HOW to Help and Advise Your Business Owner Clients to “Eat Elephant Sandwiches”

August 8, 2018 | By Paul Latham
Financial Advisors Accountants

Are your business owner clients (and their teams) "eating elephant sandwiches”?

All good things come in 3’s and there are “3 ingredients of Business Success” – a clear Vision – a practical Plan – and strong Desire.

Desire is all about implementation of the client’s Plan to achieve their business Vision.

However, the single most important ingredient of success is the strength and sustainability of Desire (of the business owner and their team).

Desire is not just down to the sheer willpower of the business owner. It’s also about having the desire to instill a practical, and workable strategic approach with the team and then maintain accountability to implement that plan over the long-term.

The “Strategic Plan” that your client is implementing is likely to be “something big” - something that is going to take time - something that is not going to be implemented in the short-term (like an afternoon, a day, a week, or even a month).

A forward-looking, proactive, 21st Century CPA has a fiduciary duty of care to help their client to sustain their strategic plan. More than a fiduciary duty – it is also the perfect opportunity to position yourself with your client as their “Most Relevant Advisor” – and in so doing build and lock-in long-term value-added revenue streams.

The 21st Century CPA has an opportunity to educate their business owner client (and their team) about the crucial difference between successful short-term and long-term strategic implementation.

Most clients “live in the short term”. Typically they will be relatively comfortable with their “to do lists” and making things happen on a day-to-day, or week-to-week basis. That is good - and it is vitally important for their short-term prosperity that they are able to drive towards short-term goals (like sales targets etc.).

However, too many clients ONLY “live in the short term”. They are so focused on achieving their short-term targets that they NEVER think about how this differs from long-term implementation.

Most clients will understand the principles behind the definition of insanity“always do the same thing – you will always get what you always got” (e.g. if they only focus on the short-term how will they suddenly manage to switch focus to the long-term?).

The client problem is that - by definition – if they are working towards their vision – then that means eventually arriving at a place somewhere in the future (probably 3 - 5 years away).

The further client problem is that the “strategic plan” to achieve that vision will probably be quite complex (and not always involve tasks that can be implemented on any given day).

21st Century CPAs must educate their clients about building plans

If you talk your business owner clients through the Action Plan quadrant below - you can show them that there are always 4 types of potential business actions:

Bottom right – we find the type of actions to help your clients avoid. They require High Effort and provide Low Value. Think of these actions like “breaking rocks in the chain gang”.

Top left - we find potentially great actions. They require Low Effort and bring High Value rewards. Think of these actions like “panning for gold” - and your client may “strike lucky. However, you should educate your clients that more often than not it will be hard to plan to make such “lucky strikes” happen.

Bottom left – we typically find regular short-term actions (which the client is already good at driving). They require relatively Low Effort and bring Low (strategic) Value. They are action orientated - but “out of small acorns .... etc.”. These types of actions are also good because they create a positive feeling of momentum - “good things are happening” inside the business.

Top right - is probably where your client will find their long-term plans will reside. These actions require High Effort but should also bring High Value rewards. Think of these actions likes “drilling for oil”. The long-term rewards can be huge - but will not happen without a lot of pre-planning and sustained effort – and that requires “desire”.

It is in the top right quadrant that the advisor needs to particularly educate the business owner client. That is where the client (and their team) need to be helped and trained to “eat elephant sandwiches if they want to succeed.

“Elephant tasks” are long-term planning actions that are too big to be completed within (say) a couple of months.

Think about eating turkeys at Thanksgiving.  The turkey is probably too big to be consumed in just one sitting (so over a few days you have turkey soup and turkey sandwiches etc.).

In business, long-term planning issues are typically larger than a “turkey”. The task is more like an “elephant” and needs to be “consumed” over several months. Any client team will benefit from “slicing” the elephant” so that eventually it can be consumed (as “sandwiches”) without “indigestion”.

The advisor must educate their business owner client that they need to provide their team with some direction – for example with regard to time management (between conflicting short-term and long-term priorities).

Most teams typically NEED to allocate (say) 90% of their time to the regular short-term tasks. In that case 10% becomes the available time to allocate to the long-term plan. If (say) a manager works a 40 hour week - then 10% of their time obviously equates to 4 hours a week.

If we assume that (in this hypothetical example) the “elephant task” realistically requires (say) 100 hours of effort - then (assuming simplistically that this is a task for only one person) - that manager will require 25 weeks (about 6 months) to “consume the elephant” - whilst also (critically) keeping all the - business as usual – short-term goals on track.

In our experience, business owners rarely provide such basic short-term/long-term planning guidelines/direction to their team (nor do they even think to do so). They then wonder why their strategic plans fizzle out and are not implemented!

The 21st Century Advisor can help their business owner client to both set realistic expectations – but also maintain accountability for action through this period. This is an essential part of the “secret sauce” of how you can become Most Relevant Advisor to your best clients – and generate long-term added-value revenue streams.

The Advisor can help business owners and their teams to build solid business “habits” (e.g. “let’s agree we will always eat our elephant sandwiches on a Friday morning”. In this way the advisor can help the client team to build some consistency - it becomes more obvious when there is no long-term follow through – and simultaneously help the business owner to “break their spinning plates habit” and grow proper management teams.

If you are a 21st Century CPA you have a fiduciary duty to help your business owner clients to maximize business potential. You should be encouraging your best clients to “eat elephant sandwiches” – and we can show you HOW.

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