20 tips re Linkedin for accountancy firms – vs individual accountants

I once wrote a Handbook on using Linkedin for a larger company that has many such handbooks recording their processes and systems.

It was a fascinating experience. In researching available Linkedin advice and tips I found very little that was aimed at or relevant to business owners. The same is true for accountancy firms that need to advise and guide their staff on how to use Linkedin – from a ‘corporate’ perspective. And any such generic advice that does exist still needs to be tailored to the practice concerned.

There is plenty of guidance out there for one-man bands, for consultants and for job hunters. A lot of this focuses on how to optimise your Linkedin profile so that you will be found, be attractive and be contacted.  Much of this advice is good in itself but it’s incomplete.

If you are responsible for a firm you need to consider a range of other issues including:

  1. How the firm should be described on Linkedin and on each employee/partner’s profiles?
  2. How the firm should be described on it’s own Company page on Linkedin – and who should be able to edit this?
  3. Whether to encourage a degree of consistency as regards references to the firm and to specific departments on everyone’s profiles?
  4. What guidance to provide re links from personal profiles to the firm’s website, specific pages and blogs thereon and the use of business or personal email addresses on Linkedin profiles?
  5. Whether to provide more extensive guidance as to the creation of professional profiles on Linkedin? (Do less than professional profiles reflect badly on the firm?)
  6. Whether to provide any guidance or training on professional uses and abuses of Linkedin?
  7. Whether to encourage use of Linkedin for lead generation purposes and what training to provide to facilitate this?
  8. Whether to encourage use of Linkedin to help raise awareness of the name of your practice and how best to co-ordinate this?
  9. What guidance to provide re staff who may want to connect with current, past and prospective clients and referers?
  10. How much ‘best practice’ guidance to share to help users to gain maximum benefit for the firm from their use of Linkedin?
  11. Whether to provide guidance or set policies re the provision of ‘recommendations’ for current staff, ex-staff, clients, collaborators and suppliers?
  12. Whether to provide guidance or set policies re the extent to which profiles can appear to be full online CVs?
  13. Whether to co-ordinate the involvement of users in different Linkedin groups and to collate and share lessons learned?
  14. Whether to set up one or more groups for clients of the firm, what settings and templates to choose and who should manage these?
  15. How can clients be best engaged and encouraged to see the benefits of involvement in groups established for their benefit?
  16. Whether to establish groups focused around key service areas, what settings and templates to choose for such groups and who to invite to join these?
  17. Whether to encourage current and past staff and partners to join an alumni group – and who will ‘manage’ this?
  18. Whether to encourage the use of status updates for specific purposes or to allow these to be completely personal and random?
  19. Whether to encourage or discourage the seeking of and publication of recommendations from clients and ex-clients?
  20. Whether to provide guidance as to the time that can or should be spent on Linkedin each working day/week?

I hope that gets you thinking. The list is by no means complete. What else do you think might figure in your firm’s Linkedin handbook?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to use Linkedin – either actively or passively. Click here for full details>>>

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How much time does it take to be active on social media?

I was asked recently how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. I guess this might be of interest to others so thought I’d blog my response. I then found that I drafted a blog post along these lines around 18m ago. It’s interesting (to me at least) to note the differences in my replies today as distinct from back then.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time spent depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I have in my diary.

Social Networks

Facebook

Now – rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my facebook wall.

18m ago – I’m not a big facebook user but know I need to check for new friend requests each day. I scan my home page and comment/like anything that grabs my attention. Until and unless I perceive that facebook is a good way to keep in touch with accountants etc I doubt I’ll spend any longer here.

Google+

I spend no time here at all. Had a good look when it was launched and created a profile there. I get the odd notification that someone has added me to their circles. If and when it becomes a key communication tool for my target business audience I will have another look. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime I spend enough time online elsewhere on social and business media.

18m ago – n/a (Google+ didn’t exist!)

Pinterest

Again, I spend no time here. Unlikely to change – see comments re Google+ above.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change)

Micro-blogging

Twitter

Now – I think I am more focused than I was 18m ago but otherwise little has changed beyond an increase in the number of people who follow me to 3,800. Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

18m ago – I have written an entire piece about how I use twitter.

Business social networks

Ecademy

Now – The time I can afford to spend here has reduced as my time on other online media has increased. I still blog occasionally and add comments to blogs (normally only those posted by people I know). And I attempt to reply and assist fellow members of a few key clubs. Total time: Upto an hour a week

18m ago – I use a bookmark on my browser (both on my macbook and my iphone) to keep up with things in my favourite clubs/groups  typically while I’m out and about. I receive email prompts re messages, key notifications and search results. I sometimes drop in to offer help, support and assistance where I can – this is less frequent than it was a few years ago. Sometimes I post requests for help, support or information myself.

LinkedIn

Now – I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across almost all areas of my business activities. It’s also easy to use to get back in touch with people in a business context. I check out the activity on my home page, new discussions in key groups, requests to join my groups and all new connection requests and messages every day. My time here has increased over the last couple of years as I’ve sought to practice what I preach. It’s the most valuable of all the online networks for me from a business perspective. I now have over 2,100 first level connections but never agree to connect with strangers unless they offer a good reason for so doing. Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

18m ago – I realise I have not been spending as much time on here as I should. After all this is the only serious online business network that crosses over into big business. Memo to self: practice what you preach!

4Networking

Now – I have started popping back into the business forum in advance of attending a new group meeting in the City.  Not sure whether I will have the time to continue being active here as well as on Ecademy where I know more people. (Note: Face to face networking can drive online networking which may not succeed in isolation).

18m ago – Have replied and contributed to various discussions. Seems very similar to Ecademy in some respects but I know fewer people here. I sense I may get bored of contributing into the ether.

Accountancy and tax websites

AccountingWeb

Now – I am now engaged to write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

18m ago – As Consultant Practice editor I check out the site every 2 or 3 days and add comments and replies to queries. I also write a couple of articles each month. Ignoring the articles I probably spend an hour or so a week on the site.

AccountancyAge.com

Now – I am a far less frequent visitor these days than I was previously. I occasionally read the stories that come through by way of email notifications or tweets and sometimes go to the website to add a comment or two. Total time: Maybe 20 mins a week in total.

18m ago – I scan many of the stories and add comments to 2 or 3 of them each week

ION sites (IT counts and Tax Faculty)

Now – As before.

18m ago – I tend to only visit by ref to email prompts and if something specifically interests me. Maybe 20 mins in total across a typical week.

Blogging

WordPress – blog for ambitious accountants

Now – My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it now.  Total time: Probably an hour or two per week to post a couple of items and to review and reply to comments.

18m ago – This may be an indulgence as I seem to post so many articles here. Probably averages upto 3 or 4 hours a week.

Blogger – accountant jokes and fun blog

Now –  As before.

18m ago – My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. Probably takes around 30 mins a week.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

Now – I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward. The traffic it drove to the Tax Advice Network website was not converting into business so I have suspended my blogging activity here.

18m ago – I post tax commentary and debunk tax stories in the media 2 or 3 times a week. The idea is to drive traffic to the Tax Advice Network website and to be identified as a key tax commentator.

Other blogs

Now – I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to Google Reader which I only access on my iphone. This enables me to keep up with blogs I find of interest, mostly while I’m out and about. Total time: Reading during train journeys: Maybe 2 hours a week.

18m ago – I dip in and out of blog posts when I follow links from twitter or when prompted by emails.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above for over 3 years.

How about you?

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

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Social media policies for accountancy firms (part two)

This is the second of a 2 part blog series in which I set out some practical, commercial and informed thoughts re social media policy making for accountancy firms. Part one is here.

Let’s start here with a couple of bizarre practices I have heard that some ill-informed firms have attempted to implement as regards Linkedin.

“We don’t want you to connect with clients” – This is normally due to the fallacious fear that such connections would reveal the firm’s client base to other firms of accountants who could seek to poach them. This fear is based on a misunderstanding of Linkedin and a lack of confidence in the strength of client relationships. Such a policy makes a nonsense of being on Linkedin. How will a competitor know who are clients and who are simply contacts and prospects? And what does the firm want to be done when a Linkedin contact becomes a client or joins a client business? Or what if a client contact tries to connect with a staff member/partner? how are they to explain their reluctance to accept the connection?

“When you leave the firm you must disconnect yourself from the firm’s clients” – Whilst I understand the desire I can’t see this as practical or enforceable. Better to ensure that the firm encourages more than one person to maintain a relationship with each client. When someone leaves it is upto the client whether they want to retain a relationship with the ex-member of staff/partner. Yes, Linkedin does make it easier to breach no poaching covenants. But equally it makes it easier to obtain evidence of a deliberate campaign to do do this. So it’s not all one-way.

What happens when someone leaves if they have loads of connections with key clients? I’m afraid that you need to face reality. It’s what you do before people leave that will be key. You can no more dictate to clients who they should and should not connect with on Linkedin than could King Canute hold back the tide. If you have no policy you have no rules and you have no cause for complaint.

I suggest that firms need to run regular (at least annual) in-house sessions to remind everyone re personal and corporate branding issues, effective and ineffective use of social media and how to protect themselves and their future career prospects by what they post on facebook and other social networking sites. Reviewing and setting their privacy settings appropriately is key. Another is to be careful what they post. Is it something they would be happy for their grandmother to read? The firm is interested in the well-being of its staff and partners. And also in their reputation as facebook profiles often mention where people work.

Remind everyone that it’s best to avoid saying anything that might be termed or interpreted as ‘inappropriate’. That includes political comments, coarse language, and especially any comments that could be construed as advice. Equally wrong would be any posting that could be interpreted as the disclosure of confidential information, bullying or harassment.

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Social media policies for accountancy firms – think MLR (part one)

I was interviewed recently to provide my views as regards social media policies that accounting firms might wish to institute in-house. I’ve summarised the key points I made and spread them over a couple of blog posts. Part one below. Part two later today.

There are two very different issues here.

The first is the extent to which the firm wishes someone to tweet or post other social media updates on its behalf. That’s a marketing related question – and one that most firms get completely wrong. Without side-tracking, let me just reiterate a point I have made many times on this blog.  Social Media is not something most firms can use effectively for broadcasting and promotional purposes – whatever the social media and marketing junkies tell you. Social Media only works when you recognise it relies on conversation and engagement.

The second and main issue I will address in these two blogs concerns the limitations and constraints that partners may wish to place on members of staff or partners who use social media and who are identifiable as being members of the firm.

I’m not a fan of including a standard note in online profiles that “All comments are my own”. Of course they are. Accountants are not in the same position as top independent journalists and broadcasters. I understand why THEY need to make clear that spontaneous status updates and tweets (personal views) are distinguishable from those that have been vetted and approved to appear in print/on air.

I can see an argument for treating social media training in the same way as anti-money laundering training. The Money Laundering regulations (MLR) impose obligations on accountants to operate specific procedures. It’s no good simply specifying these in a handbook, document or page on the intranet. Everyone has to receive training to ensure they understand their obligations.

I would suggest that the same is true re a firm’s social media policies. Indeed, regular updates are also required and these should be interactive and participative. They also need to avoid patronising anyone (That means talking down to them!) 😉

You need to address privacy issues and consider how important it is for everyone’s profiles to use the same description of the firm, their service areas and expertise. Who is to be responsible for establishing the firm’s business profile on Linkedin and, if considered worthwhile, on facebook?

There are employment law issues to consider too – in terms of what it is reasonable behaviour by employers, to what extent can new restrictions be imposed and what recourse employers can pursue if they feel they’ve been harmed by inappropriate social media activity. Also you need to consider how detailed you want to be in contracts of employment and internal procedure manuals. I tend to favour general guidelines and trusting staff/partners to apply common sense.

Will anyone in the firm take on responsibility for monitoring the linkedin accounts, facebook profiles and twitter accounts (as well as any other social media platforms) to ensure that everyone has included on approved ‘standard’ references to the firm? I would doubt that any firm has an automatic right to limit or constrain what staff/partners can include in their profiles. And i doubt that many firms are (yet) considering the implications either.

The second part of this blog post is here.

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

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Can I use Linkedin for promotional purposes?

The other day I was asked the following:

I’ve established a group – no members yet, though I’ve yet to invite them!  What I plan to do initially (and see how it goes) is each month to send out say three topical points – and invite comments.  Is it in order then at the end to give the dates of my next seminars and webinars, for the benefit of anyone who might want to give them a go?  Or is that somehow frowned upon, as advertising?
It was said to me today that it might be.

Can I find ‘the rules of combat’ anywhere?

Here’s my reply:

Must admit I quite like your plan. The KEY is to ensure that members of the group/messages perceive two things:
a) that you are giving away something of value and of interest to them; and
b) that the promo message does not overwhelm the helpful/valuable info.

So 30 lines of useful info (3 x 10) plus 4 lines of promo should be fine.
Whereas 9 lines (3 x 3) of useful info followed by 15 lines of promo would be frowned upon.

There are no rules anywhere. It’s all down to perception and none of us can predict how anyone else will respond/react.

My advice is to adopt a similar approach to what you might do if you wanted to engage with people at a free evening event. If you spend 20 minutes talking about your paid for seminars and just 10 minutes sharing practical points you wouldn’t make any friends. On the other hand if you spent 20 minutes covering practical points and just 5 minutes at the end talking about the paid for seminars no one would complain. Well, some might but you can’t please everyone.  Linkedin is much the same.

Do you have any related tips?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to use Linkedin – either actively or passively. Click here for full details>>>

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How one UK accountant uses Linkedin

When I write and speak about accountants and social media I always make the point that Linkedin is different. It’s the only online networking site where you can get some benefit simply by having your profile there, even if you’re not active.

But of course you can also choose to be active on LinkedIn. One accountant who does this is Andrew Diver of Beatons in Ipswich. He posted the following recently in answer to someone claiming (wrongly in my view) that LinkedIn doesn’t work for accountants. I have copied it here with Andrew’s permission:

We have had a number of successes from using Linkedin. The overwhelming message I would send is that Linkedin is not a marketing strategy in itself. It is a tool, like an e-mail account, a website, a seminar, or a networking event.

There are many strands to what we use it for. Some of them are routines others less prescribed. But it always comes back to using it to enhance the more traditional marketing techniques. 90% of our new business comes from referrals. Staying in touch with intermediaries and people who can refer work. We regularly alert these people to opportunities to save tax, deadlines and opportunities for themselves and their clients.

Moreover I believe technology has pushed the emphasis onto collaboration. Looking for opportunities for our clients, connections to be more profitable either through winning new work or reducing costs. Hence why people refer work to us, we are working hard for them too. There is a lot of weight placed by consumers into the power of social advocacy.

We also post on local groups and give guidance to local businesses. We then become a trusted source of information, and can start forging a relationship with the individuals or businesses concerned and taking the relationship offline.

I must say that I saw this as a breath of fresh air.

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to use Linkedin – either actively or passively. Click here for full details>>>

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Further ways for accountants to benefit from LinkedIn

I have blogged various thoughts on this topic over the last few months. Here are three more ways accountants can benefit from using LinkedIn:

Be the Conductor – Your client wants to raise finance, perhaps through Venture Capital. Maybe you could do with better contacts in this area? LinkedIn can provide those contacts and introductions.  The same applies for buying and selling businesses, mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures etc.  On the tax side of course there’s no need as you can simply use the Tax Advice Network to access relevant and vetted specialist tax advisers. 😉

Practice mergers and expansion – There are a number of highly regarded service providers who can help ensure you get the best deal here. If however you want to go the DIY route, then LinkedIn can help you find suitable practices and practitioners. Your profile will also enable them to check you out – using the information you have chosen to share.

Accessing knowledge – A surprising number of people are willing to share their knowledge and advice on LinkedIn. They do so by answering questions in discussion forums in Groups. You can join upto 50 groups and pose your questions on any subject and benefit from this free sharing of information.

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand how to use Linkedin – either passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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More LinkedIn opportunities for accountants

This short series started with extracts from my talks on social media for accountants.

One reader and contributor is Phil Richards who shared some further ideas as to how accountants can benefit from LinkedIn. Rather than add them as comments on earlier posts, I’ve extended the blog series. So here are three more:

Central point – LinkedIn enables you to connect one to one with people on a mutual platform. When you connect to one person you become visible to the people they connect with. This works in all sorts of ways that happen without you having to do anything.

Research suppliers – Whilst it’s not yet ubiquitous, LinkedIn is increasingly popular. I’m now surprised and disappointed if someone who approaches me isn’t on LinkedIn. I’ve often found that I know someone who has already dealt with them and can then call or email for an objective view before agreeing to engage with them.

Recommendations – LinkedIn provides a facility for clients and colleagues, past and present, to post recommendations against your profile. These are only visible to others if you accept them. I’m rather proud and humbled by the large number attached to my profile. I’d like to think that such recommendations add to your credibility. And this can be helpful in giving the right impression when new contacts first check out your online profile.

[Edited 2013] Related ebook now available: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand how to use Linkedin – either passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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LinkedIn for accountants – why you need a profile there

If you’re not going to be active on LinkedIn it can still be worthwhile having your profile there so that other people can find you.  They may be looking for you specifically or simply for someone like you.

I’m lucky, despite having a very common name, if you Google Mark Lee from the UK you will find me immediately. That’s not the case for most people, nor is it the case if you’re outside the UK ;-(   So unless you have a unique name, you will make it easier for others to find you, simply by registering on LinkedIn.

Maybe they used to work with you and want to get back in touch. Perhaps they want to refer some work to you? Or maybe they are an ex-client who worked with you when you were with a previous firm. Or are they simply looking for someone with specific experience? Perhaps someone has recommended you but didn’t know your website details? Maybe they’ve checked your website but want to see what other people have said about you on your LinkedIn profile?

There are many possible reasons.

Then there are the recruiters (in commerce, practice or in the recruitment business itself) who are looking for someone just like you.  However secure you may feel in your current role, nothing lasts for ever.  Far better to have built up your online profile BEFORE you need to rely on it. And in the current climate you may need to do so even if you think you have a strong offline network of business contacts.

Equally you may be able to source a new senior recruit through your LinkedIn contacts. You could also find out more about newer clients and about key contacts at target clients before you approach them. Maybe someone you know, already knows them and could effect an introduction?  The facility to do this in a professional way is one of LinkedIn’s key distinguishing factors.

Many people use LinkedIn as a directory and to find the profiles of other senior business people. Many of those who have their profile on LinkedIn are happy passive users. Yes, there’s a lot more you can get from LinkedIn but for many people it’s enough to simply ensure that they can be found if someone’s looking for them.

LinkedIn also has the potential to be a more intimate way of networking than simply exchanging business cards with a stranger when attending networking event, conferences or exhibitions.  In this connection I recently attended a social party, met an interim FD and remembered his name. The next day I looked him up on Linkedin and connected with him. This sort of facility allows us to maintain a wider network of contacts that has ever been possible in the past.

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand how to use Linkedin – either passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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LinkedIn for accountants – What makes it different?

LinkedIn is a ‘Business’ networking website. I’m always amused when commentators describe it in the same breath as ‘social’ networks. I think this confuses people who are unfamiliar with them and assume that LinkedIn is a variation on facebook and twitter for example. A more accurate collective noun is ‘online networks’.

LinkedIn is probably the only online network where it can be worthwhile establishing a profile even if you’re not planning to be ‘active’ on the site afterwards.  Generally, online networking can only work if you are active and netWORK.  This is also true of Linkedin but, unlike the other sites it is the ONE that some people use as a directory. Where users may look (or ‘search’) for you or someone like you.

Of course my profile is on LinkedIn and I’ve become increasingly active there. I now have over 5,500 direct contacts there [updated  Aug 2016].  By all means seek me out and let me know why you want to connect. I’ll be happy to do so if you’re a reader of this blog.

Related ebook: Specifically for accountants who want to better understand Linkedin and how you use it passively or actively. Click here for full details>>>

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