You’re hosting a professional Networking event. What outcome do you want?

I was recently invited to attend an evening reception hosted by a top family law firm in London. When I arrived I realised that this was the first time for ages I was at an event where I didn’t know or recognise a soul.

No matter. I’ve been attending networking events for long enough to feel quite comfortable striking up conversations with strangers. I endeavoured to practice what I preach so I made a point of listening carefully, taking note of people’s names (especially those without badges) and applying the 4 suits approach to powerful conversations.

This blog post is part of my promised follow up to a conversation with the managing partner, Gavin Scott. I was particularly taken by his response when I asked him what did he hope to get out of hosting the reception/party?

I should add that the guests were quite a disparate group and went beyond the normal range of attendees at professional business networking events hosted by lawyers and accountants.

I asked for and obtained Gavin’s permission to note down his reply and to incorporate it into a blog post (with attribution). He explained that his primary motivation was to make valuable connections for his clients. He explained:

“I am keen to build relationships with other professionals who can help our clients do things that we cannot help them to do ourselves. We do our utmost for our clients but there is a wide range of areas where we cannot provide help in-house. So building good new connections makes me happy”

Clearly elements of Gavin’s reply are a consequence of his practice being a family law firm rather than a full service law firm or accountancy practice. But, at it’s core, Gavin’s reply told me he is a client focused professional and I was impressed.

The firm, of which he is Head of the London office, is the largest UK family law firm so has a high profile and a powerful brand in its niche sector. The lawyers working there can rely on that to a degree in their efforts to STAND OUT from the pack. This is but one element of the STAND OUT principles they could be using of course. Nevertheless Gavin’s attitude also makes him STAND OUT in my view.

Do you agree?

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Do you focus on just one approach to STANDING OUT?

Have you noticed how many so-called experts try to convince us that there is just ‘one secret’ to doing something well? I have become more aware of this since formulating my Framework containing the 7 fundamental principles that can enable professionals to STAND OUT from the pack.

What I have realised is that most other people seem to focus on only one or two of these 7 principles. Regular readers will recall that the 7 principles start with the first 7 letters of the alphabet, so as to make them easier to recall.

Yes you can choose to ensure you STAND OUT by wearing outlandish clothes, an extrovert nature and an over the top approach to your business branding and messaging. But there are other, less extreme, ways to achieve a more long lasting and positive impact.

In my framework ‘Appearance‘ includes how you look and present yourself face to face and also how your profile presents you online. Is your image consistent, relevant and memorable? Do you have charisma, create a positive impression and invest in yourself? There are many other factors that can apply here too including some that are otherwise addressed as personal branding.

Business messaging and branding covers a range of typical marketing focused messages and how you present your business as compared with your competitors.

Beyond these two headline issues my framework goes on to emphasise the value of 5 other fundamental principles that can enable you to STAND OUT positively from others who do what you do:

Conversational impact
How well do you listen and tailor your conversation so that the person you are with feels engaged and interested? How good are the stories you tell about the clients who have similar issues to the person you’re with or to people they know?

Dependability and trust
How much effort do you put into evidencing this so that you STAND OUT from those others who do not do this?

Experience and Expertise
How tailored and relevant is your reference to your credibility or do you simply repeat the same relatively meaningless assertions as to how ‘qualified’ you are?

Follow up
Do you do this routinely and regularly? And do you ‘follow up’ BEFORE you meet with people too?

Giving and sharing
Those of us who adopt a giving and sharing mentality tend to STAND OUT positively as compared with those who are more stand offish. No one is suggesting you give away your IP or your ‘billable advice’ but adopting a helpful, caring and sharing approach will pay dividends if you want tow in more work, be remembered, referred and recommended.

Do you focus on one of the above or on something completely different?

If you’d like to better understand those 7 principles simply ask for your copy of:

The 7 key ways to Stand Out from your peers

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Time management in a busy accountant’s office

At this week’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants our headline discussion topic was: “Time management in a busy accountant’s practice and prioritising what needs to be done by you.”

Members had identified this as a key issue they shared. It was also one of the most common concerns expressed in  a recent survey I ran of accountants who want to feel more successful.

At the start of our meeting I shared some background thoughts and questions to stimulate the discussion and ideas around the table. My questions included:

  • Why is time management an issue for you?
  • What gets in the way of you doing as you have planned? and
  • What do you put off doing and why?

Inevitably some of the responses and subsequent realisations might seem obvious – certainly with the benefit of hindsight.

For example, accountants rarely need to make time for billable client work. Indeed the opportunity to serve clients (and get paid for doing so) is typically what gets in the way of office admin, marketing and planning to work ON the practice itself.

After we considered the Four Time Management Quadrants, one member noted he could now see that he was never making time for important activities unless or until they became urgent. And planning to upgrade his website rarely reached that stage. Even though he wanted to get this done, he never felt any need to prioritise the related work and to allocate time to the project.

Another realisation was that members focus on client work as it invariably has an ‘end point’. Strategic work to build and develop the practice seems to be an ongoing activity. If you start it when will you know you’ve done enough?

Among the specific techniques we discussed to overcome these and other challenges were:

  • Breaking big tasks down and identifying what specifically needs to be done first;
  • Diverting your calls or setting up a phone answering service to take calls during fixed parts of the day when you don’t want to be disturbed;
  • Discussing issues that are dragging on during our monthly calls – two members related stories of how they had been putting off doing things they thought they wanted to do. When we talked through what they wanted and how they could move the actions forwards they were able to unblock their reluctance to take action;
  • Committing to a third party (eg: partner,  friend, service provider, coach or mentor) actions you will take so that they can hold you to account;
  • The use of meeting and call scheduling apps.

All members will receive a one page summary of the key learning points they identified at the end of the meeting, together with links to related reading topics, support services and apps.* This will include a link to a list on this blog of 15 top tips to avoid procrastination.

*The growing library of post meeting notes are also available to new members when they join The Inner Circle. Take a look and if you think it might help you, feel free to schedule a call with me here>>>

 

 

 

 

 

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Are you sufficiently comfortable with your practice?

The ICAEW recently published some research showing that almost 40% of small businesses have no desire to grow bigger. Less than a quarter it seems want to grow more than a little. This comes as no surprise to me and accords with the view I have long had that the vast majority of accountants themselves feel quite comfortable. As a result they are unwilling to invest much time or money in trying to grow their practice.

If this describes your attitude, it makes sense to me entirely.

You have built up a pretty good portfolio of clients, most of whom need your services and possibly even your advice year after year. You are making a good enough living and you feel no great need to seek out new clients. You see little need to do much in the way of active marketing or networking. You win the odd new client and this pretty much makes up for the odd client that you lose each year.

There have been numerous occasions over the years when it looked like comfortable accountants might get caught out. By this I mean that forecast external factors made it seem to many commentators that even ‘comfortable’ accountancy practices would soon suffer the loss of a significant number of clients.
It didn’t happen when self-assessment was introduced; it didn’t happen when online filing became an option for taxpayers and it didn’t happen during the recession. Yes, of course, there was some client attrition but few ‘comfortable’ accountants lost loads of clients.

The question I want to ask in this blog post though is whether you are sufficiently comfortable?

Although new technology, new online facilities and new service models continue to arrive thick and fast, I do not believe that anything is going to lead to a miss migration of clients away from their existing trusted advisers. At least not overnight. As ever you will have plenty of time to adapt as the impact of changes becomes apparent.

In my experience, most accountants do not react well to being told, yet again, that some forthcoming change is going to have a major impact on their firm. In the past all has been well as accountants have simply adapted to new developments. This has been the way the majority of firms have evolved over the last 2 or 3 decades at least.

As I said earlier there is no need, in my view, to have big ambitions for your firm. Once it has reached a size that enables you to derive a good enough living, to work the hours you want, and to only look after the clients you like, there is no need to seek out new clients all the time.  On the other hand there is also nothing wrong with ambition, with wanting to build up a better quality client base, to secure bigger and more regular fees, to focus on the work you really enjoy and to evolve your practice faster than might happen if you leave it to chance.

And there is also good reason to consider whether your practice could be more successful, whether you could make the same money with less effort, reduce your cost base or increase your profits by embracing change and opportunity. But any change is risky so you don’t want to do it alone. I understand.

This is one reason why some accountants seek my input as a mentor – as part of their investment in the future. To avoid rushing off too fast and to ensure that they get best use out of new software and systems. I hold them to account and encourage them to get the best return on their investment.

Whether you do it alone, with me or with anyone else, you can, if you wish to, become even more comfortable.

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The 7 fundamental principles that will ensure you STAND OUT from the competition

Having been talking and writing about this framework for some time, it’s about time I recorded it on my own blog. There’s also a link to a graphic of the STAND OUT framework on the top menu bar above.

The seven fundamental principles are easy to recall through a simple acrostic. Each of the principles will influence the people you meet and impact how they remember you. You may be looking to win work from them or simply to be recommended and referred by them.

These principles, which can be recalled as starting with the letters A-G, are most relevant as follows:

  • Your Appearance and Attitude – what impression did you give when people meet you face to face? And is this confirmed if they check you out online?
  • Your Business branding and messaging – was this sufficiently clear, relevant and memorable (on line and in face to face conversations)?
  • Your Conversational impact – Are you a good listener? Do you look for ways in which you can tell only relevant stories about clients, like the person you are with or who they know, and how those clients felt after you did what you do to resolve their issues?
  • Your Dependability and trust – How congruent are your online profiles and website references to the conversations you have and to your business messaging? And do you do anything to encourage people to trust you soon after they meet you?
  • Your Experience and Expertise – Are you tailoring your communications here so that what you say resonates with the people you meet – and are your claims consistent both online and face to face?
  • The extent to which you Follow up – Are you good at doing this promptly and effectively? Or do you wait for people to get back in touch with you? Or are you so pushy you put people off?
  • Your attitude to Giving and sharing – Even if you normally struggle to adopt such an approach you could still create free tips sheets and other items that others will consider to be of value. What can you do to help others without waiting to be asked? For example you can provide recommendations and testimonials without being asked.

In each case there are dozens of elements from which you might choose how you want to STAND OUT by reference to this framework. Doing so in ways that suit you will boost your credibility and the influence you have as compared with others like you who are unfamiliar with the framework.

Many professionals rely on a brash personality or strong business branding to STAND OUT. These can help but they are not right for everyone. And effective business messaging is often a struggle for advisers and speakers who have yet to find a niche; and for those who are happy having a wide range of clients across a number of business sectors.

A good understanding of the 7 fundamental principles makes it easy for anyone to STAND OUT from the pack. I have written a summary paper to help you and that I would love you to take with my compliments.

7 key ways to Stand Out from your peers



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What 6 things is everyone saying we should do?

At the ICAEW’s ‘Growing your practice’ conference yesterday, speaker after speaker shared similar ideas – allbeit from very different perspectives, with different emphasis and in different contexts.

I was first up and talked about the 7 step framework you need to follow to STAND OUT from the competition. There are a host of detailed factors behind each stage so I only focused on a handful. After me came Robert Craven, Paul Shrimpling, Matin Clapson, Paul Harrison, Cameron John and Karen Reyburn.

We all had our own take on things and offered distinct advice, insights and ideas. But during the day a number of messages seemed to be repeated by speaker after speaker. Those repeated most-often seemed to me to be as follows:

  1. “It’s good to talk” – The more conversations you have with clients, prospects and introducers, the more your practice will grow. The right type of conversations can ensure you stand out, generate more referrals, identify new work opportunities and make more profits.
  2. “Consistency is crucial” – What you say about your practice and clients needs to be congruent with what your website says, what your Linkedin profile says and what your marketing materials and activities say on and offilne.  Inconsistency damages credibility and trust which are key to generating more fees and growing the practice.
  3. “Update your Linkedin profile” – When someone looks you up online they will invariably find your Linkedin profile before they find your website. If your profile doesn’t engage them (and STAND OUT from the crowd) they may not bother moving on to look at your website – which must also engage them effectively.
  4. “Social Media activity needs to be strategic” – It’s easy to waste a lot of time and effort on twitter, facebook, and many other social media sites – even Linkedin. If you seriously want to grow your practice you need to consider where you will get ‘most bang for your buck’, monitor and measure what you do and take expert advice to avoid wasting time and effort.
  5. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” – Many surveys referenced during the day suggest that most growth will come through client referrals. Yet few practices seem to encourage or help clients to deliver the referrals that would be so valuable. There are some pretty simple ways to address this.
  6. “If you want something to change, you have to do something different” – If you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you will NOT carry on getting what you’ve always got; the world around us is changing. You need to do things differently, to take action, to change your interactions with others, your online activity, your website, your online profile, your focus on financial details and on the other key indicators that drive your business and will enable you to grow.

Clearly each speaker’s advice ranged into other areas and had a distinct focus. It would be inappropriate for me to summarise everyone’s talks here. But I thought you might be interested in that overlap across those six points.

The other thing that struck me was that only a few truly new or novel points were being made. Many, including some of my own, could be dismissed as common sense and ‘obvious’. Yet the same points were being made in different ways by multiple speakers. And listening to what delegates were saying during the breaks it was clear that few were dismissive of the repeated messages, Indeed the repetition was barely noticed.

I surmise that accountants, serious about growing their practices, value being told stuff that may be obvious, as long as it is presented in a stimulating and memorable way.  I think we all managed that.

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More doubt spread re ‘approved’ tax schemes

If this blog was a redtop newspaper the headline might have read: “Tax Barrister blows the lid off Tax Schemes scam”. I admit I was tempted!

Regular readers will know that only very occasionally do I use this blog to reference tax related topics. When I do so my observations are still focused around helping accountants in practice.

I have long been dismissive of those promoters and commentators who have sought to encourage accountants that they MUST advise clients about tax schemes. By which I mean those schemes that HMRC regard as abusive or aggressive.

My cynicism about such schemes contributed to me choosing to leave the world of tax advice in 2006. Since then my stance has been justified many times over – see links below.

Jolyon Maugham, a tax barrister at Devereux Chambers, has now ‘blown the lid off’ what some of us have long suspected.

In a well written blog post Jolyon effectively accuses a small group of tax barristers of knowingly giving positive opinions of tax schemes that are unlikely to succeed.

The opening paragraph of his blog (which has been republished in Taxation magazine) gives you a flavour of his views:

I have on my desk an Opinion – a piece of formal tax advice – from a prominent QC at the Tax Bar. In it, he expresses a view on the law that is so far removed from legal reality that I do not believe he can genuinely hold the view he says he has. At best he is incompetent. But at worst, he is criminally fraudulent: he is obtaining his fee by deception. And this is not the first such Opinion I have seen. Such pass my desk All The Time.
Later he notes:

The [promoters] will then go out and sell that idea to taxpayers. In the case of individual taxpayers, they will sell it, typically, through IFAs to whom they will pay a sales commission.That sales commission, too, can be very substantial, running in some cases into hundreds of thousands of pounds for a single client. So the IFA can be strongly incentivised to persuade their clients that the idea works and – should the taxpayer client care about such things – that it is not aggressive tax planning.
What happens next?

The taxpayer will make their tax return, HMRC will disallow the beneficial tax treatment, and the taxpayer will challenge that disallowance in the tax tribunal (causing years of uncertainty and substantial professional fees). Should that challenge fail, the taxpayer will lose whatever money he put into the idea, face an unexpected tax charge and, very often, be publicly pilloried into the bargain.
Suffice it to say that Jolyon’s expose further supports my view that accountants can safely ignore all those promoters encouraging them to introduce clients to their tax schemes. Even those apparently ‘supported by Leading Tax Counsel’. Sad to say, these opinions may be costly to obtain but also potentially worthless. As we have seen so many times in recent years, ‘abusive’ schemes are being successfully challenged all the time – despite the assertions of their well paid promoters when clients were being encouraged to ‘invest’.

If you have clients being encouraged to invest in a scheme that seems ‘iffy’ to you, Jolyon’s blog will give you added confidence to provide independent constructive advice about the risks.

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