Debunked: Twitter names and handles for accountants

You may have seen or heard me comment that accountants who tweet using their firm’s name are missing a trick. In this blog post you’ll find out why.

Twitter is a social media platform that is suited to building personal engagement. It is less effective when used as a broadcast media and this is typically what we expect of and experience with corporate twitter accounts.

I have long been convinced that most accountants who only tweet in the firm’s name are largely wasting their time. It will invariably take far longer to get value from twitter if you fail to tweet as a real person.  Indeed, most smaller firms who start to use twitter stop soon afterwards as they find it’s ‘not working’ for them. They struggle to attract followers, to secure any engagement and thus to get any benefit from their time and activity on twitter.

It is clear to me that it is generally easier to get value from twitter if your face and name appear as your twitter username even if your twitter handle is your firm’s name. This is still not as good though as incorporating your name into your twitter handle.

Before looking at some examples, let me add a word about the length. Within reason the shorter the better. Twitter limits your twitter handle to just 15 characters. Choose them carefully. You will of course also be constrained by the length of your first and last names, the length of your firm’s name, whether the latter is ever referred to only by its initials and also by your role in the firm.

Generic tips:

  • You will seem more professional if you have an intelligible handle, rather than what may seem to be random letters or a name followed by random numbers or your year of birth.
  • Use upper and lower case to make it easier to read. The mix has no impact on twitter. Thus you’ll get my twitter account whether you type: BookMarkLee, bookmarklee or any variation thereon
  • Underscores are best avoided whenever possible as they can cause issues for anyone who accesses twitter on an iphone – and possibly via other devices too. NB: Twitter does not allow hyphens or other punctuation in twitter handles.
  • Choose a handle as close to your name as possible as this is your online brand. Every time you tweet, you promote brand awareness for your name and reinforce the connection between your name and profile photo. This makes it so much easier to connect in real life. I am frequently approached at events by people who have recognised me from my twitter profile photo.

Effective approaches to choosing a twitter handle:

  • Your name or a professionally appropriate variation thereon eg: @JohnPeterSmith
  • A combination of your name and your firm’s name or initials eg: @BDO_JohnSmith
  • A combination of your name and your profession eg: @JohnS_Accounts or @JohnTaxSmith
  • A combination of your name and location eg: @JohnSmithBelfast

Less effective approaches:

  • A combination of your initials and your firm’s name  eg: @JS4BakerTilly
  • A combination of your firm’s name and your initials eg: @BakerTilly_JS
  • A combination of letters that only makes sense once someone has worked it out eg: @jsaccsol (John Smith Accounting Solutions)
  • A self -proclaimed title eg @TheTaxGuruGuy or @GreatBookkeeping

If you want to see how thousands of other accountants do this here is my twitter list of all the UK accountants I have so far found on twitter. I have a separate list for those who tweet in their firm’s name. Many accountants are quite inventive with the descriptions of their firms that they use on twitter. Sadly though hardly anyone sees these descriptions.  This is because typically the accounting firms’ tweets are less interesting and secure less engagement than those of accountants who tweet as themselves.  If your tweets don’t prompt interest then no one will look at your profile or click through to your website.

By the way, if you want to be added to either of my twitter lists, simply follow and/or message me on twitter and I’ll do the rest.

NB: The good news is that Twitter allows you to change an existing handle without this impacting your follower numbers. You simply go to the ‘edit profile’ page on your twitter account, click the link for ‘account’, enter your new username/handle and click ‘save’.

Do share your views and let me know whether you agree or disagree with my advice on this topic. And please share any clever or different styles of twitter handles that could work for accountants too.

 

by

Debunking social media myths for accountants

I forget how long ago I added the word ‘debunker’ to the list of my roles/activities. It’s on my business card, my marketing materials, my online profiles and on the title slide for many of my presentations.

I was first asked what I mean by ‘debunker’ when I was facilitating a workshop for an international association of accountants. We were looking at how different firms within the association used or avoided social media. It’s no coincidence that social media is the subject I most often debunk.

I explained that I aim to challenge, clarify and correct the bunk, bunkum and downright nonsense that is talked about re social media. And there is a lot of it about.

Many self professed experts speak from a limited perspective and talk in generalities that do not provide appropriate advice to accountants. To be fair there are also some real experts around. I don’t claim to be such an expert but I have been routinely highly ranked as an online influencer since 2011. Indeed I have been actively engaged with social media since 2006; and with accountants for much longer. I don’t pretend to know more than I do. And I don’t promote fantasies.

Social media is used effectively by some accountants as part of their overall marketing strategy. Many more are playing around and hoping that, despite a lack of strategy, they will secure some real business benefit from their social media activity. Will the outcomes be worth the effort? Are they monitoring the right metrics or chasing rainbows?

My research and monitoring of what accountants are doing on social media reveals that the majority are wasting time and effort. That’s a shame. When asked I’ll try to set them straight and I will invariably debunk the myths and misconceptions they have been fed by people with a limited understanding of accountants , social media or both.

It’s not all bad news. I am hearing an increasing number of success stories from accountants who are using social media effectively. This has lead a number of marketing and social media experts to seek fees to help other accountants achieve similar outcomes. Many seem unaware of how often accountants only have limited early success, talk about it a lot and then stop bothering with social media as they cannot repeat their early luck.

Whatever anyone might tell you please remember that there are no magic wands that will allow an agency, a junior member of staff or an external consultant to generate shed loads of new leads and clients for you through social media.

Invariably you need to start with a well thought through marketing strategy and then to identify which social media platform or platforms might be appropriate for your target audience. Then you need to set a strategy and business focused objectives for each such platform. This can absolutely prove to be worthwhile – as might other strategies too of course. I wrote about this in more detail recently here >>>

I don’t just debunk the hype around social media generally, I also do the same for specific platforms too. Regular readers will recall plenty of previous comment about the hype surrounding Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and so on. I also offer positive, constructive and commercial advice as to how you can benefit from these platforms if you use them effectively.

Beyond social media I also debunk myths and hype around other new fads, apps, websites and marketing generally that is aimed at accountant. I always do this from an informed and independent stance. I aim to challenge, clarify and correct inaccurate assertions about what works and what doesn’t work. My wider intention is to help accountants avoid wasting time and money – especially before they have clarified what it is they really want to achieve.

Do let me know if you come across promoters hyping ‘new’ ideas and concepts to accountant or insisting that you MUST adopt a similar marketing technique to one used successfully by larger firms or in other professions and circumstances. I’ll be happy to offer an independent view and to debunk the hype if I feel that would be appropriate.

by

Don’t invest more time on social media until you have read this

Regular readers will know that I am both very active on social media and highly ranked for my online influence.* Equally you will also know that I do not routinely encourage accountants to use social media for promotional and marketing purposes. And I challenge the evidence and arguments of those who do advocate this – when they do so without plenty of caveats.

For every one accountant I hear about who claims to secure good business through social media there are dozens who tell a different story. Typically they say that social media, for them, is a waste of time. This is no surprise to me as I understand the limitations of social media as well as the opportunities.

My research also shows that most accountants who ARE securing good business from their online activities are actually more reliant on the online business networking site, Linkedin, rather than on one or more ’social media’ platforms.

Let’s clear up a couple of other misconceptions.

Firstly, accountants rarely conclude that any promotional or marketing activity is worthwhile unless it has been well planned and executed. This means, as I have said before, starting by being clear as to your objectives. WHY are you doing any promotion?

There are many possible reasons. But let’s assume that you want more clients.  As I have explained previously, you then need to consider who is your Market, then what is your Message and finally which Media is best to get your Message to your Market? Your choice of media (social or otherwise) should be the last thing you consider, not the starting point.

If you simply post promotional messages on twitter or Facebook, for example, there is no guarantee that these will be seen by your target market.

Secondly, do not be fooled by statistics quoted by so-called experts who tell us how many billions of people use social media. If your target market isn’t using it and won’t see your messages, the general stats are not relevant.

Let’s assume you want to secure a profitable new business client. Are the owners (or FDs or other decision makers) of such clients active on social media? Maybe. Maybe not. They may be active on one platform but not on others. Or they may have delegated their company’s use of social media to a junior person in their marketing team.  Such a person is unlikely to be influential or able to help you to contact or influence the decision maker you hope to meet.

Having debunked some of the misconceptions, let me now offer a more positive slant. Because there are times and ways in which it can be worth accountants trying to use social media for promotion and marketing purposes. It will often be much easier to reach such decision makers via Linkedin for example.

Typically you will find the time and effort you spend on social media is all more worthwhile if you are focused on connecting and engaging with other users who share your interest in a specific sector, community or niche. For example, the owners of start-up businesses, those who operate from the same local area as you or those who share your interest in, say, martial arts.

Let’s now assume that you have done your research and concluded that there are people you wish to target and influence who are actively using a specific social media platform. How might you hope to use that platform productively?  Here are 6 key tips that could make all the difference:

  1. Use the search facility on the platform to find people, groups or discussions that are of interest.
  2. Join relevant groups and join in conversations. Be generous with your knowledge and focus on helping people. Counterintuitively, the less promotional your contributions, the more interest you are likely to attract.
  3. Join in conversations about topics you find interesting and which may help you connect or engage with the people you are targeting.
  4. Identify relevant hashtags and use them in your contributions. Do not overuse them. And never use them until you are confident and comfortable that you know how to do so without undermining your credibility.
  5. When you initiate posts make sure that enough of them are focused on relevant topics, by reference both to your objectives and to the people with whom you hope to engage. But ensure too that you are not so focused you omit to reveal the real you on each ‘social’ media platform.
  6. Identify, follow, engage and/or connect with relevant individuals, personalities, suppliers, customers, and influencers. They may not all be prospective clients (assuming that’s your overall objective) but they will know such people. As such they may be useful introducers and referrers.
*Most recently Sage identified me as one of their top 100 global small business online influencers.
by

Where do you want your promotional messages to be seen?

I have referenced what I call the 3Ms of marketing an accountancy practice before. This blog post is related to the third M. That is, which Media should you use to get your chosen Messages to your chosen Market?

The answer to the question depends on where you will find your chosen Market and target audience. When many accountants are asked about this, they have no clear answer. The implicit belief is: “Anywhere and Everywhere”.

If you think this is true for your practice then it doesn’t matter greatly where you promote the practice. Unfocused social media and Linkedin may help (but probably not much). Essentially you’ll try ‘Anything and Everything’. Accountants who adopt this approach are typically the first to say that marketing is a waste of money. Where that’s true is often because it’s unfocused and hasn’t been planned by reference to specific objectives, clear target audiences and distinct messages that resonate with that market.

Let’s move on then to consider 4 other generic answers to the question, Where will you find your chosen Market and target audience?

Immediate vicinity

This is the case, for example, when you have a high street presence and want more passers by to pop in or to remember your details to pass on when they hear someone asking about accountants in the immediate vicinity.

The 3 main options here are: A pavement sign encouraging passers by to pop in, to use the office windows to communicate with them or to have a leaflet stand by the door.

Your local area

I make this point frequently to sole practitioners – and the point is relevant to many 2 or 3 partner firms too. Unless you have some special expertise or sector focus, the vast majority of your new clients will come from the local and surrounding area.  Even if you have clients all over the country, few people who are hundreds of miles away will ever choose you as their accountant over someone more local to them.

Assuming that you want to promote your firm in the local area there are plenty of options available to you including:

Adverts in the local press and magazines, local sponsorship, local networking groups, local radio, local business events and shows and online groups (eg: on facebook and Linkedin) that focus on the local area. Also your Linkedin profile should include your local area in the headline to make sure it stands out when anyone uses Linkedin to look up local accountants.

Nationally

If you really want to promote your firm nationally you might look to focus your promotional activity on National radio, TV,  conferences, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other UK online forums and general social media platforms.  Generic blogging on your website may also reach a National audience if it doesn’t obviously have a local or other relevant focus.

Internationally

International and overseas conferences, overseas based groups, international magazines, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other international online forums and general social media platforms.

Specific groups, communities or sectors

In case it’s not clear I would say that this  is most likely to be successful for a local accountancy firm. Especially for those who do not have the opportunity or desire to seek publicity in their immediate vicinity.

By way of examples, you might be focused on lawyers, young entrepreneurs or local property investors.

The key point here is that your focus on a specific group, community or sector enables you to STAND OUT more from the competition.  As a result your publicity is more likely to succeed here than if you adopt an approach that is better suited to larger firms and brands that truly have a National or International focus.

Your publicity should evidence your connection, interest and expertise as appropriate in the specific group, community or sector you have chosen.

The opportunities to secure publicity here are extensive – and much more focused than any of the other options listed above. They include: relevant community or sector focused magazines, news websites, blogs and papers. Also specific focused facebook groups, Linkedin groups, speaking opportunities at events that attract your target audience, sponsorship, relevant networking and business focused events. Also social media and online forums where the use of hashtags or tags enable you to reach your target audience more directly than if you just ‘go random’ (which tends to happen when you seek National and international publicity).

I must offer one important caveat to finish. Overt adverts and promotional messages may appeal to some audiences. In the main however, effective publicity for local accountants can be counter-intuitive, especially when it involves your own blog, social media and articles – effectively anything other than obvious adverts. Everywhere else you typically need to hold back on the overt promotional messages. Instead you are likely to have more success if you focus on offering help and support, sharing useful knowledge and information, tips and tricks.

by

When you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes

The longer you spend on social media the more you realise that overt sales and marketing messages do not typically have much positive impact. Posting adverts on social media is a different topic and not the subject of this blog post.

Before I explain how you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes, I should clarify a related point. I have long maintained that it’s rarely worthwhile spending time on social media in the hope of finding new clients. I’m never surprised that only a minority of the accountants I speak with talk about having found new clients through social media. For some years I was of the view that many of these clients were relatively new start-up businesses who were attracted to similarly new accountancy firms. If that is what you want then by all means copy what you see other SSMAs (Successful Social Media Accountants) doing.

Times are changing but it remains true that before you try to copy what someone else does you need to decide whether you would be happy with the same results that they secure. And it’s not enough to replicate someone’s style and approach – you might also need to replicate their profile and website messages too. I’m not suggesting you copy these, but do bear in mind that when social media works as a promotional tool it is due to a combination of factors.

My advice to accountants who are keen to secure valuable promotional and marketing benefit from social media is to adopt a local, community or sector specific focus.  Rather than tweeting, posting and engaging with anyone and everyone, be more selective.

There is rarely much point in local accountants building up a follower base spread around the UK or the world, unless such people are genuinely part of your target market for business or influence.  This is not the case for most local accountancy firms. So why seek to boost your follower numbers without giving any consideration to where they are or who they are?  In most cases ‘quality’ should be far more important to you than ‘quantity’. And what will determine who are ‘quality’ followers and connections? It is likely to be because they are involved, connected or interested in the same locality, community or groups as you.

If you want to use social media effectively for promotional purposes you will still need to follow conventional wisdom and avoid too many overtly promotional posts. But, that said, you will invariably be more successful if you adopt a local, community or sector specific focus by:

  • joining relevant facebook (and also Linkedin) groups
  • tweeting, posting and commenting on local, comunity or sector specific topics
  • using popular hashtags that are already being used by others in your area/community/sector
  • including your social media account names on local marketing and promotional materials
  • following, connecting, helping, suppporting and engaging with key individuals, influencers, suppliers, customers and personalities.

Feel free to add any further suggestions or questions you have in the comments box below this post.

by

“What tools do you recommend to help a sole practitioner stand out?”

This was another question I was asked during a recent interview. This post is drawn from the notes I made before giving my answer on air.

Many accountants and bookkeepers reference their best source of new business as being referrals and recommendations. So let’s deal with this first.

Tools I would recommend here include:

  • Linkedin – you can use this to keep in touch with what clients are doing , to like, share and comment on their updates and news. It helps to have a decent profile here yourself. Check out my free Linkedin profile tips here>>>
  • Your website is key of course. It’s a tool to attract people to your practice rather than to your competitors. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how important it is to reveal who YOU are rather than hiding behind your firm’s name and brand. You don’t need to invest a fortune in your website. You can STAND OUT positively simply by addressing the basics and making it really easy for prospective clients to find key information before they get in touch.
  • A decent CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to ensure that you’re keeping in touch regularly and can recall key facts about each client.
  • A practice management system – monitoring time limits and deadlines, so you can avoid doing things at the last minute and provide a timely service to your clients. You only tend to get positive referrals when clients feel that you are on top of things.
  • A referrals strategy – this could be a simple spreadsheet or it could be built into your CRM system.

Other tools that could also help you to STAND OUT positively to people who don’t yet know you include:

  • Twitter and facebook – but only if you believe that your target audience are active on these platforms.  With twitter you’ll stand out more if you tweet in your own name with a decent profile headshot than if you tweet in your firm’s name.
  • Linkedin – once you have a decent profile you can use the advanced search facility to seek out either specific prospects or those who fit your target profile. Then you can ask to connect with them and start to build a business relationship with them – before meeting up if you both feel this could be worthwhile. Don’t move into sales mode until you know what they want and need.
  • Giveaways – I don’t mean you need to create a promotional brochure or  gimmicks. But if you have branded giveaways that people will find of use and value, you can use these to stand out from your competitors. As will focused tip sheets that highlight a specific sector or niche – as distinct from being the same old, same old generic tip sheets everyone else sends out.

If you’re aware of other tools you would recommend for sole practitioners, do please add them as comments on this post.

by

How do you allow clients to communicate with you?

In the days before email there were only 3 ways that clients could communicate with their accountants. In person, by phone and by letter. Now the list of options is much longer. Do you encourage, tolerate or refuse to accept communications by less conventional methods? How does this impact your client base?

Email is perhaps the most common form of communication these days but some accountants talk about how they are being approached by prospects and by clients using skype, facebook, twitter, whatsapp, text messages and Linkedin.

I’ve been asked whether it’s acceptable to engage with clients and prospects using these platforms.  My answer is simple. ‘Yes’. The key question is whether you come across as professional and appropriate in your communications.  There is also the question as to why have facebook and twitter links on your website if you do not want to encourage communications via these platforms? There’s little point trying to look modern and uptodate if you can’t cope when people choose these facilities to communicate with you.

Ground rules

Moving on, you need to decide whether to allow clients to do whatever they want or if you want to set some ground rules. And you need to decide how to record or keep track of communications across multiple platforms.

My advice depends on how often you get enquiries and questions via less conventional methods. 

You could welcome and embrace such approaches. “I’m flexible and modern and let clients engage with me however they choose. But we do encourage email for substantive conversations and when we provide ‘written’ advice”

Or

You could adopt a different stance and reply to initial enquiries, along the lines: “Many thanks for getting in touch here. I’d love be to discuss your issues on the phone or face to face. 

Please note that we are happy for clients to contact us use by whatever media they choose. However as a professionally qualified accountant I cannot engage with non-clients on platforms like this.”

Social media

If clients want to ‘meet’ via Skype – you need to agree or accept that they may choose to go elsewhere. Skype offers the advantage of face to face communication (over the web) but avoids anyone having to travel to a meeting. This is the same reason that I run monthly webinar meetings for sole practitioner accountants who do not want to travel into London to meet with me regularly.

Like many people I tend to think of facebook as a non-business communication platform – principally for friends, family and fun. However I also know that some accountants have popular business pages on facebook and that prospects and clients may communicate with them on facebook or via messenger.  This is most likely to be the case if your clients are themselves very active on facebook.  Whether you want to encourage or discourage communications via facebook, make this clear on on your facebook page. 

Again, you may have some clients who see you are active on twitter and send you messages there. Or they may have a preference for whatsap or texting. It’s up to you whether to reply in detail (not easy – even via direct messages) or to copy their message then reply to it via email. If you copy their message into your email reply it will be easier for you to keep an audit trail of your communications. Just bear in mind that some clients may check their twitter accounts and texting apps more often than they check their emails. So I’d advise that you always send an acknowledgement back by the same method that the client approached you eg: “Thanks for that. I’m replying in detail by email. Will aim to get you something within in the next few hours, or do you need advice more urgently?”

I would suggest that your emails always reference the platform on which the original query arose (facebook, twitter, Linkedin, whatsapp or elsewhere!)  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it very frustrating to glance at a new message notification and then to later forget which app I need to review to find it again,

Clients first?

Unless you can afford to alienate the odd client, I think it’s important to allow clients to communicate with you however they choose. So don’t deny them the facility. But you can take control of how you respond. To keep track of the shorter messages, that you don’t confirm by email, you could take screen shots from text, facebook and twitter apps. Then save those photos to relevant client directories or files in the cloud – direct from your phone.

As the number of clients engaging with you in less conventional ways increases, so it’s important to identify the processes and systems you want to have in place to keep track and to retain an audit trail re advice you give clients. This becomes even more important if your advice reflects questions, facts or assumptions you noted via ‘social media’. And you need to ensure that any staff or contractors whom clients communicate with also follow your ground rules.

A more traditional approach would be to tell clients that you only accept instructions and communications by email, letter, phone or in person. I tend to think that approach will not help you to win or to retain clients. But it’s your choice. It’s up to you how you allow clients to communicate with you. If you want more clients of the type who are active users of social media, the more important it is for you to appear flexible and capable of engaging via your clients’ preferred means of communication.

by

The 3 key steps to effective promotion of your practice

I have lost track of the number of accountants I see trying (and failing) to use social media to build their brand and to attract new clients.

It’s tempting to try things out and to experiment on social media, as we think of it as being ‘free’. Except that it’s not. It takes time to make it worthwhile. And our time isn’t free. There’s always something else we could be doing. And that other activity could well have more value to us.

Paying someone else to ‘do social media’ for you is equally a waste of money if you haven’t first followed the 3 key steps I summarise below. Wherever, whenever and however you choose to promote your practice, your choice of the media to use is the last of the 3 key steps. You will waste time and money if you focus on the media before clarifying the first two steps.

The 3 steps, in order, are: Market, Message, Media.

Expanding on this:

First identify your Market – who do you want to influence when you promote your practice and your services etc? Who is your intended audience? The more specific you can be the more effective will be your messages and the more influence you are likely to have. This in turn is likely to lead to more clients – of the type you want. Counter-intuitively perhaps, but you’ll invariably do better if you clarify and target a specific market rather than try to promote your wares to anyone and everyone.

When you know WHO you want to influence, then you can clarify your Message. You want to ensure that what your promotions say will resonate with your desired Market/audience.

Then, when you are clear as to your Market and your Message, you can choose the right Media to reach your Market with your Message. This means choosing HOW you are going to get your Message to your target Market. Again, this is much easier if you have clarity as to your Market and it’s not ‘anyone and everyone’.

I see so many accountants experimenting with twitter and then giving up after a few weeks or months. I suspect the majority just jumped on the bandwagon and hoped it would help them to build their brand and identify prospective clients. Such aspirations are rarely fulfilled in practice. Who is your market? Are the local business owners you want to target actually active on twitter? And, if they are, why should they follow you? Is your Message attractive and enticing or simply promotional, occasional and lost in the fast flowing twitter river?

Most of the accountants I work with are more likely to benefit from being active on Linkedin – but even then, only after first clarifying their Market and their Message 😉

by

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.

by

8 mistakes sole practitioners make on twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survey

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

by

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?

by

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’.

by

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?

by

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>>>

by

“How we can grow our ‘social authority’ on twitter?”

I was approached recently by the marketing manager of a smallish firm of accountants who asked me: “How can we grow our ‘social authority’ on twitter?”  This followed my recent blog post in which I explained why it was UNsurprising that 10% of the largest firms have no twitter account.

Here is an extract from my reply to the marketing manager:

What are you hoping to achieve through being on twitter? This needs to be more specific than simply to ‘grow the firm’s social authority’. Who with? With what end-game in mind?

Have you achieved any of those objectives to date?
Have you taken any advice from anyone about how to use twitter effectively for the firm (and how credible was the person giving the advice)?
Do you have many clients who use twitter? Are they among your ideal client types?

I notice that while the firm has 2640 followers, you are following almost as many people. Who typically follows who first?

Does your account follow people who then follow you back; or do you simply follow back those who follow your account first? Or is there little overlap between your followers and those you are following? It’s quite easy to build up random followers by following loads of people who then follow you back.

Do you know how many of your followers are among your target audience? ie: the audience you want to influence in some way?

A quick look suggests that your followers include dozens of businesses keen to market TO you or that are simply fellow accountants.

A quick look through the firm’s tweets in recent months suggests you have fallen into the same trap as many other firms: There’s barely any interactions/conversation; they are largely self promotional or tweeting news items.

On the plus side there are a handful of tweets that mention Manchester (where you’re based) which is always a good idea; and I did see one RT.

The firm has a great looking website by the way. Love the branding, look and feel. That’s another big plus as when people click through from your twitter account, if the website doesn’t engage them it’s all been a waste of time.

My quick and simple advice to firms of accountants like yours is to review what you hope to achieve through being on twitter and then to determine how realistic that is.

Often firms start out with wholly unrealistic hopes based on misconceptions as to what is achievable. This is typically due to misleading generic articles and tips about how to use social media generally and twitter specifically. It also follows from some third parties who offer to run accountants’ social media campaigns for them. This makes little sense to me – even for the biggest firms, but certainly for smaller ones.

The question has to be what is the opportunity cost of the time (and of any money) invested in twitter? That comes back to your objectives, whether these are realistic and whether there are more effective ways to secure the desired outcome.

As head of marketing for a smallish firm (the ‘team’ seems to comprise just one director and one associate, per the website), what are your priorities?

I have been active on twitter for over 7 years, I have been advising accountants to understand what are realistic objectives when it comes to twitter for almost as long. Much of my advice from some years back remains just as true today. You can access more of it here>>>>

by

Twitter tripe re Top UK accounting firms Twitter rankings

I was asked recently why my website, online profile and business card all mention that one of my roles is that of a ‘debunker’. It stems from the years I have spent trying to clarify poorly researched media reports on issues about which I feel quite well-informed.

Sometimes the reports or articles derive from lazy or naive reporting. Other times it is because the data on which a survey or report is based is unrepresentative or starts from a false premise.

It’s been a while since I did any debunking but last week I couldn’t help myself. I saw reference to Top UK accounting firms Twitter rankings.  The report in Accountancy Age quoted Martin De Saulles, marketing lecturer at the University of Brighton and founder of ColdLime, who put together the ‘Firms on Twitter’ research. Accountancy Age reported that he is “surprised” that 10% of the Top 100 Accountancy firms in the UK don’t have a corporate Twitter account.

The inference behind the piece was that firms are missing opportunities and need to beef up their twitter activity if they are to achieve any form of social authority.

I must admit I’m not surprised by the research results. I have been monitoring how accountants and accountancy firms use twitter for some years. Chasing follower numbers is a mugs game. It’s much more important to track and respond to any negative tweets and to engage with clients – if your key connections are themselves tweeting. To be fair the report does reference this facility to use twitter for reputation management. This is a potentially valuable use of twitter especially by firms with well-known names.

I curate a number of twitter lists. One shows all UK accountants who tweet in their own names. Another shows all those who tweet in the name of a UK accountancy firm. I add to the lists as and when I find new names.

At the time of writing there are over 700 accountants on each list. You can follow either or both lists to see the difference in tweeting styles. Those who use the firm’s name are invariably more boring with fewer followers – other than for the biggest firms where name awareness is more widespread. There is also more need to monitor what is being said about the firm so as to be able to respond promptly to limit the damage – especially if the media are monitoring and waiting for negative tweets. It is also clear that only a minority really understand how to make twitter work for them.

Few of the top 100 firms tweet more than once or twice a day and only the top 7 have more than a few thousand followers. I have more followers personally than do all bar the top 7 listed firms – though, as I said above, follower numbers are not worth chasing. How many people will be influenced  by twitter when making their choice of a top 100 accountancy firm?

The research shows that these firms don’t see twitter as a key communication medium – nor do they need to in my view. To suggest that they are (all) at fault for failing to embrace twitter is to both misunderstand twitter and to misunderstand what motivates the firms.  I have my own views as to what it is and what it is not worth such firms doing on twitter. Clarity of focus and of objectives is crucial. Simply being present and posting links to press releases is unlikely to serve any valuable purpose.

by

My favourite twitter tools

I received a tweeted message from ‘twopcharts London’ on 6 July notifying me that it was the 6th anniversary of the day I joined twitter. This led me to check out ‘twopcharts‘ which was where the message originated.

Despite my continued ambivalence about the business benefits of twitter I continue to be an active and enthusiastic user. I’m also interested in related stats and twopcharts offered me two new ones. I’ve noted them below for posterity and have also then shared a note about my favourite twitter tools. These have evolved over time.

Firstly a couple of stats from twopcharts.com that are not otherwise available from twitter:

I’m included in over 240 twitter lists curated by other people. I think that’s more than most, which is nice.
And apparently I’m among the top 5,000 tweeters in London. Not sure if that’s really worth celebrating!
On my computer I typically use hootsuite to track tweets by those I follow, tweets that mention me, conversations I’m having, tweets by those on my twitter lists and tweets I have sent. I only open this a couple of times each day – to avoid being constantly distracted.

I very rarely ever visit twitter.com other than occasionally to see how many people I have listed in the various lists that I curate. You can follow any of these lists if you want to see the tweets from the type of people listed – without having to follow each of the tweeters individually.

On my iphone I rely on the echofon app to read and post tweets as I find it more user-friendly than the mobile twitter app. I also rely on buffer – see below.

Every now and then I visit:

manageflitter – this allows me to check out who I follow and who follows me by ref to various criteria – such as how active or inactive they are. I may then choose to unfollow some of them. I do this as I like to track the ratio of ‘real’ people I follow and equally those who follow me. I’ve never been keen on playing the game of following others to get them to follow me. If I did I might well have more followers but doubt they would be interested or ‘listening’ at all. This is why I tend to think that the ratio of followers to those you follow is informative as well as the number of followers.

Twitter counter – this lets me track movement in the number of my tweets and followers etc

twtrland – I recommend this as a way to find tweeters you might want to follow in any profession or with any specific interests.

Buffer – this is a wonderful aid. It allows me to spread out my tweets across the day even though I might have written them all, found interesting links or spotted items to ReTweet during a ten minute splurge first thing in the day. My buffer account is synchronised with my home computer, my chrome toolbar, my echofon account and my iphone. Buffer also provides stats about the tweets it has managed. How often have the links been clicked, and the tweets been retweeted or favourited. I am frequently disappointed by the low figures in each case.

Which other twitter apps and sites do you use and rate?

by

9 things to avoid doing on social media

Too many people play at social networking and don’t really ‘get it’. Then they assert that ‘social networking’ doesn’t work – although the fault is not so much with the medium as with the way they used it.

There are many posts on this blog that can help social media novices – and also more experienced users. This time though I have summarised nine things you would be well advised to avoid doing on social media – if you want to have a chance of using it successfully for business purposes.

  1. Don’t make it all about you. Self promoting is a turn-off and will rarely attract new people to get to know you. And if they don’t know you they won’t refer work or other people to you.
  2. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to post things. If you post too fast and without thinking you may say something online you regret. Some people see Google as a history book. Everything we have ever said or will ever post on line will be there and capable of being found for ever.
  3. Don’t bother telling us about what you’re eating. This was a mistake some users made in the past. Don’t perpetuate it
  4. Keep your messages varied. Don’t keep repeating or reposting the same messages.
  5. Keep your messages focused and specific so that you STANDOUT (in a positive way).
  6. No spam. ‘Need I say more?
  7. Don’t try to use more than the odd hashtag until you are sure you really understand how these work. Rank amateurs really standout – and for the wrong reasons!
  8. Keep your posts honest, decent and truthful.
  9. In summary – don’t be stupid. Apply common sense to all you say and all you do online.

 

by

How long do you spend on social media each week? (3)

Every so often someone asks how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. What follows is the current answer. It’s my third blog post on the subject. The first was in 2010 and the second was in April 2012.

I started to use social media in 2006. Now, despite my continued use of and enthusiasm for social media, I spend less time than ever before on social networking sites. And the time I do spend there is more focused than in previous years. This is in line with the advice I give to anyone who is inclined to experiment with or to become active on social media.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time I spend depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting. I no longer keep social media windows open on my desk top when in the office.

Social Networks

Facebook

Rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my bookmarklee facebook wall. I still feel comfortable with my decision to leave facebook to fun, family and friends rather than to try to use it for business generation.

There are two business related facebook groups to which I contribute regularly – indeed they are the main reason I am active there at all. But neither is directly related to my target audiences of accountants and other professional advisers.

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

Google+

I still 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.

I am aware that activity on Google+ can have a positive impact on where you appear in google search results. Not sure mine would be much improved given my already high levels of activity online.

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

I am now even more focused than I was previously and I rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every 2 hours. As there are over 500 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 5,000 – and more than 9 times the number of people I follow).

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

Business online networks

LinkedIn

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 also use it to get back in touch with people in a business context and to connect up with business people I meet whether socially or otherwise. 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. I also look to post new discussions in my groups each week.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Accountancy and tax websites

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 – Blog for ambitious accountants

My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it 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.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward.

Other blogs

I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to my Feedly Reader (since Google reader stopped operating) 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.

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 better understand Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

by

Are your social media activities focused on Volume or Value?

Has anyone told you that social media is all about collecting as many connections, friends and followers as possible? That ‘bigger is best’? It’s an issue that seems to divide the social media advocates. I can tell you now that I believe in Value over Volume.

Most online networks make announcements when they reach milestone numbers like a million or ten million. And they encourage users to build large networks. But are bigger networks better for the people in them? Is a Twitter following of ten thousand people better than a thousand?

As with all these things, it depends on what you want.  Your clients who are promoting products to sell around the world can usefully connect with anyone and everyone. They only need a small percentage of these connections to make good money. For them, big (volume) networks make sense.

However, if you’re an accountant you need to build trusted relationships – which takes time. You need to be more focused on building select relevant networks online rather than trying to connect with thousands of random people all over the world.  At best they will do nothing for your practice. At worst they will become a distraction either because you waste time on them or because they try to engage you in communication about THEIR services and products.

In my own case I have nevertheless built up thousands of followers on twitter and thousands of connections on Linkedin. But I am NOT an accountant in practice. Plus I routinely reject connection requests from strangers on Linkedin – unless they are clearly within my target market.

I do not follow thousands of people on twitter nor do I try to trick people into following me back. Thus, the fact that (at the time of writing) I have a healthy ratio of 8 times as many people following me as I follow, suggests I must be posting items of interest. I see no point in following thousands of people in the hope that they will follow me back and boost my follower numbers. The apparent ‘volume’ would be of no real value to me – or to them.

Social Media is no different from the real world. Although some of the people you know will never become clients they may recommend their friends and family to you at some stage in the future. But they can only do that if they know enough about you. If you provide a very rare or unusual service then perhaps it’s enough that they know your name. But for most accountants this will not be sufficient.

So, on social media, as in real life, you need to create and foster VALUABLE connections. Despite what some marketing and social media people may suggest, I can assure you that chasing high volumes of connections and followers will be an unrewarding distraction.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice focused specifically on accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

by

Why am I among the top ranked accountant bloggers on twitter?

The ICAEW’s magazine, Economia, has produced a new list of:

the top 50 most influential sources of finance news and information in social media, voted for by economia readers and ordered by Leaderboarded and Klout.

The Top 20 is dominated by journalists and economists with a smattering of well known business names too. The top ranked accountant is Richard Murphy whose strident views do not exactly sit well with many in the profession. Then there’s me. I’m ranked around 20th, which is astonishing. (The precise rank moves around a bit as my klout score varies).

Obviously I’m grateful to all those who voted for me. Many thanks indeed. I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t been on the list. But equally it feels a tad odd as I didn’t think I really tweeted much about finance news and information. Seems I do.

I certainly blog and write a lot for accountants each week, and I tweet between 15 and 25 times on a typical day.  Accountants are indeed the main focus of most of these tweets. I endeavour to share useful information. And, I realise, much of this is finance and tax related.  I also frequently find myself ReTweeting other finance and accountancy related tweeters and the material to which they refer/link. So, on reflection I shouldn’t be surprised and it seems I do deserve my ranking.

I am also widely connected with well over 5,000 followers (at the time of writing) although this figure in isolation can be misleading. It’s higher than most accountants but obviously lower than most celebrities, journalists and politicians.

Whenever you are looking at the number of followers someone has on twitter I suggest you always look at the number of people they  are following too as this provides some context.

One reason why klout, the ranking system referenced by economia, is valuable in the context of twitter influence is that follower numbers alone do not tell the full story.

It is relatively easy to generate a high number of followers simply by following loads of people and hoping they will reciprocate and follow you back. That boosts your numbers but few of them are really interested in what you tweet so you probably don’t really have much ‘influence’.  Almost 9 times as many people follow me on twitter as I follow and hundreds of them have included me on their twitter lists which suggests that my follower numbers are genuine. I run two lists of UK accountants on twitter and keep tabs on what they are posting by monitoring their posts via these lists.

Until recently my twitter bio has always included reference to accountants. It still notes that I am an FCA but I tweaked the bio at the start of the year. I tend to revisit it every few months depending on my precise focus.

Anyway, my congratulations to Economia for refining the way they created the list this year.  I have been critical in the past – not simply because I was excluded one year – but because of the apparent randomness of who was included. No system is perfect but klout scores are becoming the defacto determinant of twitter influence. This seems to be the case even though klout factors in activity on other forms of social media too.

Asking readers and twitter followers to nominate favourite tweeters helps give the economia listing credibility – even if anyone finds it odd to see me included as the top ranked blogger for accountants by virtue of my twitter activity and ‘influence’.

by

What do accountants do on twitter?

Over the last few years I have attempted to track all UK based accountants who have started to use twitter. I used to follow all of them but now I simply add them to one of my lists of UK accountants on twitter. These now number over 1200 in total and continue to grow. *See links below

Sadly though, in the vast majority of cases it seems accountants tend to give up after less than 3 months on twitter – or they simply continue to tweet an automated series of self-promotional messages. The minority who get value and benefit from remaining active are typically relatively new into business as an accountant and picking up new small business clients who are themselves new into business. Of course there are a few exceptions to the rule. There always are.

Those accountants who remain active on twitter after 3 months are generally getting some value from the information, ideas and insights they pick up through their twitter feeds. They may even occasionally get some valuable business leads. But it takes more time than most busy accountants are prepared to devote to the experiment.

Most struggle to get more than a few hundred followers and have no idea whether these are random people or prospective clients. The number in isolation is almost irrelevant.

When I speak on the subject I demystify twitter and other social media. I explain what’s really involved. I highlight what you can do and how you can benefit. I also explain what twitter is not. It’s not a fast route to new client generation. That’s the pot of gold that most accountants seek. That’s why I say they don’t NEED to use twitter. It won’t provide what they are looking for. But it can be a great resource to access key information and connections.

I have explained previously that those accountants who tweet via a personal account tend to get more engagement and interest than those who tweet in the firm’s name. Marketing types who run their firm’s twitter account and chase followers by following random people in the hope of follow backs are wasting their time and kidding themselves.

If you want to see what other accountants are doing on twitter follow these two lists and you will see evidence of much of what I write and speak about on the subject:

  • Accountancy firms – UK – UK accounting, tax and bookkeeping firms that tweet in the firm’s name vs a real person’s name
  • Accountants and tax bods – Tweeting UK accountants and tax advisers. (Tweeting firms are listed separately)

And if you think you should appear on one of the lists please get in touch. I’d be happy to add you.

Related posts:

A wider selection of my blog posts on the subject are available from the twitter advice page on my website>>>. This includes advice on how to get started, how to understand what the fuss is really about and how to avoid getting caught by the hype (for and against).

 

by

The two things you need to do to find prospects via twitter

If you are to have any hope of securing multiple new clients and introductions through twitter you will do so fastest if you focus your attention on one of two types of other users of twitter. That is either:

  • Those in your local area; or
  • Those who are active in a niche where your services are clearly targeted.

What do I mean by ‘focus your attention’? Firstly, seeking out those twitter users who fit the right profile and then, secondly, engaging with them. If you simply try to promote your services AT them you will probably alienate them – which would defeat your primary objective.

The ‘right profile’ for you will include those tweeters whom you suspect of being prospective clients and also potential introducers, influencers and referrers.

Why then do I suggest a focus on your local area? Simply that almost anyone looking for a new accountant will look for one in their area. The most common exceptions to this are those people whose business is such that they look for an accountant with relevant specialist expertise regardless of where they are based.

The easiest way to find people with the ‘right profile’ is by using the in-built advanced twitter search facility. You can set this to find out who is posting tweets that include reference to your local area and mentioning any other keywords that make sense to you. For example: Harrow, accountant, accounts, bank, finance, business etc

You can then check out the profiles of these ‘local’ tweeters and follow them on twitter. You can also check out, via their twitter account, who they are following and who else follows them. Again you can check the twitter profiles of such people and follow those that seem to be of interest. In some cases the twitter account will be a local business name – that makes it more difficult to engage with them. The same is true the other way around if you tweet using your firm’s name rather than making clear who you are as a person (as well as being an accountant).

Some of the people you follow will follow you back but this doesn’t mean they are interested in your services as an accountant. They may simply be curious or have a policy of automatically following back anyone who follows them. Personally I see little point in this, but some people do it.

Your objective now is much the same as when you meet someone at a face to face networking group or business event. To start a conversation and then, in time to decide, along with the other person, if it might be worthwhile to meet to discuss how you might help each other. Or maybe you could just arrange a skype video chat.

If you are too pushy or desperate your invitation will be rebuffed. Do not start by posting promotional messages any more than you would start a conversation with a new networking contact this way. It’s rarely a successful tactic.

Do bear in mind too that some people are on twitter simply for fun and will have no interest in meeting a local accountant – especially one that doesn’t standout in some positive way. But that’s another subject for another day.

What success have you had finding local tweeters or those in your target niche? Do add your comments below please.

by

Is there a typical twitter user?

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of twitter and use it extensively. Equally I remain cynical about it’s business value to most accountants. I am always amused to note that most of those who challenge this view tend not to remain active on twitter for more than a few months.

Having said that I have explained previously how accountants can derive business benefits from twitter, to get started, what is and what is not worthing doing here. Today I am simply going to challenge one of the most common misconceptions I hear these days. It tends to be a variation on this theme:

“I don’t know why intelligent people like me would use twitter. Only trolls, idiots, pop fans, sports fans, kids, journalists and celebrities seem to use twitter. It’s full of egotistical people with nothing better to do than tell everyone what they are doing or eating.”

In fact there is no typical twitter user. Or if there is I am clearly only following those twitter users who are NOT typical.  Anyone can use it. Just like anyone can use a postbox or send an email. The difference is that YOU can choose if you want to see what other people are posting on twitter. If you don’t want to see any trash, don’t follow the people who post it. And unfollow or block anyone who posts stuff you don’t want to see.

The media frequently report usage of twitter that gives a false impression about how most intelligent people use twitter.  Before you dismiss the idea do check out what it’s really about and how you might actually enjoy it and even get some business value from what you choose to see on twitter.  You can join twitter and follow people you think might be posting stuff that interests you. Add more people and unfollow anyone who posts rubbish.

In time you can decide whether or not to start posting anything yourself.  Typically most users do end up posting their own tweets. But who wants to be typical? 😉

I invite accountants who have been on twitter for more than a few weeks to share below their views as to what they see as typical on twitter.

See the twitter tips page on my blog for more on how to use twitter

 

by

Analysing my Website stats for 2012

Having had a good look at my website stats for 2012 I rather wish I had been recording similar data for each of the last 6 years. Better late than never though.

Blog posts each year

This is the 70th post I have added to the blog in 2012.

That is more than I posted in each of the last 3 years but somewhat fewer than I posted in 2007 and in 2008. (2011 – 56, 2010 – 59, 2009 – 59, 2008 – 109, 2007 – 93, 2006 – 52)

Visitor numbers

WordPress stats reveal that the site has averaged over 11,000 visitors a month this year. That’s over 500 each working day. (Indeed the figures have been rising all year ). Average page reads are nearer 17,000 a month.

Both figures represent significant increases on 2011 (The wordpress counter only started on 30 December 2010). The day the site had most visitors was 26 June 2012 (931 visitors). This was the day after I posted a couple of items which have proved quite popular:

Popular Blog Posts

Most recent blog posts have been read 500-900 times. Some of the earliest have been read less than 100 times. The top ten pages of the site according to wordpress, in terms of the number of times they have been viewed/read are as follows:

  1. Welcome 19,481 (This is the main landing page for my website)
  2. Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 7,374  (I got lucky with this title in 2008. It transpires this is a popular search term. NB: Few of the visitors who read it have any interest in anything else I write or do)
  3. Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 7,059  (The most popular of the posts I wrote in 2012 and often found through searches for info on this topic).
  4. Twitter 4,926 (The page I promote on twitter as it contains links to my various posts on related topics)
  5. The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network 4,260  (Surprisingly popular – possibly due to the odd title appealing when people search for ‘How not to network’. Again though, many visitors are not my target audience. Still, I have now edited the post to include links to other key pages of the website)
  6. How do you set charge out rates? 3,138 (A popular searched for topic)
  7. Twitter is not for accountants 3,072 (Promoted by me and by others who challenge the logic of this 4 year old post. I wish I’d titled it: ‘Why accountants don’t need to bother with twitter’. It’s as true today as it was in 2008)
  8. Speaking 2,634  (one of the key pages of my website)
  9. Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand 2,538
  10. Working with accountants 2,026

Countries

The oddest stat is the one showing where the 206,000 readers of my blog (during 2011 and 2012) are based:

  • United States – 80,492 (It is possible that this is simply those arriving via web services hosted in the US)
  • Unknown – 35,178 (it would be nice to think these are all in the UK but even then I would still have more apparent visitors from the US than from my target UK audience)
  • United Kingdom – 31,971
  • China – 15,028
  • Germany – 4,438

The remainder come from dozens of other countries around the globe. Between them all my visitors have apparently read 321,821 items/pages of the site over the last two years.

by