Mike Tombs's Blog

This blog provides information about tax, accounting and other issues affecting small owner-managed businesses in the UK. It is intended as a general source of information but you should not assume that everything applies to your specific circumstances. We are always happy to discuss providing tailor-made solutions to suit your individul needs. Visit www.tlaservices.co.uk to sign up for our free monthly Tax Tips and News newsletter.

Monthly Archives: November 2012

What’s all the fuss about Elevator Speeches?

I got into a lift the other day, heading for a meeting on the 16th floor. On the 2nd, a man got in. As the floors flashed by he politely asked what business I was in.

“I’m an accountant,” I replied.

“Nice,” said the man. He got out on the 15th without saying another word.

My first reaction was this poor chap must have had a lousy experience with other accountants in the past. Then I got to thinking. What did I expect him to say?

“That’s fascinating. Tell me more.”… I don’t think so.

That one word, “accountant” was not only a conversation-killer but did nothing to describe what I really do for my clients. I needed an elevator speech. An enticing cocktail of benefits, laced with a unique proposition, shaken (not stirred) into a sub-30 sec sermon that would set me apart and make that man in the lift beg for more.

But how was I to render down all my years of experience and a whole website full of information into a few memorable words. Not just memorable, they had to excite the casual listener and instantly convey the essence of my business. And all without the aid of Spock’s mind-melding powers. Like every good barman, I started by listing the ingredients.

  • My target market. It’s important to identify who you sell to. Being specific won’t put off potential buyers but will make those you are targeting feel included.
  • The key benefits of my services. What do my customers gain by hiring me?
  • What sets me apart from other accountants?

Notice – no mention of accounts or balance sheets; books or budgets.

Q. Who do I sell to?

UK business with a turnover greater than £1m and less than £10m.

Q. What do my customers gain by using my services?

A. A knowledgeable partner who can make a real difference to their business by giving hands-on, practical advice to help build their bottom line

Q. What sets me apart from other accountants?

A. I reach the parts other accountants never reach.

So, my new elevator speech might go something like this:

“I’m Mike Tombs and I’m a financial horticulturist. I work with owner-managed businesses to help them grow.”


“I’m Mike Tombs and my company is TLA Business Services. We help growing businesses to reach their goals by going where other accountants fear to tread.”

or even…

“I’m Mike Tombs and my company is TLA Business Services. While other accountants may count the beans, we help make them grow.”


Helping your business climb mountains

Search parties have abandoned their efforts to find four mountaineers who disappeared in Nepal two weeks ago. The team, all experienced climbers, flew out from the UK in August for “the adventure of a lifetime”. They left their camp in the foothills of the Himalayas on the morning of September 3rd and have not been seen since.

Deteriorating weather conditions and sub zero temperatures have finally forced local rescue teams to abandon their efforts to find them.

“We have absolutely no idea where they could be,” said one local guide. “They just set off without knowing where they were going or which peak to climb and that was the last we saw of them. No-one could survive in these conditions.”

Somehow, that little bit of fiction doesn’t quite ring true. Can you imagine any climbers setting off without knowing which mountain to climb? Of course not. They will not only know which peak they are aiming for, but the route they are going to take, the supplies they will need, the training they’ll have to undergo and a myriad other details. They will have a clear and measurable goal, an action plan based on past experience and advice, and a time schedule.

So, why is it that so many of us muddle through our business lives with vague intentions and no clear idea of where we are going?

When I re-launched my business as TLA Business services earlier this year, I was reminded of that puzzle you’d find in every child’s colouring book. Which rod has caught the fish? As a child, you’d work your way down the tangled lines with your crayon, excitement growing, to see if you’d found the one that ended up in the fish’s mouth. Of course we all know now that it is much easier and quicker to start with the fish (the goal) and work back from there.

So that is just what I did. I looked ahead three years and imagined what I wanted my new business to look like. Now, with that goal in mind, planning the climb to the top of my particular mountain is so much clearer. I know what I have to do and I am fully accountable for my success. I am motivated and highly focused. Big claims for a simple action. But it really does work. Those management gurus have summed it up with the acronym, SMART.

Specific – make your goal as specific as possible. What do you want to achieve? Why you want to achieve it? What will be the result of achieving it? And, how will you achieve it? If necessary, set some sub-goals to help get you there.

Measurable – if you are climbing a mountain, a quick glance up and down will tell you how you are doing but in business you’re going to have to decide on some other criteria to measure your progress. These can be based on numbers such as sales won or costs saved or sub-goals achieved, for example, sending out a mail shot on time.

Attainable – of course it’s vitally important that the goal you set is attainable. If it’s not, all you’ll experience is failure. However, if you’ve done your homework on the S&M of SMART, the chances of setting an unattainable goal are small.

Relevant or Realistic – this is all about making sure that what you’re planning to do really matters. You’re going to be focusing a lot of your daily effort into achieving the goal. At the end of the day, will it be worth it?

Time-based – it’s really important that your plans are contained within a timeframe. Deadlines are brilliant for focusing the mind – not just yours, but those who work with you. Without a time schedule (which can be broken down into as many steps or sub-goals as you like) projects can easily get overtaken by the pressures of every day work.

So, look back on your last day in the office. What did you achieve? What were you working towards? Or were you just fire-fighting or filling time. Whether you own your own business or just work for one, having a SMART goal will not only make you more effective, you’ll also find the view is quite exhilarating.