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We’ve been building our business at Merlin since 2006. We’ve got tons of skills, experience and many long-term clients. We’re successful and we know what we’re doing. But this year I found a question from my own business coach surprisingly difficult to answer. Talking about the business, the question she asked was “Why?”.

The point she was making was that very few companies are clear why they do what they do. The large corporates spend fortunes with consultants to get this right, but it rarely seems to stick. For smaller businesses, the question might seem distant. If I’m landscaping gardens to support my family, isn’t that clear enough?

The business writer Simon Sinek says we should all take time to consider why we’re investing our efforts in the first place. He argues that it’s the why that inspires us, gives us energy and keeps us going when things get tough. 

We decided to put this to the test, and see how it would change things for Merlin. In this blog, I’ll explain our thoughts and some of the things we’re now doing differently.

Good and bad habits

For an established business like ours, answering ‘why?’ isn’t easy. Over the years, we’ve got used to our own way of doing things. We have good habits and some bad ones, many of which we’re scarcely aware of. Until recently, we’ve been thinking more about what we offer – our products and services – than why. Being honest, perhaps we think most about how we can get everything done.

Being helpful

In trying to be more reflective, one of the things that dawned on me was that we always want to help people. When I think back to turning points in my life, there are times when I thought about training to be a doctor or a teacher. In the end, I plumped for a career that revolved around business and numbers, but that purpose still remains.

How can Merlin be helpful in a competitive business world that’s all about profit and loss? The truth of course is that ‘keeping the books’ is only a part of the picture. Every business is really about people, and every business owner has their own hopes, dreams and fears. Some want to work hard now to retire early. Others want to give their children the education they never had, or leave a nest egg for the next generation.

Not just accountants

We’ve realised that we’re at our most helpful when we’re helping clients reach these life goals. We have the skills to help you be really clear on what you want from your business. Then we can identify the right ways to go about it. That means working on what to measure and when, how to build a more valuable business, and how to ensure that you and the taxman get your fair share of the rewards. It’s much more involved than just doing the accounts. 

Supporting the community 

Recalling our clients and their goals also made me think more broadly about our why. A successful business sees lots of people benefit from the wealth it generates. Customers get their problems solved at a fair and predictable price. Suppliers get paid. Our client’s family can put meals on the table, take holidays or save for a mortgage – and so can their employees. Extra wealth and opportunity travels like ripples in a pond.

At Merlin, we wondered how to help these ripples go even further into the community. We decided that whenever we completed a set of accounts, did some tax planning or took on a new client, we would also make a donation to charity.

We chose three things that we’re passionate about – and found a charity to match:

  • To encourage biodiversity and healthy wildlife habits, we chose Devon Wildlife Trust.
  • To support regenerative agriculture, we chose the Sustainable Food Trust. They focus on strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil, improving the water cycle and resilience to climate change.
  • To fund better education around good diet, we chose the Public Health Collaboration.

Now our working day isn’t just about juggling the numbers and staying on the right side of the taxman. Our efforts have some extra benefits for these good causes, and our clients can see this too. It links what we do to our why, in a way that wasn’t always the case.

If you’d like some help finding your why, perhaps we can help. It can be useful to have a critical friend prodding your thinking, especially one who understands the numbers. If you’re not already a client, please get in touch here. You’ll find us a good fit if you’re looking for an accountant as an investment – rather than just a cost.

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Video: Start with why

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