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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How to short-cut the Networking process

Networking is not for everyone. Whilst some accountants enjoy attending regular networking events, I regularly hear tales of woe from those who find it a frustrating waste of time.  There are also plenty of accountants who do not like the idea of chatting with strangers very appealing.

You will rarely meet someone at a networking event who is there to find a new accountant. So the process of moving from attending such events to winning new clients can be both time consuming and involved. How can you short-cut the process?

In this blog post I share an idea that could be a far more productive use of your time and less daunting too. It’s quite different to the tips and advice I have shared previously as to how you can get more value from the time you spend networking.

Objectives

The primary reason most accountants attend networking events is typically to win new clients. A secondary objective might be to build relationships with influencers who then refer you on to their clients and contacts. This latter rationale is more likely to be successful in the short-term. Few new clients will choose to appoint a new accountant until they have built a degree of trust – certainly more than comes from a casual chat at a networking event.

The best client introductions

If you’ve been in practice a while you should know how you came to service your best clients. I’ll bet that most didn’t come through adverts, they didn’t come from people searching on the web and they didn’t come from social networking.  Sure, all of these activities might generate some work but your ‘best’ clients?  There will always be exceptions but most accountants typically say that their best clients were introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients.

The second best source tends to be other advisers who know, like and trust the accountant.  Often, but not always, these relationships were built up as a result of random meetings at networking events. But that’s not the only way to instigate them.

An alternative approach 

If you don’t like Networking with strangers you are not alone. Instead why not ask your favourite clients to introduce you to their other advisers?

Which lawyers and financial advisers do they trust? These are then the people whom you can contact and meet for a coffee. You want to get to know them better so that you can recommend other clients to them as and when this seems appropriate. After all if one good client has recommended them, then others may value their advice too.

During your conversations with these advisers you will also get the chance to talk about your practice. And you will also reference the clients you have helped besides the one you have in common with the adviser you are with.

In effect this approach enables you to short-cut the networking process. You don’t have to chat with random strangers at networking events; you aren’t reliant on stumbling across people who might know someone who might need a new accountant; and you don’t have to arrange a series of follow up meetings with strangers who may or may not be valuable additions to  your business circle.

Try it, you might like it.

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Accountants CAN overcome a lack of inner confidence…..

All too often I encounter another accountant who is lacking in confidence. And this invariably holds them back from achieving the success they seek.

Just last week an accountant emailed me back after receiving a message I’d sent out on a totally different topic. Included in her reply was the following:

I know I lack a degree of confidence. I’m on my own, no mentor, no senior. This is daunting.

I’m not very good at small talk and sales patter.

I’m lacking confidence.

I have bags of ambition and drive.

I have a fantastic team of 3 ladies who I have personally trained and I have a huge office with potential for 10 desks.

I struggle to get new clients. I want to get things as right as I can from the outset and have not wished to take on loads more low value clients.

After thanking her for getting in touch I replied:

Stop putting yourself down and reinforcing the negative voices in your head.  You are NOT lacking in confidence.

You’ve started your own practice. You have taken office space sufficient for 10 desks. All of that takes a HUGE amount of belief (which is simply another word for confidence).  Well done!

And, as you say, you also have a huge amount of ambition and drive. I think perhaps you’re embarrassed by your confidence and you may be concerned it might come across as arrogance if you really let it out. I get that. And it’s good to avoid over doing the confidence.

I also wanted to direct her to some related advice I have shared previously. I was pretty certain I had addressed the issue of accountants and confidence before on this blog. But when I checked back most such posts related more to the problems of being over confident! So here is my further advice that should be of wider application and value.

It’s quite common

In conversation with accountants I am mentoring and with those who belong to The Inner Circle it is often obvious to me that a lack of confidence is causing them issues. Sometimes it prevents them making decisions that are then continually deferred, it makes them nervous about contacting certain clients and scared of quoting fully commercial fees.

One of the great pleasures of my work is that with a degree of understanding and encouragement from me, these same accountants grow in confidence. They tell me about how they are now able to quote fees they only dreamt about some months earlier and that clients are happy to pay them. They are proud to have refused to take on new clients who don’t want any advice; and they are excited by the future as they now know they can attract the sort of referrals and recommendations they always wanted.

There’s no magic involved(!) Building your confidence starts by accepting that you are better than you think when someone who knows you and knows enough other accountants (like me) tells you honestly that you’re at least as good as average – possibly better.

But you can also boost your confidence alone.

How to become more confident

Here’s a few tips I have encouraged accountants to adopt – and which I have been told have worked for them:

One popular technique is to get a character, toy or figurine to keep on your desk. Imagine them as your Positive Reinforcer (PR).  When that negative voice in your head saps your confidence, imagine your PR guy/gal encouraging you onwards.

Keep a note of every success. Each day, note down these Positive Reinforcements (PR) to remind you of when you make things go well,  so that you can focus on these – and NOT on the times when things don’t go so well.  Review your PR notes – especially before your next interaction with a client where your lack of confidence has previously weakened you.

Celebrate your achievements so that you spend less time dwelling on the other occasions which didn’t go so well, but which contained valuable lessons. Note them down as Positive Reinforcement (PR) of lessons learned.

Accept praise and compliments. You do deserve them. Do not dismiss them. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is very common in all walks of life. You do deserve the success you enjoy.

If all else fails, fake it. Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, act as if you do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how positively this can affect people’s reactions to you.  There’s also another good reason to practice faking confidence. I have also heard it said that the more you practice acting in a confident manner, the more it will increase your inner confidence.  Just ensure you don’t come across as arrogant. And also be careful you don’t give definitive advice when you are not really confident it is 100% correct.

Confidence is self-perpetuating. Once you have it, you can use it to push yourself to succeed, which will build your confidence even further.

Want some help?

My confidence in my own ability to help sole practitioners to become more successful has fluctuated over the years.

Back in 2006 I had a wider focus and initially listened to those of my friends and colleagues who told me that I was bound to be successful as a mentor and speaker. They boosted my ego by referencing my reputation, credibility and high profile in the profession. I was prepared to listen. But then it soon became clear that few people were beating a path to my door. My confidence plummeted.

Over the last few years I have had plenty of successes and I am now confident of the value I deliver to sole practitioner accountants. This is one of the reasons why I offer a very low cost entry level facility to experience my style and advice. But equally I offer premium level 1-2-1 mentoring support and advice. Part of the value accountants get from me, where appropriate, is help, support and encouragement to become more self confident in their interactions with prospects and clients.

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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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Cloud accounting – Do you lead your clients or let them lead you?

This is the first of what I anticipate will become a series of cloud accounting related blog posts.

Back in 2009 I disagreed with those commentators who were warning accountants about an urgent need to embrace cloud accounting technology. The alternative, warned these merchants of doom, was that accountants who failed to embrace the cloud would go out of business.

I felt that such warnings were premature in 2009 and continued to think so until very recently. I believe however that we are, at last, reaching a tipping point.

More and more accountants are embracing cloud accounting solutions and an increasing number of clients are aware of the concept.  Plenty of accountants are being led by their clients and I often encounter firms who are happy to promote their ability to work with a range of cloud accounting solutions. This is often apparent from the inclusion, on the firm’s website, of a dizzying array of software badges and logos.

Other firms, including some pretty successful ones, do not take on new clients unless they are prepared to use the firm’s favoured bookkeeping solution.

I understand the arguments put forward by both sides.  In summary:

  • Anything for anyone: “We can help you, regardless of how you prefer to do your bookkeeping”
  • One size fits all: “We encourage our clients to all use [specific solution] as they find it easy to use and know that they will receive full support from us as we can focus rather than try to keep up with changes to a number of different online bookkeeping systems”

Advocates of the ‘anything for anyone’ approach don’t want to dictate to clients how they should do their bookkeeping. This is understandable especially if those clients have made an informed choice and/or have been using their solution for some time.  Some accountants have also concluded that different solutions are better suited to different types of clients eg: small businesses, contractors/freelancers and larger businesses. From what I have seen recently I’m not sure that distinction is sustainable as some suppliers offer different packages for each of those groups.

Advocates of the ‘one size fits all’ approach evidence a degree of confidence and are able to standardise their systems and processes. And this allows them to become more efficient whilst still providing a personalised service to clients. And then there are the range of add-ons and apps that accountants need to review and advise clients about. Which ones are worth their attention? If you don’t know what’s out there how can you provide pro-active advice in this regard?

There are plenty of reasons put forward by sole practitioners who resist specialising in a specific bookkeeping solution. These include:

  • A mistaken view that the ‘client is always right’. This is evidently not true as they pay their accountants for advice, not just agreement.
  • The challenge of having many clients using different solutions.
  • A reluctance to specialise in a specific bookkeeping solution as it might limit the number of new clients who would appoint you. This is the same concern as is raised in any conversation about specialisation. In practice the benefits typically outweigh the disadvantages.

What about you? When it comes to cloud accounting and bookkeeping solutions, do you lead your clients or do you let them lead you?

This blog post was not sponsored, but was inspired by what I saw, heard, and conversations I had at QB Connect 2017 about QuickBooks Online.

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Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

We all know the old adage that you never get a second chance to create a first impression (except when you do). This is one of the reasons that the first element in my 7 point framework is ‘A for Appearance and Attitude’. These are so important and go beyond your personal branding, how you look and whether you have a positive attitude. The often overlooked factor here is what impression do you give as regards your accountancy practice?

If clients or contacts become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. Or refuse to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

In this context do you have the appearance of someone who is successful or struggling? As regards your business advice especially, are you practicing what you preach?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do your networking contacts think of you as professional or pathetic? They may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

When you talk to clients about your business advisory services they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value to them. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from you or from someone else. Someone they consider to be successful. How do your business clients see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If clients are not agreeing to pay you for business advice and you’re not getting the referrals you would like, consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business. This has certainly been an issue for some of the accountants I have worked with over the last couple of years. For example, they have learned to build a much more positive first impression with new contacts and to ensure they do not highlight their own failings when talking with clients. What about you? Do people see you as successful or struggling?

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Debunking social media myths for accountants

I forget how long ago I added the word ‘debunker’ to the list of my roles/activities. It’s on my business card, my marketing materials, my online profiles and on the title slide for many of my presentations.

I was first asked what I mean by ‘debunker’ when I was facilitating a workshop for an international association of accountants. We were looking at how different firms within the association used or avoided social media. It’s no coincidence that social media is the subject I most often debunk.

I explained that I aim to challenge, clarify and correct the bunk, bunkum and downright nonsense that is talked about re social media. And there is a lot of it about.

Many self professed experts speak from a limited perspective and talk in generalities that do not provide appropriate advice to accountants. To be fair there are also some real experts around. I don’t claim to be such an expert but I have been routinely highly ranked as an online influencer since 2011. Indeed I have been actively engaged with social media since 2006; and with accountants for much longer. I don’t pretend to know more than I do. And I don’t promote fantasies.

Social media is used effectively by some accountants as part of their overall marketing strategy. Many more are playing around and hoping that, despite a lack of strategy, they will secure some real business benefit from their social media activity. Will the outcomes be worth the effort? Are they monitoring the right metrics or chasing rainbows?

My research and monitoring of what accountants are doing on social media reveals that the majority are wasting time and effort. That’s a shame. When asked I’ll try to set them straight and I will invariably debunk the myths and misconceptions they have been fed by people with a limited understanding of accountants , social media or both.

It’s not all bad news. I am hearing an increasing number of success stories from accountants who are using social media effectively. This has lead a number of marketing and social media experts to seek fees to help other accountants achieve similar outcomes. Many seem unaware of how often accountants only have limited early success, talk about it a lot and then stop bothering with social media as they cannot repeat their early luck.

Whatever anyone might tell you please remember that there are no magic wands that will allow an agency, a junior member of staff or an external consultant to generate shed loads of new leads and clients for you through social media.

Invariably you need to start with a well thought through marketing strategy and then to identify which social media platform or platforms might be appropriate for your target audience. Then you need to set a strategy and business focused objectives for each such platform. This can absolutely prove to be worthwhile – as might other strategies too of course. I wrote about this in more detail recently here >>>

I don’t just debunk the hype around social media generally, I also do the same for specific platforms too. Regular readers will recall plenty of previous comment about the hype surrounding Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and so on. I also offer positive, constructive and commercial advice as to how you can benefit from these platforms if you use them effectively.

Beyond social media I also debunk myths and hype around other new fads, apps, websites and marketing generally that is aimed at accountant. I always do this from an informed and independent stance. I aim to challenge, clarify and correct inaccurate assertions about what works and what doesn’t work. My wider intention is to help accountants avoid wasting time and money – especially before they have clarified what it is they really want to achieve.

Do let me know if you come across promoters hyping ‘new’ ideas and concepts to accountant or insisting that you MUST adopt a similar marketing technique to one used successfully by larger firms or in other professions and circumstances. I’ll be happy to offer an independent view and to debunk the hype if I feel that would be appropriate.

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How prepared are you for what’s coming?

If there was ever an award for the most obvious predictions in finance, I might have won with those that I made in 2009.

At the end of my presentation at the Mercia Partners’ conference, I did, as I had been asked, and offered my predictions as to what would happen in the coming two years. I said;
• There will be numerous changes that will impact your practice.
• There will be new challenges to overcome.
• There will be new opportunities to exploit.

Looking back it’s hard to imagine why I bothered. In effect, all I was saying was that we don’t really know what’s coming next.

To be fair though, in my presentation I had also offered my traditional counter-balance to those commentators who constantly warned of gloom and doom. And of the need to change the way you do things “NOW” or allow your practice to fail. I asserted strongly (and accurately, as it turned out) that none of those changes would have an immediate impact on smaller firms of accountants.

Since then lots has changed. But equally little has changed in that we still have commentators telling accountants that you are about to lose huge swathes of clients, that you must invest in (their) new products and that you will have to make significant changes to your business models.

In reality the changes will not impact you overnight. They never do.

Looking back it’s clear there have been some major changes in the way the profession operates since 2009 and there are more to come. But it’s no wonder so many accountants are a little complacent.

None of the dire warnings I was (accurately) debunking in 2009 came to pass. There is still plenty of time now to adapt to take advantage of the changes afforded by cloud accounting packages (that were in their infancy back then). And the impact of AI is not (yet) right around the corner.

Nevertheless, if you want to grow your practice it is clear to me that you will find this easier if you develop your skills to provide more higher value advisory services. It will be become increasingly more difficult to build a sustainable and profitable practice if you continue to focus only on offering basic compliance services.

The accountants who choose to work with me, to secure their future success, know they can trust me to avoid the hype they hear elsewhere. They know I’ll help them on their journey and help them avoid needless and premature investments.   And they know I’ll also help them to be ready for the changes yet to come – including those yet to be identified.  How prepared are you for what’s coming?

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16 ways that accountants can improve their efficiency

It is rare for an accountant to tell me that they want to be more efficient. But it is often implied by other things they say.

Often their concerns are focused on time management issues, a need for more and better systems or for another person to whom they can delegate work.

Improving efficiency invariably leads to improved productivity. You are efficient if you are as productive as you could be given the resources you have available. So, if you reach the end of the day and realise you could have been more productive then you haven’t been as efficient as you could have been. Equally if you are paying people to do work for you and feel that they should have produced more in the time available, then either they have been inefficient or you have unreasonable expectations. It’s important to recognise that the latter could be true but you will only know for sure if you can have an open and honest conversation with the person concerned.

Here is a summary list of ways you could become more efficient:

  1. Plan your day and work your plan – Stop being a slave to your email inbox.
  2. Set clear goals – Keep them to hand and take steps towards achieving them each day.
  3. Measure the metrics that matter – Simply tracking the time you spend on client matters, to guide your billing process, is less important that minimising the time you spend distracted by videos, social media and emails that could have waited.
  4. Find someone (else) to do the work that you are overqualified to do yourself – delegate, outsource or recruit.
  5. Stop reinventing the wheel – Make notes of the processes you follow each day so that you can refer back to your notes next time rather than struggle to recall every step you need to follow and how to complete the task.
  6. Encourage team members to share their knowledge and experiences – This will enable them to help you to be more efficient and will enable them to cover for each other (and thus reduce the time you need to spend doing this).
  7. Think in terms of tasks to be completed rather than hours to be spent – Keeping an eye on the clock will help you to avoid spending too long on each task, but more will get completed.
  8. Keep in mind the proverb: ‘Measure twice, cut once’ – For example: Check the advice your client needs before you give it – to avoid having to waste time rectifying things later.
  9. Organise your desk and the desktop on your computer – This should reduce the time you waste looking for things. (This is probably the one I struggle with the most)
  10. Use an online diary booking system – So that clients can book meetings with you more efficiently. I use calendly.com but there many options.
  11. Use a simple note making app (eg: Evernote or Onenote) to keep track of trusted advisers to whom you can refer when the need arises (eg: The Tax Advice Network)
  12. Take regular breaks  – During each day, week, month and year so that your brain has a chance to recover and to operate closer to peak efficiency
  13. Turn off ‘notifications’ of messages, updates and emails – This reduces the number of distractions that limit your ambition to be more efficient.
  14. Make good use of your commuting time – You can read professional journals on the train and can listen to podcasts while in the car or walking
  15. Regularly take time out to work ‘on’ your practice – Whether alone, with the help of a mentor or through a mastermind group (like The Inner Circle for sole practitioner accountants in London)
  16. Decide to take some action and to do something differently after reading this list. Otherwise nothing will change!
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A quick five point plan to secure more referrals for your accountancy practice

So many accountants tell me that most of their new clients come from word of mouth and client referrals. In most cases however this seems to be a function of luck rather than planned in any way.
Have you ever thought about how you could make it easier for your contacts to know who would make a good referral for you? And to encourage such referrals rather than simply waiting and hoping they will make such referrals?
Here is a quick 5 point plan that could help you in this regard:
  1. Identify just ten people (your Target Ten) who might know people who could be ideal referrals for you.  Your Target Ten might include some good clients, lawyers, bankers or other professionals with whom you have worked and established a mutually trusting relationship.
  2. Clarify what you would want your Target Ten to say when they are making referrals to you.  You may intend to make different requests of each of your Target Ten. In each case, think about ONE person (or type of person) not a shopping list of possibilities.  You will invariably get more specific and valuable referrals if you are specific.
  3. Craft a couple of stories about similar clients you have helped and how they felt about your service etc. Your Target Ten will find it easier to recall your request if they can link this to a story. Use the RUBIK acronym to check whether your story/request is likely to help generate referrals.
  4. Talk with your Target Ten to find out what you could do to help them. Yes, that’s right. BEFORE you ask for referrals, ask what you can do to help and then do it! Many of the people you offer to help will then ask you what they could do to help you. That’s when you share the information you noted down at steps 2 and 3.
  5. Keep the promises you make to help your Target Ten. After all, if you don’t keep your promises you can hardly expect others to do so either.

I should add what may be surprising news for you. No one really cares what you do as an accountant. What they care about is what you can do for them or for the people they know. Most of us find it easier to remember stories rather than bare facts. Telling stories about our clients (whilst retaining their confidence of course) can make it a lot easier to secure more of the referrals you would like.

The alternative is that you continue to secure only the same old random referrals – some of which are time wasters and some of which are wholly unsuitable for the practice you are seeking to build.

Do let me know how you get on with your Target Ten and how many ideal referrals follow from you following this process.
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Why do accountants need to be enthusiastic?

Everyone who knows me recognises my enthusiastic nature. When I was younger I may even have been a touch too enthusiastic. I now recognise that it can unnerve those around you if you are evidently more enthusiastic than everyone else. That was an important lesson for me some years back. So now, older and wiser, I try to keep my enthusiasm in check. And I balance it with a healthy degree of cynicism!

In recent years I have been focusing on helping accountants to have greater impact – both online and face to face. The idea being to enable them stand out from their competitors and to make it easier for people to remember them, to refer work to them and to recommend them.

I have long been taken by a statement in a 2003 report by the ICAEW, titled: “The Profitable and Sustainable Practice”.

There’s one pre-requisite, one ingredient that sells…and that’s enthusiasm. If you really enjoy your work; that shines through, and you will be successful – clients will want to be with you, and will hire you. It can’t be faked – at least not for very long.

This probably explains why there is a reference to ‘enthusiasm’ in many of the 7 steps in my STAND OUT framework. BUT, let’s be clear, enthusiasm alone will rarely be sufficient. And, as I noted earlier, you need to avoid being too enthusiastic. But if the people you meet face to face and online do not perceive you as being enthusiastic for what you do to help clients, you will not stand out in a positive way. And that will generally work against you.

So here’s a question for you: How and where do you show your enthusiasm for your professional activities?

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Don’t invest more time on social media until you have read this

Regular readers will know that I am both very active on social media and highly ranked for my online influence.* Equally you will also know that I do not routinely encourage accountants to use social media for promotional and marketing purposes. And I challenge the evidence and arguments of those who do advocate this – when they do so without plenty of caveats.

For every one accountant I hear about who claims to secure good business through social media there are dozens who tell a different story. Typically they say that social media, for them, is a waste of time. This is no surprise to me as I understand the limitations of social media as well as the opportunities.

My research also shows that most accountants who ARE securing good business from their online activities are actually more reliant on the online business networking site, Linkedin, rather than on one or more ’social media’ platforms.

Let’s clear up a couple of other misconceptions.

Firstly, accountants rarely conclude that any promotional or marketing activity is worthwhile unless it has been well planned and executed. This means, as I have said before, starting by being clear as to your objectives. WHY are you doing any promotion?

There are many possible reasons. But let’s assume that you want more clients.  As I have explained previously, you then need to consider who is your Market, then what is your Message and finally which Media is best to get your Message to your Market? Your choice of media (social or otherwise) should be the last thing you consider, not the starting point.

If you simply post promotional messages on twitter or Facebook, for example, there is no guarantee that these will be seen by your target market.

Secondly, do not be fooled by statistics quoted by so-called experts who tell us how many billions of people use social media. If your target market isn’t using it and won’t see your messages, the general stats are not relevant.

Let’s assume you want to secure a profitable new business client. Are the owners (or FDs or other decision makers) of such clients active on social media? Maybe. Maybe not. They may be active on one platform but not on others. Or they may have delegated their company’s use of social media to a junior person in their marketing team.  Such a person is unlikely to be influential or able to help you to contact or influence the decision maker you hope to meet.

Having debunked some of the misconceptions, let me now offer a more positive slant. Because there are times and ways in which it can be worth accountants trying to use social media for promotion and marketing purposes. It will often be much easier to reach such decision makers via Linkedin for example.

Typically you will find the time and effort you spend on social media is all more worthwhile if you are focused on connecting and engaging with other users who share your interest in a specific sector, community or niche. For example, the owners of start-up businesses, those who operate from the same local area as you or those who share your interest in, say, martial arts.

Let’s now assume that you have done your research and concluded that there are people you wish to target and influence who are actively using a specific social media platform. How might you hope to use that platform productively?  Here are 6 key tips that could make all the difference:

  1. Use the search facility on the platform to find people, groups or discussions that are of interest.
  2. Join relevant groups and join in conversations. Be generous with your knowledge and focus on helping people. Counterintuitively, the less promotional your contributions, the more interest you are likely to attract.
  3. Join in conversations about topics you find interesting and which may help you connect or engage with the people you are targeting.
  4. Identify relevant hashtags and use them in your contributions. Do not overuse them. And never use them until you are confident and comfortable that you know how to do so without undermining your credibility.
  5. When you initiate posts make sure that enough of them are focused on relevant topics, by reference both to your objectives and to the people with whom you hope to engage. But ensure too that you are not so focused you omit to reveal the real you on each ‘social’ media platform.
  6. Identify, follow, engage and/or connect with relevant individuals, personalities, suppliers, customers, and influencers. They may not all be prospective clients (assuming that’s your overall objective) but they will know such people. As such they may be useful introducers and referrers.
*Most recently Sage identified me as one of their top 100 global small business online influencers.
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Where do you want your promotional messages to be seen?

I have referenced what I call the 3Ms of marketing an accountancy practice before. This blog post is related to the third M. That is, which Media should you use to get your chosen Messages to your chosen Market?

The answer to the question depends on where you will find your chosen Market and target audience. When many accountants are asked about this, they have no clear answer. The implicit belief is: “Anywhere and Everywhere”.

If you think this is true for your practice then it doesn’t matter greatly where you promote the practice. Unfocused social media and Linkedin may help (but probably not much). Essentially you’ll try ‘Anything and Everything’. Accountants who adopt this approach are typically the first to say that marketing is a waste of money. Where that’s true is often because it’s unfocused and hasn’t been planned by reference to specific objectives, clear target audiences and distinct messages that resonate with that market.

Let’s move on then to consider 4 other generic answers to the question, Where will you find your chosen Market and target audience?

Immediate vicinity

This is the case, for example, when you have a high street presence and want more passers by to pop in or to remember your details to pass on when they hear someone asking about accountants in the immediate vicinity.

The 3 main options here are: A pavement sign encouraging passers by to pop in, to use the office windows to communicate with them or to have a leaflet stand by the door.

Your local area

I make this point frequently to sole practitioners – and the point is relevant to many 2 or 3 partner firms too. Unless you have some special expertise or sector focus, the vast majority of your new clients will come from the local and surrounding area.  Even if you have clients all over the country, few people who are hundreds of miles away will ever choose you as their accountant over someone more local to them.

Assuming that you want to promote your firm in the local area there are plenty of options available to you including:

Adverts in the local press and magazines, local sponsorship, local networking groups, local radio, local business events and shows and online groups (eg: on facebook and Linkedin) that focus on the local area. Also your Linkedin profile should include your local area in the headline to make sure it stands out when anyone uses Linkedin to look up local accountants.

Nationally

If you really want to promote your firm nationally you might look to focus your promotional activity on National radio, TV,  conferences, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other UK online forums and general social media platforms.  Generic blogging on your website may also reach a National audience if it doesn’t obviously have a local or other relevant focus.

Internationally

International and overseas conferences, overseas based groups, international magazines, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other international online forums and general social media platforms.

Specific groups, communities or sectors

In case it’s not clear I would say that this  is most likely to be successful for a local accountancy firm. Especially for those who do not have the opportunity or desire to seek publicity in their immediate vicinity.

By way of examples, you might be focused on lawyers, young entrepreneurs or local property investors.

The key point here is that your focus on a specific group, community or sector enables you to STAND OUT more from the competition.  As a result your publicity is more likely to succeed here than if you adopt an approach that is better suited to larger firms and brands that truly have a National or International focus.

Your publicity should evidence your connection, interest and expertise as appropriate in the specific group, community or sector you have chosen.

The opportunities to secure publicity here are extensive – and much more focused than any of the other options listed above. They include: relevant community or sector focused magazines, news websites, blogs and papers. Also specific focused facebook groups, Linkedin groups, speaking opportunities at events that attract your target audience, sponsorship, relevant networking and business focused events. Also social media and online forums where the use of hashtags or tags enable you to reach your target audience more directly than if you just ‘go random’ (which tends to happen when you seek National and international publicity).

I must offer one important caveat to finish. Overt adverts and promotional messages may appeal to some audiences. In the main however, effective publicity for local accountants can be counter-intuitive, especially when it involves your own blog, social media and articles – effectively anything other than obvious adverts. Everywhere else you typically need to hold back on the overt promotional messages. Instead you are likely to have more success if you focus on offering help and support, sharing useful knowledge and information, tips and tricks.

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When you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes

The longer you spend on social media the more you realise that overt sales and marketing messages do not typically have much positive impact. Posting adverts on social media is a different topic and not the subject of this blog post.

Before I explain how you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes, I should clarify a related point. I have long maintained that it’s rarely worthwhile spending time on social media in the hope of finding new clients. I’m never surprised that only a minority of the accountants I speak with talk about having found new clients through social media. For some years I was of the view that many of these clients were relatively new start-up businesses who were attracted to similarly new accountancy firms. If that is what you want then by all means copy what you see other SSMAs (Successful Social Media Accountants) doing.

Times are changing but it remains true that before you try to copy what someone else does you need to decide whether you would be happy with the same results that they secure. And it’s not enough to replicate someone’s style and approach – you might also need to replicate their profile and website messages too. I’m not suggesting you copy these, but do bear in mind that when social media works as a promotional tool it is due to a combination of factors.

My advice to accountants who are keen to secure valuable promotional and marketing benefit from social media is to adopt a local, community or sector specific focus.  Rather than tweeting, posting and engaging with anyone and everyone, be more selective.

There is rarely much point in local accountants building up a follower base spread around the UK or the world, unless such people are genuinely part of your target market for business or influence.  This is not the case for most local accountancy firms. So why seek to boost your follower numbers without giving any consideration to where they are or who they are?  In most cases ‘quality’ should be far more important to you than ‘quantity’. And what will determine who are ‘quality’ followers and connections? It is likely to be because they are involved, connected or interested in the same locality, community or groups as you.

If you want to use social media effectively for promotional purposes you will still need to follow conventional wisdom and avoid too many overtly promotional posts. But, that said, you will invariably be more successful if you adopt a local, community or sector specific focus by:

  • joining relevant facebook (and also Linkedin) groups
  • tweeting, posting and commenting on local, comunity or sector specific topics
  • using popular hashtags that are already being used by others in your area/community/sector
  • including your social media account names on local marketing and promotional materials
  • following, connecting, helping, suppporting and engaging with key individuals, influencers, suppliers, customers and personalities.

Feel free to add any further suggestions or questions you have in the comments box below this post.

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