How naturally good are you at what you do?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills evidenced by successful accountants and partners can be developed merely by working alongside experienced colleagues or learning ‘on the job’ , through experience.

Another common view is that some people are naturally ‘good’ at things as though their experiences, background and training were irrelevant. Thus no more formal training is necessary. Older partners and long established sole practitioners didn’t have such training. Anyone who needs training or support in ‘soft’ skills is not worthy of progression – of running a successful practice or becoming a full equity partner.  Is this true actually?

Many people believe that these skills develop over time and that no support or assistance is required.They repeat the old mantra ‘Practice makes perfect’. Yet this is very misleading. ‘Practice’ alone doesn’t make ‘perfect’.‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. And this is not always a good thing.

If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving more and more, you won’t automatically become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits. Equally we have probably all experienced at least one senior professional who is an unpleasant selfish bully. They practiced their approach and ‘perfected’ it. But no one would suggest that such an approach is ideal. And I have certainly met many sole practitioner accountants who haven’t achieved the success they deserve. Typically this seems to be because they have adopted the ‘practice makes perfect’ philosophy. 

If you’re not naturally brilliant at something you need to be able to do well, do you give up or take more lessons?

Are you as successful as you deserve to be? Could anything be better in your practice? Will things change by themselves or do YOU need to do something different to bring about that change? And can you do it all by yourself? If so, why haven’t you done it already? Not enough time? Or is it not a sufficient priority? Or maybe you would benefit from some outside stimulus to support your endeavours. 

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What I like about Linkedin endorsements

It’s hard to find anyone with a good word to say about Linkedin endorsements. I have been very critical of them myself. In this post I will summarise what the fuss is all about, share some related tips and then end by explaining what I like about the facility.

What is all the fuss about?

When anyone with whom you are connected looks at your profile they will be encouraged to endorse your skills in certain areas. You will also be encouraged to do this when you visit someone else’s profile. This only happens with level-one connections, so random strangers cannot endorse you nor vice-versa, (unless you have connected with a lot of random strangers).

The problem with endorsements is that it’s too easy to click and post them. It’s become a game and there is no facility to add any context or meaning – so endorsements have very little credibility. They are very different to ‘recommendations’ although many users confuse the two facilities.

Skills you don’t have

There seem to be two types of skills for which you can be endorsed. The first are those that you have chosen to add to your profile. The second are related skills that Linkedin thinks you might have based on the skills you have identified.

Don’t judge others

It’s important to remember that loads of people on Linkedin do not understand the facility. They see a question asking whether you “…have these skills or expertise?” and  simply think that they are being helpful if they ‘agree’ that you do.  They are unaware that some of the skills on the list were generated by Linkedin.

In my case for example, I used to have hundreds of endorsements for ‘tax’ (as when i was in practice I was a tax adviser). This resulted in Linkedin prompting people to endorse me for related skills such as income tax, CGT, VAT, IHT etc. I have been downplaying my tax expertise for some time – not least because i stopped being a tax adviser in 2006. So I don’t have skills in those areas any more – if I ever did. I haven’t asked anyone to endorse me for them. I doubt anyone thinks to do so unprompted by Linkedin. But still it was happening.  This only stopped when i removed the suggestion I was skilled in ‘tax’ from my profile.

Tips

  1. Avoid accepting rogue endorsements for skills you do not possess.
  2. If your profile currently contains rogue endorsements, use the ‘edit profile’ facility to remove them. Leave only those real skills that you actually have so as to avoid confusing anyone who looks at your profile.
  3. I wouldn’t place any great store by a few endorsements on a Linkedin profile and I don’t think many other users would do so either. It’s a little different when you have many hundreds of them (as I do) but even I seem unable to ensure that my top endorsed skills are those I really want to highlight. Such as ‘public speaking’ for example.
  4. If you want to be endorsed for things you are good at do ensure you have listed them as skills on your profile. Linkedin will prompt you to expand on some of these so ‘tax’, for example, generates a sub-list of different taxes.
  5. Pick only those skills for which you have real expertise. The skills you show on your profile will help it to show up when users search for those qualities – although I tend to doubt how often anyone does that in isolation.
  6. When Linkedin prompts you to endorse someone, think carefully and choose only to do so by reference to those skills you genuinely believe they possess.
  7. If you want to help an old friend, colleague or service provider:
    • scroll down their profile and click to endorse the sills and expertise that they have listed themselves and that you recognise as relevant and useful. Better yet –
    • take a moment to add a genuine recommendation to their profile by following the link from the ‘send a message’ box on their profile.

So what DO I like about Linkedin endorsements?

Despite the widespread dislike and criticism they seem to be here to stay. So it’s a question of looking for the upsides. Here are mine:

  • They provide an opportunity and a reason to get back in touch with people who endorse you – whether for skills you do have or for those you don’t!
  • You may find that you are more skilled that you had realised. If lots of people endorse you for the same skill that is not on your profile, perhaps it should be. Perhaps. I have seen this suggested elsewhere by people who seem unaware that such skills may simply have been generated by Linkedin such that no one really thinks you have the skill in question. But it’s worth thinking about, just in case.
  • They provide a reason to review your profile to ensure that it highlights your real skills and expertise – thus making it more informative for those people who don’t yet know you well.

Last resort
If, despite everything I have said you would rather just remove all reference to endorsements from your profile, you can hide them from view. Use the ‘edit profile’ facility and scroll down to ‘Skills & Expertise’. Click on the pencil icon and then click on ‘Display your endorsements’ and select ‘No, don’t show my endorsements’.

Have I missed anything? What do YOU think about the endorsements facility on Linkedin?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to use Linkedin – either actively or passively. Click here for full details>>>

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How confident can you afford to be?

Not all accountants are full of confidence. And some of those who come across as confident are not – or should not be.

There’s an understandable desire to come across as confident in our profession. After all, who would want an accountant who seems unable to give confident replies to questions and requests for information?

In my experience accountants exhibit one of 3 different types of confidence:

1  Justifiably confident – Where they have the requisite experience and the knowledge. And they know what they don’t know and have the confidence to recognise this. I don’t know if it was ever reasonable to expect an accountant to know everything. These days it is more important than ever to manage client expectations. You may have some specialist knowledge and expertise but just like a GP, you sometimes need your clients to speak with a consultant or specialist – or you can do it on their behalf.

2  Overly-confident – Where they have an ability to cover up their lack of knowledge and in so doing take the risk that their client will find out after things go wrong (which they will)

3 Self delusionally confident – Where they exhibit confidence that is not warranted but are not consciously aware of their lack of knowledge.

And, of course there are also those accountants who lack self-confidence – Where they do not inspire confidence in their abilities and advice. Sometimes this attitude and approach can contribute to the perception that an accountant is boring.  An accountant’s lack of confidence is often most apparent, ironically, when they are perceived to be reluctant or hesitant to discuss fees.

When clients need or ask for advice that is outside your comfort zone (eg: on customs related issues) do you bluff it? Might you be overly confident? Or worse, self-delusionally confident? Both carry the risk of you providing negligent advice to clients.

One tip here; it won’t always work but it can help reduce the number of occasions when you take such risks: Imagine that the client whom you are advising is your mum, dad, brother, sister or close friend. Someone you really care about. Would you be prepared for them to act on the basis of your ‘confident’ views? If not, perhaps you should get a second opinion before giving definitive advice. And if you want a second opinion on tax matters, you’ll find a convenient vetted expert source through the TaxAdviceNetwork.co.uk

 

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Perception is reality – Do you work for your clients or for HMRC?

I have heard it suggested many times that some clients think that their accountants are not working in their best interests. The clients perceive that their accountants are working on behalf of the Revenue.

I suspect that this is more an issue of those accountants giving the wrong impression to their clients. But, as I have long maintained, ‘perception is reality’.

Yet again this comes down to a question of how well the accountant communicates with their client. Sadly not all accountants are good communicators. The same is true of course of many other professionals.

Let’s consider three key facts:

  1. The local office structure within HMRC has all but disappeared.
    Whereas years ago local accountants might be on first name terms with local Inspectors of Taxes, this is rarely possible today. It also means that accountants need not be concerned that if they fight hard for one client that the local Inspector will get his/her own back. It is rarely going to be possible for one Revenue officer or Inspector to make life difficult for the accountant’s other clients. Whether this used to happen or not, it’s no longer feasible. If an accountant needs to speak to an Inspector about a client’s tax affairs he/she will generally only be able to speak to a call centre where an operator will call up the client’s information on a computer screen.
  2. Accountants have to focus on their clients
    A recurring theme within my blogs is the need for accountants to focus on their clients’ needs otherwise they will vote with their feet. Anyone who really thinks their accountant is more interested in what HMRC thinks than in fighting unfair attacks etc will look to find a ‘better’ accountant. That is one who they perceive is more focused on giving good client service. The switch often takes longer to arrange than would be ideal, but it does happen.
  3. The customer is always right
    Except when he/she wants to break the law. Professional accountants know the difference between what’s acceptable and legal and what’s unacceptable or illegal. A good accountant will ensure that clients appreciate the distinction and the consequences of choosing to do anything illegal.

I am reminded of a key point I used to stress with junior staff when I was in practice. Typically this would happen when the staff member was writing to the client after reviewing the client’s records or profit and loss account analyses.

When the staff wanted to write something like “I have disallowed [the £260 you spent at the XXX Restaurant]” I would encourage them to change the wording. “It is not for us, as the accountants, to disallow anything,” I would say. “The Revenue ‘disallows’ claims. We don’t and we mustn’t give clients the wrong impression. The precise words we use can have a big impact.” The offending line would then be amended to read something like “Sadly the Revenue will not allow you to claim tax relief for [the £260 you spent at the XXX Restaurant] so I have made the necessary adjustment.” Ideally we would also then identify another item, the tax treatment of which was not black and white, and seek the client’s confirmation that tax relief should be claimed, thus reducing their tax bill by £X.

Summary

If a client wants tips from their accountant on how to ‘cheat’ the taxman illegally, they will be disappointed.

If, having resisted any involvement in illegal activity, an accountant leaves their client thinking that they are working for the taxman, their communication skills are letting them down.

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What to say when you call a client to Keep In Touch

This post follows on a previous post in which I set out the 7 different ways in which you can Keep In Touch with clients and influencers.

There are a number of reasons why we avoid picking up the phone when we know we could. Reasons such as:

– Who shall I call first?
– It’s a while since we last spoke, will he/she remember me?
– They might be too busy to speak to me now.
– They might not want to speak to me at all.
– I can’t think of a good solid reason to call, beyond ‘How are you?’

If you really are an ambitious accountant then whenever you have a genuine business related “reason to call”, I’ll bet that a lot of these concerns simply evaporate.

One very good discipline is to set yourself a target of say ten KIT (Keep In Touch) calls a week – that’s just 2 a day . Then count down how many you have left to make. That way the total/target keeps getting smaller and this can help your motivation

If you can’t think of any genuine reasons yourself let me provide you with some and hope that a least one or two will work for you:

– “I’m just calling to touch base and see how you’re doing as it’s been a while since we last spoke. How’s business?”
– “I’ve just seen something on the web that I thought you might find of interest”
– “I’ve just read something in [magazine/newspaper] that reminded me of you ”
– “May I ask for your advice about something ….”
– “We’re thinking of arranging a reception/party for [selected/ all] contacts and I thought you might have some useful tips”
– “I’m looking for ….. who do you know who …..?”
– “It’s a while since we’ve spoken and I didn’t just want to email you out of the blue.”
– “Have you seen the article about xyz published in ABC? Would you like a copy?”
– “I would like to test out something with you … have you got a few minutes?”
– “Please can I bounce a few ideas off you with a view to exploring who else I should be talking to?”
– “I found our last conversation really valuable; I wanted to thank you again and to let you know what happened ….”
– “I’m calling for no particular reason at all. You just came into my mind and I thought we should catch up …” (works better than you might think – especially as it’s genuine.)

All of the above are just “openers”. You can then continue with:

– “How have things developed with …..?

– “I’m putting together our budgets for rest of the year. Rather than rely on guess work I thought I’d be upfront and ask what the liklihood was that you’ll be needing us?”

– “While we’re talking, what are going to be the key issues / projects for you this year?” etc.

It’s probably best to avoid specifically asking for work but you can end the conversation with something like: “Well, it’s been good talking with you again.  Let’s keep in touch, and if there’s anything you ever think I might be able to help you with, don’t hesitate to give me a call.”   You must ensure that you don’t sound desperate – even if you are!

The purpose of your call is to keep in touch and  to serve your clients, ex-clients and contacts better.  You’ll be surprised how many ex-clients will give you some more work – and so will your clients and contacts.

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