Accountancy Age speaks to Clive Owen about how getting to grips with marketing has pushed the firm to understand and promote its key skillsets
CLIVE OWEN has run his self-titled firm Clive Owen & Co for 30 years, and has been an accountant for 40. You’d be forgiven in thinking that the north-east firm plods along much the way many do, minding its own business and simply ticking over.
But on that you’d be wrong. Owen leads a business that is running multiple projects that add up to a firm moving with the times.
For example, it recently created a new brand and website around the provision of IT consulting and implementation services. This, Owen admits, began very modestly with the firm hiring its own IT contractor full-time. “We had a guy help us with IT – and we hired him,” Owen says matter-of-factly.
Following the privatisation of the due diligence process of the government’s Regional Growth Fund, Clive Owen & Co stepped in to take on some of the work for the now defunct regional agency One North East.
The firm is also working with Teeside University to encourage more companies to take up R&D tax credits and has become an expert in helping schools deal with the financial and legal implications of converting into academies.
So where does this busy approach stem from?
Owen points to a conversation he had over dinner with a prospective client ten years ago. Despite their offices being close to Owen’s, they admitted at the meal that they had never heard of the accountants.
The firm then took steps to up its marketing game. “You find that ‘marketing’ has a different approach – they tend to look for ways of picking up work better than accountants,” says Owen.
Annual away days to formulate market strategies, subcommittees based on the firm’s specialist areas of focus – things have changed at Clive Owen.
While still a general practice, the marketeers have helped Clive Owen’s advisors think about how they best promoted their wares.
As an example, Owen points out that having, say, ten dentists on the books should lead to a certain strategic direction. In other words, you’d look into what are the particular accounting, tax and legal issues affecting dentists. You can then supplement the firm’s skillset – then go to conferences and events to make a name for your firm. Simple, but effective.
While a relatively small firm of ten partners and 80 staff, the firm’s specialisms now include the aforementioned academies and IT consulting, as well as transport.
As with the work with Teeside University, the firm has an R&D tax expert: “We had the core [skills], then built on it.”
Where marketing budgets are notoriously high on the list of ‘efficencies’ in tough times, Owen warns that keeping up marketing activities all year round is vital, even when staff are swamped, such as when the self-assessment tax filing deadline looms: “You can’t tail off in busy periods.”
The biggest change that Owen has seen in his 40 years is the immediacy and proliferation of information. With fewer and fewer companies requiring statutory audits he sees different marketplaces setting up – which will no doubt see more firms focus on their specialisms while maintaining a core of general tax and accounting technical ability.
Accountancy Age probably pushed its luck when asking Owen if he is comfortable taking on board ‘new ideas’ and ways of working from his team.
But Owen became enthused, rather than indignant, at the question. He believes he the firm is operating with its strongest ever staff unit.
“It’s a team approach. You need staff that push and challenge you. If you have people that do that, then life’s good,” he says.
“It makes it an enjoyable experience coming into work.”
Clive Owen & Co in numbers
Offices: 3 (York; Durham; and Darlington)
Specialist sectors: transport, healthcare, manufacturing, tax support for solicitors, charities, education, property, technology
Bluffers’ Guide: Set up by Clive Owen in 1983; grew by two offices during the 90s; just helped Utilitywise become the first north-east company to float in the last five years.