What’s your angle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your angle?

 

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How to ensure that people can recall your business message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDERSTANDABLE – Avoid jargon.

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

INDIVIDUAL – Distinctly and specifically you

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

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

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

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

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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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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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