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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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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Is your business name sufficiently memorable?

Most professional advisory firms are simply named after their founders. Some retain the names of just the first two or 3 partners, Others might extend to 4, 5 or 6 names. The longest I have found, unless you know better, was a small Los Angeles entertainment firm, once known as: Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. I pity the receptionists required to reel that off when answering the phone!

Firms often combine their names when they merge. By way of example, the firm I trained with, named after the founding partner Mr Wood, was Wood & Co. Then it became Wood King, next Chantrey Wood King, then Chantrey Vellacott and now it has been absorbed by Moore Stephens.  None of these iterations tell anyone anything about the nature of the business.

It remains the norm for smaller professional firms to be named after the founder(s), possibly with the addition of: “and associates” or “& Co” (even when they work alone). If your name is sufficiently distinct and memorable this may work fine.  And there’s nothing wrong with this approach in any event.

But a firm named after an individual will rarely STAND OUT from the crowd. This may not matter if you have a strong tag-line or if you and your practice STAND OUT for other reasons. But why not also consider choosing a distinct STAND OUT name for the business?

Many historical restrictions by professional bodies on the naming options available to their members ended long ago. Some people have chosen one-word business names that STAND OUT as they are distinct. Sometimes the word is one that is favoured by the founder. There may or may not be a simple story that explains the choice of word and how it links to the business of the firm. Told well such stories can help the business name to be better remembered than might otherwise be the case.

The largest professional firms have all retained elements of their traditional names even if now limited to just one word/name or a set of initials (eg: Deloitte, KPMG, Linklaters, Baker & McKenzie).  I suspect that some people running their own practices want to give the impression that they are bigger than perhaps is really the case. Perhaps this is the reason for retaining the same naming convention as the larger firms in your profession.

Some of the STAND OUT business names for professional firms I have encountered recently include:

Numbers + Beyond – Chartered Accountancy and Virtual FD practice run by Linda Foster

Virtuoso Legal – Law firm specialising in intellectual property

Grow Smart Finance – Chartered management accountancy practice run by Liesl Davis

The Will Bureau – a will writing practice led by Andrew Edwards

Signature Litigation – Law firm specialising in litigation work

Simply bookkeeping – Bookkeeping(!) practice run by Coral Hamze

The Tax Guys – Tax and accountancy practice run by Jonathan Amponsah

Cheap Accounting – Accountancy franchise established by Elaine Clark

I assume that some experts believe that the best business names are abstract words – as there are so many of these around. My preference, if you want to STAND OUT is to adopt a name that makes clear what your business is. For the same reason I’m not a fan of coined names (that come from made-up words) as, in the absence of a large marketing budget, these are unlikely to be as memorable as real words.

Finding a business name that is simple enough and easy to recall and spell isn’t always easy. Unusual words may STAND OUT for the wrong reasons as they may be hard to recall and tough to find on line if people cannot recall the spelling.

Regardless of whether you use your name, a real word, a made up word or a combination of words, do not make a final decision until you have checked what shows up when you search for that name online, that you can obtain the domain name and that  can register it at Companies House (even if your company/LLP is to be dormant if you operate as a sole practitioner).

Do you have or do you know of any other STAND OUT business names for professional firms? Please share them below as comments on this post.

 

 

 

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Is it really about the competition or is it about you?

I recently offered some help by way of comments in response to an accountant’s query in an online forum. Most of my observations and advice are of more general application so I am sharing them here too.

The questioner has been in practice for 3 years and is struggling to build up his client base. He has already lost a number of those he picked up in year one. His question was headed: How do I compete? He has identified 127 other accountants within a 5 mile radius of his home and wants to know if he can ever expect to get onto page one of Google.

Here’s my reply:

——

Reading your original post and your comments I suggest there are a number of issues to address:

Prospects vs suspects

You think you are good with clients but you seem to struggle with converting prospects into clients. I wonder if they are all even prospects. Some may be simply ‘suspects’ – for example those who you say are not ready with their business model. Is the service such people require different to what you’re offering? Maybe they need help building their business model?

Can you distinguish suspects from prospects? The latter are not just people who want an accountant but people you have found out enough about to know that you could provide what they want/need and that you can provide those services.

Online promotion

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about ensuring your website appears high up the search results when people search for the services you are offering. You’re right. It will be hard to compete with 127 other local accountants all offering the same thing to the same people.

There are typically two types of people who search online for an accountant:

A) Those who just want an accountant (be it their first one or to switch from a bad one)

B) Those who want an accountant who specialises in helping people just like them

It sounds like you’re hoping to be found in (A) regardless of who is looking. While there will be fewer people searching for a specialist accountant, more of them are likely to be pay good fees and you will face less competition.

‘Closing’

Do you have the confidence and skills to ‘close’ a prospect – ie: to help them to want to engage you as their accountant? This demands both conversational skills and the right paperwork at the right time.

Local competition

Ah yes, this is what you suggest may be the biggest issue. You may be right. But equally if you can distinguish yourself, your service and your approach from the others you can build a sustainable and profitable practice.

Again, there are 2 issues:

a) Are there enough prospective clients in the area? (Almost certainly ‘yes’ – tho you may need to wait for their current accountant to mess up before they will move to someone new – you!)

b) Can you position yourself as the accountant enough of them should aspire to be serviced by? Having a half decent website (or better) and high ranking on Google is only part of the story and not a crucial one either.

Referrals

This is always referenced as the ‘best’ source of new clients for accountants. I am aware however, that many who claim this are not looking to build up their practice quickly. They are happy winning a few new clients each year to replace the few they lose each year.

Establishing a sustainable referrals strategy is absolutely worthwhile. Again though it’s easist if your clients, friends and associates can say something distinct, when referring you. Something more than simply that you’re an accountant (just like all the others).

Happy to discuss this further. I love helping accountants who want to STAND OUT and become more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding. By all means book a call here: www.calendly.com/bookmarklee/phone

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