Accountants CAN overcome a lack of inner confidence…..

All too often I encounter another accountant who is lacking in confidence. And this invariably holds them back from achieving the success they seek.

Just last week an accountant emailed me back after receiving a message I’d sent out on a totally different topic. Included in her reply was the following:

I know I lack a degree of confidence. I’m on my own, no mentor, no senior. This is daunting.

I’m not very good at small talk and sales patter.

I’m lacking confidence.

I have bags of ambition and drive.

I have a fantastic team of 3 ladies who I have personally trained and I have a huge office with potential for 10 desks.

I struggle to get new clients. I want to get things as right as I can from the outset and have not wished to take on loads more low value clients.

After thanking her for getting in touch I replied:

Stop putting yourself down and reinforcing the negative voices in your head.  You are NOT lacking in confidence.

You’ve started your own practice. You have taken office space sufficient for 10 desks. All of that takes a HUGE amount of belief (which is simply another word for confidence).  Well done!

And, as you say, you also have a huge amount of ambition and drive. I think perhaps you’re embarrassed by your confidence and you may be concerned it might come across as arrogance if you really let it out. I get that. And it’s good to avoid over doing the confidence.

I also wanted to direct her to some related advice I have shared previously. I was pretty certain I had addressed the issue of accountants and confidence before on this blog. But when I checked back most such posts related more to the problems of being over confident! So here is my further advice that should be of wider application and value.

It’s quite common

In conversation with accountants I am mentoring and with those who belong to The Inner Circle it is often obvious to me that a lack of confidence is causing them issues. Sometimes it prevents them making decisions that are then continually deferred, it makes them nervous about contacting certain clients and scared of quoting fully commercial fees.

One of the great pleasures of my work is that with a degree of understanding and encouragement from me, these same accountants grow in confidence. They tell me about how they are now able to quote fees they only dreamt about some months earlier and that clients are happy to pay them. They are proud to have refused to take on new clients who don’t want any advice; and they are excited by the future as they now know they can attract the sort of referrals and recommendations they always wanted.

There’s no magic involved(!) Building your confidence starts by accepting that you are better than you think when someone who knows you and knows enough other accountants (like me) tells you honestly that you’re at least as good as average – possibly better.

But you can also boost your confidence alone.

How to become more confident

Here’s a few tips I have encouraged accountants to adopt – and which I have been told have worked for them:

One popular technique is to get a character, toy or figurine to keep on your desk. Imagine them as your Positive Reinforcer (PR).  When that negative voice in your head saps your confidence, imagine your PR guy/gal encouraging you onwards.

Keep a note of every success. Each day, note down these Positive Reinforcements (PR) to remind you of when you make things go well,  so that you can focus on these – and NOT on the times when things don’t go so well.  Review your PR notes – especially before your next interaction with a client where your lack of confidence has previously weakened you.

Celebrate your achievements so that you spend less time dwelling on the other occasions which didn’t go so well, but which contained valuable lessons. Note them down as Positive Reinforcement (PR) of lessons learned.

Accept praise and compliments. You do deserve them. Do not dismiss them. The ‘imposter syndrome’ is very common in all walks of life. You do deserve the success you enjoy.

If all else fails, fake it. Even if you don’t feel particularly confident, act as if you do. You may be pleasantly surprised at how positively this can affect people’s reactions to you.  There’s also another good reason to practice faking confidence. I have also heard it said that the more you practice acting in a confident manner, the more it will increase your inner confidence.  Just ensure you don’t come across as arrogant. And also be careful you don’t give definitive advice when you are not really confident it is 100% correct.

Confidence is self-perpetuating. Once you have it, you can use it to push yourself to succeed, which will build your confidence even further.

Want some help?

My confidence in my own ability to help sole practitioners to become more successful has fluctuated over the years.

Back in 2006 I had a wider focus and initially listened to those of my friends and colleagues who told me that I was bound to be successful as a mentor and speaker. They boosted my ego by referencing my reputation, credibility and high profile in the profession. I was prepared to listen. But then it soon became clear that few people were beating a path to my door. My confidence plummeted.

Over the last few years I have had plenty of successes and I am now confident of the value I deliver to sole practitioner accountants. This is one of the reasons why I offer a very low cost entry level facility to experience my style and advice. But equally I offer premium level 1-2-1 mentoring support and advice. Part of the value accountants get from me, where appropriate, is help, support and encouragement to become more self confident in their interactions with prospects and clients.

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Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

We all know the old adage that you never get a second chance to create a first impression (except when you do). This is one of the reasons that the first element in my 7 point framework is ‘A for Appearance and Attitude’. These are so important and go beyond your personal branding, how you look and whether you have a positive attitude. The often overlooked factor here is what impression do you give as regards your accountancy practice?

If clients or contacts become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. Or refuse to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

In this context do you have the appearance of someone who is successful or struggling? As regards your business advice especially, are you practicing what you preach?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do your networking contacts think of you as professional or pathetic? They may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

When you talk to clients about your business advisory services they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value to them. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from you or from someone else. Someone they consider to be successful. How do your business clients see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If clients are not agreeing to pay you for business advice and you’re not getting the referrals you would like, consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business. This has certainly been an issue for some of the accountants I have worked with over the last couple of years. For example, they have learned to build a much more positive first impression with new contacts and to ensure they do not highlight their own failings when talking with clients. What about you? Do people see you as successful or struggling?

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Why do accountants need to be enthusiastic?

Everyone who knows me recognises my enthusiastic nature. When I was younger I may even have been a touch too enthusiastic. I now recognise that it can unnerve those around you if you are evidently more enthusiastic than everyone else. That was an important lesson for me some years back. So now, older and wiser, I try to keep my enthusiasm in check. And I balance it with a healthy degree of cynicism!

In recent years I have been focusing on helping accountants to have greater impact – both online and face to face. The idea being to enable them stand out from their competitors and to make it easier for people to remember them, to refer work to them and to recommend them.

I have long been taken by a statement in a 2003 report by the ICAEW, titled: “The Profitable and Sustainable Practice”.

There’s one pre-requisite, one ingredient that sells…and that’s enthusiasm. If you really enjoy your work; that shines through, and you will be successful – clients will want to be with you, and will hire you. It can’t be faked – at least not for very long.

This probably explains why there is a reference to ‘enthusiasm’ in many of the 7 steps in my STAND OUT framework. BUT, let’s be clear, enthusiasm alone will rarely be sufficient. And, as I noted earlier, you need to avoid being too enthusiastic. But if the people you meet face to face and online do not perceive you as being enthusiastic for what you do to help clients, you will not stand out in a positive way. And that will generally work against you.

So here’s a question for you: How and where do you show your enthusiasm for your professional activities?

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Be proud and positive about your profession

This week’s blog post is derived from the response I received from a recent attendee at one of my talks. She had been very enthusiastic so I asked her what she had learned specifically. This is her reply:

Things I took away from yesterday:

  • That it’s OK to be on the quiet side at networking events – I am surrounded by [male] ‘chest-beaters’ all justifying their own existence and who talk at people rather than to them!
  • To be specific about what I am looking for in a referral – something that I need to work on …. It’s not all about [a type of target she mentioned during the course] … and that this may vary depending on my audience.
  • And to stop apologising for being an accountant, which I often do and a close friend tells me off regularly for it. This must come across in my ‘first impression’ but won’t be a good impression to make on someone. I can stand out from my peers by being me and being proud and positive about my profession! I definitely need to work on the impression that I leave people with ….

She added: “Your presentation yesterday was very engaging and entertaining.”

Just to amplify her 3 key main points:

1 – I had explained that introverts are often more effective networkers than extroverts. The latter tend to talk too much whereas introverts are better at listening to what other people are saying. If you listen more effectively you can ask better questions and learn more about them. The more you learn the better you can focus the stories you tell so that they resonate. This will help you and your stories to be more memorable.

2 – It’s too easy to sound like ‘just another accountant’ when you talk with people such as bankers, lawyers and fellow attendees at networking events. This means they are unlikely to remember you or to refer business to you. You can ensure such conversations are more worthwhile if you can be more specific about the referrals you seek. This means talking about the type of people you want to meet in terms that are memorable and distinct.

3 – Absolutely accountants should be proud and positive about being an accountant. If you’re not giving a positive impression why should anyone believe that you are the right accountant for them or for anyone they know?

All of these points are also addressed in my Successful Practice Programme, come up in my other work with sole practitioner accountants and in my talks at conferences and seminars.

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Connect, know, like, trust, need – what do you do to make this work for you?

I frequently hear networking gurus stress a mantra that originated in the book ‘Endless Referrals, written by Bob Burg:
“All things being equal, people do business with, and refer business to people they know, like and trust.”

I understand this is also the mantra shared at certain networking groups. The focus then is on encouraging you to make an effort to ensure you are easy to get to know, like and trust. But I think it is too simplistic.

There are two further elements I believe that demand your attention. One at the start and one that can float around at either end of the chain:

Connect – Know – Like – Trust – Need


Connect:
– People may connect with you face to face (eg: at a networking event) or online (eg: via social media, Linkedin or by engaging with you initially though commenting on your blog post or getting in touch after reading an article you have written or after hearing a talk you have presented).

Know
: People can only get to know you after you have connected with each other (face to face or online). Typically they will want to know more than just your name and profession. They are more likely to engage you or to refer you if they have more to go on than this. How easy do you make it for people to get to know you? Your background? Your interests on a professional and personal level? Which organisations do you belong to? What makes you you – as distinct from just another accountant?

Like
: People rarely engage or refer work to people they don’t like. There are exceptions to this principle. We tend to refer people to surgeons if we rate them even if they have no bedside manner. And some legal work is best done on our behalf by really tough negotiators. But in the main, likability is key. People like people who are helpful, kind, and not pushy.

Trust:
 People tend to choose accountants they can trust in two ways. to know your stuff (do you have sufficient expertise?) and to be a decent person?

Need:
No one ever engages an accountant unless they need one. Equally they rarely go around promoting their accountant until they hear that someone they know needs one. If no one you connect with needs an accountant or knows anyone who needs one, you won’t get much work!

So

Where do advertising and other forms of marketing fit into this analysis? At the beginning of course.  It is simply a way to encourage people who need an accountant to connect with you. Once they have done this you need to help them get to know you, then to like and trust you. This is why I suggest that ‘Need’ can float around either end of the chain. If someone realises they need an accountant but doesn’t know anyone suitable they may respond to your advert or your other marketing promotions and connect with you.
When you recognise that there are 5 links in this chain you may be able to see why your networking, marketing and online activities are not generating the business or referrals you seek. Are you meeting, engaging or connecting with enough people who need your services? Are you going to the right places? Are you active online in the right places? Are you encouraging the right referrals? Are you then helping your new connections to get to know, like and trust you – both generally and specifically to do the work and give the advice they need?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no’, feel free to connect with me 😉  I’d love to do something to help you. Let’s have a chat and see what I can do >>>>
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What is the really simple idea at the heart of what you do?

We have all been asked, many times, “What do you do?” Does your reply help ensure that you will be remembered positively for any length of time?

Simple straightforward factual replies allow the other person to put us in a ‘box’. This is what happens when we simply state our profession (eg: “I’m an accountant” or “I’m an employment lawyer”). This has the positive effect of ensuring the other person knows how to categorise us. But it doesn’t make us memorable.

An alternative approach, advocated by some networking advisers, is to offer an intriguing answer that prompts a request for clarification (eg: “I collect brown envelopes” – those that HMRC sends to my clients, so that I can help keep their taxes to a legal minimum”).  Done well this approach can be very effective at making you memorable and helping you to STAND OUT. More often though these intriguing answers are confusing and counter-productive. The lasting impression can be a negative one – that you are a slick smarty pants who enjoys playing this game at the expense of the people you meet. This is not the impression you want to give!

The sad truth is that most people you meet don’t care what you do. They don’t care about your profession and they don’t care about your clever ‘elevator statement’. What might make them care is if your reply to their question evidences the value of what you do; and especially if you express this in a way that is relevant to them in some way,

This is a key reason why I am not a fan of having one standard stock answer to the question: “What do you do?” I always want my answer to resonate with the person I’m with. I pretend that the question they asked was actually:

What do you do and why should I be interested and remember your reply?

My friend, Lee Warren, suggests a variation on this approach and I have been using it to good effect myself in recent months. He suggests you formulate a reply that conveys the value you provide quickly and simply. And to do this you should think in terms of a reply that starts with the words:

At the heart of what I do is a very simple idea….

If you want to stand out from others who do what you do, you really do need to be able to sum up what you do in a way that is memorable, relevant and distinct. It is rarely quick or easy to learn to do this well. Can you do it?

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Could you adapt this unique way of standing out from the crowd?

I still remember meeting Christopher Higenbottam at a networking event some years ago. I asked what he did and he told me he is an architect. (Indeed it transpired that he was the MD of Tempietto Architects). We talked for a while about his work.  After a few minutes I think I asked him whether there was anything specific that distinguished his practice from that of other architects I might know.  I’ve long asked variations of this question when first meeting fellow professionals.  And it’s an important one to be able to answer convincingly.

Most professionals, in my experience, fall back onto the hackneyed stand bys. They often talk about offering a ‘personal service’ (sometimes they even seem to believe that this is special, just like ALL of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors who say the same thing).  Other common  replies, that also fail to make you memorable or distinctive, focus on other intangible service elements.

If I ask you this question it’s because I want to know what to listen out for when talking to people who might need your services. If I’m not a potential consumer of the  services myself I want to know why I should remember and recommend you rather than any of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors I have met.  Knowing that a solicitor, for example, specialises in employment law is not enough.  I know dozens of employment lawyers.

Equally, when you meet people at networking events you need to appreciate that they have probably met loads of other people who do what you do. I have addressed this need to STAND OUT and to be memorable many times on this blog.

So what did Christopher Higenbottam tell me that made him stand out? He focused on one element of his services – homes for individuals. I recall he talked about some special homes that he had designed.  Then he did something no one has ever done with me at a networking event before or since. He pulled out his smartphone and showed me a short slide show containing 6 photos of beautiful homes he has designed. And guess what? I REMEMBER him.

This idea is not easily replicable by many other professionals. Few of us produce anything tangible and worth photographing. There’s little point in an accountant showing a few photos of a well bound and balanced set of accounts!  I had a few alternative thoughts when I first shared this story. None of them serious.  Perhaps you can do better?  Do please add your thoughts as comments on this post.

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Don’t make this mistake if you want referrals from your clients

Regardless of which profession you practice, I wonder if you make an all too common mistake. We all hope that clients will want us to provide a range of services to them. And we hope that clients will recommend and refer us to other prospective clients too.

But, as I frequently point out, ‘hope’ is not a strategy. What do you do to ensure that clients become aware of all the services you offer?

It would be a mistake to run through everything you do at a time when you should be focused on your client’s needs. It would equally be a mistake to assume that clients will ever recall all of your service offerings.

I know an accountant, let’s call him, Andrew, who explains to new clients that he can do much more than day to day bookkeeping and accounting. He says he doesn’t just deal with day to day issues. He also has expertise in inheritance tax and at such time as a client starts thinking about their will, Andrew would love to help them.

Andrew tells me that the relationship developed well with one client and he did some great work for them. As a result, he was really quite upset to find out two years later that the same client has taken inheritance tax advice from a tax specialist.

Andrew wanted to know why the client had done this. I knew the answer as I’ve heard similar stories many times over the years.  I suggested that Andrew ask his client why they went to someone other than him for inheritance tax advice.

The client was surprised by the question and even more surprised to learn that Andrew could have provided the advice being sought.

Andrew was shocked. “But I told you I could advice on inheritance tax” he wanted to say.

The problem is that when Andrew mentioned this to his client, they weren’t interested. They might not have heard and they evidently didn’t remember. In my experience, few people remember things that they didn’t hear in the first place (names are another example).

You cannot afford to hope that clients will remember all the things you told them. Once. Twelve months ago.

Can you think of anything that you expect your clients to remember about your service capability, your expertise or your terms? Is it realistic to expect them to remember? Would it be better to do or say something, in passing, to ensure they don’t forget?

The same point is true as regards your service levels. You might have told them what to expect but did they take it in? Do they remember? Managing client expectations means more than just telling them once.

And finally, the same point applies when it comes to securing recommendations and referrals. There is little point in hoping that clients will recommend and refer you for a wider range of services than those they received. Indeed they may be reluctant to ever recommend you for services they haven’t experienced themselves.

Whatever you do, you need to take a more active role if you want more recommendations and referrals. Don’t assume that everyone remembers what you do, who you do it for and who you want to be introduced to. Chances are you’ll be disappointed.

Better to take some action and encourage the recommendations and referrals you seek.

Better to take some action and encourage the recommendations and referrals you seek. Click To Tweet
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How much personality should sole practitioners put into their practice?

I was asked two related questions during a recent interview. This post is drawn from the notes I made before giving my answers on air.

1. With so many businesses competing with each other online, has it become more important to put more personality into your practice?

The smaller your practice the more important it is to allow people to know that it is you who runs it. I am assuming here that you want more clients and that you’re not simply looking to take on those people who want the cheapest possible job.

Your clients know who you are, don’t they? Why hide this from prospects? That’s what you do when you fail to include your name, a photo and something about you (as a person) on your website. It’s really easy to STAND OUT positively from all of your competitors who fail to do this. Let them be the ones who hide behind a business name and brand – with a website that only allows people to contact an unnamed info@ email address.

I’d encourage you to adopt the same logic when you are crafting or updating your Linkedin Profile. (See my free Linkedin Profile Tips here>>>)

And finally on this point, if you’re going to use twitter then ensure you use it in your own name with a photo of YOU. This will be far more effective than tweeting in your firm’s name. Personal twitter accounts always have more engagement and followers than those that operate in the name of small accountancy firms.

The more of your professional personality you show the more you will STAND OUT positively from your competitors who fail to do so.

2. Is there such a thing as too much personality?

I’m sure we’ve all seen people who confuse the idea of evidencing their personality with shouting about their achievements and activities online celebrex cost. This sort of behaviour is a turn-off and rarely helps build a positive reputation or new business leads.

What do you want people to say about you when you’re not there? You want to leave a positive impression whether online or face to face. If you have a larger than life personality that’s fine. It’s not for everyone, but if that’s your style then don’t hold back. Just try to ensure you are aware that some people may find you overpowering and so struggle to build rapport with you. Then  again, maybe you want to attract the sort of people who can relate to and enjoy the company of a larger than life accountant with a big personality. You can’t please all the people all of the time.

Be yourself – be authentic – be consistent. And let people take you for who you are.

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What do you enjoy doing?

Just stop for a moment and consider how you would answer if someone asked you: “What do you enjoy doing?”

Now think how much better that reply sounds than what you normally say when someone asks you: “What do you do?”

In formal business networking situations your reply to that ubiquitous question may be one of your prepared and rehearsed ‘elevator pitches’. You would choose the one that will resonate best with the person asking the question. (It helps to find out about them first!)

In more social situations the same question can be answered very differently. The question is often being used as a variation on the ‘how are you?’ question everyone asks without expecting a reply containing any form of detailed medical information.

You will STAND OUT, positively, if your reply to standard questions like this is more interesting and distinct from everyone else. One easy way to do this is to imagine a slightly different question has been asked.  eg: “What do you enjoy doing?”

You can also ensure you STAND OUT by asking more interesting and distinct questions to other people – even in social situations. Instead of asking “what do you do?” when you meet a stranger, consider instead asking them “So what do you enjoy doing?”  If they enjoy their job they may choose to talk about that, and, if not, you have invited them to talk about something else they find more fun and worth talking about. Answers to this question can also lead to more interesting conversations.

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Connecting through social media

I was amused by an email I received out of the blue this week and thought you might find it helpful to learn why. The salient part read:

“At [ABC] we understand that social media is becoming more important in running a business than ever before. My name is [XYZ] and I’m reaching out to select bloggers (like you!) to gather your stories about how you connect with customers through social media. Do you answer their questions promptly? Share their feedback? Start a conversation?”

I was amused as I think the questions betray a lack of understanding about social media. Another possibility is that the questions are intended for someone with a very different profile and business to me – and my clients.

You see, I rarely “connect with customers through social media.”  I connect with prospective customers and prospective clients. However I only rarely get questions from them via social media. Most such queries also come by email and email is again the communication method of choice for most of my clients too.

If someone sends me a question via twitter or Linkedin I always try to reply promptly. And yes, I love to share positive feedback – though I only tend to do this via twitter and on my website.
As I have long pointed out, Social Media is NOT important to ALL businesses. And far too many people misunderstand the medium. I have heard a number of people telling me recently that they don’t know how to do it themselves so they have engaged some young person to do it for them. This is largely pointless. Few of us can effectively outsource all of our social media activity. The key piece we invariably have to do ourselves is the connecting with people (whether we already know them or would like to know them).
The clue is in the word ‘social’. You cannot avoid going to parties by sending someone in your place and expecting them to engage with any ideal clients they meet there on your behalf. Either you go yourself or you have to find other ways to connect with these people.
You can use social media to connect with existing clients IF THEY ARE PRESENT AND ENGAGED on the social media sites in question. This is why, for example, I am not active on instagram or pinterest. They may both be very popular social media sites but it wouldn’t be a good use of my time. I just cannot imagine that I would encounter enough prospective clients or customers to warrant the time and effort. Do you know on which social media sites you could find the people you want to engage and contact? Start with one (and if you’re unsure I recommend Linkedin) rather than trying to learn about all of them at once. It will just be a waste of time and money.
Social Media is a great way to short-circuit the face to face networking process. You can use it to connect with prospective clients, influencers and introducers. Having connected you still need to speak or meet to determine whether a business relationship is going to develop.
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How I manage my time on social media each week

How long do you need to spend on social media to build up a decent following, contribute effectively and secure a good level of engagement?

I’m not sure much has changed over the years since I started to use social media in 2006. The answers to those questions depend on your reasons for getting involved and using each of the social media platforms.

Sure, there are some agencies and individuals to whom you can outsource much or all of your social media activity. This MAY make sense for well-known brands but in the main I doubt it’s worthwhile for many professionals.

I am often asked how I manage to spend so much time on social media and whether it’s worthwhile. It’s all a matter of perception and probably takes less of my time than you might think. I am very selective as to which platforms I use and where I engage with people online. My approach works for me. I am realistic as regards what I can achieve on each platform. Social media is not a place to promote and sell your services. It’s simply a new starting point for building relationships that will grow only through direct contact, whether by phone, skype or face to face meetings.

What follows is the fourth summary of my approach that I have posted here. The first was in 2010, the second was in April 2012 and the third was in March 2014.

It is clear to me that the time I spend on social networking sites continues to reduce over time. And the time I do spend online is more focused than ever before. Despite my enthusiasm for social media I still consider it to be over hyped as a marketing tool and widely misunderstood as a communication tool.

As ever the time I spend online each week depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active online when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting.

So how much time do I allocate to social media?

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below.

Because it is a business online network I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across all areas of my business activities. I use Linkedin to look up almost everyone I am due to meet, have met or who contacts me by email or phone. I ask to connect with people and accept connection requests from most people who approach me – once I know why they have done so.

I am not convinced there is enormous value in posting long form blog posts/articles on Linkedin. My efforts in this regard have not proved worthwhile to date. I do however check out the activity on my home page, contribute to relevant discussions in key groups, administer requests to join my groups and monitor all new connection requests and messages most days.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Social Media

Facebook

I have started to use this more than before, largely because I have got to know so many members of the Professional Speaking Association. There is a popular facebook group to which many members contribute. Doing so is a way of helping each other and keeping one’s profile high.

Beyond this most of my use of facebook is related to keeping in touch with old friends I haven’t seen for a while. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Google+

It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it.

Pinterest and Instagram

I spend no time on either platform. I doubt any of my business prospects are active here or would be likely to engage with me here.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change). I am planning to post more videos on line over the coming year. It is more time consuming than I would like but I note that YouTube is an important channel for professional speakers.

Micro-blogging

Twitter

I am now even more focused than I was previously. I still rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every few hours. As there are over 600 posts to choose from this means no repeats for over a month. It also means that I appear active even when I am otherwise engaged. I supplement these posts with links to current blog posts and replies to and RTs of other tweets and links I think will be of interest to my followers (who number well over 6,000 – and more than 10 times the number of people I follow).

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Accountancy website

AccountingWeb

As consultant practice editor I write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

Blogging

WordPress – The STAND OUT blog and my Blog for ambitious accountants

These are the regular blogs I update every week or so – you’re reading one of them now.  Total time: Probably an hour per week to post one or two items and to review and reply to comments.

Blogger – The lighter side of accountancy and tax

My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. I seem to have reduced the time I spend adding posts here. Total time: No more than 10 minutes a week.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above since 2006.

How about you?

Like this post? You can now access the ebook I wrote specifically for accountants who want to get more value from the time they spend on Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

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Lessons for accountants from ……a sales training expert

During a recent dinner with my old friend, Andy Preston, I got to thinking about how some of the principles he mentioned are more widely applicable.

Andy is a sales training and cold calling expert. He speaks at conferences and training courses for very large companies all over the world. Our dinner took place in Cape Town, South Africa. I was on holiday. Andy was in the middle of a hectic series of talks.

I was impressed that he kept referencing the benefits of STANDING OUT and assumed he was referencing my work in this area. I was amused later to realise that Andy is the creator of the STAND OUT selling system. Its purpose is to help sales people stand out from the competition, close more deals, and win the business – even when selling at a higher price!  This clearly dovetails nicely with my own work on how Accountants can STAND OUT from the pack.

When it comes to applying the experience of sales people to accountants, I must admit I have always known two conflicting ‘facts’.

On the one hand, accountants generally do not like to operate as or to be considered to be in ‘sales’. On the other hand, it’s hard to build a service based business, like accountancy, if you don’t do any selling!

One of Andy’s firm beliefs is that, these days, it is no longer appropriate for sales people to base their presentations on the ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ of the products they want to sell. This is a traditional approach that no longer works (if it ever did).

These days most purchasers do their homework online before they start shortlisting vendors. The purchaser typically already knows which products suit their needs and uses online comparison sites which invariably focus on the features and benefits, as well as the costs etc. Sales people who do not build rapport with prospects are unlikely to survive in the 21st century. (And it’s one of the reasons Andy is so busy). Who’d be a professional sales person?

The lesson for accountants, I would suggest, is that it is now more important than ever to STAND OUT in ways that prospective clients understand will benefit them.

You’re an accountant so they know you can do the work (or at last they assume you can). In what way will engaging YOU, rather than any other accountant, ensure that the client gets what they want and need (and more)?

As Andy suggests, a great deal hinges on the extent to which you are able to build rapport, to engage the prospect and to get them to know, like and trust you. This does not mean talking about yourself though. It requires effective questioning techniques, evidence that you’ve been listening to them and convincing responses to their questions about how you operate (if they ask).

A failure to execute these key ‘sales’ skills, will mean you don’t win the client, just as it means the salesperson fails to make the sale.

[If you think it would be good to improve your skills in this area, take a look at something I produced recently for accountants. Perhaps it could help you too? Full details here>>>]

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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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How to win at the Networking card games

Popular business card games include the perennial classics: ‘How many can I give out in one night?’ And ‘How many can I collect?’

But what do you really win if you play these games? I’d suggest you are not so much a winner, more of a loser.

Sorry to be harsh but if that’s how you play you are missing the point of Networking and so you are wasting your time. Just as if you wanted to play poker but spend your time visiting Bridge clubs.

Actually, playing cards can provide a number of useful metaphors that can help us to remember what to do if we want our Networking activity to be fun and worthwhile.

Are you a king of conversation perhaps or a queen of hearts? Do you come across as a jack of all trades or as an Ace accountant? Perhaps a more specific example would be better:

Years ago we all wore suits (at least the blokes did). These days suits may be much less common, in some offices at least. But the 4 suits in a deck of cards can be a useful prompt for structuring your conversations when networking:

Spades – firstly you dig around (with your metaphorical spade) asking general questions to find out more – without turning it into an inquisition;

Hearts –  you’re looking to build rapport which is easiest if you can find something where you share an emotional (heart-felt) connection – do you have any similar likes and dislikes?

Clubs – now, rather than talking about yourself focus on talking about one or more clients who are, in some way, part of the same ‘club’ as the person you are with, or people they know. You can only do this if you’ve dug around well with your spade, asking questions that will enable you to find out enough about the other person 😉

Finally – Diamonds, the really valuable stuff. This is the follow up to your conversation. What can you promise to do by way of a follow up after this conversation? What would the other person value? It doesn’t need to be a diamond necklace!

Anyone can adopt this ‘Four Suits’ approach to having more powerful business conversations. If you do this you will standout and enhance your chances of bring remembered, referred and recommended for the type of work you enjoy, for the type of clients you like and for the level of fees you deserve.

And this is as good an objective as any when you are networking. It makes more sense than to expect to pick up work whenever you are networking. That’s a mugs’ game – just as is playing the ‘find the lady’ scam in a street market.

Contrary to the common misconception, effective networking is not all about selling. It’s about starting to build profitable relationships. And it’s about helping the people you meet and so encouraging them to get to know, like and trust you.

No one will play cards for money with someone they don’t trust. It’s reasonable to work on the same assumption that no one will engage or recommend an accountant they don’t trust either. That’s why following up after networking is so valuable. It’s a key way to show that you can be trusted.

And that brings us back full circle. There is no point in collecting business cards at networking events unless you are also going to follow up with the people you met – and I don’t mean just add them to your mailing list and start sending them your promotional material. Equally there is no point in scattering your business cards like confetti or sticking them into the hand of everyone you meet. No one refers work to a business card.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more networking 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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The worst thing to do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request

If you are on Linkedin you will get connection requests from people you don’t know. And you will also get plenty of bland connection requests from people you’re not sure whether or not you know.

It’s very tempting to treat such connection requests in the same way as other unsolicited messages. But that would be a mistake.

Linkedin prompts users to connect with people they know and with people they would like to know. I think the worst thing you can do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request is to judge anyone badly for sending this.

Many users just don’t yet understand that it’s better to personalise the connection requests. Indeed they may be unaware that it’s possible. After all, facebook doesn’t provide this facility. Nor does twitter. And nor does the Linkedin ‘mobile’ site.

And then there are some people who think that it is the ‘done thing’ to simply agree with Linkedin when the system suggests you connect with people ‘you may know’. They click the ‘connect’ button and in some cases the system sends a standard connection request without even offering you the facility to personalise it.

I probably receive around 50 connection requests a week. Only a minority of these are personalised. They always stand out and always lead to me sending back a personalised response.

Very occasionally I’ll get a connection request from someone who is obviously a spammer and I report these. The other requests I receive fall into one of four categories:

1 – People whom I have met in real life or whom I am due to meet.

2 – Accountants and tax related people who may have read my articles or blog posts or heard me speak – I accept all such requests and send a personal note back.

3 – Apparent strangers who send a personalised connection request – I consider these on their merits.

4 – Apparent strangers who have given me no clue as to why they want to connect with me. Rather than automatically ignore these I send the following message:

Thanks for your invitation to connect. Although I have thousands of connections here I always hesitate before connecting with someone new. I find it helps to know why they want to connect as Linkedin prompts random connections as well as focused ones.

I’m sorry if my memory is at fault. If we have met for real or engaged on line please remind me. And do please let me know what prompted you to want to connect with me here. Is there something specific in my profile perhaps that makes you think that us connecting could be mutually beneficial?

Many thanks

Regards

Mark

Around 3 in 10 of such replies prompt a response which may lead to me agreeing to the connection. Those who don’t reply I then ignore. I leave it a few days though before clicking the ‘ignore’ button as, again, I know some newer users don’t check linkedin every day and don’t see all their messages.

Positive responses to the above message have brought me back in touch with ex-colleagues who I have forgotten or who have new (married) names, have generated speaking enquiries and bookings and have led to valuable introductions to third parties.

I do not agree with those people who check out the sender’s profile and only agree to connect if there is an obvious reason to do so. That’s the same mistake we make if we consider that networking is all about the people in the room. It’s also about the people they know. Unless we ask them we won’t know why someone has asked to connect with us.

So, to reiterate, I think the worst thing you can do when you receive a bland Linkedin connection request is to judge the person who has sent it, ‘ignore’ the request or penalise them, by refusing to connect with them, blocking them or sending back a snotty note.

Do you agree? What do you do when you get bland linkedin connection requests?

 

 

 

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What do your clients really want?

It’s all to easy to assume that all clients want the same things. But unless you ask, you won’t know for sure.

It’s probably true that most clients want their accountants to help them pay less tax and to keep them straight with the authorities. Probably true. For most. But these may not be the key priorities that explain why all of your clients have you as their accountant.

An accountant told me recently that he thought all of his business clients wanted him to help them to earn more money and to pay less tax.  He may be right. But equally, unless he asks them he won’t know who values his business advice and who thinks he is simply interfering.

Another accountant charges very low fees and believes that this is more important to his clients than advice on anything beyond the basics. He may be right. Equally he may have clients who would happily pay more for more advice.

It’s all very well to promote your services by reference to assumptions as to what matters to most prospects for your services. But at an early point you need to check what matters to them most.

Unless you ask them, you won’t know will you?

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How to network without networking

During the course of my career I have attended hundreds of events where professionals and business people could network. More recently, since I went freelance in 2006, I have also attended many more generic and local business networking events. These are very different and are more likely to attract some inexperienced networkers whose prime objective is to promote and sell their service or product. Yuck!

I have also attended many other less obvious networking events such as:
– Receptions to launch a new product or service;
– Parties to celebrate a business anniversary, someone’s promotion or the fact that they have recently joined the organisation;
– Summer, Christmas or other seasonal excuses for a party.

In most cases the guest lists include dozens and sometimes hundreds of business associates, clients, prospective clients, other professionals and potential referrers.

All too often the organisers are not clear as to what they want to achieve by hosting the event.  The most common ‘reason’ seems to be either to ‘thank’ clients for their custom, to showcase new staff and services or merely to hope that by hosting such an event, more work and clients will, at some later stage, consequently be referred to the host organisation.

The professionals attending such events also often seem unclear as to their own objectives. Invariably there will be dozens of accountants, lawyers, bankers and others professionals present – all milling around chatting to people they already knew. There is also often a large sub-set of attendees who are evidently uncomfortable with the idea of talking to strangers. And I can always spot those who evidently promised to put in an appearance but leave early to go home or somewhere else they will feel more comfortable.

Many people who struggle with networking misunderstand what it’s really about. As a result they are uncomfortable talking to anyone new at networking events. This is such a shame and can lead to resentment, wasted time and wasted opportunities. At it’s simplest, networking simply means finding and getting to know other business people whom you could help and who could help you. This generally only happens after you have developed some rapport; hence the idea of getting to know, like and trust each other.

Over the years I have researched, collated and shared much information on the subject of networking. By all accounts it is something I do successfully. Even when I was in practice I regularly taught and mentored colleagues to help them and the firm to gain more benefit from their networking activities. Since 2006 this has also been a regular topic in my talks, blogs, articles and masterclasses.

Many authors and speakers on ‘Networking’ seem to focus on what to do at events that are publicised as being specifically arranged to permit small businesses to network with each other. My approach is more focused on helping acountants to network effectively in a business context.

If you would like to discuss how I could supercharge the networking abilities of your team, do get in touch.

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What sort of person makes a good ‘finder’?

‘Finders’ generate leads for new business from new sources.They go out and create opportunities to talk with prospective clients about problems they can solve.They don’t wait for the phone to ring; they go out and find business.

If their firm is of a certain size they may be required to generate work not just for themselves but also for members of a team.

In some firms quiet, thoughtful, softly-spoken people may be successful finders. I have also known finders in professional firms who reminded me of slick used-car salesmen. The majority of course will fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two extremes.

What is crucial however is the willingness to listen carefully, synthesise what you hear and provide valuable responses.

Plenty of ambitious professionals are successful finders even though they don’t have the gift of the gab.Plenty more may have struggled historically with finding new work before they learned some of the secrets of effective networking. Other key skills that can contribute to being better at finding work include – speaking in public, pitching for work and closing the sale.

In summary:

All ambitious professionals can be good ‘finders’ if they take the time to hone four key skills – in so far as these are relevant to their position, their roles and their firm.

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Don’t make assumptions that upset your clients

An article in the Guardian today includes reference to research conducted by Which? magazine which shows that a third of people think they receive poor service from their solicitor. A quarter of those surveyed think their solicitor doesn’t listen to their opinion, and a third don’t feel they are told enough about how much they will be charged.

These statistics must be a cause for concern especially when taken together with those of the Law Society which are also quoted in the article – over 17,000 complaints about solicitors in 2005, equivalent to one for every six solicitors practising in England and Wales. This represents a 14% increase from 2002.

It would be wrong to dwell on the specifics of the statistics or to pretend that solicitors are a special case.

Simply stated all ambitious professionals need to be able to differentiate themselves from the competition. One way to do this is to take note of reports such as the one referred to above and to reflect on what typical clients complain about. You then need to ensure that your clients don’t have cause to make such complaints about you.

I would stress however that all of the complaints attributed to the Which? research are communication issues. The solicitors in question may have thought that they gave great service (in the circumstances), that they did listen to their client’s opinion and that they provided as much information as the client wanted about the way they would be charged.

Do you check whether or not your client has understood what you have said? Really? Or do you just ask “is that ok?” without actually checking? Are you sure that your clients have confidence in your ability to provide them with the service they need?

Ambitious professionals cannot afford to assume things about what their clients think or feel. Remember that to assume you know what someone else thinks or means makes an ass out of u and me.

The main focus of the Guardian article is to provide guidance as to how the public can complain about the service/advice they have received from their solicitor. The Guardian article is written by Alan Wilson, who is a senior law lecturer at the University of East London and also a barrister who specialises in consumer law.

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