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.

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

INDIVIDUAL – What you say should be distinct from what other accountants might say

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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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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This accountant’s new website is already ten years out of date

One of the thousands of accountants with whom I am connected on Linkedin recently posted a link asking what did people think about his firm’s new website. I replied privately but thought I would share my feedback as it may be helpful to others.

I have no desire to embarrass the accountant in question so nothing below identifies the firm or the website.

The site

By way of background let me describe the site. It has just 5 pages (which is plenty in my view – if used well). The page titles are:

Home : Our firm : Services : Publications : Contact

The Home page is dominated by a picture of the city landscape in which they operate. The background colour is very bright. There is no suggestion of any design work. If you scroll down there are two very heavy paras of text talking all about the firm. Nothing about clients or visitors to the site.

Our firm – This has 7 paras on the firm. Nothing about any individuals but there is a definite suggestion that this is more than a one man band. (It’s “a team of highly motivated individuals”)

Services – This contains the ubiquitous list of anything and everything you might expect from a firm of accountants.

Publications – This page invites us to keep in touch to see what new monthly articles will be released. For the moment there are simply links to 3 external organisations (incl ACCA)

Contact – This only invites communications using a form on the website. Scrolling down I find there is an info@ email address, a postal address and a phone number. But the only form of communication that is encouraged is the form. This is hardly user friendly.

The firm

The practice has been going for under 5 years and has a good locally focused name. However their postal address is nowhere near the area of the city mentioned in their name. When I googled the firm I found their old (unfinished) website at the top of the search results. At that time it was simply a bookkeeping practice.

My feedback

I’m not sure what you had there before. Congrats on moving forwards and I hope the new site is good for you. Sadly though I doubt it will be – as it stands.

 

Let me start by saying that if it works for you then keep it as it is.
I hope your request was for honest feedback rather than just platitudes.

 

I am doubtful the site will be very helpful for the following reasons:

1 – The home page alone contains a number of minor typos – but these suggest a lack of attention to detail or poor use of English. There are more typos on the other pages.

 

2 – It’s all very text heavy. Will the right prospective clients bother to read it all?

 

3 – Even the ‘your firm’ page is not reader-friendly. It would benefit from sub headings and maybe a picture or two of you and your colleagues.

 

4 – There are no clues as to who you are. No names. No personality. No indication of whether a prospective client would like the person/people behind the firm or who would service them.

 

What would you say if I asked you who is the site for and what do you want them to do when they visit?

 

Most accountants would say it’s for prospects and to help them decide if it’s worth them getting in touch. And if so, to make it easy for them to do so. I don’t think your site even gets close to that I’m afraid.

Your site looks like thousands of others did ten years ago I’m afraid.

 

I’m sorry to be harsh. As you may know I do not design, sell or promote websites. I am a humble commentator on practice focused matters and an adviser to firms that want to be more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding.

 

If you want some further tips re accountants’ websites, I have shared many on my blog in the past. eg:
http://www.bookmarklee.co.uk/websites-for-accountants/

 

I hope that helps and wish you well for the future.

As I have recommended in previous blog posts, all that really matters is whether your website works for you. Having said that I regularly hear accountants saying they get nothing from their website or that they’ve only got one because they were told they needed to have one.

What you ‘need’ to have depends on our objectives. At a minimum I’d suggest it’s worth having a simple website that people can find when they are recommended to you, or if they want to check you out after meeting you. Such websites do not need to be very sophisticated or have loads of pages. Their purpose is to help prospects confirm that you are the sort of person they would like to have as their accountant.

This is all very different to having a website that you want to attract work from strangers who are searching online for an accountant. Which of those strangers are the ones you’d be happy to have as a clients? What can you say to convince them to get in touch? And how easy can you make it for them to find what they want  and to contact you?

You don’t need to spend a fortune on your website. But you do need to be clear what you want it to do for you.

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The 3 factors that will determine your social media success

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

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

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

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

The 3 factors are:

1 – Effective use

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

2 – Your website

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

3 – Offline follow up

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

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

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What are your top skills and expertise?

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

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

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

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

Do I do ‘strategy’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The skills and expertise on your Linkedin profile

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

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

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

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

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

This will serve three purposes.

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

So I suggest this is a sensible strategy to pursue 😉

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What if you don’t want to go for a niche?

There is no doubt in my mind. The more focused you can be as regards your ideal clients the more chance there is that other people will recognise when they can recommend and refer you to people who need your services. But it’s not the only route to success.

You are not alone if you find the idea of focusing on a single niche or target audience too limiting. Perhaps you feel it’s too early in your career to choose a niche? Or maybe you don’t want to be restricted to one target audience? You might also be concerned about alienating existing clients who do not fit that niche?

I have seen how referencing a niche or specialism can be a successful strategy for many professionals I know, be they accountants, lawyers, financial advisers, speakers or whatever. I have also shared insights and ideas, as to how you can identify your niche, in numerous blog posts and articles over the years. But I also accept that not everyone is comfortable with the idea.

There are many reasons for resisting the advice of those who would have us be more focused than feels comfortable. Not all such reasons stand up to scrutiny but many do so in my experience.

However, I have also worked with plenty of successful professionals who run practices or businesses that have a pretty generalised approach. Others appear to have a focus that is, in reality, very non-specific. Many years ago I was a partner at BDO when their focus was on ‘Growing Businesses’. It felt like a specialism or niche but in reality it was little more than a simple a way of saying we’d deal with any clients who could afford us.

The modern equivalent is probably claiming to specialise in SMEs. Those who claim this focus probably feel they can tick the box of having identified a specialism. Except that they haven’t, as over 99% of all businesses in the UK fit this definition. So the claim to be specialising doesn’t really mean anything.

It is clear to me that many professionals don’t want to limit themselves to a niche. Even if they understand the logic and potential benefits of doing so, they are reluctant to do so. This is typically a mistake but it’s a common one and, in many cases, it is possible to compensate for this by choosing to STAND OUT from the pack in a different  way.

Regular readers will know I have identified and reference the My 7 point framework of fundamental principles that professionals can use to win more work and to be remembered, referred and recommended. No one needs to apply all seven. But it’s clear to me that the more principles you adopt the more effective will be your efforts.

Plenty of general practice accountants, generalist lawyers, financial advisers and those who work in larger firms are reluctant to reference a specific niche. I suggest this means they need to work harder on applying more of the 7 principles. This is more likely to be a successful strategy than claiming to specialise in a whole list of business sectors in which your clients operate. This approach tends to undermine the meaning of the word ‘specialise’.

By they way, the focus of this blog post is on those professionals who do not want to focus on a single niche target audience. Is this you? Do let me know what you think.

 

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What makes your practice different and memorable?

Back in 2007 I wrote a chapter for a book (BusinessWise) to help Entrepreneurs with ‘Finding, Choosing and Using an accountant’. I tried to ensure that this was more practical and real-world advice than the generic and incomplete advice which appears on a variety of business and accountancy websites. I explained some of the ways that entrepreneurs could distinguish between different accountants and the sort of things that are worth finding about before appointing anyone.

In this short blog post I am extrapolating a couple of key points from that chapter and from my work with professionals, not just accountants.

The question is what can you do to best highlight the real benefits to a prospective client of engaging with you rather than with anyone else?

Firstly – many of, what we might think should be, the key distinguishing factors are taken as read by prospective clients. For example, whilst many accountants talk about their qualifications and membership of professional bodies, the public are less interested. Specifically they are unaware that anyone can call themselves an accountant. They assume anyone calling themselves an accountant is qualified just as they assume that all ‘lawyers’ (sic) are qualified and regulated by the Law Society.

It matters not if you think that prospective clients SHOULD take more notice of such differentiators. In practice they are often far more interested in personal recommendations and testimonials from happy clients. If you’re going to rely on your qualifications etc you’d best work on ways to explain that they are not all the same and how you being fully qualified benefits the client. Bear in mind that unqualified advisers win plenty of work by highlighting the benefits that their status provides.

Many professionals will claim that their personality is a key differentiator. But this misses the point. You, as a person, and how likeable you are, will often only become a factor after the prospect has agreed to speak with you or to meet you. Until then your personality doesn’t help.

So here’s my top tip: Highlight what makes you different in a positive vein rather than simply repeating all the standard stuff that most prospects will probably take for granted. Remember they’re not experts. When comparing one professional’s website with another they will read into each profile certain material that they think is probably true of all such professionals – even if it isn’t. The prospect doesn’t know. So they assume – unless told to the contrary. It’s well worthwhile clearly stating what makes you different and spelling out how clients benefit from this. Use the ‘so what?’ test. For each statement you make that is intended to evidence your credibility, imagine a prospect responding: “So what?” Make sure you can answer this question effectively.

Feel free to add comments to this blog and to share what makes your practice really different.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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5 lessons on collaborations from….Tony Bennett, Sting and McFly

Those of us who are of a certain age were surprised recently to see the classic American crooner, Tony Bennett, performing alongside Lady Gaga.

They started singing together in 2011 and, despite a 60 year age gap, they have recently released an album of jazz standards, ‘Cheek to cheek‘. They also appear together in the H&M holiday advertising campaign.

Similarly Sting has teamed up with and performs live alongside Paul Simon (of that classic duo, Simon and Garfunkel). And for less mature readers there is a new pop rock ‘supergroup’,McBusted who have been touring and recording together. McBusted is made up of most members of two boy bands; McFly and Busted.

What lessons can we draw from these unexpected collaborations?

  • However long established you are, you can still ring the changes and find new audiences by collaborating with someone from a different generation who has their own fans, contacts and clients;
  • You can also reach new audiences by collaborating with someone of a similar age as you will each attract your own fans, contacts and clients. In so doing they are exposed to a wider range of work and activities than if they only came to see you;
  • Your collaboration could well be newsworthy and generate positive PR – possibly more so than anything you have done alone;
  • Longer-term collaborations develop over time and are built on friendships and small steps before the big reveal of a full scale collaboration;

Although I am unaware of the specifics I would expect that, in each of the cases identified above, the performers’ managers were involved in the financial negotiations. I recall from my own experiences advising professional firms on their merger negotiations, that this topic, more than any other, could scupper a deal. In the simplest cases you may be able to identify a simple split of income and expenses. But ‘normal rates’, differing perceptions as to relative value and distinct past experiences may all need to be considered.

I have been fortunate to have been invited to collaborate with a number of providers of complementary services and presentations over the years. None have become permanent partnerships, nor was this ever the plan. In each case we were simply looking to secure those benefits set out at points 1 and 2 above.

Who do you know and who knows you well enough to be happy to collaborate with you to reap similar benefits for your business?

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The 7 fundamental principles that will ensure you STAND OUT from the competition

Having been talking and writing about this framework for some time, it’s about time I recorded it on my own blog. There’s also a link to a graphic of the STAND OUT framework on the top menu bar above.

The seven fundamental principles are easy to recall through a simple acrostic. Each of the principles will influence the people you meet and impact how they remember you. You may be looking to win work from them or simply to be recommended and referred by them.

These principles, which can be recalled as starting with the letters A-G, are most relevant as follows:

  • Your Appearance and Attitude – what impression did you give when people meet you face to face? And is this confirmed if they check you out online?
  • Your Business branding and messaging – was this sufficiently clear, relevant and memorable (on line and in face to face conversations)?
  • Your Conversational impact – Are you a good listener? Do you look for ways in which you can tell only relevant stories about clients, like the person you are with or who they know, and how those clients felt after you did what you do to resolve their issues?
  • Your Dependability and trust – How congruent are your online profiles and website references to the conversations you have and to your business messaging? And do you do anything to encourage people to trust you soon after they meet you?
  • Your Experience and Expertise – Are you tailoring your communications here so that what you say resonates with the people you meet – and are your claims consistent both online and face to face?
  • The extent to which you Follow up – Are you good at doing this promptly and effectively? Or do you wait for people to get back in touch with you? Or are you so pushy you put people off?
  • Your attitude to Giving and sharing – Even if you normally struggle to adopt such an approach you could still create free tips sheets and other items that others will consider to be of value. What can you do to help others without waiting to be asked? For example you can provide recommendations and testimonials without being asked.

In each case there are dozens of elements from which you might choose how you want to STAND OUT by reference to this framework. Doing so in ways that suit you will boost your credibility and the influence you have as compared with others like you who are unfamiliar with the framework.

Many professionals rely on a brash personality or strong business branding to STAND OUT. These can help but they are not right for everyone. And effective business messaging is often a struggle for advisers and speakers who have yet to find a niche; and for those who are happy having a wide range of clients across a number of business sectors.

A good understanding of the 7 fundamental principles makes it easy for anyone to STAND OUT from the pack. I have written a summary paper to help you and that I would love you to take with my compliments.

7 key ways to Stand Out from your peers



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What 6 things is everyone saying we should do?

At the ICAEW’s ‘Growing your practice’ conference yesterday, speaker after speaker shared similar ideas – allbeit from very different perspectives, with different emphasis and in different contexts.

I was first up and talked about the 7 step framework you need to follow to STAND OUT from the competition. There are a host of detailed factors behind each stage so I only focused on a handful. After me came Robert Craven, Paul Shrimpling, Matin Clapson, Paul Harrison, Cameron John and Karen Reyburn.

We all had our own take on things and offered distinct advice, insights and ideas. But during the day a number of messages seemed to be repeated by speaker after speaker. Those repeated most-often seemed to me to be as follows:

  1. “It’s good to talk” – The more conversations you have with clients, prospects and introducers, the more your practice will grow. The right type of conversations can ensure you stand out, generate more referrals, identify new work opportunities and make more profits.
  2. “Consistency is crucial” – What you say about your practice and clients needs to be congruent with what your website says, what your Linkedin profile says and what your marketing materials and activities say on and offilne.  Inconsistency damages credibility and trust which are key to generating more fees and growing the practice.
  3. “Update your Linkedin profile” – When someone looks you up online they will invariably find your Linkedin profile before they find your website. If your profile doesn’t engage them (and STAND OUT from the crowd) they may not bother moving on to look at your website – which must also engage them effectively.
  4. “Social Media activity needs to be strategic” – It’s easy to waste a lot of time and effort on twitter, facebook, and many other social media sites – even Linkedin. If you seriously want to grow your practice you need to consider where you will get ‘most bang for your buck’, monitor and measure what you do and take expert advice to avoid wasting time and effort.
  5. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” – Many surveys referenced during the day suggest that most growth will come through client referrals. Yet few practices seem to encourage or help clients to deliver the referrals that would be so valuable. There are some pretty simple ways to address this.
  6. “If you want something to change, you have to do something different” – If you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you will NOT carry on getting what you’ve always got; the world around us is changing. You need to do things differently, to take action, to change your interactions with others, your online activity, your website, your online profile, your focus on financial details and on the other key indicators that drive your business and will enable you to grow.

Clearly each speaker’s advice ranged into other areas and had a distinct focus. It would be inappropriate for me to summarise everyone’s talks here. But I thought you might be interested in that overlap across those six points.

The other thing that struck me was that only a few truly new or novel points were being made. Many, including some of my own, could be dismissed as common sense and ‘obvious’. Yet the same points were being made in different ways by multiple speakers. And listening to what delegates were saying during the breaks it was clear that few were dismissive of the repeated messages, Indeed the repetition was barely noticed.

I surmise that accountants, serious about growing their practices, value being told stuff that may be obvious, as long as it is presented in a stimulating and memorable way.  I think we all managed that.

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What do your clients really want?

There is an apocryphal story about a group of newly recruited executives at Black & Decker in the days when they only sold one basic product. They were asked what it was that their customers wanted from them.

The standard answer was ‘drills’.

“No” they were told. “Our customers want HOLES.”

In a similar vein the great Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

How do you feel about this concept and the idea of focusing on the equivalent of a hole in the wall that your prospective clients want?

In recent years it has become very clear to me how few professionals seem to be aware of this concept. The vast majority talk about what they do and pitch for new work without an awareness that what clients generally want results and solutions to problems.

Clients are typically completely indifferent as to how we help get those results and solutions – assuming it doesn’t involve breaking the law etc. So clients will rarely care much about our internal processes and systems.

I’ve also noticed that there seems to be far more emphasis on the client’s ‘pain’ in sales training these days than I ever saw in my past life. And it’s often the toughest part of networking too.

What do you try to find out when you meet with a prospective client or when you’re networking and hoping that you will gain new advocates for your work? Do you take a moment to find out what result they are seeking or what problem they have? And do you focus your comments more on whether their desired result can be achieved or their problem solved rather than on how you and your firm operate?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Inner Circle – How to differentiate your practice

The main topic for discussion at last week’s meeting of The Inner Circle was: Distinguishing your practice from the competition.

We met at our new home, The Eight Club in Moorgate, London. Members of The Inner Circle again benefited from the willingness they all had to share their experiences and insights during our round table discussion. In accordance with one of our key membership principles everyone agreed to abide by the Chatham House Rule.

What follows are simply some of the opening comments that set the scene for our round-table discussion:

The primary objective of distinguishing your practice is so that it stands out (positively) from others when a prospect is considering which accountant to appoint.
Another reason for doing this is to make it easier for others to remember you, to refer you and to recommend you to the type of clients you want, to do the work you enjoy and for the fees you deserve.
Check your online echo and that your website, linkedin and other profiles support and echo the distinctions you talk about when you meet people. Otherwise you risk standing out for the wrong reasons (being inconsistent) which will not help you win work.
Don’t worry about trying to find a USP – few accountants can provide their services in a unique way.
Branding often starts with a strapline, a business focus, a specialism, key areas of expertise, a niche audience or even a local area.
What distinguishes your practice needs to be valuable, relevant and memorable.
A strapline alone is just a gimmick. Better to ensure that the concept is evidently part and parcel of how the practice is run and the service that clients receive.
The practice’s culture needs to tie with what you believe, your ethos and your approach.
This is such a topical issue that we are likely to return to it again at a future meeting of The Inner Circle. If you’d like to know more about it, just click the link>>>

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Your service is not unique but you are

Years ago I became quite attached to the idea of identifying UPBs (Unique Perceived Benefits). I prefered this approach of looking at the provision of services from the client’s viewpoint rather than trying to identify a USP (Unique Selling Proposition).

More recently though I have realised that it is all but impossible for any of us to provide our services in a ‘unique’ way.  How many professionals offer any element of their service in a way that is like no other? More often I have noted that claims of USPs are all too similar. I believe that most prospective clients dismiss them as simple marketing puff. This may also mean that such claims have a negative impact.

I believe that there are other ways in which we can each distinguish our services so that they STAND OUT in a positive way. This is often a pre-requisite if we want to be remembered, referred and recommended to the type of clients we want, to do the work we enjoy and for which we get paid the fees we deserve. I have touched on such ideas in other blog posts here as well as in my ebook.

In my talk about ‘How to STAND OUT’ I explain that there are two key ways in which you can do this. One is focused around your core business messages, marketing and branding. The other around the quality and power of the conversations that you have.

I am indebted to my friend, Alan Stevens, for reminding me recently that though our services may not be unique, we are all individually unique. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. In ‘The MediaCoach‘, his free weekly ezine, Alan noted that:

There are millions of social media postings every day. Many of them repeat the same old stuff, often about how to be a better person or “dos and don’ts” for some endeavour or other. Some of them are very good, but most of them are not. The ones that I read and enjoy most are those that stand out from the crowd by having a unique, personal point of view. I may not always agree with the poster, but I’m always interested to read what they say.

Many posters seem to want to be someone else. They copy styles, ideas, and often even entire posts from experts they admire. Alas, no-one is going to be interested in recycled ideas. They want the real thing. To be a successful poster, I suggest you focus on your uniqueness (and don’t tell me you aren’t unique, because there is obviously no-one else like you).

In short, express your views, even if they are out of line with the mainstream (especially if they are out of line). Try to back up your views with evidence, otherwise they can just become a rant (a statement for which you have no evidence at all). Be controversial. Be yourself. Be unique.

I agree. Do you?

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Linkedin and Facebook. What’s the difference?

A trainee accountant I know had just heard that I’d been speaking about Linkedin at an accountancy firm’s away day. He was amazed that a firm would need this as, in his words, “Linkedin is just like Facebook isn’t it?”

This is a common misconception, fuelled in part by surveys and articles that reference Linkedin simply as just another social networking site. This causes many older people to dismiss Linkedin as they have no interest in social networking. And many younger people then pay it little attention as they are already active on Facebook. “Why bother doing much on a copycat site?”

My view is quite simple. The two sites are very different.

For professionals, like accountants, I suggest viewing Facebook as being principally for fun, friends and family.

Linkedin however is where you can build, manage and utilise your business connections. It’s more of a professional business networking site rather than somewhere to share your social activities and non-business views.

Crucially, as I explained to my young friend, his career moves are more likely to benefit from his Linkedin activity than from his use of facebook. The latter has more potential to have an adverse impact if postings and comments are not carefully considered.

Linkedin can also be used as a powerful career enhancer and I have spoken about this before. More and more recruitment decisions are influenced by Linkedin profiles. Also relevant to your career success will be your activity and the connections you build up on Linkedin.

The other key distinction between facebook and Linkedin is that the latter is a powerful lead generation tool that can be used by accountants – of all ages.  And this tends to be the focus of the talks I present on the subject both in-house and at conferences.  Hence my conclusion that Linkedin is VERY different to Facebook and a far more valuable and important tool for most accountants.

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You need to avoid STANDING OUT for the wrong reasons

This list started as a quick note of ways in which you might STAND OUT to people who meet you, but for the wrong reasons.  In each case I suggest that the issue is one which will probably undermine your credibility even if you are remembered. There is little benefit in being remembered for the wrong reasons as you will not then win the referrals and recommendations you seek.

As I started thinking further about this the list has grown longer. If you can think of anything else please add your comments below. And equally if you disagree with anything below please share your reasons:

  • A limp loose handshake
  • Errors on your business card
  • Amateurish logo design
  • Inability to look people in the eye when talking to them
  • Broken links on your website
  • Talking too much when you meet people
  • Having an info@ style email address
  • Branded vistaprint or moo ‘business’ cards
  • Breaching client confidences
  • Being rude, unpleasant or miserable
  • Looking a mess
  • Claiming to have a USP that is clearly not Unique
  • Excessive non-business related tweets (on twitter)
  • Failing to look people in the eye when listening or talking with them
  • Being dirty or smelly or both
  • Unprofessional looking marketing materials or website
  • Inconsistent claims as to your expertise online
  • Highlighting irrelevant features of your service offering
  • Tiny font on your business card
  • Inability to talk about anything other than accounting and tax
  • Being arrogant (unless you are a litigator when it MAY be a less unattractive quality)
  • Adopting copycat or other tactics that do not appear credible or congruent
  • Lack of clarity as to your ideal new client
  • Appearing to be lethargic and lacking energy and enthusiasm
  • Extensive irrelevant or boring conversation
  • Use of inappropriate language online or face to face
  • Failing to keep your promise as to how and when you will follow up

During my talks on ‘How to STAND OUT’ I explain that my focus is on the perceptions that we create when we meet people for the first time. Most accountants would prefer to encourage a positive perception. There are few people who would form such a view if faced with any of the above. First impressions count so we all want to avoid STANDING OUT for the wrong reasons.

Do you agree, disagree or have suggestions of other things accountants could do that might constitute STANDING OUT but for the wrong reasons?

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What are the key statistics for your accountancy firm website?

What follows is controversial as it challenges the conventional wisdom shared by many website designers and content marketers. I have long felt that a great deal of the generic advice you hear and see all over the web is misleading.

I have explained before that: Only one website metric really matters to accountants. And that is, for most practices: How many website visitors contact the office and become profitable clients?

If that is indeed your focus, you can think about what you do to attract the right type of visitors to your website. And then how does your site allow visitors to determine if they are really target clients for you, to find the key information about your practice they may be seeking and to get in touch with you?

Does it matter how ‘popular’ your site is? How often people come back eg: to consume more free information? or How long they spend on your site each time they visit?

The average time visitors spend on an accountant’s website is a double-edged sword. Do you want it to increase or to decrease? Surely you want visitors to determine whether they are in the right place and then to get in touch with you. You don’t want to focus on increasing the time they spend on your site if this is because you have confused them or if they are simply looking at loads of free information and then leaving without getting in touch.

Another example: I have never obsessed over the number of visitors we get to my Tax Advice Network website or how long they spend on the site. Right from the outset I knew that we would attract all sorts of people looking for free tax advice. So high visitor numbers would, of themselves, be irrelevant.

We try to make it easy for visitors who want free advice to see that the site isn’t for them. As a result we also have a high ‘bounce rate’ – being the percentage of people who leave almost as soon as they arrive. I’ve always expected that so it’s not important to me.

Equally I’m not that interested in increasing the time anyone spends on the site or the number of pages they visit; nor which browsers they use or which ‘content’ pages are the most popular. We do however need to consider how often the site is visited from mobile devices and to be sure that it ‘works’ on such platforms as well as on pcs, laptops and macbooks [Edit 2017: We have since had a total site redesign so that it is now mobile-friendly]

What matters most though stems from the fact that around 100 people a day use our search engine to find a suitable tax adviser. These searches result in enquiries to the tax adviser members. They collectively bill hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in fees generated by the website.

The key statistics for me therefore are the number of searches performed each day/week/month and how much billable work this generates for the tax adviser members of the Network. We need to monitor and ‘fix’ the most common ‘exit’ pages, to track and generate more action from the most popular pages, increase the number of searches and increase the proportion of searches that lead to billable work.

What are the key statistics for your website?

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What does it look like through the eyes of your new client?

We all do things that we hope will help us to win more clients. Sometimes though what seems common sense to us may prove to be counter-productive – as the following story shows.

I was talking to an old friend, Helen. I learned that she had chosen a new accountant some months back and that he had given her plenty of his time for free so far. However she did not recall him making any reference to fees or the basis on which he will be charging her. She also hasn’t received any form of engagement letter.

Having had various very positive and helpful chats with the accountant, Helen has started to wonder whether he is suddenly going to sting her with a big bill for fees. He hasn’t started work on her accounts and tax return yet and she is thinking she will switch to someone who is more upfront about their charges.

Helen told me that she had found the accountant on the web and had checked out his website. The accountant had spent 90 mins with her as part of his initial 30(!) mins free consultation – and had indicated that he wouldn’t be charging for the additional time – he liked her and was interested in her business. He will tell her what the fees will be once he has seen her books and papers etc.

Is this accountant’s approach a good one to model?  Lots of helpful advice up front.  No charge for a long and valuable initial meeting.  Making himself available for free to try to further convince the new client that he is ‘the one’.  Sounds fine in theory.

Now look at it through the eyes of the new client – even before she spoke to me, I might add.

  • What sort of a business brain does this guy have if he gives away 90 minutes of his time when he says beforehand the meeting will only be 30 minutes?  Doesn’t his watch work?  How confident can I be that he’s going to be able to tell the time properly when he records how much time he’s spent doing my books (or whatever)?
  • What’s he hiding?  Why hasn’t he told me how much his fees will be? If they were low and reasonable he’d have told me up front.

And so on.

One of the traps that accountants often fall into is the one that prevents us from looking at things through the eyes of a client.

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What to say when you call a client to Keep In Touch

This post follows on a previous post in which I set out the 7 different ways in which you can Keep In Touch with clients and influencers.

There are a number of reasons why we avoid picking up the phone when we know we could. Reasons such as:

– Who shall I call first?
– It’s a while since we last spoke, will he/she remember me?
– They might be too busy to speak to me now.
– They might not want to speak to me at all.
– I can’t think of a good solid reason to call, beyond ‘How are you?’

If you really are an ambitious accountant then whenever you have a genuine business related “reason to call”, I’ll bet that a lot of these concerns simply evaporate.

One very good discipline is to set yourself a target of say ten KIT (Keep In Touch) calls a week – that’s just 2 a day . Then count down how many you have left to make. That way the total/target keeps getting smaller and this can help your motivation

If you can’t think of any genuine reasons yourself let me provide you with some and hope that a least one or two will work for you:

– “I’m just calling to touch base and see how you’re doing as it’s been a while since we last spoke. How’s business?”
– “I’ve just seen something on the web that I thought you might find of interest”
– “I’ve just read something in [magazine/newspaper] that reminded me of you ”
– “May I ask for your advice about something ….”
– “We’re thinking of arranging a reception/party for [selected/ all] contacts and I thought you might have some useful tips”
– “I’m looking for ….. who do you know who …..?”
– “It’s a while since we’ve spoken and I didn’t just want to email you out of the blue.”
– “Have you seen the article about xyz published in ABC? Would you like a copy?”
– “I would like to test out something with you … have you got a few minutes?”
– “Please can I bounce a few ideas off you with a view to exploring who else I should be talking to?”
– “I found our last conversation really valuable; I wanted to thank you again and to let you know what happened ….”
– “I’m calling for no particular reason at all. You just came into my mind and I thought we should catch up …” (works better than you might think – especially as it’s genuine.)

All of the above are just “openers”. You can then continue with:

– “How have things developed with …..?

– “I’m putting together our budgets for rest of the year. Rather than rely on guess work I thought I’d be upfront and ask what the liklihood was that you’ll be needing us?”

– “While we’re talking, what are going to be the key issues / projects for you this year?” etc.

It’s probably best to avoid specifically asking for work but you can end the conversation with something like: “Well, it’s been good talking with you again.  Let’s keep in touch, and if there’s anything you ever think I might be able to help you with, don’t hesitate to give me a call.”   You must ensure that you don’t sound desperate – even if you are!

The purpose of your call is to keep in touch and  to serve your clients, ex-clients and contacts better.  You’ll be surprised how many ex-clients will give you some more work – and so will your clients and contacts.

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Lessons for accountants from….dating sites

I was fascinated to hear a friend of a friend bemoaning the challenge of finding suitable guys to date online.

The lady in question (we’ll call her ‘Brenda’) is looking for guys 45-65, but is routinely put off by their photos and their profiles.

It seems that few have thought about how to create the best first impression. And this is the lesson I want to share today.

It’s been a while since I blogged about how ‘You never get a second chance to create a first impression’.

Now it is perfectly possible that the guys who approach ‘Brenda’ are just as choosy as she is. Perhaps they want someone who will accept them, warts and all. For them maybe it’s best that they haven’t tailored their dating profiles. Perhaps there are women who look to date guys who think it makes sense to use a photo that shows them half drunk, with a pint of beer in their hand wearing a football t-shirt that is too small for them.

But I bet it would be easier for such guys to find their ideal woman if they posted more attractive photos and less self-centred profiles.

What impression do prospective clients get from the photos they see of you on your website and elsewhere in your online profiles? If you have a unique name try a google image search. Is the person you find looking back at you approachable and mature or stupid, sad or boring?

Does your profile describe you as the perfect date or as the ideal accountant? By all means include some evidence of your personality and outside interests. But remember your profile’s job is to evidence you as an experienced, able and approachable accountant.

My tip of the week then is to set out the adjectives and description of you that you would like to stress in your online profiles, website and photos. Now ask someone else to review your preferred photo and profiles. What adjectives and description come to mind? If there is a disconnect you had better make some changes.

You might try the same exercise if you are looking for love on dating sites too 😉

Related posts: How to build your personal brand and Online profiles – make sure yours isn’t boring

Related ebook: How to be more than ‘just another accountant’.

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Stop giving away your valuable time to strangers

There’s a commonly quoted statistic that it’s ten times more costly (in terms of time and cash) to generate new work from new clients than it is to generate additional work from existing clients. Ten times! That’s a lot of wasted time that could have been devoted to billable activities.

If you’re really honest how do you allocate your precious time when you engage in ‘practice development’ activities? Do you make time for meeting new people 1-2-1 and for introductory meetings with prospective clients? If you’re like most ambitious accountants these will both be common activities for you. And yet the people you meet doing these things are strangers (‘suspects’) who may never become clients.

Have you ever compared how much time you spend with strangers with how much time you devote to your existing clients – over and above the work you do for them each year? How much time do you spend looking for new ways to help them?

Notice how I asked that last question. How much time do you spend looking for new ways to help your existing clients?

I specifically didn’t suggest you should spend time looking for new ways to bill them more fees. Clients know the difference between an accountant who’s evidently looking for ways to genuinely help and one whose main interest seems to be to increase their fees.

Perhaps you know (really KNOW) that spending time with your existing clients will not generate additional work opportunities or new referrals. If that’s the case you are right not to spend any more time with them than is absolutely necessary.  And you should continue giving away your valuable time to strangers ie: suspects and prospects.

Many accountants though have not considered spending more time with clients free of any prospect of billing for such meetings.

Today’s tip therefore is to look for ways to help your existing clients more and ensure that you regularly make time to do this. The more you help your clients the more pleased they will be. The more they will talk positively about you and the more new work will come your way from your clients and from the people that they know. And overall this will be less time consuming than spending time with strangers.

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Accountants caught lying on their websites

I was shocked to read about “Accountants Caught Lying To Clients In Desperate Quest For Authority” on the website of marketing expert Ian Brodie.

He suggests that more than a dozen accountants seem to be falsely claiming to be co-authors of a book titled:  “Why Businesses Stop Growing And What You Can Do About It”.

You can get a partial list of them here via google: the book with the most co-authors in the world >>

Each of the accountants’ websites claim that the book has been co-written by the accountant and a third party (the same one in each case: “one of the world’s leading marketing and business growth experts”). It seems much more likely that the third party is the real author and is allowing multiple accountants to reproduce the book as if they had co-written it with him. Or maybe they did each write their own section and the costs of production have been kept down by retaining the same title and cover for all of the variations.

I seem to recall other copyright free books which accountants can rebrand and promote with their firm’s name on the cover and which could be helpful for clients.

It has also long been possible to outsource the production of client newsletters which can then be personalised with an accountancy firm’s branding. Many firms also promote booklets that contain generic advice for clients and which include the firm’s branding even though the written content was provided by a third party publisher. And a whole industry now exists providing generic advice and tips for inclusion on accountants’ websites too.

The only real difference here I think is that the accountants’ websites are actively promoting them as the co-authors and claiming that their co-authorship evidences that they are experts in the field. Some of the accountants appear in a very professional promotional video on what I expect is an effective ‘squeeze page’ to drive traffic. I am sure the whole package requires a decent investment upfront. In each of the videos they seem to address variations on the same script as each other and invariably claim to be co-authors of the “Why Businesses Stop Growing” book.

As Ian says:

It’s not just something that’s slipped into their marketing by accident. They are deliberately fooling their clients and potential clients and claiming expertise they may not have and an achievement they didn’t do.

Ironically, many of them have a bio which reads “…so-and-so is the co-author of “Why Businesses Stop Growing And What You Can Do About It…” and a trusted authority on helping start up and small business owners achieve success”.

Do you agree with Ian that such behaviour brings into question whether the accountants can really be ‘trusted’? Or do you think it’s simply an acceptable marketing tactic? Is it ethical to blatantly lie to prospective clients re your achievements and expertise?

Much as I admire the professionalism and the likely impact of the campaigns I am not comfortable with the co-authorship claims unless they are justifiable. What do you think?

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