Debunked: It’s called social MEDIA not social MARKETING for a reason

If only everyone who seeks to educate accountants about social media would start with this observation. “It’s called social MEDIA and not social MARKETING for a reason”.

These days more speakers do make this point eventually, but only after accountants have first been reminded of the hype about the rising popularity of social media generally and of specific platforms generally.

Many social media speakers seem not to understand that few accountants are interested in using social media other than for marketing purposes. Many accountants have heard misleading stories about how some of their peers have won clients ‘through social media’ and they want to replicate this. The circumstances in which the clients were won are rarely examined, nor the real value of those clients (typically home based start ups) or how much time was spent on social media before winning them. Invariably more valuable business could have been generated through conventional means or by judicious use of Linkedin – which is quite distinct from the more common social media platforms.

Please note that I say all this as someone who has been active across various social media platforms since 2006 – which predates the launch of most of the current platforms. And I am routinely highly ranked as an online influencer of the accountancy profession. I have been watching, listening and talking to accountants who have been using social media for many years. Those who get it and understand it, enjoy it. Those who have misconceptions about what they need to do to get value from it, are frustrated and often give up.

When I attend accountancy conferences I am always torn if there is a speaker talking about social media. The reason I am torn is because of two conflicting emotions:

  1. If I don’t go I may miss out on some great new insights and tips. And yet
  2. If I do go I will inevitably get frustrated by the generalities being spoken about as I know these will mislead the audience.

So I go, but rarely hear anything new. Typically the speaker will be confirming the hype (often because they want to be engaged to provide social media related marketing services for more accountants). They share examples, tips and advice that work in their world of marketing and social media advisers. Sometimes they expand their talk to address content marketing and video marketing as the value of these activities can be amplified by effective use of social media (once you have established a following). Their advice may also work for some small proportion of accountants who satisfy certain unusual criteria. Most of their advice though, if followed, will simply absorb time and effort for little return as regards the majority of the audience.

Many of the accountants pointing to the success of their social media activity are themselves relatively new into practice and can relate well to start-up businesses.  I am also sure that accountants who offer tax or advisory services to consumers will have more success faster on social media than those who who want to be engaged by established businesses.

As a judge for many accountancy awards over the  years I have also seen many firms referencing their use of social media to justify their entry. In reality though this is typically wishful thinking. There is rarely an correlation between their (limited) social media activity and the success of the practice.

The starting point, if you are considering getting involved with social media, is to be clear about your objectives. And over what time scale will you judge your success or otherwise in achieving those objectives?  (One of the better agencies offering help here honestly says it can take 18-24m to get valuable payback on such activity). Oh, and is the investment of time and money, if you employ or engage someone else to do it for you, worth while? Remember you should also compare this investment with the alternative uses of your time and money.

Crucially you need to be sure that the people (as distinct from the business names) you want to target are active and engaged on the social media platforms you choose. And that you understand that you will need to search them out and engage with them. If all you do is post promotional or generic messages no one will be interested so you’ll get no value from this.

To make social media work for you you have to be ‘social’ rather than anti-social. It’s not a broadcast medium. If all you plan to do is active marketing then don’t waste your time. And don’t think you can successfully outsource your social media activity. That’s as likely to be successful for an accountant as employing someone to attend networking events on your behalf.

There are SOME good arguments for some accountants to get engaged in social media. But it’s not for everyone. The main misconception is that it’s a low cost way to market and promote your practice. Plenty of accountants make this mistake and try to use social media to broadcast their marketing messages. Those that try this typically give up – disillusioned with the medium, when it’s actually their approach that was at fault.

IMPORTANT PS: In my view, Linkedin is an online business networking platform. Some people use it for social networking and some people reference it as being a social media platform. I think it’s unhelpful to categorise it in this way. This distinction also means that surveys of social media use by accountants often give misleading results, as some include Linkedin and some do not.  Linkedin is the only online platform I recommend to accountants – but again, only when their target audiences are likely to be found here.

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Don’t let FOMO delay you moving your practice into the cloud

Whenever I talk with accountants about cloud accounting I suspect that many suffer from FOMO. Sometimes their FOMO has worked in their favour and prompted them to take action. More often their FOMO is holding them back from making a decision. And the constant deferral of that decision is slowing down the development of their practice.

FOMO

FOMO is more commonly used to describe the anxiousness we feel that others might be having more rewarding experiences than us – often by attending an event to which we have not been invited. This causes a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO).

Some of the sole practitioner accountants who want to work with me do so because their FOMO is related to the fact that other accountants appear to be more successful than them. Rather than simply continuing to work alone, a FOMO has prompted these accountants to seek my help and encouragement. That’s great, but it’s not the FOMO to which this blog post refers.

The concept of ‘cloud accounting’ software has been around for almost ten years. Throughout this time there have been commentators telling accountants that they must ’embrace the cloud’.

Some of the accountants who have done so will now only take on new clients who are either already using a specific cloud accounting solution, or who are prepared to move onto it. Others are happy to work with clients whichever cloud or manual accounting system they use.

Many other accountants have held back from exploring the options or from making a decision.  In part this is often due to FOMO. Or perhaps, more accurately a FOMAWC (Fear Of Making A Wrong Choice).

Is it worth it?

What seems to be happening is that many accountants are often NOT (yet) fully aware of how much potential cloud accounting has to revolutionise bookkeeping and accounting services. Nor are they aware of quite how much of an impact this will have on their practice in the next few years.

So there appears to be no urgency to move into the cloud. Any anyway before making any such commitment they feel they need to investigate at least 3 (or more) different solutions. This takes time and involves comparing features and benefits that don’t always turn out to be as relevant as you originally anticipated would be the case.
Is it necessary?
I do now think that the time has come.  For almost ten years I said there was no rush.  But MTD is now fast approaching.  Once it is upon us I believe that you will struggle to service your clients cost effectively if you are not using a cloud accounting system. I have heard stories of accountants who will take years to move all their clients into the cloud if they continue only doing so at the same rate as they have done in the last year or two. That will be too late for MTD.
As I have mentioned before, even I now accept that we are reaching a tipping point. This is indeed a direct consequence of my having attended the QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose in November 2017 and other more recent exhibitions and conferences. There is so much more going on here than simply doing basic bookkeeping ‘in the cloud’.  Some people reference the eco system that ties into cloud accounting software. This generally refers to the wide range of related software applications that have direct links and which can populate and or draw information directly from the cloud bookkeeping system.

These apps provide many opportunities to enhance client service, to steal an edge on one’s competitors and to build a more successful and sustainable practice, faster than might otherwise be the case.  Accountants will start to lose out if they are unable to advise clients as to which apps work with their bookkeeping system and which are well suited to the client in question.

What is also clear to me is that accountants now need to adopt a cloud accounting solution for their own practice.  It is only after doing this that they really ‘get’ cloud accounting and can genuinely enthuse about the benefits to clients.

What’s the problem?

But here is the real issue. This is where the FOMO comes into play as there are so many options. There is a choice to be made. The decision will therefore take time.  Time we don’t have. We’re already busy and stretched. Yet we would want to make time to research the options, to compare them, to talk with other accountants and to decide whether to only work with one supplier or to work with more than one. And, which one to use for the accounting practice itself.

Perhaps we are also aware of the concept of conducing a ‘feasibility analysis’. Wow. That will be time consuming too. When your practice is running ok, it’s hard to even think about making time to conduct such an exercise in preparation for investing in some new technology.

Past experiences

Many older accountants remember getting their fingers burned when they first chose a desktop accounts preparation system, a tax return system or any of the other tech in which they have invested over the last 10-20 years.  Often the tech was oversold but many accountants didn’t feel it was so bad that they needed to look into switching to something new.

Accountants often feel trapped. They don’t like the system they have been using but they doubt that any of the alternatives would be sufficiently better. They also doubt whether the hassle of switching from one to another is really going to be worthwhile.

Plus, those past experiences also impact the decision making process. When choosing a new system or tech solution, we want to identify which features and benefits really matter to us and our clients. This isn’t always obvious until too late.

Necessary features and benefits

This reluctance to move forwards is understandable. But it can also cause stagnation. And anyway, you might not understand the real benefits to you and your practice of some of the features of the different options. This is a frequent issue in all works of life from choosing a new car, to a new kitchen and even a new laptop.

Some suppliers are wise to this and seek to get you on board with low cost initial offers – so you can effectively ‘try before you buy’.

What’s best?

Sorry, but I’m not in a position to recommend one supplier over another.

Online forums frequently reflect questions from sole practitioner accountants asking “Which is the best cloud bookkeeping system for a small practice like mine?” No doubt this is in the hope that a consensus has emerged as to the key options. However most respondents don’t have the experience to give a fully researched reply; they simply recommend the solution they have chosen – or the one they switched to after first trying something else.

This crowd sourcing of a short-list of options can be useful though, even if it rarely provides a definitive answer. What’s best for one accountant and their client base won’t always be best for others.

There is also the risk of making your choice only because it allows you to continue doing things the way you have always done them. This seems good initially as it minimises disruption. However it can also be very limiting and prevent you from taking advantage of new techniques that could help evolve your client service and to develop related advisory services.

Accountants I talk with who have yet to move their practice into the cloud feel that they can’t afford to pick one solution at random and then find later that it isn’t the BEST. So they put off exploring the options and making a decision. They have a FOMO and may end up with a less than optimal solution in due course when they rush to make a decision. And then they will be stuck with it – as they won’t want to spend time switching later.

I recommend that you book a series of one hour ‘Cloud bookkeeping research meetings’ (with yourself) in your diary over the next few weeks and set a deadline to move your practice into the cloud before the summer. I honestly don’t think you can afford to leave this any longer.

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Debunked: Twitter names and handles for accountants

You may have seen or heard me comment that accountants who tweet using their firm’s name are missing a trick. In this blog post you’ll find out why.

Twitter is a social media platform that is suited to building personal engagement. It is less effective when used as a broadcast media and this is typically what we expect of and experience with corporate twitter accounts.

I have long been convinced that most accountants who only tweet in the firm’s name are largely wasting their time. It will invariably take far longer to get value from twitter if you fail to tweet as a real person.  Indeed, most smaller firms who start to use twitter stop soon afterwards as they find it’s ‘not working’ for them. They struggle to attract followers, to secure any engagement and thus to get any benefit from their time and activity on twitter.

It is clear to me that it is generally easier to get value from twitter if your face and name appear as your twitter username even if your twitter handle is your firm’s name. This is still not as good though as incorporating your name into your twitter handle.

Before looking at some examples, let me add a word about the length. Within reason the shorter the better. Twitter limits your twitter handle to just 15 characters. Choose them carefully. You will of course also be constrained by the length of your first and last names, the length of your firm’s name, whether the latter is ever referred to only by its initials and also by your role in the firm.

Generic tips:

  • You will seem more professional if you have an intelligible handle, rather than what may seem to be random letters or a name followed by random numbers or your year of birth.
  • Use upper and lower case to make it easier to read. The mix has no impact on twitter. Thus you’ll get my twitter account whether you type: BookMarkLee, bookmarklee or any variation thereon
  • Underscores are best avoided whenever possible as they can cause issues for anyone who accesses twitter on an iphone – and possibly via other devices too. NB: Twitter does not allow hyphens or other punctuation in twitter handles.
  • Choose a handle as close to your name as possible as this is your online brand. Every time you tweet, you promote brand awareness for your name and reinforce the connection between your name and profile photo. This makes it so much easier to connect in real life. I am frequently approached at events by people who have recognised me from my twitter profile photo.

Effective approaches to choosing a twitter handle:

  • Your name or a professionally appropriate variation thereon eg: @JohnPeterSmith
  • A combination of your name and your firm’s name or initials eg: @BDO_JohnSmith
  • A combination of your name and your profession eg: @JohnS_Accounts or @JohnTaxSmith
  • A combination of your name and location eg: @JohnSmithBelfast

Less effective approaches:

  • A combination of your initials and your firm’s name  eg: @JS4BakerTilly
  • A combination of your firm’s name and your initials eg: @BakerTilly_JS
  • A combination of letters that only makes sense once someone has worked it out eg: @jsaccsol (John Smith Accounting Solutions)
  • A self -proclaimed title eg @TheTaxGuruGuy or @GreatBookkeeping

If you want to see how thousands of other accountants do this here is my twitter list of all the UK accountants I have so far found on twitter. I have a separate list for those who tweet in their firm’s name. Many accountants are quite inventive with the descriptions of their firms that they use on twitter. Sadly though hardly anyone sees these descriptions.  This is because typically the accounting firms’ tweets are less interesting and secure less engagement than those of accountants who tweet as themselves.  If your tweets don’t prompt interest then no one will look at your profile or click through to your website.

By the way, if you want to be added to either of my twitter lists, simply follow and/or message me on twitter and I’ll do the rest.

NB: The good news is that Twitter allows you to change an existing handle without this impacting your follower numbers. You simply go to the ‘edit profile’ page on your twitter account, click the link for ‘account’, enter your new username/handle and click ‘save’.

Do share your views and let me know whether you agree or disagree with my advice on this topic. And please share any clever or different styles of twitter handles that could work for accountants too.

 

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