Don’t invest more time on social media until you have read this

Regular readers will know that I am both very active on social media and highly ranked for my online influence.* Equally you will also know that I do not routinely encourage accountants to use social media for promotional and marketing purposes. And I challenge the evidence and arguments of those who do advocate this – when they do so without plenty of caveats.

For every one accountant I hear about who claims to secure good business through social media there are dozens who tell a different story. Typically they say that social media, for them, is a waste of time. This is no surprise to me as I understand the limitations of social media as well as the opportunities.

My research also shows that most accountants who ARE securing good business from their online activities are actually more reliant on the online business networking site, Linkedin, rather than on one or more ’social media’ platforms.

Let’s clear up a couple of other misconceptions.

Firstly, accountants rarely conclude that any promotional or marketing activity is worthwhile unless it has been well planned and executed. This means, as I have said before, starting by being clear as to your objectives. WHY are you doing any promotion?

There are many possible reasons. But let’s assume that you want more clients.  As I have explained previously, you then need to consider who is your Market, then what is your Message and finally which Media is best to get your Message to your Market? Your choice of media (social or otherwise) should be the last thing you consider, not the starting point.

If you simply post promotional messages on twitter or Facebook, for example, there is no guarantee that these will be seen by your target market.

Secondly, do not be fooled by statistics quoted by so-called experts who tell us how many billions of people use social media. If your target market isn’t using it and won’t see your messages, the general stats are not relevant.

Let’s assume you want to secure a profitable new business client. Are the owners (or FDs or other decision makers) of such clients active on social media? Maybe. Maybe not. They may be active on one platform but not on others. Or they may have delegated their company’s use of social media to a junior person in their marketing team.  Such a person is unlikely to be influential or able to help you to contact or influence the decision maker you hope to meet.

Having debunked some of the misconceptions, let me now offer a more positive slant. Because there are times and ways in which it can be worth accountants trying to use social media for promotion and marketing purposes. It will often be much easier to reach such decision makers via Linkedin for example.

Typically you will find the time and effort you spend on social media is all more worthwhile if you are focused on connecting and engaging with other users who share your interest in a specific sector, community or niche. For example, the owners of start-up businesses, those who operate from the same local area as you or those who share your interest in, say, martial arts.

Let’s now assume that you have done your research and concluded that there are people you wish to target and influence who are actively using a specific social media platform. How might you hope to use that platform productively?  Here are 6 key tips that could make all the difference:

  1. Use the search facility on the platform to find people, groups or discussions that are of interest.
  2. Join relevant groups and join in conversations. Be generous with your knowledge and focus on helping people. Counterintuitively, the less promotional your contributions, the more interest you are likely to attract.
  3. Join in conversations about topics you find interesting and which may help you connect or engage with the people you are targeting.
  4. Identify relevant hashtags and use them in your contributions. Do not overuse them. And never use them until you are confident and comfortable that you know how to do so without undermining your credibility.
  5. When you initiate posts make sure that enough of them are focused on relevant topics, by reference both to your objectives and to the people with whom you hope to engage. But ensure too that you are not so focused you omit to reveal the real you on each ‘social’ media platform.
  6. Identify, follow, engage and/or connect with relevant individuals, personalities, suppliers, customers, and influencers. They may not all be prospective clients (assuming that’s your overall objective) but they will know such people. As such they may be useful introducers and referrers.
*Most recently Sage identified me as one of their top 100 global small business online influencers.
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Where do you want your promotional messages to be seen?

I have referenced what I call the 3Ms of marketing an accountancy practice before. This blog post is related to the third M. That is, which Media should you use to get your chosen Messages to your chosen Market?

The answer to the question depends on where you will find your chosen Market and target audience. When many accountants are asked about this, they have no clear answer. The implicit belief is: “Anywhere and Everywhere”.

If you think this is true for your practice then it doesn’t matter greatly where you promote the practice. Unfocused social media and Linkedin may help (but probably not much). Essentially you’ll try ‘Anything and Everything’. Accountants who adopt this approach are typically the first to say that marketing is a waste of money. Where that’s true is often because it’s unfocused and hasn’t been planned by reference to specific objectives, clear target audiences and distinct messages that resonate with that market.

Let’s move on then to consider 4 other generic answers to the question, Where will you find your chosen Market and target audience?

Immediate vicinity

This is the case, for example, when you have a high street presence and want more passers by to pop in or to remember your details to pass on when they hear someone asking about accountants in the immediate vicinity.

The 3 main options here are: A pavement sign encouraging passers by to pop in, to use the office windows to communicate with them or to have a leaflet stand by the door.

Your local area

I make this point frequently to sole practitioners – and the point is relevant to many 2 or 3 partner firms too. Unless you have some special expertise or sector focus, the vast majority of your new clients will come from the local and surrounding area.  Even if you have clients all over the country, few people who are hundreds of miles away will ever choose you as their accountant over someone more local to them.

Assuming that you want to promote your firm in the local area there are plenty of options available to you including:

Adverts in the local press and magazines, local sponsorship, local networking groups, local radio, local business events and shows and online groups (eg: on facebook and Linkedin) that focus on the local area. Also your Linkedin profile should include your local area in the headline to make sure it stands out when anyone uses Linkedin to look up local accountants.

Nationally

If you really want to promote your firm nationally you might look to focus your promotional activity on National radio, TV,  conferences, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other UK online forums and general social media platforms.  Generic blogging on your website may also reach a National audience if it doesn’t obviously have a local or other relevant focus.

Internationally

International and overseas conferences, overseas based groups, international magazines, facebook, twitter, Linkedin and any other international online forums and general social media platforms.

Specific groups, communities or sectors

In case it’s not clear I would say that this  is most likely to be successful for a local accountancy firm. Especially for those who do not have the opportunity or desire to seek publicity in their immediate vicinity.

By way of examples, you might be focused on lawyers, young entrepreneurs or local property investors.

The key point here is that your focus on a specific group, community or sector enables you to STAND OUT more from the competition.  As a result your publicity is more likely to succeed here than if you adopt an approach that is better suited to larger firms and brands that truly have a National or International focus.

Your publicity should evidence your connection, interest and expertise as appropriate in the specific group, community or sector you have chosen.

The opportunities to secure publicity here are extensive – and much more focused than any of the other options listed above. They include: relevant community or sector focused magazines, news websites, blogs and papers. Also specific focused facebook groups, Linkedin groups, speaking opportunities at events that attract your target audience, sponsorship, relevant networking and business focused events. Also social media and online forums where the use of hashtags or tags enable you to reach your target audience more directly than if you just ‘go random’ (which tends to happen when you seek National and international publicity).

I must offer one important caveat to finish. Overt adverts and promotional messages may appeal to some audiences. In the main however, effective publicity for local accountants can be counter-intuitive, especially when it involves your own blog, social media and articles – effectively anything other than obvious adverts. Everywhere else you typically need to hold back on the overt promotional messages. Instead you are likely to have more success if you focus on offering help and support, sharing useful knowledge and information, tips and tricks.

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When you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes

The longer you spend on social media the more you realise that overt sales and marketing messages do not typically have much positive impact. Posting adverts on social media is a different topic and not the subject of this blog post.

Before I explain how you CAN use social media effectively for promotional purposes, I should clarify a related point. I have long maintained that it’s rarely worthwhile spending time on social media in the hope of finding new clients. I’m never surprised that only a minority of the accountants I speak with talk about having found new clients through social media. For some years I was of the view that many of these clients were relatively new start-up businesses who were attracted to similarly new accountancy firms. If that is what you want then by all means copy what you see other SSMAs (Successful Social Media Accountants) doing.

Times are changing but it remains true that before you try to copy what someone else does you need to decide whether you would be happy with the same results that they secure. And it’s not enough to replicate someone’s style and approach – you might also need to replicate their profile and website messages too. I’m not suggesting you copy these, but do bear in mind that when social media works as a promotional tool it is due to a combination of factors.

My advice to accountants who are keen to secure valuable promotional and marketing benefit from social media is to adopt a local, community or sector specific focus.  Rather than tweeting, posting and engaging with anyone and everyone, be more selective.

There is rarely much point in local accountants building up a follower base spread around the UK or the world, unless such people are genuinely part of your target market for business or influence.  This is not the case for most local accountancy firms. So why seek to boost your follower numbers without giving any consideration to where they are or who they are?  In most cases ‘quality’ should be far more important to you than ‘quantity’. And what will determine who are ‘quality’ followers and connections? It is likely to be because they are involved, connected or interested in the same locality, community or groups as you.

If you want to use social media effectively for promotional purposes you will still need to follow conventional wisdom and avoid too many overtly promotional posts. But, that said, you will invariably be more successful if you adopt a local, community or sector specific focus by:

  • joining relevant facebook (and also Linkedin) groups
  • tweeting, posting and commenting on local, comunity or sector specific topics
  • using popular hashtags that are already being used by others in your area/community/sector
  • including your social media account names on local marketing and promotional materials
  • following, connecting, helping, suppporting and engaging with key individuals, influencers, suppliers, customers and personalities.

Feel free to add any further suggestions or questions you have in the comments box below this post.

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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. Some days of the week may also attract smaller numbers than others (eg: Monday mornings and Friday afternoons). 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 give enough notice when you issue the first invites (a few weeks is better than a few days). You also need 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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Five modern marketing tips for accountants

I was asked yesterday for my top five marketing tips for accountants and I said I thought these would clear on this blog. Except that I then realised that ‘marketing’ is not one of the categories I use on here.

Thinking back that’s because, in my experience, relatively few UK accountancy firms devote much time and effort to marketing per se. And that ‘marketing’ in isolation can be seen as a bit of a turn off by accountants.

Indeed I recall that I consciously excluded ‘marketing’ from the list of key points to be addressed in one of my most popular talks for accountants:
“Make more profits from your smaller clients.” It’s implicit in the heading ‘Easy high impact tax business strategies that really work’. And I certainly cover numerous marketing related points in the talk, but always in context and only after explaining why effective ‘marketing’ is one key way of achieving the desired end. I’ve long adopted a similar approach when mentoring and providing business coaching advice to firms. And I’ve been adopting the same approach on this blog too.  Consistency counts towards credibility I think.

Have attitudes changed significantly in recent years? Remember I’m referring to the thousands of smaller firms of accountants, rather than the bigger firms with their in-house marketing department.

For what it’s worth I’ve drawn together five key marketing tips that were not described as such in the original posts on this blog:

1 – Ensure that your website homepage is focused on your target audiences.

It needs to contain key words that they are searching for, distinguish you from the other accountants and incorporate at least simple SEO so that your website appears in search results when people look for an accountant in your area.

2 – Identify what makes you/your firm special and different

Don’t rely on your personal charm and personality to secure new clients. Even if that works generally it needs to be supplemented in your marketing materials by effective marketing messages.

3 – Ensure that you and your staff are all focused on quality client service

Many accountants claim that they secure the majority of their new clients through  word of mouth referrals.  But few accountants have a structured approach to securing those referrals. The starting point MUST be to focus on client service. They key here though is to ensure that you see it from your clients’ perspective. That’s what counts. Not how hard you try. Not how hard you work. But how delighted your clients are with the outcome of your efforts, work and advice.

4 – Implement a referral marketing programme

Ensure that you ask clients and contacts for referrals at the right time, in the right way and to secure the right type of new clients.

5 – Focus your marketing efforts where they will generate maximum return

It’s generally accepted that it is easier to secure additional fees by providing further services to existing clients than from strangers (new clients). Identify your top clients, the ‘A team’. Use your own criteria, be they aggregate fees, potential for advisory work,  wealth, or whatever you think makes most sense to you. Then look to identify the additional services and advisory topics that could be relevant to the ‘A team’. In this connection, if you need support on the tax side then of course don’t forget the Tax Advice Network!

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