The 7 ways you can Keep In Touch with clients and contacts

Accountants who want to stand out as caring and being interested in their clients know that they should Keep In Touch (‘KIT’).  You also need a KIT routine if you want to be able to rely on business contacts and influencers to introduce new clients to you.

If we don’t keep in touch we risk being forgotten. When I was younger I used to think that my sparkling personality, wit and conversation would be sufficient to ensure that I would be remembered. Even if I had been right, the fact is that anyone who had met me had probably also met dozens of other people. In time any positive memory of me would be replaced by more recent memories of newer acquaintances.

So what can we do to keep in touch with our clients, contacts and wider network? There are 7 basic options and each has its benefits and disadvantages:

1. Email. Easy. Reliant on sender’s name and subject line engaging the recipient. Personal?

2. Phone call. Easy if you overcome any fear you have of personal contact. Proves you are genuine and not simply sending out a mass email. Skype (or other VoiP) video calls are even better as you can see each other too.

3 . Via LinkedIn. Messages sent within the Linkedin site may standout more than those sent by email. Equally, they may be ignored if the recipient is unfamiliar with their Linkedin inbox. Status and activity updates may not be noticed and are not personal. Endorsements are simply a game and few people pay much attention to them.

4. Via social media. Easy if you are familiar with the platforms and if you know the people you want to reach are active there and likely to see your messages. Direct personal messages may get more attention than longer emails. They are also more likely to be seen than those sent as quick update emails that will be quickly superseded by more recent messages. But are your contacts and connections active here?

5. At networking events. Regular attendees can catch-up with a few fellow group members at each meeting. But follow-up 1-2-1 face to face meetings are normally necessary to build trust.

6. 1-2-1 face to face. Important for building relationships with influencers and business associates. Also invaluable for building your knowledge of a client’s issues and plans so that you can tailor your advice and services accordingly.

7. By post. Snail-mail still has it’s place as well crafted letters and cards can stand out from the mass of emails that everyone receives. Postal campaigns can be pricey though.

Which approach do you prefer – and why? 

Like this? You can now obtain a 10,000+ word book I have written 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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I have thousands of Linkedin connections – so what?

How did I get to have so many connections and does it mean anything?

The first thing to stress is that I don’t seek out or accept random connections. If anyone within my target audience sectors asks to connect with me, I agree and send a personal note back. I also send personal notes to anyone I spot whom I know or who I would like to know and add as a new connection.

When I receive connection requests from strangers who are not from the accountancy or tax world, I send a note back asking them to confirm why they want to connect with me. If they respond with a good answer I agree to connect. Otherwise I go back and ‘ignore’ the connection request.

Using this approach means I probably agree to around one-third of the connection requests I receive. And I initiate just a few requests each week.

Despite being so choosy, I now have over 5,500 1st level connections [Edited: Sept 2016] on Linkedin. And they are all therefore 2nd level connections with each other.

Because I have resisted connection requests from complete strangers, I rarely end up receiving spam messages through Linkedin. I think these are much more likely if you agree to connect with random people who may think that Linkedin is a new way to spam people.

I can count on the fingers of one hand how often I have had to go to the connections tab on Linkedin, search my connections for someone who has sent me spam and then disconnect from them. I think it has happened twice in the last 7 years.

Compared with LIONS* my 3,000 figure is nothing. But compared to most people in our profession is a very healthy number. And I’m happy that it looks set to continue rising exponentially. If you’re reading this and we’re not yet connected on Linkedin you know what to do.

*LIONS are LinkedIn Open NetworkerS – They promote the fact that they connect with anyone and everyone. This approach has never appealed to me as past experience (on another platform) revealed the dangers and risks of connecting with so many strangers who then waste my time.

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If you want to understand how accountants especially can gain maximum value from Linkedin, see my ebook on Linkedin for accountants.  You will gain loads of key profile tips to make you more attractive online; you will learn how to get more valuable vs random connections and how to enhance your lead generation efforts. Check out the ebook NOW!

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Can service guarantees help you to stand out?

One way to stand out and to be different is to offer proof of your assertions. This means going beyond simply stating that you’re the best at what you do or promising to provide a timely service. Indeed, of themselves such assertions mean nothing to a prospective client. They have no way of judging the truth of what you claim. Put yourself in their shoes. Why should they believe you?

How can you prove that you provide a wonderful service? One easy way to do this is to offer some form of service guarantee. By all means add qualifications if you need to but your headline message is that the work you do is guaranteed.

Many accountants are instinctively reluctant to do this. But most commercial accountants implicitly guarantee their work anyway. If you’re going to do this you might as well secure the advantage and tell prospective clients. Doing so will mean you stand out as compared with the run of the mill accountants who do not clearly offer service guarantees. Such guarantees evidence how confident you are that your promises and assertions are reliable. You stand behind them. You’ve gone beyond mere words.

What do I mean by an implicit service guarantee?

Well, simply, if you realised you had made a mistake you would probably rectify this at no additional cost to the client. That’s the most simple service guarantee there can be. “We aim to get everything right for you, first time, every time. And on those rare occasions we miss something we will fix it for you immediately at no charge. That’s a service guarantee you won’t get from many of the more boring accountants around.”

Some stand out firms go much further than this. For example they might offer a 30-day annual accounts turnaround from receiving clients’ books and records. This gives them a competitive advantage when talking to prospects who either value timely annual accounts or have had enough of delays from their existing accountants.

Some stand out firms offer an over-riding ‘customer care’ guarantee under which clients are promised that they need only pay what they believe their service warrants. Again, this is probably less risky than it first appears. If a client wants a fee reduction that seems unfair you wouldn’t want them to remain a client anyway. And even without such a guarantee, fee disputes are generally only ever resolved at a compromise figure that the client considers to be fair.

Finally on this topic, do think about introducing service  guarantees for new prospects; see how it goes, test and revise the wording you use. There is no law that says you need to offer the same terms to all new clients or to all of your existing clients. If you suspect that some would exploit such guarantees don’t tell them until you are confident about how you will resolve such a situation. There is a view that if you can’t trust your clients why should they trust you? Maybe it’s time to part company. Then you can honestly say: “We only work with clients we like and who like us”. That too, can help you stand out. You’re not desperate to work with just anyone.

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I'm not boring but my firm is. What should I do?

I was recently asked by an accountant whether it matters that his firm has a boring website and boring branding? The individual in question does not come across as boring themselves.

In typical accountancy fashion, I responded: ‘It depends…’.

I believe that firms that are keen to attract business from people who search online for an accountant need to have an attractive compelling website that make it both appealing and easy to get in touch. Or at least that those firms which do this will convert more visitors than those with boring looking websites.

Nb: The look and feel of the website is also relevant to accountants and firms where prospective clients look them up online. This typically happens after an existing client, business or networking associate has recommended or referred the accountant or firm to the prospect. (More tips on accountants’ websites here>>>)  

I also believe that accountants who attend networking events and give out boring looking business cards need to be particularly memorable, special and distinct in themselves. Otherwise there is less chance of the people they meet wanting to follow up with them. And networking without following up is invariably a waste of time.  The more you can tip the odds in your favour here the better. And quality business cards that stand out can only help.  (More tips on accountants’ business cards here>>>)

On the other hand…

Existing clients will be less interested in the firm’s website and branding than in the individual accountants with whom they are dealing.  Other partners in the firm may perceive any changes to the website and branding as a costly exercise that will not improve the bottom line. This may be true in the short term. And, of itself, such changes will not achieve anything. They would need to be part of a review and upgrading of the firm’s marketing activities, messages and ambitions. Should the more standout partners and members of staff push for this?  It depends… 😉

 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’m not boring but my firm is. What should I do?

I was recently asked by an accountant whether it matters that his firm has a boring website and boring branding? The individual in question does not come across as boring themselves.

In typical accountancy fashion, I responded: ‘It depends…’.

I believe that firms that are keen to attract business from people who search online for an accountant need to have an attractive compelling website that make it both appealing and easy to get in touch. Or at least that those firms which do this will convert more visitors than those with boring looking websites.

Nb: The look and feel of the website is also relevant to accountants and firms where prospective clients look them up online. This typically happens after an existing client, business or networking associate has recommended or referred the accountant or firm to the prospect. (More tips on accountants’ websites here>>>)  

I also believe that accountants who attend networking events and give out boring looking business cards need to be particularly memorable, special and distinct in themselves. Otherwise there is less chance of the people they meet wanting to follow up with them. And networking without following up is invariably a waste of time.  The more you can tip the odds in your favour here the better. And quality business cards that stand out can only help.  (More tips on accountants’ business cards here>>>)

On the other hand…

Existing clients will be less interested in the firm’s website and branding than in the individual accountants with whom they are dealing.  Other partners in the firm may perceive any changes to the website and branding as a costly exercise that will not improve the bottom line. This may be true in the short term. And, of itself, such changes will not achieve anything. They would need to be part of a review and upgrading of the firm’s marketing activities, messages and ambitions. Should the more standout partners and members of staff push for this?  It depends… 😉

 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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Social Media Policies for accountants – update

I have heard a number of stories about firms of accountants trying to limit their staff (and partners’) access to social media sites. This is generally based on fear of the unknown. The motives may also be driven by misconceptions drawn from misleading, inaccurate or simply ill-informed media reports and references to twitter, facebook and even Linkedin.

Here are some key questions to consider before you implement any such changes:

1 – Are we all agreed as to what counts as a social media site? Many people would include Linkedin which is more of as an online business networking site. And that’s certainly how I use it. Limiting partners’ access to Linkedin is to limit the firm’s potential to secure profitable new clients. Far better to invest in some training so that everyone knows HOW to use Linkedin effectively and uses similar wording to describe the  firm in their profiles.

2 – It’s probably not just social media sites you want to stop your staff accessing during working hours. There are plenty of other non-work related websites that staff may access. Some with video feeds. What about news junkies? TV soap junkies? Staff planning their nights out? Those with health issues? Sports fans? The list goes on and on. Why focus on social media sites?

3 – What about access to these sites that is achieved via staff’s personal smart-phones? over 3G, 4G or via your wifi connection? So many options. What about personal phone calls? Long ones vs short ones?

Surely what REALLY matters is whether staff are focused on working or on personal matters during working hours. What do you do about those who start early and finish late but spend 20 mins on non-work websites during the day?

If you can’t trust the staff working for you in a professional office you need to review your recruitment, appraisal and promotion policies. And do check with an employment lawyer before you start making changes to employment terms and conditions. The second part of this update will summarise the issues to consider in this regard.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more social media 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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Why are you scared to lose prospective new clients?

You probably think the title of this blog comprises an odd question. It does and it was promoted by a recent blog post with a similarly odd title written by marketing guru, Ian Brodie: “Break your scarcity mindset“.

The focus of Ian’s post is what he calls a fear of ‘client scarcity’. He says:

“It comes from a mindset of having a shortage of leads and not wanting to lose a single one. Of maximising your chances of converting every lead because they’re in short supply.

And it’s very time consuming.

You end up spending time talking (or giving “free initial consultations”) to lots of people who aren’t perfect for you because you don’t want to miss out on the one who is. It’s a process designed for a world where you have plenty of time but very few leads.”

Ian’s thinking here has echoes of advice I have provided to accountants who want to stand out and to be more successful. Indeed it should resonate more with those accountants who are not desperately seeking new clients all the time. Many accountants have ‘good enough’ client bases. They generate ‘good enough’ fees and provide a ‘good enough’ living. They only lose the odd client each year and generally win a couple of new ones to make up for this. Although these random new clients may not be ideal, at least they were no trouble to win over.

If you have greater clarity as to what makes for an ideal client you can afford to be more choosy when you get approached by prospects who may not fit. Why give these strangers the benefit of your time for free? Shouldn’t you be focusing on existing profitable clients? And encouraging new prospects who meet your preferred criteria?

Here are two things you could do – the first of which I have advocated in many previous blog posts:

1 – Ensure your website makes clear your area of expertise and specialisation (eg: your niche); and

2 – Avoid the generic ‘we’ll charge a fair fee and tell you want this will be after we’ve spoken’

Why not, instead, provide some more positive and proud indication of your fees on your website? The only firms that seem to do this at the moment are those looking to charge lower fees than their competitors for packaged services. This can work of course.

But what if you had the courage to be clear as to the minimum fee that you look to earn from new clients? What if your website supported your marketing and your networking efforts to attract a specific type of client? What if your website made clear your client contract – ie: what clients need to promise if they want you to be their accountant?

Such an approach would, as Ian Brodie says:

“Scare off anyone who wasn’t perfect for you (and in the process attract people who were perfect)”.

Also:

“You wouldn’t have to sell. Not in the sense of persuading people you’re the right person to work with. You’d mutually decide whether you were a good fit.
You wouldn’t need to “establish value”. That would be done long before the person ever spoke to you. They’d establish it for themselves.

And if you lost a few leads along the way that you could have converted with a lot of effort – so what? Plenty more fish in the sea.”

I would add that those prospective new clients that you lose by adopting such an approach would not have been ideal for you anyway. What do you think?

Postscript: My friend Marcus Cauchi is not an accountant but if you want an example of how to qualify prospects ‘out’ I recommend you take a look at his promo for an executive briefing for sales people

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