but if you’re not quite ready for that, then make sure that that communication’s done so that people don’t get surprised at bills.

Australian businesses, and particularly accounting firms, have a massive problem with debtor days, with this lockup, and so one of the things that we’ve seen that people do is when they change to a monthly fee and they fix it, and they take some of it upfront is that those debtor days come down, and just imagine what you could do if your debtor days were 15 days.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
And you brought in the rest of the cash. You wouldn’t need those overdrafts potentially that you have. You could hire the people to make the changes you need to make. All those sorts of things, and so I strongly just suggest, without plugging the online way, that you just consider what your clients would prefer and what you would prefer, when you think about issuing fees and getting paid. Communication, transparency is huge, because no one likes surprises.

Scott Charlton:
Yes, that’s that far out moment when the client opens the email or opens the envelope and goes, “Whoa, gosh.” I think that certainly contributes to the debtor days, too, doesn’t it? I mean, the first thing you do-

Guy Pearson:
Oh, definitely.

Scott Charlton:
You put that in the “to be considered” pile. You’re not gonna pay it immediately, so …

Guy Pearson:
If you wanna have a fun experiment, offer to charge them 5% less than last years. They pay upfront.

Scott Charlton
Yeah, right. Okay.

Guy Pearson:
It’s still a fixed price, but imagine if you didn’t … If you think about the way an accounting firm traditionally runs, you pay the staff before you get revenue from their services, well before.

Scott Charlton:
Well before.

Guy Pearson:
So you might have 30 days of you’ve paid the staff 30 days previously, then send the bill, then you wait 60 days to get paid, so you’re carrying 90 days’ worth … You’re not a bank, but you’re carrying 90 days’ worth of a loan, effectively. Imagine if you got that money before you started, and what you could do with that extra money. I guess it’s always just, to me, cash is king. Cashflow is king. Why do we run businesses like banks? I don’t understand it, and ironically if you have a business conversation with your client who’s a business owner, or has been a business owner, they completely understand. It’s very funny.

Scott Charlton:
Guy, I’m thinking of all the partners meetings that I currently now head where debtors lists are the major topic of conversation. Perhaps we could eliminate all that, and gosh, perhaps people could actually go home earlier if you eliminate all of those debtors meetings, so …

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It shouldn’t be talked about, right? It should just be a non-issue.

Scott Charlton:
Now, when I go back in my day, I got something right. I eliminated fee surprises, so I figured if the client was going too far out, it was better to do it at the proposal stage so that you could at least have a conversation before you start racking up the hours on the job, so tick that one, but in retrospect I think I added just another whole layer of tasks for my accountants to do. I put another barrier for them to jump over, so what are some of the practical issues about getting engagement letters prepared, sent out, and ultimately approved by the client?

Guy Pearson:
I’m gonna ask you to repeat that one time because I lost a little bit of the audio there, but …

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, sure. If we look at the old-school way of getting engagement letters prepared or proposals done, sending them out, getting them approved by the client, and then several weeks later, getting underway. I know that you’ve more elegantly done that, but talk to me about some of the issues that you’ve identified in and around that, and how you’ve looked to engineer that out in this brave new world.

Guy Pearson:
Sure. The first thing is disconnected systems, is one. I think I went through the flow before, so I won’t try to repeat it too much, but word doc, to PDF, to e-signature program. Hopefully you’re using one of those, or emailing it to a client. They then have to review, sign, send back, and then nothing happens. It’s not connected to anything, and so then it’s manual workflow, manual invoicing and manual payment requests forms, manual anything else that happens, manually informing the team who the client is, what they want. It’s manual, manual, manual, manual, and the time it takes is quite lengthy.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
What we built with Practice Ignition and what we were very successful in closing all clients with interactive accounting doing was pre-preparing before our engagement meeting, so before we met with the clients, so do five minutes of research on them, their business. Google them.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Try and figure out what size they are. You can look and LinkedIn for the employee headcount. All these sorts of thing. Then pre-prepare an engagement based on what you think is the most things that they would ask for, and the highest level of service, because you can always change it down, so you prepare it before they arrive.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Then during the interview and the customer meeting, you’re taking notes and you’re putting that into the jobs that are gonna be launching, and hopefully you’re allocating and changing the services to be the correct one that the client is after.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
If you’d had a successful meeting, nine times out of 10 the client asks, “Okay, this sounds great. How do we get started?”

Scott Charlton:
Yep. All right.

Guy Pearson:
Typically this is when you go, “Oh, well, I’ll speak to my secretary. We’ll put something together and we’ll get it out to you in a few weeks’ time.” Now, if you think about the digitally-enabled entrepreneur of today, who has an attention threshold of probably about six hours, maybe, if you haven’t sent them something within 24 hours, they’re going to meet other accountants, probably.

Scott Charlton:
Yes. Yes.

Guy Pearson: 
Because they don’t care. You need to pitch them for their business, right? They’re looking after themselves, as they should. We used to pre-prepare, and we’d try to send it out either in the meeting with them or before they went home, and they would get an email faster than their last accountant returned their last phone call by about a week, and so all of a sudden your ability and your, if you like, your first perception, first impression, sky rockets ahead of anyone else they’ve ever dealt with in the profession. That’s fairly simple.

Scott Charlton:
Yep.

Guy Pearson:
What we try to do is we try to bring everything online so that the baseline of it was all standardized. It could be customized per client really easily, but still maintain the nuts and bolts of the compliance elements of your engagement letter, and still links through to workflow, the engagement lines over workflow, so it was just straight throughput for everything from the clients, operational, sales professionals, and it all just went there. We literally just tried to take every single kink out of the whole process, and I dare say that the firms who use this the best are the people who die what I just described, and they pre-prepare, send it out, they get the client to sign up on the spot, and they start working on that client’s stuff that afternoon.

Scott Charlton:
Excellent, excellent, and I guess … because half the listeners to this podcast are financial planners. Everything you’ve just described, I see no reason why that wouldn’t be equally relevant of financial planners. Would that be your take on it?

Guy Pearson:
I mean, that is 100% correct. You heard me ramp on about picking a niche earlier on. Same applies to software. We have 30 people now here at Practice Ignition, but we’re by no means a 500,000 person software company.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
We’re growing quickly, but we’re venture capital-backed because, like most software companies, we lose money every month, and so we’re trying not to … No, that’s true. Anyone that isn’t listed in … you can see their financials has usually got venture money. Anyone that usually gets venture money is losing money, so little insight for you. Definitely I’m one for taking a little bit of risk here and there. Basically, we focused on bookkeeping and accounting to start with. We have financial planners. We have people who manage rentals of boats. We have people who’ve used it for their rental role. All kinds of things. Financial planners could totally use it. At the present time, we don’t interact or integrate with things like IRESS’s XPLAN, which we’d love to change. We’ve reached out.

Scott Charlton:
Take your place in the queue with IRESS, I think.

Guy Pearson:
Sure. But you get my picture, right?

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
You can use it, but it’ll be used for your contract, your payments, your invoices, and your BI. It won’t be used for the linkages through the workflow system.

Scott Charlton:
I reckon that’s worth the price of ignition.

Guy Pearson:
Because typically you can use it.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, yeah, so definitely use it. We have a few that do use it, particularly accounting firms that started with their accounting division on us and then have put their financial planning division on.

Scott Charlton:
Logically, yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Because, yeah, that’s the way this works, but I don’t wanna use it over there, but typically speaking it’s just not something we market to at present time, and same with all those other examples that I gave. There’s no problem with them using it, but obviously as long as, for those listeners, we’re not gonna talk about the best way to run a financial planning firm. In our marketing we don’t have a dedicated financial planning account executive. We just don’t have the volume, we don’t have the revenue to support that just yet.

Scott Charlton:
Just with this-

Guy Pearson:
But in the future, we will go across all professional services, just as a spoiler.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah, yeah. The financial planning and accounting similarities and differences is, I guess, has been a career-long interest of mine, and one of the things that back in my day I contrasted is that, with the financial planning firm, that a good benchmark is that if at the start of a financial year you’ve got enough recurring revenue to cover your overheads, then that’s a pretty good position, and then you’re looking to get new clients will add a profit, whereas back in the day of how accounting firms used to work is essentially every month you start at zero, and it’s only what you can physically invoice,. But really I think with the sorts of solutions you’re talking about, the monthly amounts and invoicing in advance, that accountants are now able to contemplate more of a recurring revenue model, which has more similarities to the way a financial planner might look at their business. Would you care to comment on that?

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, I mean, I think you’re completely right. Having not worked in a financial planning business … there was a division at one of the firms I worked at almost a decade ago now, but they are very similar. Where the difference may lie, the beautiful thing about the fixed fee model for recurring services for an accountant, so it might be bookkeeping, monthly management, INS, BAS, payroll tax, you name it, is that if you have standardized plans, policies, procedures for all those things and you’ve got monthly recurring revenue, your whole focus on your company’s focus should be to make the processing of those A, standardized, but more efficient.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Interactive accounting never outsourced bookkeeping, for instance, or management accounting, or anything, because we always liked fighting the fight, and this is somewhat controversial, and there’s nothing against the guys who operate. I love Nick and the team from The Outsourced Accountant, and they’ve done amazing stuff, and Greg as well, but for me, it’s more about if you can improve your processes, and if you have 500 bookkeeping clients that are, say, all on Hubdoc, or Receipt Bank and Xero, for instance, if you can get a 10% efficiency gain with the new features that they release, all of a sudden you’ve got excess capacity, but no change in cost.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
You go, “Okay. Well, let’s add 10% more clients in there, and all of that goes into cream.” Now, the other interesting thing with the fixed fee model and the more regular touchpoints is that we changed one of our packages years ago to allow that there was just a certain number of queries on our centralized help desk for our clients to ask every month or quarter, depending on their package.

What that did was it meant that they were asking us more questions without worrying about the bill, which was really good behaviour to encourage because it means they ask you about things A, before they happen, and B, they wanna speak to you more often, and lo and behold, out of that came, okay, well, let’s do a scenario analysis on that decision and the impact of a price change. You’ve got more talking points, which leads to more advisory work, which then usually leads to a higher level of ongoing, recurring plan because you have to measure the results of the thing that you’ve set as a goal, or of the outcome of the advice.

We ended up just increasing our fee per client as we went along, but we’re actually delivering value, right? The whole reason they were paying us more is because … They didn’t have to. They could go back to their old plan. It’s because they wanted us to help them get to the next level and measure those things, rather than employing an in-house service or an in-house analyst, or something like that. I think you’ve got the ability to mirror the financial planning model where it’s recurring revenue, and you can either take the lifestyle choice, and kick back a little bit and do it that way, but for those who wanna grow, it just provides an amazing foothold for you to expand your firm, and as you said, we have a MRR figure on the Practice Ignition dashboard. Monthly recurring revenue. If you know what that is, and it’s greater than your total expenses, then you’re profitable that year, and it’s a very powerful position to be in, and it means that you’ve change business model from, say, time-cost to recurring successfully.

Scott Charlton:
Wow. That’s really awesome, and the monthly recurring revenue … Where in an accountant’s professional training is that concept mentioned?

Guy Pearson:
I’m not sure. It’s been a while since I went through it.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. Any final words of advice to, say, an accountant who’s largely been using a time costing model up until now, who inherently sees the sense in what you’re saying with this retainer type of situation? Any words of advice in terms of actually how to bridge from the former to the new world?

Guy Pearson:
Yeah, 100%. We have whole webinars and slideshows and even worksheets on this, so I’m more than happy to provide those resources to everyone, and hopefully we can link them.

Scott Charlton:
Great.

Guy Pearson:
But first and foremost, I think the most important thing for an accountant to think about is the law of averages, so it’s exactly that example that I gave before. If you have 500 clients that are all on the same bookkeeping package and you lose money on one of them, don’t stress, because if you’re making 10% more on the other 499, then you’re winning. Right?

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
The most important thing is to make sure that you’re not abhorrently losing money on that one, in which case they’re on the wrong plan, they’ve got the wrong systems in place, or you haven’t trained your people well enough.

Scott Charlton:
Yep.

Guy Pearson:
Okay? So it’s one of those outcomes, so law of averages is the best thing to consider once you’re going through that transition. The second thing is, if in doubt, and everything seems too hard, take last year’s total fee, turn that into 12 payments.

Scott Charlton:
Yep.

Guy Pearson:
Do it that way, and then … I don’t like like it that way, but at least it’s a starting point. Then the last tip is to make sure you communicate the reason why you’re making the change, and it should be relatively easy to explain to someone. We are carrying your monthly Cloud subscriptions, which total a certain amount. We are trying to improve our level of service, which we can’t do if we’re always have debtor days. If we’re paying our people, then we get your money, and then we have to wait for you to pay us, and so that means that we’ve got bad cashflow, therefore we can’t improve our service, we can’t reinvest in our team, because we’re always chasing debtors.

Scott Charlton:
Nice.

Guy Pearson:
We’d like to spend that time on working on improving the business so we can improve the level of service, and C, it’s better for your cashflow, and it means no more surprise bills, ever. That last bit, no more surprise bills, is one of the biggest catalysts, and the success factors that typically come through, and I think I can share a case study as well.

We’ve got Dom over at Rise Business Solutions in Perth. Dom went from time-costs, had some clients that he wanted to move onto fixed fee, which run on a Cloud accounting system. Moved … I think it was like 60 clients out of his 500, say. Did it over three months and was like, “This is ridiculous. I hate running the rest of the clients this way.” And so then moved the whole rest of the firm, so within three months they moved everybody.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Couple of things happened, and it explains why Dom would give me a hug every time I see him. Their debtors went to zero.

Scott Charlton:
Wow.

Guy Pearson:
Zero debtors. Zero debtor days. They increased, in the first two years, of their existing clients they increased their recurring revenue by … It was the first 12 months. An increase of $10,000 a month, just from their existing customers, just by having them on a proper contract and increasing them. They clawed back … well, they didn’t scope write-offs the year before were north of 250k on 10 staff. North of 350. They had no write-offs in the subsequent year, and so their revenue actually went up 45% in 18 months, and their profits went up. They hired another four people. They grew faster.

Cashflow solves many problems, right, so I think, without trying to pitch it too much, make sure that you’re thinking about what it means for your business, and put your business owner head on rather than your “I’m fearful of my client” head on, and I think that’s the other thing that needs to change. You’re seen as the trusted, valued advisor, yet you won’t make a business decision for your own firm that potentially makes sense, because you’re afraid of your clients not being accepting. Treat them like business owners, have that communication, explain to them why, and as always, put in the hard yards and feel free to mess it up a little bit. I guess that’s the other thing. Iteration. Think about every software subscription you’ve ever had, gym membership, you name it. Anything that’s something’s delivered recurring that you trust.

Scott Charlton:
Yep.

Guy Pearson:
Think about how many price changes they have, and all the of a sudden it’s like, okay, well, if we get it wrong, we can change it. As long as that mentality is there and you’re not afraid of your clients, you can fix problems.

Scott Charlton:
Brilliant. Keeping a mind on the time, Guy, where to do you think for the accounting firm in the future, what do you see accounts need to be looking out for?

Guy Pearson:
Sorry, let’s rewind the clock back a little bit. There was the move to Cloud technologies, and then you had big data.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
It was like, “Oh, that’s sounds amazing. I don’t know what it is.” Then you had machine learning, and now, if I can be so bold, that was probably reserved for the larger end of town, and basically they’re all the same thing, so big data just means centralized data of all your data sources in one place in one database.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah.

Guy Pearson:
Machine learning just means, okay, based on history, what is the best outcome I should make out of these decisions? AI is basically just more or less the way it’s used, the way it’s presented. It’s just a search engine interface over the top so you can search queries but it has more of a humanistic element, typically. Voice, most commonly, to help you make the best decision with the machine learning data.

If we assume that we’ve got … everyone’s moved in the SMB world now, to Cloud. You can pull the data together and get reporting out, you can ask AI to do some stuff for you. The processing of data will become more and more automated, so if this then that, or rules, so you can take something from Hubdoc or Receipt Bank and have it flow pretty much up to a tax return in Australia without data-keying anything, and so you’re there for exception analysis.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
But more importantly, I’ve said this many times before, our jobs should be to be looking forward, and so it should be scenario analysis, business model analysis, market analysis, and then tax funding is still important. We ripped it apart at the beginning of this conversation, but with all the known quantities, what changes with these changes, you know?

Scott Charlton:
Sure.

Guy Pearson:
So being on top of that, and scarily, I took over a session for a mate at the Entourage for Small Business Owners, and I asked them what’s their biggest pending cashflow, and half the room said, “Because my accountant doesn’t actually tell me what pays withholding or BAS or GST I’m gonna have, in monthly months, so I don’t put aside the money.”

The apps will help take care of that, but you need to make sure that we switch our mindset away from data process into scenario analysis, if you will.

Scott Charlton:
Great answer.

Guy Pearson:
I think that’s the most important thing that needs to happen, and hopefully we’ll see it happening. Ironically, we’re the leader in the market for all this stuff globally.

Scott Charlton:
Fantastic.

Guy Pearson:
So it’ll happen here before it happens elsewhere.

Scott Charlton:
That’s exciting. I have the sense that throughout our conversation, Guy, that as far as you’ve gone with Practice Ignition, that really you’ve only just started, so where to for Practice Ignition? What are some of the things that ideally you’d like to see your company delivering in the next little while?

Guy Pearson:
The payment engine right now that we have is available in full context, so direct debit and credit card in both Australia and the US.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
We wanna try and take that more global this year, which for the Australian customers, not so beneficial. We’re hopefully about to speed up payments in Australia as well, which will be great, for direct debit. The big things that I’m excited about are right now we have a dashboard, but you cannot click through into the underlying data tables and segment them, so I wanna solve that problem this year, and I want PI to become the standard that you take to your board meeting, rather than the debtor list.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
 Let’s go through there. You’ve got saved years. Let’s run through our metrics, and budgets versus actuals, all those sorts of things from a sales/revenue/service breakdown, pricing, which partner has the best sales record, what are they doing differently, what industries are we targeting, what revenue per industry do we have? All that stuff can live within Practice Ignition, so make that available, and then the second part is what happens next?

I talked about it as having built this amazing source of truth. I wanna be able to allow you to do things with that, so taking that if this, then that approach, not only with connections through to Zapier, but we’ll bring some stuff more in-house so that you can communicate with clients en masse because … BAS reminder can go out because that client has a BAS service, and it needs to go out on this date, so every client that has a BAS service gets a reminder, information collection, all that sort of stuff.

Think mass improvement of the underlying relationship and communication with your clients, and then I’ve got some other things in the works in my mind that I’m not gonna talk about them, but they’re basically enhancing a whole bunch of things that we currently have, which should completely change the way you think about marketing, how you interact with your clients, both all through the journey and really connecting in with other workflow systems generally is one of our main things. Ledgers, workflow, payments, BI version two, and what we called flows, internally, so using that database to have smart interactions and flow-on effects and collection of information.

Scott Charlton:
Wow. Great answer. I think-

Guy Pearson:
Sorry, that’s a lot. That’s just this year.

Scott Charlton:
Yeah. Look, my goodness, I think everybody listening has now got a much, much better understanding of what a Chief Ignitioneer is actually on about, and that on behalf of everybody who will ultimately benefit from this new ground that you’re breaking, I would like to say that’s fantastic, and we’ll be cheering you on because that frees up a world of possibilities for the accounting firm in the future, and that’s very, very exciting. Guy, on behalf of the listeners, I really would like to thank you for your contribution. You made reference to some resources which I’ll make sure I put in the show notes, so thanks very much for your contribution. If people want to get in contact with you, what’s the best way of doing that?

Guy Pearson
Probably LinkedIn.

Scott Charlton:
LinkedIn.

Guy Pearson:
You can find me on there, Guy Pearson, and you just put Practice Ignition in LinkedIn and Google. Twitter, I’m @guy_pearson. The company is @ignitionapp, or @interactiveaccg, and I think my email’s gonna be in the show notes, which is guy@practiceignition.com. Any of those are great. Yeah. Always happy to have a chat. We’ve got a great team here at PI who can help out with demonstrations that are much better at it than I am, to be frank.

Scott Charlton:
Yes.

Guy Pearson:
And who can help solve all of your needs. We’ve got a massive customer success and account management team now, so we’re very much here to help firms make that transition and make it seamless, and one of the other things that I forgot to mention in what’s coming up is we’re revisiting our whole onboarding flow, so we may … Still be in testing, but we should actually be able to help you, basically off your history, bring in that data that, if you’re happy for us to, and then help suggest services and pricing based on historical. That’s TBD, but the guys have been doing some machine learning on past data from firms when we bring in invoices, for instance. It’s looking pretty good.

We’re very much here to help hopefully change your lives, and ultimately I set out doing all this crazy sort of thing to help every accountant, help a business owner, make a difference, and better numbers, and with context equals better decisions. Better decisions equals hopefully more profits, which equals hopefully, whether it’s charity, family, whatever the things are, it’s to help your clients achieve their goals, and ironically, you’ll see it come out more in PI over time, but that’s still the underlying goal of what we’re trying to achieve here. Hopefully we can help. Hopefully the automation, the background processes, means that you can retrain your admin to help clients as well, and that’s what we’re all about.

Scott Charlton:
Fantastic. Look, it might be just me, but just that last bit has given me the goose bumps, literally, so it’s very exciting, and look, I’d set the expectation that we will do this conversation again in the future, and it’ll be really nice to hear about developments that you’ve made on what already sounds very impressive body of work and a capability that practitioners can take benefit from, so for now, thanks very much for your time, and I’m sure lots of people will get benefit from our discussion, so thanks, Guy.

Guy Pearson:
Perfect. Thanks, Scott. Thanks, people. Thank you for having me, and I hope you have a great day, great week, and a great year. Happy 2018, guys.

Scott Charlton:
Well, that concludes my interview with Guy Pearson. Doubtless because he’s also an owner of a market-leading accounting firm, Guy clearly knows where there are improvements to be made in running a professional practice. I was also impressed with the way he selected a very specific niche for his firm, and went about attracting clients with some very targeted marketing activities. During the discussion, I started thinking about firms I’ve seen which have a big list of debtors and an overdraft to match. For firms in that situation, it must be incredibly intoxicating to envisage a world where there and debtors. I’ll just say that again. No debtors.

I hope that this interview has prompted you to investigate what technology is now capable of delivering to your firm. I’ve put contact details of Guy and Practice Ignition in the accompanying show notes. As Guy mentioned, he’s readily contactable via LinkedIn. Incidentally, Guy’s profile on LinkedIn has some short but cool film clips which are worth a look. There’s also some resources that Guy has kindly made available, a detailed pricing matrix spreadsheet, and a link to a webinar about moving to fixed fees. Again, details are in the show notes.

Now I’m happy to let you know that as a listener to In the Slipstream FM, you’re entitled to an exclusive offer that Guy has kindly made available. That is if you are amongst the first 10 to subscribe to Practice Ignition before the end of February, then you’ll get 25% off the first three months subscription. Simple mention the code SLIP253STREAM to be in the money.

In the second part of today’s episode, I’d like to share some observations regarding the level of marketing typically employed by accounting and financial planning practitioners, and to give you some suggestions for your own marketing. Now, marketing a professional service firm is a pretty big topic, so I’m going to start off with a small, bite-size chunk: your website.

In the course of my coaching work, I’m often looking at the websites of professional practices. By and large, these websites all look much the same. That is they are simply bland, name rank and serial number, electronic brochures. They proudly list a multitude of client types they so-called specialize in, along with 20 to 30 bullet points of generic services. Most of these websites will have a bunch of dated photos of the principals, talk about the degrees they have, same as their competitors, professional membership, and their years of experience, which are also similar to their competitors. Sometimes there’s even heartfelt expressions about giving personal service, which you guessed, also appear on the website of the firm down the road.

That’s the reason why I invented Scott’s Piffle Test, which is this: if I can take your website and that of a similarly sized firm, swap over details such as company name, the practitioners, addresses and your location map, swap over your contact details, and then leave everything else the same, then find the resulting site is pretty much the same as your current site, then your website is probably full of generic piffle that ain’t going to help you stand out. You see, marketing is all about helping your future clients know how you are different. It’s about demonstrating to those prospects that you are the best, most suitable choice. You can’t do that if everything is the same.

How to fix a piffle website? Here are some quick steps to a website makeover. Firstly, think of one of your all-time favourite clients. The type of client you’d like more of. Now, imagine you are speaking directly to such a new client. I’d suggest a tab on your site called Case Studies, where you have three to four one-page PDFs talking about people in similar situations that you’ve helped. You could also include a downloadable strategy paper about the issues that such clients frequently encounter, and how you assist with these problems.

Under another tab called Services, you could also provide an overview of the non-generic bundle of services you have created specifically for clients of this type. Stating your company values is good. Talking about your firm’s underlying purpose and sharing some of your philosophies and the approach you take with this type of client is even better. It’s quite okay, in fact I encourage you, to nail your colours to the mast. This is way better than piffle.

Then freshen it all up with some new, professionally-taken photos. Couple of hints here. Landscape mode tends to work better than portrait for mobile-friendly websites, and it’s quite okay to have some more relaxed photos than those ones with everyone standing awkwardly around the reception desk. Maybe even with some clients in a meeting room situation, or some of the team in an outdoor setting.

Got all that? Great. Let’s make them happen. Give yourself four weeks to get those changes up there. Why four weeks? Easy. I’ll be giving some more tips on running a better business in next month’s episode. Can’t have them backing up. That’s the end of our show today. Thanks so much for listening. I hope you got lots out of it. There’s plenty more interesting interviews that I’ve conducted and also got lined up, so make sure you’re subscribed to the show via iTunes or Stitcher to have this coming through on your mobile device automatically. Until the next episode, onwards and upwards.