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Ask for forgiveness, not for permission — the Woods Squared way

Woods Squared, Ltd. is an award winning accountancy firm based in Birkenhead. Founder, Alan Woods, FCCA, has always prided himself on breaking the traditional accountancy firm mould. He brings together technology, people and processes to best serve his clients. Often this has meant having to have difficult conversations with his clients about change. That was until he decided to switch ‘client service’ on its head, and rather than ask for permission to implement change, he decided it’s better to ask for forgiveness.

Woods Squared
Alan Woods, Founder

“The likelihood is that your new changes are actually meant to make your clients’ lives easier — so work hard to demonstrate that value...”

- Alan Woods, Founder, Woods Squared

The catalyst

The majority of accounting firms have faced this situation before. You want to introduce a new piece of technology that’ll make you more productive, more accurate, and give you more time to spend on high-value activities. Great! Or is it?

As wonderful as this might sound, you still have to contend with your clients. This new technology will impact their ways of working — so it’s only natural that you send out a mass email asking if this is okay with them.

The responses start coming in thick and fast. Your clients thankfully all seem on board with the change. After all, it means that you’ll be able to give them a better service.

All except one.

Some will resist change no matter what — that’s life. They’ll trot out a few familiar reasons for their thinking: “But nothing was wrong with the original process, so I don’t see why we should change it”. “Can you not just make an exception for me?”. Or if they’re particularly feisty characters, they may even reply with something along the lines of “Well if I’m paying you for a service then I deserve to have some say in the process”.

An alternative approach

By asking for permission and being denied, you’ve been placed in a tricky situation. Continuing anyway despite their vocal discontent would disintegrate your mutual trust and likely ruin the relationship that you have with these particular clients.

So how does Alan Woods deal with these sorts of issues? He explains: “I was once asked how we could get people to adopt and take on new technology, particularly when accountants were moving from desktop to cloud. Personally, the approach that I’ve always had with clients is to do something for them and then ask them if it’s okay.”

“When you have a business to run, you shouldn’t have to adapt your ways of working just to fit in with one individual’s preferences. Asking for permission upfront invites your clients to respond — and the chance is, there’ll be at least one of them who doesn’t want to go through the hassle of changing the way that they do things.”

Asking for forgiveness, not for permission, has helped Alan out multiple times: “When we migrated across from Sage to Xero, we would just transfer all our clients’ data from Sage into Xero using myBooks, show the clients that everything had already been transferred across, and then let them make a decision as to whether or not to stick with Xero. This is far easier than asking clients whether or not they want to use a software or check out a free trial.”

Take control over your ways of working

Alan changed the way he engages with and bills his clients, moving away from the time-intensive billing and collections process. Instead, proposals, engagement letters, and billing are all connected within one system. He’s now collecting a client’s ACH bank details before he starts the work. And he does this when they sign the engagement letter, which they can do from their smartphone. He’s not chasing signatures or payments, and his clients are far more appreciative for his simplification of a cumbersome process. It’s another example of how he has been able to change key systems within his practice by seeking forgiveness rather than asking for permission.

Diners shouldn’t tell a chef how to cook their dish. Passengers shouldn’t tell a pilot how to fly a plane. Likewise, your clients shouldn’t tell you how to do your job. Take control over your ways of working by adopting an ‘Ask for forgiveness, not for permission’ approach.

“The likelihood is that your new changes are actually meant to make your clients’ lives easier — so work hard to demonstrate that value instead of being too worried to implement them in the first place.”

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