Have you checked your KDIs?

One of the reasons I do what I do is to help accountants win more clients. And one of the ways you can do this is to identify what makes you different to the competition. Yes, the raw service you provide may be the same but this is only part of the story.

Every accountant I have met is different. An individual. We all have different experiences, backgrounds and attitudes. These combine to ensure that clients will get a different service dependent on which accountant they appoint. If this was not the case, clients would never move from one accountant to another other than due to fee issues.  And yet clients do move for other reasons.

During many of my talks and when I’m working with savvy sole practitioners I make the point that most clients want more than just an annual set of accounts and tax return. They also want advice on how to keep their tax bills down, how much tax to pay and to know when it be due. Clients in business often also want business focused advice. Not everyone will pay for this. But that’s a separate issue.

The fact is that every accountant will deliver their advice differently. We all have our own opinions borne of our past experiences. And there are many different ways of providing (and billing) for advice.

This all brings me back to the main point for this blog post. KDI stands for Key Difference Indicators. We’re all familiar with the idea of KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. My aim by referencing KDIs is to encourage accountants to think about what makes them Different to other accountants and then to focus on their KDIs. And, let me stress, I intend KDIs to be identified for individual accountants, not for accountancy firms.  There is quite enough nonsense talked about USPs – as I have highlighted on this blog previously. For example: Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants.

By choosing a different set of initials I hope to highlight the benefits of focusing on what makes you (personally) different to other accountants. Yes, this is a variation on my recurring theme of STANDING OUT from your competitors and peers. Normally when I reference this point it is in the context of being better remembered, referred and recommended.

You can use your KDIs however to boost your self confidence when advising clients. And when setting your fee rates. There is no single going rate for most of the work you do. Your approach and your fees are a function of your KDIs.  Have you checked yours?

 

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How accountants can take control of their career success

Duncan Brodie is a former Finance Director who helps accountants build successful careers. I’ve known him a while and feel his views are worth sharing here.

Duncan’s views will be especially helpful to you if you are nearly or recently qualified.  As he explains:

Once upon a time a professional accounting qualification almost guaranteed that you would progress pretty far in your career. These days this is no longer the case. There are many who get qualified but fail to achieve the success that they had hoped for.

If you want to achieve success in your accounting career you have to take control. So what should you do to take control of your accounting career?

Determine what you want from your career.

This might seem like a statement of the obvious. Yet in truth most just drift along. People usually only give this any significant thought when something significant happens like being made redundant.

This was true in my day too. I originally studied accountancy simply as a way to get a business focused qualification whilst deferring the decision as to what I would do career wise. When I qualified I was no closer to knowing what I wanted. I moved into tax – as that was the only exam I passed first time. And I had realised that clients would gladly pay good money for good advice on how to reduce their tax bills. (The top rate of tax back then was 98%!)

I stayed in tax for another 25 years before concluding that I enjoyed the non-tax aspects of my career more than the tax focused ones!

Duncan continues:

It’s also worth remembering that what matters will be different at different stages in your career. Money and earning more is definitely a consideration when starting out.

As you progress other factors like enjoying your work, gaining the right experience and being challenged matter more.

He advises that you:

Plot out your key moves. There are certain important points in your career and the decisions you make can help or hinder.

The first key move is when you qualify. It can be tempting to jump ship too quickly.

The decision you take at this point can have a huge bearing long term.

I’ve already mentioned that I moved into Tax when I qualified. Duncan’s first job after qualifying was as a Head of Internal Audit.  Why?

I knew that I would get the chance to set up a new function from scratch and also get exposure to Board level working.

If you don’t know what you want to do long-term (and why should you?) make a conscious choice about to do first. You can review your choice down the line. At worst you will have discovered one of the things you do NOT want to do long-term!

Duncan also advises that you take responsibility for your professional development:

In the early stages of my career there was little or nothing available to me in terms of professional development.

That all changed when I went to work for a bank. Areas for improvement to make you more effective were openly discussed and then courses found to build capability.

When I worked in the Big 4 this was even more evident.

Despite it never being easier to access professional development opportunities, it’s surprising how few take personal responsibility for it.

That is really good advice. When you ask for permission to attend specific courses, make sure you can identify for your bosses why you will be more of more value to them after you have been trained in these new skills or enhanced your abilities.

Duncan also suggests that you actively seek out new challenges and responsibilities

You can very easily just plod along doing what you can do extremely well. The problem is that if you are not challenging yourself you are probably not growing.

I found that getting involved in business projects was a great way of building knowledge, skills and attributes.

And adopt a long term outlook.  Yes some make it to a senior level quickly. For the vast majority it is a much slower progression. I encourage people to take a long term view of their career. In my experience a career is more like a marathon and less like a sprint.

Don’t expect it to be plain sailing. There will be:

  • Setbacks
  • Disappointments
  • Rejections
  • Judgements
  • People who don’t rate you

The important thing is to stay positive and believe in yourself, even when the going gets tough.

Many thanks to Duncan Brodie for sharing his careers focused advice for accountants. You can access his free guide The 7 Biggest Barriers To A Successful Career In Accounting here >>>

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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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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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