Reflections and Perspectives

Over the past four decades I have acted for many businesses. Happily, most have operated successfully. A few however have failed or underperformed. I have been reflecting on why.

The latest Business Confidence Monitor report from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales shows a significant fall in business confidence in the South West, partly because of uncertainty over the effect of Brexit.

It is essential therefore that businesses also take time to reflect on what would make them stronger.

Some things are obvious, such as reviewing costs and overheads. It is also wise to consider the potential impact of further increases in interest rates and to assess whether there is sufficient working capital in the business.

Investment decisions need careful thought and remuneration packages should be reviewed to ensure that they incentivise effectively. Profit and cash flow forecasts should be prepared to identify pressure points.

These are all prudent things to do in difficult times. The most successful businesses I have worked with do them as a matter of course.

But most of those businesses also have something else in common. They try to see what they do through the eyes of their customers and clients.

The least successful businesses I have dealt with have been so confident in their products that they have simply not understood the need to do this.

My point is not that the customer is always right, but that the best product in the world won’t sell unless it is what people want to buy.

This is true of any business, including accountancy practices, so at A C Mole & Sons recent away day, we had a session on “what does our service look like to our clients?”

We shared experiences of good and bad service we had received from businesses we used as individuals, from restaurants to airlines to garages.

We then tried to relate those experiences to what we do ourselves. It was a fascinating, illuminating and productive exercise.

Thirty years ago someone came to me with a new business idea. He was confident it would be a success. Sadly, the customers didn’t agree and it failed after a few months.

I think about it every time I walk along the street in Taunton where his shop was. Happily I have other clients on that same street who clearly do listen to and understand their customers.

So a question to reflect on: how do your customers see you? It is the critical perspective for any business.

Paul Aplin is a tax partner with A C Mole & Sons and President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; you can follow him on Twitter at @PaulAplinOnTax or email him at