“For me, it’s all about the soft things. It’s about feelings. It’s about looking after your clients making sure that you have their interest. So when you make a mistake, you actually own up to it. And, actually, being upfront about things. If you can’t do it, you actually have to say you can’t do it. Clients are not fools. They’d read through that”. – Paul Miller, Managing Director of Cornish Accounting Solutions
Today I’m bringing you the second interview as part of a series of interviews I conducted at the Accountants BootCamp. If you enjoy this episode, I encourage you to listen to the last episode and subscribe to the podcast to hear the next two interviews.
For today’s episode, I’m joined by Paul Miller (https://www.linkedin.com/in/paulmiller-cas/), Managing Director of Cornish Accounting Solutions, as you shall hear in the episode I first met Paul when he visited Xerocon, in 2014, and I’ve keenly watched his journey since then. Together, we discuss:
- The 2014 Sydney Xerocon.
- It’s your business, you make the decisions.
- The importance of staying true to one’s beliefs.
- The early days of Xero.
- The return to traditional values and relationships.
- The importance of meeting clients in person.
- What are some of the things you have in your tech stack? Xero, Dext Prepare, Dext Precision, and Ignition.
- Winner of the first effortless bookkeeping challenge in the UK.
- The importance of providing training to clients.
- The 10 factors that determine if a client will work with you.
- If you don’t like what you’ve got, change it.
- Refer to other local firms if not the right fit.
- Recruiting team members.
- The best way to communicate with people is to pick up the phone and talk to people.
- The importance of asking why.
- True leaders plan succession and transition succession.
- Paul’s thoughts on the last 24 hours at the Accountants BootCamp and how it has impacted his life.
At the re:Boot event, we were fortunate enough to have attendees and speakers from the original Accountants BootCamp in the 1990s, including Aynsley Damery, CEO of Clarity. The three-day workshop focused on delivering repeatable, scalable services that benefit both the firm and the client. Many attendees used Clarity’s software platform to assist in delivering these services. And in case you missed it, Aynsley Damery joined me on a previous episode of Cloud Stories in May 2021, where we discussed “How to double your clients’ profits in 5 easy steps”:
Who are you and what do you do?
Paul: First of all, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be on the podcast. And my name is Paul Miller from Cornish Accounting, based in Bodmin, Cornwall in the UK.
Heather: I cannot believe that I’m actually getting to see you here. We’re actually at Sanctuary Cove. And I turned up yesterday turned up to the beach, and I found you down on the beach, that was quite a surprise. It’s a big adventure to come out here to the Gold Coast.
Paul: I think it is a big adventure. But I think in everything in life and in business, we need to look at the payback. Look at the cost plus the benefits. I think the benefits of being here with Paul Dunn, at the Accountant Bootcamp would actually be immense. And the growth and the increase in fees will be exponential.
Heather: Fantastic. So we have actually known one another since 2014.
Since when do we know each other?
Paul: Basically in 2014, to celebrate my 21st anniversary in business, we took five of the team to Xerocon in Sydney. Close the office for a week, which was a little bit frightening. Put on our emails for sending urgent you need to contact us and we’re away. We had two urgent emails we had to deal with. So it shows that we can take time away from our business, things will wait. We are indispensable to a certain extent. And I think it’s just to set the parameters.
Heather: I have that vision of you and your team arriving. I think it was at Sydney Xerocon and you’re all in trench coats. And you all arrived in, while we were all sitting in sort of the pre-con area having a few drinks and stuff. And it was just amazing to see you all come and be pioneers of the industry to make the trip out to Australia as a massive commitment.
Paul: Yeah, so we became a Xero partner in 2011 in the UK. And by 2014, we actually put out our offering, which basically said to prospects and existing clients, you either have to be on Xero willing to move to Xero, or we won’t be working with you.
Heather: Wow, that’s a really big commitment to say to clients, this is what we expect of you.
Paul: I think it is. But I think as professionals, we’re a little bit shy on understanding what we do. And I think it’s a case of saying that Xero was wonderful and is wonderful. It will change the way you operate your business, it will change your life, and it’ll change the outcomes. And it’s actually just staying true to that dream staying true to that belief. And whilst it was quite a little bit, stepping off the precipice at that time, it’s paid dividends because we have 98% of our clients on Xero. And as a result of being at Xerocon in Sydney on August 14, we were the partner of the year for South of England for 2015. And what I say to people if we can do it, a little team in Bodmin with a population of about 18,000 so can you. You got to stay true to your dreams. Stay true to your beliefs and just see it through. Of course, we all make deviations. But actually, come back to the norm and come back to what you actually want to achieve. The thing for me is to remember it’s your business. You make decisions. You decide who you work with. You decide what you work with. Like all of us, we choose where we shop each week. Why shouldn’t we actually make decisions on what type of things we want for our clients?
Probably like me, you heard Rod Drury (Xero) speak, and you bought into the vision that he set from the stage.
Paul: When we first became Xero partners in 2011, we saw it as a sort of replacement for Sage. So basically just an accounting programme, and obviously Xero is so much more. And I think in the early days, we made a lot of mistakes. We didn’t check the veracity of the data that we moved over to Xero. And actually, we had a few problems. And I think we learned a few painful lessons, because back then there were no how-tos, you actually discovered it along the way. And can I suggest, Heather, that your book “Xero for Dummies”, was instrumental in helping us educate the clients? Because in the early days, we had questions about what is the cloud. Is it safe? How do we use it? Isn’t it just another accounting programme? And as I said, it’s so much more than the accounting programme. And I think it changed us changed our mindset to become more entrepreneurial for our clients. Because if you asked me what I did, I’m a businessman, it just so happens my business is accountancy. And what we’re focused on is outcomes goals for clients, helping them achieve their dreams. I think over the years, we’ve had some amazing stories of what people have done. So one of the first things is clients that we work with wanted to move from the UK to Cyprus and wanted to retire. We actually help them achieve that because we actually understood what they wanted to do, and we were able to help them.
Heather: Absolutely. And I went into accounting because I wanted to travel. And by actually getting our clients on Xero, they actually have the freedom and flexibility. But getting them on to cloud accounting gives them the freedom and flexibility to travel if it is to Cyprus or wherever it is.
Paul: It is really. Obviously, we’ve come a long way since then. Accounting professionals come such a long way since then. But I think we’re also seeing a return to the traditional values of traditional relationships, the fact that we are dealing with people. And I’m a great believer in meeting people in person because I think you pick up so much more, who actually understands so much more. You create lasting relationships and lasting bonds. One of the facts that I’m most proud of is that I started in business on my own in 1994. Almost 30 years later, we started with 70 clients. Here we are 30 years later, I’ve still got half of who I started with.
Heather: That’s such an amazing achievement. Congratulations on that. Can we just circle back a bit?
Can you describe your firm to us a bit?
Paul: We’ve come out of a traditional firm. When I started my business in 1994, I thought there was a different way and there was a better way to do things. Actually, it is. It’s to be looking after your clients properly. Not just seeing them as a meal ticket as a way to an income, it’s actually caring for them. Because for me, one of my favourite quotes is Maya Angelou’s quote that says, “People don’t remember what you did. People don’t remember what you said. But people remember how you made them feel”. And for me, it’s all about the soft things. It’s about feelings. It’s about looking after making sure that you have their interest. So when you make a mistake, you actually own up to it, you actually put it right at no cost to the client. And actually, be upfront about things. If you can’t do it, you actually have to say you can’t do it. Whereas I think when I was in my previous practice, we would never admit wrong because we were frightened of a lawsuit or claimant or professional indemnity insurance. But clients are not fools. They’d read through that. And I think if you make a mistake, and you own up to it, and you put it right, you actually create better relationships as a result of it.
Heather: You do. They trust you. You’re now in a really trusted position. And they have confidence in moving forward with you. So I completely agree with that.
Can you talk to us about your tech stack? What are some of the apps you use?
Paul: We’ve been on Receipt Bank called Dext Prepare, since 2013. We actually won the first effortless bookkeeping challenge in the UK. So we use that. We use Xero. We use Practice Ignition, or what Ignition is called now. We use Dext Prepare and Dext Precision in tandem. So we try and assess the veracity of the information. And we try and keep it simple. I think for clients to actually have too many options in terms of tech creates issues. Coming back to what I said earlier, is we know what’s best for our clients. And therefore we need to educate them about why it’s best for them and help them on that journey. So in the early days, we did regular Xero training every month. We do Xero training every month now, which is free for our clients. Because at the end of the day, if I can get them help to use Xero much better, it helps them and it also helps them when it comes to preparing the accounts. We also do monthly Dext Prepare training again, because we’re trying to educate them, trying to get them in the habit of actually using the tech. One of the stories that I would like to share is that back in 2019 we took on a client that was paying another accountant 200 pounds a year. We then said if you want us to work with you, we’re going to be 200 pounds a month. And actually, you need to use Xero and Dext Prepare. And actually, I’m so convinced that it will change your life and change the way you operate your business. If at the end of the year, you haven’t received value, we refund all of the fees. That client is one of my best advocates at the moment because he believes that using Xero, and Dext Preparer has cut his admin time and his preparation time by a third. So instead of working five days a week, he works four days a week, it gets time to see his children, and time to spend on things that are priorities to him. For me, that is quite a powerful message. And it’s nice to see someone who actually acknowledged that, and says, thank you for it.
Heather: That is such a great story. And I really do like the message that you have that you’ve committed to telling the clients how to do something, and this is how we’re going to do it. These are the tools we’re going to use. But in addition to that, you’re actually providing them with training. And I know I see a lot of people debating about whether they should train their clients. I’m all for providing training to clients.
Paul: It’s in their best interest, because if I can train them, then they don’t need my team every two minutes about how I do this. Because in the early days of Xero, we became a sort of Xero support. Back when we had Sage and all those programmes, the client would actually ring Sage for the queries whilst, in the early days, it was ringing us. So it stops the little queries about how do I reconcile this, I’ve got this item on my bank where I can’t post what I need to do, etc. The other thing is it saves our time in preparing the accounts. Because clients don’t see accounts as useful documents, they just see them as complying with government regulations. And the other thing it helps us to do is to produce those accounts much quicker because obviously accounting information accounts need to be current, up-to-date and accurate to enable us to make business decisions based on them.
Heather: Absolutely, completely agree with that.
With your client base, did you grow it? Or did you grow your clients?
Paul: A bit of both. We are actually quite choosy on who we take on. So we probably only take on one in five of the people who knock on our door. And one of the reasons is I want to focus on people who I can actually help. So although we have ideal client criteria (10 factors that determine whether we will work with you), I also say directly to the prospect when he’s in front of me: I’m assessing you like you’re assessing me. I use two main criteria whether I want to work with you, or whether I like you because life’s too short to deal with people who are a pain in the ass. We all know the pain in the ass client that every time he brings up, you think what’s his problem today. And the other thing is whether I can add value to your business. If I can add value to your business if I can help you achieve your goals, then you won’t see my fees as a cost, you’ll see my fees and investment.
Heather: Absolutely. And I completely agree with the importance of seeing phases and investment and accountants.
Paul: The other thing that we do is we regularly set clients. Basically, if it’s not working out, we actually say it’s not working out, you’re not the right fit for us. And what we’d like to do is refer you to someone else. And also on our website, what we do is say if you’re not the right fit for us, please contact these other two local firms. And we actually have a hyperlink to those other firms’ websites. And as a result of that, we actually get paid for introductions to other local firms. So part of my marketing budget that I spend is coming back to me because I get an introductory fee. It’s not a great deal of money. But it’s just the fact that someone pays me something that contributes towards my costs.
Heather: Fantastic. It sounds like you’re doing a lot of the things that we’re constantly told at conferences, and by thought leaders to be doing. You’re leading the way in that sense.
Paul: That’s kind of you to say that, but I think it’s almost a bit like my school report. I don’t know what your school report was. But mine could do better. And I think we could all do better, we could all change things. And I think the problem for all of us is that we have a busy day job, there are a lot of things we need to do. But sometimes we don’t stand back and think actually, we need to change things, we need to improve them. Because of that old saying about if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got. If you don’t like what you’ve got, you need to change it, because otherwise nothing changes. So we have a list of things that we want to do. We also have what I call a magic wand list. And what my magic wand list is the team can put on the magic one list clients, they want to sack. I have to give a reason. And when the opportunity presents itself, we actually say goodbye.
Heather: Your staff or your team must be very happy that you listen to them about that.
Paul: The good thing for us is that a lot of my team are family members. I would hope they would listen to me. And also we have an offshore team in Manila. So we’ve gone from one person sort of five years ago to four today. And that works really well because they do a lot of the data processing for us. And I think the problem that we’ve all got is recruiting team members. And I think as an older person celebrating my 40th year in accountancy, sometimes I think people don’t understand that the best way to communicate with people is to actually pick up the phone and talk to them. Rather than just send them a text or send them an email. We actually build better, more lasting relationships, more meaningful relationships, and more fruitful relationships. We’ve actually talked to clients. When we first started in 1994, it was quite difficult to set up, because the setup cost and the barriers to entry were quite high. Whilst actually today, if you have a laptop and internet access, you can almost work from anywhere, as we alluded to. I think that’s created a generation of accountants who think that they can do everything by email, text, and Zoom…I come back to traditional values to traditional services, whereby you actually build better relationships, more meaningful relationships, you can assess body language, and you can actually understand things by meeting people in person. So a lot of my meetings with clients are we talk about anything and everything we talked about the kids, we talk about whether went on holiday, but actually, people understand that because they want you to be interested in them.
It enables you to have a holistic view of where they’re at, and potentially ask them more probing questions that needed to be asked, but which wouldn’t have come through on a text or an email. One of the greatest questions in the English language for me is why. Why are you doing that? Why do you need it? And I think you can only get under the bonnet of the person and understand what they’ve achieved actually by asking those direct questions.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned that you’ve just celebrated your 40th year in business. Paul, you don’t look like you could possibly have celebrated 40 years because you look very young. That must be the English skin and English sun.
Do you have a big goal lined up?
Paul: My big goal is because it’s a family business, my son will take over the business. One day when he’s ready, I want to celebrate 50 years of candidacy before I retire. Because I want to be with him to support him, to mentor him, to coach him. Not necessarily to tell him what to do, but to be there to help him if he asked my opinion if he asked my advice. Because we’ve all made mistakes, and my God I’ve made shedloads. The only good thing about mistakes is don’t make the second one. Don’t make it a second time. So I think I want to be there to help him. And he will make mistakes and I want to be there to help him learn from those mistakes.
Heather: I listened to a podcast today and it said true leaders plan succession and they transition succession. So it sounds like what you’re exactly what you’re planning to do.
Paul: It is exactly what I’m planning to do. But as I say sometimes the day job gets in the way. We all have the best of intentions. You know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But actually, we need to turn it into action and I think coming away here is crystallised in my life thoughts, crystallised some of the things I need to do, and basically just need to get on with it.
Heather: Absolutely. So we are at the Accountants Bootcamp, which is a sort of legendary Accountants Bootcamp run by Paul Dunn and Aynsley Damery, from Clarity. It’s day one of a three-day conference.
Is there anything that has happened in the last 24 hours that has been quite impactful for you?
Paul: I think that the first point that Paul raised this morning is that we as accountants do change lives, we do enrich lives to enhance lives. And we need to remember that we need that to be at the forefront of our minds. Because we all have bad days. And on the bad days, we need to remember why we’re in business, what we’re actually looking to achieve, and how we can help people.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. That’s sort of a mantra of mine. Accountants save livelihoods and can be so impactful. So thank you so much, Paul, for joining me on the Cloud Stories podcast. I’m ecstatic. I can’t believe that you’re actually here. I didn’t even know you were coming. I didn’t even plan to interview you. And I’m so grateful that you’ve been able to join me.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?
Paul: Yeah, so what I’d like to share with our listeners is Heather that is such an amazing person. And let me tell you a story. When we came to Xerocon in 2014, I was clothed in coats coming from the English winter. Heather met us at an event, the Receipt Bank event, at the pre-con drinks for Xerocon. And Heather said to me kindly, who would you like to meet? Who? Who do you want to speak to? What are you looking to achieve? And let me introduce you. So thank you, Heather, I owe a big thank you.
Heather: Oh, it was my absolute pleasure. I’m always excited to have people come over here. And likewise, when I go and visit, and I did actually go to Xerocon was hoping to see you but you had family holidays. And that was a good commitment for you to have. Thank you very much. Yes.
And how can people how can our listeners get in contact with people?
Paul: So if anybody would like to contact me, they can always email me at Paul at Cornish accounting.com. I’m happy to speak to anybody. I’m happy to help anybody. Because I’m a great believer in a rising tide raises all ships. If we can all help the business community we all benefit. Maybe not directly, but indirectly, we all benefit.
Heather: Thank you so much for being on the Cloud Stories podcast. It’s been wonderful to have you.
Paul: My pleasure. Thank you very much.