Vision 2020: The changing face of business

Carl Reader looks at how the changing nature of business is impacting independent practices 


RECENTLY, I’ve been invited to speak at many events, including The Business Show (next door to Accountex, if you’re attending…) about how business is changing. It’s something that affects every one of us who are in practice, and it amazes me how few people are aware of the impact these changes will have.

It’s not just business as usual

People are now no longer looking for ‘the cheapest’ or ‘the best’. They won’t suffer bad service, and closer to home, they won’t stick with a firm just because they’ve looked after 591 generations of the family. Instead, today’s consumer is looking for:

  • Health (evidenced by purchases of Fitbits, low carb craze, etc);
  • Experience and Novelty; and perhaps most relevant to us
  • Time

I’d love my firm to provide our clients with the cure to cancer, or a crazy event that they can post on Facebook. The reality is, the emotional trigger that we can tap into, as a service business, is Time.

Remember who the customer is

The next blunt reality is that business is no longer business-to-business or business-to-consumer. It’s human-to-human. People don’t want to deal with a corporate voice, they want to deal with someone they know, like and trust. We might have all systemised our businesses after reading “The E-Myth Revisited”; but you need extraordinary people as well as extraordinary systems.

Millennials are no longer a novelty

Don’t believe the hype that millennials are coming in to the workforce just now and changing everything. I’m at the older end of the millennial generation, and have been in practice for nearly 19 years now having started at 16 (which is scary for both me, and for those who think they have got time to adapt to ‘changes’ They are already there. They probably make up 30-40% of the workforce right now (although I’m sure someone will correct me with the actual statistic.). Communication methods have changed. Desires have changed. It’s a fact of life – and a fact that needs to be embraced by both sides of the equation.

But… Robots will be a novelty, but not a nice one…

There’s a really simple way of analysing businesses ripe for automation. Imagine a scale – with specialist skills (requiring human input – think making furniture vs repairing antique furniture) on one axis, and interpersonal skills on another.

I contend that the furniture repairer can get away with grunting monosyllabic noises as his eye for detail, his hands, and his patience will be required in the future.

Those in corporate finance are probably also OK. Whilst the numbers can be crunched by a machine, the human to human interactions in negotiation are vital.

Dentists are laughing right now. Who would go into the chair if the dentist lacked either calming charm, or specialist skills?

There’s one last section of this chart. Bookkeepers, and the accountants who actually spend most of their time looking in the rear view mirror and simply “bean counting”… Good luck!

Carl Reader is a director of Wiltshire-based firm d&t, which won the 2013 British Accountancy Award for Independent Firm of the Year-Wales and South West England

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