Use your ‘inner magic’ to stand out from others who do what you do

Are you ‘just another’ accountant, lawyer, surveyor, speaker, trainer or whatever? Really? But you’re you. No one else can be you. The real you.

Richard Jones on BGT

Richard Jones on BGT

The winner of the 2016 TV series of Britian’s Got Talent (BGT) was Richard Jones. A magician. And a soldier.

When interviewed* Richard explains that from the outset he was determined to be who he really is. He is a soldier who does magic. He does both. That’s his story. He says he was always going to involve his personal spin on what he did because that’s who he is. And that’s what he’s always done.

“A lot of magicians do the same kind of things, the same kinds of tricks. But something that people really connect to, when you’re performing magic, is if you come across in a more personal way. If you’re a lawyer and you’re doing magic, tell them you’re a lawyer and doing magic. I think that makes you more approachable. I feel it makes you more interesting because you’re not this guy who does crazy stuff, you are a real person, more on the level of anyone who’s watching”

When I speak about how professionals can STAND OUT from their peers and competitors I make a similar point.  Be you and reveal a little more of who you really are if you want to be seen (and remembered) as more than ‘just another’ person doing what you do.  This is especially easy if you have an unusual hobby or interest. But that’s not a requisite.

When I moved into professional speaking I looked back over my own career. It was clear that I had long stood out from many of my peers and that this was a key reason why I had been promoted, headhunted twice and invited to join and Chair various professional committees.

Of course my experience and expertise within the accounting profession were also important. But what made me stand out from others? I can invariably trace this back to my willingness to stand up and speak in public, to present effectively and to engage with audiences. And these skills are a direct consequence of my interest in magic and the fact that I have used magic to entertain audiences since my early teens.

As an accountant and tax adviser I rarely felt it was appropriate to include magic tricks in my talks and presentations. As a professional speaker now it would be madness to avoid any reference to magic in my talks. And when I do this it helps me to connect with audiences who generally recognise they are seeing the real and authentic BookMarkLee.

I’m a speaker and a magician who originally trained as an accountant. That’s who I am. Sharing it, however briefly, during my talks helps me to STAND OUT in a positive way.   Using magic tricks to emphasise key points adds to the entertainment quality of my talks. It also help make them more memorable and me more referable. This all helps others to think of me as more than ‘just another’ speaker.

Just to be clear, none of this is enough. Audiences and bookers need to gain plenty of value from my talks. Standing Out alone doesn’t lead to repeat bookings and recommendations. Fortunately, I have plenty of these too 😉

It’s the same in any profession. You need to be good at what you do to if you want to win more business and more work. But revealing, and maybe even embracing, who you really are can make all the difference. Richard Jones wasn’t just another magician competing on BGT. He was a soldier who was also a magician. And the first magician to win this annual competition. Even if you don’t have an unusual interest or hobby there will invariably be some distinct facet of your life experiences or background. Don’t hide who you really are.

What’s your ‘inner magic’? Who are you – beyond your professional role and your business activity? How could you use your ‘inner magic’ to stand out from others who do what you do?

*(The interview in question was published in the November 2016 issue of  The Magic Circular – the magazine for members of The Magic Circle, of which I am proud to be the Treasurer).
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Does your business card contain any of these 11 mistakes?

I routinely encourage audience members to give me their business cards at the end of conference talks. They do so if they would like me to send them copies of slides and other materials I reference during my presentation.

As many of my audiences are accountants this affords me the opportunity to compare and contrast hundreds of their business cards. So much so that I now add the following comment when I invite them to pass me their cards:

If you give me your cards I will send you a copy of the slides etc as long as I can read your email address. I’m astonished at how small or pale this is on some business cards. What is the point in having a key piece of contact information that is hard to read?

If you don’t have a card with you, just jot down your name and email address on a piece of paper.  I ask for your name as I don’t like addressing emails to Dear info, Dear mail, Dear admin or Dear enquiries and if that’s how your email address starts I have no option unless I know your name.  Again, why would you not want people to know your name?

I have written previous blog posts offering tips to help accountants ensure their business cards work well for them. Whilst many accountants have great looking business cards, many still do not. So below I offer a summary of the 11 most common business card mistakes I see accountants making. You may find it helpful to check yours against this list.

Also, of course, if everyone (or enough of those) to whom you give your business card then follows up with you, engages you or refers other people to you, then all is well and you should ignore all that follows!

Plenty of accountants include on their cards something specific about the services they provide, niches on which they focus or a neat tagline that helps them stand out from the rest. All of these, done well, can work for you. I’m no marketing expert so will not attempt to tell you what you MUST do with your card. I simply offer here 11 mistakes that it’s easy to avoid.

Purpose

Before getting onto the common mistakes let’s just remind ourselves as to the reason for a business card. I suggest that it is to provide the person to whom it is given sufficient details for them to get in touch with you – and for them to know why they might want to do this. Also for them to remember you – beyond the next 24 hours or so. Will they remember you in a month or two when they look at your business card for the first time in weeks – especially if, since meeting you, they have met 2 or more other accountants?

1 – info@  admin@  mail@ enquiries@ etc

Email addresses that do not start with a name are generally a turnoff as they lack the personal touch Why not use your name? It’s even worse on websites where there is often no reference at all to who YOU are.

2 – accountant [dot] name [at] btinternet [dot] com or @yahoo.com or @gmail.com etc

Email addresses that use a generic email service look unprofessional and suggest that you are either new in practice, are not serious about growing your practice or are very much behind the times. None are great signals. You can get you own email address very cheaply even if you do not have or need a website.

3 – Tiny and/or pale font

Either the information on the card is worth including or it isn’t. If it’s too small or faint to read then it might as well not be there. Too many business cards seem to have shrunk the font size to fit in more information such as email addresses, linkedin profile links and a promo message. But if we can’t read it easily you’re wasting your time.

4 – Crossed out email address on card and new handwritten one added

Talk about unprofessional. Think of the impact this has. New contact details means new business cards. There’s little point in finishing off an old batch of cards if the people to whom they are given mark you down as unprofessional.

5 – Multiple office phone numbers. 

You should only need one office number unless you personally operate from multiple offices. Even then you could make it easier for callers by utilising a central phone answering service, installing a switchboard or adding an auto-redirect (when engaged or unanswered) to your mobile number.

6 – Two email addresses on one business card

Why would anyone do that? It’s not like having separate local and city office physical addresses. Make it easy for people to contact you; don’t force them to wonder and to choose.

7 – Flimsy and cheap looking card

Your business card is a memory aid for when you’re not there. Do you want to be remembered as a cheap amateur?

8 – Mixed up personal and business contact information

So many business cards have evolved with little thought apparently given to where newer info should be added. It’s so much easier if the business name, address and switchboard number are evidently separate to your personal name, title, mobile, direct dial and email address.

9 – Glossy or dark coloured card

I’m not the only person in the world who likes to make a note on the back of business cards I collect. We do this so that we can recall where and when we met and what we have promised to do by way of follow up; or  simply something about you that will make it easier to remember you. I know it’s great to feel that your card stands out from the rest, but will people still recall you and where and when you met etc if they cannot note this on the card?

10 – Forgetting to include ‘Accountants’ or any similar style reference

A surprising number of accountants’ business cards have a clever brand name or even just the individual’s name but no indication of the nature of the business service they offer. Of course if you’re ‘tax specialists’ you might put that instead of ‘accountants’.  Remember too that even if you’re a member of the ICAEW and use the authorised logo, not everyone will recognise this so it’s not sufficient.  And whilst a marketing ‘guru’ may have suggested you call yourselves something like ‘business growth specialists’ you still need to use the word ‘accountants’ (or whatever) to help the person who looks at your card, some time after you gave it to them, remember what you do.

11 – Squeezing everything onto one side of the card

All cards have two sides, why not make use of both sides. Larger firms might put personal contact details etc on one side and the firm’s details on the other side. Or you might use one side to highlight specific expertise, interests or services. Don’t just list everything that most people assume all accountants do. That’s a bit of a waste of space.

 

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10 website insights for accountants to generate more sales enquiries

If you are a regular reader you will know I rarely include guest posts on my blog. In this tenth anniversary year though I have decided to stop being so precious. As long as the content is both directly relevant and useful to my audience and I agree with the advice and tips, why not?

In conversation with Peter Swead recently I realised his advice re accountants’ websites reflected views I have long shared. I’ve blogged on the topic before but am happy to share Peter’s ten website insights as they are bang uptodate.

Peter Swead’s top 10 recommendations for an accountant’s website to ensure it is effective at generating sales enquiries are:

1) Ensure your telephone number is on the top right of every website page.

2) Explain clearly and succinctly to potential clients how you can help – rather than the services supplied.

3) Keep text simple and short – no more than 200 words per page. Use simple English suitable for a 12 year old.

4) Break up complex information into bullet points so that it can be easily scanned.

5) Have the courage to be totally authentic – be the real you and set out what makes you special. That means no models or stock photos. Visitors want honesty – rather than beauty from your website. (Unless you’re also graphic designers!)

6) Ensure your website can be read and navigated on a mobile phone – without pinching.

7) Set up a Google My Business account. It’s free! Get a professional photographer to take pictures of the exterior of your premises, interior, staff and a group shot of staff and individuals.

8) Explain each service offered on a single page and then breakdown areas into sub pages – so that the VAT page could have pages on how you help with:

a. VAT returns,

b. VAT investigations,

c. Choosing the best VAT regime,

d. VAT book keeping,

e. VAT software (Xero / Act) supported

9) Be positive and explain how you help rather than what you don’t do.

10) Ensure your website pages load in 2 seconds. Every second of delay reduces the number of sales enquiries received by 7%

Each of the above points will provide an significant improvement to the cost-effectiveness of your website – but the total effect is compounded with each issue addressed.

For more information see http://paramarq.com/our-services/website-evaluations/websites-for-accountants/

I challenged Peter about the look and feel of his website as I felt that it didn’t look as good as many others I have seen. Was it a good enough advert for his business? I expected him to say that he hadn’t had the time to do much to it. Not at all. He keeps it simple and focused as he says he doesn’t want to reveal to his competitors all the techniques he uses to ensure that his clients’ websites are powerful drivers of sales.

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If we don’t trust experts anymore what do you need to do to STAND OUT?

During 2016 politicians in both the UK (Michael Gove) and in the US (Donald Trump) repeatedly asserted that people have “had enough” of experts. Voting patterns seemed to confirm this as expert political and economic views were largely ignored. And yet, we also know it’s patently not true. If you have a health problem do you prefer to take the advice of an amateur or of an expert? What about if you were arrested?

So the real question is why do people trust some experts but reject others? Why do many people on the one hand seek medical experts for medical issues, but distrust climate experts for climate issues, and economic experts for economic issues?

It transpires there is an answer to this question – although it’s in a scientific paper so relies on the views of experts!

In a study published in 2015, psychological scientist Friederike Hendriks and her colleagues at the University of Muenster in Germany coined the term “epistemic trustworthiness”. This refers to our willingness or otherwise to place trust in, and listen to, an expert when we need to solve a problem that is beyond our understanding. The paper focused on our willingness to believe scientific facts but I suggest that the conclusions are more widely applicable.

The authors argue that for an expert to be high on epistemic trustworthiness they need three characteristics: expertise, integrity and benevolence. In other words, knowing stuff isn’t enough. This is key. For us to rate a person as a trustworthy expert they need to know their information, to be honest and to be good-hearted.  There are also echoes here of the work on the power of Influence by Dr Robert Cialdini.

Being an expert is just not enough any more. Experts are more likely to be believed if they are likeable and evidently honest. I have addressed this previously on my blog. One way to evidence your honesty is to admit what you don’t know. In so doing you add credibility to what you do know about. You evidence your expertise partly by accepting its limitations.

The research paper “Measuring Laypeople’s Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)”  is actually a contradiction in terms. I am quoting it as justification for this blog post. But the very title of the paper works against it. In particular the very idea of something using a fancy term such as “Epistemic Trustworthiness” makes it less likely that many people will accept the premise of the paper.

Many experts make the same mistake. Clients are often alienated when they feel that we are using unfamiliar words and unintelligible acronyms. When we do this we are making the mistake of seemingly pushing our clients to rise to our level of sophistication and knowledge. We are much more likely to be trusted if we use words and phrases that are commonly understood and if we explain any necessary or helpful acronyms.

As experts we need to demonstrate that we are good, honest people who have our clients’ and prospective clients’ best interests at heart. We increase the likelihood that we will stand out from our competitors if we:

  • communicate more clearly and hold back on the jargon;
  • admit what we don’t know; and
  • develop a genuine interest in helping other people.

In a continuing effort to practice what I preach, I would encourage you to look around this website. Access any materials and blog posts that you find of interest and do get in touch if you feel I might be able to help you. If I can’t I’ll admit it and hopefully will know someone who can!

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The Sole Practitioners’ formula for identifying your premium fee paying prospects

This is a guest blog provided by Patrick McLoughlin. In it he explains how sole practitioner accountants can become really clear as to who is a premium fee playing client. And, having done that, how you can then clarify your future marketing and business generation activities. As Patrick’s approach is much the same as mine I am happy to share his thoughts here.

It doesn’t matter in which industry or professional sector you operate, if you provide a specialist service you are going to get paid more. To help you attract more premium fee paying clients, this blog focuses on transitioning your work and marketing to grow your GRF.

Here goes:

Know your strengths, understand who benefits most from your work

If you already have specialist knowledge and clients you provide a specialist range of services to, you can skip this point. If you struggle to define your ideal clients or your answers focus on personality types, read on.

As a starting point list all your clients on a spreadsheet. Then decide what issues you want to grade them on.  Typically focus on:

Level of fees paid

Profitability of work you carry out

Personality (How much you enjoy working with them)

Do they refer

Potential for fees to grow

Prospective lifetime value

Payment history

Mark the client out of 10 for each category then add up your scores. Focus on your highest scoring 10% – 20% of your clients.  Look at what they have in common. Maybe there’s a high number from a certain industry sector or you’ve helped many overcome a similar problem.

Profile your top clients

Now write a profile of those key similarities. Think about their turnover range, sectors to focus on or exclude, the postcodes you can reach within 30-40 minutes etc.  Now we are just starting to hone in on those clients you can build your future on.

Focus on Sam

To build a greater understanding create an ideal client persona. Focus on elements of your best clients.  Give them a name, a history, even a family background: For example, Sam has 2 young children under 5, an expensive mortgage and is aged 30-40 etc.

Even if you think you know, talk to your better clients about the goals they are chasing, maybe paying off the mortgage in 5-years or putting the kids through private school etc. Then list Sam’s goals, challenges and how you can help with both.

If Sam hopes to put the kids through private school you can help by planning and forecasting how the business needs to grow to achieve it.   If Sam’s company has stopped growing you may be able to help by systemising aspects of the business or improving management information allowing Sam to spend more time with potential new clients.

Focus on Sam’s opinions and feelings about the business. Sam might say that he doesn’t feel in control of the finances from one year end to the next.  Or maybe Sam doesn’t understand his annual accounts and they are no help to him in steering the business forward.

A great example of copy to address Sam’s lack of value & understanding of year-end accounts

You’ll find after you’ve completed the above that it naturally filters down to help you write a short summary of how you can help Sam. Try and use their language not your own.  And don’t forget to focus on easing their pain and fulfilling their ambitions.

If you do your homework you’ll find it so much easier to pick your ideal clients out in a crowd or a telephone conversation. Your ideal clients will relate to you better and chose you over cheaper competitors.

To help me, to help sole practitioners grow, please could you click this link and complete the short survey.

Thank you so much for your support. 

All the best.  Patrick.

Sole_Practitioners_Breakthrough_Programme_logo_V1 (1) (2)

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Do you offer a service guarantee? I bet you do.

Let’s be realistic. If you did some work for a client but they weren’t happy because you made a big mess of it, would you insist on charging them extra to correct your mistake?

I hope you wouldn’t even consider trying to charge extra to resolve a mistake of your own making.  To my mind this is the start of a service guarantee. And it’s the sort of thing, which, if promised up front, can help generate confidence from prospective clients.

Over the years I’ve often seen references to service guarantees on an increasing number of professional service provider’s websites. I came across one last week and established that it wasn’t unique to the firm in question; Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and consider how effective is the message below. It’s listed on some accountancy firms’ websites as one of the answers to the question ‘Why us?’

Our 100% Risk Free Guarantee…Use our services to help you pay less tax and increase wealth, completely at our risk. Our services are so outstanding there’s a 100% Risk Free Guarantee.

Here it is…

If at any time you are not completely happy withglobal-unlock-guarantee our work please discuss it with us. If we really can’t sort the issue for you then don’t pay for the part you’re not happy with. Ask for it at any time within 30 days of the work and we won’t expect payment. That means…

No small print;

No quibbles;

No questions asked;

No exceptions;

No strings

I think this is very cleverly worded and does put some (but not a lot) of responsibility on the accountant to achieve absolute clarity as regards the services to be provided up front.

How would you feel if a prospective client asked if you were as confident as this in your work? Or why should they choose you over another accountant that offers such a guarantee?

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What’s your angle?

Too many accountants struggle to distinguish themselves from their competition. This is a shame as it is what makes each of us different that makes us memorable and the reason why clients engage us.

Challenge this if you must. Tell me that no one cares about anything other than price.

If that’s what you believe then I’m sorry for you. It’s a fallacy promoted by those who choose to sell stuff at low prices. It’s not true for Apple, for the makers of quality cars, handbags or designer clothes. Nor is it true for EVERYONE seeking professional advice, tax advice or day to day compliance services.

Of course price is all that matters to SOME people. Personally though I’m happy for those people to choose someone other than me to provide the service they seek. Typically those who only want to pay a low fee do not become valued clients; they are often more trouble to deal with and getting paid is rarely easy either.

So, let’s get back to the point. Do you really feel that you are no different from hundreds of other accountants? If that’s what YOU feel then it’s no wonder that prospective clients think the same and may choose to go elsewhere.

When you talk about what you do for clients, do you sound the same as everyone else? If so, you are missing a trick. The same goes for your website, online profiles and any physical marketing materials you use.

What do you add beyond the basics? It’s the differences that matter and that make it worth while someone choosing to engage you rather than the accountant down the road. What’s your angle? Often it’s your point of view that makes you unique and can help you to STAND OUT from your competitors. If you haven’t formulated any strong opinions on work related topics you may struggle to convince prospective clients why they will get a better service from you than from others. Just be careful to ensure that your views are based on informed facts rather than a naive acceptance of biased comment in the media.

Think back to the most common questions you are asked by prospective clients. Do you have a unique take that might resonate with them and help them to recognise that you’re the sort of professional they want to engage?

What’s your angle?

 

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How to ensure that people can recall your business message

We know, don’t we, that good communication is important in business. In my view, one of the most fundamental pieces of communication is how we talk about what we do.

There are many challenges to be overcome here. We want to avoid sounding just like everyone else in the same field. We want our message to resonate with people and we want them to remember us. We may also want them to talk about us with other people – ideally the sort of people we would like to have as client.

One traditional approach here focuses on crafting a standard ‘elevator pitch’. Another requires us to identify a Unique Selling Point (USP). Both of these miss the point in my view.

Elevator pitches originated with the idea that it should be possible to deliver a summary of your idea or plan to an important person in the time span of an elevator ride. By definition in such cases you know almost nothing about the other person so cannot tailor what you say so that it resonates with them.

It can be a bit of a puzzle too to avoid listing out everything we do and either confusing or overwhelming the person we are with.

I am also not a fan of professional advisers claiming to have a Unique Selling Proposition (USP).  I have suggested previously that a better idea would be to identify the Unique Perceived Benefits (UPBs) of your service proposition. See: Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants. Another idea here is focus on  identifying your ESPs (Emotional Selling Points) if that works for you.

Better than all this though, if you really want to STAND OUT from others in your field is to craft a number of business messages that each satisfies the 5 point RUBIK test.

REPEATABLE – If you want to benefit from referrals and recommendations then make it easy for the people you meet to tell others what you do.

UNDERSTANDABLE – Avoid jargon.

BENEFICIAL – Focused on the benefits you deliver or on how your clients feel.

INDIVIDUAL – Distinctly and specifically you

KEY – Evidently KEY, relevant and meaningful to the person you are with.

It’s rarely easy to do this and you may never get it absolutely ‘right’. However you will find that the way you communicate your business message will improve if you keep the RUBIK acronym in mind. I’m aware of course that many accountants feel that they provide a service that appears indistinguishable from many others who do the pretty much the same thing. But each accountant is different and brings different experiences and interests to bear.

Getting it right is also hard, for different reasons, if you offer a number of services, as I do for example.

How do your business messages measure up against the RUBIK acronym?

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