What does Networking have in common with inheritance tax planning?

This is a first. It’s the first time I’ve had something to blog where I can see how it could fit on any or even all 3 of my blogs!

  • It sounds like a riddle or joke – so would fit well on: Accountant jokes and fun
  • It includes reference to tax planning – so would seem well suited to the TaxBuzz blog
  • On reflection though, the rationale for the post is related to my advice and tips for ambitious accountants.

Earlier this week I was chatting with a nice guy who has been on a sabbatical since taking early retirement from a public sector role. He is now thinking about what he’s going to do next and is quite happy to accept that he may need to start networking once he secures a position.

I suggested this was to confuse networking* with selling. He would be much better off to start networking asap. Networking to build relationships. Networking to identify ways in which he can help other people. And Networking to build a deep and wide network of people who know him, like him and trust him. This cannot be done overnight.

It’s the same with inheritance tax planning. Ideally one would do this at least seven years before dying. I’m not suggesting that you need to start networking seven years before you hope to reap the benefits. Of course not. It’s just that seven years pre-death is the optimum time to start inheritance tax planning. Of course it’s not possible as you rarely know when that seven year period begins. Still, if you leave it too late your inheritance tax planning may be ineffective.

So, returning to Networking: If you want to achieve promotion and advancement within your firm you will generally increase your chances if you are well known and liked before your name is first mentioned as a potential partner.  If you are thinking of setting up your own practice, how much easier would it be if you were already well known  in the local community – by people who could become clients, recommend clients or help you source trusted suppliers? You get the picture.

If you leave it too late to start networking you could come across as desperate, needy and ill-prepared. In effect if you leave it too late your networking efforts will be ineffective – for a while at least.

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

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

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The BIGGEST misconception about Twitter

A recent study suggests that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble“. Regular readers might expect me to agree, especially if you recall an earlier post here: Twitter is not for accountants.

And whilst I appreciate the scientific nature of the study I fear it misses the point. It also panders to those in the media who know no better than to report such a statistic as evidence of twitter being an over-hyped waste of time.

So, given my own enthusiasm for twitter I think the time has come to clarify some misconceptions – especially the one that is reinforced by that study.  If I stimulate your interest then in future posts I will share some more positive tips, ideas and insights. Indeed I’m planning a short series on the subject and will list all such posts on the twitter page of this blog.

But there’s no point in explaining how to get started if you have no interest in it due to misleading media reports. So we have to start by addressing some of the misconceptions surrounding twitter.  And the biggest one is down to those in the media who still think that twitter is a ‘micro blogging website where users post inane messages telling each other the answer to a standard question: “What are you doing right now?”  Indeed plenty of people think this such that 40% of tweets are “pointless babble”. BUT I use twitter without ever seeing that babble. And you can too.

Let me offer you an analogy.  It involves thinking about another medium that is less controversial and more established – satellite TV. You’re probably aware that these days we can choose from hundreds of satellite tv stations.

Let’s imagine however that when satellite tv started you simply had a choice of numerous pop music and shopping channels. Assume again that neither subject was of interest to you. So you didn’t get a satellite tv.  Moving forwards a few years and now of course the choice of channels is much wider although there are still plenty of music and shopping channels.  If someone told you today not to get a satellite tv because it’s full of music and shopping channels you’d question their sanity. Simply stated satellite tv allows you to choose which channels to watch. You only watch those of interest.

It’s EXACTLY the same with twitter. You need only follow people you find of interest. If someone you are following posts stuff you think is ‘rubbish’, uninteresting or “pointless babble” you simply stop following them. This is even better than changing channels as if you stop following someone you need never see any of their rubbish ever again.

So, with that out of the way I hope I’ve resolved any concern you might have had about the content you can find on twitter. Yes, there are plenty of shopping and music channels. However I never watch them and you don’t need to do so either.

I’ll explain a simple way in which you can start up on twitter very shortly.

Plenty of other misconceptions surround twitter so I’ll also be posting more on this subject. In the meantime please add your own comments below re twitter misconceptions of which you’re aware.

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A twitter case study and intro for professional advisers

Twitter seems a bizarre concept. In theory you post brief messages (up to 140 characters at a time) about what you’re doing and these are seen by your ‘followers’. Equally you can read what other people who you’re following say they’re doing.

In practice ‘tweets’ are far more varied than some of the media would have you believe.

Through twitter I have secured attendees at my seminars, traffic to my websites and to my blogs. I have also benefitted from having my messages ReTweeted to wider audiences than the people who ‘follow’ me. And following links from other people’s tweets has led to useful material for my blogs. I’ve also started to build online relationships and have experienced strangers acting as my advocate.

Each time I add new posts to my Ambitious Accountants blog, my TaxBuzz blog or my Accountant jokes blogs an automatic Tweet goes out with a link back to the new blog post. And it’s not only my ‘followers’ who get to see them. Many people search twitter for real time commentary and then tell others.

So, for me twitter is shaping up as a fun business tool. But, do I think many UK accountants will become active on twitter? No. It’s too time consuming as compared with other ways in which they can achieve their business objectives. In this connection I refer back to a blog post I wrote last December in which I explained why ‘Twitter is not for accountants’. My views are unchanged despite knowing a handful of accountants who are now active on twitter – some are even enthusiastic about it. Maybe more will try it out, but I doubt many will stay the course (for business).

Twitter is the latest phenomenon in the area of ‘online business networking’. Business or social? It depends how you choose to use twitter, what you tweet about and who you follow. If you follow all the internet marketing enthusiasts, the celebrity twitterers and the novices who don’t really ‘get it’ you’ll certainly consider twitter a waste of time.

You may know some of your ‘followers’ personally. Others will find you through friends, through real time searches re accountancy and tax subjects or subjects o mutual interest. There are loads of would be twitter spammers – but if you don’t follow them they can’t spam you! And you choose who you follow. If you don’t like the way that someone tweets, ‘unfollow’ them.

I doubt many of my followers read all of my tweets. I certainly don’t have time to read all those of all the people I follow. Many of them in fact only tweet occasionally. As well as friends and business associates I follow other commentators, some journalists, some firms, some publications and some organisations. Many are still experimenting with their twitter strategy – as am I.

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If you decide to join in, by all means follow me at www.twitter.com/BookMarkLee. I’ve explained my approach in more details on the twitter page of this blog.

Through the Tax Advice Network I also write the The Tax Buzz blog and twitter feed which you can follow at www.twitter.com/TheTaxBuzz

And if you have a contrary view, whether you are an accountant or not, please add your comments to this post.

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Social Networking for Accountants (part one)

This is the inevitable follow up to a number of recent blog posts here.

I am probably one of the most active UK accountants on what are commonly referred to as ‘social networks’.  I prefer the term ‘online communities’. Some have more of a social than business focus. Others are evidently only for business related networking. And some of these miss the fact that professional services (such as accountancy services and tax advice) are provided by INDIVIDUALS, not by businesses.  And People buy People.  The brand message, especially of the bigger firms, MAY provide a degree of comfort and reassurance but in the main the ‘sale’, the engagement and the services will be attributed to individual advisers.   RELATIONSHIPS are not built up overnight – whether in a business or a social context.

That’s one of the reasons why I am so excited by the developments in online communities. It’s also one of the reasons why I started my own in 2007 (The Tax Advice Network) although it’s not as sophisticated as the more mainstream communities.  That’s deliberate as I’d like to think that I know and understand my main target audience (accountants in practice in the UK).  I speak to thousands of them at conferences and seminars around the UK each year. I don’t sense very much real interest (yet) in online networking and online communities.  When it happens I’ll be ready for it – or maybe I will inspire it?!

For the moment there are a few sites that facilitate and encourage accountants to post blogs  (but see my expose of Blogging myths for accountants), to comment on current news threads and to ask and answer technical questions.

I’ll write about these in a subsequent blog. I’ll also discuss and highlight some of the non-accountant specific business and social online networks and how accountants could benefit from becoming more involved with these – and how to do so without wasting loads of time.  But there’s no rush. None  will become mainstream for accountants in practice in the UK in 2009 (for much the same reason as to why Twitter is not for accountants.

[Edited 2013] 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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Why accountants don’t NEED to bother with twitter

A friend suggested I should write a piece about Twitter for accountants as I’m increasingly active on Twitter. Surely then I’m well placed to explain what Twitter is and how accountants can benefit from it.

Instead let me explain why I think that Accountants really don’t need to bother with Twitter.  This is much the same approach as I adopted recently when I wrote about Blogging myths for accountants.

Let’s be clear I am NOT against any of these new communication techniques. Far from it. I love blogging (this is one of three that I write regularly – see links in right hand column of this page). I’m enjoying Twitter and have benefited in a number of intangible ways as a result thereof. I’ve explained how I use it on a separate page of this blog.  I know dozens of people who tweet regularly and I have over 300 followers on Twitter (at the time of writing). [Edit May 2017: Now over 7,000]

But I also understand the accountancy profession.

Accountants

Whilst other commentators may seek to encourage accountants to try new technology, to experiment and to explore new forms of communication I adopt a different approach. I accept that the vast majority of accountants do not aspire to try out these new ideas. They don’t think many (any?) of their clients or target clients are using such tools. They don’t have the time to experiment and to test new ways of doing things.  They don’t perceive the need to do these things.

And actually – I think they’re right. There is no pressing need for them to do so.

Yes, there are ways that accountants COULD use and benefit from Twitter .  Yes, they MAY find ways to use Twitter to help them build their practice and Yes, to do so would put them ahead of the field.

But, will being on Twitter help them avoid client losses? No.

Will it help them to provide pro-active advice to clients? Unlikely

Will it help them to secure more profitable clients of the type they seek?  No faster than any other marketing activity and it’s even less area specific than blogging.

Will it help them to make more money or to increase their profits? No.

Will it help them solve their succession issues? No

The bottom line is that Twitter will not do any of the things that accountants are most concerned about at the moment. As such I cannot advocate the idea that they should explore Twitter as a business tool.

What is Twitter?

I should explain that Twitter is a free online social networking and micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as ‘tweets’). Each post or ‘tweet’ is limited to 140 characters in length.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them by ‘following’ people in who they are interested.  Users can also send and receive tweets through third party web based applications, iphones and Blackberry devices.  Many tweets contain links to web pages and blog posts.

Anyone with access to Twitter (and one of the third party applications that make it easier to use and understand) can follow the flow of messages and comments, contribute, reply or simply keep up to date.

Regular readers will recall that i recently posted an item: If you’re not on Facebook you need to be on LinkedIn. It’s worth noting that, unlike the Facebook status updates, tweets can be directed at specific twitter users, people tweet much more often than they update their Facebook status, and it is much more acceptable to follow people you have never met on Twitter than it is on Facebook.

I have a number of ideas as to who does and can gain most benefit from Twitter but none of them are remotely connected with accountants in a business capacity so I won’t post them here.

If you are an accountant and you’re experimenting with Twitter do please get in touch, equally if (despite the tenor of this piece) if you decide to try it out. And of course if you disagree with my perspective please add your views as comments to this piece.

[Edit May 2012: For my more uptodate views on twitter please check out the twitter page of this site]

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Managing your online reputation

It is becoming more and more common to ‘Google’ someone before meeting them for the first time – whether for a potential business meeting, to interview them or to be interviewed by them. If someone Googles you now or in the future what will be revealed?

I’ve just given an interview to a journalist who is writing an article about the possible uses of Facebook by certain professional advisers. During our conversation I outlined what I saw as some of the benefits and also the dangers of professional advisers playing around on Facebook. And I explained why my comments apply equally to other forms of online networking sites.

Possibly the 3 most well known and useful such platforms to professional advisers are:

  • LinkedIn – currently largely used by corporate job hunters, those who are headhunting them and those who know them;
  • Ecademy – mainly small businesses and corporate refugees who have set up their own business/consultancy; [Edited: Sadly Ecademy closed down in 2012]
  • Facebook – mainly used for sharing how much fun you’re having in your life. So this is seen as the main ‘social’ networking site.

Until September 2006, Facebook was only available to ‘college students’ but as they graduated so they wanted to continue to CONNECT with the people they knew. And everyone they knew and wanted to stay in touch with was on Facebook. It is now becoming ubiquitous but sadly a lot of people who are experimenting with Facebook or just playing around may be creating problems for themselves down the line.

I titled this blog ‘Managing your online reputation’ for a reason. These days Google is recording history in real time. Everything we post online is there for the future and can be found by Google and the other search engines. That means that when someone Googles our name – before meeting us, interviewing us or being interviewed by us, they can find out:

  • What we’ve said and written;
  • What we like/dislike;
  • What other people have said about us (good or bad);
  • Who we’re associated with and what other people have said about them (good or bad);
  • Where we’ve been and what we’ve done and who we were with;
  • And so on.

Thomas Power, the founder of Ecademy explains that the online networking sites are just like online magazines. Our profiles on the sites are just like adverts in a magazine. We’d always be careful about the impression we gave in an advert – so we should be careful about the impression we give with our profiles. And that presents an interesting challenge for ambitious professionals. On the one hand we want to control what Google finds when people look for us online. On the other hand we want to secure new profitable referral and work opportunities for our interactions on these sites.

If you just create a simple, professional profile on these sites, as your online advert, you will find it about as successful as waving your business card around in a dark room. No one will find your profile unless you shine a torch on it. You do that by interacting on the networking site, commenting on blogs, asking and answering questions, creating your own blogs, postings on the Facebook wall, joining and contributing to clubs and groups. Being seen to be a valuable person online. And this takes time.

Initially it’s best though to take it slowly. Join. Watch. Dip a toe in the water.Explore. Contribute. Help others. All this before you ask for help yourself. And all this whilst keeping in mind the need to manage your online reputation.

Incidentally – why had the journalist contacted me to talk about this topic? Because the editor of her magazine had seen my previous postings on the subject and was aware that I had established a number of groups on Facebook. My online reputation as a writer and speaker on this and related subjects for ambitious professionals is growing. Why? Because I’m managing it. At least as well as I can.

I’ll return to this theme in a future posting on this blog. In the mean time I’d welcome feedback and thoughts about what I’ve posted above.

Here’s a link to my previous blogs about uses of Facebook by professional advisers.

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Is it Fear of Facebook?

I’ve just penned the following letter to Accountancy magazine – and guess it’s self explanatory. My apologies that this then becomes another blog posting about Facebook.

  • In June I introduced the subject under the title, Facebook for professionals;
  • At the start of July I commented on the need to be aware that what you post on Facebook could work to your detriment when you’re looking for a job or to make partner – and equally that employers and managing partners might want to look at Facebook as part of their Due diligence check on prospective recruits and partners;
  • Later in July I picked up on comments about Facebook and professionals on the HR capitalist blog.

Anyway – here’s the letter to Accountancy:

I spotted the short item ‘Fighting Facebook’ in the September issue following the ‘Facebook Frenzy’ article that appeared in the August issue. You noted that a large proportion of City firms are reported to have banned staff from using Facebook in the office. The mainstream media seems keen to dramatise this issue and it is certainly starting to come up in my conversations with accountancy firms.

We’ve seen the related knee-jerk reactions before and it is, I think, all about Fear . Originally it was just ‘No personal phone calls’. Then with the advent of the internet it became ‘No personal emails’. More recently, ‘No instant messaging (eg: MSN/Skype)’ and ‘No texting’. Fear of the unknown perhaps? Fear of technology we don’t understand or use ourselves?

In practice restrictions like these are often imposed by responsible employers to ensure their staff do not steal time for which they are paid to work. Personnel handbooks make clear that non-business activities should be avoided during the working day but in reality as long as no one takes liberties, no one makes a fuss. The same rules should simply be applied to posting, emailing and communicating on social networks as this is no different really. And we must remember that Facebook is just one such site out of dozens if not hundreds that exist.

Total bans on accessing one or more such sites will be as counter-productive as would be confiscating all mobile phones from staff to prevent them reading and sending personal text messages.

Indeed, in the same way that some clients now text info to their accountants, so there is an increasing cross-over between work and social networking sites. This further complicates the position too.

Mark Lee

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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The value of testimonials (part one)

I don’t remember when I first learned about the power of testimonials in the context of professional services. It was probably about twenty years ago – long before it became common place.

For many years I have encouraged accountants to collect testimonials and to use them for marketing purposes. I explain to the accountants how to obtain testimonials in a professional way and how to overcome common concerns if they need to collate some to start the ball rolling.

In my case I have a page of testimonials on my website. In each case I have included the full name of the person who gave the testimonial.I must admit though that I have not made the most of them as they are all in one place and not given a context. Thus it’s not clear which testimonials refer to which of my services or talks. Proof I’m not perfect (as if further proof were required!).  I am also very proud of the kind recommendations I have been accumulating on my Linkedin profile.

Why are testimonials so valuable in the context of professional services? Quite simply because they are the next best thing to a direct referral. Many professionals claim that they get much of their work through personal recommendations and I can believe that.They often claim that advertising is not really worthwhile.They may be right.

But there is, what I call, a disconnect here. When they advertise (and I include website material as part of the advertising mix) they are communicating with people who don’t know them. Equally these prospects may not know any existing clients.But those prospects could read testimonials from existing clients if these were easily available on the website and in other marketing materials.

Without testimonials the marketing messages are mere assertions.Testimonials can bring these assertions to life. They can act as the next best thing to a personal recommendation or referral. They need to be believable. They need to be relevant and they need to be authentic.

I’ll continue this theme in future blog posts.

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

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Due Diligence before Admission to Partnership

I would like to have attended the workshop on this subject run by the Association of Partnership Practitioners on Tuesday evening. Unfortunately I had a prior commitment so had to decline the invitation. I wonder if any of the speakers or contributors to the debate talked about the Google impact or that of online networking groups?

If I were on a partnership selection panel I would want to know as much as possible about candidates for partnership in my firm. Indeed I would probably run a ‘Google’ search on prospective new partners in any firm where I was a partner. After all I generally Google anyone I’m meeting for the first time.

Rarely does a Google search reveal anything untoward but with the rising popularity of online forums and networking sites there are an increasing number of other ways to perform online ‘due diligence’ before allowing new people to join the partnership. In addition to a general web based ‘search’ anyone can look you up on LinkedIn, on Facebook, on MySpace and on any other online networking community to which you might belong.

I would expect that HR departments of larger firms have staff who belong to and are familiar with each of the main online communities so that they can check out prospective partners.

Indeed, the same is probably true as regards any job applicant these days.

And the key question for ambitious professionals is whether your online postings, comments and profiles support and echo your job application and partnership admission papers? If you have revealed your real self online but carefully edited your CV to give a different impression, don’t be surprised if you are found out. If you’re lucky you may still make it to the interview and just get asked about who is the real you. In other cases your online persona may result in your name being removed from any shortlist. I haven’t heard of it happening yet to any ambitious professionals seeking partnership but it won’t be long.

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