The Human Firm is a best-selling book by Will Farnell, founder and principal of accounting firm Farnell Clarke (he also wrote its predecessor, The Digital Firm). In this excerpt from the book, GoProposal founder James Ashford reveals how being a people-centered practice means you can help your clients achieve their goals and make them a reality.
Technology has elevated you to a position where you can build deep, meaningful, long-lasting, impactful relationships with other people (your customers) who in turn care deeply about the work they do and the people they interact with.
If you stop and think about how many lives you touch, it’s huge.
Just think of the number of you and their partners and children, their staff and their families, the number of suppliers they serve and the number of customers they serve.
Through the work you do, you somehow touch the lives of all those people.
Creating human companionship means being aware of those human connections.
Through these authentic interactions, you can grow and contribute, and this is where you will find the highest levels of fulfillment.
That’s why you got into this profession in the first place.
Find out how you can revolutionize the way your practice operates and build deeper client relationships in this best-selling book.
Having the tough conversations and understanding fears and goals
Accounting will always be a heart-centered profession filled with tough conversations, tears, hard work and moments of celebration.
You get the great privilege of intimate access to your client’s business finances, hopes, dreams and fears, and the personal lives on which they build their success, but only if you come across as human.
Conformity has distracted you from it for years. Advisory has lit a fire again.
Digitization gave you hope, but then served as a distraction in itself. You thought that was the end goal, but it’s not.
That was the gate.
And as your company grows through this digital gateway, you can return to your roots and your calling.
You may disconnect yourself from who you have been told you should be. You can get rid of the fears that you have imposed on yourself.
Finally, you can connect with a world full of excitement in the human realm.
Theologian and philanthropist Albert Schweitzer wrote: “The purpose of human life is service, compassion and the will to help others.”
It can be concluded that this is the purpose of human company: to serve customers, show them compassion and help them.
The highs and lows of becoming a human companion
Throughout this book, Will Farnell generously shares his own company’s journey from becoming and being a fully digital company to a human company, and the way he has helped many other companies through his coaching.
Farnell Clarke was the world’s first cloud-based accountancy firm, the first through a digital gateway, and has since led many other pioneering initiatives.
Will’s stock has been hard won here and the pressure has been tested.
Not everything works perfectly, which Will is quick to share so you can avoid some of the pitfalls that his pioneering efforts inevitably ran into.
Collisions that always happen through a wall on the first one.
In his first book, he showed how to create The Digital Firm, which created a gateway through that wall.
In this book, he paves the way for you to grow beyond that into a human firm.
This is not a soft theory.
This is not soft stuff.
This is difficult and comes with a great sense of urgency.
Human companionship is not optional. It is inevitable, because if you act like robots, you will be replaced by them. The only defense against this is to build human company, now and in a hurry.
You will find this book challenging in parts, enlightening and very actionable.
And if you take those actions, maybe you’ll unlock enormous value for your customers, your team, and yourself.
Understanding what your customers need, personally and professionally
I’ve been in the accounting industry for the better part of a decade, helping accountants and bookkeepers price their services more profitably, sell them more confidently, and maximize impact on their clients.
My passion to succeed in this mission is that I am first and foremost a client of these accounting and bookkeeping services myself.
I’ve run businesses where I knew what I wanted, but not what I needed. This led to a massive underinvestment in the financial functions of that company, which failed.
I have also derived tremendous value and benefit from accounting and bookkeeping services that have led to successful business expansion and exit.
By the time I came to sell the business I was putting over £5,000 a month into its finance function through the accountancy firm we were working with.
When I first started working with them I was spending £750 a month.
That was still three times what I was spending with my previous accountant.
The reason I was willing to make that larger investment was not because I understood their services better, but because I felt they understood me better.
They knew what our family’s long-term financial goals were and how much we needed to sell the business to achieve them.
They knew that my immediate goals were to get my kids to school every day, get close to their school, and get my wife out of a full-time job.
I was reminded of those goals on the first page of each monthly management account package.
The meeting always started…
“How many times have you taken your children to school this week?”
“Have you made an offer on the house yet?”
“Has Becky notified yet?”
“What does the business need to do to achieve those goals?”
“How can we help your business do this?”
One year, I remember working with them to make the budget and forecast for the year, and they asked how many customers we wanted to reach.
I said “1000”.
“1000?” They challenged; “Why?”
“Well that’s 1000 isn’t it?” My ego said.
“But that doesn’t mean anything,” they replied. “What do you want to accomplish as a family this year? What would make life better?’
“What will be a good year for you?”
So we brainstormed and planned and decided that it would be for me personally to earn £10,000 a month after tax and go to Lapland with the kids that year.
We agreed it was going to be a great year.
And that’s what happened because we deliberately set business goals that facilitated the lives we wanted in the first place.
You can help your clients achieve their dream life
Accounting is not about spreadsheets, P&L accounts, accounting or technology.
Done right, it’s about empowering your customers to live the life they want.
This only happens when you stop putting your services or technology at the center of what you do and start putting your customer there instead.
Not your customer as a “business”, but your customer as a person, as a person, with fears, dreams, hopes and rough edges.
You see, your commercial value in the world is directly proportional to the size of the problems you can solve.
Completing accounting is a relatively low-value problem to solve, but if it allows me to get my kids to school every day and focus on my highest and best performance at work, then it solves a much higher-value problem.
Budgeting and forecasting are relatively low-value problems to solve, but if it helps me achieve business goals that enable me to take my family to Lapland and meet Santa in the same year, they solve a much more valuable problem.
However, you would only know this if you had many human conversations with the customers you serve.
You will only know this if you relate the value of what you do to the problems and opportunities in your customer’s life.
That is, in fact, what human companionship is all about.