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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What happened after I told an accountant he didn’t need a website

In this blog post I will explain the reasons I advised an accountant that he did not need a website in January 2018 and also how I would adapt this advice going forwards.

I initially wrote about this on Linkedin and sought feedback there. Within days that post secured over 24,000 views as well as dozens of likes and comments.

Many people agreed with me but even more people disagreed, although their logic didn’t always stack up. A couple of people however then added a new perspective and made me think again. Read on and let me know what you think.

Background

It was when I was chatting with an accountant in his late 60s recently that I advised him to ignore all the people telling him he needs a website.

He had been badgered by marketing experts, website designers, SEO consultants and accountancy gurus, all of whom have said he must get a website. I disagreed. And he was pleased to hear my reasoning, with which he agreed.

This accountant had taken up a recent invitation I sent him to book a call with me to get some unbiased input on a topic of his choice to help him in his practice. (Normally I call accountants on spec but I don’t do that in January!)

When he called we chatted for a couple of minutes and I then asked him to tell me what was on his mind. This led to him explaining how he had built his practice, what sort of work he enjoys doing and what sort of new clients he now wants. I offered some positive suggestions and advice as regards his main issue before the subject of his website came up.

He said that he has never had a website and that he only wants more clients like those he has and who are referred by clients or people he knows.

He isn’t looking to pick up lots of new clients. He barely has time to deal with all those he has and anticipates encouraging some of the smaller ones to move elsewhere. As regards new clients he doesn’t want to take on any start ups or to work for anyone who is searching randomly online for an accountant.

He is widowed and doesn’t intend to retire or to sell his practice but to keep going until he is no longer able to do so.

My advice

I suggested that some of the best people referred to him may not get in touch if they can’t find out ANYTHING about him online. This is one reason everyone has been suggesting he needs a website.

However my advice was that he doesn’t need a website. Instead he should simply update his Linkedin profile and add a profile photo to it.

In my view, if he does that well enough, it will be sufficient. The important point is to allow people who are referred to him to see that he has the skills, experience and approach that they seek and that he is the sort of person they would like to work with. In effect, for the recommendation they have received to be endorsed and confirmed.

Support

Among those people on Linkedin who agreed with the basic rationale for my advice, some neat refinements were suggested. Someone also pointed out that a Linkedin profile is akin to having a website with amazing built in SEO – it’s just hosted on a LinkedIn URL rather than a WordPress URL or a custom domain.

Missing the point

Dozens of people on Linkedin suggested that a website is crucial for him to be found on google, to appear in online search results, to evidence his credibility, to build up his practice, to show he is a 21st century accountant and to show that he has an established and substantial practice.

They had all missed the fact that he is in his late 60s and already has a good strong practice. He doesn’t want to be found by people searching for An accountant. Only by those who know of him already.

He only wants to take on a few new clients a year and can afford to be very choosy. He chooses to only consider those who are referred directly to him. To date the absence of a website doesn’t seem to have stopped any such referrals getting in touch with him.

Some people also seemed unaware that the search engines will find and display your Linkedin profile to anyone who searches for you even if they are not themselves on Linkedin. And you can decide how much of your profile is visible to the (non-Linkedin) ‘public’. Generally I suggest making everything public.

A different point of view

A couple of people commenting on the Linkedin post made very valid alternative observations.

Relying solely on LinkedIn and not having his own website means my accountant friend is not in control of a key element of his business.

If Linkedin block him or remove his profile by mistake (or for any other reason) he would no longer be findable online. This could happen, for example, if someone with the same or a similar name does something wrong. Or, less likely, if Linkedin change their entire business model.

He also has no way of knowing how much business he is losing by not having a website. Various reports suggest that a significant majority of all buying decisions are now made online. A lack of a website is seen as a key indicator in trust reduction.

He may get all the business he wants without a website, but with one he could get more and better quality business leading to higher profits.  Perhaps the best of the prospects referred to him would not be satisfied by a Linkedin profile rather than a website?

Refinements

I have supplemented my advice by encouraging the accountant to acquire a domain name related to his practice (eg: JonesAccountants.co.uk) and to initially direct this to his Linkedin profile.

At a later date he could create a simple one page website that contains basic information and makes clear both who he would like and who he would NOT be interested in as clients. That webpage could also link through to his Linkedin profile rather than replicate the information.

He could also add a company page to Linkedin with brief details of his practice and his firm’s logo – which will then also show on his personal profile.

By the way, if he ever has to look at selling the practice it would be good if his firm had its own website that would move with the clients to the purchaser.

For the moment he is in a similar place to loads of mature accountants I know who are frustrated that the likely ROI following sale isn’t high enough to justify a sale in the first place. As such their preferred approach is to continue working (reduced hours often) until they can no longer do so. The prospect of MTD is forcing some to reach that conclusion sooner than they hoped – as they don’t relish the idea of adapting to the quarterly reporting regime.

What’s your reaction to my advice here?

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Lessons for accountants from….. a childrens’ party entertainer

As a teenager, before I started studying to become an accountant, I was a children’s party entertainer – and I continued doing this for about 25 years. When I look back I realise that I quickly learned 2 lessons that now, many years later, inform my thinking and advice to accountants.

Specialisation

I was only available to perform at the weekends and I wanted to enjoy myself. That meant focusing my attention on the children most likely to enjoy my magic shows and to respond positively to my tricks, jokes and games etc. I had come to the conclusion that 2 and 3 year olds were too young to really appreciate the magic. To them, so I felt, life itself is magic. And once the children were over 7 I felt they were too bright and more likely to challenge my presentations.

So, after a few years of learning the ropes I made clear on my business cards and yellow pages adverts(!) that ‘Marks Magic’ offered “Specialised Childrens’ Party Entertainment for 4-7 year olds”. I remember that, soon after the first such advert appeared, the number of enquiries I received each week INCREASED and I was fully booked almost every weekend.

Looking back I realise this was because parents liked the idea of engaging a specialist, someone focused on entertaining children of a certain age and someone who didn’t attempt to be all things to all people/children. By definition I wasn’t doing babyish magic or anything too sophisticated.

This lesson translates across to accountants. If you are seeking more clients you will often find it easier to attract them if prospects see you as a specialist in helping people like them, rather than ‘just another accountant’ who attempts to help anyone with everything.

Pricing

When I quoted a fee for my first booking at a childrens party in the 1970s(!) I asked for 25p per hour, before I realised that the party would only be 3 hours long. I quickly realised that the mother of the child wasn’t interested in my time as such. She was only interested in having her needs met: For the duration of the party the children should be occupied, entertained, happy and safe.  She offered me a simple fixed fee of £1 for the afternoon.

Thereafter I always quoted a simple fixed fee for each party – with every element of my service fully covered by the fee.  My ‘specialisation’ helped here as did my confidence. At some point I also learned to ask the person who called (typically the mother) what she wanted from an entertainer.  The answers were all pretty similar, but the fact I asked, rather than assumed, helped me stand out. I empathised and reflected back my understanding of the mother’s objectives. Where appropriate I referenced other parties where the parents had thanked me for doing much the same as this mother was requesting. And I won almost every booking enquiry I received.

Again, this lesson translates across to accountants who charge fees for the time they spend on a client’s affairs. Few clients care how long it takes you to do their work. They are not interested in your time as such. What they want is the output that they get – the accounts, tax returns, estimates of tax payable, the peace of mind you provide as well as the confidence and trust you encourage that your advice pays for itself and that they will get what they want.

Quoting and negotiating fees with prospects is a perennial issue for accountants and one that I often address during mentoring sessions, The Inner Circle and the Sole Practitioners’ Breakthrough Programme.

 

 

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Can accountants ‘close the sale’ effectively?

What does ‘closing the sale’ mean in the context of accountancy services?

None of us like to think that we are in ‘sales’, so perish the thought that we might ever come across as a pushy sales person.

In our world I suggest that ‘closing the sale’ means advancing the sales process to secure absolute confirmation from the prospective client that they are appointing you as their new accountant. This isn’t when they first agree to do do so – it’s when they sign your letter of engagement and confirm payment of your fees. Until that point the ‘sale’ has not been completed or ‘closed’.

Every time you have a conversation with a prospective client you need to ensure that you are both clear as to what happens next. Will you send some information? Will they visit the FAQs or testimonials page of your website? When will you speak again?

Equally it is during preliminary conversations that you will want to help the prospect to realise why they should appoint you rather than any other accountant.

Helping them does not mean being pushy like someone selling double-glazing. But you cannot help them to understand why they should appoint you until you know sufficient information about them – which means starting by asking the right type of questions and listening to their replies.

If you ask good questions in this regard you will be able to remove any obstacles that are preventing the prospect from saying ‘yes’.

When I think about the times I’ve felt uncomfortable when someone tried to sell me something, it was always when they had no idea what I was looking for or what I needed.

They never asked me any questions or listened to what I was saying. Instead they just launched into explaining the features of their particular product or service. And quoted their standard fees. Take it or leave it. This is rarely an effective route to securing more of the clients you want for your practice.

You must connect with your prospect, asking them what they are looking for, how you might help them, and what they might have in mind.

Taking the time (and the opportunity) to really get to know your prospect, find out what makes them tick, what they might be struggling with and what might solve their problem, are the first keys to successfully closing of a sale.

There’s a lot more to closing the sale of course and to resolving any push-backs you might get from prospects who are not sure. Getting clarity as to the real reasons they are holding back is crucial here.

And PLEASE, PLEASE, do not assume it is all about the fee you quote. If you believe that this is all that matters you have bigger problems than learning how to ‘close the sale’.

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Debunked: The one thing you must do….

A popular approach to getting your attention (and often your money) is to instruct you that there is ‘one thing’ you must do.

What do they say?

Many journalists, consultants and sales people assert that there is just ‘one thing’ you must do to remain in practice, to generate new clients, to increase your fees or to achieve your heart’s desire.

Is it ever true? Rarely in my experience. This means that I inevitably then start to question the credibility of those who make such statements. If they can make such nonsense claims up front, why should I believe what else they recommend – whether it’s their own product/services or other actions I should take?

My view

I first started to learn about and apply marketing and sale techniques in the mid 1990s. Then in 2006 I became an independent speaker, mentor and consultant – since when I have learned more than ever before. I’ve read hundreds of websites, white papers and books, watched many dozens of videos and attended goodness knows how many training courses and conference sessions. I continue to research and discuss related topics with experts and speakers every month (if not every week!) And all this time I’ve been working with accountants helping them to be more successful in practice.

So I can fairly confidently say that, in my experience, there is no ‘one best way’ to win clients or to become successful, that you MUST use.
There are no magic solutions that work for every accountant, no matter what some so-called experts say.

Examples

I have seen and worked with enough successful accountants over the years, and especially recently, to be able to say with absolute confidence that they achieved that success without worrying about doing any one or more of the following to achieve their objectives:

  • Create facebook ads to send prospects to an automated webinar and a sales, ahem, strategy call to win clients;
  • A fancy elevator pitch that somehow compels clients to hire the accountant the instant they hear it;
  • An expensive flashy website;
  • A personalised or custom built app;
  • A distinct digital marketing strategy (It’s just part of the marketing mix);
  • Blog regularly or pay someone else to do this for them;
  • Enter local business or sector awards;
  • Send out regular emails filled with manufactured controversy to try to create the impression the accountant has a distinct personality;
  • Badger people with Linkedin messages ‘adding value’ they didn’t ask for or pestering them to get on a call with the accountant or join the group set up to market to them with;
  • Become active on social media to show that the accountant is modern and regardless of who they are really trying to influence;
  • Become a recognised expert and hope that somehow clients will flock to the accountant’s door to benefit from their expertise.

I’m exaggerating for effect of course. All of these things work for some accountants. Typically only AFTER they have undertaken significant preparatory work as to their target market place.

The key point

The key point is that you don’t NEED to do all or any of these things.

There is no ‘one best way’ you must pursue. Only what works for you. That may be the same as works for other practices similar to yours, or it may be quite different because YOU are different, your practice is different, your style and approach to business is different and your target clients are different.

In my experience the only real commonalities across all accountants in practice are the outputs of your service ie: the accounts and the tax returns.

Why do people talk about the ‘one way’?

I think there are 5 reasons why so many people tell you there is ‘one best way’ to achieve your objectives:

  1. They have seen other people they admire adopt this approach. “If it works for them, it will help you generate business too” – This ignores the fact that your practice, prospects and approach to business might be quite different;
  2. It is often self-interest. The ‘one best way’ is what they want to sell to you;
  3. They assume that you have done some crucial background research, specific to your practice, that might warrant such a course of action;
  4. It could be evidencing their limited experience. That ‘one way’ is simply something that worked for them; or
  5. It is the only way they were taught on a course and they are unaware of other options and alternative approaches.

Most of the accountants I speak with are almost as cynical of such assertions as am I. All of us with a degree of real life experience know that there’s always more than one way to do things.

And when it comes to being more a more successful accountant, the key is to find a way that works for you and matches your skills and preferences. It needs to be appropriate for your approach to business, your target clients and your objectives.

What you MUST do 😉

Of course, there are some things you MUST do if you want to speed up the process of achieving more success in your practice:

  • You must figure out what you’re great at and that clients value;
  • You must find a way to connect with those clients that allow you to add value to them;
  • You must show up on a regular basis in their lives to add more value, build credibility and establish trust; and
  • You must recognise that YOU need to be able to ‘close’ the deal to bring in new clients, regardless of which marketing and promotion activities you adopt.

There are lots of different ways you can do each of these things.

All of the ‘one best way’ methods work for someone. The trick is to find what works best for you and that you’ll actually do.

The ‘one thing’ I can promise you is that if you take no action and continue doing what you’ve always done, simply wishing things were different will not change anything.

If you’d like to discuss how I might be able to help you, please get in touch and let’s have a chat>>>

With credit and thanks to Ian Brodie whose recent email inspired this blog post.

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Has your practice plateaued?

My conversations with sole practitioner accountants over the years suggest that many are happy enough once their business has plateaued.

‘Happy enough’ is hardly an enthusiastic summation of how things are going. It suggests a degree of reluctant acceptance. The underlying message perhaps is that things could be better but the accountant is used to things as they are. It’s not so bad that it’s worth reviewing what could be different as there is a concern that this will highlight issues best left hidden. Or that any change will involve more hassle and fuss than seems worth the effort.

I have encountered this view many times over the years.  It becomes a particular challenge when retirement looms – and when the accountant realises that no one will pay a sufficient sum for the practice as things stand.  In recent times it is becoming the norm for higher prices to be paid only for those firms with well established systems and processes. IT takes more than few months to transition an old style practice into a new one pre-sale.

In 2006, when I first started this blog, I said it was for Ambitious Accountants as I thought it was a good title. I thought it would help to distinguish those who wanted to move their practices on from those who were happy with the status quo.  I dropped that title though when I learned that many, many smaller firms of accountants are not ambitious – nor do they need to be, if the owner is  generating a good enough living, without working crazy hours, and is only doing work they enjoy, for clients who appreciate it, and who pay decent fees without a fuss.

In practice many sole practitioners settle for much less than this. They work long hours, do too much work they don’t enjoy, hang onto legacy clients who won’t pay decent fees and feel under constant pressure to get everything done. There’s no time to review how they run the practice or to take steps to change things. “What will be, will be. I’ll cope, just as I have always done.”

I hear about these frustrations in running a small accountancy practice all the time and it’s not getting any easier. There are a number of new factors that will have an impact in the near future – even though none of them will have an overnight effect:

– new and more aggressive competition;

– recent and prospective changes in the tax regime that will impact the way that accountants work;

– the increasing interest in cloud accounting solutions and the extent to which these will change the accountants’ role;

– the introduction of MTD; and

– other developments and pressures that will change clients’ perceptions and needs.

Sole practitioners have long heard and ignored the predictions of change that will adversely affect their practices. I have long maintained that these predictions forecast a future that will  reveal itself over an extended period. There hasn’t and won’t be an overnight revolution. Many of the forthcoming changes will hit larger firms before the smaller firms are affected. Smaller firms can adapt faster as and will do so only when it becomes necessary to do so.

Having said that, many accountants in smaller firms do want to increase profits, reduce the time and hassle of running their practice and, the older ones, also want to ensure they are well set up for their retirement.

How about you? Has your practice plateaued? Do you want to take control, or just let events take their course? One starting point could be the Successful Practice Programme – a low cost series of weekly emails designed to help you move things along so that you are comfortable you are running a successful practice. Full details here >>>

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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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A quick five point plan to secure more referrals for your accountancy practice

So many accountants tell me that most of their new clients come from word of mouth and client referrals. In most cases however this seems to be a function of luck rather than planned in any way.
Have you ever thought about how you could make it easier for your contacts to know who would make a good referral for you? And to encourage such referrals rather than simply waiting and hoping they will make such referrals?
Here is a quick 5 point plan that could help you in this regard:
  1. Identify just ten people (your Target Ten) who might know people who could be ideal referrals for you.  Your Target Ten might include some good clients, lawyers, bankers or other professionals with whom you have worked and established a mutually trusting relationship.
  2. Clarify what you would want your Target Ten to say when they are making referrals to you.  You may intend to make different requests of each of your Target Ten. In each case, think about ONE person (or type of person) not a shopping list of possibilities.  You will invariably get more specific and valuable referrals if you are specific.
  3. Craft a couple of stories about similar clients you have helped and how they felt about your service etc. Your Target Ten will find it easier to recall your request if they can link this to a story. Use the RUBIK acronym to check whether your story/request is likely to help generate referrals.
  4. Talk with your Target Ten to find out what you could do to help them. Yes, that’s right. BEFORE you ask for referrals, ask what you can do to help and then do it! Many of the people you offer to help will then ask you what they could do to help you. That’s when you share the information you noted down at steps 2 and 3.
  5. Keep the promises you make to help your Target Ten. After all, if you don’t keep your promises you can hardly expect others to do so either.

I should add what may be surprising news for you. No one really cares what you do as an accountant. What they care about is what you can do for them or for the people they know. Most of us find it easier to remember stories rather than bare facts. Telling stories about our clients (whilst retaining their confidence of course) can make it a lot easier to secure more of the referrals you would like.

The alternative is that you continue to secure only the same old random referrals – some of which are time wasters and some of which are wholly unsuitable for the practice you are seeking to build.

Do let me know how you get on with your Target Ten and how many ideal referrals follow from you following this process.
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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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