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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15 factors that can influence the success of your event

Over the years I have been invited to attend many events that have had to be cancelled due to low bookings. I’m thinking of receptions, seminars, conferences and networking events. Sometimes it’s possible to reschedule the occasion. Other times the organisers give up and blame one or other of the factors that might or might not have been the cause of the low bookings.
There are at least 15 factors to consider and any one of them could be the cause of the low booking numbers if not properly researched beforehand:
  1. Date – You’ll want to avoid clashes with competing events, popular cultural, tv and sporting occasions. On the day you can but hope there are no widespread problems with local traffic and transport arrangements.
  2. Timing – Early morning is not so good for those with child minding/school obligations, early evening impacts social and family life, daytime is dependent on work obligations. Attendees may also be disinclined to travel or drive during the rush hour.
  3. Length – Is it long enough to warrant making the effort to attend? Is it too long such that it requires potential attendees to give up too much time?
  4. Venue – Does it have any form of reputation – good or bad? How easy is it to get to from wherever the attendees are starting out? How easy is it for attendees to get to where ever they will be going afterwards? Make sure all these points are clearly spelled out on the invitation and promotional material
  5. Parking – Might anyone want to come by car? It helps to make clear the parking options up front
  6. Advance notice – It’s important to issue reminders both to those who have yet to book and to see if any of those who have booked are no longer able to attend.
  7. Structure – Is there, for example, time for networking before, during and/or afterwards and will this appeal to prospective attendees.
  8. Food and drink – Is the extent to which refreshments will be provided clear? Will those with restricted diets or tastes feel catered for?
  9. Content – Are the topics perceived as relevant, topical and appealing? Can you sense check these beforehand with prospective attendees?
  10. Speaker(s) – Do they have a positive reputation? Do they engage the audience? Are they easy and stimulating to hear? Are they sufficiently well known to your target audience? Have you highlighted their credibility to talk on the chosen subjects? Are you keeping their name(s) a secret? if so, why? If only confirmed after initial promotions have started, remember to update the promotions.
  11. Ticket price – Is this perceived to be good value? Charging a fee, even a low one, can result in fewer drop-outs than when you run a free event. BUT even low cost tickets can discourage those who need to get authority for the expense
  12. Payment methods – How easy are you making it for people to pay? Consider online booking facilities that include credit card and paypal options.
  13. Changes – If any element of the event has to change, what impact does this have on potential attendees? It might make them more or less likely to book or to attend. Some changes have to be notified beforehand. Others can be shared at the start of the event, only to those who are there.
  14. Promotion – How will you get the event into the minds of those you seek to attract? Will they see and respond to a single email or is a more sustained campaign required? Will social media help? Which channels? Can the speaker(s) assist here?
  15. Your list of invitees – Do you have one? How relevant and uptodate is it? Can you get one? Are you reliant on marketing to (relative) strangers? Can you get help or collaborate with someone else who has a suitable list? Can the speaker(s) help here?

On those last two points, when I am booked to speak at events I often promote them to my connections and contacts. My ability to advise on social media and to reach an extensive audience are sometimes factors that lead to me being invited to speak. My focus is typically on twitter and linkedin, sometimes via facebook and sometimes in my weekly newsletters that go to many thousands of accountants in the UK. What else do you think has affected bookings and the number of people who turn up for your events or those you have attended?

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What are the key statistics for your accountancy firm website?

What follows is controversial as it challenges conventional wisdom. Well, it differs from the views of many website experts and specialists. It has long been clear to me 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.

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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