"I hope they'll tell someone about me"

Talking with an accountant recently I learned that he regularly receives phone calls from people who have found his website or phone number. Sounds good?  Yes it does and it’s not at all uncommon. Many accountants get such calls.

He was complaining actually that most of the callers were after some free advice. And if the matter is quite straightforward he gives them the advice they require. These calls typically take 5-10 minutes.

Why do you do that I asked?

He told me that he quickly establishes that they have no immediate need of his services and doesn’t want to waste more time than necessary dealing with these callers. He sees it as good PR and marketing. On what basis I asked?

“I hope they’ll tell someone” he said.

I pointed out that what he was really doing was:

  • Hoping that the caller would remember who they had spoken with
  • Hoping they would remember his firm’s name and/or contact details
  • Hoping that they will tell other people about him
  • Hoping that they will think of him at some stage in the future when their circumstances change and they need a (new) accountant.

And that they would do this regardless of how much time elapses after the phone call.

I’m all for being positive and hopeful. But I think that he’s hoping for a bit much on the back of a 5-10 minute phone call with someone who has found him on the web. I shared some ideas as to what he could do to get more from the calls.

What about you? Do you just ‘hope’ or do you do something to turn your hopes into reality?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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“I hope they’ll tell someone about me”

Talking with an accountant recently I learned that he regularly receives phone calls from people who have found his website or phone number. Sounds good?  Yes it does and it’s not at all uncommon. Many accountants get such calls.

He was complaining actually that most of the callers were after some free advice. And if the matter is quite straightforward he gives them the advice they require. These calls typically take 5-10 minutes.

Why do you do that I asked?

He told me that he quickly establishes that they have no immediate need of his services and doesn’t want to waste more time than necessary dealing with these callers. He sees it as good PR and marketing. On what basis I asked?

“I hope they’ll tell someone” he said.

I pointed out that what he was really doing was:

  • Hoping that the caller would remember who they had spoken with
  • Hoping they would remember his firm’s name and/or contact details
  • Hoping that they will tell other people about him
  • Hoping that they will think of him at some stage in the future when their circumstances change and they need a (new) accountant.

And that they would do this regardless of how much time elapses after the phone call.

I’m all for being positive and hopeful. But I think that he’s hoping for a bit much on the back of a 5-10 minute phone call with someone who has found him on the web. I shared some ideas as to what he could do to get more from the calls.

What about you? Do you just ‘hope’ or do you do something to turn your hopes into reality?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Business networking with Clare Murray

I had lunch yesterday with an old friend, Clare Murray. I say old friend as that’s how she described me afterwards in a tweet:

Terrific lunch today at 1 Lombard with old friend @bookmarklee

It did seem as if we were old friends and yet we met originally in 2001 in a professional capacity and have simply said hello a few times at meetings of the APP over the years. I think this was actually our first substantive conversation lasting more than 5 minutes since 2001.

I mention it on this blog because Clare displayed so many positive attributes of a good networker – that I think it’s worth using the lunch as a textbook example of ‘how to do it’.  We’ve all had occasions where a business lunch has been a struggle. This one wasn’t – not for me, nor I think for her.

Let me tell you a little about Clare first. She’s the managing partner of a niche law practice based in Canary Wharf – CM Murray LLP. Earlier this year she had her first baby and took about 4 months off work. She lives close to the office, with her husband and evidently loves her work.  Prior to setting up her practice Clare qualified at a leading national law firm and was subsequently a partner in a City law firm particularly recognised for its employment and partnership law expertise.

So what did Clare do that so wowed me yesterday?

  • Encouraged me to talk about me before I could get her to talk about her. Ok, I made it easy for her! But she seemed genuinely interested in the story of my career since we last talked properly in 2001. She asked open questions, expressed concern and interest and evidenced her legal skill; friendly, professionally and easily.
  • Responded openly when I asked about how she’d come to set up the practice a few years ago.  She avoided the trap we sometimes fall into – she gave me no sales spiel.  This was casual chat between ‘old friends’ who were catching up.
  • Even though Clare had invited ME to lunch (actually her PA had emailed me to find a good date), when we moved to business issues her first question was about what she could do for me. She didn’t start by asking me how I could help her.
  • When I asked Clare about her practice she told me about it in a really positive, enthusiastic and engaging way.  I learned about her lateral hires, the team spirit, the extra talent and spark she looks for in potential recruits and the types of clients they act for.  All very matter of fact. I was genuinely interested as it sounded different to many other employment lawyers I’ve spoken with. Let’s see what I can remember 6 hours later (when I’m typing this):
    • A focus on high level executives in the city banks based in and around Canary Wharf. CM Murray were the first niche practice in the area (it’s why they located there);
    • Expertise and a focus on advising the UK subsidiaries of US corporations on employment related matters; and
    • Specialist knowledge and expertise in partnerships and LLPs
  • Of course CM Murray has expertise in more areas than this but Clare seemed to know, instinctively I think, that there is little point in talking about everything you can do over lunch. The same is true at networking events. How much can one person remember – especially about someone they’ve just met?  So far as i can recall,  Clare focused on just 3 key memorable niches and added that the firm also does a lot of work with SMEs too.  As I explained though – everyone works with SMEs. That acronym describes 99.9% of all businesses in the UK.
  • When I asked what I could do to help her, Clare picked up on something I’d said earlier in the conversation (so she had been listening) and asked if I could think of any niche accountancy firms based in or near to Canary Wharf, City or central London who also have a focus on the same sort of clients as her – especially the UK subsidiaries of US corporations. Maybe they could collaborate and travel to the US to promote their practices together. We also joked about finding a way for her to expand her practice into her home town of Newcastle where her parents still live. But that’s more of a long term dream.

Our lunch lasted almost two hours. The time flew by. It did feel as if we were old friends. I have a couple of things I promised to do by way of follow up. This blog post was NOT one of them. But as the day wore on I was reflecting on how enjoyable our lunch had been. I decided to share my positive feelings and, hopefully, in so doing, help others who may struggle with business lunches.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt inspired to do this before. And I doubt I’ll do it again.

By the way I’ve now checked back to CM Murray’s website.  My recollection wasn’t bad. In fact I now realise that during our conversation Clare spoke about the firm’s experience in dealing with the following as well as partnership issues and business immigration law:

  • Board room disputes
  • Executive bonus and departure issues
  • Senior executive appointments and service agreements
  • Expatriate and international secondment arrangements and disputes
  • Large scale redundancy programmes

There’s another lesson. It’s unwise to expect the people with whom we network to remember all we say to them at meetings or over lunch. Despite my best intentions I still could not recall accurately the specialisations that Clare mentioned over lunch – or maybe I did and her descriptions were more focused than the wording on the website. Reading it now I do recall Clare mentioned them all. But I think she wisely summed them up into pretty much what I summarised earlier.

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Why do accountants resist early change?

I was reflecting on this idea the other day. The MD of a big IT software supplier was telling me how surprised he was that so many accountants had yet to pick up on the new obligations to file iXBRL tagged accounts. This will be relevant to all accounts filed from April 2011 re accounts for accounting periods ended after 31 March 2010.

It occurs to me that many accountants in practice cope very well despite putting off changes until the last possible minute. Accountants managed with the switchover to self assessment in 1997, the introduction of online filing, of quarterly instalment payments for corporation tax and so on. Indeed there have been 3 Companies Acts during my career, numerous accounting and auditing standards, Budgets and Finance Acts every year as well as pronoucements from (what is now) HMRC and so on.

And maybe that tells us why many accountants tend not to spend loads of time planning ahead in their practice. The rules and environment are constantly changing every year. Consciously or unconsciously accountants know that there are always more changes to come. Accountants are typically NOT early adopters. They know that they can adapt, learn and evolve their services to cope with anything. They always do. C’est la vie.

Agree? Disagree?  I’d love to know what you think.

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How can you prove you're on your client's side

I’ve often mentioned that clients like to think that their accountant is on their side. That their accountant is not simply entering figures into a computer programme and reporting on the outcome. That their accountant is taking active steps to reduce the tax payable.

I’ve just found the sentence below which I had set up as a draft blog post. I don’t recall if I read it or made it up myself during a seminar perhaps. It’s possible. But, in case not, my apologies if I should credit someone else. It’s worth sharing though.

I think that this or something like this would go down really well with many clients – assuming it’s true of course. Remember clients won’t know that you’re helping them to pay less tax unless you tell them you do it. And given it’s the service that most clients typically value more than any other……

How about including the following sentiment in your letters  and emails when you write to clients each year?

We’ve taken all the steps we can to reduce your tax liability – this is all the tax you will now have to pay.

If you have any similar ideas or related thoughts please share them as comments below.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How can you prove you’re on your client’s side

I’ve often mentioned that clients like to think that their accountant is on their side. That their accountant is not simply entering figures into a computer programme and reporting on the outcome. That their accountant is taking active steps to reduce the tax payable.

I’ve just found the sentence below which I had set up as a draft blog post. I don’t recall if I read it or made it up myself during a seminar perhaps. It’s possible. But, in case not, my apologies if I should credit someone else. It’s worth sharing though.

I think that this or something like this would go down really well with many clients – assuming it’s true of course. Remember clients won’t know that you’re helping them to pay less tax unless you tell them you do it. And given it’s the service that most clients typically value more than any other……

How about including the following sentiment in your letters  and emails when you write to clients each year?

We’ve taken all the steps we can to reduce your tax liability – this is all the tax you will now have to pay.

If you have any similar ideas or related thoughts please share them as comments below.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Do your prospects have an appetite for tax schemes?

Talking with a tax and financial adviser recently he told me that his firm is a heavy promoter of tax schemes. Not a great fan myself I said. His reply was almost the complete opposite of what I had expected:

“I’m not surprised” he said. “Few people actually go ahead and implement the schemes.”

“So why do you promote them so heavily?” I asked.

“Simple. It gets people through the door. We tell them what they could do and then when we explain the risks they just don’t have the appetite. But they like our approach and become clients anyway.”

This reply reminded me of the conversation I had in the Spring with the head of tax at a reputable tax consultancy. After he has explained the detail of a tax scheme to his clients they invariably say:

“Now I understand it properly, why would I want to go into a scheme like that?”

I explained this further in a post on the TaxBuzz blog: “Have a look at this scheme and tell me what you think”

Coming back to my tax advising IFA. Would you feel comfortable leading with a superficially attractive service offering if experience tells you that most prospects will reject it – albeit they may choose a different service?

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Will you get paid more for iXBRL accounts?

Quick question on 12 July 2014: Please add a note below or email me as to how and why you found this post. It baffles me that this 4 year old piece is routinely one of the most popular on my blog, with hundreds of views every week. Why would that be?
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This is a follow up from one of last week’s blog posts. Here I’m looking more at the extra time and effort involved in complying with the new iXBRL efiling obligations.

Clients will only agree to paying additional fees if they perceive that additional work is being done and that this benefits them in some way.

Tagging company accounts for the taxman, using iXBRL tags, is going to be obligatory from 2011.

It seems that plenty of accountants have yet to determine exactly what they will be doing to ensure that their clients’ accounts are  compliant. I’m not sure how late you can realistically leave it before you find out what is going to be involved here. You’ll want to do this both to ensure that you are able to comply with the new obligations AND to manage your clients’ expectations.

Most importantly is the need, from a commercial perspective, to ensure that you only devote extra time and effort to tagging each client company’s accounts etc if you are sure you will be paid for doing so.  Asking for additional fees only after the event is unlikely to be very remunerative! Is it ever?

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Further ways for accountants to benefit from LinkedIn

I have blogged various thoughts on this topic over the last few months. Here are three more ways accountants can benefit from using LinkedIn:

Be the Conductor – Your client wants to raise finance, perhaps through Venture Capital. Maybe you could do with better contacts in this area? LinkedIn can provide those contacts and introductions.  The same applies for buying and selling businesses, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures etc.  On the tax side of course there’s no need as you can simply use the Tax Advice Network to access relevant and vetted specialist tax advisers. 😉

Practice mergers and expansion – There are a number of highly regarded service providers who can help ensure you get the best deal here. If however you want to go the DIY route, then LinkedIn can help you find suitable practices and practitioners. Your profile will also enable them to check you out – using the information you have chosen to share.

Accessing knowledge – A surprising number of people are willing to share their knowledge and advice on LinkedIn. They do so by answering questions in discussion forums in Groups. You can join upto 50 groups and pose your questions on any subject and benefit from this free sharing of information.

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand how to use Linkedin – either passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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Adverblog: Cost effective vetted tax support

I mentioned the Tax Advice Network in a recent post for the first time in ages. Newer readers of this blog who haven’t read the mini profile piece (top right), may be unaware of the Network.

Established in 2007 the Tax Advice Network is a resource and facility for accountants in practice. There’s no charge for sourcing an independent vetted tax adviser through the Network. You can do this whenever you hit a tax problem, challenge or situation that’s outside your comfort zone. Every accountant has such situations – occasionally at least.And the Network website enables you to quickly access a tax adviser with the relevant expertise and in the right area.

Perhaps even more relevant to readers of this blog is the weekly newsletter published by the Tax Advice Network. It’s free to register for this: Every Thursday you will receive the newsletter containing 3 practical, timely and commercial tax tips with advice and relevant links – written specifically for general practice accountants.  It’s unique and highly regarded by those who receive it.

Ok. Adverblog over. Back to conventional blog posts tomorrow.

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Who bears the cost of new efiling rules?

As software evolves to meet new legislative requirements so accountants assume this will be built into the price they pay for their software.

There is little prospect of accountants asking clients to pay extra – or of them securing additional fees if they did ask!

Equally, accountants will not willingly pay extra for updates of their software if these simply enable them to ensure that clients comply with their legal obligations. Thus suppliers will have a hard job on their hands to persuade existing accountancy users to pay extra.

In practice the only community who can seriously be expected to bear the development costs, if not the developers themselves, will have to be new users; – perhaps those who migrate away from competitors , as well as those who are computerising for the first time.  This is unusual as normally it is the pioneers who pay a premium for the privilege of being the pioneers and at the forefront of new developments. Have newer users in recent years been paying as much as those pioneers for their accounting and tax software? I guess not. So can those who have been putting off their move to online filing be expected to pay more so that the software developers can recoup their investment? Or will the only losers be the shareholders and owners of the developers? They have no choice but to invest in the new developments.

I said earlier that few accountants will successfully persuade clients to pay a surcharge to cover the costs of introducing new software. Some firms tried that in 1997 when self assessment was introduced. In most cases clients rebelled and accountants had to absorb the cost of introducing new software. This time round it is likely to be the software suppliers who bear the costs. Sorry guys!

What do you think?

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More LinkedIn opportunities for accountants

This short series started with extracts from my talks on social media for accountants.

One reader and contributor is Phil Richards who shared some further ideas as to how accountants can benefit from LinkedIn. Rather than add them as comments on earlier posts, I’ve extended the blog series. So here are three more:

Central point – LinkedIn enables you to connect one to one with people on a mutual platform. When you connect to one person you become visible to the people they connect with. This works in all sorts of ways that happen without you having to do anything.

Research suppliers – Whilst it’s not yet ubiquitous, LinkedIn is increasingly popular. I’m now surprised and disappointed if someone who approaches me isn’t on LinkedIn. I’ve often found that I know someone who has already dealt with them and can then call or email for an objective view before agreeing to engage with them.

Recommendations – LinkedIn provides a facility for clients and colleagues, past and present, to post recommendations against your profile. These are only visible to others if you accept them. I’m rather proud and humbled by the large number attached to my profile. I’d like to think that such recommendations add to your credibility. And this can be helpful in giving the right impression when new contacts first check out your online profile.

[Edited 2013] Related ebook now available: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand how to use Linkedin – either passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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In-house Tax Directors seek tax support from non-auditors

It seems that many in-house Tax Directors do not use their auditors for tax work and advice.This is one of the conclusions from Winmark’s third benchmarking survey of in-house Tax Directors.

Out of over 100 respondents to the Tax Director Network survey, only one-third use their auditors for corporate tax planning, and only a quarter use their auditors for international tax planning or even tax disclosures in the accounts.

Many Tax Directors also made clear why they prefer to obtain advice from other Big 4 firms. Tax Directors cite conflict of interest, the need to obtain audit committee approval and the level of fees involved. Higher costs arise when the auditors have to obtain second opinions where they cannot audit their own firm’s advice and that advice could have been obtained at lower cost elsewhere.

Two-thirds of the Tax Directors who responded to the survey use external advisers other than their auditors for corporate tax planning. Even more use other Big 4 firms for VAT advice and over half use other Big 4 firms for international tax planning.

When I was in practice, all the talk was of ‘cross-selling’ additional services to audit clients. Clearly this no longer a worthwhile use of time and effort – at least as regards larger corporates.

Are FDs in medium-sized companies (ie: those without in-house tax directors) as reluctant to seek tax input from their auditors I wonder?  If that were the case then what is the future for firms outside the Big 4  who expect to cross- sell to their audit clients? Should the focus be on other services rather than tax advice?

There is an ever increasing need for auditors to be seen to be independent. This survey suggests that the number who are able and willing to audit the impact of advice provided by their tax colleagues will continue to fall.

Copies of the executive summary of the survey report are available on request from Winmark Research. The full report will only be available to members of the Tax Director Network and to others who completed the survey.


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LinkedIn for accountants (part three)

Having used the last two posts on this blog to introduce LinkedIn, let me now summarise the benefits you can secure by ensuring you have a profile on LinkedIn. This will enable you to:

  • put your generic CV ‘out there’ showing your career history and key skills;
  • include reference to your current role as your current role;
  • get to grips with the LinkedIn website and features before you NEED to use them;
  • reconnect (online) and remain in contact with ex colleagues and other business contacts – ie: build and enhance your network;
  • be found online by new contacts who you meet on a day to day basis; and
  • build your reputation as a helpful person before you start needing help – Those who try to use any online network solely for what they can get out of it will be less successful than those who seek first to contribute to the network.

Although it would have been better to have done all this beforehand it is still worth doing so if you’re now seeking work.  In addition to the above benefits:

  • This will make it easy for you to be found by the recruiters who use LinkedIn to source candidates to fill vacancies;
  • You will have a business environment in which you can communicate without using an unprofessional ‘personal’ email address and as distinct from the Facebook ‘fun’ environment;
  • New contacts can get in touch with you without having to rely on a scrap of paper containing your scribbled phone number and email address.

If you are on LinkedIn and feel there are other reasons for our fellow professionals to register a profile there, please add your comments below. Equally if you disagree, please provide a contrary view.

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LinkedIn for accountants – why you need a profile there

If you’re not going to be active on LinkedIn it can still be worthwhile having your profile there so that other people can find you.  They may be looking for you specifically or simply for someone like you.

I’m lucky, despite having a very common name, if you Google Mark Lee from the UK you will find me immediately. That’s not the case for most people, nor is it the case if you’re outside the UK ;-(   So unless you have a unique name, you will make it easier for others to find you, simply by registering on LinkedIn.

Maybe they used to work with you and want to get back in touch. Perhaps they want to refer some work to you? Or maybe they are an ex-client who worked with you when you were with a previous firm. Or are they simply looking for someone with specific experience? Perhaps someone has recommended you but didn’t know your website details? Maybe they’ve checked your website but want to see what other people have said about you on your LinkedIn profile?

There are many possible reasons.

Then there are the recruiters (in commerce, practice or in the recruitment business itself) who are looking for someone just like you.  However secure you may feel in your current role, nothing lasts for ever.  Far better to have built up your online profile BEFORE you need to rely on it. And in the current climate you may need to do so even if you think you have a strong offline network of business contacts.

Equally you may be able to source a new senior recruit through your LinkedIn contacts. You could also find out more about newer clients and about key contacts at target clients before you approach them. Maybe someone you know, already knows them and could effect an introduction?  The facility to do this in a professional way is one of LinkedIn’s key distinguishing factors.

Many people use LinkedIn as a directory and to find the profiles of other senior business people. Many of those who have their profile on LinkedIn are happy passive users. Yes, there’s a lot more you can get from LinkedIn but for many people it’s enough to simply ensure that they can be found if someone’s looking for them.

LinkedIn also has the potential to be a more intimate way of networking than simply exchanging business cards with a stranger when attending networking event, conferences or exhibitions.  In this connection I recently attended a social party, met an interim FD and remembered his name. The next day I looked him up on Linkedin and connected with him. This sort of facility allows us to maintain a wider network of contacts that has ever been possible in the past.

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand how to use Linkedin – either passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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LinkedIn for accountants – What makes it different?

LinkedIn is a ‘Business’ networking website. I’m always amused when commentators describe it in the same breath as ‘social’ networks. I think this confuses people who are unfamiliar with them and assume that LinkedIn is a variation on facebook and twitter for example. A more accurate collective noun is ‘online networks’.

LinkedIn is probably the only online network where it can be worthwhile establishing a profile even if you’re not planning to be ‘active’ on the site afterwards.  Generally, online networking can only work if you are active and netWORK.  This is also true of Linkedin but, unlike the other sites it is the ONE that some people use as a directory. Where users may look (or ‘search’) for you or someone like you.

Of course my profile is on LinkedIn and I’ve become increasingly active there. I now have over 5,500 direct contacts there [updated  Aug 2016].  By all means seek me out and let me know why you want to connect. I’ll be happy to do so if you’re a reader of this blog.

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand Linkedin and how you use it passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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