It’s Xero eve at Dewings, which seems a good time to do a little introspection. Who are we, and how did we get here?
It’s all very existential. The truth is that there’s a lot more to becoming an accounting practice of the future than software. The final decision to go with Xero was in one sense the beginning of a new direction. But in another it was the culmination of a process we’ve been working through for a while.
Dewings takes its name from Phil Dewing. It’s fair to say that he has a savant-like talent for creative business advice. While everyone else is staring at a pile of matches lying on the floor, Phil already has them counted. It’s like he can see the matrix. This isn’t a marketing blurb – it’s just who he is. It’s relevant because it informs who and where we are today. And traditionally it’s been the reason clients come to us. We currently have three directors – Phil, Kathy Allen and me, but his reputation has traditionally been the source of much of our work over nearly three decades.
In recent years we’ve had to start thinking about what life at Dewings will be like without our namesake. That’s involved us doing some succession planning, and it’s a process we’re still working through.
But the elephant in the room during the process was a question: where is our work going to come from into the long term future? When Phil – our figurehead and poster boy – starts to wind back, how will we promote ourselves without him out there banging the drum for us? It’s never been something we’ve had to worry about because Phil’s reputation alone has often brought the work in (even though our team delivers the results).
Marketing! That was the solution. And by ‘marketing’, we meant advertising! The only problem was…we’re accountants! Do I need to say any more?
We were really fortunate to have Lowen Partridge of Peartree Marketing as a tenant in our building, so we turned to her for help. Lowen is a leading brand development specialist with a heap of experience. What a fantastic resource!
Or so you’d think we’d think. It didn’t turn out to be what we were hoping for (it was better, but I’m getting to that). We had a limited budget and all we wanted to do was spend that on getting the word out. But Lowen was all about ‘brand engineering’! While we were thinking ‘print or radio?’ she was asking ‘how do you know what you’re going to say anyway?’ Again, those fundamental questions of existence – how can you tell people about yourself in the best, most efficient way, if you don’t know who you are? What would you say?
So begrudgingly we took a step back and began to try to answer those questions. Some of the process was about specifically naming what we already knew about ourselves. Some of it was aspirational – as much about what we wanted to be as what we already were. But much of it was about self-discovery.
In the end it was a brilliant decision, if we might say so ourselves. Defining who we are – everything from our reception area and what we wear to the standards of service we want to deliver – gave us a standard to measure any new initiative against. Does that fit with our brand?
We talked to our team about it and asked for their input, and we summarised it in a brand identity statement that now informs all of our interactions. And we set about implementing it by renovating our offices, scheduling regular training sessions to reaffirm our values, developing new materials and so on. Everything that is seen by someone else, whether internally (by staff) or externally (by clients) eventually needs to fall into step with this identity. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer.
You’d think this process would be expensive, but in fact relatively speaking it hasn’t been. A coat of paint doesn’t cost that much. And it’s been gradual, taking place over a couple of years. It’s not that ‘everything must go’. It’s more about making sure that everything fits. Many aspects of our business already did.
One area that this certainly helped us was in realising in the end that ‘advertising’ (as we understood it anyway) doesn’t fit with our brand. Our work is based on relationships. That means we need to do more to cultivate our reputation and build connections through networking, sponsorships and specialisation.
This isn’t about giving shout outs. We’re writing about this journey completely independently. This is just what happened. So I say with sincerity that another person who has been a great help to us in this regard has been Michael ‘MC’ Carter of Practice Paradox. It might be tempting for some to lump Practice Paradox in with so much of the other accounting industry noise. That would be a big mistake. MC isn’t so much about operations – burdening you with the guilt of all the things you’re doing wrong. He’s more about teaching accountants how to market with new tools while working with what they already are. Once we had an idea of what wouldn’t work for us, we had to start thinking about what would. Initially through a lot of free material, and then through his ‘Marketing Masterclass’ which we attended, MC opened our eyes to a whole new way of marketing the practice, including better networking, the value of social networks and yes – blogging!
All of that brought us to where we are now. Xero is not a punt. It’s not one choice from many otherwise similar and largely indistinguishable options. It’s the logical – in fact the only – choice for us because the Xero ethos is consistent with our own aspirations. How we engage our clients and team must be an extension of who we are. Every component of that is critical, and that includes our systems. Xero fits our brand. And we only know that because we’ve been through the exercise of defining it.
We’re going dark now. Next time you hear from us, we’ll be a Xero practice!