Make that the last January of hell

I recall an accountant who once admitted to me: “January was hell – and it was my own fault.” I was astonished by this admission and I was surprised by his honesty and self awareness.

Most accountants blame their clients for ignoring requests to produce their papers in good time to avoid a last minute rush before the 31 January filing deadline for personal tax returns. My friend acknowledged that with him it’s as much a question of priorities. Even if clients do supply their papers in good time he focuses his attention on meeting earlier deadline such as 31 December for 31 March company accounts and, before that, 30 September for 31 December company accounts.  I’ll bet his personal tax return clients wouldn’t want to hear this.

He told me that he incentivises clients to provide all their papers before the end of October each year. He doesn’t always have time to check that the papers are complete and sometimes has to ask for missing details when completing their returns in December and January.

I suspect that my friend is not alone. What do you think and what lessons can we draw from this situation?

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Ten ways to make clients listen to your advice

It can be frustrating when you give clients advice which they then either ignore or misunderstand.  You want to get them to trust your advice and you want to be able to influence them to follow your advice.

Here are ten ways to increase the likelihood that clients will listen to you:

  1. Ask more and better questions before you give your advice. If you don’t do this your advice will seem generic and not worth following. When I was young I had a tendency to recognise a pattern of facts and to leap to premature conclusions. It didn’t engender confidence if I shared my conclusions too soon, Practice asking good open questions and, where appropriate, good closed questions too. This way, you can ensure that your advice, when you give it, takes account of all key information.
  2. Evidence your experience by supporting your advice with reference to similar previous situations, relevant case law, legislation or rules.
  3. Ensure the way you phrase your advice is focused on your client. It should never be about you showing off how much you know. 
  4. The more your client feels that you have been listening to them the more inclined they will be to follow your advice. Nodding your head as you listen is one way to do this. Making notes of (at least) key words they use is another.
  5. Hear your client out and get all of the facts on the table before you draw conclusions and give your advice – based on your past experience.
  6. Try to paraphrase and reflect back to your client the information they have provided to you and on which you are basing your advice. You can do this face to face or in writing.
  7. Ensure you come across as confident in your advice. Avoid going too far and appearing to be arrogant though. It’s not an attractive quality in an accountant. If you have insufficient experience to advise in a specific situation, have the confidence to admit this to the client. Recommend that you or they take a second opinion from someone with more specialist experience. Your client will respect you for this and will have more confidence in your advice when you do give it. They will get to know that you don’t attempt to fake it. That, in itself, instills confidence.
  8. Be aware of first impressions.  If you have previously tried to persuade your client to do something but were ignored or if it became obvious you were making it up, then it will take time for your client to see you differently. You may have sowed the seed for them to routinely question or challenge your advice.
  9. Give your client space and time to think through your advice. If your advice is unwelcome then allow your client time to think it over. Do not attempt to pressure them into agreeing with you immediately.
  10. Remember clients generally want advice, not just answers. Accountants are renowned for being indecisive. There is even a joke about the client who went in search of a one-armed accountant. He wanted someone who wouldn’t start their advice with: “On the one hand…”I remember being trained years ago what to do if I felt compelled to tell clients that there were two or more options for them to consider. We need to remember that clients prefer paying to get advice, than for simply getting a list of options. We have to be prepared to reach a conclusion and offer our advice, for example with a phrase such as, “If it was me…”

A longer version of this blog post originally appeared in my weekly column on AccountingWeb.co.uk

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How has Social Media changed things – really?

Social Media presents us with new opportunities but what makes it so compelling?

I first started to explore social media when I left public practice in 2006. I remain an enthusiastic, if now more informed and selective, user.

When I am asked I do recommend that accountants should explore the possible uses of Social Media. And that they should consider each platform separately – from two perspectives:

1 – Where are your clients active online; and

2 – Where might you be able to ‘listen’ to and to communicate with prospective clients and advocates etc.

I understand the reluctance I frequently encounter from accountants who feel they have neither the time nor the interest to ‘play’ on Facebook, twitter or LinkedIn. The largely unspoken rationale is quite simple. Why all the pressure to engage on social media? I doubt that many of my clients, prospects and influencers are active there. But even if they are, so what?

In the past we never thought it necessary to join clients’ tennis clubs, football supporters’ clubs, local pubs or any other groups where the same people socialised in real life.

It is this attitude that has long informed my view that you do NOT NEED to get involved in social media. You have never NEEDED to socialise with clients etc. But have you ever noticed that many of the more successful accountants do like to socialise?

Social Media makes it easier for them and thus increases the pressure on you to do the same. Social Media makes it easier for more of your competitors to compete with you for the attention of YOUR clients, prospects and referrers.

Social Media also makes it easier for you to engage with these same people even if you would never have felt comfortable joining their clubs or going drinking with them.

So perhaps what has changed is the ease with which we can build and maintain relationships online now rather than only face to face as was the case before social media.

What do you think? Has anything really changed?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice focused specifically on what accountants need to understand. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Announcing: The Inner Circle for Accountants

I rarely use this blog to advertise my business activities. But this is a special occasion.

The Inner Circle helps accountants build a more successful practice.
Priorities –> Progress –> Profits

Over the last few years I have spent much time participating in and facilitating groups of tax experts and of entrepreneurs. In fact, when I checked back I realised I started running such groups back in 2001!

More recently I have had plenty of requests from accountants who have wanted to work with me. To date the only option was mentoring which some consider to be quite pricey.

Away from 1-2-1 mentoring I really enjoy the stimulation and idea generation that comes from running a group of people who are keen to resolve similar issues. And it was this idea that led to the creation of The Inner Circle for Accountants.

It’s exclusive (no more than 20 accountants in the group), it includes regular 1-2-1 calls with me and it’s London based initially – though I hope to be able to replicate the concept around the country later in the year.

Before launching The Inner Circle I sought feedback and expressions of interest through my weekly newsletter. This enabled me to ensure that it will satisfy a need and provide forward thinking accountants with a fantastic new resource and facility. One that has been proven to work in all sorts of other business contexts. So far as I am aware, no one has previously attempted this with a group of accountants.  I am committed to the success of The Inner Circle so I invite you to check it out and let me have your feedback and expressions of interest.

You want to develop your practice? You have challenges to overcome? You want more of the right clients? Whatever your issues or dreams The Inner Circle can help.

The following links should tell you all you need to know:

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