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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How much of your business comes from social media ?

A research student asked me this question and, after drafting a short reply, I have now expanded my response as it may be of wider interest:

“As regards how much of my business comes from social media, forgive me but the question is too simplistic. Social media is never a source of business for me. BUT it does help people to find me, helps them to start engaging with me and may help them to realise I can do something for them of which they weren’t previously aware. But NO ONE gets in touch to book me or engage me solely because of what they see on social media (at least not yet).

It is rare for anyone to do what you have done – that is to contact me via twitter to ask permission to send me an email. I commend you for this approach though. It STANDS OUT and made sure I spotted your email when it arrived. Well done.”

I was intending to stop there but have now added a more comprehensive reply below:

I often make the point that it can be misleading to lump all social media sites together. So let me answer you by reference to each of the sites where I am active. (This ties back to my blog post last year about how I manage my time on social media each week)

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below. My profile here, my extensive connections, the dozens of recommendations of my services and the hundreds of endorsements of my skills, hopefully evidence my credibility. Yes, this does sometimes lead to me being approached to speak at conferences and at in-house events in professional firms.

More often though my Linkedin profile and activity are simply contributory factors that result in me being booked as a speaker at events for professional advisers. Other factors include my website, the ease with which I can be found online and word of mouth referrals and recommendations.

I always try to ascertain what prompted someone to approach me to speak. No one has yet said ‘Linkedin’. But I do not dismiss it – for the reasons noted above. I am confident that it contributes to confirming my credibility and abilities to people who don’t know me. It also reminds those who already know me of what I could do for them.

Social Media

Facebook

Although I have a facebook business page I do not consider it a source of business, any more than my facebook account generally. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Having said that I am an active and helpful member of a popular facebook group to which many members of the Professional Speaking Association contribute. My activity here is a way of helping my peers and of keeping my profile high within the speaking community. Occasionally others will recommend me for speaking gigs; I suspect this would be less likely if I wasn’t so helpful and high profile.

Google+

It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it. Whilst I note that other users seem to continually add me to circles and to ‘follow’ me on this site, I don’t anticipate it ever being a source of work – even indirectly.

Pinterest and Instagram

I spend no time on either platform. I doubt any of my business prospects are active here or would be likely to engage with me here.

YouTube channel

My YouTube channel BookMarkLee doesn’t yet have enough high quality video to offer much in the way of a positive impact on my business development activities. I continue to win work despite the absence of a speaker showreel type video. I like to think this is due to my longevity, extensive connections and a positive reputation generally. Equally I may be missing out big time and it could transform the impact of YouTube on my speaking business.

Again, no one has referenced seeing my YouTube channel as a catalyst for booking me to speak. Conversely, I do sometimes create promo videos to help attract audiences when I am speaking at open/public events, I hope they are helpful in this regard but have never asked an audience how many saw the video or booked as a result.

Micro-blogging

Twitter

As is evident to anyone who follows me here I enjoy twitter and am very active. I hope my enthusiasm to help and contribute rather than to constantly ‘sell’ is apparent. I feel I must be doing something right as my follower numbers continue to rise and are more than ten times the number of people I follow. In other words I’m not generating followers by following thousands of people and hoping they will follow me back.

Does any of my business come from twitter? I like to think my activity here contributes to my online reputation. It certainly contributes to my klout score (79 out of 100 – about the highest online influence score you can have as a non-celebrity). This in turn leads to me being highly ranked in various charts of top online influencers, eg by ICAEW, economia, suppliers to the financial services profession and speakers’ power list.

I’d like to think that such rankings will, in time, lead to more bookings.

For now twitter is more a source of leads for my online products and related services for sole practitioner accountants.

How much of YOUR business comes from social media?

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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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Connecting through social media

I was amused by an email I received out of the blue this week and thought you might find it helpful to learn why. The salient part read:

“At [ABC] we understand that social media is becoming more important in running a business than ever before. My name is [XYZ] and I’m reaching out to select bloggers (like you!) to gather your stories about how you connect with customers through social media. Do you answer their questions promptly? Share their feedback? Start a conversation?”

I was amused as I think the questions betray a lack of understanding about social media. Another possibility is that the questions are intended for someone with a very different profile and business to me – and my clients.

You see, I rarely “connect with customers through social media.”  I connect with prospective customers and prospective clients. However I only rarely get questions from them via social media. Most such queries also come by email and email is again the communication method of choice for most of my clients too.

If someone sends me a question via twitter or Linkedin I always try to reply promptly. And yes, I love to share positive feedback – though I only tend to do this via twitter and on my website.
As I have long pointed out, Social Media is NOT important to ALL businesses. And far too many people misunderstand the medium. I have heard a number of people telling me recently that they don’t know how to do it themselves so they have engaged some young person to do it for them. This is largely pointless. Few of us can effectively outsource all of our social media activity. The key piece we invariably have to do ourselves is the connecting with people (whether we already know them or would like to know them).
The clue is in the word ‘social’. You cannot avoid going to parties by sending someone in your place and expecting them to engage with any ideal clients they meet there on your behalf. Either you go yourself or you have to find other ways to connect with these people.
You can use social media to connect with existing clients IF THEY ARE PRESENT AND ENGAGED on the social media sites in question. This is why, for example, I am not active on instagram or pinterest. They may both be very popular social media sites but it wouldn’t be a good use of my time. I just cannot imagine that I would encounter enough prospective clients or customers to warrant the time and effort. Do you know on which social media sites you could find the people you want to engage and contact? Start with one (and if you’re unsure I recommend Linkedin) rather than trying to learn about all of them at once. It will just be a waste of time and money.
Social Media is a great way to short-circuit the face to face networking process. You can use it to connect with prospective clients, influencers and introducers. Having connected you still need to speak or meet to determine whether a business relationship is going to develop.
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The 3 factors that will determine your social media success

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the game of chasing followers, likes, connections and social media klout. It may be fun to keep track of these metrics and to keep increasing them. But, in real life, they are not important by themselves.

There is little point in simply pursuing these metrics. You need to have key business focused targets instead. It may be that you want to raise your profile and to become a go-to person for media comment in your area of expertise.  Most accountants and lawyers for example, are experimenting with social media to generate additional fees.

And that is the key metric that you need to measure. How much of the additional fees you generate can be attributed to your online social media activity? There will rarely be a quick or short payback in this regard.

It is also important to note the 3 factors that will influence the speed with which you can gain a payback. These factors are all relevant whether your social media activity is focused around facebook, online forums, blogging, twitter or Linkedin.

The 3 factors are:

1 – Effective use

How effective is your use of the social media platform? How consistent and congruent are your messages, your profile and your online activity?

2 – Your website

Most accountants using social media will include links back to their website.  Your social media activity may be exemplary but your website could be a turn off. Does it reinforce the messages you have been promoting on social media? Does it engage visitors? How easy is it for them to get in touch with YOU (as distinct from a faceless ‘admin’ person)? Does your website even reference your name and profile?

3 – Offline follow up

Just like with any other form of networking, personal contact is crucial. If you are not leveraging your use of social media to meet with people face to face or at least to speak with them on the phone, you will wait longer to secure a valuable ROI.

Agree? Disagree? Are there any other factors that will determine your success of your social media activity?

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How I manage my time on social media each week

How long do you need to spend on social media to build up a decent following, contribute effectively and secure a good level of engagement?

I’m not sure much has changed over the years since I started to use social media in 2006. The answers to those questions depend on your reasons for getting involved and using each of the social media platforms.

Sure, there are some agencies and individuals to whom you can outsource much or all of your social media activity. This MAY make sense for well-known brands but in the main I doubt it’s worthwhile for many professionals.

I am often asked how I manage to spend so much time on social media and whether it’s worthwhile. It’s all a matter of perception and probably takes less of my time than you might think. I am very selective as to which platforms I use and where I engage with people online. My approach works for me. I am realistic as regards what I can achieve on each platform. Social media is not a place to promote and sell your services. It’s simply a new starting point for building relationships that will grow only through direct contact, whether by phone, skype or face to face meetings.

What follows is the fourth summary of my approach that I have posted here. The first was in 2010, the second was in April 2012 and the third was in March 2014.

It is clear to me that the time I spend on social networking sites continues to reduce over time. And the time I do spend online is more focused than ever before. Despite my enthusiasm for social media I still consider it to be over hyped as a marketing tool and widely misunderstood as a communication tool.

As ever the time I spend online each week depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active online when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting.

So how much time do I allocate to social media?

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below.

Because it is a business online network I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across all areas of my business activities. I use Linkedin to look up almost everyone I am due to meet, have met or who contacts me by email or phone. I ask to connect with people and accept connection requests from most people who approach me – once I know why they have done so.

I am not convinced there is enormous value in posting long form blog posts/articles on Linkedin. My efforts in this regard have not proved worthwhile to date. I do however check out the activity on my home page, contribute to relevant discussions in key groups, administer requests to join my groups and monitor all new connection requests and messages most days.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Social Media

Facebook

I have started to use this more than before, largely because I have got to know so many members of the Professional Speaking Association. There is a popular facebook group to which many members contribute. Doing so is a way of helping each other and keeping one’s profile high.

Beyond this most of my use of facebook is related to keeping in touch with old friends I haven’t seen for a while. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Google+

It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it.

Pinterest and Instagram

I spend no time on either platform. I doubt any of my business prospects are active here or would be likely to engage with me here.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change). I am planning to post more videos on line over the coming year. It is more time consuming than I would like but I note that YouTube is an important channel for professional speakers.

Micro-blogging

Twitter

I am now even more focused than I was previously. I still rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every few hours. As there are over 600 posts to choose from this means no repeats for over a month. It also means that I appear active even when I am otherwise engaged. I supplement these posts with links to current blog posts and replies to and RTs of other tweets and links I think will be of interest to my followers (who number well over 6,000 – and more than 10 times the number of people I follow).

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Accountancy website

AccountingWeb

As consultant practice editor I 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

Blogging

WordPress – The STAND OUT blog and my Blog for ambitious accountants

These are the regular blogs I update every week or so – you’re reading one of them now.  Total time: Probably an hour per week to post one or two items and to review and reply to comments.

Blogger – The lighter side of accountancy and tax

My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. I seem to have reduced the time I spend adding posts here. Total time: No more than 10 minutes a week.

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 since 2006.

How about you?

Like this post? You can now access the ebook I wrote specifically for accountants who want to get more value from the time they spend on Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

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Should accountants outsource their facebook activity?

I recently wrote an article which posed the question: Should accountants be more active on facebook?

I concluded by noting that every survey I have seen about accountants’ use of social media suggests that facebook remains a minority interest. This comes as no surprise to me and I don’t see this changing very much celebrex 200 mg.

Sure, there are some accountants who could secure valuable business benefits from becoming more active on facebook. Those who are best placed to do so are those willing to focus on promoting a specific niche service, to a distinct group of facebook users.

In order to keep the article to an acceptable length I removed the following section. This addresses the issue of whether it is worth paying someone else to set up and/or manage your practice’s facebook activity.

It’s easy to find people to whom you can outsource your facebook related activity. They tend to be enthusiastic as to what you and your practice could achieve through facebook. I remain cynical about this for the vast majority of smaller firms of accountants.

If however you are tempted then, before agreeing to commission such a service I would encourage you to do a little research of your own. Those who offer such a service tend to be excellent sales people. Their blogs and articles talk about all of the potential (theoretical) benefits of being active on facebook.

I would suggest that you first speak with previous clients who outsourced their activity 6 months or more ago. You are interested in those whose objectives and ideal clients are similar to yours.

This is the same approach one should adopt when considering any form of new marketing activity.

I would ask those who have used the service to explain the demonstrable financial benefits they have secured and which can be directly attributed to their outsourced activity on facebook. Do they feel that the fees they have paid and the time devoted to discussions with the consultancy have been warranted?

Almost every time I have asked accountants about this they simply repeat back what their marketing consultants have told them. Few have won much, if any business, through facebook. But they ‘believe’ that having a facebook page helps them to stand out, shows they are modern and that it will, at some stage, prove a worthwhile investment.

If that’s good enough for you, then go ahead.

Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post intended to reference  ‘Examples of good facebook pages for accountants’.  I invited readers to post links to such pages. Despite the many comments on that blog post, which has also become one of the most popular I have written, I am still waiting ;-(

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What are your top skills and expertise?

The top ranked personal skill or expertise on my Linkedin profile is currently ‘strategy’.  It has been moving up the list over the last year.

I am flattered that hundreds of people have endorsed me for ANY skills and expertise on Linkedin. Until recently ‘Accounting’ was top – presumably by reference to my background in and knowledge of the UK accounting profession.

The reason for this post though is because of the question in my mind since I started considering why hundreds of people were endorsing me for ‘strategy’. As I admire so many other strategic thinkers and advisers, I am quite thrilled anyone should feel this word is relevant to what I do.

After I comment on this below I share some lessons that may be of use to you re your Linkedin profile.

Do I do ‘strategy’?

I have not, to date, referenced ‘strategy’ as a skill, topic or expertise in any of my online, author or speaker profiles. So why does it appear to be so popular among my Linkedin connections?

It could be simply a function of Linkedin’s algorithm such that it is the most often promoted skill when anyone visits my profile on Linkedin. Or it could be a down to the impression people get through much of what I write about, speak about and share. Or, most likely, a combination of these two reasons.

This has caused me to reflect on the impression others get from what I do.

I frequently find myself debunking over-hyped ideas and forecasts about the speed of impact of changes on the professions. I also tend to discourage anyone from chasing the latest fad without first thinking about their target audience and focusing on ways to engage with them.  And I always encourage my audiences to clarify what it is they wish to achieve; then I recommend having a plan rather than just experimenting with new ideas all the time.

Hmm. And what is business strategy all about? It’s about identifying your objectives and creating a plan as to how you will achieve them.

So, yes, perhaps I should reflect on how others see my advice as being strategic. If you agree by all means add your endorsement to my Linkedin profile

How much importance do you place on the endorsements you get on your Linkedin profile? Remember, that endorsements are very different to recommendations.

The skills and expertise on your Linkedin profile

When Linkedin introduced their endorsements facility in 2012 I saw it as a bit of a game. I determined that it wasn’t important to get loads of endorsements. I have however long maintained that it was key to only accept onto your profile endorsements for skills you really have and which you want to promote. (See: What I like about Linkedin endorsements – October 2013)

Linkedin asks visitors to your profile, with whom you are already connected, to endorse you for a range of skills. Some of those skills may already be on your profile. Others are on the profiles of people who Linkedin thinks are a bit like you. In theory people who know you should only confirm you as having skills you really have. But, in practice, many users think they are helping you if they confirm you have skills as suggested by Linkedin. There’s no guarantee that they really think you have those skills.

Over time though it seems that Linkedin stops asking about random skills – especially if you haven’t added new ones to your profile even after people confirm you have them. This is certainly true in my case. I don’t recall the last time I had rejected the addition of a new skill that someone had endorsed me for (prompted, no doubt, by the Linkedin algorithm).

I would encourage you to reflect on the top 5 skills/expertise currently showing on your profile. Do these reinforce the message in the summary of your profile and in your profile title? Or will these skills/expertise confuse your message?

My advice is to delete any reference to skills/expertise that you do not have or that you know are not relevant to what you wish to be known for. And then, maybe ask some of your close connections to visit your profile and to endorse you for just 3 or 4 skills/expertise that you genuinely feel are relevant and justified.

This will serve three purposes.

  1. It will help you to understand what people really think you’re good at;
  2. It will encourage Linkedin’s algorithm to focus more on those popular topics when it invites other people to endorse you; and
  3. It will enable you to revise your profile to better reflect what you’re known for which should make it easier to achieve your business or career objectives

So I suggest this is a sensible strategy to pursue 😉

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