A practicing accountant confesses that twitter doesn't work (for him)

An unnamed accountant has written the following confession for AccountancyAge. It accords with my perception of the position many firms of accountants are in or will find themselves in:

Having spent a great deal of time and effort on new social media methods of marketing it was a happy day when we recently acquired a client originating from Twitter.

We have had lots of initial enquiries, loads of conversations, even a few meetings but to finally sign up an actual client was a real joy.

A couple of us within the firm have been so desperate to prove that the new social media marketing methods actually work when it comes to acquiring business, that we have probably spent a disproportionate amount of time on it just to prove the point.

In the cold light of day it probably hasn’t been worth it so far and I’m sure at the next partners’ meeting the issue will probably be raised.

A huge amount of time has been spent learning and putting into practice the new methods – and on a cost-per-hour basis the return at the moment just isn’t there.

I am still convinced that Twitter and Facebook are great ways to market the practice but I will probably have to admit that now is the time to delegate the task of tweeting and posting to staff who have lower charge out rates, or maybe even administrative staff.

Regular readers will know that I am not surprised. I have often questioned whether the time that some professional advisers devote to twitter and other forms of social media is worthwhile. Often it seems unfocused, overly promotional or unsupported.

Twitter and other forms of social media can be worthwhile activities but only when the adviser (or those at the top of the firm) understand enough about what it involves, what it requires and what it implies. What will not be worthwhile is the approach that the unnamed practitioner suggests his firm will now adopt – delegating tweeting to a junior member of staff.   This MAY be all the biggest firms need to do. But for most it wil simply mean that a more junior person is the one wasting their time instead of a partner.  Far better to review the firm’s strategy and to ensure that its social media activity is more focused going forwards.

What do you think?


Measuring activity and influence on social media

I apologise to those readers who have no interest in social media. I completely understand your disinterest. You may even be right – for the moment anyway – but it’s also clear that more and more professionals are expressing an interest in social media.

If you’re active on twitter for example you may have noticed a capital K in a little red box followed by a number, appearing alongside each of the twitter names in your twitter stream. This is their ‘klout’ number.

Klout is NOT really an indicator of anything beyond RELATIVE involvement in social media. Klout purports to measure:

  • How many people you influence
  • How much you influence them
  • How influential they are

In practice it does this largely by reference to your involvement in various social media including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Foursquare.  My klout score is generally around 60 which is higher than most but not as high as full on marketing, social media or celebrity tweeters. At the weekend when I don’t tweet much my score drops a point or two. Klout suggests that I am ‘influential’ about ten topics including business, accounting, social media and linkedin.  I’m not complaining. But Klout also makes a number of less accurate assertions about me and presumably therefore about others too. As such I take Klout with a pinch of salt.

So I don’t suggest you go chasing a high Klout score. As with so much of social media, the important thing is to first identify your target audience and then to do whatever is appropriate to capture their attention and interest so that you can engage with them. Klout won’t help you here and I cannot believe that anyone is ever going to choose their accountant, for example, by reference to their Klout score.  I would say though that if you’re ever inclined to pay for social media related advice I WOULD suggest checking out your consultant and their Klout score. If it’s low then they are not using twitter etc effectively. In which case are they best placed to advice you on the subject?

Klout appears to be the most widely referenced tool for measuring activity and influence on social media. It also has a simple but clever name. Other options include PeerIndex, EmpireAvenue and Crowdbooster.  Again I don’t recommend you devote any time to these tools. I mention them simply to let you know they exist and that I see no direct relevance of any of these to your role as an ambitious professional.

What do you think?

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How one UK accountant uses Linkedin

When I write and speak about accountants and social media I always make the point that Linkedin is different. It’s the only online networking site where you can get some benefit simply by having your profile there, even if you’re not active.

But of course you can also choose to be active on LinkedIn. One accountant who does this is Andrew Diver of Beatons in Ipswich. He posted the following recently in answer to someone claiming (wrongly in my view) that LinkedIn doesn’t work for accountants. I have copied it here with Andrew’s permission:

We have had a number of successes from using Linkedin. The overwhelming message I would send is that Linkedin is not a marketing strategy in itself. It is a tool, like an e-mail account, a website, a seminar, or a networking event.

There are many strands to what we use it for. Some of them are routines others less prescribed. But it always comes back to using it to enhance the more traditional marketing techniques. 90% of our new business comes from referrals. Staying in touch with intermediaries and people who can refer work. We regularly alert these people to opportunities to save tax, deadlines and opportunities for themselves and their clients.

Moreover I believe technology has pushed the emphasis onto collaboration. Looking for opportunities for our clients, connections to be more profitable either through winning new work or reducing costs. Hence why people refer work to us, we are working hard for them too. There is a lot of weight placed by consumers into the power of social advocacy.

We also post on local groups and give guidance to local businesses. We then become a trusted source of information, and can start forging a relationship with the individuals or businesses concerned and taking the relationship offline.

I must say that I saw this as a breath of fresh air.

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“SMEs need your help” – But what is an SME?

What do the initials SME mean to you? Do they refer to small local businesses? The official Government definition, drawn from the EU definition and used for determining which businesses need an audit for example, is clear. Small and Medium-sized Enterprises account for over 99.9% of all UK businesses*

Any initiative that purports to focus on SMEs is not focused at all – unless everyone involved understands the initials to mean something more specific and all agree on what this is.

So I am a touch disappointed to read that the new ICAEW Business Advice Service is branded as being for SMEs.  That apart it’s a great move by the ICAEW to help fill the ‘advice gap’ left by the government’s decision to close Business Link.

It highlights the services available from Chartered Accountant members of the ICAEW, and demonstrates their commitment to economic growth by offering one initial consultation at no charge to SMEs and start-ups on the full range of business issues. It is intended to clearly differentiate ICAEW members from unqualified accountants, to highlight the services offered to SMEs by member firms and help introduce new business to members. Full details here: businessadviceservice.com

If I were still in practice I’d register to be included. It’s a branding exercise more than anything else as most member firms have long been willing to hold the initial no-obligation meeting with prospective clients – of whatever size.  There doesn’t seem to be any obligation on members to do anything different from the past.  So it’s a simple win:win for everyone.  Especially as ICAEW is launching a new advertising campaign promoting ICAEW Chartered Accountants and promotion of the Business Advice Service will run alongside this. This will include national and local media to ensure coverage across the UK.

What do you think?

*SME statistics from the Dept for Business Innovation and Skills



3 categories of time to track – not just chargeable time

I was surprised recently to see a firm of accountants being applauded for the fact that partners were given goals regarding client time. This is hardly newsworthy. Then I read more closely. The partners in this firm are measured in terms of three categories of time:

  1. chargeable time (as has long been the case in many larger firms);
  2. contact time with their clients in a relationship management capacity (with a view to scoping ABOs – Additional Billing Opportunities); and
  3. time spent with prospective clients.

The most significant issue here was that the category three time was rated as important as chargeable time. This is worthy of applause, although it is open to abuse if not carefully managed. That though is indeed a management issue. It is absolutely right to record and measure the time. To consider the  LONG TERM impact of attending a regular networking group and comparing this with more generic and random networking events. In both cases it’s important to also spend time and track the time spent on follow up 1-2-1 meetings with prospects and referrers. Focusing on short-term results is to misunderstand the way that business networking and referral marketing work.

Long time readers of this blog may recall a post I wrote 3 years ago: Are accountants as ‘stupid’ as lawyers? In it I repeated a David Maister story that is relevant here. David noted that there is general agreement amongst lawyers (and most other people too) that it is generally easier to win more work from existing clients than it is to get engaged to provide services to strangers (new clients). “Why then,” he asks, “do we risk upsetting clients by treating all the time we spend with them as potentially billable? And why do we only consider ‘billable’ time to be of value”

I would put it this way:

A firm will encourage and motivate the partners to devote time to those activities that they believe are being recorded and measured and rewarded. I stressed the importance of looking beyond fees billed in my 2006 blog post: Fees, fees, fees.

In the traditional model all the focus was on ‘billable time’. More sophisticated models take account of how much of such time is actually billed.  This then requires careful monitoring to ensure that write-offs are fairly allocated to the partner’s time costs vs that of their teams or of specialists who have been working on the same clients.

When I was at Touche Ross (now Deloitte) many years ago they already had a time recording system that allowed client time to be recorded ‘below the line’. This was the category two time above and quite forward thinking for the 1980s.

Almost thirty years later, how many firms track and monitor category two or category three time? Do you think they should?


Accountants in debt – emerging trends

I’ve just seen a report from the  Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA). It claims that three emerging trends in debt among accountants have became more prevalent during the first half of 2011. These patterns have been noted by CABA’s debt advice team, who provide guidance and practical help to accountants with financial difficulties, over the last two years but have become noticeably more common in recent months:

They are:

  • People aged 65 with debt problems due to insufficient retirement planning. Many of these accountants have large mortgages or unsecured debt and are having to continue, or restart, work.
  • Those who have debt problems – even though they are asset rich – because they are reluctant to realise the value of those assets. For example, by selling a large house and moving to a smaller one.
  • In the newest development, accountants with their own practices who are using their personal finances to prop up the business, even though it is effectively insolvent. Many of the people in this group are facing action from the HMRC for VAT and PAYE.

That first point chimes with one of my most recent articles for AccountingWeb: Will you be able to afford to retire?

I can’t ask if any of these 3 points resonate with readers of this blog as I wouldn’t expect anyone would want to admit it. But just in case let me remind you that one of CABA’s roles is to provide help and advice to chartered accountants suffering from debt issues and to empower them to manage their own debt. In addition, CABA can make payments to individuals and their dependants in cases where debt is causing genuine hardship. However, they are at pains to stress that:

“We are a benevolent association and it is not our place to simply write cheques. Our role is more to help accountants uncover a way out of the very difficult situations in which they sometimes find themselves.”

More details can be found at www.caba.org.uk


6 factors for accountants to consider before paying to be listed on directory sites

In a separate post I have listed the existing and about-to-be-launched online directory sites for accountants in the UK. They are all intended to appeal to people using the internet to search for a new accountant.

The value of paying to be included in any such directory site seems to depend on at least six things:

1) Search results

The directory on which you are listed must appear sufficiently high up the search results and be sufficiently compelling to attract interest from users searching for a new accountant;  Bear in mind that those people will not all use consistent search terms and some will be more expert at using search engines than others.

2) User willingness to use the directory

Sufficient numbers of those users must be willing to ignore both the direct links to accountants who come up in the natural search results and those whose ads appear in the pay per click ads on the right hand side of the search results screen;  And these people need to be the sort of new clients you would like to attract as new clients.

3) Non-search related promotion of the online directory

Some directories may promote and seek interest from users who see adverts for the online directory in the conventional business or personal finance press, on relevant discussion forums and through social media.

4) Site useability

Sufficient numbers of users must find the directory service easy to use and do not abandon their search before finding what they seek.

5) Your directory entry/activity

Your directory listing and/or response to enquiries needs to be more compelling than those of your local competition.

6) Your website / closing ability

If the directory site links to your website, how easy is it for a new visitor to satisfy themselves that they should get in touch? How easy is it for them to find your phone number and a name of someone to ask for? And how good are you at converting such enquiries into new clients?  (I have addressed a similar point many time before on this blog in the context both of social media and of websites for accountants)

Have I missed anything?  What sort of experiences have you had re online directory listings?