Growth & Customers

Become a Human Firm and unlock your clients’ hopes and dreams

Do you help your clients tap into their hopes and dreams? Discover why doing so will benefit both them and your practice.

The Human Firm is a best-selling book by Will Farnell, the founder and a director of accounting firm Farnell Clarke (he also wrote its predecessor, The Digital Firm). In this extract from the book, GoProposal founder James Ashford reveals how being a human-centric practice means you can help your clients tap into their goals and make them become a reality.

Technology has elevated you into a position where you can forge deep, meaningful, long-lasting, impactful relationships with other humans (your clients), who in turn, care deeply about the work they do and the humans they interact with.

If you stop and think about the number of lives you touch, it’s huge.

Just think about the number of clients you have and their partners and children, the number of staff they have and their families, the number of suppliers who serve them and the number of clients they serve.

Through the work you do, you touch all those people’s lives in some way.

Creating a Human Firm is about being aware of those human connections.

Through these genuine interactions you can grow and contribute and this is where you find the highest levels of fulfilment.

This is why you entered this profession in the first place.

The Human Firm

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Having tough conversations and understanding fears and goals

Accounting will always be a heart-centred profession filled with tough conversations, tears, hard work and moments of celebration.

You get the great privilege of intimate access into the finances, hopes, dreams and fears of your client’s businesses and the personal lives on which they build their successes, but only if you show up as humans yourself.

Compliance distracted you from this for many years. Advisory has lit the fire again.

Digitization gave you hope but then served as a distraction in its own right. You thought it was the end goal, but it was not.

It was the gateway.

And as your firm evolves through this digital gateway, you can return to your roots and your calling.

You can uncouple yourself from who you were told you needed to be. You can unshackle yourself from the fears you imposed on yourself.

Finally you can connect with a world full of excitement in the realm of the human.

Theologian and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer wrote: “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

You could conclude this is the purpose of the human firm – to serve clients, to show them compassion, and to assist.

Highs and lows to becoming a Human Firm

Throughout this book, Will Farnell generously shares the journey his own firm has travelled, from becoming and being a fully Digital Firm, to being a human firm, and the journey he has helped many other firms through, with his coaching.

Farnell Clarke was the first full cloud-based accounting firm in the world, the first through the digital gateway, and has led many other pioneering initiatives ever since.

The learnings Will shares here have been hard won, and pressure tested.

Not everything has worked perfectly, which Will is quick to share so that you can avoid some of the collisions his pioneering endeavours inevitably encountered.

Collisions that are always the case with the first through the wall.

In his first book, he showed how to create The Digital Firm, which created the gateway through that wall.

In this book, he paves the way for you to evolve beyond that, to become a human firm.

This isn’t fluffy theory.

This is not the soft stuff.

This is hard, and comes with a sense of great urgency.

The human firm isn’t optional. It’s inevitable, because if you act like robots, you will be replaced by them. The only protection against this is to build a human firm, now and with haste.

You will find this book challenging in parts, illuminating throughout and very actionable.

And if you take those actions, maybe you will unlock tremendous value for your clients, your team and yourself.

Understanding what your clients need, personally and professionally

I have been in the accounting industry for the best part of a decade, helping accountants and bookkeepers to price their services more profitably, sell them more confidently and deliver the greatest impact they possibly can to their clients.

My passion to succeed in this mission is because first and foremost, I’m a client of these accounting and bookkeeping services myself.

I’ve run a business where I knew what I wanted, but not what I needed. That led to massively underinvesting in the finance function of that company, which failed.

I’ve also received tremendous value and benefit from accounting and bookkeeping services, which led to the successful scaling and exit of a business.

By the time I came to sell that business, I was investing upwards of £5,000 a month into its finance function through the accounting firm we were working with.

When I first started working with them, I spent £750 a month.

That was still three times what I was spending with my previous accountant.

The reason I was prepared to make that higher investment, wasn’t because I understood their services better, it was because I felt they understood me better.

They knew what our family’s long-term financial goals were, and how much we’d need to sell the business for to achieve them.

They knew that my immediate goals were to take my children to school every day, move closer to their school and to get my wife out of full-time employment.

On the first page of every set of monthly management accounts, I was reminded of those goals.

The meeting would always start with…

“How many times have you taken your kids to school this week?”

“Have you put an offer in on a house yet?”

“Has Bekki handed in her notice yet?”

“What does the business need to do to achieve those goals?”

“How can we help your business do that?”

One year, I remember working with them to set the budget and forecast for the year and they asked how many customers we wanted to get to.

I said “1,000.”

“1,000?” They challenged; “Why?”

“Well it’s 1,000 isn’t it?” My ego said.

“But it doesn’t mean anything,” they replied. “What do you want to achieve as a family this year? What would make life better?”

“What would be a great year for you?”

So we thought, and planned, and concluded that it would be for me personally to earn £10,000 a month after tax, and to go to Lapland with the kids that year.

We agreed that would be a great year.

And that’s what happened, because we were intentional in setting business goals that primarily facilitated the life we wanted.

You can help your clients achieve the lives they dream of

Accounting isn’t about spreadsheets, P&L accounts, bookkeeping or tech.

Done properly, it’s about enabling your clients to live the lives they want.

That only happens when you stop putting your services or the tech at the centre of what you do, and start putting your client there instead.

Not your client as a ‘business’, but your client as a person, as a human, with fears and dreams and 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 my bookkeeping is a relatively low value problem to solve, but if doing so enables me to take my kids to school every day and to focus on my highest and best activities at work, then it solves a far higher value problem.

Producing a budget and a forecast are relatively low value problems to solve, but if doing so helps me to achieve the business goals that enables me to take my family to Lapland and meet Santa that same year, they solve a far higher value problem.

However, you would only know that if you were to have very human conversations with the clients you serve.

You would only know that if you connect the value of what you do to the problems and opportunities that show up in your client’s lives.

That, in essence, is what a human firm is all about.