How many accountants are interested in social media?

I brought a sense of realism to the ICAEW’s recent [2011] seminar on social media. An early tweeter using the event hashtag had noted:

“Nice to see so many accountants interested in social media”

During my presentation I suggested that this clearly was NOT the case. There were less than 40 people in the room, a number of them being from the organisers (ICAEW), the speakers or sponsors. It’s fair to say that the feedback afterwards showed that everyone was very happy – from the organisers, to the sponsors to the audience. That’s great. I enjoyed myself too and have already referenced some of the positive feedback I received.

However this seminar was promoted across the ‘ICAEW IT Counts’ forum for weeks. It was also actively promoted on twitter by three of the speakers, by the sponsors and by the organisers; and on linkedin. Despite all this I estimate that less than 30 accountants paid to be present at the seminar.

I had mixed emotions  –  as a delegate noted was clear from my presentation. On the one hand I was disappointed by the relative lack of interest as I love social media and this always comes across when I talk about it. But the low level of interest in the event validated the view I first expressed in 2008: Accountants – in the main – are not really interested in social media. Certainly not many had chosen to attend the seminar.  Maybe the marketing was too focused on people who have already chosen to use social media such that they didn’t think there was any need to attend.

My stance continues to be that social media is NOT something that ALL accountants need to embrace.  Yes, there are plenty of positive stories about work won, information obtained, friendships established and relationships built through social media. But few such stories come from established accountants in general practice. (I ran my own seminar/masterclass on the subject ten days after the ICAEW event. I was pleased to attract a similar sized paying audience. The attendees and feedback made me realise that the level of interest is growing. At last. Whether this translates into greater USE of social media by accountants in established businesses remains to be seen.

Social Media can be of great benefit and good fun. But it’s not for everyone. Before embarking on a social media strategy it’s important to understand what is involved and to avoid the hype about all the things you COULD use it for. You need to set clear and realistic objectives and to determine how these can best be achieved.

If you’re an accountant in practice do please leave your comments below about how useful or otherwise you found social media to be. Thanks!

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related 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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5 things to SCOPE or check before you embrace social media

Regular readers know I’m somewhat cynical about the so-called experts who tell accountants and other professionals why they should embrace social media. One of the arguments often used is to look at the success of early adopters.

When I spoke on the subject at the ICAEW I coined a new acronym that references five elements worth checking when you hear of someone’s business success using social media.

1 – Success
Start by considering the person who has been using or who advocates the use of social media for business purposes. When they refer to it being successful and worthwhile, what do they mean? What does success look like for them? Would you feel the time and effort was worthwhile if you secured similar benefits? Similar levels of new fees? Similar types of new clients? And so on.

2 – Clarity
Most successful advocates of social media have a simple clear proposition that distinguishes them from the other service providers. Is your own service proposition as clear and easy to distinguish from that of your competitors?  It’s important to consider this both as regards the services you are offering and the target audience for these services. If that audience isn’t actively engaged on social media you are unlikely to replicate the success of other users whose target audience is active on social media.

3 – Objectives
This follows on from both of the above points. What is it that you want to achieve and how does it compare with the advocates who are seeing some success with social media? Often they will reference new clients who are themselves new into business. Plenty of them are active on social media. What about your target audience? It’s likely to be tougher to win new clients that are long established businesses – especially if the owners and decision makers are not active on the same social media as you.

4 – Profile
How does your online profile compare with that of the successful advocate? Most of them are admirably simple, clear, impressive and distinct. Unless and until you can replicate this approach you may struggle to replicate their success with social media.

5 – Engaging
How much time have they devoted to driving business success from social media and over what time period? Do they focus simply on business issues or do they include reference to their personal life and non-business interests? It’s probably the latter – which takes time. Is this an approach you would be happy to copy?

And when a visitor clicks through from the social media profile to the adviser’s website, how engaging is it? How clear is it to the new visitor that they have come to the right place? Are there suitable calls to action from or about the person they engaged with online? The chances are that their website is more engaging than yours. There’s a lesson here too.

The point here is that unless you do more than simply follow your competitors onto social media you are unlikely to replicate the success you hear they are achieving. And that success may or may not be attractive when you analyse what’s involved.

So there we have it, the five point SCOPE list that will help you determine whether and when to embrace social media.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related 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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Accountants will become more like lawyers in the future

Most lawyers only know a world in which they have to quote fees and charge for the provision of advice.

Few solicitors have the luxury of charging recurring fees to clients who come back year after year for the same recurring compliance service. Accountants, on the other hand, tend to earn much of their fees from work related to their clients’ annual accounts and tax returns (hence the term ‘recurring compliance services’).

Lawyers and accountants are also different in another way. Most solicitors typically specialise in specific areas of law and their clients know this. If you’ve been to see a divorce lawyer you wouldn’t be surprised if they recommend a colleague or third party to resolve a commercial dispute. No one would mind if a property lawyer suggested you see someone else to help you with your will. And so on. Indeed, most people seeking legal advice would prefer to see a specialist rather than the same lawyer who dealt with some completely different matter on a previous occasion.

Following on the thoughts in recent blog posts here I believe that accountants have a choice. The best ones will, in my view, specialise and niche their practices. They will focus on a specific type of clients, industry or area of work. They will not attempt to be all things to all people. They will be happy to admit when clients have issues that require expertise that is outside of their comfort zone. They will charge higher fees when they give advice on matters that do not recur each year. And they will seek out opportunities to provide this higher value advice in their specialist niche areas.

Instead of focusing on their recurring client work each year they will operate more like lawyers and they will be more profitable, more fulfilled and more in demand.  Do you agree? Let me know what you think.

The above comments follow on from recent blog posts and are taken from the final section of my contribution to a report, ‘GRF is killing the profession‘,  recently published by Bob Harper. He says it contains contributions from “leading thinkers, advisers and consultants to the accounting profession.”  (Ron Baker, Bob Harper, Dennis Howlett, Mark Lee, Mark Lloydbottom, Michael McKerlie, Finola McManus, Steve Pipe and Paul Shrimpling)

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The definitive voice for practitioners on social media matters

A partner in a twenty partner firm has thanked me most enthusiastically for my presentation at yesterday’s social media seminar. I was one of 5 speakers engaged by the IT Faculty to speak on Business opportunities for accountants using social media.

My new friend (whom I had never engaged with or met previously) came straight upto me  after the event in Chartered Accountants Hall and has since been kind enough to send his views through by email:

“Thank you for being the first person I have listened to over the past 18 months on the subject of social networking for accountants to actually make sense, dispel myths, speak honestly and command a superior knowledge of the issues affecting partners on a day to day basis.  Without doubt, in my opinion, the definitive voice for practitioners on social media matters.

It all sounds a bit gushing but to be honest I walked away from your talk today enlightened and excited to hear the reality that twitter for organisations such as mine will not work.  I have spent the past 18 months being told by presenters that we have to be tweeting and it will generate business for us whilst being utterly convinced that our target clients do not operate in this medium.  Small businesses and low cost accounting solutions could profit using the twitter forum but they are not my firm’s target clients  Fun as it maybe, it underlines my personal belief that the time investment is too great for individuals maintaining active ledgers and our energies are best spent elsewhere.

Thanks for hopefully shaping a more productive future for my firm by being honest and reenergising  LinkedIn as a business development tool.

I’m very touched especially as that’s pretty much what I think he said when he rushed over at the end of my talk. And this is pretty much exactly the type of reaction I had hoped to achieve.

To be fair I didn’t say twitter wouldn’t work. Just that you need to consider how long it will take to get a return from the time it takes to build up a positive reputation on twitter; and to consider whether your target audience is engaged on twitter. For many accountants the conclusion will be that there are better ways to spend their time. This is pretty much what I said in my first article on the subject 1n December 2008.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related 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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Is all of your focus on recurring work and recurring fees?

Many accountants focus on the recurring work that each client requires and the recurring fees that this will earn the practice. This is understandable upto a point.

The busier the accountant becomes the more there is a tendency to avoid opportunities to give ad-hoc special advice. And if it is provided there is a fear that if a high fee is charged this will scare the client off. And then the recurring fees will be lost.

This is a point I alluded to in yesterday’s blog post in which I noted a common reluctance among many accountants to seek specialist support when clients require advice that goes beyond the accountant’s day to day experience.

A focus on recurring work and the associated recurring fees is also doomed to change in the near future. There are an increasing number of alternative, low cost and professional alternative service providers. Those clients who perceive that all their accountants do is produce accounts and tax returns will be at risk. At the moment there is just a trickle of a move to online, cloud solutions and DIY compliance. This trickle will increase starting at the lower end but across the board as everyone looks to get more value (for which read ‘advice’) from their accountant.

Do you agree? Let me know what you think.

The above comments follow on from yesterday’s blog post and are taken from my contribution to a report, ‘GRF is killing the profession‘,  recently published by Bob Harper. He says it contains contributions from “leading thinkers, advisers and consultants to the accounting profession.”  (Ron Baker, Bob Harper, Dennis Howlett, Mark Lee, Mark Lloydbottom, Michael McKerlie, Finola McManus, Steve Pipe and Paul Shrimpling)

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Do you ensure your clients get the best advice or just your advice?

Accountants are naturally cautious about involving third party advisers. They don’t want to be forced to bill their clients more than last year. They also don’t want to bear the cost of seeking a second opinion.

This atitude means that some accountants muddle along and avoid admitting to clients that they have limited experience in certain areas. They allow and even encourage clients to assume that their accountant can advise on all areas of finance, business and tax. In taking this approach the accountant may take the risk of advising on specialist matters outside of their day-to-day experience.

Other accountants simply avoid advising on such issues even if they suspect that these could be to their clients’ benefit. And, despite the risk of negligence claims and of being reported to their professional body, this approach appears to pay off.

Few clients are aware of the ‘better’ advice they could be receiving. Few clients will know that their accountant’s advice is untested and based on out of date knowledge. And even fewer will be aware that their accountant actually has no first hand experience of dealing with similar problems or issues for other clients.

Why do so many accountants feel that it is a sign of weakness or incompetence to admit that they require specialist help? By way of analogy no one expects their local GP to be an expert in all areas of medicine and health. Indeed we would be pretty worried if a GP suggested we hop up on the bed so that they can open us up and have a look inside to see what’s troubling us. We expect to be referred to specialists and to different specialists for different ailments.

The best accountants operate on a similar basis. They ensure that their clients know the limits of their expertise. They have built up trust so that their clients are happy to talk to a specialist when necessary. And they have made clear to their clients that extra work and extra advice means additional fees.

What’s your approach?

I will continue this theme in my next blog post. In the meantime, if you want to get in touch with specialist tax advisers who can help you when issues arise outside of your day to day experience – simply go to the Tax Advice Network.

The above comments are taken from my contribution to a report, ‘GRF is killing the profession‘,  published by Bob Harper in 2011. He says it contains contributions from “leading thinkers, advisers and consultants to the accounting profession.”  (Ron Baker, Bob Harper, Dennis Howlett, Mark Lee, Mark Lloydbottom, Michael McKerlie, Finola McManus, Steve Pipe and Paul Shrimpling)

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It’s called Social MEDIA not Social MARKETING for a reason

I attended a business focused Question Time networking function earlier this week. One of the questions posed was whether all SMEs should embrace social media.  I expected the marketing guru on the panel to be an ardent supporter of the idea.

In the event I was pleasantly surprised that he gave the same answer as I would have done. And it echoes the views I have shared on this blog before.

If you think your target clients and prospects are active on social media then by all means look to join up and engage with them. But it’s not right or necessary for everyone.

For example, if you are targetting start up businesses you will find plenty of them are active on twitter. Many of those accountants pointing to the success of their twitter activity are themselves relatively new into practice and can relate well to start-up businesses.  I also suspect that accountants and lawyers who offer tax or advisory services to consumers will have more success faster than those who who want to be engaged by established businesses.

The starting point, if you are considering getting involved with social media, is to be clear about your objectives. And over what time scale will you judge your success or otherwise in achieving those objectives?  Oh, and is the investment of time (and money if you employ or engage someone else to do it for you) worth while? Remember you should also compare this investment with the alternative uses of your time and money.

There are SOME good arguments for getting engaged in social media. But it’s not for everyone. The main misconception is that it’s a low cost way to market and promote your practice. Plenty of professional advisers make this mistake and try to use social media to broadcast their marketing messages. However, those that try this quickly give up – disillusioned with the medium, when it’s actually their messages that were failing.

To make social media work for you you have to be ‘social’ rather than anti-social. It’s not a broadcast medium. If all you plan to do is active marketing then don’t waste your time.

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It’s called Social MEDIA not Social MARKETING for a reason

I attended a business focused Question Time networking function earlier this week. One of the questions posed was whether all SMEs should embrace social media.  I expected the marketing guru on the panel to be an ardent supporter of the idea.

In the event I was pleasantly surprised that he gave the same answer as I would have done. And it echoes the views I have shared on this blog before.

If you think your target clients and prospects are active on social media then by all means look to join up and engage with them. But it’s not right or necessary for everyone.

For example, if you are targetting start up businesses you will find plenty of them are active on twitter. Many of those accountants pointing to the success of their twitter activity are themselves relatively new into practice and can relate well to start-up businesses.  I also suspect that accountants and lawyers who offer tax or advisory services to consumers will have more success faster than those who who want to be engaged by established businesses.

The starting point, if you are considering getting involved with social media, is to be clear about your objectives. And over what time scale will you judge your success or otherwise in achieving those objectives?  Oh, and is the investment of time (and money if you employ or engage someone else to do it for you) worth while? Remember you should also compare this investment with the alternative uses of your time and money.

There are SOME good arguments for getting engaged in social media. But it’s not for everyone. The main misconception is that it’s a low cost way to market and promote your practice. Plenty of professional advisers make this mistake and try to use social media to broadcast their marketing messages. However, those that try this quickly give up – disillusioned with the medium, when it’s actually their messages that were failing.

To make social media work for you you have to be ‘social’ rather than anti-social. It’s not a broadcast medium. If all you plan to do is active marketing then don’t waste your time.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related 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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New to social media? The wrong questions to ask…

I apologise to those readers of this blog who have no interest in social media. I completely understand your disinterest. You may even be right – for the moment anyway – as I have acknowledged in previous blog posts here.

BUT – I also accept that more and more professionals are expressing an interest in social media. Many ask the wrong questions though. And sadly there are plenty of self titled gurus and marketing experts who won’t tell you this. Some don’t even know what the right questions are.  Maybe I’ll blog those another day.

For now here are what I consider to be the wrong questions to ask when you’re new to social media. These are especially relevant to professional advisers and those who run professional associations and groups:

  1. How can I get ten thousand followers on twitter?
  2. How can I automate all my social media activity?
  3. How do I get my twitter feed to post updates to my LinkedIn account?
  4. Should I upgrade to a premium LinkedIn account?
  5. Should my twitter account be run by my marketing team or a PR person?
  6. What are the best type of promotional messages to tweet about?
  7. How soon will I start to get new clients?
  8. What if I want to tweet using my firm’s name?

I realise that the title of this blog post is not strictly correct as these are not really the wrong questions to ask. They are all perfectly reasonable questions to ask. Many people ask them. The issue I’m really highlighting is that you WILL be disappointed or misled by the answers. You will also be disappointed if you expect someone to be able to wave a magic wand and give you a simple checklist of things to do to achieve any of those ambitions. And anyone who promises to do this will NOT help you to achieve your objectives in any  material way.

Do you agree with the list? What other questions would you add?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related 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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