What makes an effective business card for ambitious accountants?

Over the years I have collected thousands of business cards. Most of them are almost indistinguishable from each other, even though the people handing them to me operate in a variety of professions. Some people underestimate the value of an effective business card. It should be an effective marketing tool, a way to be remembered, to be contacted and to help you stand out from all of the other accountants that your contacts and clients meet.

Other than those accountants who run their own practice/business most accountants don’t get to choose the look or style of their business card. Equally many accontants who do make decisions about such things may lack the resources to find out what approach is most effective.

Take a random batch of. say, 64 business cards you have collected from other accountants and arrange them in an 8×8 square on your desk. Which ones stand out? I’ll bet it’s none of the plain black print on white card ones; Do you want yours to stand out? If not, why not? If yes, ‘how much’? It can be counter-productive to have a card that makes people want to avoid you. But would you like them to show your card to others – because it’s different/better?

If you are in a position to influence such things here are seven top tips for the design of business cards. Some you may think are obvious. Others less so but all are a reflection of business cards I have seen;

1 – Think about what they are for and where/when they will be used. In many cases they will be received by other professionals, bankers and hundreds of people who will have only the card as a means to remember you. Will it be sufficient to enable them to recall who you were out of the hundreds of other people they have met? My card has a photo (head shot) of me on it – as I appreciate that people might not otherwise remember who Mark Lee is;

2 – Ensure the typeface/font size of the print is readable. There is no point squeezing loads of infomation onto your business card if no one is going to be able to read it;

3 – Ensure your card is of a professional weight. That’s a minimum of 335 gms. Many are 400 gms. You know how awful it is to get a ‘wet fish’ handshake? It’s the same with flimsy business cards. Your credibility is immediately lessened;

4 – Distinguish your personal contact details from the main business details of your practice. Don’t mix them up as this only serves to confuse. Your personal contact details will include your direct dial and mobile numbers as well as your email address. Some people deliberately exclude their direct dial or mobile numbers from the face of the card and add them on manually when giving the card to ‘special’ contacts. What you say in such situations will be crucial;

5 – If you are going to use both sides of the card do ensure that you leave room for the recipient of your card to make some notes on it somewhere. And ensure that any lamination doesn’t preclude such a sensible follow up activity. I know I’m not the only person to always note the date that I met the person and where we were. If there’s room I’ll also often add a note of what we talked about or any follow up actions I have promised.

6 – Your card should reflect your image. Few accountants will be comfortable with the same style of card as would an artist or graphic designer. Some larger firms have introduced ‘modern’ cards that the older members are evidently apologetic about or embarrassed to pass out when they meet people. If ‘modern’ isn’t your style then don’t try to pretend it is. Not everyone wants a ‘modern’ accountant. But they all want someone they can trust and who isn’t trying to be someone or something they are not;

7 – If you want to stand out from the crowd ensure that your business card contains sufficient information about what you or your firm does. Are you ‘just’ “Chartered Accountants’? Do you want people to remember what you do or what qualification you have?

Do you have any other valuable ideas or suggestions? Please add them by of comments to this blog.

Yes – I have taken my own advice although I’m not in practice as an accountant. My business card reinforces my online branding. It’s a bookmark (!) and contains my photo and has the same colouring as the banner at the top of this blog. There is also room for notes. If you’d like to see one just send me an email and provide your postal address. Mark(@)BookMarkLee.(co.uk) – remove the brackets which are just there to stop spam.

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Great questions (part one)

Many ambitious professionals welcome the opportunity to expand their thinking and to benefit from identifying new ideas all by themselves.  You will also find that you can STAND OUT from your peers in a positive way by reflecting on key questions and then answering them honestly.

Here are some great questions I’ve benefited from in the past:

  •  What’s stopping you?
  • Where would you like to be in [5] years time AND what achievements would you want to look back on?
  • How important is this going to be in a year’s time?
  • What’s keeping you awake at night?
  • What would it take, specifically, to move forwards?
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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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