Robin John is head of tax at Accountancy Age Top 100 firm Wellden Turnbull in Cobham, Surrey. After being impressed by Robin’s YouTube budget report videos, each released just hours after the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speeches, the BDLN got in touch to find out more about his approach to business development…
Please give us a brief overview of your career.
After school I joined a small accountancy firm in High Wycombe. I later worked for both Price Waterhouse and Ernst & Young, before joining Wellden Turnbull. I have gone full circle from small to large and back to small again, although Wellden Turnbull has grown significantly over the past few years.
I have covered the full spectrum of accountancy, from paper bag jobs to auditing for multinational banks.
How does client service at a smaller firm differ from that at a larger firm?
At a smaller firm you take a more holistic view of the client’s affairs and usually know them better than you would at a larger firm, where everything tends to be more numbers orientated.
Also, as a director or partner at a smaller firm, you are responsible for running the business – unlike most partners at large practices.
Because we are business owners, clients know we must consider the same issues that they face
The fact I co-run a business is important to clients because it gives me credence. Our turnover has grown from £500,000 to around £3.5m over the past few years. Because we are business owners, clients know we must consider the same issues that they face.
We discovered you through your videos on YouTube. Most accountants send out written budget reports and wouldn’t dream of appearing on camera. Why did you decide to film yours?
We wanted to try something different.
For the latest video, the budget was announced at lunchtime and the cameraman arrived at 3pm, so we had two hours to decide what to say. It took 45 minutes of filming to produce 10 minutes of content, mainly because of me fluffing my lines!
The response to the videos has been positive.
In fact, our video emails have attracted over three times more engagement than normal
As well as receiving a good number of views, the videos have led to more people downloading the report that we attached to the promotional email. In fact, our video emails have attracted over three times more engagement than normal.
People buy people in our industry and videos allow potential clients to get a better feel for you and the firm. We’re increasingly using video conferencing, too. You get a better understanding of each other if you can see body language and facial expressions.
Your videos stand out in a sea of traditional written reports. Why are so many professionals averse to doing things differently?
Accountants are naturally conservative. When you start training, the first thing you do is look at what happened last year. So we are naturally attuned to repeating last year’s formula. It’s built into you from day one.
Was the video a challenge?
Being filmed is not easy: you stumble over your words and feel self-conscious. You also worry that you might not be well received. That said, it’s still well worth doing.
What does business development mean to you?
Put simply, attracting more clients, winning more work and ensuring clients are happy to pay more for an exceptional service. As we say to our clients: both your and our primary purpose is to make a profit. If you just want a large number of satisfied customers, you can simply stand on the street corner and sell £5 notes for £4.50. The way that you make that profit is by offering a service that is value for money.
We are always trying to be more efficient and to offer additional staff expertise.
It’s hard to be miles ahead of everyone else but it’s possible to be a little bit better, quicker and slicker
Improving our performance tends to be incremental. It’s hard to be miles ahead of everyone else but it’s possible to be a little bit better, quicker and slicker.
What are your thoughts on digital business development?
There are an increasing number of people who would rather talk to a computer than a person. The challenge is how to engage with them effectively. It’s easy to say “how sad” but the fact is we’re all doing it: if you want money you go to a hole in the wall, you don’t go to the teller and chat about what a nice day it is. So it’s not just geeks who are behaving in this way. We like to know there’s a human available if we want one, but we don’t necessarily want to interact with a person every time.
Do you think it’s essential for accountancy firms to be innovative post recession?
If you want to grow, you have to innovate. Clients are more volatile than they were. When I started out in accountancy people would stay with their accountant for life. Now clients switch regularly and many of our larger clients have more than one advisor.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it?
If you make a mistake, correct it as soon as possible. Everybody makes mistakes, but as soon as you realise, do something about it. Don’t dig a deeper hole. Fix it.
Robin was speaking to John Maffioli.