1. Explain what you do/your company does in 15 seconds
We are an accountancy practice helping business owners make sense of numbers. What we mean by that is that we help business owners understand what the numbers mean for them, not just what it means for the tax man. We work very closely with micro SME’s, SMEs & companies with up to £10m turnover. The problems are the same; it’s just the amount that’s different.
2. What made you decide to join F12? What were you looking for?
I was in the original group of F12. If you are serious about your business the first thing you need to realise is the importance of the old adage of working on your business and not in it. However when you begin to create strategies and want to implement them, review them, follow them up and revisit them periodically with your team and your outside contractors it requires a lot of time. Originally we used to do all this on what we called final Friday and what I soon realised was that trying to put aside the best part of a working day was great but it couldn’t be Friday, it had to be Monday. I think most of us realised this and started doing this on what we called Money Monday. So you’d come in on a Monday and you’d have to be very strict with yourself. You realised that you first had to clear the emails, do whatever you had to do with the post, firefight whatever had to be done in the morning and then work on your company. This way any ideas you had, any thoughts especially over the weekend and anything you wanted to follow up on including any marketing plans you wanted to put in place, strategy sessions, and operational matters all happened on a Monday. This meant that you could follow up during the rest of the week with individual’s who were vital to those efforts. F12 was put forward as being the next step to growing my business. The group entails working with 15 people for a full day every month. The mechanics of that day work in such a way that even while you’re passive or helping somebody else by being a sounding board and a reality check, you’re actually assimilating and processing stuff relevant to your companies growth. So the steps for me were actually realising the need to work on my business using a day a week and then recognising the need for more input from more like-minded business people. A lot of the people in the Mastermind group had their own particular strengths. As an accountant I was rather helpful in certain areas while there were others who had specific experience in marketing, IT or NLP for example. You start to get to know all of their businesses and as you get to know them you can provide more support because you’re seeing them once a month. The follow-up each month is far more rigid down to the smaller size of the group and the Hot seat sessions. The Hot seat is a very emotional experience –it’s something that cannot be avoided. It’s very interesting that people’s personal life is so often intertwined with their business. The F12 provides the forum that you need to deal with this. Everyone in the group is very supportive. But you need to have a certain level of maturity to work within this format.
3. What were the 3 biggest challenges in your business prior to joining F12?
The biggest challenges for me prior to joining F12 were growth, time management and IT. My business was growing about 18 to 27% year on year. In my profession it’s not that hard to hire people who have the skillset that we need. It’s harder to find the right person who can run the gauntlet between customer service and number crunching. The first 3 people I hired were a complete waste of time. As I became more aware of what my business was and what I needed, I was able to hire better candidates who are still with me now and have been for 5 or 6 years now. So as I worked on my business I came to have a better understanding of what I needed and hired the right people. I interviewed one girl who was very clear about what she wanted. She had done her A-levels including A-level accountancy, didn’t want to become laden with debt and wanted a career. She wanted to earn good money but was happy to learn from the bottom up and to do the necessary study. Well I hired her and she’s great. Another guy I interviewed hadn’t made it as a professional snooker player though he was in the top 8 in the country. He was so focused and clear minded that I hired him and he’s gone from strength to strength. He’s going to be one of the top stars here – absolutely hands down. Another woman we hired had her own company and she was just sick to death at being at the mercy of accountants. She didn’t really know where she was going and didn’t have a profession. I thought that she was a great person to hire as when she does learn the professional knowledge she already has the experience of being a business owner to link to that. We went from 3 to 18 employees overnight at Brookwood accountancy, without the support of the Mastermind this would have not been possible.
4. What specifically has changed in your business or yourself as a result of F12?
I have a far clearer definition of my role and the roles of business. I also have much more of a long-term view and my involvement in F12 has been responsible for the removal of fear from myself and my business. For most business people the biggest impediment is between their two ears. I’ve been in business since I was 17 but what I had never appreciated was the unconscious fear effect that we all have. Sitting at F12 and listening to the members of the group throw up all these unconscious walls around themselves and then listening to each other break it down you realise that you do it too. The passive assimilation helps but at the same time you’re really taking it on board and that is very powerful and very effective. You walk out of the room thinking ‘oh my God, I’ve got so much to do and there are no more excuses’.
5. How would you describe the group to non-members (who may never have experienced something like this before)?
I would describe F12 as a close-knit group of like-minded business people who are serious, very serious about growing their businesses.
6. How does F12 differ to networking clubs or breakfast club type group?
F12 is a smaller group of motivated individuals who are serious about business. So whilst there are individuals in the room, their businesses are in the room as well. For every 12 spaces in the group there are actually 20 identities in that room. You’re dealing with the individual and the individual’s company and you have to recognise that. It’s a bit ethereal but it’s important to see that because when a person is sitting on the hot seat or just on the sides in the general seats their business can only be as good as the that individual in the seat.
7. What have been the 3 biggest breakthroughs/a-ha moments since joining F12?
I don’t just have an accountancy practice, I own a software company, a chain of day care nurseries and property and the great thing about the F12 group is that you can talk to the members not just as an accountant but as a business owner. Before F12 I never realised that one of the things that people recognise about me as a business person is that I tell stories. It seems to be something that people connect with & trust. I think the fact that I’m a professional, have been in business forever and have multiple companies adds a lot of kudos behind the stories. I think one of the reasons I tell stories is because I genuinely enjoy business and it’s not just the money that’s important to me, I enjoy helping people especially if they’ve got an aspiration. Nothing makes me happier than being able to help someone avoid a pitfall. As a business owner I’ve realised that the reflection time on your business is critical. That means recognising that you’ve got to take a step back to see what the business does while you’re not in the business that day. If you have to be there then you just own your job. One of the things I’ve really come to appreciate is that the peer review is so helpful and sitting in that room with the F12 group is effectively a peer review. Everything is talked about from professional compliance issues to balancing your business responsibility with your home life. Some of the discussions get very intimate. You start to know people very well and you start to care about them. I couldn’t have achieved what I have if two things hadn’t happened. One was F12 and the other was the Grand Prix weekend that Paul set up last May. I had a breakthrough moment, sitting there during that F12 weekend. I thought about the fact that the organic growth of my business was bouncing around each month. It was going from12% to 18% to 22% down to 10%. By growth I mean adding new business and although the organic growth was fine I realised it was too slow. The internet brought clients in; referrals brought clients in and our physical geographical location did the same thing. All these things helped and hindered in the same breath. So I decided that what I needed to do was to go and just buy some accountancy practices and that’s what I’ve done.
8. How would you sum up the tangible benefits to you/your business since joining F12?
To me tangible means something you can hold on to. I own a chain of day care nurseries that are worth about 1.4m and I realised after sitting in a room full of people who were challenged with the same customer issues that I needed to interact with the customers differently. Tangible evidence is that I have much more straightforward credit control and recognition of not creating false expectations in the client at the point of sale. This really came through over and over again as I kept looking at the issues and the same problems over and over again. Instead of just dealing with the problem I realised that I actually had to take the time to go back and see what the core cause was and deal with that. If you cut the problem off at the root it doesn’t reoccur. I realised that educating the customers, reinforcing this education and being consistent throughout was vital. With the accountancy business the tangible would be evident in the situation where Acacia was able to pull together using one or two strategies I’d gleaned from F12. The technical part was easy; that wasn’t a problem. It was having the confidence to know that I could keep track of all these people and cope with the situation when the person I was going to do a JV with backed out. I was able to keep going and it was great.
9. How would you sum up the intangible benefits to you/your business since joining F12?
Since joining F12 there’s more growth, more confidence and a better sense of what the future is going to be like in my business. I also have more ability to give other people opportunities which I really like.
10. What value do you feel Paul brings to the Mastermind?
Paul is a good leveller. He’s very positive with critical analysis across a broad spectrum of businesses. Paul’s able to put things into perspective for the individual both personally and in their business, even in different marketplaces. For most people their fear of failure means that if they’ve failed at something they can never mention it. What they don’t realise is that everybody fails at something; it’s inevitable. You just cannot go through life and not fail and most business people have experienced that failure. It’s strange but you actually learn more from your failures than your successes. Paul’s experience has meant that he has been able to get that across to people and he and I were in agreement on this. Paul takes that fear and helps people deal with it, control it and make it work for them. He’s also very infectious which helps.
11. Some might perceive F12 as being a significant expense – What would you say to that?
If you get involved in F12 properly it pays itself back 100 fold. In fact if you’re thinking it’s a significant expense you’re not approaching it properly. You should look at it in the same way as if you are investing in new IT or new offices or in an annuity and ask yourself what you’re going to get out of it. You need to think that everything about yourself and your time that day is the fulcrum that’s going to allow you to leverage whatever happens today into something bigger. So the old adage applies that if you want to earn £1m you must provide £1m of services. It’s important to change your mind-set to understand that though you might only be supplying £25k a year now, if you could repeat that exercise 10x over you’re £250m there. 10 times again and you’re at £2.5m. But the first thing you need to realise is that you can do it. If Bill Gates can do it then you can; he’s only got 40hrs in a week like you.
12. What would be your message to entrepreneurs considering joining F12?
When you join F12 you need to make sure you put your time in, do your homework the night before and are aware of what you’re thinking about and what you’re doing. For example, I’ll never forget the day I was talking with another F12 member at a meeting, about all the frustrations, difficulties & different things that get thrown at you. Although his business was completely different to mine it was apparent that we shared the same problems. We were talking about all the things we’d done that day and going through all the things we were going to do when we got back to the office. We realised that so often there are some things that just don’t get done. You intended to do them but something like a trip to the dentist comes up to distract you. Neither of us had a whiteboard up on the wall to note down KPIs, strategies etc. so we decided that this was what we needed and made a pact that whoever got the whiteboard up first bought the other one a beer. We both left the meeting having been there for about 8 hours, went to our offices with the tools to put the boards up and I beat him. Once you’ve got the board up on the wall you use it; I’m looking at mine now. The fact that it’s in your face means you have to do what’s on it.
The next thing I want to mention is the power of the hotseats. When you’re on the hotseat you lay yourself open to questions and you can’t help but be completely honest because the group will wheedle it out of you. When you’re on the hotseat you need to tell people what’s going on in your business. For example if I was on the hotseat I might be talking about how I was trying to figure out how to buy another accountancy practice and I would be asked how it was going. I might say that I was talking to another accountant who was thinking about buying another practice and that we talked about doing a JV together and that we were going to write to some of the tough agencies that sell practices. Then someone from the group might say, ‘hang on a minute, I thought you said you were going to do it and now you’ve got somebody else involved -why?’ I might then go back and say that I think it’s a big project to which they might respond ‘so you don’t think you’ve got the skillset to do it, when you spoke to us last time you said you were doing it – why are you providing a cushion for failure’. In the process of having to explain to other people outside the realms of your business why you’re doing it the way you’re doing it you find yourself getting picked up on things and having to be accountable for what you do. The F12 group members are likely to ask you questions such as, did you set a deadline? Did you make that meeting? Did you write those letters? All the minutes are written up for each meeting, everybody has them and everybody has the action points on those minutes so you are absolutely accountable for everything you say.
13. What is the one thing you would share (or have shared) with the F12 Group which you believe is the most useful piece of advice you have given/could give? In other words, what has been the biggest secret to your success in business and how would you describe it in a way that others can use to benefit them in their own business?
I would say that being in the right headspace so that you receive the right message at the right time to give you that epiphany is vital. You have to be ready and prepared to receive it. Being prepared doesn’t mean that you can do it. It means that you’re ready to recognise it. If you’ve reached that point you can go forward with your own personal & business growth. I read a book that Paul gave us called ‘you2’ and there was nothing in that book I didn’t know or that I hadn’t said to other people. There was nothing spectacular about that book except the consistent message that none of us are any different than anybody else, that we’re all basically the same and that we all have the same amount of time. It’s just down to how well we manage what we do and avoid deviations etc. There are two things to consider here, one is time and one is how well you work. Time was the one that really caught me. Because of the other companies I own I do sometimes do an 80 or 90 hour work easily and I don’t think anything of it. I don’t look at it as work because I enjoy it so I think one of the traps I’d fallen into was because I enjoy it I wasn’t necessarily trying to get the most back out of it. Consequently I probably wasn’t going as fast or as well as I could and maybe not supporting the people around me as much as I could have. Anyway I read this book and when I put the book down I just sat there and thought damn, I’ve been doing this business, the accountancy side for about 9 -10 years and only achieving up to 3-5% growth every year up to that point. Then I thought this is crazy, you’re better than that and you can do better than this. The combination of F12 and that book was like getting on a bullet train or something. All of a sudden I thought, I’m not doing that anymore and the first thing I’m going to do is to stop trying to do everything myself. I thought I’m going to get people in who know what they are doing, give them the opportunities and delegate what they need to get on with and that has changed everything. It was because of that book and the crazy thing is and this is what makes me feel rather silly. In 1986 when I graduated I was voted business student of the year and they gave me a book called I think the ‘1 minute manager’. The key thing that the book explained in terms of IQ and everything else is that we all tend to be within about 10% of each other. When you think about it and look at the extremes that people achieve from Olympic athletes to Nobel Prize winning scientists it’s not the inherent mind knowledge, it’s the ability to work in such a way to change these things and learn early on the skillsets that you need to get you there, that matter. So I remember reading this book and thinking that I knew it all because I had just graduated from university. Then when I read ‘you squared’ and I looked back to what I’d read in the late 80s I thought there is a point in your life when you have to learn things. People aged between 25 and 35 have to work harder than they ever will in their life in the sense that they will learn their profession, their skills and their trades then. You have to earn your stripes but it’s really what you do in the 35-45 age period that will set you up for the 55-65 age period of your life.