A twitter case study for accountants – and key question

I have mentioned Elaine Clark who runs CheapAccounting.co.uk on my blog previously. Like me Elaine is very active on twitter. Like me she is a big advocate of twitter.

The main difference between us is that I make clear that twitter is no panacea and that you need to make time to understand it before you leap in. Elaine’s approach is to generate enthusiasm first before, effectively, confirming the caveats that I offer. We both do this in articles, blog posts and presentations. Indeed we spoke on the same platform for the ICAEW last year.

I was very impressed by a piece Elaine wrote for HSBC’s small business knowledge centre about how her business uses twitter.

In her article Elaine explains that since she started using Twitter her website visitors have increased by about 50% per month. And, crucially that this resulted in increased sales.

Here are a couple of other things she says in the article:

My tweets [140 character messages] vary, but I always avoid ‘broadcasting’ – using Twitter simply to say ‘buy me’. The key to using social media is engagement and social interaction. I very rarely post any pure sales messages. It’s about getting people to like and trust your brand.

Elaine’s tweets often include links to her blogs and free advice guides. More often they involve general discussion and chit chat with one or more of her twitter followers. She sees this as simply being an extension of her offline networking. I have also noticed that Elaine sometimes comments on events in the news to add to or prompt discussion.

Just like the rest of your marketing activity, social media requires careful planning. It requires patience and hard work, too – success won’t come overnight. Using Twitter should be fun, so enjoy it.

I think the full article is a great case study and contains some excellent advice. I would add, as I have said elsewhere, that I think twitter works for Elaine for two key reasons:

1 – She uses it effectively – as she explains above; and

2 – The CheapAccounting.co.uk website has a clear focused, targeted proposition. It’s inviting and easy to engage with the business. Were that not the case then the increased business driven through Elaine’s activity on twitter would be much lower – and might not even be measurable.

So here’s my key question: Does your website echo your online messages and, in so doing, convert visitors who have followed links from your twitter account (or other social media sites)? If not, it’s something else you might want to address whilst you build up your profile on twitter.

If you are an accountant with a story that would make a good twitter case study, please get in touch

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What's your approach to the provision of business advice?

When it comes to the provision of business advice, I’ve previously suggested that accountants serving business clients, fall into one of four categories:

1 – It’s a no-go area: The accountant’s business experience is limited and perhaps they don’t feel that confident with the idea of providing business advice.

2 – Personal experience: The accountant is willing and able to share their own experiences of business over the years, perhaps drawn in part from working with other clients. Those accountants who have worked in (non-accountancy) businesses will also have a different type of experience to draw on.

3 – What others say: The accountant offers advice based on what they have read in books, magazines and websites and possibly what they recall from their studies and from attending seminars and conferences. However, their level of interest in developing this area of skill is much lower than their desire to keep up to date with technical knowledge.

4 – A systemised approach: The accountant has bought into a programme that assists them in adopting a structured approach to the provision of business advice and either they actively promote the service to their clients or they shy away from doing so and quit the programme.

Some commentators have provided near constant pressure over many years to encourage accountants to adopt the systemised approach. Nevertheless I understand that less than 10% of accountants in the UK have bought into the idea.  The vast majority are evidently not convinced. Why is that I wonder?

Most accountants seem to prefer one or more of the first three approaches described above. Perhaps their clients do not seem to be demanding a more formalised approach (or maybe the accountant perceives that their clients are not willing to pay for it).

What do you think?

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Do I need to be on twitter? “I work in a big firm”

My answer to this question is always: “You don’t NEED to be on twitter but you might enjoy it”

This is the second in a series of blog posts that offer NO-HYPE answers to the question ‘Do I need to be on twitter?‘ The first one considered the position of someone who runs their own small practice.

For employed people in large firms of accoutants, lawyers, surveyors etc, a better question is why MIGHT you want to be on twitter?

And the answer then is in two parts: Personal and Professional. And you will also need to ensure that you comply with your firm’s social media strategy (if there is one).

Personal

I shared ten non-business reasons why plenty of accountants enjoy twitter on this recent blogpost. If you’re new to twitter then I strongly suggest that you start here and do not worry about generating any professional benefits until you have got used to it.

Professional

There’s a Catch-22 at play. For a while, hardly anyone will see what you tweet. And yet you will only build up (real) followers if you tweet interesting stuff. You can create the impression that you have lots of readers by chasing new followers, but if they’re not really interested they won’t be reading your tweets, so what’s the point?  The bottom line is that it takes time to build a relevant following on twitter. Even then, when you post a tweet the only people who will see it are:

  • Some of those people who follow you on twitter.  Only some of them as few regular tweeters read all the tweets posted by the people they follow. And many of your followers will be people whose sole interest is whether you will follow them back to boost their follower numbers.
  • Some of those who follow anyone who ReTweets your comment. Even if your tweets are copied to a wider audience, only some of them will be on twitter and see them.
  • Anyone who is searching for tweets with keywords in them. This is how the media pick up on who said what about key news events etc.

Evidencing your interest in key clients

You may find that some of your clients are active on twitter. (‘Active’, not merely ‘registered’ on twitter). You can follow them and how they use twitter, in the same way as you might look out for references to them in the media. You might also be using ‘Google alerts’ to inform you about when they or their business appears on the web.

Such activity may inform your conversations with clients and can evidence that you are genuinely interested in them. You don’t have to engage with them on twitter to achieve this. You can just follow them and read their tweets. You can do this openly through a twitter account in your own name, or you can do it through an anonymous account.

In general the people posting tweets for the client are unlikely to be the individuals with whom you or your colleagues liaise.

What about to generate clients?

I am doubtful that you will generate new clients for your big firm through tweeting. You MAY, over time, build up a following if your tweets are of particular interest to key business owners who are active on twitter. The thing is though that I doubt that many decision makers in organisations that would be your firm’s target clients are active on twitter. If they are and you follow them, they MAY choose to follow you back. But will your activity on twitter really be a catalyst or a clincher for them becoming clients of your big firm? I doubt it. And do keep in mind the opportunity cost of your time spent on twitter too.

How about to raise the profile of the firm?

I would say that is a question for the partners and for the marketing team. Not for an individual.

What about my profile?

Yes, you could do that if you find that you enjoy using twitter. Over time you may be able to build up a following of fellow tweeters who share similar interests to you and with whom you could build profitable relationships. These can be continued offline or kept online. Who knows where they could lead?

I am following some great people on twitter who work for larger firms. They are stuck in the Catch-22 position I mentioned above. They have very few followers and yet unless they do something beyond posting a few tweets, that will not change. But as long as they are happy (and not embarrassing their colleagues) all is well.

Have I missed anything out do you think? Please add your comments/feedback below.

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Explaining twitter is like talking about sex

There is now an almost daily stream of stories about the way that celebrities, politicians and big brands use twitter. Many of the media stories are ill-informed or naive. It is no wonder that so many non-tweeters then form a distorted view as to what twitter is all about.

There is a similarity with the media obsession with sex. Real life sex, especially as part of a loving relationship, is very different from what many celebrities seem to get upto.  In the same way, real life use of twitter is very different from the ideas promulgated by much of the media. I doubt if many of these stories tempt the non-twitter user to find out more about twitter. On the contrary, all of the well publicised tweets by politicians and celebrities probably act as a disincentive.

Hence my realisation that talking about twitter is like talking about sex.

When an avid tweeter tries to explain what is involved and who might want to get involved it can sound quite unpleasant, messy and confusing…. “Each tweeter reads and writes short email-like messages of less than 140 characters. Each tweet contain views and experiences which are seen by a subset of the people following the tweeter or searching for comments on a specific subject”.

This  is accurate but uninspiring. Just like when we try to explain sex to our children. Even if you manage to describe the mechanics of the act, it doesn’t exactly leave them with any notion about why so many people are so enthusiastic about it.

The analogy can be stretched further.

Most people are a little hesitant at first. They try it once or twice and are not sure whether or not they like it. They’re a bit bemused as to why so many people seem to rave about it.

Some people keep trying and after a while they find that it’s really quite fun and pleasurable. Others give up as they don’t enjoy it at all. That’s their choice, but the rest of us think they are probably missing out.

Beginners still tend to be clumsy until they’ve had a fair amount of feedback, often from tweeters with more experience.

Many people then get to the stage with tweeting where they can’t get enough of it. Frequent tweeters may even snigger at those poor saddos who only tweet occasionally.

You can read or look at all the stuff about sex you want, but if you’ve never had it, you simply have no idea what it’s really like.

It’s best not to tweet when you’re drunk as you can regret it the next morning. And you may get involved in topics you’d normally avoid when sober.

You need to vary your tweeting technique to avoid it getting repetitive and boring.

Sex is not about just getting something from others. You have to give. In fact, giving can be just as good as “getting,” right? Twitter is much the same.  If you just show up and start shouting about what you can do for people you might as well stay off Twitter. But if you go looking to give to others, there is more chance that you will accumulate followers and grow your network.

You know those desperate self publicists at the party who will sleep with just about anybody, but nobody ever wants to take them up on it? There are similar people on Twitter, too. You will recognise them by their tweets which will consist primarily of links to their own blog posts and websites. Most of us choose to stay away from the easy, cheap and sleazy.

Although we tend to think that our efforts will be appreciated, there’s no substitute for good positive feedback.

Don’t try to fake it. If you’re not really into a topic don’t bother pretending in order to please your followers. They can tell the difference.

The analogy isn’t perfect – and I’ve stretched it a little I know. Feel free to add your own thoughts as comments below.

 

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How to 'accidentally' gain sales from networking

Few ambitious accountants have ever chosen a career in sales. And yet, almost all accountants need to be able to generate income. Inevitably that income will come from clients and you will have some, possibly a large, responsibility for helping to generate those ‘sales’.

My friend, Richard White, describes those of us who are in this position as “Accidental sales people”. We didn’t choose to work in sales but it is still an integral part of what we do. Richard’s view is that we will be more successful if we adopt a ‘soft-selling’ style rather than attempt to emulate the salespeople whom we hate. You know – those pushy people who try to persuade people to buy things they don’t want.

We need to ensure that our sales techniques are appropriate and that our prospective clients do not feel we are pressurising them to engage us for services they do not want. For this reason traditional sales training techniques are unlikely to be very effective when trying to help ambitious accountants enhance the results of their networking and client development activities.

I have long admired Richard’s ‘soft-selling’ techniques as they are very similar to solution based selling and consultative selling. These are the approaches that I learned some years ago and still favour. The essence of all these concepts is to work with rather than against human nature. Rather than attempt to push your services, soft-selling demands that you first understand the primary motivations of your clients and prospective clients. Then, and only then, you should be able to make your services seem so compelling that they attract your clients to want to engage you.

The skills you need to develop are less a hard nosed approach to selling and more an understanding of human nature and a degree of patience. 

Last year Richard wrote the ‘Networking Survival Guide – the essential hands-on manual for winning more business and gaining new sales leads’. In it he demolishes the myth of the ‘elevator pitch’ and explains what you can do to stand out and be remembered as distinct from every other accountant. He stresses the power of stories and highlights the benefits of thinking this all through. Spend some time getting this right and you will start to ‘accidentally’ gain referrals and sales from your networking activities. It won’t happen overnight though. But it will happen a lot faster than if you network aimlessly. Richard encourages a clarity of thought that could benefit many accountants whose networking is proving to be less effective than they would like.

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6 key factors that can determine your success

I recently watched an old video clip of the professional services firm guru, David Maister, in which he highlights the six most scarce resources in most professional service firms:

  • Energy
  • Excitement
  • Enthusiasm
  • Determination
  • Passion
  • Ambition

David also points out that his research has proved that the top achieving firms are those that energise, excite and enthuse their people to perform at a higher level than their competitors.  I can echo this based on my own experience and observations over the years.

Those who’ve worked with me will also know that the listed resources are all qualities that I possess in abundance. I have no doubt that they helped me reach the top of my career more so than any technical skills or technical knowledge that I developed over the years.

Would your colleagues and clients use all or indeed any of these words to describe you or your firm? If there’s a mismatch as between how others see you and how you want to be seen you will need to do something to close the perception gap. If you do nothing then nothing will change.

What other factors do you think can determine your success?

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 I need to be on twitter? “I run my own small practice”

The first blog post in this series explored ten non-business reasons for being on twitter.

Many of the hundreds of accountants I follow on twitter clearly enjoy the non-business side of it. Indeed, I’m sure that many of the accountants who find twitter useful from a business perspective first became familiar with it by virtue of the non-business uses. And that’s a key lesson. If you are thinking of twitter as a quick-fix marketing solution, take my advice and don’t bother. You will waste time and effort that could have been better spent more productively elsewhere.

So to answer the question, my simple answer is ‘NO’. Contrary to all the social media hype, you do not NEED to be on twitter. It MIGHT be beneficial though IF you:

  • Have EXISTING clients who are active on twitter; – and, even better if they will advocate you on twitter to their followers
  • Have a clear niche that is distinct from all of the other sole practitioners and smaller firms;
  • Are willing to engage with people on twitter (there’s little point in simply posting promotional messages)
  • Can RESIST the temptation to try to gain thousands of random ‘followers’ – this is time consuming displacement activity, it doesn’t generate business.
  • Can decide on a realistic strategy to build business and referrals over time through your activity on twitter
  • Are willing to learn WHAT is worthwhile and what is NOT worth doing on twitter
  • Want to have some fun – the first blog post in this series refers 😉

If you run a small practice and have found twitter useful, please share your experiences as comments below.

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10 New Year Resolutions for Ambitious Accountants

As 2012 dawns here are 10 New Year resolutions that I would encourage ambitious accountants to make. This list has already appeared on AccountingWeb where I included links to articles on that site that explain each of the ideas in more detail. In the list below I have replaced those links with references to related posts on this blog:

1. Reducing the January rush

I will take responsibility for allowing so many of my clients to delay sending me all the information I need until January. I have had enough and will start planning now to stop this continuing year-after-year. (See ‘The January tax return rush is your own fault).

2. Billing

I will release cash by reducing my lock-up to 60 days through more prompt billing and applying my standard credit terms whenever clients fail to pay on time. (See ‘10 key actions you need to take when starting an accountancy firm’)

3. Services

I will be more open-minded and introduce one new service for my clients this year – over and above the recurring compliance services I have always provided. This will enable me to help my clients with their businesses and, at the same time, to become more profitable myself. (See ‘Not all Accountants are business advisers’)

4. LinkedIn profile

I will add a photo and an up-to-date summary of my current experience and abilities to my LinkedIn profile. This could make all the difference whenever someone is checking me out online: e.g. a prospective client, a prospective referrer or advocate, an ex-colleague or ex-client. (See ‘LinkedIn for accountants (part three)’).

5. Twitter

I will look into whether tweeting might be useful or fun. If I decide to give it a go I will check out how to make Twitter work for me. I will avoid posting puerile and self-promotional messages as these will not help me or my practice.  (See ‘Is twitter for me?)

6. Alliances

I will establish a business alliance that will help my practice and my clients. Possible alliances could relate to any area of specialist expertise that some of my clients might need or I could form an alliance with a complementary service provider. We would learn how we can help each other’s clients and then agree to refer clients to each other. (See ‘Do you ensure your clients get the best advice or just your advice?’)

7. Plan

I will create a one-page marketing and business plan setting out what I want to achieve in the practice over the next year and what I will do to make this happen. (See ‘10 key actions you need to take when starting an accountancy firm’)

8. Talk with clients

I will make appointments to speak with all of my best clients within the next three months, just to see how things are going for them. Many of these calls and meetings will lead to those clients asking me to provide additional advice and services – that I can bill them for.  (See ‘What do you say when you ‘Keep in touch’?’)

9. Dump the duff clients

I will stop complaining about my three worst clients and will encourage them to find new accountants within the next few months. I will replace them with three new clients as I deserve to work only with people who appreciate what I do for them.  (See ‘Ditch the duff clients’)

10. Mentoring group

I will join a local mentoring group for ambitious accountants where I can learn from my peers and enhance my business and personal (non-technical skills). The group will help motivate me to keep all of my New Year resolutions. I also know I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and I want to make 2012 the year that I learn to become more effective. (See ‘ What does CPD really mean?’)

What resolutions are you making as regards your practice this year?

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