Does your website stand out in the wrong ways?

I heard Graham Jones speak at a business event recently. Graham is an internet psychologist and frequently shares unexpected but valid insights about how how people use the web.

On this occasion he was talking about websites and he explained, with good examples, why it can be a mistake if your website stands out too much. There are lesson here for accountants of course.

Graham has since shared a summary of key elements from his talk in his email newsletter. I quote from this below.

Graham explains that:

“People have pre-set ideas as to what they expect to see when they land on a site. Neurological studies show that if people don’t see what they are expecting in less than one second, these visitors disappear, bouncing out of the site, looking for something else”.

He gave an example of a bride looking for a wedding venue:

“If she lands on a hotel website and the images are all of business people in suits, she instantly thinks “this is not the hotel for me”, even if the venue does offer weddings. The bride expects to see images of people like herself, instantly. If she doesn’t see them in half a second, she perceives that the site is not for her, even before she has started to explore it.”

Another example he gave was of a garden centre website that was told it needed to look different to all the others so that it “stood out”:

“Their web designers told them that almost every garden centre website used green as its principle colour. So to stand out from the crowd, the developers suggested pink. The garden centre site was transformed, but sales plummeted. Why? Because the bounce rate rocketed, as people do not associate pink with gardening. People expect a website that is focused on gardening to have a lot of green in it. When they don’t see that, they think “this is not the right site”, and they bounce out, looking for an alternative that matches their expectation.

The problem with not providing what people expect leads to a phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance”. Essentially this is your brain going “this does not compute”. In other words, there is a mental clash between what we see and what we had expected to see and our brain gets stuck in a rut trying to sort it all out. And when a website visitor’s brain gets stuck in that rut the easiest solution is for them to leave the site, thereby eliminating the problem for them.”

Graham was clear that it can be a mistake to adopt a “wacky” approach to your website design. With so much material available online it’s easy to want to “stand out” and be different. That is often what businesses (and accountants) are told by web designers too. They say that the accountancy firm, for example, shouldn’t have a “me too” website, looking like all the others in the same category.

Graham explains:

“That is old-fashioned thinking, though. When you had time to explain to people why your company brochure was printed sideways, or why your corporate colours were pink and orange instead of green, then they understood and remembered you for being different. But nowadays you don’t have time for people to understand the differences. Instead, they need to know, in an instant, that they have landed on the right kind of website.

If you are a taxi firm and your site doesn’t look like a taxi company’s website, you will have driven away your visitors. Similarly, if you run a local stables and your website doesn’t seem to be about horses, off trot your visitors to another site. In other words, the most important thing to do these days is to be the same, not be different.”

The main focus of many of my talks is on the easy ways in which you can choose to stand out from your competitors and the pack. I reference ‘appearance’ as being one of the 7 key ways you can stand out. This isn’t just about how you appear face to face, but also online. Appearing different to other accountants online doesn’t mean that your website design needs to look very different from other accountants’ websites. It’s the content that could well be different – indeed it probably should be different to the standard boring content on so many accountants’ websites. Your content can indeed help you to stand out.

As an accountant you will want your website to appeal both to those strangers who are searching online for an accountant – and who are the sort of people you would like to have a clients. You will also want your website to appeal to those people who have been specifically referred to you or who have met you and now want to check you out.

As Graham says:

“Make the difference in what you DO, not what [your website looks like]. Your visitors will have cognitive dissonance and get confused if you don’t look like all the other websites in your sector. Be the same as everyone else and your visitors will stay on your site.”

Make your website standout through the way you reference your genuine focus on clients, how they benefit from your approach, any special services you offer, your expertise and any niche areas in which you operate. If you are a sole practitioner your website will also stand out (positively) if it reveals who you are and lets visitors get to know you a little. A standard ‘about us’ page that only talks about ‘the firm’ just doesn’t cut it in my view.

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Why do you let clients bully you?

Each February I hear tales of woe from accountants who have worked late into the night during the weeks leading up to the tax return filing deadline.

Many are resigned to this and some even seem to enjoy the adrenaline rush. Most though resent the late hours and the pressure they feel as the deadline approaches.When I ask why they work such crazy hours they tell me they have no choice. Their clients routinely ignore requests to submit tax return data earlier in the year.

When I ask why they work such crazy hours accountants tell me they have no choice. Apparently their clients routinely ignore requests to submit tax return data earlier in the year.  And the accountant doesn’t want to let their clients down.  This is admirable but it doesn’t change the facts.  I’m sorry to be the one to reveal this to you. You only have yourself to blame if you have loads of client tax returns to complete and file in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline.

I’m sorry. But it’s true. You have a choice. No one is forcing you to continue acting for dilatory clients. No one is forcing you to work late into the night. And no one is forcing you to keep your fees low.  And yes, your fees are too low if dilatory clients pay no more than the prompt ones despite the extra hassle and problems they cause for you. Accountants tell me that late submitted data causes more stress and strain – and probably lowers the quality of service you can provide.

Have you done all that you can to persuade clients to supply their data on a more timely basis? Really? And yet they are not responding positively? If that’s the case then, it seems to me that they are, effectively, bullying you. And you are letting them do this. Would you accept that bullying is an acceptable form of behaviour in any other aspect of your life?  I hope not.

You can choose whether to continue acting for bullies, for those clients who take advantage of your good nature and of your desire to please. Or you can take control. Be professional and firm. Set down the conditions that apply to your service. What can clients expect from you and what do you expect of them? Your fees are clear and transparent. Equally so are the additional fees paid only by dilatory clients. And these additional fees need to be paid before you will do last minute work for them in December and January.

You don’t have to do this of course. You’ve never had to. It’s always been an option though. The alternative is to look ahead to next year and to know that it will be the same as the last one. Again.  If you want things to be different, YOU need to take action and to communicate effectively what will change.  Stop letting clients bully you!

 

 

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Why your website isn’t generating the leads you want

Whether you spent a lot or a little on your website I’m sure you hope that it will generate business for you and provide a return on your investment. How might that work in real life I wonder?

Actually we know how it’s supposed to work, don’t we?

Someone searches online for an accountant locally to them (as that’s what they tend to do). You hope that your website appears high in the search results and that the prospect follows the link to your site.

Then you have to hope that your website enables the prospect to quickly see that you can help them with their problem. And that they can see who you are and how to contact you.

If your website isn’t generating the type of leads you want, it’s probably because prospects cannot quickly find that they want on it and decide that you’re right for them. One easy to fix mistake is on your ‘about us’ and ‘contact us’ pages. However much (or little) business you are getting through your website, you will get more when you reveal your name and who you are (maybe even with a decent photo too). Most people want to know who they are contacting – not just the name of a firm.

What about when your website isn’t top of the search results?

Experience tells us that not all prospects search online for an accountant. Instead they search for ‘tax advice’ or for some other problem they have and for which they want an answer – or someone to help them.

This is one of the reasons why the new-look Tax Advice Network website now operates as a lead generation site for accountants like you.

If you search online for ‘tax advice’ you will see that the Tax Advice Network website is already highly ranked. As a result they have long received 3,000+ enquiries a month. But many of their visitors really need a local accountant rather than a specialist tax adviser. They just don’t think to search for ‘accountant’!

The Network’s new website, the first for 9 years, went live at the start of 2017. It’s already proven to be easier to use and is securing even more traffic than before. This is because the site has so much relevant history, inbound links, SEO links and content. And it’s all natural. They have never invested money in trying to trick the search engines. Instead they played the long game and  tax accountant subscribers are now reaping the benefits of the site’s genuinely high rankings and longevity.

The traffic the site attracts includes many visitors who are much happier to follow links directly to accountants (like you). These leads tend to be people who need the help of a tax accountant rather than a real tax specialist. And as they have searched for tax advice they probably don’t have an accountant (yet). So you also have the opportunity to encourage them to become regular clients.

Over the last 9 years the site has generated many hundreds of thousands of pounds of business for tax advisers. But far more tax enquiries weren’t suitable for a specialist tax adviser. That’s why the Network is now listing accountants on the website too.

It’s hard to imagine you not securing a really positive return on the low investment required. And there’s nothing extra to pay. So you pay nothing per lead.

If you would like to know more about this opportunity, take a look at the website now >>>

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Could you adapt this unique way of standing out from the crowd?

I still remember meeting Christopher Higenbottam at a networking event some years ago. I asked what he did and he told me he is an architect. (Indeed it transpired that he was the MD of Tempietto Architects). We talked for a while about his work.  After a few minutes I think I asked him whether there was anything specific that distinguished his practice from that of other architects I might know.  I’ve long asked variations of this question when first meeting fellow professionals.  And it’s an important one to be able to answer convincingly.

Most professionals, in my experience, fall back onto the hackneyed stand bys. They often talk about offering a ‘personal service’ (sometimes they even seem to believe that this is special, just like ALL of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors who say the same thing).  Other common  replies, that also fail to make you memorable or distinctive, focus on other intangible service elements.

If I ask you this question it’s because I want to know what to listen out for when talking to people who might need your services. If I’m not a potential consumer of the  services myself I want to know why I should remember and recommend you rather than any of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors I have met.  Knowing that a solicitor, for example, specialises in employment law is not enough.  I know dozens of employment lawyers.

Equally, when you meet people at networking events you need to appreciate that they have probably met loads of other people who do what you do. I have addressed this need to STAND OUT and to be memorable many times on this blog.

So what did Christopher Higenbottam tell me that made him stand out? He focused on one element of his services – homes for individuals. I recall he talked about some special homes that he had designed.  Then he did something no one has ever done with me at a networking event before or since. He pulled out his smartphone and showed me a short slide show containing 6 photos of beautiful homes he has designed. And guess what? I REMEMBER him.

This idea is not easily replicable by many other professionals. Few of us produce anything tangible and worth photographing. There’s little point in an accountant showing a few photos of a well bound and balanced set of accounts!  I had a few alternative thoughts when I first shared this story. None of them serious.  Perhaps you can do better?  Do please add your thoughts as comments on this post.

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Don’t make this mistake if you want referrals from your clients

Regardless of which profession you practice, I wonder if you make an all too common mistake. We all hope that clients will want us to provide a range of services to them. And we hope that clients will recommend and refer us to other prospective clients too.

But, as I frequently point out, ‘hope’ is not a strategy. What do you do to ensure that clients become aware of all the services you offer?

It would be a mistake to run through everything you do at a time when you should be focused on your client’s needs. It would equally be a mistake to assume that clients will ever recall all of your service offerings.

I know an accountant, let’s call him, Andrew, who explains to new clients that he can do much more than day to day bookkeeping and accounting. He says he doesn’t just deal with day to day issues. He also has expertise in inheritance tax and at such time as a client starts thinking about their will, Andrew would love to help them.

Andrew tells me that the relationship developed well with one client and he did some great work for them. As a result, he was really quite upset to find out two years later that the same client has taken inheritance tax advice from a tax specialist.

Andrew wanted to know why the client had done this. I knew the answer as I’ve heard similar stories many times over the years.  I suggested that Andrew ask his client why they went to someone other than him for inheritance tax advice.

The client was surprised by the question and even more surprised to learn that Andrew could have provided the advice being sought.

Andrew was shocked. “But I told you I could advice on inheritance tax” he wanted to say.

The problem is that when Andrew mentioned this to his client, they weren’t interested. They might not have heard and they evidently didn’t remember. In my experience, few people remember things that they didn’t hear in the first place (names are another example).

You cannot afford to hope that clients will remember all the things you told them. Once. Twelve months ago.

Can you think of anything that you expect your clients to remember about your service capability, your expertise or your terms? Is it realistic to expect them to remember? Would it be better to do or say something, in passing, to ensure they don’t forget?

The same point is true as regards your service levels. You might have told them what to expect but did they take it in? Do they remember? Managing client expectations means more than just telling them once.

And finally, the same point applies when it comes to securing recommendations and referrals. There is little point in hoping that clients will recommend and refer you for a wider range of services than those they received. Indeed they may be reluctant to ever recommend you for services they haven’t experienced themselves.

Whatever you do, you need to take a more active role if you want more recommendations and referrals. Don’t assume that everyone remembers what you do, who you do it for and who you want to be introduced to. Chances are you’ll be disappointed.

Better to take some action and encourage the recommendations and referrals you seek.

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7 new year resolutions for sole practitioner accountants

Some people make new year resolutions every January. They may share their intentions but we rarely hear how successful or otherwise their commitment turns out to be.

Do you do this at all? If, like many of us, you have not held your resolve in the past, maybe this year will be different. But, if you have struggled previously, then you are more likely to be successful in your ambitions if you change the way you make and review your resolutions.  Doing the same things in the same way and expecting different outcomes is rarely an effective strategy.

Here are 7 ideas that I recommend you include in your resolutions, ambitions and plans for the coming year:

1. Reducing the January rush

I will take responsibility for allowing so many of my clients to delay sending me all the information I need until January. I have had enough and will start planning now to stop this continuing year-after-year.

2. Billing

I will release cash by reducing my lock-up to 30 days through changes to my terms of business, more prompt billing and applying my standard credit terms whenever clients fail to pay on time.

3. Services

4. Linkedin profile

I will add a professional looking photo and an up-to-date summary of my current experience and abilities to my Linkedin profile. This could make all the difference whenever someone is checking me out online: e.g. a prospective client, a prospective referrer or advocate, an ex-colleague or ex-client.

5. Talk with clients

I will make appointments to speak with all of my best clients within the next three months, just to see how things are going for them. Many of these calls and meetings will lead to those clients asking me to provide additional advice and services – that I can bill them for.

6. Dump the duff clients

I will stop complaining about my three worst clients and will encourage them to find new accountants within the next few months. I will replace them with three new clients as I deserve to work only with people who appreciate what I do for them.

7. Mentoring group

I will join a local mentoring group for ambitious accountants (eg: The Inner Circle) where I can learn from my peers and enhance my business and personal (non-technical skills). The group will help motivate me to keep all of my New Year resolutions. I also know I don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and I want to make this the year that I learn to become more successful.

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Sole practitioners – what can you do when your clients are too tough on you?

Many an otherwise savvy sole practitioner tells me about similar problems with their client base.

“They won’t pay higher fees, they don’t want additional services and they leave everything to the last minute”

If you have clients like this, you’re not alone. Often it’s a direct consequence of how desperate you were to take on new clients when you started your practice. Did you just take on anyone and everyone?  Did you take on a few clients who just wanted a new accountant who was cheaper than the last one?

Have you ever tried to train them or are you so afraid of losing them that you’ll put up with almost anything? It’s just not worth the risk as you don’t have much of a plan to secure new and profitable clients. Perhaps you’ve never had such a plan?

If I ask you how you get most of your new clients I’ll bet you’ll say “recommendations and referrals”. Well done.  Just one thing though. Are you winning the sort of new clients you really want – or are they much like your existing clients? After all, many clients tend to recommend people like themselves.

I do feel sorry for the sole practitioners who are not happy with their client base. They don’t feel they can make time to go out and win new clients and yet the existing client base is a strain and frustrating. I don’t think I could work like that. We have talked about how to overcome this challenge during meetings of The Inner Circle for Accountants.

The simple fact is that the only way things are going to change is if YOU take action to make things different.

One simple starting point is to identify your worst client and to plan how you will say goodbye to them. Draft your breakup email and focus on how good it feels knowing that you will never again have to suffer their voice on the phone, their excuses, their delays and their nonsense. I’m sure that will be a good feeling.

Don’t put the client’s name in the ‘To’ box of the email though until and unless you’re ready to send the email. You don’t want to send it by mistake!

Reflect on your draft email overnight and edit it if need be. Some of the accountants I work with have told me that they then had to send the email without further delay. Putting their concerns into words had helped make up their mind. Why would they want to keep this awful person as a client?

Other accountants feel they cannot afford to lose even one of their ‘difficult’ clients. When we discuss the pros and cons though they sometimes change their minds. Still, if that’s how you feel, then just save the email into your drafts folder.  And move onto step two.

Step two is to PLAN how you will replace those fees  – and then to implement that plan. You now have a new incentive to do this. Once you have signed up a nice new client and secured new fees you can then finalise and send the email to that client you want to lose.

If you want some help with that plan or any other aspect of building a more successful practice, do get in touch >>>  I’d be happy to talk you through your options. You’ll also find this topic is addressed in the Successful Practice Programme and in the Sole Practitioner Breakthrough Programme.

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Improving the profitability of your practice

At this week’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants our headline discussion topic was: “Improving the profitability of your practice”

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

We started by exploring the key headline ways in which accountants can improve profitability – most of which I have addressed on this blog a number of times previously. Our list included the obvious: Increasing fees (and value as perceived by clients), providing more advice and services (and charging for these) and systemise recurring services so as to reduce the time they take to provide.

We also listed a number of preliminary steps to take to improve profitability. These included considering what really makes for a profitable or unprofitable client (especially for sole practitioners). And also hat are the most effective lad generation activities – comparing the fees/profits  generated by clients with the cost of acquisition (considering both cash and time involved in securing the client).

One of the most challenging parts of the meeting was when members attempted to summarise their most profitable services. They realised that few of these services were promoted on their websites.

Among the key learning points noted at the end of the meeting were the following:
• Increase fees for compliance services generally by referencing value of each service, rather than the time and work involved. Clients rarely care.
• Review whole approach to AE and charge more for related services.
• Pilot the idea of offering upgrade to monthly reviews for those clients currently benefitting from quarterly business reviews.

All members have received a list of the key learning points identified at the end of the meeting, together with la summary of the discussions, ideas and suggestions raised during the meeting and links to related reading topics*

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

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Does your business card contain any of these 11 mistakes?

I routinely encourage audience members to give me their business cards at the end of conference talks. They do so if they would like me to send them copies of slides and other materials I reference during my presentation.

As many of my audiences are accountants this affords me the opportunity to compare and contrast hundreds of their business cards. So much so that I now add the following comment when I invite them to pass me their cards:

If you give me your cards I will send you a copy of the slides etc as long as I can read your email address. I’m astonished at how small or pale this is on some business cards. What is the point in having a key piece of contact information that is hard to read?

If you don’t have a card with you, just jot down your name and email address on a piece of paper.  I ask for your name as I don’t like addressing emails to Dear info, Dear mail, Dear admin or Dear enquiries and if that’s how your email address starts I have no option unless I know your name.  Again, why would you not want people to know your name?

I have written previous blog posts offering tips to help accountants ensure their business cards work well for them. Whilst many accountants have great looking business cards, many still do not. So below I offer a summary of the 11 most common business card mistakes I see accountants making. You may find it helpful to check yours against this list.

Also, of course, if everyone (or enough of those) to whom you give your business card then follows up with you, engages you or refers other people to you, then all is well and you should ignore all that follows!

Plenty of accountants include on their cards something specific about the services they provide, niches on which they focus or a neat tagline that helps them stand out from the rest. All of these, done well, can work for you. I’m no marketing expert so will not attempt to tell you what you MUST do with your card. I simply offer here 11 mistakes that it’s easy to avoid.

Purpose

Before getting onto the common mistakes let’s just remind ourselves as to the reason for a business card. I suggest that it is to provide the person to whom it is given sufficient details for them to get in touch with you – and for them to know why they might want to do this. Also for them to remember you – beyond the next 24 hours or so. Will they remember you in a month or two when they look at your business card for the first time in weeks – especially if, since meeting you, they have met 2 or more other accountants?

1 – info@  admin@  mail@ enquiries@ etc

Email addresses that do not start with a name are generally a turnoff as they lack the personal touch Why not use your name? It’s even worse on websites where there is often no reference at all to who YOU are.

2 – accountant.name@btinternet.com or @yahoo.com or @gmail.com etc

Email addresses that use a generic email service look unprofessional and suggest that you are either new in practice, are not serious about growing your practice or are very much behind the times. None are great signals. You can get you own email address very cheaply even if you do not have or need a website.

3 – Tiny and/or pale font

Either the information on the card is worth including or it isn’t. If it’s too small or faint to read then it might as well not be there. Too many business cards seem to have shrunk the font size to fit in more information such as email addresses, linkedin profile links and a promo message. But if we can’t read it easily you’re wasting your time.

4 – Crossed out email address on card and new handwritten one added

Talk about unprofessional. Think of the impact this has. New contact details means new business cards. There’s little point in finishing off an old batch of cards if the people to whom they are given mark you down as unprofessional.

5 – Multiple office phone numbers. 

You should only need one office number unless you personally operate from multiple offices. Even then you could make it easier for callers by utilising a central phone answering service, installing a switchboard or adding an auto-redirect (when engaged or unanswered) to your mobile number.

6 – Two email addresses on one business card

Why would anyone do that? It’s not like having separate local and city office physical addresses. Make it easy for people to contact you; don’t force them to wonder and to choose.

7 – Flimsy and cheap looking card

Your business card is a memory aid for when you’re not there. Do you want to be remembered as a cheap amateur?

8 – Mixed up personal and business contact information

So many business cards have evolved with little thought apparently given to where newer info should be added. It’s so much easier if the business name, address and switchboard number are evidently separate to your personal name, title, mobile, direct dial and email address.

9 – Glossy or dark coloured card

I’m not the only person in the world who likes to make a note on the back of business cards I collect. We do this so that we can recall where and when we met and what we have promised to do by way of follow up; or  simply something about you that will make it easier to remember you. I know it’s great to feel that your card stands out from the rest, but will people still recall you and where and when you met etc if they cannot note this on the card?

10 – Forgetting to include ‘Accountants’ or any similar style reference

A surprising number of accountants’ business cards have a clever brand name or even just the individual’s name but no indication of the nature of the business service they offer. Of course if you’re ‘tax specialists’ you might put that instead of ‘accountants’.  Remember too that even if you’re a member of the ICAEW and use the authorised logo, not everyone will recognise this so it’s not sufficient.  And whilst a marketing ‘guru’ may have suggested you call yourselves something like ‘business growth specialists’ you still need to use the word ‘accountants’ (or whatever) to help the person who looks at your card, some time after you gave it to them, remember what you do.

11 – Squeezing everything onto one side of the card

All cards have two sides, why not make use of both sides. Larger firms might put personal contact details etc on one side and the firm’s details on the other side. Or you might use one side to highlight specific expertise, interests or services. Don’t just list everything that most people assume all accountants do. That’s a bit of a waste of space.

 

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10 website insights for accountants to generate more sales enquiries

If you are a regular reader you will know I rarely include guest posts on my blog. In this tenth anniversary year though I have decided to stop being so precious. As long as the content is both directly relevant and useful to my audience and I agree with the advice and tips, why not?

In conversation with Peter Swead recently I realised his advice re accountants’ websites reflected views I have long shared. I’ve blogged on the topic before but am happy to share Peter’s ten website insights as they are bang uptodate.

Peter Swead’s top 10 recommendations for an accountant’s website to ensure it is effective at generating sales enquiries are:

1) Ensure your telephone number is on the top right of every website page.

2) Explain clearly and succinctly to potential clients how you can help – rather than the services supplied.

3) Keep text simple and short – no more than 200 words per page. Use simple English suitable for a 12 year old.

4) Break up complex information into bullet points so that it can be easily scanned.

5) Have the courage to be totally authentic – be the real you and set out what makes you special. That means no models or stock photos. Visitors want honesty – rather than beauty from your website. (Unless you’re also graphic designers!)

6) Ensure your website can be read and navigated on a mobile phone – without pinching.

7) Set up a Google My Business account. It’s free! Get a professional photographer to take pictures of the exterior of your premises, interior, staff and a group shot of staff and individuals.

8) Explain each service offered on a single page and then breakdown areas into sub pages – so that the VAT page could have pages on how you help with:

a. VAT returns,

b. VAT investigations,

c. Choosing the best VAT regime,

d. VAT book keeping,

e. VAT software (Xero / Act) supported

9) Be positive and explain how you help rather than what you don’t do.

10) Ensure your website pages load in 2 seconds. Every second of delay reduces the number of sales enquiries received by 7%

Each of the above points will provide an significant improvement to the cost-effectiveness of your website – but the total effect is compounded with each issue addressed.

For more information see http://paramarq.com/our-services/website-evaluations/websites-for-accountants/

I challenged Peter about the look and feel of his website as I felt that it didn’t look as good as many others I have seen. Was it a good enough advert for his business? I expected him to say that he hadn’t had the time to do much to it. Not at all. He keeps it simple and focused as he says he doesn’t want to reveal to his competitors all the techniques he uses to ensure that his clients’ websites are powerful drivers of sales.

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What to put on an accountant’s shopfront?

After I’d presented a talk to a group of accountants recently one of them asked for my advice. Our brief discussion might be of wider interest.

Q: I have a [huge] shopfront window at the front of my high street accountancy practice. 40,000 cars go past each day.

Could we use the window to STANDOUT and if so what should we put on it to help generate business?

A: If we had time I would look to find out much more about you and your practice. As we only have a couple of minutes, let me just ask one Q. What sort of work do you enjoy doing? (“Tax investigations. Though it’s really a typical general practice”)

Ok. So let’s focus on that topic. I’d consider putting “Taxman troubles? Pop in” on the window. As large as possible. It’s clear, alliterative and it doesn’t alienate conventional clients. It highlights a key topic and can be easily read and understood by drivers and passengers in passing cars and buses as I assume your signage generally makes clear that you run an accountancy practice from the shopfront. (“Confirmed”)

Rationale

My thinking here was to look for a combination of just one key service line that prospective passing trade would recognise as being distinct from more traditional and general accountancy services. I’m never sure that simply listing all of those services on your shopfront is very helpful. People (think they) know what accountants do. Far better, in my view, to attempt to STAND OUT by highlighting either a specific service line or a niche and specialist client type.

Follow up

The next morning I received this delightful note from the same accountant:

“Thank you for the advice you gave me yesterday afternoon when I asked you for your thoughts on what I might put on my large shop front window for the 40,000 per day passing traffic to see.

I’m going to have a good look at your website.  I’d like to think you can help me grow  my practice in a meaningful way.”

I hope so too!

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If we don’t trust experts anymore what do you need to do to STAND OUT?

During 2016 politicians in both the UK (Michael Gove) and in the US (Donald Trump) repeatedly asserted that people have “had enough” of experts. Voting patterns seemed to confirm this as expert political and economic views were largely ignored. And yet, we also know it’s patently not true. If you have a health problem do you prefer to take the advice of an amateur or of an expert? What about if you were arrested?

So the real question is why do people trust some experts but reject others? Why do many people on the one hand seek medical experts for medical issues, but distrust climate experts for climate issues, and economic experts for economic issues?

It transpires there is an answer to this question – although it’s in a scientific paper so relies on the views of experts!

In a study published in 2015, psychological scientist Friederike Hendriks and her colleagues at the University of Muenster in Germany coined the term “epistemic trustworthiness”. This refers to our willingness or otherwise to place trust in, and listen to, an expert when we need to solve a problem that is beyond our understanding. The paper focused on our willingness to believe scientific facts but I suggest that the conclusions are more widely applicable.

The authors argue that for an expert to be high on epistemic trustworthiness they need three characteristics: expertise, integrity and benevolence. In other words, knowing stuff isn’t enough. This is key. For us to rate a person as a trustworthy expert they need to know their information, to be honest and to be good-hearted.  There are also echoes here of the work on the power of Influence by Dr Robert Cialdini.

Being an expert is just not enough any more. Experts are more likely to be believed if they are likeable and evidently honest. I have addressed this previously on my blog. One way to evidence your honesty is to admit what you don’t know. In so doing you add credibility to what you do know about. You evidence your expertise partly by accepting its limitations.

The research paper “Measuring Laypeople’s Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)”  is actually a contradiction in terms. I am quoting it as justification for this blog post. But the very title of the paper works against it. In particular the very idea of something using a fancy term such as “Epistemic Trustworthiness” makes it less likely that many people will accept the premise of the paper.

Many experts make the same mistake. Clients are often alienated when they feel that we are using unfamiliar words and unintelligible acronyms. When we do this we are making the mistake of seemingly pushing our clients to rise to our level of sophistication and knowledge. We are much more likely to be trusted if we use words and phrases that are commonly understood and if we explain any necessary or helpful acronyms.

As experts we need to demonstrate that we are good, honest people who have our clients’ and prospective clients’ best interests at heart. We increase the likelihood that we will stand out from our competitors if we:

  • communicate more clearly and hold back on the jargon;
  • admit what we don’t know; and
  • develop a genuine interest in helping other people.

In a continuing effort to practice what I preach, I would encourage you to look around this website. Access any materials and blog posts that you find of interest and do get in touch if you feel I might be able to help you. If I can’t I’ll admit it and hopefully will know someone who can!

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How much personality should sole practitioners put into their practice?

I was asked two related questions during a recent interview. This post is drawn from the notes I made before giving my answers on air.

1. With so many businesses competing with each other online, has it become more important to put more personality into your practice?

The smaller your practice the more important it is to allow people to know that it is you who runs it. I am assuming here that you want more clients and that you’re not simply looking to take on those people who want the cheapest possible job.

Your clients know who you are, don’t they? Why hide this from prospects? That’s what you do when you fail to include your name, a photo and something about you (as a person) on your website. It’s really easy to STAND OUT positively from all of your competitors who fail to do this. Let them be the ones who hide behind a business name and brand – with a website that only allows people to contact an unnamed info@ email address.

I’d encourage you to adopt the same logic when you are crafting or updating your Linkedin Profile. (See my free Linkedin Profile Tips here>>>)

And finally on this point, if you’re going to use twitter then ensure you use it in your own name with a photo of YOU. This will be far more effective than tweeting in your firm’s name. Personal twitter accounts always have more engagement and followers than those that operate in the name of small accountancy firms.

The more of your professional personality you show the more you will STAND OUT positively from your competitors who fail to do so.

2. Is there such a thing as too much personality?

I’m sure we’ve all seen people who confuse the idea of evidencing their personality with shouting about their achievements and activities online celebrex cost. This sort of behaviour is a turn-off and rarely helps build a positive reputation or new business leads.

What do you want people to say about you when you’re not there? You want to leave a positive impression whether online or face to face. If you have a larger than life personality that’s fine. It’s not for everyone, but if that’s your style then don’t hold back. Just try to ensure you are aware that some people may find you overpowering and so struggle to build rapport with you. Then  again, maybe you want to attract the sort of people who can relate to and enjoy the company of a larger than life accountant with a big personality. You can’t please all the people all of the time.

Be yourself – be authentic – be consistent. And let people take you for who you are.

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Are technical skills enough for sole practitioner accountants?

Most sole practitioners are justly proud of their technical skills. It is also common to find that some sole practitioners undervalue the importance of ensuring that they have all the business skills they require to be profitable in the short-term and successful in the longer-term.

At best only lip-service is paid to the development of non-technical skills. And yet, there are few accountants whose success is solely dependent upon their technical skills.

I know that my own career success owes more to the development of non-technical skills than it does to my knowledge and application of tax law.

How do we gain our technical skills? No one is born a great accountant, lawyer, tax adviser or whatever. Typically we learn by working alongside experienced colleagues, by studying to pass relevant exams and by our experiences in practice.

Why then should anyone imagine that the other key skills of a profitable accountant can just be left to ‘common sense’?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills can be developed merely through trial and error. And to an extent they can. In time. If we are willing to recognise what works and what doesn’t work and to adapt our behaviour accordingly. This is great as it means that no formal training is necessary.

Anyway, we know that older practitioners didn’t have any such training. Either it wasn’t around or they didn’t need it. But life was simpler back then. Accountants didn’t have to market themselves. There was less competition and clients had less idea as to what they could realistically expect from their accountant.

The world has changed. Clients are far more choosy now and can easily find a new accountant whenever they choose.

It won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I do not agree with the idea that it’s best to just learn from your mistakes. Nor do I accept another similarly flawed attitude one encounters all too often: Practice makes perfect. No it doesn’t. ‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving, you won’t become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits. The same is true of running a small practice.

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I have long been a believer in the importance of developing key personal and business skills. Now I am collaborating with Patrick McCloughlin and we will shortly be launching the Sole Practitioners’ Breakthrough Programme. We will be focusing on those key skills that enable sole practitioners to breakthrough to higher profits and more success. We’re running a launch webinar next week. Do join us>>>

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The Sole Practitioners’ formula for identifying your premium fee paying prospects

This is a guest blog provided by Patrick McLoughlin. In it he explains how sole practitioner accountants can become really clear as to who is a premium fee playing client. And, having done that, how you can then clarify your future marketing and business generation activities. As Patrick’s approach is much the same as mine I am happy to share his thoughts here.

It doesn’t matter in which industry or professional sector you operate, if you provide a specialist service you are going to get paid more. To help you attract more premium fee paying clients, this blog focuses on transitioning your work and marketing to grow your GRF.

Here goes:

Know your strengths, understand who benefits most from your work

If you already have specialist knowledge and clients you provide a specialist range of services to, you can skip this point. If you struggle to define your ideal clients or your answers focus on personality types, read on.

As a starting point list all your clients on a spreadsheet. Then decide what issues you want to grade them on.  Typically focus on:

Level of fees paid

Profitability of work you carry out

Personality (How much you enjoy working with them)

Do they refer

Potential for fees to grow

Prospective lifetime value

Payment history

Mark the client out of 10 for each category then add up your scores. Focus on your highest scoring 10% – 20% of your clients.  Look at what they have in common. Maybe there’s a high number from a certain industry sector or you’ve helped many overcome a similar problem.

Profile your top clients

Now write a profile of those key similarities. Think about their turnover range, sectors to focus on or exclude, the postcodes you can reach within 30-40 minutes etc.  Now we are just starting to hone in on those clients you can build your future on.

Focus on Sam

To build a greater understanding create an ideal client persona. Focus on elements of your best clients.  Give them a name, a history, even a family background: For example, Sam has 2 young children under 5, an expensive mortgage and is aged 30-40 etc.

Even if you think you know, talk to your better clients about the goals they are chasing, maybe paying off the mortgage in 5-years or putting the kids through private school etc. Then list Sam’s goals, challenges and how you can help with both.

If Sam hopes to put the kids through private school you can help by planning and forecasting how the business needs to grow to achieve it.   If Sam’s company has stopped growing you may be able to help by systemising aspects of the business or improving management information allowing Sam to spend more time with potential new clients.

Focus on Sam’s opinions and feelings about the business. Sam might say that he doesn’t feel in control of the finances from one year end to the next.  Or maybe Sam doesn’t understand his annual accounts and they are no help to him in steering the business forward.

A great example of copy to address Sam’s lack of value & understanding of year-end accounts

You’ll find after you’ve completed the above that it naturally filters down to help you write a short summary of how you can help Sam. Try and use their language not your own.  And don’t forget to focus on easing their pain and fulfilling their ambitions.

If you do your homework you’ll find it so much easier to pick your ideal clients out in a crowd or a telephone conversation. Your ideal clients will relate to you better and chose you over cheaper competitors.

To help me, to help sole practitioners grow, please could you click this link and complete the short survey.

Thank you so much for your support. 

All the best.  Patrick.

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8 mistakes sole practitioners make on twitter

An increasing number of sole practitioners are experimenting with twitter. Some quickly conclude or believe instinctively that twitter could be a huge waste of time. And yet some also talk about how they have used twitter to secure new clients or otherwise found it to be a useful source of knowledge and information.

What follows are eight of the most common mistakes I have noticed sole practitioners making on twitter. As a result they waste a lot of time and effort and end up disappointed and frustrated. And then they give up. I say this with confidence as I have long been monitoring how thousands of UK accountants use twitter. Huge numbers stop tweeting after a few weeks or months.

I suspect they conclude it doesn’t work. This is much the same as you might conclude that a car doesn’t work as a good means of transport after you try to drive one, but where you have never learned anything about the clutch and you also hoped it would give you a smooth drive in first gear to see your friends who live 500 miles away. This leads us nicely into the first common mistake.

1. Assuming twitter will be an immediate source of valuable and relevant leads. This is a misconception as to what twitter is and how it can work for you. My advice is always to start out by simply using twitter as a source of knowledge and information. Follow people and topics of interest. Don’t worry about tweeting yourself until you get a better feel as to how it works after experiencing it for a while.

2. There is a rarely a good reason for a sole practitioner accountant to tweet using their practice name. Far better to use your own name and simply mention the practice in your twitter bio. Be yourself and you will attract more followers, interest and interaction than if you tweet from behind the name of your practice.

3. Don’t automatically follow everyone who follows you or chase hundreds of followers. If you do this you will attract spammers, marketing ‘gurus’, social media specialists, loners and losers. None of them will be prospective clients or advocates. They probably won’t even read any of your tweets. They will simply follow you in the hope that you’ll follow back and increase their numbers – and that is a mug’s game that many Twitter virgins play, although it serves no useful purpose.

4. Failing to clarify who you want to influence and ‘find’ on twitter. Sole practitioners are more likely to gain valuable leads by searching out local business people and others who operate in the business niche, in the local area or who share an interest with you.

5. Don’t assume that all of your followers will see all of your tweets. Think of it as a river. People jump in the stream, participate, and then get out. Equally, never worry about what you’ve missed – it doesn’t work that way.

6. Don’t set up a standard message to auto-welcome new followers – they won’t click on your links, and established twitter users don’t like them. It damages your credibility even before people get to know you and that’s never a good thing.

7. Despite the fact that you may be using twitter as a marketing tool, don’t try to solicit business or make sales. It looks spammy, and will not secure you new clients. Think of twitter simply as a way to short cut the process of finding people with whom you can build new business relationships. The bottom line is that you will generate enquiries only if your followers get to know and like you, and also if they know you’re an accountant and that you like your work.

8. Avoid trying to outsource your use of twitter. This would be as effective as giving someone else a mask of your face and expecting them to start building relationships on your behalf at a business event or party. If you want to build relationships you have to be involved.

To see how other UK accountants are using twitter, check out the tweets on these two twitter lists:

UK accountants who tweet as themselves and UK accountancy firms on twitter

Survey

If you are a sole practitioner, please complete this quick survey (just 2 questions) now, re the key issues you are facing generally in running your practice.

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10 commandments of client service for sole practitioners

Ok, maybe not real ‘commandments’ and maybe they are relevant to a wider audience than sole practitioners. Either way I hope you’ll nod as you look through the list. I suggest you aim to pick out one or two where you know you could do better. And then focus on what you could do to improve your client service in this regard over the next few days, weeks and months.
Could I also encourage you please to complete a quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues facing sole practitioners? See here>>>
1. Ask good questions: You need to identify and anticipate your client’s needs. Some clients may just tell you everything they think you want to know. But some need to be encouraged and many clients won’t know what’s important and relevant until you ask them to take about specific issues. You are the expert so you should know what additional information you need to give valuable advice. Do you get to the nub of the issue to find your client’s underlying issues, concerns and worries?
 
2. Listen attentively:  It’s all too easy to assume that one client’s situation and needs are the same as ‘all the others’ with a similar background. Even if that turns out to be the case, the fact that you listened to them will form a stronger bond, give them more confidence in your advice and increase the prospect they will speak positively about you – leading to more referrals and recommendations. Do you KNOW, as regards each client, what are their 3 most important concerns?
3. Make clients feel special: Smile when you meet with them. Be careful to only make promises you know you can keep. Be sincere. Only ever under-promise and then over-deliver. Give them more than they expect (as long as they will value the extras). Be respectful of clients’ time. Resolve their problems as quickly as possible and keep them informed of your progress (or lack of it). Every client interaction is an opportunity to show you care and to provide outstanding service. Deliver a solution that meets or even exceeds a client’s expectations and you’ll strengthen your relationship with that client.
4. Avoid jargon: Remember that clients don’t generally use the same acronyms and abbreviations as accountants. They may feel daft not understanding what you’re talking about and just nod quietly. Speak to clients using language they understand. Communicate to be understood, not to impress. Are you even aware of how often you use terms and jargon that clients may not follow? Clients hate it. Most people do, which is why I didn’t simply say: DUTMA.
(DUTMA = Don’t Use Too Many Acronyms!)
5. Bill promptly and fairly: With the possible exception of your smallest clients, you and your clients will benefit from regular billings across the year. ‘Prompt’ billings means around the time you provided the service and in line with your terms of business/engagement.  ‘Fairly means, fair to YOU as well as fair to your clients. If your fee is going to be higher than they might have expected, you should DISCUSS this with them before sending out the fee note and chasing payment.
6. Apologise promptly: None of us is perfect. When something goes wrong, be honest about it and apologise. Suggest how you might make amends and seek your client’s feedback as to what they want. Clients rarely swap accountants simply because of a mistake or two. The client service failing comes when your client perceives that you don’t care enough. Make it simple for clients to let you know if they have a problem. Make it clear that you value their complaints. Better they should let you know than tell other people! It also gives you an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable The client isn’t always right but they like to feel as though they have won – even when they are wrong.
7. Make it easy to do business with you: You don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. But you do need to be easy to contact. If you’re often out and about, consider a telephone answering service so that a real person takes messages. Consider an online diary scheduling service to allow clients to book meetings with you at mutually convenient times. I use calendly – but there are many other options. These facilities can make your life easier whilst also removing the frustration that follows when a client cannot easily reach you.
8. Focus on solutions vs problems: Clients don’t ‘really’ buy an accountant’s services. What they are really buying are good feelings and solutions to their problems. The more you can talk in terms of providing solutions to their problems, the more they will appreciate what you are doing for them and what you can do for them.
9. Admit what you don’t know: You are rarely doing clients a favour if you pretend to have more knowledge and experience than you do. Clients will rely on you more if they know they can trust you to be honest with them.
10. Seek regular feedback: If you are serious about wanting to provide great client service, you will only know if you seek feedback from your clients. How do you do this? Casually or in an organised way that adds to your credibility? The best method invites constructive criticism,  comments, and suggestions.
If you are a sole practitioner, do please complete this quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues you are facing.
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What can you do if your fees are too low?

Let’s start with a truism. No accountants complain that their clients are paying them too much. Conversely there are five main reasons why accountants think their clients are paying too little:

1. They haven’t put the basic fee up to a commercial level;
2. They don’t charge more during their busiest period;
3. They haven’t asked their clients to pay for ‘extras’;
4. They think their clients would struggle to find the money;
5. Their clients won’t pay higher fees or for ‘extras’ even when asked

If your basic fees are too low, don’t put off raising this with your clients. All you really need to do is plan your approach and remember that this could be different for different clients.

One accountant I mentor uses me as a sounding board to test his approach to having these difficult conversations with clients. He reports that his confidence is always higher afterwards and he doesn’t lose that many clients when he advises them of his new fee rates.

If your clients are struggling with cashflow you have a choice as to whether you increase your fees or continue to act as a charity or credit agency. With very few exceptions I would rather stop working for people who cannot afford to pay my fees – and to ensure I don’t end up having worked for free (eg: if they go into liquidation).

Much better to ensure all clients are paying fair fees and that those who cannot afford to do so move to another supplier who can provide the level of help they need at a lower fee. What you want to avoid is hanging onto such clients and then suffering bad debts (which includes building up work in progress that cannot be billed because the client has gone out of business).

You’ll need to think this through before you start approaching clients to start work on this year’s tax returns.

I suggest you book a chunk of time in your diary to plan how you will do this and maybe to brainstorm some ideas that will work for your practice and your client base. In my experience whilst there are plenty of issues that are common to many firms, everyone is different so what works well in one firm is not automatically right for another.

I normally suggest that accountants start by focusing on how much they want to earn from their practice. Then you can determine what they will need to do to achieve that ambition. Only you can decide what you want and how you’re going to get it.

When your fees go up you will invariably lose some clients but even if you do, overall you are likely to end up with more fees and more time – a win-win situation. And if you also make a reciprocal fee arrangement with a smaller accountant to whom you refer your ‘lower value’ clients you can ensure that everyone is happy.

 

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Do you offer a service guarantee? I bet you do.

Let’s be realistic. If you did some work for a client but they weren’t happy because you made a big mess of it, would you insist on charging them extra to correct your mistake?

I hope you wouldn’t even consider trying to charge extra to resolve a mistake of your own making.  To my mind this is the start of a service guarantee. And it’s the sort of thing, which, if promised up front, can help generate confidence from prospective clients.

Over the years I’ve often seen references to service guarantees on an increasing number of professional service provider’s websites. I came across one last week and established that it wasn’t unique to the firm in question; Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and consider how effective is the message below. It’s listed on some accountancy firms’ websites as one of the answers to the question ‘Why us?’

Our 100% Risk Free Guarantee…Use our services to help you pay less tax and increase wealth, completely at our risk. Our services are so outstanding there’s a 100% Risk Free Guarantee.

Here it is…

If at any time you are not completely happy withglobal-unlock-guarantee our work please discuss it with us. If we really can’t sort the issue for you then don’t pay for the part you’re not happy with. Ask for it at any time within 30 days of the work and we won’t expect payment. That means…

No small print;

No quibbles;

No questions asked;

No exceptions;

No strings

I think this is very cleverly worded and does put some (but not a lot) of responsibility on the accountant to achieve absolute clarity as regards the services to be provided up front.

How would you feel if a prospective client asked if you were as confident as this in your work? Or why should they choose you over another accountant that offers such a guarantee?

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Why your clients are indifferent and don’t recommend you

Many accountants claim that they secure much of their new work through word of mouth referrals. This suggests that clients are making positive comments about their accountants. They may do that if they’re particularly happy but in the same way any unhappy clients will be quick to complain about their accountants.

I’ve heard a large number of people talking about their accountants in recent years and it’s fair to categorise those views as good, bad, or most often – indifferent. Well at least it’s not ugly!

Good

This seems to imply that things couldn’t be better. Clients believe that their accountant does what they want, when they want it and for a fee that they consider to be good value for money. The client feels that they get pro-active advice and are very happy to recommend their accountant to friends and family.

Bad

Clients feel that they’re putting up with bad service, high fees and/or get little of value. They certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone they know to use the accountant.

Indifferent

This is how I describe those clients who think their adviser is ‘okay’. This might be because the accountant doesn’t wow the clients with great service nor do they feel that the accountant is charging excessive fees.

Sadly it seems to me that a high proportion of people think their accountant is just ‘okay’. The fact that they haven’t complained doesn’t mean we can assume that they think their accountant is ‘good’. It also means that the client is more at risk of moving to a new pro-active accountant than we might assume.

‘My accountant is great’

When I saw this comment on a business forum I asked the person concerned what made them say that? Here’s the reply:

“He keeps things very straightforward in his explanations not that I have any particularly complex matters to deal with but he acts quickly, keeps costs to a reasonable amount (not cheap but sufficient value), makes himself available as and when needed and I get comfort from the fact that he has a successful practice, nice small modern offices and polite and helpful staff. When I have required explanations re: overseas investments, capital gains tax, what I can put against tax to minimise it legally, he delivers his knowledge in an easy to assimilate manner”.

I think that’s about it in a nutshell. Of course different clients want different things from their accountants. And different elements of your service and style will appeal to different clients.

If your clients are getting the service and attention  they want from you at a price they’re happy to pay then they MIGHT be expressing a positive view. They’ll only do so when asked though. Are you consciously doing anything to ensure that your clients see you as good, rather than bad, or do you risk them being indifferent?

It’s only if your clients think you’re good that they’ll be saying positive things about you. And if you rely on word of mouth referrals for new clients, you may find that we are moving into an age when you need a more active approach to encouraging these.

What do you do to actively encourage positive word of mouth referrals?

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New hologram support service for accountants

Press Release

Renowned accountants’ mentor and commentator, Mark Lee, has teamed up with a Tokyo University for what he is calling an outsourcing knowledge experiment.

This new service is quite distinct from Microsoft’s recently announced holoportation which uses different technology. Using a simpler Japanese originated smartphone app, accountants will be able to have a hologram of Mark projected into their office to provide outsourced practice support, knowledge and advice.Hologram of Mark Lee

Mark is delighted to be able to offer accountants a facility to interact with him akin to that of the holographic doctor in the TV series ‘Star Trek Voyager’.

“Obviously this new facility isn’t comparable with what may be available in the 24th century but it’s still way beyond what we might have imagined just a few years ago. It seems like Magic but it’s science” says Mark who is Treasurer of The Magic Circle and includes a touch of magic in his keynote talks.

The technology in question was developed in 2010 by the University of Tokyo’s Department of Complexity Science and Engineering (DCSE). Mark is the first person in the UK to be licensed to test the technology for commercial purposes. He became involved through a friend, Pria Lolof, who works at the DCSE.

“We’ve been planning this for some time and are concerned that Microsoft’s recent announcement about their holoportation is a spoiling tactic. The timing is very coincidental” says Mark who has been providing support to smaller practitioners for many years and has been looking for a way to fill a gap in his service offerings.

“I provide loads of free stuff on my website and a low cost online course to help accountants build a more Successful Practice. Beyond that I have a face to face group called The Inner Circle which meets in London and a premium 1-2-1 mentoring facility too.

I’ll be launching a new online programme shortly to provide support to a wider range of accountants around the UK. This hologram facility may become the technology we use to deliver the programme. If it turns out to be impracticable I’ll go back to the original plan of online meetings.”

The hologram service is only being promoted today because of the nature of the Japanese Outsourcing Knowledge Experiment. Thereafter accountants will be invited to attend a webinar being prepared especially for sole practitioner accountants who want to make a breakthrough in the development of their practice. Please email Mark if you would like to be advised when the webinar is being run.

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What’s your angle?

Too many accountants struggle to distinguish themselves from their competition. This is a shame as it is what makes each of us different that makes us memorable and the reason why clients engage us.

Challenge this if you must. Tell me that no one cares about anything other than price.

If that’s what you believe then I’m sorry for you. It’s a fallacy promoted by those who choose to sell stuff at low prices. It’s not true for Apple, for the makers of quality cars, handbags or designer clothes. Nor is it true for EVERYONE seeking professional advice, tax advice or day to day compliance services.

Of course price is all that matters to SOME people. Personally though I’m happy for those people to choose someone other than me to provide the service they seek. Typically those who only want to pay a low fee do not become valued clients; they are often more trouble to deal with and getting paid is rarely easy either.

So, let’s get back to the point. Do you really feel that you are no different from hundreds of other accountants? If that’s what YOU feel then it’s no wonder that prospective clients think the same and may choose to go elsewhere.

When you talk about what you do for clients, do you sound the same as everyone else? If so, you are missing a trick. The same goes for your website, online profiles and any physical marketing materials you use.

What do you add beyond the basics? It’s the differences that matter and that make it worth while someone choosing to engage you rather than the accountant down the road. What’s your angle? Often it’s your point of view that makes you unique and can help you to STAND OUT from your competitors. If you haven’t formulated any strong opinions on work related topics you may struggle to convince prospective clients why they will get a better service from you than from others. Just be careful to ensure that your views are based on informed facts rather than a naive acceptance of biased comment in the media.

Think back to the most common questions you are asked by prospective clients. Do you have a unique take that might resonate with them and help them to recognise that you’re the sort of professional they want to engage?

What’s your angle?

 

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My social media journey

After being ranked in the top 3 of online influencers by the ICAEW I was recently interviewed about my social media journey. The following extracts may be of interest.

When and why did you start using social media?

It was 2006 when I first registered on Ecademy.com This business focused online networking site predated Linkedin but ran out of money and is no more. Through Ecademy I was introduced to twitter and Linkedin.

Which platforms do you use, and for what?

Over the years I have written a number of blog posts which show how I manage my time across various social media platforms. The last such blog post was in May 2015>>>

Currently I would summarise my use as follows:

Linkedin.com – online business networking to make new connections, typically with accountants and other professional advisers. I have almost 5,000 direct connections here and run 3 groups for accountants and other professionals. I belong to around 40 groups.

Twitter.com – to source and share knowledge, insights and news on topics of interest. I also add all UK accountants I can find on twitter to one of my two twitter lists, which enables anyone to see how UK accountants use twitter. I also have a similar list of all the magicians I can find on twitter!

Facebook.com – Few of my real life social friends are active on facebook. However I keep in touch with many of my old Ecademy friends here. Also many of my friends in the worlds of magic and of public speaking are active here so I can keep in touch with them too. We share tips, ideas and advice. I also have a facebook business page promoting both my services to accountants and to other professionals.

Youtube.com – I watch videos here – and sometimes post my own, normally about talks I have given or am about to deliver. I sometimes add comments beneath videos, typically those posted by people I know.

AccountingWeb.co.uk – I have written over 200 articles for this site and routinely engage with readers who post comments both on my articles and on those written by others.

ion.icaew.com –  When I get emails prompting me to check out articles here I often read them then ‘vote’ them a thumbs up or down and occasionally add my thoughts by way of comments.

How do you use it on a day to day basis?

I look for opportunities to help my contacts, connections, followers and friends on social media – much as I do in real life. If I can answer a question, contribute positively to a discussion on a topic of interest or offer some insight and advice I’m happy to do so.

I tend to make more use of social media when I’m out and about eg: waiting for trains, buses, taxis rather than when I’m office bound all day. I also use some tools that allow me to automate and schedule some of my posts on twitter and facebook.

How has social media helped you professionally? For instance, making new connections or finding new business.

In this context social media is a form of online networking that allows me to connect with a far wider range and a larger number of people than would be possible face to face. We can then determine whether to meet or speak directly. I find this much more efficient than attending random networking events. Equally however it can be more distracting as so many new connections on social media are not local to me.

Over the years I have established relationships with many people who have, in time, become clients or who have engaged me or recommended me to speak at conferences and other events. Others offer assistance when I seek help or advice. One great example is Tony Margaritelli who runs the ICPA. He frequently engages with me on twitter and has both booked and rebooked me to speak at the ICPA annual conference.

Social media has also helped me to build up my email distribution lists although I am careful to avoid promoting too many things as this would probably mean a drop off in my follower numbers etc. And my high profile across a number of sites with a target demographic helps keep my name in the frame when people want to engage a professional business speaker, a mentor or simply want to commission articles and content on relevant topics.

Finally, the independent online social media influence scoring system, klout.com rates me as having a very high score of 79/100. Only celebrities tend to score above 80. Although klout is not widely recognised in accounting circles my high score does generate interest and has contributed to me securing a number of speaking gigs as a social media ‘expert’.

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How do you decide which bookkeeping software to trust?

It’s not often that you see a huge supplier to your business sector subliminally promoting you. Maybe that’s stretching the facts but I was amused to see a recent post on the Sage One blog titled: TrustMark.

TrustMark is a Government backed quality scheme that is intended to signpost people to reputable local firms and expert tradespeople working to Government-endorsed standards.

Why am I referencing TurstMark here? Partly because I found the post on the SageOne blog, partly because it sounds like an encouragement to recognise my integrity but primarily because of an analogy that I hope you’ll find useful.

It seems that TrustMark was launched 10 years ago, which means I should have come across it previously. I’d have thought I would remember, but it seems not. I would imagine that there was a bit of a fuss about it when it was launched. Since then it has been partly superseded by better known and better funded alternatives eg: Checkatrade, TrustedTraders and TrustaTrader – even though they are all quite different.

Something similar has happened in the world of bookkeeping and accounting software. I read recently that Sage has reached 100,000 Sage One subscriptions in the UK. Few of the alternative suppliers have the same pedigree and yet we often hear more about them than we do about Sage. Why is that I wonder?

I’m not a tech blogger as you know. My focus is on helping individual accountants (and other professionals) to STAND OUT from their competitors, from their peers and from the crowd. The accounting and bookkeeping software houses have to do this too. I imagine they all seem pretty interchangeable at first glance. But I understand that there are some quite significant differences in terms of functionality, price, support, ease of use (for you and for clients) and all sorts of other factors.

If you have yet to choose a preferred solution you need to be careful to avoid simply following the herd. What suits other small practitioners may not be ideal for you and your client base.

Indeed there are plenty of accountants who are, effectively, software agnostics. They are happy to use different software for different clients. If this approach resonates, what will be your policy when you learn that a prospective new client uses a bookkeeping package that is new to your practice? Is there a limit as to how many different packages you will allow your clients to use?

Now that you have the facility to run these programmes in the cloud one key reason for limiting the number of different packages has gone. Cloud based software doesn’t require you to install regular or even annual updates. In theory therefore there is no need to limit the number of different packages that clients use. That is unless you have learned from experience or from other accountants of limitations and irritants that you wish to avoid.

But I am now in danger of over stretching my ability to comment on these systems. I like to limit myself to those topics about which I can speak with some authority – whether on my blog, in workshops or on conference stages.

Three years ago I spoke at the Sage Accountants Roadshow on the #FutureOfAccounting. The focus of my presentation was how accountants can use social media. As ever, I debunked some of the hype (much of which exists to this day). I love doing this and my enthusiasm for doing so probably comes across even stronger now than it did in 2013.

I used an analogy back then comparing social media to a car. I suggested that some accountants who start using social media are like people who get into car and try to drive without first understanding anything about the clutch and the gearstick. It wouldn’t be a very comfortable journey and might well put one off driving. Many accountants who try out social media are in much the same position. They don’t find it useful or helpful, principally because they have bought into the hype but don’t really understand what they are doing.

Does the same sort of thing happen with some cloud based bookkeeping and accounting packages? As we move into 2016 I suspect that we will hear more about which suppliers we can really trust. What do you think?

This blog post was kindly sponsored by SageOne.

 

 

 

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Is it really about the competition or is it about you?

I recently offered some help by way of comments in response to an accountant’s query in an online forum. Most of my observations and advice are of more general application so I am sharing them here too.

The questioner has been in practice for 3 years and is struggling to build up his client base. He has already lost a number of those he picked up in year one. His question was headed: How do I compete? He has identified 127 other accountants within a 5 mile radius of his home and wants to know if he can ever expect to get onto page one of Google.

Here’s my reply:

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Reading your original post and your comments I suggest there are a number of issues to address:

Prospects vs suspects

You think you are good with clients but you seem to struggle with converting prospects into clients. I wonder if they are all even prospects. Some may be simply ‘suspects’ – for example those who you say are not ready with their business model. Is the service such people require different to what you’re offering? Maybe they need help building their business model?

Can you distinguish suspects from prospects? The latter are not just people who want an accountant but people you have found out enough about to know that you could provide what they want/need and that you can provide those services.

Online promotion

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about ensuring your website appears high up the search results when people search for the services you are offering. You’re right. It will be hard to compete with 127 other local accountants all offering the same thing to the same people.

There are typically two types of people who search online for an accountant:

A) Those who just want an accountant (be it their first one or to switch from a bad one)

B) Those who want an accountant who specialises in helping people just like them

It sounds like you’re hoping to be found in (A) regardless of who is looking. While there will be fewer people searching for a specialist accountant, more of them are likely to be pay good fees and you will face less competition.

‘Closing’

Do you have the confidence and skills to ‘close’ a prospect – ie: to help them to want to engage you as their accountant? This demands both conversational skills and the right paperwork at the right time.

Local competition

Ah yes, this is what you suggest may be the biggest issue. You may be right. But equally if you can distinguish yourself, your service and your approach from the others you can build a sustainable and profitable practice.

Again, there are 2 issues:

a) Are there enough prospective clients in the area? (Almost certainly ‘yes’ – tho you may need to wait for their current accountant to mess up before they will move to someone new – you!)

b) Can you position yourself as the accountant enough of them should aspire to be serviced by? Having a half decent website (or better) and high ranking on Google is only part of the story and not a crucial one either.

Referrals

This is always referenced as the ‘best’ source of new clients for accountants. I am aware however, that many who claim this are not looking to build up their practice quickly. They are happy winning a few new clients each year to replace the few they lose each year.

Establishing a sustainable referrals strategy is absolutely worthwhile. Again though it’s easist if your clients, friends and associates can say something distinct, when referring you. Something more than simply that you’re an accountant (just like all the others).

Happy to discuss this further. I love helping accountants who want to STAND OUT and become more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding. By all means book a call here: www.calendly.com/bookmarklee/phone

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