How to short-cut the Networking process

Networking is not for everyone. Whilst some accountants enjoy attending regular networking events, I regularly hear tales of woe from those who find it a frustrating waste of time.  There are also plenty of accountants who do not like the idea of chatting with strangers very appealing.

You will rarely meet someone at a networking event who is there to find a new accountant. So the process of moving from attending such events to winning new clients can be both time consuming and involved. How can you short-cut the process?

In this blog post I share an idea that could be a far more productive use of your time and less daunting too. It’s quite different to the tips and advice I have shared previously as to how you can get more value from the time you spend networking.


The primary reason most accountants attend networking events is typically to win new clients. A secondary objective might be to build relationships with influencers who then refer you on to their clients and contacts. This latter rationale is more likely to be successful in the short-term. Few new clients will choose to appoint a new accountant until they have built a degree of trust – certainly more than comes from a casual chat at a networking event.

The best client introductions

If you’ve been in practice a while you should know how you came to service your best clients. I’ll bet that most didn’t come through adverts, they didn’t come from people searching on the web and they didn’t come from social networking.  Sure, all of these activities might generate some work but your ‘best’ clients?  There will always be exceptions but most accountants typically say that their best clients were introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients.

The second best source tends to be other advisers who know, like and trust the accountant.  Often, but not always, these relationships were built up as a result of random meetings at networking events. But that’s not the only way to instigate them.

An alternative approach 

If you don’t like Networking with strangers you are not alone. Instead why not ask your favourite clients to introduce you to their other advisers?

Which lawyers and financial advisers do they trust? These are then the people whom you can contact and meet for a coffee. You want to get to know them better so that you can recommend other clients to them as and when this seems appropriate. After all if one good client has recommended them, then others may value their advice too.

During your conversations with these advisers you will also get the chance to talk about your practice. And you will also reference the clients you have helped besides the one you have in common with the adviser you are with.

In effect this approach enables you to short-cut the networking process. You don’t have to chat with random strangers at networking events; you aren’t reliant on stumbling across people who might know someone who might need a new accountant; and you don’t have to arrange a series of follow up meetings with strangers who may or may not be valuable additions to  your business circle.

Try it, you might like it.


Accountants CAN overcome a lack of inner confidence…..

All too often I encounter another accountant who is lacking in confidence. And this invariably holds them back from achieving the success they seek.

Just last week an accountant emailed me back after receiving a message I’d sent out on a totally different topic. Included in her reply was the following:

I know I lack a degree of confidence. I’m on my own, no mentor, no senior. This is daunting.

I’m not very good at small talk and sales patter.

I’m lacking confidence.

I have bags of ambition and drive.

I have a fantastic team of 3 ladies who I have personally trained and I have a huge office with potential for 10 desks.

I struggle to get new clients. I want to get things as right as I can from the outset and have not wished to take on loads more low value clients.

After thanking her for getting in touch I replied:

Stop putting yourself down and reinforcing the negative voices in your head.  You are NOT lacking in confidence.

You’ve started your own practice. You have taken office space sufficient for 10 desks. All of that takes a HUGE amount of belief (which is simply another word for confidence).  Well done!

And, as you say, you also have a huge amount of ambition and drive. I think perhaps you’re embarrassed by your confidence and you may be concerned it might come across as arrogance if you really let it out. I get that. And it’s good to avoid over doing the confidence.

I also wanted to direct her to some related advice I have shared previously. I was pretty certain I had addressed the issue of accountants and confidence before on this blog. But when I checked back most such posts related more to the problems of being over confident! So here is my further advice that should be of wider application and value.

It’s quite common

In conversation with accountants I am mentoring and with those who belong to The Inner Circle it is often obvious to me that a lack of confidence is causing them issues. Sometimes it prevents them making decisions that are then continually deferred, it makes them nervous about contacting certain clients and scared of quoting fully commercial fees.

One of the great pleasures of my work is that with a degree of understanding and encouragement from me, these same accountants grow in confidence. They tell me about how they are now able to quote fees they only dreamt about some months earlier and that clients are happy to pay them. They are proud to have refused to take on new clients who don’t want any advice; and they are excited by the future as they now know they can attract the sort of referrals and recommendations they always wanted.

There’s no magic involved(!) Building your confidence starts by accepting that you are better than you think when someone who knows you and knows enough other accountants (like me) tells you honestly that you’re at least as good as average – possibly better.

But you can also boost your confidence alone.

How to become more confident

Here’s a few tips I have encouraged accountants to adopt – and which I have been told have worked for them:

One popular technique is to get a character, toy or figurine to keep on your desk. Imagine them as your Positive Reinforcer (PR).  When that negative voice in your head saps your confidence, imagine your PR guy/gal encouraging you onwards.

Keep a note of every success. Each day, note down these Positive Reinforcements (PR) to remind you of when you make things go well,  so that you can focus on these – and NOT on the times when things don’t go so well.  Review your PR notes – especially before your next interaction with a client where your lack of confidence has previously weakened you.

Celebrate your achievements so that you spend less time dwelling on the other occasions which didn’t go so well, but which contained valuable lessons. Note them down as Positive Reinforcement (PR) of lessons learned.

Accept praise and compliments. You do deserve them. Do not dismiss them. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is very common in all walks of life. You do deserve the success you enjoy.

If all else fails, fake it. Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, act as if you do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how positively this can affect people’s reactions to you.  There’s also another good reason to practice faking confidence. I have also heard it said that the more you practice acting in a confident manner, the more it will increase your inner confidence.  Just ensure you don’t come across as arrogant. And also be careful you don’t give definitive advice when you are not really confident it is 100% correct.

Confidence is self-perpetuating. Once you have it, you can use it to push yourself to succeed, which will build your confidence even further.

Want some help?

My confidence in my own ability to help sole practitioners to become more successful has fluctuated over the years.

Back in 2006 I had a wider focus and initially listened to those of my friends and colleagues who told me that I was bound to be successful as a mentor and speaker. They boosted my ego by referencing my reputation, credibility and high profile in the profession. I was prepared to listen. But then it soon became clear that few people were beating a path to my door. My confidence plummeted.

Over the last few years I have had plenty of successes and I am now confident of the value I deliver to sole practitioner accountants. This is one of the reasons why I offer a very low cost entry level facility to experience my style and advice. But equally I offer premium level 1-2-1 mentoring support and advice. Part of the value accountants get from me, where appropriate, is help, support and encouragement to become more self confident in their interactions with prospects and clients.


What happened after I told an accountant he didn’t need a website

In this blog post I will explain the reasons I advised an accountant that he did not need a website in January 2018 and also how I would adapt this advice going forwards.

I initially wrote about this on Linkedin and sought feedback there. Within days that post secured over 24,000 views as well as dozens of likes and comments.

Many people agreed with me but even more people disagreed, although their logic didn’t always stack up. A couple of people however then added a new perspective and made me think again. Read on and let me know what you think.


It was when I was chatting with an accountant in his late 60s recently that I advised him to ignore all the people telling him he needs a website.

He had been badgered by marketing experts, website designers, SEO consultants and accountancy gurus, all of whom have said he must get a website. I disagreed. And he was pleased to hear my reasoning, with which he agreed.

This accountant had taken up a recent invitation I sent him to book a call with me to get some unbiased input on a topic of his choice to help him in his practice. (Normally I call accountants on spec but I don’t do that in January!)

When he called we chatted for a couple of minutes and I then asked him to tell me what was on his mind. This led to him explaining how he had built his practice, what sort of work he enjoys doing and what sort of new clients he now wants. I offered some positive suggestions and advice as regards his main issue before the subject of his website came up.

He said that he has never had a website and that he only wants more clients like those he has and who are referred by clients or people he knows.

He isn’t looking to pick up lots of new clients. He barely has time to deal with all those he has and anticipates encouraging some of the smaller ones to move elsewhere. As regards new clients he doesn’t want to take on any start ups or to work for anyone who is searching randomly online for an accountant.

He is widowed and doesn’t intend to retire or to sell his practice but to keep going until he is no longer able to do so.

My advice

I suggested that some of the best people referred to him may not get in touch if they can’t find out ANYTHING about him online. This is one reason everyone has been suggesting he needs a website.

However my advice was that he doesn’t need a website. Instead he should simply update his Linkedin profile and add a profile photo to it.

In my view, if he does that well enough, it will be sufficient. The important point is to allow people who are referred to him to see that he has the skills, experience and approach that they seek and that he is the sort of person they would like to work with. In effect, for the recommendation they have received to be endorsed and confirmed.


Among those people on Linkedin who agreed with the basic rationale for my advice, some neat refinements were suggested. Someone also pointed out that a Linkedin profile is akin to having a website with amazing built in SEO – it’s just hosted on a LinkedIn URL rather than a WordPress URL or a custom domain.

Missing the point

Dozens of people on Linkedin suggested that a website is crucial for him to be found on google, to appear in online search results, to evidence his credibility, to build up his practice, to show he is a 21st century accountant and to show that he has an established and substantial practice.

They had all missed the fact that he is in his late 60s and already has a good strong practice. He doesn’t want to be found by people searching for An accountant. Only by those who know of him already.

He only wants to take on a few new clients a year and can afford to be very choosy. He chooses to only consider those who are referred directly to him. To date the absence of a website doesn’t seem to have stopped any such referrals getting in touch with him.

Some people also seemed unaware that the search engines will find and display your Linkedin profile to anyone who searches for you even if they are not themselves on Linkedin. And you can decide how much of your profile is visible to the (non-Linkedin) ‘public’. Generally I suggest making everything public.

A different point of view

A couple of people commenting on the Linkedin post made very valid alternative observations.

Relying solely on LinkedIn and not having his own website means my accountant friend is not in control of a key element of his business.

If Linkedin block him or remove his profile by mistake (or for any other reason) he would no longer be findable online. This could happen, for example, if someone with the same or a similar name does something wrong. Or, less likely, if Linkedin change their entire business model.

He also has no way of knowing how much business he is losing by not having a website. Various reports suggest that a significant majority of all buying decisions are now made online. A lack of a website is seen as a key indicator in trust reduction.

He may get all the business he wants without a website, but with one he could get more and better quality business leading to higher profits.  Perhaps the best of the prospects referred to him would not be satisfied by a Linkedin profile rather than a website?


I have supplemented my advice by encouraging the accountant to acquire a domain name related to his practice (eg: and to initially direct this to his Linkedin profile.

At a later date he could create a simple one page website that contains basic information and makes clear both who he would like and who he would NOT be interested in as clients. That webpage could also link through to his Linkedin profile rather than replicate the information.

He could also add a company page to Linkedin with brief details of his practice and his firm’s logo – which will then also show on his personal profile.

By the way, if he ever has to look at selling the practice it would be good if his firm had its own website that would move with the clients to the purchaser.

For the moment he is in a similar place to loads of mature accountants I know who are frustrated that the likely ROI following sale isn’t high enough to justify a sale in the first place. As such their preferred approach is to continue working (reduced hours often) until they can no longer do so. The prospect of MTD is forcing some to reach that conclusion sooner than they hoped – as they don’t relish the idea of adapting to the quarterly reporting regime.

What’s your reaction to my advice here?


Lessons for accountants from….. a childrens’ party entertainer

As a teenager, before I started studying to become an accountant, I was a children’s party entertainer – and I continued doing this for about 25 years. When I look back I realise that I quickly learned 2 lessons that now, many years later, inform my thinking and advice to accountants.


I was only available to perform at the weekends and I wanted to enjoy myself. That meant focusing my attention on the children most likely to enjoy my magic shows and to respond positively to my tricks, jokes and games etc. I had come to the conclusion that 2 and 3 year olds were too young to really appreciate the magic. To them, so I felt, life itself is magic. And once the children were over 7 I felt they were too bright and more likely to challenge my presentations.

So, after a few years of learning the ropes I made clear on my business cards and yellow pages adverts(!) that ‘Marks Magic’ offered “Specialised Childrens’ Party Entertainment for 4-7 year olds”. I remember that, soon after the first such advert appeared, the number of enquiries I received each week INCREASED and I was fully booked almost every weekend.

Looking back I realise this was because parents liked the idea of engaging a specialist, someone focused on entertaining children of a certain age and someone who didn’t attempt to be all things to all people/children. By definition I wasn’t doing babyish magic or anything too sophisticated.

This lesson translates across to accountants. If you are seeking more clients you will often find it easier to attract them if prospects see you as a specialist in helping people like them, rather than ‘just another accountant’ who attempts to help anyone with everything.


When I quoted a fee for my first booking at a childrens party in the 1970s(!) I asked for 25p per hour, before I realised that the party would only be 3 hours long. I quickly realised that the mother of the child wasn’t interested in my time as such. She was only interested in having her needs met: For the duration of the party the children should be occupied, entertained, happy and safe.  She offered me a simple fixed fee of £1 for the afternoon.

Thereafter I always quoted a simple fixed fee for each party – with every element of my service fully covered by the fee.  My ‘specialisation’ helped here as did my confidence. At some point I also learned to ask the person who called (typically the mother) what she wanted from an entertainer.  The answers were all pretty similar, but the fact I asked, rather than assumed, helped me stand out. I empathised and reflected back my understanding of the mother’s objectives. Where appropriate I referenced other parties where the parents had thanked me for doing much the same as this mother was requesting. And I won almost every booking enquiry I received.

Again, this lesson translates across to accountants who charge fees for the time they spend on a client’s affairs. Few clients care how long it takes you to do their work. They are not interested in your time as such. What they want is the output that they get – the accounts, tax returns, estimates of tax payable, the peace of mind you provide as well as the confidence and trust you encourage that your advice pays for itself and that they will get what they want.

Quoting and negotiating fees with prospects is a perennial issue for accountants and one that I often address during mentoring sessions, The Inner Circle and the Sole Practitioners’ Breakthrough Programme.




Can accountants ‘close the sale’ effectively?

What does ‘closing the sale’ mean in the context of accountancy services?

None of us like to think that we are in ‘sales’, so perish the thought that we might ever come across as a pushy sales person.

In our world I suggest that ‘closing the sale’ means advancing the sales process to secure absolute confirmation from the prospective client that they are appointing you as their new accountant. This isn’t when they first agree to do do so – it’s when they sign your letter of engagement and confirm payment of your fees. Until that point the ‘sale’ has not been completed or ‘closed’.

Every time you have a conversation with a prospective client you need to ensure that you are both clear as to what happens next. Will you send some information? Will they visit the FAQs or testimonials page of your website? When will you speak again?

Equally it is during preliminary conversations that you will want to help the prospect to realise why they should appoint you rather than any other accountant.

Helping them does not mean being pushy like someone selling double-glazing. But you cannot help them to understand why they should appoint you until you know sufficient information about them – which means starting by asking the right type of questions and listening to their replies.

If you ask good questions in this regard you will be able to remove any obstacles that are preventing the prospect from saying ‘yes’.

When I think about the times I’ve felt uncomfortable when someone tried to sell me something, it was always when they had no idea what I was looking for or what I needed.

They never asked me any questions or listened to what I was saying. Instead they just launched into explaining the features of their particular product or service. And quoted their standard fees. Take it or leave it. This is rarely an effective route to securing more of the clients you want for your practice.

You must connect with your prospect, asking them what they are looking for, how you might help them, and what they might have in mind.

Taking the time (and the opportunity) to really get to know your prospect, find out what makes them tick, what they might be struggling with and what might solve their problem, are the first keys to successfully closing of a sale.

There’s a lot more to closing the sale of course and to resolving any push-backs you might get from prospects who are not sure. Getting clarity as to the real reasons they are holding back is crucial here.

And PLEASE, PLEASE, do not assume it is all about the fee you quote. If you believe that this is all that matters you have bigger problems than learning how to ‘close the sale’.


Debunked: The one thing you must do….

A popular approach to getting your attention (and often your money) is to instruct you that there is ‘one thing’ you must do.

What do they say?

Many journalists, consultants and sales people assert that there is just ‘one thing’ you must do to remain in practice, to generate new clients, to increase your fees or to achieve your heart’s desire.

Is it ever true? Rarely in my experience. This means that I inevitably then start to question the credibility of those who make such statements. If they can make such nonsense claims up front, why should I believe what else they recommend – whether it’s their own product/services or other actions I should take?

My view

I first started to learn about and apply marketing and sale techniques in the mid 1990s. Then in 2006 I became an independent speaker, mentor and consultant – since when I have learned more than ever before. I’ve read hundreds of websites, white papers and books, watched many dozens of videos and attended goodness knows how many training courses and conference sessions. I continue to research and discuss related topics with experts and speakers every month (if not every week!) And all this time I’ve been working with accountants helping them to be more successful in practice.

So I can fairly confidently say that, in my experience, there is no ‘one best way’ to win clients or to become successful, that you MUST use.
There are no magic solutions that work for every accountant, no matter what some so-called experts say.


I have seen and worked with enough successful accountants over the years, and especially recently, to be able to say with absolute confidence that they achieved that success without worrying about doing any one or more of the following to achieve their objectives:

  • Create facebook ads to send prospects to an automated webinar and a sales, ahem, strategy call to win clients;
  • A fancy elevator pitch that somehow compels clients to hire the accountant the instant they hear it;
  • An expensive flashy website;
  • A personalised or custom built app;
  • A distinct digital marketing strategy (It’s just part of the marketing mix);
  • Blog regularly or pay someone else to do this for them;
  • Enter local business or sector awards;
  • Send out regular emails filled with manufactured controversy to try to create the impression the accountant has a distinct personality;
  • Badger people with Linkedin messages ‘adding value’ they didn’t ask for or pestering them to get on a call with the accountant or join the group set up to market to them with;
  • Become active on social media to show that the accountant is modern and regardless of who they are really trying to influence;
  • Become a recognised expert and hope that somehow clients will flock to the accountant’s door to benefit from their expertise.

I’m exaggerating for effect of course. All of these things work for some accountants. Typically only AFTER they have undertaken significant preparatory work as to their target market place.

The key point

The key point is that you don’t NEED to do all or any of these things.

There is no ‘one best way’ you must pursue. Only what works for you. That may be the same as works for other practices similar to yours, or it may be quite different because YOU are different, your practice is different, your style and approach to business is different and your target clients are different.

In my experience the only real commonalities across all accountants in practice are the outputs of your service ie: the accounts and the tax returns.

Why do people talk about the ‘one way’?

I think there are 5 reasons why so many people tell you there is ‘one best way’ to achieve your objectives:

  1. They have seen other people they admire adopt this approach. “If it works for them, it will help you generate business too” – This ignores the fact that your practice, prospects and approach to business might be quite different;
  2. It is often self-interest. The ‘one best way’ is what they want to sell to you;
  3. They assume that you have done some crucial background research, specific to your practice, that might warrant such a course of action;
  4. It could be evidencing their limited experience. That ‘one way’ is simply something that worked for them; or
  5. It is the only way they were taught on a course and they are unaware of other options and alternative approaches.

Most of the accountants I speak with are almost as cynical of such assertions as am I. All of us with a degree of real life experience know that there’s always more than one way to do things.

And when it comes to being more a more successful accountant, the key is to find a way that works for you and matches your skills and preferences. It needs to be appropriate for your approach to business, your target clients and your objectives.

What you MUST do 😉

Of course, there are some things you MUST do if you want to speed up the process of achieving more success in your practice:

  • You must figure out what you’re great at and that clients value;
  • You must find a way to connect with those clients that allow you to add value to them;
  • You must show up on a regular basis in their lives to add more value, build credibility and establish trust; and
  • You must recognise that YOU need to be able to ‘close’ the deal to bring in new clients, regardless of which marketing and promotion activities you adopt.

There are lots of different ways you can do each of these things.

All of the ‘one best way’ methods work for someone. The trick is to find what works best for you and that you’ll actually do.

The ‘one thing’ I can promise you is that if you take no action and continue doing what you’ve always done, simply wishing things were different will not change anything.

If you’d like to discuss how I might be able to help you, please get in touch and let’s have a chat>>>

With credit and thanks to Ian Brodie whose recent email inspired this blog post.


How can accountants use Linkedin for marketing purposes?

This was the headline to a question I was asked recently. I have summarised the question below and expanded on my reply and advice as this may help other accountants too.

How can accountants use LinkedIn for marketing purpose?

I have a company page, I have a profile, I am in some groups but they are largely inactive.

I understand that you need to connect with people; and when they accept my connection request I send them an message just introducing myself and asking them about their business. Something general, nothing really about bookkeeping or accounting. We carry on a small conversation for 2-5 messages and then it just ends.

So how do you leverage these connections? And how do you get noticed on Linkedin by the right people?

My reply
This is a great question and you’re doing many of the ‘right’ things already.

I always recommend recognising that Linkedin is simply a starting point to finding and engaging with real prospective clients/influencers offline.

It’s also key to be clear exactly who you are looking to connect with. Eg: owners of  businesses of a certain size and in a certain industry within 10 miles of your location. Yes, other people ‘might’ be prospects too but it’s best to start with a clear target.

I note you referenced your company page. This ‘might’ have some value if you don’t have a website but otherwise I doubt there is much value in a sole practitioner accountant having a company page on LinkedIn. Better to encourage people to go to your website if you have one. And yes, sadly, groups do seem to be very quiet these days. that may change, but until then they are simply a way of showing your interests and finding others with shared interests (which might be related to a common sector, expertise, locality or other topic).

Yes, your profile then needs to STAND OUT and encourage them to connect with you.  I would be happy to send you my Linkedin profile tips if you want to check that yours is as good as it could be.  You can get the tips here >>>>

Once you’re confident that your profile works for you, rather than against you,  I suggest using the advanced search facilities on Linkedin to seek out specific prospects yourself. Don’t wait for them to look for someone like you. And then, as always it’s about building relationships with them. In time you can filter out those that are wedded to their current accountant from those who are less impressed and may be interested in moving to someone better able to provide valuable advice and who shows they care more than the incumbent seems to care about the client in question.

Only a small proportion of the people you connect with on Linkedin, as anywhere, will be currently looking for a new accountant. So you need to play a long-game. Keep in touch, offer or ask to meet up and then keep in touch better than other accountants.  And help them appreciate, over time, that you’d be better for them than their current accountant.

You can only do this though when you know sufficient about what’s important to them.

One of the biggest misconceptions about LinkedIn is that any old profile, lots of connections and engagement will enable accountants to secure more of the clients they want.  That all may help, but hope is not a strategy.  There is no magic solution. You have to take action and apply the same prospecting techniques that work offline. Linkedin can be a shortcut. It’s not a standalone solution.


Has your practice plateaued?

My conversations with sole practitioner accountants over the years suggest that many are happy enough once their business has plateaued.

‘Happy enough’ is hardly an enthusiastic summation of how things are going. It suggests a degree of reluctant acceptance. The underlying message perhaps is that things could be better but the accountant is used to things as they are. It’s not so bad that it’s worth reviewing what could be different as there is a concern that this will highlight issues best left hidden. Or that any change will involve more hassle and fuss than seems worth the effort.

I have encountered this view many times over the years.  It becomes a particular challenge when retirement looms – and when the accountant realises that no one will pay a sufficient sum for the practice as things stand.  In recent times it is becoming the norm for higher prices to be paid only for those firms with well established systems and processes. IT takes more than few months to transition an old style practice into a new one pre-sale.

In 2006, when I first started this blog, I said it was for Ambitious Accountants as I thought it was a good title. I thought it would help to distinguish those who wanted to move their practices on from those who were happy with the status quo.  I dropped that title though when I learned that many, many smaller firms of accountants are not ambitious – nor do they need to be, if the owner is  generating a good enough living, without working crazy hours, and is only doing work they enjoy, for clients who appreciate it, and who pay decent fees without a fuss.

In practice many sole practitioners settle for much less than this. They work long hours, do too much work they don’t enjoy, hang onto legacy clients who won’t pay decent fees and feel under constant pressure to get everything done. There’s no time to review how they run the practice or to take steps to change things. “What will be, will be. I’ll cope, just as I have always done.”

I hear about these frustrations in running a small accountancy practice all the time and it’s not getting any easier. There are a number of new factors that will have an impact in the near future – even though none of them will have an overnight effect:

– new and more aggressive competition;

– recent and prospective changes in the tax regime that will impact the way that accountants work;

– the increasing interest in cloud accounting solutions and the extent to which these will change the accountants’ role;

– the introduction of MTD; and

– other developments and pressures that will change clients’ perceptions and needs.

Sole practitioners have long heard and ignored the predictions of change that will adversely affect their practices. I have long maintained that these predictions forecast a future that will  reveal itself over an extended period. There hasn’t and won’t be an overnight revolution. Many of the forthcoming changes will hit larger firms before the smaller firms are affected. Smaller firms can adapt faster as and will do so only when it becomes necessary to do so.

Having said that, many accountants in smaller firms do want to increase profits, reduce the time and hassle of running their practice and, the older ones, also want to ensure they are well set up for their retirement.

How about you? Has your practice plateaued? Do you want to take control, or just let events take their course? One starting point could be the Successful Practice Programme – a low cost series of weekly emails designed to help you move things along so that you are comfortable you are running a successful practice. Full details here >>>


Cloud accounting – Do you lead your clients or let them lead you?

This is the first of what I anticipate will become a series of cloud accounting related blog posts.

Back in 2009 I disagreed with those commentators who were warning accountants about an urgent need to embrace cloud accounting technology. The alternative, warned these merchants of doom, was that accountants who failed to embrace the cloud would go out of business.

I felt that such warnings were premature in 2009 and continued to think so until very recently. I believe however that we are, at last, reaching a tipping point.

More and more accountants are embracing cloud accounting solutions and an increasing number of clients are aware of the concept.  Plenty of accountants are being led by their clients and I often encounter firms who are happy to promote their ability to work with a range of cloud accounting solutions. This is often apparent from the inclusion, on the firm’s website, of a dizzying array of software badges and logos.

Other firms, including some pretty successful ones, do not take on new clients unless they are prepared to use the firm’s favoured bookkeeping solution.

I understand the arguments put forward by both sides.  In summary:

  • Anything for anyone: “We can help you, regardless of how you prefer to do your bookkeeping”
  • One size fits all: “We encourage our clients to all use [specific solution] as they find it easy to use and know that they will receive full support from us as we can focus rather than try to keep up with changes to a number of different online bookkeeping systems”

Advocates of the ‘anything for anyone’ approach don’t want to dictate to clients how they should do their bookkeeping. This is understandable especially if those clients have made an informed choice and/or have been using their solution for some time.  Some accountants have also concluded that different solutions are better suited to different types of clients eg: small businesses, contractors/freelancers and larger businesses. From what I have seen recently I’m not sure that distinction is sustainable as some suppliers offer different packages for each of those groups.

Advocates of the ‘one size fits all’ approach evidence a degree of confidence and are able to standardise their systems and processes. And this allows them to become more efficient whilst still providing a personalised service to clients. And then there are the range of add-ons and apps that accountants need to review and advise clients about. Which ones are worth their attention? If you don’t know what’s out there how can you provide pro-active advice in this regard?

There are plenty of reasons put forward by sole practitioners who resist specialising in a specific bookkeeping solution. These include:

  • A mistaken view that the ‘client is always right’. This is evidently not true as they pay their accountants for advice, not just agreement.
  • The challenge of having many clients using different solutions.
  • A reluctance to specialise in a specific bookkeeping solution as it might limit the number of new clients who would appoint you. This is the same concern as is raised in any conversation about specialisation. In practice the benefits typically outweigh the disadvantages.

What about you? When it comes to cloud accounting and bookkeeping solutions, do you lead your clients or do you let them lead you?

This blog post was not sponsored, but was inspired by what I saw, heard, and conversations I had at QB Connect 2017 about QuickBooks Online.


Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

We all know the old adage that you never get a second chance to create a first impression (except when you do). This is one of the reasons that the first element in my 7 point framework is ‘A for Appearance and Attitude’. These are so important and go beyond your personal branding, how you look and whether you have a positive attitude. The often overlooked factor here is what impression do you give as regards your accountancy practice?

If clients or contacts become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. Or refuse to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

In this context do you have the appearance of someone who is successful or struggling? As regards your business advice especially, are you practicing what you preach?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do your networking contacts think of you as professional or pathetic? They may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

When you talk to clients about your business advisory services they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value to them. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from you or from someone else. Someone they consider to be successful. How do your business clients see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If clients are not agreeing to pay you for business advice and you’re not getting the referrals you would like, consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business. This has certainly been an issue for some of the accountants I have worked with over the last couple of years. For example, they have learned to build a much more positive first impression with new contacts and to ensure they do not highlight their own failings when talking with clients. What about you? Do people see you as successful or struggling?


A quick five point plan to secure more referrals for your accountancy practice

So many accountants tell me that most of their new clients come from word of mouth and client referrals. In most cases however this seems to be a function of luck rather than planned in any way.
Have you ever thought about how you could make it easier for your contacts to know who would make a good referral for you? And to encourage such referrals rather than simply waiting and hoping they will make such referrals?
Here is a quick 5 point plan that could help you in this regard:
  1. Identify just ten people (your Target Ten) who might know people who could be ideal referrals for you.  Your Target Ten might include some good clients, lawyers, bankers or other professionals with whom you have worked and established a mutually trusting relationship.
  2. Clarify what you would want your Target Ten to say when they are making referrals to you.  You may intend to make different requests of each of your Target Ten. In each case, think about ONE person (or type of person) not a shopping list of possibilities.  You will invariably get more specific and valuable referrals if you are specific.
  3. Craft a couple of stories about similar clients you have helped and how they felt about your service etc. Your Target Ten will find it easier to recall your request if they can link this to a story. Use the RUBIK acronym to check whether your story/request is likely to help generate referrals.
  4. Talk with your Target Ten to find out what you could do to help them. Yes, that’s right. BEFORE you ask for referrals, ask what you can do to help and then do it! Many of the people you offer to help will then ask you what they could do to help you. That’s when you share the information you noted down at steps 2 and 3.
  5. Keep the promises you make to help your Target Ten. After all, if you don’t keep your promises you can hardly expect others to do so either.

I should add what may be surprising news for you. No one really cares what you do as an accountant. What they care about is what you can do for them or for the people they know. Most of us find it easier to remember stories rather than bare facts. Telling stories about our clients (whilst retaining their confidence of course) can make it a lot easier to secure more of the referrals you would like.

The alternative is that you continue to secure only the same old random referrals – some of which are time wasters and some of which are wholly unsuitable for the practice you are seeking to build.

Do let me know how you get on with your Target Ten and how many ideal referrals follow from you following this process.

Why do accountants need to be enthusiastic?

Everyone who knows me recognises my enthusiastic nature. When I was younger I may even have been a touch too enthusiastic. I now recognise that it can unnerve those around you if you are evidently more enthusiastic than everyone else. That was an important lesson for me some years back. So now, older and wiser, I try to keep my enthusiasm in check. And I balance it with a healthy degree of cynicism!

In recent years I have been focusing on helping accountants to have greater impact – both online and face to face. The idea being to enable them stand out from their competitors and to make it easier for people to remember them, to refer work to them and to recommend them.

I have long been taken by a statement in a 2003 report by the ICAEW, titled: “The Profitable and Sustainable Practice”.

There’s one pre-requisite, one ingredient that sells…and that’s enthusiasm. If you really enjoy your work; that shines through, and you will be successful – clients will want to be with you, and will hire you. It can’t be faked – at least not for very long.

This probably explains why there is a reference to ‘enthusiasm’ in many of the 7 steps in my STAND OUT framework. BUT, let’s be clear, enthusiasm alone will rarely be sufficient. And, as I noted earlier, you need to avoid being too enthusiastic. But if the people you meet face to face and online do not perceive you as being enthusiastic for what you do to help clients, you will not stand out in a positive way. And that will generally work against you.

So here’s a question for you: How and where do you show your enthusiasm for your professional activities?


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


Why do you want to promote your firm?

A recent conversation with an accountant I’ve not worked with before started as follows:

Accountant:  Do I need to promote my firm better?

Mark: Probably, but it depends on what you want to achieve.

Accountant: What do you mean?

Mark: Marketing and promotional activities work best for accountants when you have first identified clear objectives. Otherwise you’re likely to waste time and money on exercises that may or may not be worthwhile.

Accountant: I was thinking of promotion to help me win more clients.

Mark: That’s fine. There are still some other factors to consider before you do anything by way of promotion. Anything you do in this regard will be more successful if you start by first clarifying exactly who you want to influence to become clients of yours, what sort of people are they and what sort of messages will resonate with them. Only then can we consider where you likely to find them (be that face to face or online) to influence them with your promotional messages – which may be overt or, often, more subtle in order to be effective.

This accountant’s objective was not unusual of course. Those with whom I have worked quickly come to see the benefits of thinking through their objectives before they start investing time or money in promotional activities. This includes whatever they might do on social media, how they project themselves online, on their website and when attending networking events.

In case you were wondering, here is my list of reasons why accountants might want to promote their firm:

  • To attract and secure more clients
  • To generate PR coverage
  • To aid your recruitment efforts
  • To increase the referrals you receive
  • To encourage more clients to ask for additional services
  • To evidence your ability to provide a wider range of services

Maybe your objectives overlap. That’s fine too. But the clearer you are about the end point you seek, the more effective you can ensure your promotional activity will be.


WHO do you need to stand out from?

One of my talks for accountants, and much of the advice I share generally, concerns WHY it’s important to STAND OUT from your competitors – and HOW easy this is to do when you put your mind to it. A related question I’ve never really addressed in detail is WHO do you need to STAND OUT from?

I’ve long known the answer to this question but a recent conversation has prompted me to address it here as I realise it’s not as obvious as I had thought.

There is a temptation to feel that you need to STAND OUT from ALL other accountants. I think not and yet I see it as a common ambition encouraged by many marketing and personal branding ‘gurus’.  Such an approach implies a similarly flawed strategy as when accountants are unable (or unwilling) to clarify who they would like to have as new clients. Claiming that this could be ‘anyone’ makes it difficult to grow and build a successful practice. It means your marketing isn’t focused and doesn’t connect with the people you really want to have as clients.

STANDING OUT is important if you want to win more clients (and maybe even to retain your existing client base). But you don’t need to STAND OUT from ALL other accountants. Only those other accountants whom your prospective clients might see as your competitors. In most cases this is the other accountants in your locality or who specialise in the same niches as you do.

The messages you share and the actions you need to take to STAND OUT out will differ depending on who you wish to distinguish yourself from. And WHY you want to be remembered as distinct from others? What’s your reason for wanting to STAND OUT? It’s not always just to win new clients or to retain existing clients. You may want to recruit better staff? To get more media attention (and through that to win more clients)? Or simply, as I often suggest, to be better Remembered, Referred and Recommended (the 3 Rs) by those you meet in real life and online?

Are you really competing with other local accountants on social media? If not then maybe you don’t need to be active here. For example, there’s no point in jumping on the twitter bandwagon and wasting time and money (like so many others) if your clients and prospects are not themselves likely to find you or interact with you on twitter.

Away from the major towns and cities your main competition is likely to be other local accountants. What makes them STAND OUT (if they do)? Or maybe you want to ensure that you also STAND OUT from anyone new who might might move into the vicinity. Local knowledge and involvement in local community activities may be key here.

Do you need to make a point of STANDING OUT from other accountants who are of a DIFFERENT generation, gender or background to you? Or are these factors obvious from a simple photo? If so then you can focus your efforts on STANDING OUT from those who are a SIMILAR generation, gender or background to you.

It’s obviously important to STAND OUT from other accountants who attend the same networking events as you and who know the same people in your town or city.  You can only do this though if you know what, if anything, they say or do to in an effort to STAND OUT themselves.

I’m not a big fan of accountants claiming to have a USP (Unique Selling Proposition). It’s so rare to find one that is truly UNIQUE. In any event, you only need for your specific audience to perceive you as different and distinct from the other accountants they encounter.

Similarly you don’t need to STAND OUT from ALL other accountants all of the time. The clearer you can be as regards exactly who you need to STAND OUT from, the easier it will become to hone your business messages, your marketing, your networking and your social media activity.









How to attract and retain high end clients

There is a wonderful restaurant in Temple Fortune (a suburb in NW London). It doesn’t look like a high class place. Indeed it looks quite ordinary and seems to be under the same ownership as the bookshop next door.

Unexpectedly the quality and presentation of the dishes they serve at Cafe Also are outstanding and yet the prices are quite reasonable.

Indeed you could be served comparable dishes in a top rated London restaurant. But, if you were, you would be charged two or three times the menu prices at Cafe Also.

Why is that? It’s probably because an ordinary looking restaurant in Temple Fortune cannot attract enough of the customers who would pay top London prices. But this doesn’t dent the chef’s ambition or commitment.

The comparison with accountants isn’t perfect but I hope you get the idea. Your appearance conveys your status and often impacts the fees you can charge. First impressions count.

If you’re based in a dingy room above a high street shop, if you have an old fashioned website, a cheap business card, a hotmail email address, a photo of your home appears in the google search results and you don’t otherwise give the impression of being successful…. Well, quite simply, you will probably struggle to attract and retain high fee paying clients. The fact that you make an effort to provide a high quality service often will not be enough.

I provided a longer list of the ‘wrong’ reasons for Standing Out in this earlier blog post >>>>

The bottom line is clear. If you are looking to secure premium clients paying premium fees you will find it easier if you give an appropriately positive first impression. If you want to keep those clients you will need to follow through and show that the value you deliver warrants higher than average fees.


Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

If clients or business associates become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. And clients may choose not to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

Do you give the impression of success or of struggling? Are you practicing what you preach?  The people you meet in business and when networking associates may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do they think of you as professional or pathetic?

When you offer business advisory services to your clients they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from someone else. Someone successful. Or, at least someone who seems successful. How do your business clients and contacts see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If you’re not getting the referrals or business you would like, do consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business.



Key tips for new accountancy practices

I am often approached by accountants who started up a year or so ago or who are planning to start a new practice. So when I was asked recently to provide some tips for an online interview on this topic I decided to repurpose my replies for this blog.

Let’s start with the most common mistake I see. This is when the website for a small firms of accountants tells me nothing about the accountant themselves. When you’re starting out (and often, down the line too) YOU are the firm and you need to reveal who YOU are as a real person and as an accountant. The sooner you can reference positive vibes and feedback from clients the better. Unless you’ll be happy with lots of low fee paying clients, you’ll want to help prospects appreciate why they will be better served by you than by others. Finding your voice at the outset is key.

All too often start-up accountants have invested in a website but made the mistake of thinking that this will magically attract the clients they want. Or maybe they’ve invested in some SEO, content marketing, blogging or social media activity that someone told them would help. Yeh. Right. This all takes time and generally doesn’t work in isolation. This is why so many start-up firms struggle to win as many of the clients they want as quickly as they hoped. There are thousands of small firms who were so desperate at the outset that they took on anyone and everyone as a client. And now they are frustrated by the pressure to service loads of low fee paying clients who don’t want to pay more.

One way to avoid this is to start by building your reputation and the relationships that will generate referrals and introductions. From the outset. And to ensure your online messages (on your website, linkedin and any email marketing) are congruent.

Other tips:

  1. You will need to develop your ‘closing’ skills. Even when your website, referrals, emails and other promotional activities are bringing the right prospects to your door/phone, YOU need to have the skills to reel them in as clients. And then to have efficient client take-on procedures so that the process is smooth and easy for them (and you).
  2. Think about who you want to have as clients. The type of people, the services they will require and why they should come to you rather than another accountant Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re no different to other accountants. You are. I have yet to meet two accountants who provide identical services in the same way. So, if you want to work with clients who need more than the basics and are not looking for the cheapest service, ensure you talk to them and about them. One start up I worked with recently wanted just that. He’d invested in a flashy website that probably alienated the very people he wanted to attract. It said nothing about him and focused on 3 levels of low cost services for local trades people. No wonder he wasn’t attracting the type of clients he wanted.
  3. Think about the advice you would give to a new start-up business. Remember that you too are starting a business (it just happens to be an accountancy firm business). Your plans (rather than simply hopes and dreams) need to be focused on generating profits both in the short and longer term too. Why should your business thrive without a practical business plan that includes reference to how and where you will attract the clients you want?
  4. From the outset put in place standard systems for new client take on procedures and for the delivery of each of your services so that you can scale and grow your practice over time.  You don’t want to be caught out having to constantly reinvent the wheel which also means wasting lots of time.
  5. Take time to plan how you will deliver value to your clients. Value that they will appreciate and be prepared to pay for over and above the basics. If you only focus on delivering tax returns, accounts and VAT returns you will struggle to grow the practice and to generate higher fees.
  6. Resist the temptation to try to appeal to ‘anyone and everyone’. The clearer you can show you have a specific client type in mind, the easier it will be to win those clients. It’s counter-intuitive but also a fact that you will win more clients if you can be more specific and choosy about who you really want to help (serve) – even if you also do all the things expected of a typical local accountant. If you simply talk about those things you will struggle to become sufficiently distinctive and remembered, referred and recommended.
  7. Plan for how you will charge for the services you provide and when you will expect payment.  You may need to adapt your terms in the light of experience but do not start without clarity. You need to be clear and focus on the value you provide, not simply the hours you spend. Unless you are only seeking clients who want to pay the lowest rates around, you can relax and pick your own rates. There is no ‘going rate’ if you recognise that your service style, approach and experience is unique to you. You will also want to learn to quote with confidence and to give clients what they want and need.

The Successful Practice Programme (of weekly emails) addresses all of these points, and much more. You don’t have to do everything alone. Check it out now and see how you could build a more successful practice for just £1 a week >>>>


“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.


3 lessons for accountants from….. personal trainers

I recently heard John Hardy the Founder of FASTER Health and Fitness introduce his business.  He mentioned he throught there were similarities with accountants. I have taken what he said and adapted it to provide some lessons for accountants from the business side of personal training and fitness.

1  Personality

John has noted that a bad trainer with a great personality will keep their clients for longer than those who focus on simply helping someone achieve a short-term goal (eg: weight loss).

Equally there are plenty of bad accountants who hang onto clients even though they’re not doing a very good job. The clients don’t really know what they could expect from a good accountant, so they stay with the bad accountant as long as they seem like a nice person.

Lesson: It’s easier to hang onto clients if they like you as a person. If you think you may be perceived as more of a traditional boring accountant, get out there. Attend  a local networking group on a regular basis and help people get to know and like you. It rarely happens overnight, but practice can help.

2  Context

Successful trainers do more than simply explain to clients how they can get fit. They also reference ‘how unfit you’re not getting’. They encourage and congratulate small successes.

Many accountants will tell clients what books and records they need to keep and leave them to it until the next set of accounts is required. Then the client finds out they haven’t been doing things as they should and that the accountant is having to do more work than planned just to get things straight.

Lesson: Check-in with clients to see how they’re doing – not just with their books and records, but generally. I have often pointed out the benefits of simply calling clients and asking them “How’s business?” and evidencing a genuine sense of interest and desire to help them to do better.

3  The technicalities

Apparently the training that personal trainers receive largely addresses just the medical and physical side of things. This leads to them focusing on all kinds of measurement, numbers and statistics. When they then go self employed they quickly learn that they need to also understand the business side of things. Being a good personal trainer is not enough to build a sustainable income as a personal trainer.

Can you see the analogy here?  Accountants’ training is focused on doing a good job as an accountant – from a technical perspective. There’s rarely any reference to the skills and activities you need to build a successful accountancy practice. As a result lots of well trained accountants struggle to build their own practice.

Lesson: You cannot rely on your technical expertise to build a successful accountancy practice. You need to apply good business planning skills too.

Sole practitioners who want to build a  more successful practice can tap into my guidance and support through the Successful Practice Programme (emails), The Sole Practitioner Breakthrough Programme (webinars), or 1-2-1 mentoring and support.


4 things to change if you don’t get good value leads from your website

I have lost track of the number of accountants who tell me that they don’t get good quality leads from their website.

They generally either say that their website is a waste of space or that the people who come via their website are just looking for a low price. This then leads the same accountants to claim that most of their better new clients come through recommendations and referrals.

Let’s examine these observations briefly:

  • If your website seems to be a waste of space this could either be because it doesn’t attract the right people or because it doesn’t engage them and encourage them to get in touch.
  • If the only people who come to you via your website are just looking for a low fee quote, then perhaps your website needs to be clearer as to the sort of new clients you want.
  • It would be a mistake to think that having a website is a waste of space simply because you don’t get the sort of business you want through it. Indeed a badly out of date and non mobile friendly website can be problematic as it may also be working against you. As well as not attracting the new clients you want it could be putting off just the people who you DO want as new clients. Would you even know how often clients have recommended you to someone who then checks out your website and chooses NOT to get in touch as they don’t like what they see?

The reason you get good recommendations and referrals is because of the service you provide, because of your style and approach and because clients believe you are doing a good enough (maybe even a brilliant) job for them.  They talk about you. Not your practice. You. They talk about YOU.

Does your website seek to give the same impression as clients provide when they recommend you? Does it say enough about YOU and what clients think about you?

Also remember that your clients may not know how you compute your fees but they know what they are paying. And often they will tell people. This means that many of the referrals who get in touch already have some idea as to what you charge. If they thought your fees are high (and they find this a turn-off) they probably don’t even get in touch.

Put all this together and what can we see? Well, in brief, my conclusions are:

  1. If your website is disappointing you in terms of new business, you need to review and update the site.
  2. Your website should make clear the sort of new clients you hope to attract and those you’re not able to help too. If it’s only very generic (just like all the others) it’s no wonder you get low value enquiries.
  3. You can discourage prospects who are looking for the cheapest accountant they can find, by referencing your minimum fees (eg: “We are not the cheapest accountants around. Our clients typically pay between £800 and £5,800 per year. Some pay a lot more than this. As of 2017 our minimum fee for new business clients is now £500”)
  4. Your website should profile you as a person – just as clients do when they recommend you.

The fees I have used in the above example are based on those discussed at a meeting of The Inner Circle which comprises London based accountants. Your figures may be lower than this. The key point is that you will want to make clear the sort of fees you look to earn – which should be higher than your minimum. You may include more clarification elsewhere on your website but do not focus too much on fees there unless you really are going for those people who are looking for the cheapest accountant around.

Please don’t assume that everyone looks for the cheapest accountant. They don’t – any more than everyone looks for the cheapest car or smartphone. If that was true then higher priced models wouldn’t sell. But they do. And plenty of accountants who have learned to promote themselves more effectively secure higher than average fees. If you are keen to do this, pick one of these ways to learn more >>>


How NOT to tell people that your business grows through referrals

Most of the accountants I meet claim that most of their best new clients come through referrals.  When I dig deeper I find this is typically for one of the following reasons:

  • They remember that their most recent new clients were initially generated by referrals;
  • They don’t get many new clients and also don’t ask for referrals, but they think that one or two definitely came via referrals;
  • They don’t get much contact via their website, don’t advertise or market the practice and are not active on social media, so they assume that new clients must be coming through referrals;  Or
  • They actively encourage referrals – either indirectly or directly. But this is rare 😉

Many accountants don’t feel comfortable actively asking for referrals. That’s a shame but I understand. It can feel pushy and make you feel like a grubby salesperson. You don’t need to feel like that. It all gets easier when you learn:

  • how to ask for referrals (in a way that works); and
  • when is the right time to ask.

Part of the challenge is that we don’t always ask in an appropriate manner; or we say the ‘right’ things but at the wrong time. When we then get rebuffed we are discouraged.

The indirect approach

This is how some accountants try to encourage referrals via their website and, more commonly via their email message footer. I saw the following phrase on an email I received from an accountant recently. I’ve seen variations on it before and, having now checked, I note that the same phrase is also used on lots of accountants’ websites.

“My Business grows through referrals.
If any of your friends or colleagues are concerned about any areas of their accountancy or taxation, please feel free to pass on my details.”

It was this referrals request that promoted the title for this blog.  No doubt it works – to a degree. But before you copy it, let me suggest that you adapt it to suit your practice.

The more specific you are the more successful you’ll be

Who do you really want as new clients? ANY ‘friends or colleagues’ with ANY ‘concerns about ANY areas of their accountancy or taxation”. Wow. You must have plenty of time on your hands. And that would make you very different to most of the accountants with whom I speak. The reason I suggest this approach requires you to have plenty of time is that it suggests that you are keen to be referred to any of the following:

  • A retiree with a small pension and no other income
  • A student wanting to claim a refund of PAYE from their part-time job
  • A self employed trader simply looking to pay less than the £200 they currently pay each year for their accounts and tax return!
  • Someone needing help with their self assessment tax returns every year but who is unlikely to ever need much more than a basic compliance service.
  • Someone who matches the profile of your best client and who will value your services sufficient to pay you £1,000, £2,000, £5,000 or more each year

Please understand that I am not suggesting there is anything wrong in having clients who need very little help and who can only afford to pay low fees. If you are happy to encourage more of these, that’s fine.

My point is simply that without any clarification you are at risk of wasting time meeting with people who you don’t really want to take on as clients. And your lack of clarity actually reduces the number of referrals you will receive. If you make your referrals request more specific you will make it easier for people to refer exactly the right type of prospective new clients. And, typically, such referrals happen more frequently too 😉


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”


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.