How loyal will your clients be?

Telemarketing companies who focus on securing new clients for accountancy businesses tell me that they have never been busier. And there do seem to be a number of such specialist firms – in addition to the more general telemarketing companies that simply work for accountants as and when engaged to do so.

Some telemarketers are more effective than others. But effective or otherwise they are all calling the same corporate clients – probably including some of yours.  They source targets from local trade lists, Companies House data, Commercial list brokers and anywhere else they can trace key information.

The telemarketers generally offer the people they call tax reviews, to reduce tax bills and to provide a more hands on service. The better ones will find out what the client isn’t currently getting from their accountant and then introduce someone who promises to provide such a service.

Now, to be fair, many accountants who use telemarketing companies complain that the target client was only interested in reducing the fees they pay for accountancy services. And, as such, the introduction secured by the telemarketer was a waste of time.  Leaving such situations aside, on other occasions it often isn’t hard for a newcomer to promise a client more than they are currently getting – more attention, more advice, more reasonable fees and so on.

The question then is: How loyal will your better clients be when they are approached? And it is ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

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Accountants’ adverts are not working any more

Years ago, it was quite common for people to use a hard copy Yellow Pages directory to find an accountant. This concept has all but died out now. It’s also less common to hear that anyone has approached an accountant because they remembered they saw an ad in the local paper (or anywhere else).

Far more people are asking friends, family and online contacts who do they know? Who can they recommend? Who’s a good accountant?  I’m witnessing this happen almost daily on online business forums and on ‘social’ networking sites.

What this means is that your marketing strategy (of which any advertising is only a part) needs to include educating your clients, contacts and family as to the types of referral that would be of most interest and value to you. The more specific you can be the more likely you will be to secure those referrals.

You also need to ensure that your website talks to prospective clients who have been recommended to you – as they may well check it out. Does it confirm what they’ve been told by your advocates? If they highlight what makes your practice different to conventional accountants does your website reinforce that message? Incongruence can be damaging. (I’ve written far more on this topic previously so here’s a link to my earlier posts re accountants’ websites)

Have you had your site optimised so that people in your area who are looking online for an accountant will find your website? If you’re in Harrow for example the ‘search engine optimisation'(SEO) would probably focus on Harrow accountants. A decent SEO specialist and indeed many decent website developers will do this for you automatically. It’s pretty pointless to only have your site optimised for people who search for your firm’s name. The people whom you might previously have hoped would see your adverts don’t know your firms’ name so they won’t be searching on line for it.

Another effective way to advertise on the web is a little counter intuitive. It means getting involved in online forums and networks and being helpful and friendly BUT NOT posting overt adverts and promotional messages. That type of behaviour is ALWAYS counter-productive. The practical issue is that the people you will be helping and who will befriend you could be based anywhere in the UK. Some maybe more local and – this is the key point – as with all networking you are not just networking with them. They will, in time, become your advocates. So, in effect you are networking with all the people they know too.

What type of advertising is working for you? Do share your comments below please – whether  you agree or disagree with this post.  I’d welcome your feedback.


The BIGGEST misconception about Twitter

A recent study suggests that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble“. Regular readers might expect me to agree, especially if you recall an earlier post here: Twitter is not for accountants.

And whilst I appreciate the scientific nature of the study I fear it misses the point. It also panders to those in the media who know no better than to report such a statistic as evidence of twitter being an over-hyped waste of time.

So, given my own enthusiasm for twitter I think the time has come to clarify some misconceptions – especially the one that is reinforced by that study.  If I stimulate your interest then in future posts I will share some more positive tips, ideas and insights. Indeed I’m planning a short series on the subject and will list all such posts on the twitter page of this blog.

But there’s no point in explaining how to get started if you have no interest in it due to misleading media reports. So we have to start by addressing some of the misconceptions surrounding twitter.  And the biggest one is down to those in the media who still think that twitter is a ‘micro blogging website where users post inane messages telling each other the answer to a standard question: “What are you doing right now?”  Indeed plenty of people think this such that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble”. BUT I use twitter without ever seeing that babble. And you can too.

Let me offer you an analogy.  It involves thinking about another medium that is less controversial and more established – satellite TV. You’re probably aware that these days we can choose from hundreds of satellite tv stations.

Let’s imagine however that when satellite tv started you simply had a choice of numerous pop music and shopping channels. Assume again that neither subject was of interest to you. So you didn’t get a satellite tv.  Moving forwards a few years and now of course the choice of channels is much wider although there are still plenty of music and shopping channels.  If someone told you today not to get a satellite tv because it’s full of music and shopping channels you’d question their sanity. Simply stated satellite tv allows you to choose which channels to watch. You only watch those of interest.

It’s EXACTLY the same with twitter. You need only follow people you find of interest. If someone you are following posts stuff you think is ‘rubbish’, uninteresting or “pointless babble” you simply stop following them. This is even better than changing channels as if you stop following someone you need never see any of their rubbish ever again.

So, with that out of the way I hope I’ve resolved any concern you might have had about the content you can find on twitter. Yes, there are plenty of shopping and music channels. However I never watch them and you don’t need to do so either.

I’ll explain a simple way in which you can start up on twitter very shortly.

Plenty of other misconceptions surround twitter so I’ll also be posting more on this subject. In the meantime please add your own comments below re twitter misconceptions of which you’re aware.


Advising your most important client

Hopefully you know who is your most important client. You can apply your own criteria to decide of course.  You might choose the one who pays you the most fees year in and year out, or the one who constantly refers wonderful new clients to you; or it might be a close family member!

You probably provide plenty of advice to your most important client. If you’re not advising them, the chances are that they take advice from someone else. This could be someone else in their business or another professional adviser. Few successful business people can do everything without involving any third party advisers.

But what if I put quote marks around the word ‘client’?

Who advises YOU and YOUR business? Most accountants do this for themselves – of a fashion anyway. And yes, whilst I can provide mentoring and non-exec style support for practices, that’s not what I’m getting at here.

What if YOU treated yourself or your practice as if YOU were your own most important ‘client’?

I know that time spent on your practice isn’t ‘billable time’ as such – it’s arguably MORE important. If your business fails then there will be no billable time at all!

Can you ensure that someone spends as much time running, reviewing and strategising for the firm as would be spent with any other important client.  Is it really sufficient to allow your most important client to be serviced by simply allocating the odd spare moments that you find between ‘real’ work, at the end of the day or at weekends? Is this any way to ensure that your most important client gets the advice and support YOU deserve?

Accountants tend not to focus on their own business as it’s not felt to be a billable client. But, in reality it’s far more important than any  single client. Don’t we all plan to spend a reasonable amount of time with our most important clients each year??


Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand

My friend Andy Lopata is a networking strategy consultant.   I’m not sure that anyone else looks at networking in quite such a scientific way. He talks about the strategy you adopt as in who you choose to network with and how you can ensure that you get maximum benefit from your networking. This is crucially a function of the extent to which you follow up, but there’s a great deal more to it than that.

Talking to Andy recently I was reminded of an earlier posting on this blog in which I referred to old colleague of mine who would go to lunch or have coffee with anyone, any time. He suffered from what I called the ‘you never know’ syndrome.  He thought that it was worth attending all and any networking functions and lunches as ‘you never know’ when or where the next piece of work would come from. If time were unlimited this might not be a bad ploy.

In practice we need to either be more discerning or to maximise the prospect of getting value from the ‘you never know’ meetings we fix up. So how can we do that?

There are two basic ways:

1. Pre-qualify

This effectively involves gathering a little info so as to enable you to pre-judge the person. If you value your time and/or you’ve plenty of work flows then you can afford to limit yourself to meeting up with people who fit certain criteria. These will vary depending upon your business and your service offerings.

2. Effective follow-up

My old colleague did very little by way of follow up so as to build on or develop new contacts. he sent an immediate thank you note but beyond that, not a lot. At best the business cards he collected were added to the firm’s marketing database. So his new contacts received newsletters and ‘Budget’ booklets each year. I doubt this is the most effective way to keep in touch (and have explained my reasons on the TaxBuzz blog: Overnight Budget commentaries – what’s the point?).

To improve the value of such encounters I have suggested that it’s important to follow up.  And when is the best time to do that? Well, you need to start BEFORE your first meeting and you also need to do it DURING the meeting. That way you can do it most effectively AFTER the meeting.

Before the meeting, check that you know what booklets, newsletters, info sheets, leaflets and freebies you (or your firm) produce and which might be of interest to the person you are meeting. If you don’t have any such things you may want to spend a few minutes, perhaps even on your way to the meeting, thinking about how you followed up on the last meeting you had with a similar contact (eg: another solicitor, IFA, banker or whatever).
During the meeting, listen to what your new contact is talking about and try to find a relevant time to indicate that you have something in the office that you think they will find of interest. Promise to send it to them when you get back to the office. It isn’t critical to identify what it is you will send them and you will rarely be asked either!
After the meeting, follow through on your promise. Don’t just send a bland ‘thank you for lunch’ note. Fulfil the commitment you made. Evidence your trustworthiness.

Keep track and make a note to follow up AGAIN a few weeks later. Send something else, even if it’s just a link to a website item or blog entry that you have seen and which you thought they might appreciate as it relates in some way to your conversation at the meeting. (You did make a note of those key topics on the back of their business card so you could remember this didn’t you?)

This approach to Follow Up will repay dividends and make those ‘you never know’ lunches, coffees and meetings far more likely to generate some valuable follow up for you.