I’m not boring but my firm is. What should I do?

I was recently asked by an accountant whether it matters that his firm has a boring website and boring branding? The individual in question does not come across as boring themselves.

In typical accountancy fashion, I responded: ‘It depends…’.

I believe that firms that are keen to attract business from people who search online for an accountant need to have an attractive compelling website that make it both appealing and easy to get in touch. Or at least that those firms which do this will convert more visitors than those with boring looking websites.

Nb: The look and feel of the website is also relevant to accountants and firms where prospective clients look them up online. This typically happens after an existing client, business or networking associate has recommended or referred the accountant or firm to the prospect. (More tips on accountants’ websites here>>>)  

I also believe that accountants who attend networking events and give out boring looking business cards need to be particularly memorable, special and distinct in themselves. Otherwise there is less chance of the people they meet wanting to follow up with them. And networking without following up is invariably a waste of time.  The more you can tip the odds in your favour here the better. And quality business cards that stand out can only help.  (More tips on accountants’ business cards here>>>)

On the other hand…

Existing clients will be less interested in the firm’s website and branding than in the individual accountants with whom they are dealing.  Other partners in the firm may perceive any changes to the website and branding as a costly exercise that will not improve the bottom line. This may be true in the short term. And, of itself, such changes will not achieve anything. They would need to be part of a review and upgrading of the firm’s marketing activities, messages and ambitions. Should the more standout partners and members of staff push for this?  It depends… 😉

 Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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What skills set does it take to be successful as an accountant or tax adviser?

Some years ago I routinely highlighted the need to build and develop personal and business skills in addition to technical skills. It’s all very well to understand accounting and tax rules and how to produce a set of accounts and tax returns, but ambitious accountants need a wider skills set if they want to be successful. Today I return to the topic – for reasons that will become apparent.

It has long been my experience, and that of other training providers, that accountants and tax advisers are far more willing to invest in keeping up to date technically, than they are to invest in their personal development.

The number of attendees at technical courses will often be more than double the number who seek out non-technical CPD. This seems to be seen as simply a nice-to-have, rather than a crucial element of becoming and remaining a successful accountant or tax adviser. I find this odd as my own career success in practice owed far more to my non-technical skills than it did to my technical ones. And I know I’m not alone. It’s actually very common. Some of those skills may have come naturally to me but most benefitted from the numerous training courses I attended, books I read and tapes(!) I listened to over the years.

What prompted this blog post was the impassioned plea contained in a full page letter published in the June 2013 issue of Tax Adviser magazine. The letter  was written by Margaret Connolly, Partner and Head of Taxation at Reeves, a major firm of Accountants with over 40 partners in south-east England.

Margaret doesn’t mention non-technical skills as such but does note, inter alia, that:

Too many bright and talented tax staff only have experience of compliance work; They have had very little opportunity or experience in the advisory field even if they have secured an ATT or CIOT qualification.

“What makes a good tax adviser is the possession of the ability to interpret tax legislation and to apply it to each and every situation offerred by clients; indeed this is what clients expect.”

Those coming into the profession today are not afforded the time or encouraged to undertake detailed technical research, to think for themselves and offer their understanding of the legislation.

Most experienced tax partners today are under too much pressure to meet billing targets such that they cannot devote time to training up less experienced colleagues.

Although candidates’ CVs imply they have relevant experience, when probed during interviews they seem unable to demonstrate that they can give advice that considers all relevant tax issues.

If the profession doesn’t provide return to the days of adequate on the job training we will end up with a dearth of good quality tax advisers.

I have long believed that a period of varied and relevant practical experience is crucial over and above the achievement of professional qualifications. For this reason I entirely agree with Margaret Connolly’s concerns. But I would go further.

To be a successful accountant or tax adviser I believe  that you also need a range of personal and business skills and to have practiced these in real life client and office scenarios. Yes, you can learn some ‘on the job’ but why not accelerate your personal development in the same way as you do your technical skills? We think so much of this is common sense. Some is of course – with the benefit of hindsight. But we need to make it common practice and that’s quite different. We also need to learn about best practice and new techniques.

A few years ago I created a personal skills audit for ambitious accountants and tax advisers. It’s a one page note that highlights a dozen key skill areas. At the time I planned to act as a mentor, but I no longer have time for this. Still, I have dug it out and you can now access the note with my compliments through this link>> [edited: for a few weeks I was sending this by email but it’s become so popular….]. You can then see for yourself which areas seem to be important to you in your current role. You can also then grade yourself, honestly, for each of those skills on a scale of 1-10. What you do with the results is upto you.

And if you have any views on this topic, do please let me know direct or add your comments below this blog post.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How to build your personal brand

What do people say about you when you’re not in the room? What would you like them to say?

Few accountants seem to think this through. If you are clear about what you want people to say though you are likely to find success a lot faster than anyone who is ‘just another’ accountant.

There are two elements to consider here. What do you want people to say about:

  • what you do (as an accountant)? and, separately
  • you as a person?

I addressed the first question in a recent blog post. That second question though is especially tough. You need to be somewhat self aware and self analytical to address this successfully.

For example, do you want to be remembered as a thoughtful person who listens to others? Or as someone who is self-absorbed and who talks at people without really taking any notice of what they say?

Do you know how you come across? Or what people currently say about you?

We each create an impression by what we say, how we say it and how we react to other people. This is true of face to face encounters but also of our online engagements on social media and Linkedin. It can be instructive to reflect on the way that other people will remember us.

These memories that other people hold become our personal brand. And if it’s not what we want it to be then it’s upto us to change things.

Going back to the first of the two questions, you also want to provide some clarity about your role as an accountant. People need to know your areas of expertise and of specialism. I have said it before and I will no doubt say it again, you are different to all the other accountants out there. You are You. You have your past experiences and interests to draw on. If you make no effort to distinguish yourself, you will struggle longer than those accountants who are memorable and distinct.

We have all heard the old phrase: ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. The implication being that to be successful, you need to accept that your knowledge and skills are less useful and less important than your network of personal contacts.

I think that old phrase is no longer correct. The truth is that these days, It’s BOTH what you know and who you know. And who knows you. And, this is crucial, What they say about you*.  YOU can determine this by how you behave and by what you say both in real life and online. Take control and build your personal brand to be more successful than those who leave it to chance.

* My friend, Andy Lopata, stresses this point in many of his presentations.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to stand out and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Portfolio careers for accountants

It’s now 7 years since I started the transition into a portfolio career and next month I will be speaking about this at an event organised by ICAEW.  Full details here>>>

Starting at 5.30pm on the evening of 13 May at One Moorgate Place in London, this event will be of use and value to other chartered accountants considering or planning a portfolio career. The areas being addressed by the 5 speakers include:

  • what a portfolio career is
  • how to identify what motivates you
  • how to effectively use networking to build your portfolio (This is my slot)
  • a detailed look at the role of a non-executive director
  • what it’s like working as an interim manager, and
  • how one member built a varied and very successful portfolio career

The evening concludes with drinks and light bites from 8.30 – 9.00pm

To book your place, please follow this link to the ICAEW website which contains full details. And do please come and say hello during the evening.

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Everyone wants an accountant they know, like and trust

I’ve lost track of how often I have flagged this fundamental point during networking talks and in my articles and ebooks.

Obviously there are many factors that will determine a prospective client’s decision making process. However, everything else being equal, you will secure more work if you make it easy for people to get to know you, to like you and to trust you.

When was the last time you heard of someone who appointed a new accountant and told their friends that “I’ve got this strange new accountant. I don’t like him or trust him”? Too often? ;-)

Seriously – although there will always be exceptions to the rule, I am convinced that ambitious accountants will secure more work if they make it easy for prospective clients to get to know them, to like them and to trust them. Of course this is made easier if you are not perceived as a stereotypical boring accountant.

The question we all ask then is: How do you get people to know, like and trust you?  Which, simply translated, means: What do WE each need to do to make it easy for the people we meet to get to know us, to like us and to trust us?

Well?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Succinct advice to help anyone win new clients

I came across an old Chinese proverb recently:

A man without a smiling face must not open a shop

It reminded me of something my kids said a few years back at the surprise party that my wife arranged for my 50th birthday. My wonderful (teenage) kids gave a speech that included a short description of me as a ‘smiling man’. I’d like to think that my smile is welcoming and infectious. Is yours?

We all need to present a professional image – it needs to be a welcoming image too. Too many frowns and serious looks will not make it easy for new contacts to warm to us. And if they don’t like us, well, this will only serve to reinforce any preconceptions they may have about accountants being boring.  All of us, whether or not we’re in practice, industry or pretty much out of it (like me) owe it to our fellow professionals to overcome that boring old stereotype.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Apparently this is one of the Top 30 accounting and finance blogs

Last month I received what appears to be a genuine endorsement of all my work to make this blog useful, relevant, commercial and valuable to ambitious accountants.Best Accounting and Finance Blogs 2012

I was initially a tad cynical but this blog really is the fourth in a list of the Top 30 Accounting and Finance Blogs of 2012.

The note I received last week from Tina Ray, editor of BestAccountingSchools.net, said that:

“Of the hundreds of blogs we reviewed, yours was selected as being among the most helpful and offering the sharpest insight.”

If you scroll down you will note that I am now proudly displaying the award badge on the right hand side of this blog.

For the record, Best Accounting Schools’ mission is:

“To help you in your quest to become an Accountant or advance in your career in Accounting. We do this by providing high quality resources about how to get started in this field, along with information about the best accounting schools and degree programs available.”

It is an American focused resource which is ironic as my focus is UK based accountants.

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An opportunity for ambitious accountants to give something back

I recently became aware of Accounting for International Development (www.afid.org.uk) and thought I would provide it with some much needed publicity via my blog. It’s a good cause and any accountants who get involved may find this helps them to evidence that they are not boring. Indeed, as I frequently point out: Boring is Optional

Accounting for International Development was set up in 2009 in order to enable volunteer accountants to pass on their skills to charities in the developing world. This helps in many ways, the 2 most obvious ways being:

  1. Transparent accounts make a small charity more attractive to a large international donor organisation, and
  2.  Greater efficiency and financial sustainability means more good work can be done.

In reality this can equate to more vulnerable women being taken in by a refuge in Nepal, or more people living with HIV/AIDs receiving medical care in rural Tanzania.

I cam across a fascinating case study of one of their volunteers, National Audit Office principal auditor  Jonathan Broadley.

Jonathan believed strongly that for aid to really work the recipient organisation needs the financial capacity to achieve its social objectives. He approached Accounting for International Development (A f I D) as he was keen to share his experience with an overseas non-profit organisation and help to develop its current system of financial controls, enabling them to better serve their community….>>>> More Here

Individually tailored assignments of between 2 weeks & 12 months form part of an ongoing strategy to build the financial management capacity of charities around the world. You could be budgeting with a street kid centre in Kampala, coaching a hospital bookkeeper in Kigali, financial reporting for a primary school in Kathmandu or mentoring an international NGO’s new FC in Khartoum – You choose.

AfID have arranged assignments for over 300 accountants from 26 nations who have given over 50,000 hours of support to 144 charities in 28 countries across the world.

Do check out the charity’s website even if you are not currently able to assist. They run an email notifier system to keep supporters informed of upcoming opportunities.

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Nine career related tips re accountants’ use of facebook

One of the talks I presented at Accountex in November 2012 was titled: Harnessing the power of social media for career success. Much of this talk was an adaptation of my more general articles, blogs and talks on social media. However, there were a number of completely new elements including some key tips re facebook – which I have summarised below.

Why, you might ask, did I reference facebook during the talk. Surely I would have focused on Linkedin – the online Business networking site. I did. But, the ubiquity of facebook means it is also worth thinking about what you can do here to aid your professional career.  I would stress that I start from the perspective that facebook really is more for ‘social’ use than for building business connections.  I am NOT a fan of the idea that anyone tries to become facebook friends with partners in firms of accountants or with the owners of businesses – unless you can see that they are clearly encouraging this through the way that THEY use facebook.  That won’t be very often.

For what it is worth I have over 2,400 connections on Linkedin and around 4,300 followers on twitter but fewer than 300 friends on facebook.  For me, it really is not a business focused medium. But I’m not looking to build my career so my experience and approach is not really relevant.  Which is why I DID cover facebook in my recent talk. Here are the nine tips:

  1. Make your facebook profile work for you – although not as formal as Linkedin, friends can still see the details you share about your current and previous roles and projects. Ensure that these paint a positive picture and evidence your specific expertise and any distinctive value that you offer.
  2. Be aware of who your ‘friends’ are – do you really know them ALL? Some may be old work colleagues or people with  whom you have lost touch. Any of them may be in a position to put you forward or to scupper your chances of getting your next dream role.
  3. Customise who can see your status updates – Whenever you post a status update you can decide which groups of friends can or cannot see it. You can also ensure that specific people should not see specific posts. You should always be aware that, unless you use this facility, your updates may be widely seen. Some of your updates may be best hidden from all but your closest friends!
  4. Take care over the job and career related updates that you post – Be especially careful if you are prone to complain about elements of your current role or employer. If you MUST post such updates you should really limit who can see them! More positively you may find that more distant friends may pick up on your availability, if you are between roles – as long as you are positive and upbeat.
  5. Resist the temptation to share too much too widely – This follows on from the above two points.  If you are employed you shouldn’t be posting updates to facebook more than two or three time during the working day. If you post updates too often it gives the impression that you are not focused on your work and that’s not a good impression to give if you want to progress your career.
  6. Check your privacy settings – Again this follows on from the above points.
  7. Check what your business ‘friends’ can see – As part of the ‘activity log’ facility you can check the impact of your privacy settings using the ‘View as…’ facility.
  8. Check the settings for every authorised app – You will probably want to limit the ability for apps to automatically post activity updates to your facebook timeline. Again , this is especially important if you find the time to ‘play’ during the working day. There may also be some apps and games that you would prefer your involvement to be kept confidential as reagards your ‘business’ ass0ciates.
  9. Send personalised messages to friends who may know people – You never know who might be able to make a valuable introduction to a potential employer, or  who might hear about the perfect job opening.  More an more employers are providing incentives to staff to provide leads to potential recruits. This can be much more cost effective than using recruitment consultants.

Many younger accountants will find nothing new in this list as they apply similar principles as regards the extent to which their parents can see what they are doing on facebook after they become ‘friends’. Equally some parents, who have been accepted as their children’s ‘friends’ on facebook, may wish to limit the extent to which their children can see what they (the parents) have been upto!

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Why accountants need to be more confident

The ACCA published a new research report in August 2012 entitled ‘Closing the Value Gap’. This explores the role of accountants today and in the future. A couple of statements in the Executive Summary caught my eye as they provide a new take on the issue I have been focusing on recently; that too many people think accountants are boring. Remember, Boring Is Optional!

The Executive Summary notes that:

“Old-fashioned images of what it is to be an accountant, such as the classic bean-counter stereotype, can be at odds with the changing landscape and the rapidly evolving trend towards greater specialisation.”

This is followed by a quote from Richard Sexton, executive board member for reputation and policy at PwC.

‘It’s important for us to come out of the shadows into the daylight and use that as an opportunity to better explain what we do, how we do it and the value we generate. There will be some challenging conversations. But it’s important that you’re confident enough to talk about what you do, why you do it and why it’s important.’

This issue of confidence is important. Too often accountants seem almost apologetic when answering the question, ‘What do you do?’  If you can’t be proud of your professional qualification and confident in the value of the role you play, how can you expect clients, friends, family and other third-parties to hold you in high esteem?

Important caveat. There is an enormous difference between confidence and arrogance. Arrogance is not a positive quality. Those who are arrogant often seem to be looking down on others. Arrogant accountants are rarely liked or admired by anyone.  If your confidence makes other people feel insulted, whether you intended this or not, you will be considered arrogant.

I like the suggestion that ‘confidence is arrogance under control’.  A confident accountant uses their talents to genuinely try to be of use, or to succeed at the task at hand.  Such an approach makes them likeable, admirable and interesting. And that’s much better than being thought of as Arrogant or as Boring, wouldn’t you agree?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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