What are you doing about your clients’ uncertainty about the future?

When I talk with accountants, which I do a lot, I often sense an unspoken concern about increased ‘uncertainty’ in their world.

It is clear to me that many business clients are uncertain, many private clients are uncertain and also many accountants themselves are uncertain.

Business clients

They are uncertain about future sales and expansion, funding options, the impact of Brexit and long term investment plans.

Private clients

They are uncertain about investment returns, future income sources, planning for retirement and funding long-term care costs.

Accountants

They are uncertain about all of the above! And the impact these uncertainties will have on their client base. Accountants are also uncertain about the impact of MTD, the continued increase in software solutions (not just cloud accounting options), the real value of their social media efforts, the ROI of marketing costs, the best processes to put in place to save time and the future of their practices.

What does this mean?

During periods of uncertainty most people seek greater stability and security. (NB: That’s not intended as a political observation!)

Typically their fear of failure increases and their appetite for risk reduces. This is human nature but you may be different. You may prefer to ‘zig’ when everyone else ‘zags’. Maybe this is your way (and your time) to STAND OUT from your competitors and peers. If that’s how you feel, well done. Just ensure that your chosen approach means you STAND OUT in a positive light among your target audience.

So what?

Regardless of your attitude to risk, the question I suggest you ask yourself is: What additional support and advice do my clients and prospects require during these uncertain times?

Can you tap into their current needs, struggles and challenges?

I have long encouraged the accountants with whom I work to find new ways they can offer to help their clients. Offering help (from a position of experience and expertise) is very different to trying to sell additional services. And yet, it still typically still leads to additional business.

The starting point here is to increase your visibility with those people (clients and prospects) who are most likely to want your help. To ensure that they know you are there and able to help them. Will they all respond positively? Some will; some won’t; so what? You will have reminded them that you are there and that they can approach you to help them with their current challenges.

It’s not hard. You could pick up the phone, as I often do; you could send an email or you could evidence your interest by asking relevant questions when you next meet clients.

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How was January for you this year?

This is a question I always ask accountants when I talk with them in February. “How was January for you this year?”

The answers are always pretty similar. They range from “Not as bad as previously” through to the absolute defeatist “Same as always. I just accept that’s the way it is.”  This tends to be a more common response from older accountants who have lived with the 31 January deadline for 20 years now, since the first one in 1998.

I recall one accountant who admitted to me: “January was hell – and it was my own fault.”

I was astonished by this admission as it evidenced both 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 deadlines 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. However 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.  So he was right. The pressure he was under in January was his own fault. He wasn’t planning and prioritising his work effectively.

A friend of mine has an accountant like this. She says this is the third year that he has taken months to produce her tax return and she’s not giving him any more chances. I’m amazed that she’s stayed with him this long – especially as, without the tax return he wasn’t able to give her advance warning of her forthcoming tax bills. To my mind this is a key part of the annual compliance service.

The other response I frequently hear is that “We’ve tried everything and nothing works. Clients just don’t respond to anything other than the filing deadline”. Again, this seems somewhat defeatist to me.  It would be true if no accountants were able to ‘train’ their clients to avoid last minute deadlines. But plenty of accountants do just that. And their client bases are typically very typical 😉

If you have an established practice and your client base hasn’t changed much for a while, then clearly it is going to be more difficult to motivate your clients to start doing things differently. But it is not impossible. And you need to be committed to following through too.

Recently an accountant told me that he had tried charging a £100 penalty when clients sent him their records received after 1 December. He said it had only a limited impact. I wonder though when he first communicated this to clients, whether he reminded them with as much effort in November as he does in January and when he required payment of the additional £100?  All of these could have an impact. As could the way in which the penalty fee was communicated.

One key tip here is to to keep everything focused on the value to your client. Thus it’s more important to encourage them to do things differently because of the impact on them – rather than because it will make your life easier!

My favourite response to the question though is: “Never again” when it comes from accountants who are prepared to put in the necessary time and effort to change things. They may do this alone, they may seek my input. But either way they know that it is down to them to make plans and to take action.

What’s your approach? Have you given up? Or have you succeeded to ‘training’ your clients to allow you to give them a better service?

 

 

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What happened after I told an accountant he didn’t need a website

In this blog post I will explain the reasons I advised an accountant that he did not need a website in January 2018 and also how I would adapt this advice going forwards.

I initially wrote about this on Linkedin and sought feedback there. Within days that post secured over 24,000 views as well as dozens of likes and comments.

Many people agreed with me but even more people disagreed, although their logic didn’t always stack up. A couple of people however then added a new perspective and made me think again. Read on and let me know what you think.

Background

It was when I was chatting with an accountant in his late 60s recently that I advised him to ignore all the people telling him he needs a website.

He had been badgered by marketing experts, website designers, SEO consultants and accountancy gurus, all of whom have said he must get a website. I disagreed. And he was pleased to hear my reasoning, with which he agreed.

This accountant had taken up a recent invitation I sent him to book a call with me to get some unbiased input on a topic of his choice to help him in his practice. (Normally I call accountants on spec but I don’t do that in January!)

When he called we chatted for a couple of minutes and I then asked him to tell me what was on his mind. This led to him explaining how he had built his practice, what sort of work he enjoys doing and what sort of new clients he now wants. I offered some positive suggestions and advice as regards his main issue before the subject of his website came up.

He said that he has never had a website and that he only wants more clients like those he has and who are referred by clients or people he knows.

He isn’t looking to pick up lots of new clients. He barely has time to deal with all those he has and anticipates encouraging some of the smaller ones to move elsewhere. As regards new clients he doesn’t want to take on any start ups or to work for anyone who is searching randomly online for an accountant.

He is widowed and doesn’t intend to retire or to sell his practice but to keep going until he is no longer able to do so.

My advice

I suggested that some of the best people referred to him may not get in touch if they can’t find out ANYTHING about him online. This is one reason everyone has been suggesting he needs a website.

However my advice was that he doesn’t need a website. Instead he should simply update his Linkedin profile and add a profile photo to it.

In my view, if he does that well enough, it will be sufficient. The important point is to allow people who are referred to him to see that he has the skills, experience and approach that they seek and that he is the sort of person they would like to work with. In effect, for the recommendation they have received to be endorsed and confirmed.

Support

Among those people on Linkedin who agreed with the basic rationale for my advice, some neat refinements were suggested. Someone also pointed out that a Linkedin profile is akin to having a website with amazing built in SEO – it’s just hosted on a LinkedIn URL rather than a WordPress URL or a custom domain.

Missing the point

Dozens of people on Linkedin suggested that a website is crucial for him to be found on google, to appear in online search results, to evidence his credibility, to build up his practice, to show he is a 21st century accountant and to show that he has an established and substantial practice.

They had all missed the fact that he is in his late 60s and already has a good strong practice. He doesn’t want to be found by people searching for An accountant. Only by those who know of him already.

He only wants to take on a few new clients a year and can afford to be very choosy. He chooses to only consider those who are referred directly to him. To date the absence of a website doesn’t seem to have stopped any such referrals getting in touch with him.

Some people also seemed unaware that the search engines will find and display your Linkedin profile to anyone who searches for you even if they are not themselves on Linkedin. And you can decide how much of your profile is visible to the (non-Linkedin) ‘public’. Generally I suggest making everything public.

A different point of view

A couple of people commenting on the Linkedin post made very valid alternative observations.

Relying solely on LinkedIn and not having his own website means my accountant friend is not in control of a key element of his business.

If Linkedin block him or remove his profile by mistake (or for any other reason) he would no longer be findable online. This could happen, for example, if someone with the same or a similar name does something wrong. Or, less likely, if Linkedin change their entire business model.

He also has no way of knowing how much business he is losing by not having a website. Various reports suggest that a significant majority of all buying decisions are now made online. A lack of a website is seen as a key indicator in trust reduction.

He may get all the business he wants without a website, but with one he could get more and better quality business leading to higher profits.  Perhaps the best of the prospects referred to him would not be satisfied by a Linkedin profile rather than a website?

Refinements

I have supplemented my advice by encouraging the accountant to acquire a domain name related to his practice (eg: JonesAccountants.co.uk) and to initially direct this to his Linkedin profile.

At a later date he could create a simple one page website that contains basic information and makes clear both who he would like and who he would NOT be interested in as clients. That webpage could also link through to his Linkedin profile rather than replicate the information.

He could also add a company page to Linkedin with brief details of his practice and his firm’s logo – which will then also show on his personal profile.

By the way, if he ever has to look at selling the practice it would be good if his firm had its own website that would move with the clients to the purchaser.

For the moment he is in a similar place to loads of mature accountants I know who are frustrated that the likely ROI following sale isn’t high enough to justify a sale in the first place. As such their preferred approach is to continue working (reduced hours often) until they can no longer do so. The prospect of MTD is forcing some to reach that conclusion sooner than they hoped – as they don’t relish the idea of adapting to the quarterly reporting regime.

What’s your reaction to my advice here?

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Categorising your accountancy firm’s clients for the future

Do you ever think about how your practice and your client base might be impacted in the next few years by changes in technology?

Historically most clients stay with their accountant for many years. They generally move only when they feel their accountant doesn’t care enough about them, puts their fees up significantly or messes up.

What we are likely to see more and more of over the next few years concerns what I might call ‘simpler’ clients, deciding that they don’t need an accountant any more. It won’t be long before they decide that it has become so easy to go the DIY route; and that their accountant doesn’t provide sufficient peace of mind or added value to justify continuing to pay them an annual fee.

In this context I would suggest that it makes sense to consider the impact of such changes on your client base by categorising your clients in terms of the level of service required, the amount of time they take and their future value to the practice.  I have summarised this approach as follows:

  1. Complex (or sophisticated) clients – those that require advice to resolve issues on a regular basis
  2. Ambitious clients – those that recognise they benefit from your business advice, but whose affairs are not very sophisticated or complex
  3. Typical OMBs – the majority of  ‘Owner Managed Business’ clients
  4. Sole traders, consultants, contractors – those swapping their time for money and whose growth is therefore limited by the hours available.

This is quite distinct from more traditional categorisation approaches, such as the ABCD client types I have referenced before:

  • A = Best clients (however you define them)
  • B = Those with the potential to become A clients
  • C = Those who are no trouble but are unlikely to become A clients
  • D = Those you’d rather not act for.

Most accountants know only too well who are their D-list clients 😉

Each accountant will set their own criteria for ‘best’ clients. Fee levels may have a bearing but so too may other factors such as the range of services required, each client’s attitude to you and to paying decent fees as well as their propensity for referring other good clients to you.  Clearly you want to nurture and keep in touch with your A-listers. Many, if not all of them, will be Complex or Ambitious (as defined above).

The distinction between clients on your B-list and C-list is less crucial. If you ever get this far, the value comes in identifying those B-listers who, with some encouragement could become A-listers. And those C-listers you want to retain even though they aren’t contributing very much. Crucially, they are good payers and nice to deal with so should not be confused with D-listers.

In contrast, the four new categories I have highlighted are intended to focus attention on those clients most at risk as compliance work becomes more commoditised, as clients become more familiar with cloud accounting systems and as AI further simplifies the role of the traditional accountant.

My conversations with sole practitioner accountants suggest that the vast majority of their clients are in categories 3 and 4 above.

Looking at them in turn:

Sole traders, consultants and contractors –  The liklihood is that these clients will have less need, than they do now, for accountancy support in a few years’ time. Much of the recurring compliance focused service they get from you will fall in value due to the increasing popularity and ease of use of bookkeeping apps and new simplified tax filing obligations. And so the fees that such clients will be prepared to pay you each year will also be lower (or maybe non-existent!). Chances are they won’t be paying more than now or requiring much in the way of ongoing advice.

Typical Owner Managed Businesses – Much the same will be true here as for the sole traders etc. I distinguish them though as they could grow, so they may have more potential for additional services and advice. They may also need help with more frequent enquiries from HMRC. The question will be whether you can ensure they appreciate the value of the advice you can provide to them and that they are willing to pay decent fees to you for such advice.

Those clients you want to encourage and retain are those in the first two categories (Ambitious and/or Complex). The sooner you start focusing your attention  on winning and retaining such clients the more confident you can be that your practice will survive and thrive in the future.

To what extent do you currently attract and advise Ambitious clients who recognise the value of your business advice (and are both willing and able to pay for this)? And also those ideal (for many) clients, whose affairs are Complex such that they regularly require your advice on a range of issues? These might include: property/business acquisitions, sales, HMRC challenges, specific tax incentives, anti-avoidance rules and so on. If you do not consider these to be areas of expertise at the moment I would encourage you to expand your skill set so that you are better placed to retain these clients in the future and to win new ones too.

Larger firms have long recognised the importance of focusing on clients who fall into the Complex and Ambitious categories. Historically though this has been because the smaller and less complex  clients are less economic for bigger firms to service. Imminent developments in technology mean this could well become the same for smaller firms too.

Does this analysis resonate with you? If not, how would you  categorise your clients for the future?

What’s next?

Once you have categorised your clients you can start to forecast the likely impact on your firm’s finances and resource requirements. Historically you may have assumed that little will change in the foreseeable future. I have echoed these views for a long time now. But we are now approaching a tipping point. You can probably continue with those assumptions for another couple of years but I’d strongly encourage you to forecast what might be happening thereafter. Then you can start planning now so that you don’t lose out or have to panic as you play ‘catch up’.

If you’d like to have a chat about how you can promote and build your practice so that it is sustainable into the future, feel free to book a call with me >>>

Why your current client base may not survive into the future. A new way of analysing an accountant's client base. Click To Tweet
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Lessons for accountants from….. a childrens’ party entertainer

As a teenager, before I started studying to become an accountant, I was a children’s party entertainer – and I continued doing this for about 25 years. When I look back I realise that I quickly learned 2 lessons that now, many years later, inform my thinking and advice to accountants.

Specialisation

I was only available to perform at the weekends and I wanted to enjoy myself. That meant focusing my attention on the children most likely to enjoy my magic shows and to respond positively to my tricks, jokes and games etc. I had come to the conclusion that 2 and 3 year olds were too young to really appreciate the magic. To them, so I felt, life itself is magic. And once the children were over 7 I felt they were too bright and more likely to challenge my presentations.

So, after a few years of learning the ropes I made clear on my business cards and yellow pages adverts(!) that ‘Marks Magic’ offered “Specialised Childrens’ Party Entertainment for 4-7 year olds”. I remember that, soon after the first such advert appeared, the number of enquiries I received each week INCREASED and I was fully booked almost every weekend.

Looking back I realise this was because parents liked the idea of engaging a specialist, someone focused on entertaining children of a certain age and someone who didn’t attempt to be all things to all people/children. By definition I wasn’t doing babyish magic or anything too sophisticated.

This lesson translates across to accountants. If you are seeking more clients you will often find it easier to attract them if prospects see you as a specialist in helping people like them, rather than ‘just another accountant’ who attempts to help anyone with everything.

Pricing

When I quoted a fee for my first booking at a childrens party in the 1970s(!) I asked for 25p per hour, before I realised that the party would only be 3 hours long. I quickly realised that the mother of the child wasn’t interested in my time as such. She was only interested in having her needs met: For the duration of the party the children should be occupied, entertained, happy and safe.  She offered me a simple fixed fee of £1 for the afternoon.

Thereafter I always quoted a simple fixed fee for each party – with every element of my service fully covered by the fee.  My ‘specialisation’ helped here as did my confidence. At some point I also learned to ask the person who called (typically the mother) what she wanted from an entertainer.  The answers were all pretty similar, but the fact I asked, rather than assumed, helped me stand out. I empathised and reflected back my understanding of the mother’s objectives. Where appropriate I referenced other parties where the parents had thanked me for doing much the same as this mother was requesting. And I won almost every booking enquiry I received.

Again, this lesson translates across to accountants who charge fees for the time they spend on a client’s affairs. Few clients care how long it takes you to do their work. They are not interested in your time as such. What they want is the output that they get – the accounts, tax returns, estimates of tax payable, the peace of mind you provide as well as the confidence and trust you encourage that your advice pays for itself and that they will get what they want.

Quoting and negotiating fees with prospects is a perennial issue for accountants and one that I often address during mentoring sessions, The Inner Circle and the Sole Practitioners’ Breakthrough Programme.

 

 

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Can accountants ‘close the sale’ effectively?

What does ‘closing the sale’ mean in the context of accountancy services?

None of us like to think that we are in ‘sales’, so perish the thought that we might ever come across as a pushy sales person.

In our world I suggest that ‘closing the sale’ means advancing the sales process to secure absolute confirmation from the prospective client that they are appointing you as their new accountant. This isn’t when they first agree to do do so – it’s when they sign your letter of engagement and confirm payment of your fees. Until that point the ‘sale’ has not been completed or ‘closed’.

Every time you have a conversation with a prospective client you need to ensure that you are both clear as to what happens next. Will you send some information? Will they visit the FAQs or testimonials page of your website? When will you speak again?

Equally it is during preliminary conversations that you will want to help the prospect to realise why they should appoint you rather than any other accountant.

Helping them does not mean being pushy like someone selling double-glazing. But you cannot help them to understand why they should appoint you until you know sufficient information about them – which means starting by asking the right type of questions and listening to their replies.

If you ask good questions in this regard you will be able to remove any obstacles that are preventing the prospect from saying ‘yes’.

When I think about the times I’ve felt uncomfortable when someone tried to sell me something, it was always when they had no idea what I was looking for or what I needed.

They never asked me any questions or listened to what I was saying. Instead they just launched into explaining the features of their particular product or service. And quoted their standard fees. Take it or leave it. This is rarely an effective route to securing more of the clients you want for your practice.

You must connect with your prospect, asking them what they are looking for, how you might help them, and what they might have in mind.

Taking the time (and the opportunity) to really get to know your prospect, find out what makes them tick, what they might be struggling with and what might solve their problem, are the first keys to successfully closing of a sale.

There’s a lot more to closing the sale of course and to resolving any push-backs you might get from prospects who are not sure. Getting clarity as to the real reasons they are holding back is crucial here.

And PLEASE, PLEASE, do not assume it is all about the fee you quote. If you believe that this is all that matters you have bigger problems than learning how to ‘close the sale’.

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Two and a half questions to help you in 2018

This week I invite you to identify your top achievements in 2017 and a few specific achievements you would most like to pursue in 2018. This should help you finish the year on a high and excited for what is to follow. I’ve also shared my own answers to the same two questions.

Doing this yourself also means you’ll be more inclined to talk positively about things when you are chatting with family and friends over the next couple of weeks. Not that you’ll be focused on work then of course. But just in case it comes up. Or maybe your achievements and ambitions are not work related anyway.

It’s all too easy to dwell on stuff that’s not gone as we would have liked. Some people find doing this helps motivate them to do better next year. It doesn’t work for me though.

I always encourage those with whom I work to adopt a more positive mindset. But to remain realistic of course.

So, here are your two and a half questions:
1 – What are the 3 or 4 things you have achieved this year of which you are most proud?

2 – What are the 3 or 4 things you are seriously keen to achieve in 2018?

And, the half question is: What are you going to do to help ensure that each of those ambitions becomes reality? Remember, ‘hope’ alone is NOT a strategy. If you want some help, just let me know.

Here are my answers to the two questions:

Milestones and achievements in 2017

  • Receiving regular (almost weekly) thanks for my blogs, emails and calls that evidently provide useful insights, tips and tricks that are helping (especially) sole practitioner accountants to be more successful
  • Being invited to judge the 2017 British Accountancy Awards (as I have done a number of times in the past)
  • Presenting the closing keynote talk at the end of the Accountex  conference – this being the 6th consecutive time I was invited to speak there
  • Being identified by Sage as one of their top 100 GLOBAL business influencers (not that I have any ongoing relationship with Sage!)
  • Being identified as an Accountancy influencer and the sole such VIP invited to the mega QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose

Plans and ambitions for 2018

  1. Fill the remaining 2 places in the Inner Circle for Accountants (for London based sole practitioners who want my face to face monthly input to help them achieve more)
  2. Secure at least 5 more commercial bookings of my new talk for accountants: (working title) Are you ready for the future and what it will bring? (This looks way beyond cloud accounting and MTD!)
  3. Continue to publish The Magic of Success: weekly emails for accountants containing insights, tips and tricks that will bring you greater success
  4. Fill my mentoring programme for 1-2-1 support of sole practitioner accountants who want more encouragement, support and accountability
  5. Increase the number of accountant subscribers to my weekly email Successful Practice Programme to 500.
  6. Attract at least 50 new accountant subscribers to my monthly webinar programme: The sole practitioners breakthrough programme

THANK YOU!
If you’ve read down to the end of this blog post I hope you feel it was worthwhile. Should you feel inspired to send me a personal message re anything in this blog post I promise that I will read it and respond personally. Equally, if you would like a quick chat about anything here or want to see if we could work together, feel free to call. This is best done after booking a convenient time using this facility that accesses my diary to see when I’m available >>>

In the meantime I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy, prosperous and non-too taxing New Year.

This should help you finish the year on a high and excited for what is to follow Click To Tweet
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Debunked: The one thing you must do….

A popular approach to getting your attention (and often your money) is to instruct you that there is ‘one thing’ you must do.

What do they say?

Many journalists, consultants and sales people assert that there is just ‘one thing’ you must do to remain in practice, to generate new clients, to increase your fees or to achieve your heart’s desire.

Is it ever true? Rarely in my experience. This means that I inevitably then start to question the credibility of those who make such statements. If they can make such nonsense claims up front, why should I believe what else they recommend – whether it’s their own product/services or other actions I should take?

My view

I first started to learn about and apply marketing and sale techniques in the mid 1990s. Then in 2006 I became an independent speaker, mentor and consultant – since when I have learned more than ever before. I’ve read hundreds of websites, white papers and books, watched many dozens of videos and attended goodness knows how many training courses and conference sessions. I continue to research and discuss related topics with experts and speakers every month (if not every week!) And all this time I’ve been working with accountants helping them to be more successful in practice.

So I can fairly confidently say that, in my experience, there is no ‘one best way’ to win clients or to become successful, that you MUST use.
There are no magic solutions that work for every accountant, no matter what some so-called experts say.

Examples

I have seen and worked with enough successful accountants over the years, and especially recently, to be able to say with absolute confidence that they achieved that success without worrying about doing any one or more of the following to achieve their objectives:

  • Create facebook ads to send prospects to an automated webinar and a sales, ahem, strategy call to win clients;
  • A fancy elevator pitch that somehow compels clients to hire the accountant the instant they hear it;
  • An expensive flashy website;
  • A personalised or custom built app;
  • A distinct digital marketing strategy (It’s just part of the marketing mix);
  • Blog regularly or pay someone else to do this for them;
  • Enter local business or sector awards;
  • Send out regular emails filled with manufactured controversy to try to create the impression the accountant has a distinct personality;
  • Badger people with Linkedin messages ‘adding value’ they didn’t ask for or pestering them to get on a call with the accountant or join the group set up to market to them with;
  • Become active on social media to show that the accountant is modern and regardless of who they are really trying to influence;
  • Become a recognised expert and hope that somehow clients will flock to the accountant’s door to benefit from their expertise.

I’m exaggerating for effect of course. All of these things work for some accountants. Typically only AFTER they have undertaken significant preparatory work as to their target market place.

The key point

The key point is that you don’t NEED to do all or any of these things.

There is no ‘one best way’ you must pursue. Only what works for you. That may be the same as works for other practices similar to yours, or it may be quite different because YOU are different, your practice is different, your style and approach to business is different and your target clients are different.

In my experience the only real commonalities across all accountants in practice are the outputs of your service ie: the accounts and the tax returns.

Why do people talk about the ‘one way’?

I think there are 5 reasons why so many people tell you there is ‘one best way’ to achieve your objectives:

  1. They have seen other people they admire adopt this approach. “If it works for them, it will help you generate business too” – This ignores the fact that your practice, prospects and approach to business might be quite different;
  2. It is often self-interest. The ‘one best way’ is what they want to sell to you;
  3. They assume that you have done some crucial background research, specific to your practice, that might warrant such a course of action;
  4. It could be evidencing their limited experience. That ‘one way’ is simply something that worked for them; or
  5. It is the only way they were taught on a course and they are unaware of other options and alternative approaches.

Most of the accountants I speak with are almost as cynical of such assertions as am I. All of us with a degree of real life experience know that there’s always more than one way to do things.

And when it comes to being more a more successful accountant, the key is to find a way that works for you and matches your skills and preferences. It needs to be appropriate for your approach to business, your target clients and your objectives.

What you MUST do 😉

Of course, there are some things you MUST do if you want to speed up the process of achieving more success in your practice:

  • You must figure out what you’re great at and that clients value;
  • You must find a way to connect with those clients that allow you to add value to them;
  • You must show up on a regular basis in their lives to add more value, build credibility and establish trust; and
  • You must recognise that YOU need to be able to ‘close’ the deal to bring in new clients, regardless of which marketing and promotion activities you adopt.

There are lots of different ways you can do each of these things.

All of the ‘one best way’ methods work for someone. The trick is to find what works best for you and that you’ll actually do.

The ‘one thing’ I can promise you is that if you take no action and continue doing what you’ve always done, simply wishing things were different will not change anything.

If you’d like to discuss how I might be able to help you, please get in touch and let’s have a chat>>>

With credit and thanks to Ian Brodie whose recent email inspired this blog post.

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How can accountants use Linkedin for marketing purposes?

This was the headline to a question I was asked recently. I have summarised the question below and expanded on my reply and advice as this may help other accountants too.

Question
How can accountants use LinkedIn for marketing purpose?

I have a company page, I have a profile, I am in some groups but they are largely inactive.

I understand that you need to connect with people; and when they accept my connection request I send them an message just introducing myself and asking them about their business. Something general, nothing really about bookkeeping or accounting. We carry on a small conversation for 2-5 messages and then it just ends.

So how do you leverage these connections? And how do you get noticed on Linkedin by the right people?

My reply
This is a great question and you’re doing many of the ‘right’ things already.

I always recommend recognising that Linkedin is simply a starting point to finding and engaging with real prospective clients/influencers offline.

It’s also key to be clear exactly who you are looking to connect with. Eg: owners of  businesses of a certain size and in a certain industry within 10 miles of your location. Yes, other people ‘might’ be prospects too but it’s best to start with a clear target.

I note you referenced your company page. This ‘might’ have some value if you don’t have a website but otherwise I doubt there is much value in a sole practitioner accountant having a company page on LinkedIn. Better to encourage people to go to your website if you have one. And yes, sadly, groups do seem to be very quiet these days. that may change, but until then they are simply a way of showing your interests and finding others with shared interests (which might be related to a common sector, expertise, locality or other topic).

Yes, your profile then needs to STAND OUT and encourage them to connect with you.  I would be happy to send you my Linkedin profile tips if you want to check that yours is as good as it could be.  You can get the tips here >>>>

Once you’re confident that your profile works for you, rather than against you,  I suggest using the advanced search facilities on Linkedin to seek out specific prospects yourself. Don’t wait for them to look for someone like you. And then, as always it’s about building relationships with them. In time you can filter out those that are wedded to their current accountant from those who are less impressed and may be interested in moving to someone better able to provide valuable advice and who shows they care more than the incumbent seems to care about the client in question.

Only a small proportion of the people you connect with on Linkedin, as anywhere, will be currently looking for a new accountant. So you need to play a long-game. Keep in touch, offer or ask to meet up and then keep in touch better than other accountants.  And help them appreciate, over time, that you’d be better for them than their current accountant.

You can only do this though when you know sufficient about what’s important to them.

One of the biggest misconceptions about LinkedIn is that any old profile, lots of connections and engagement will enable accountants to secure more of the clients they want.  That all may help, but hope is not a strategy.  There is no magic solution. You have to take action and apply the same prospecting techniques that work offline. Linkedin can be a shortcut. It’s not a standalone solution.

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Has your practice plateaued?

My conversations with sole practitioner accountants over the years suggest that many are happy enough once their business has plateaued.

‘Happy enough’ is hardly an enthusiastic summation of how things are going. It suggests a degree of reluctant acceptance. The underlying message perhaps is that things could be better but the accountant is used to things as they are. It’s not so bad that it’s worth reviewing what could be different as there is a concern that this will highlight issues best left hidden. Or that any change will involve more hassle and fuss than seems worth the effort.

I have encountered this view many times over the years.  It becomes a particular challenge when retirement looms – and when the accountant realises that no one will pay a sufficient sum for the practice as things stand.  In recent times it is becoming the norm for higher prices to be paid only for those firms with well established systems and processes. IT takes more than few months to transition an old style practice into a new one pre-sale.

In 2006, when I first started this blog, I said it was for Ambitious Accountants as I thought it was a good title. I thought it would help to distinguish those who wanted to move their practices on from those who were happy with the status quo.  I dropped that title though when I learned that many, many smaller firms of accountants are not ambitious – nor do they need to be, if the owner is  generating a good enough living, without working crazy hours, and is only doing work they enjoy, for clients who appreciate it, and who pay decent fees without a fuss.

In practice many sole practitioners settle for much less than this. They work long hours, do too much work they don’t enjoy, hang onto legacy clients who won’t pay decent fees and feel under constant pressure to get everything done. There’s no time to review how they run the practice or to take steps to change things. “What will be, will be. I’ll cope, just as I have always done.”

I hear about these frustrations in running a small accountancy practice all the time and it’s not getting any easier. There are a number of new factors that will have an impact in the near future – even though none of them will have an overnight effect:

– new and more aggressive competition;

– recent and prospective changes in the tax regime that will impact the way that accountants work;

– the increasing interest in cloud accounting solutions and the extent to which these will change the accountants’ role;

– the introduction of MTD; and

– other developments and pressures that will change clients’ perceptions and needs.

Sole practitioners have long heard and ignored the predictions of change that will adversely affect their practices. I have long maintained that these predictions forecast a future that will  reveal itself over an extended period. There hasn’t and won’t be an overnight revolution. Many of the forthcoming changes will hit larger firms before the smaller firms are affected. Smaller firms can adapt faster as and will do so only when it becomes necessary to do so.

Having said that, many accountants in smaller firms do want to increase profits, reduce the time and hassle of running their practice and, the older ones, also want to ensure they are well set up for their retirement.

How about you? Has your practice plateaued? Do you want to take control, or just let events take their course? One starting point could be the Successful Practice Programme – a low cost series of weekly emails designed to help you move things along so that you are comfortable you are running a successful practice. Full details here >>>

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