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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Should I focus on my logo or my face?

Few of us have such a clever brand that we can rely on this or even a logo to secure business.

A brand takes time to establish. A logo may attract interest. But ultimately it is you who will need to engage prospects and win the business for your accountancy practice.

Your photo, personality and personal style are key here.

Most people choose to engage you, or choose not to engage you, as a person, almost regardless of your firm’s branding.

This is why I think it is so important to show who you are on your website and on your social media profiles.

Does your website include:

  • your name,
  • an appropriate, up to date and recognisable photo of you, and
  • talk a little about you?

Does it help visitors to think – yes, I’d like to talk with this person?  Or do you make that most common of mistakes among small accountancy firms: Having an ‘About us’ page that tells people nothing about YOU at all?

A related point is to then make it easy for prospects to get in touch with you. Do you do this or do you just have a generic info@ or admin@ email address on your website?

Why hide who you are? Are your ideal prospects more likely to get in touch and call a generic office number or to try to make contact with a specific person (you)?

Some accountants, typically sole practitioners, start out using their website to imply that their business is more than just them. If you don’t work alone you can include reference to the team on your website. But if it is just you, then referencing a non-existent ‘team’ and pretending to be bigger than you are could damage your credibility. This happens when people find out there’s no substance to your implied assertions that your business is bigger than is actually the case. If you’ve lied about that, can your advice be trusted?

Big brands secure business through the reputation and longevity implied by their well known logos. This isn’t the case for small firms of accountants. And there isn’t enough real upside of building up name awareness of your brand and logo. Much better to show who you are and to ensure you are recognisable when you attend a meeting or event.

Similar points apply to your Linkedin and twitter profiles. Make sure again that there is a recognisable and appropriate photo of you on your profile page rather than just your business logo. On Linkedin and Facebook you can set up separate business pages. Your personal profiles can link to them.

Also, as I always say, Linkedin is an online business network. It’s all about connecting business people, so your logo is not a good substitute for a headshot.

You could have a separate twitter account for your practice – but that would be a waste of time and energy. Instead I strongly urge you to again use your photo and your name rather than your firm’s name or brand. If you already tweet using your business name do at least include your name on your twitter account. This makes it much easier for users to engage with you and more likely that you will attract relevant followers and ‘conversations’. It’s much harder to do this with a ‘corporate’ account than with a personal one. And you can’t expect everyone to check out your ‘business’ twitter profile so they may never notice your name is there.

Back to the question in the title of this blog post. I trust the answer is now obvious?

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“None of my clients want anything more than the basics”

Unlike some commentators, I entirely accept that many accountants have some clients who want nothing more than a basic compliance service.  And that you get very frustrated to be told by consultants that you should offer your clients advisory services. After all,  you know your clients don’t want, cannot afford and will not value such advisory services.

Assuming that to be the case you have a choice. Either:

  1. Accept that over time you MAY struggle to replace the odd client who leaves, dies or retires. Again, I doubt anything will change overnight, so much depends on how much longer you plan to be in practice; or
  2. Start to offer relevant advisory services to those of your clients who might actually appreciate it and be able to afford the additional fees; or
  3. Look to attract new clients who are not the same as your existing clients and who do value advisory services.

Or of course, you could also pursue a combination of the 3 choices.

One of the accountants I work with started by telling me about the problems he was having with many of his clients.

“They’re all legacy clients, have been with me for years and I know they don’t want advice and won’t pay higher fees.”

I asked if he was sure this applied to ALL of his clients. He wasn’t sure. When we talked he realised that he had won a good few new clients in the last couple of years and hadn’t yet explored whether they would be willing pay for commercial business advice. In effect he was still operating like a start-up practice and wasn’t adapting his service to reflect his wider experience and desire to earn higher fees. I shared some tips and tricks he could use to move things forward. And we now speak regularly as he find s this a helpful incentive and support mechanism.

Another accountant (who I don’t work with) approached me as he wanted to increase his fees and offer more business advice to his clients. He then added:

“None of my clients want anything more than the basics”.

He assured me that all of his clients were tight on fees, had pretty simple affairs and earned too little to afford or warrant business advice. He was adamant that nothing I did with other accountants was relevant or would work for him.

I apologised that I could not just wave a magic wand and change his clients’ attitudes. If he knows – with certainty – that none are capable or willing to pay more, then nothing I or anyone else can do will change things. If he wants the profile of his clients to change he will need to take action himself to attract and then bring on board some new clients. He didn’t want to do this.

I sympathised with his position and let him go off to find someone with more patience who would persuade him to change his attitude and approach. I prefer to work with accountants who are prepared to take my advice.  I choose who I work with. As can you.

In an ideal world I wouldn’t have to continually seek out new clients. But I accept this as a necessity given that I want to earn a decent living from my work with accountants. I also only want to work with accountants I like (and who like me).  You can make a similar choice. It’s easier if you are clear what this means and if you make it easy for clients to tell whether you are the right sort of accountant for them.

Do think about what decisions and actions you could take to make sure you’re living in a world with great clients that are a pleasure to work with.

 One action you could take is to develop  your ‘lead generation’ skills. This will mean you have a steady flow of good new prospects approaching you to act for them.  

If you’re in a lead desert with very few leads, you basically have to work with whoever you can get. And, as you’ve seen to date, that means you end up with low fee paying clients who don’t want to pay you for advice they don’t value..

If you have a surplus of leads, and significantly more potential clients than you could work with, then you get to pick and choose. You can focus on clients who are the very best fit for you and who you’re going to enjoy working with.

Simple in theory. But generating lots of high quality leads isn’t easy. For many accountants it’s the hardest part of marketing. That’s why they end up desperately negotiating and bargaining with the few leads they have to persuade them to become clients.

I address these and related points in my emails, webinars and round table groups. And in my blog posts too 😉

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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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This is the problem for medium sized firms of accountants

This blog post was prompted by a tweet. It was posted by a top 30 firm of accountants:

“Are you aware of the range of services we provide? We do more than just a set of books at year end. Take a look”

There was then a link to a page on their website which described all the services the firm offers. It was pretty generic and almost identical to the list you’d find on almost all medium sized firms’ websites.

And that’s part of the problem for firms like this.

They have to allow for the variations in style, approach and service provided by so many people within the firm. As result the overall service promises are bland and interchangeable. Of course they are.

Each medium sized firm’s name and branding only takes them so far.

Their ideal clients will shortlist a number of firms as advisers. I’ve done it myself in recent years when seeking new accountants for a charity and for a members’ club. The first time I did this from the client side I realised how much it’s down to the individual partners to impress at pitch meetings. They need to evidence their teamwork – beyond bland assertions. And they need to distinguish their service offerings from their competitors. And yet – how different can they really be?

What makes the difference when it comes to choosing one firm over another? The people are often interchangeable. This is evident from the way so many people move between firms. There is even more movement and poaching of partners from firm to firm now than there was when I was in practice.

So is it the firms that are really different or just their branding and marketing? Most often it is only the latter. Is that enough? I think not.

What also struck me about the services on the web page referenced by the tweet was that the list started with a reference to ‘auditing’. Given that most companies with a turnover below £10million no longer need an audit it seemed an odd service to highlight to visitors from the firm’s twitter account. I doubt many CFOs or major shareholders of substantial corporates are following the account. So talking about auditing will have been irrelevant (and thus a turn off) for the majority of those who might see the webpage.

Ok. Maybe that simply highlights an overly ambitious social media manager. It’s all too common to see accountancy firms tweeting to a non-existent audience. I’ve addressed this topic before on my blog so won’t say more today.

My final observation by reference to the tweet concerns the language used on the webpage. It’s really jargon heavy. I don’t consider myself a marketing or copywriting guru. But I do recognise when language isn’t appropriate for the target audience. That page is written for accountants rather than in language that will resonate with clients. Again, this is a common mistake made by accountancy firms – of all sizes.

If I’m generous perhaps the tweet and the webpage are actually intended to support the firm’s recruitment effort. In which case well done to those involved. But this doesn’t change the main point I am making here.

The problem for medium sized firms is that they rarely offer a compelling reason for smaller growing businesses to engage them. Unless the individual partners have built solid reputations and followings. And cost conscious business clients are increasingly aware that larger firms charge higher fees than smaller firms. Yet the medium sized firm offer pretty much the same service as smaller firms. So why go to a larger (medium sized) firm and pay higher fees?

The standard reply to that question is that ‘our firm offers a wider range of services. All available under one roof.’ Ok. But how does that benefit me as the client? Especially if I have to pay higher fees for the basic services I need every year?

I first referenced this challenge in a blog post in July 2010: No long-term future for ‘halfway house firms of accountants’. This was a term I used to reference the same medium sized firms that I am referencing in this blog post. In 2010 I said:

“They are constantly fighting to become more efficient so as to reduce costs and maintain, let alone, improve profit per partner.”

“The only mid tier firms that will survive and thrive are those with clearly defined niches. By this I mean those that are known for having an area of expertise that makes them really stand out from the pack. They recruit staff and partners specifically to bolster this expertise and they don’t waste time and money trying to be all things to all people. And these firms will only survive as regards those specialist areas. The more generic areas of their practices will shrink as partners retire or leave to go to smaller firms with lower overheads and potentially higher profits per partner. The smaller firms will often be less pressurised environments too – especially if they stick to clearly defined, promoted and valued niche”.

“Those mid-tier firms that have no such recognised niche expertise will face increased pressure from the egg-timer squeeze of both the largest firms and of the smaller more focused and cost-effective firms. The larger ones are perceived as having more credibility for the provision of a wider range of services – when these are needed and valued. The smaller ones are able to provide compliance, advisory and special services more cost effectively.”

Since writing that blog post we have seen a further merging of medium sized firms. This will continue to happen, I suggest, at a faster pace over the next ten years.

There aren’t enough larger clients to go round. Medium sized firms of accountants have many smaller clients too. Clients who don’t need access to a wider range of services and who would typically be more profitable if their accountancy fees were lower each year.

The problem for medium sized firms is that they have to charge higher fees than smaller practices. And plenty of consultants are encouraging them to charge ever-higher fees too. I believe that a sizeable majority of clients of the medium sized firms do not secure enough additional benefits to justify paying higher fees than are charged by sole practitioners.

Over time the smaller clients drift away from the larger (medium sized) firms. This is evident from the number of established businesses that move to my clients – savvy sole practitioner accountants. They are able to provide more advice and to spend time with clients without being pressured to increase their billable time or to leave clients in the hands of managers.

The survival strategy for larger firms invariably involves merger and hope. And yet this only defers the inevitable.

A future in which there are fewer medium sized firms and more small firms and sole practitioners providing more cost effective and genuinely personal services to the majority of small businesses in the UK.

This all helps explain why I specialise in advising sole practitioner accountants.

I’ll happily speak at conferences and events run by larger firms. When I do that though my focus is generally on the individual partners and senior staff. I don’t advise firms on what they can or should be doing (other than re social media strategy where I do have a bit of a reputation in this regard). Many more medium sized firms will merge or break-up over the next ten years in my view.

So I address the individuals in the firms as ultimately it is them, their reputations and their expertise that clients need to buy. Backed up by the firms’ branding.

This is the real challenge for medium sized firms – they need to invest (even) more in making sure their people stand out from their peers and competitors. And yet, as partners build their reputation, credibility and following, so they become better placed to leave the firm and to take ‘their’ clients with them. And the more attractive becomes this prospect when coupled with the prospect of lower overheads, less firm politics and increased rewards. And fewer generic tweets about the generic services available from another medium sized firm.

 

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Have you checked your KDIs?

One of the reasons I do what I do is to help accountants win more clients. And one of the ways you can do this is to identify what makes you different to the competition. Yes, the raw service you provide may be the same but this is only part of the story.

Every accountant I have met is different. An individual. We all have different experiences, backgrounds and attitudes. These combine to ensure that clients will get a different service dependent on which accountant they appoint. If this was not the case, clients would never move from one accountant to another other than due to fee issues.  And yet clients do move for other reasons.

During many of my talks and when I’m working with savvy sole practitioners I make the point that most clients want more than just an annual set of accounts and tax return. They also want advice on how to keep their tax bills down, how much tax to pay and to know when it be due. Clients in business often also want business focused advice. Not everyone will pay for this. But that’s a separate issue.

The fact is that every accountant will deliver their advice differently. We all have our own opinions borne of our past experiences. And there are many different ways of providing (and billing) for advice.

This all brings me back to the main point for this blog post. KDI stands for Key Difference Indicators. We’re all familiar with the idea of KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. My aim by referencing KDIs is to encourage accountants to think about what makes them Different to other accountants and then to focus on their KDIs. And, let me stress, I intend KDIs to be identified for individual accountants, not for accountancy firms.  There is quite enough nonsense talked about USPs – as I have highlighted on this blog previously. For example: Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants.

By choosing a different set of initials I hope to highlight the benefits of focusing on what makes you (personally) different to other accountants. Yes, this is a variation on my recurring theme of STANDING OUT from your competitors and peers. Normally when I reference this point it is in the context of being better remembered, referred and recommended.

You can use your KDIs however to boost your self confidence when advising clients. And when setting your fee rates. There is no single going rate for most of the work you do. Your approach and your fees are a function of your KDIs.  Have you checked yours?

 

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Does your website stand out in the wrong ways?

I heard Graham Jones speak at a business event recently. Graham is an internet psychologist and frequently shares unexpected but valid insights about how how people use the web.

On this occasion he was talking about websites and he explained, with good examples, why it can be a mistake if your website stands out too much. There are lesson here for accountants of course.

Graham has since shared a summary of key elements from his talk in his email newsletter. I quote from this below.

Graham explains that:

“People have pre-set ideas as to what they expect to see when they land on a site. Neurological studies show that if people don’t see what they are expecting in less than one second, these visitors disappear, bouncing out of the site, looking for something else”.

He gave an example of a bride looking for a wedding venue:

“If she lands on a hotel website and the images are all of business people in suits, she instantly thinks “this is not the hotel for me”, even if the venue does offer weddings. The bride expects to see images of people like herself, instantly. If she doesn’t see them in half a second, she perceives that the site is not for her, even before she has started to explore it.”

Another example he gave was of a garden centre website that was told it needed to look different to all the others so that it “stood out”:

“Their web designers told them that almost every garden centre website used green as its principle colour. So to stand out from the crowd, the developers suggested pink. The garden centre site was transformed, but sales plummeted. Why? Because the bounce rate rocketed, as people do not associate pink with gardening. People expect a website that is focused on gardening to have a lot of green in it. When they don’t see that, they think “this is not the right site”, and they bounce out, looking for an alternative that matches their expectation.

The problem with not providing what people expect leads to a phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance”. Essentially this is your brain going “this does not compute”. In other words, there is a mental clash between what we see and what we had expected to see and our brain gets stuck in a rut trying to sort it all out. And when a website visitor’s brain gets stuck in that rut the easiest solution is for them to leave the site, thereby eliminating the problem for them.”

Graham was clear that it can be a mistake to adopt a “wacky” approach to your website design. With so much material available online it’s easy to want to “stand out” and be different. That is often what businesses (and accountants) are told by web designers too. They say that the accountancy firm, for example, shouldn’t have a “me too” website, looking like all the others in the same category.

Graham explains:

“That is old-fashioned thinking, though. When you had time to explain to people why your company brochure was printed sideways, or why your corporate colours were pink and orange instead of green, then they understood and remembered you for being different. But nowadays you don’t have time for people to understand the differences. Instead, they need to know, in an instant, that they have landed on the right kind of website.

If you are a taxi firm and your site doesn’t look like a taxi company’s website, you will have driven away your visitors. Similarly, if you run a local stables and your website doesn’t seem to be about horses, off trot your visitors to another site. In other words, the most important thing to do these days is to be the same, not be different.”

The main focus of many of my talks is on the easy ways in which you can choose to stand out from your competitors and the pack. I reference ‘appearance’ as being one of the 7 key ways you can stand out. This isn’t just about how you appear face to face, but also online. Appearing different to other accountants online doesn’t mean that your website design needs to look very different from other accountants’ websites. It’s the content that could well be different – indeed it probably should be different to the standard boring content on so many accountants’ websites. Your content can indeed help you to stand out.

As an accountant you will want your website to appeal both to those strangers who are searching online for an accountant – and who are the sort of people you would like to have a clients. You will also want your website to appeal to those people who have been specifically referred to you or who have met you and now want to check you out.

As Graham says:

“Make the difference in what you DO, not what [your website looks like]. Your visitors will have cognitive dissonance and get confused if you don’t look like all the other websites in your sector. Be the same as everyone else and your visitors will stay on your site.”

Make your website standout through the way you reference your genuine focus on clients, how they benefit from your approach, any special services you offer, your expertise and any niche areas in which you operate. If you are a sole practitioner your website will also stand out (positively) if it reveals who you are and lets visitors get to know you a little. A standard ‘about us’ page that only talks about ‘the firm’ just doesn’t cut it in my view.

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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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Use your ‘inner magic’ to stand out from others who do what you do

Are you ‘just another’ accountant, lawyer, surveyor, speaker, trainer or whatever? Really? But you’re you. No one else can be you. The real you.

Richard Jones on BGT

Richard Jones on BGT

The winner of the 2016 TV series of Britian’s Got Talent (BGT) was Richard Jones. A magician. And a soldier.

When interviewed* Richard explains that from the outset he was determined to be who he really is. He is a soldier who does magic. He does both. That’s his story. He says he was always going to involve his personal spin on what he did because that’s who he is. And that’s what he’s always done.

“A lot of magicians do the same kind of things, the same kinds of tricks. But something that people really connect to, when you’re performing magic, is if you come across in a more personal way. If you’re a lawyer and you’re doing magic, tell them you’re a lawyer and doing magic. I think that makes you more approachable. I feel it makes you more interesting because you’re not this guy who does crazy stuff, you are a real person, more on the level of anyone who’s watching”

When I speak about how professionals can STAND OUT from their peers and competitors I make a similar point.  Be you and reveal a little more of who you really are if you want to be seen (and remembered) as more than ‘just another’ person doing what you do.  This is especially easy if you have an unusual hobby or interest. But that’s not a requisite.

When I moved into professional speaking I looked back over my own career. It was clear that I had long stood out from many of my peers and that this was a key reason why I had been promoted, headhunted twice and invited to join and Chair various professional committees.

Of course my experience and expertise within the accounting profession were also important. But what made me stand out from others? I can invariably trace this back to my willingness to stand up and speak in public, to present effectively and to engage with audiences. And these skills are a direct consequence of my interest in magic and the fact that I have used magic to entertain audiences since my early teens.

As an accountant and tax adviser I rarely felt it was appropriate to include magic tricks in my talks and presentations. As a professional speaker now it would be madness to avoid any reference to magic in my talks. And when I do this it helps me to connect with audiences who generally recognise they are seeing the real and authentic BookMarkLee.

I’m a speaker and a magician who originally trained as an accountant. That’s who I am. Sharing it, however briefly, during my talks helps me to STAND OUT in a positive way.   Using magic tricks to emphasise key points adds to the entertainment quality of my talks. It also help make them more memorable and me more referable. This all helps others to think of me as more than ‘just another’ speaker.

Just to be clear, none of this is enough. Audiences and bookers need to gain plenty of value from my talks. Standing Out alone doesn’t lead to repeat bookings and recommendations. Fortunately, I have plenty of these too 😉

It’s the same in any profession. You need to be good at what you do to if you want to win more business and more work. But revealing, and maybe even embracing, who you really are can make all the difference. Richard Jones wasn’t just another magician competing on BGT. He was a soldier who was also a magician. And the first magician to win this annual competition. Even if you don’t have an unusual interest or hobby there will invariably be some distinct facet of your life experiences or background. Don’t hide who you really are.

What’s your ‘inner magic’? Who are you – beyond your professional role and your business activity? How could you use your ‘inner magic’ to stand out from others who do what you do?

*(The interview in question was published in the November 2016 issue of  The Magic Circular – the magazine for members of The Magic Circle, of which I am proud to be the Treasurer).
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Does your business card contain any of these 11 mistakes?

I routinely encourage audience members to give me their business cards at the end of conference talks. They do so if they would like me to send them copies of slides and other materials I reference during my presentation.

As many of my audiences are accountants this affords me the opportunity to compare and contrast hundreds of their business cards. So much so that I now add the following comment when I invite them to pass me their cards:

If you give me your cards I will send you a copy of the slides etc as long as I can read your email address. I’m astonished at how small or pale this is on some business cards. What is the point in having a key piece of contact information that is hard to read?

If you don’t have a card with you, just jot down your name and email address on a piece of paper.  I ask for your name as I don’t like addressing emails to Dear info, Dear mail, Dear admin or Dear enquiries and if that’s how your email address starts I have no option unless I know your name.  Again, why would you not want people to know your name?

I have written previous blog posts offering tips to help accountants ensure their business cards work well for them. Whilst many accountants have great looking business cards, many still do not. So below I offer a summary of the 11 most common business card mistakes I see accountants making. You may find it helpful to check yours against this list.

Also, of course, if everyone (or enough of those) to whom you give your business card then follows up with you, engages you or refers other people to you, then all is well and you should ignore all that follows!

Plenty of accountants include on their cards something specific about the services they provide, niches on which they focus or a neat tagline that helps them stand out from the rest. All of these, done well, can work for you. I’m no marketing expert so will not attempt to tell you what you MUST do with your card. I simply offer here 11 mistakes that it’s easy to avoid.

Purpose

Before getting onto the common mistakes let’s just remind ourselves as to the reason for a business card. I suggest that it is to provide the person to whom it is given sufficient details for them to get in touch with you – and for them to know why they might want to do this. Also for them to remember you – beyond the next 24 hours or so. Will they remember you in a month or two when they look at your business card for the first time in weeks – especially if, since meeting you, they have met 2 or more other accountants?

1 – info@  admin@  mail@ enquiries@ etc

Email addresses that do not start with a name are generally a turnoff as they lack the personal touch Why not use your name? It’s even worse on websites where there is often no reference at all to who YOU are.

2 – accountant.name@btinternet.com or @yahoo.com or @gmail.com etc

Email addresses that use a generic email service look unprofessional and suggest that you are either new in practice, are not serious about growing your practice or are very much behind the times. None are great signals. You can get you own email address very cheaply even if you do not have or need a website.

3 – Tiny and/or pale font

Either the information on the card is worth including or it isn’t. If it’s too small or faint to read then it might as well not be there. Too many business cards seem to have shrunk the font size to fit in more information such as email addresses, linkedin profile links and a promo message. But if we can’t read it easily you’re wasting your time.

4 – Crossed out email address on card and new handwritten one added

Talk about unprofessional. Think of the impact this has. New contact details means new business cards. There’s little point in finishing off an old batch of cards if the people to whom they are given mark you down as unprofessional.

5 – Multiple office phone numbers. 

You should only need one office number unless you personally operate from multiple offices. Even then you could make it easier for callers by utilising a central phone answering service, installing a switchboard or adding an auto-redirect (when engaged or unanswered) to your mobile number.

6 – Two email addresses on one business card

Why would anyone do that? It’s not like having separate local and city office physical addresses. Make it easy for people to contact you; don’t force them to wonder and to choose.

7 – Flimsy and cheap looking card

Your business card is a memory aid for when you’re not there. Do you want to be remembered as a cheap amateur?

8 – Mixed up personal and business contact information

So many business cards have evolved with little thought apparently given to where newer info should be added. It’s so much easier if the business name, address and switchboard number are evidently separate to your personal name, title, mobile, direct dial and email address.

9 – Glossy or dark coloured card

I’m not the only person in the world who likes to make a note on the back of business cards I collect. We do this so that we can recall where and when we met and what we have promised to do by way of follow up; or  simply something about you that will make it easier to remember you. I know it’s great to feel that your card stands out from the rest, but will people still recall you and where and when you met etc if they cannot note this on the card?

10 – Forgetting to include ‘Accountants’ or any similar style reference

A surprising number of accountants’ business cards have a clever brand name or even just the individual’s name but no indication of the nature of the business service they offer. Of course if you’re ‘tax specialists’ you might put that instead of ‘accountants’.  Remember too that even if you’re a member of the ICAEW and use the authorised logo, not everyone will recognise this so it’s not sufficient.  And whilst a marketing ‘guru’ may have suggested you call yourselves something like ‘business growth specialists’ you still need to use the word ‘accountants’ (or whatever) to help the person who looks at your card, some time after you gave it to them, remember what you do.

11 – Squeezing everything onto one side of the card

All cards have two sides, why not make use of both sides. Larger firms might put personal contact details etc on one side and the firm’s details on the other side. Or you might use one side to highlight specific expertise, interests or services. Don’t just list everything that most people assume all accountants do. That’s a bit of a waste of space.

 

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10 website insights for accountants to generate more sales enquiries

If you are a regular reader you will know I rarely include guest posts on my blog. In this tenth anniversary year though I have decided to stop being so precious. As long as the content is both directly relevant and useful to my audience and I agree with the advice and tips, why not?

In conversation with Peter Swead recently I realised his advice re accountants’ websites reflected views I have long shared. I’ve blogged on the topic before but am happy to share Peter’s ten website insights as they are bang uptodate.

Peter Swead’s top 10 recommendations for an accountant’s website to ensure it is effective at generating sales enquiries are:

1) Ensure your telephone number is on the top right of every website page.

2) Explain clearly and succinctly to potential clients how you can help – rather than the services supplied.

3) Keep text simple and short – no more than 200 words per page. Use simple English suitable for a 12 year old.

4) Break up complex information into bullet points so that it can be easily scanned.

5) Have the courage to be totally authentic – be the real you and set out what makes you special. That means no models or stock photos. Visitors want honesty – rather than beauty from your website. (Unless you’re also graphic designers!)

6) Ensure your website can be read and navigated on a mobile phone – without pinching.

7) Set up a Google My Business account. It’s free! Get a professional photographer to take pictures of the exterior of your premises, interior, staff and a group shot of staff and individuals.

8) Explain each service offered on a single page and then breakdown areas into sub pages – so that the VAT page could have pages on how you help with:

a. VAT returns,

b. VAT investigations,

c. Choosing the best VAT regime,

d. VAT book keeping,

e. VAT software (Xero / Act) supported

9) Be positive and explain how you help rather than what you don’t do.

10) Ensure your website pages load in 2 seconds. Every second of delay reduces the number of sales enquiries received by 7%

Each of the above points will provide an significant improvement to the cost-effectiveness of your website – but the total effect is compounded with each issue addressed.

For more information see http://paramarq.com/our-services/website-evaluations/websites-for-accountants/

I challenged Peter about the look and feel of his website as I felt that it didn’t look as good as many others I have seen. Was it a good enough advert for his business? I expected him to say that he hadn’t had the time to do much to it. Not at all. He keeps it simple and focused as he says he doesn’t want to reveal to his competitors all the techniques he uses to ensure that his clients’ websites are powerful drivers of sales.

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What to put on an accountant’s shopfront?

After I’d presented a talk to a group of accountants recently one of them asked for my advice. Our brief discussion might be of wider interest.

Q: I have a [huge] shopfront window at the front of my high street accountancy practice. 40,000 cars go past each day.

Could we use the window to STANDOUT and if so what should we put on it to help generate business?

A: If we had time I would look to find out much more about you and your practice. As we only have a couple of minutes, let me just ask one Q. What sort of work do you enjoy doing? (“Tax investigations. Though it’s really a typical general practice”)

Ok. So let’s focus on that topic. I’d consider putting “Taxman troubles? Pop in” on the window. As large as possible. It’s clear, alliterative and it doesn’t alienate conventional clients. It highlights a key topic and can be easily read and understood by drivers and passengers in passing cars and buses as I assume your signage generally makes clear that you run an accountancy practice from the shopfront. (“Confirmed”)

Rationale

My thinking here was to look for a combination of just one key service line that prospective passing trade would recognise as being distinct from more traditional and general accountancy services. I’m never sure that simply listing all of those services on your shopfront is very helpful. People (think they) know what accountants do. Far better, in my view, to attempt to STAND OUT by highlighting either a specific service line or a niche and specialist client type.

Follow up

The next morning I received this delightful note from the same accountant:

“Thank you for the advice you gave me yesterday afternoon when I asked you for your thoughts on what I might put on my large shop front window for the 40,000 per day passing traffic to see.

I’m going to have a good look at your website.  I’d like to think you can help me grow  my practice in a meaningful way.”

I hope so too!

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If we don’t trust experts anymore what do you need to do to STAND OUT?

During 2016 politicians in both the UK (Michael Gove) and in the US (Donald Trump) repeatedly asserted that people have “had enough” of experts. Voting patterns seemed to confirm this as expert political and economic views were largely ignored. And yet, we also know it’s patently not true. If you have a health problem do you prefer to take the advice of an amateur or of an expert? What about if you were arrested?

So the real question is why do people trust some experts but reject others? Why do many people on the one hand seek medical experts for medical issues, but distrust climate experts for climate issues, and economic experts for economic issues?

It transpires there is an answer to this question – although it’s in a scientific paper so relies on the views of experts!

In a study published in 2015, psychological scientist Friederike Hendriks and her colleagues at the University of Muenster in Germany coined the term “epistemic trustworthiness”. This refers to our willingness or otherwise to place trust in, and listen to, an expert when we need to solve a problem that is beyond our understanding. The paper focused on our willingness to believe scientific facts but I suggest that the conclusions are more widely applicable.

The authors argue that for an expert to be high on epistemic trustworthiness they need three characteristics: expertise, integrity and benevolence. In other words, knowing stuff isn’t enough. This is key. For us to rate a person as a trustworthy expert they need to know their information, to be honest and to be good-hearted.  There are also echoes here of the work on the power of Influence by Dr Robert Cialdini.

Being an expert is just not enough any more. Experts are more likely to be believed if they are likeable and evidently honest. I have addressed this previously on my blog. One way to evidence your honesty is to admit what you don’t know. In so doing you add credibility to what you do know about. You evidence your expertise partly by accepting its limitations.

The research paper “Measuring Laypeople’s Trust in Experts in a Digital Age: The Muenster Epistemic Trustworthiness Inventory (METI)”  is actually a contradiction in terms. I am quoting it as justification for this blog post. But the very title of the paper works against it. In particular the very idea of something using a fancy term such as “Epistemic Trustworthiness” makes it less likely that many people will accept the premise of the paper.

Many experts make the same mistake. Clients are often alienated when they feel that we are using unfamiliar words and unintelligible acronyms. When we do this we are making the mistake of seemingly pushing our clients to rise to our level of sophistication and knowledge. We are much more likely to be trusted if we use words and phrases that are commonly understood and if we explain any necessary or helpful acronyms.

As experts we need to demonstrate that we are good, honest people who have our clients’ and prospective clients’ best interests at heart. We increase the likelihood that we will stand out from our competitors if we:

  • communicate more clearly and hold back on the jargon;
  • admit what we don’t know; and
  • develop a genuine interest in helping other people.

In a continuing effort to practice what I preach, I would encourage you to look around this website. Access any materials and blog posts that you find of interest and do get in touch if you feel I might be able to help you. If I can’t I’ll admit it and hopefully will know someone who can!

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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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The Sole Practitioners’ formula for identifying your premium fee paying prospects

This is a guest blog provided by Patrick McLoughlin. In it he explains how sole practitioner accountants can become really clear as to who is a premium fee playing client. And, having done that, how you can then clarify your future marketing and business generation activities. As Patrick’s approach is much the same as mine I am happy to share his thoughts here.

It doesn’t matter in which industry or professional sector you operate, if you provide a specialist service you are going to get paid more. To help you attract more premium fee paying clients, this blog focuses on transitioning your work and marketing to grow your GRF.

Here goes:

Know your strengths, understand who benefits most from your work

If you already have specialist knowledge and clients you provide a specialist range of services to, you can skip this point. If you struggle to define your ideal clients or your answers focus on personality types, read on.

As a starting point list all your clients on a spreadsheet. Then decide what issues you want to grade them on.  Typically focus on:

Level of fees paid

Profitability of work you carry out

Personality (How much you enjoy working with them)

Do they refer

Potential for fees to grow

Prospective lifetime value

Payment history

Mark the client out of 10 for each category then add up your scores. Focus on your highest scoring 10% – 20% of your clients.  Look at what they have in common. Maybe there’s a high number from a certain industry sector or you’ve helped many overcome a similar problem.

Profile your top clients

Now write a profile of those key similarities. Think about their turnover range, sectors to focus on or exclude, the postcodes you can reach within 30-40 minutes etc.  Now we are just starting to hone in on those clients you can build your future on.

Focus on Sam

To build a greater understanding create an ideal client persona. Focus on elements of your best clients.  Give them a name, a history, even a family background: For example, Sam has 2 young children under 5, an expensive mortgage and is aged 30-40 etc.

Even if you think you know, talk to your better clients about the goals they are chasing, maybe paying off the mortgage in 5-years or putting the kids through private school etc. Then list Sam’s goals, challenges and how you can help with both.

If Sam hopes to put the kids through private school you can help by planning and forecasting how the business needs to grow to achieve it.   If Sam’s company has stopped growing you may be able to help by systemising aspects of the business or improving management information allowing Sam to spend more time with potential new clients.

Focus on Sam’s opinions and feelings about the business. Sam might say that he doesn’t feel in control of the finances from one year end to the next.  Or maybe Sam doesn’t understand his annual accounts and they are no help to him in steering the business forward.

A great example of copy to address Sam’s lack of value & understanding of year-end accounts

You’ll find after you’ve completed the above that it naturally filters down to help you write a short summary of how you can help Sam. Try and use their language not your own.  And don’t forget to focus on easing their pain and fulfilling their ambitions.

If you do your homework you’ll find it so much easier to pick your ideal clients out in a crowd or a telephone conversation. Your ideal clients will relate to you better and chose you over cheaper competitors.

To help me, to help sole practitioners grow, please could you click this link and complete the short survey.

Thank you so much for your support. 

All the best.  Patrick.

Sole_Practitioners_Breakthrough_Programme_logo_V1 (1) (2)

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10 commandments of client service for sole practitioners

Ok, maybe not real ‘commandments’ and maybe they are relevant to a wider audience than sole practitioners. Either way I hope you’ll nod as you look through the list. I suggest you aim to pick out one or two where you know you could do better. And then focus on what you could do to improve your client service in this regard over the next few days, weeks and months.
Could I also encourage you please to complete a quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues facing sole practitioners? See here>>>
1. Ask good questions: You need to identify and anticipate your client’s needs. Some clients may just tell you everything they think you want to know. But some need to be encouraged and many clients won’t know what’s important and relevant until you ask them to take about specific issues. You are the expert so you should know what additional information you need to give valuable advice. Do you get to the nub of the issue to find your client’s underlying issues, concerns and worries?
 
2. Listen attentively:  It’s all too easy to assume that one client’s situation and needs are the same as ‘all the others’ with a similar background. Even if that turns out to be the case, the fact that you listened to them will form a stronger bond, give them more confidence in your advice and increase the prospect they will speak positively about you – leading to more referrals and recommendations. Do you KNOW, as regards each client, what are their 3 most important concerns?
3. Make clients feel special: Smile when you meet with them. Be careful to only make promises you know you can keep. Be sincere. Only ever under-promise and then over-deliver. Give them more than they expect (as long as they will value the extras). Be respectful of clients’ time. Resolve their problems as quickly as possible and keep them informed of your progress (or lack of it). Every client interaction is an opportunity to show you care and to provide outstanding service. Deliver a solution that meets or even exceeds a client’s expectations and you’ll strengthen your relationship with that client.
4. Avoid jargon: Remember that clients don’t generally use the same acronyms and abbreviations as accountants. They may feel daft not understanding what you’re talking about and just nod quietly. Speak to clients using language they understand. Communicate to be understood, not to impress. Are you even aware of how often you use terms and jargon that clients may not follow? Clients hate it. Most people do, which is why I didn’t simply say: DUTMA.
(DUTMA = Don’t Use Too Many Acronyms!)
5. Bill promptly and fairly: With the possible exception of your smallest clients, you and your clients will benefit from regular billings across the year. ‘Prompt’ billings means around the time you provided the service and in line with your terms of business/engagement.  ‘Fairly means, fair to YOU as well as fair to your clients. If your fee is going to be higher than they might have expected, you should DISCUSS this with them before sending out the fee note and chasing payment.
6. Apologise promptly: None of us is perfect. When something goes wrong, be honest about it and apologise. Suggest how you might make amends and seek your client’s feedback as to what they want. Clients rarely swap accountants simply because of a mistake or two. The client service failing comes when your client perceives that you don’t care enough. Make it simple for clients to let you know if they have a problem. Make it clear that you value their complaints. Better they should let you know than tell other people! It also gives you an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable The client isn’t always right but they like to feel as though they have won – even when they are wrong.
7. Make it easy to do business with you: You don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. But you do need to be easy to contact. If you’re often out and about, consider a telephone answering service so that a real person takes messages. Consider an online diary scheduling service to allow clients to book meetings with you at mutually convenient times. I use calendly – but there are many other options. These facilities can make your life easier whilst also removing the frustration that follows when a client cannot easily reach you.
8. Focus on solutions vs problems: Clients don’t ‘really’ buy an accountant’s services. What they are really buying are good feelings and solutions to their problems. The more you can talk in terms of providing solutions to their problems, the more they will appreciate what you are doing for them and what you can do for them.
9. Admit what you don’t know: You are rarely doing clients a favour if you pretend to have more knowledge and experience than you do. Clients will rely on you more if they know they can trust you to be honest with them.
10. Seek regular feedback: If you are serious about wanting to provide great client service, you will only know if you seek feedback from your clients. How do you do this? Casually or in an organised way that adds to your credibility? The best method invites constructive criticism,  comments, and suggestions.
If you are a sole practitioner, do please complete this quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues you are facing.
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Do you offer a service guarantee? I bet you do.

Let’s be realistic. If you did some work for a client but they weren’t happy because you made a big mess of it, would you insist on charging them extra to correct your mistake?

I hope you wouldn’t even consider trying to charge extra to resolve a mistake of your own making.  To my mind this is the start of a service guarantee. And it’s the sort of thing, which, if promised up front, can help generate confidence from prospective clients.

Over the years I’ve often seen references to service guarantees on an increasing number of professional service provider’s websites. I came across one last week and established that it wasn’t unique to the firm in question; Just put yourself in the shoes of a prospective client and consider how effective is the message below. It’s listed on some accountancy firms’ websites as one of the answers to the question ‘Why us?’

Our 100% Risk Free Guarantee…Use our services to help you pay less tax and increase wealth, completely at our risk. Our services are so outstanding there’s a 100% Risk Free Guarantee.

Here it is…

If at any time you are not completely happy withglobal-unlock-guarantee our work please discuss it with us. If we really can’t sort the issue for you then don’t pay for the part you’re not happy with. Ask for it at any time within 30 days of the work and we won’t expect payment. That means…

No small print;

No quibbles;

No questions asked;

No exceptions;

No strings

I think this is very cleverly worded and does put some (but not a lot) of responsibility on the accountant to achieve absolute clarity as regards the services to be provided up front.

How would you feel if a prospective client asked if you were as confident as this in your work? Or why should they choose you over another accountant that offers such a guarantee?

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What’s your angle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your angle?

 

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How much of your business comes from social media ?

A research student asked me this question and, after drafting a short reply, I have now expanded my response as it may be of wider interest:

“As regards how much of my business comes from social media, forgive me but the question is too simplistic. Social media is never a source of business for me. BUT it does help people to find me, helps them to start engaging with me and may help them to realise I can do something for them of which they weren’t previously aware. But NO ONE gets in touch to book me or engage me solely because of what they see on social media (at least not yet).

It is rare for anyone to do what you have done – that is to contact me via twitter to ask permission to send me an email. I commend you for this approach though. It STANDS OUT and made sure I spotted your email when it arrived. Well done.”

I was intending to stop there but have now added a more comprehensive reply below:

I often make the point that it can be misleading to lump all social media sites together. So let me answer you by reference to each of the sites where I am active. (This ties back to my blog post last year about how I manage my time on social media each week)

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below. My profile here, my extensive connections, the dozens of recommendations of my services and the hundreds of endorsements of my skills, hopefully evidence my credibility. Yes, this does sometimes lead to me being approached to speak at conferences and at in-house events in professional firms.

More often though my Linkedin profile and activity are simply contributory factors that result in me being booked as a speaker at events for professional advisers. Other factors include my website, the ease with which I can be found online and word of mouth referrals and recommendations.

I always try to ascertain what prompted someone to approach me to speak. No one has yet said ‘Linkedin’. But I do not dismiss it – for the reasons noted above. I am confident that it contributes to confirming my credibility and abilities to people who don’t know me. It also reminds those who already know me of what I could do for them.

Social Media

Facebook

Although I have a facebook business page I do not consider it a source of business, any more than my facebook account generally. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Having said that I am an active and helpful member of a popular facebook group to which many members of the Professional Speaking Association contribute. My activity here is a way of helping my peers and of keeping my profile high within the speaking community. Occasionally others will recommend me for speaking gigs; I suspect this would be less likely if I wasn’t so helpful and high profile.

Google+

It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it. Whilst I note that other users seem to continually add me to circles and to ‘follow’ me on this site, I don’t anticipate it ever being a source of work – even indirectly.

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

My YouTube channel BookMarkLee doesn’t yet have enough high quality video to offer much in the way of a positive impact on my business development activities. I continue to win work despite the absence of a speaker showreel type video. I like to think this is due to my longevity, extensive connections and a positive reputation generally. Equally I may be missing out big time and it could transform the impact of YouTube on my speaking business.

Again, no one has referenced seeing my YouTube channel as a catalyst for booking me to speak. Conversely, I do sometimes create promo videos to help attract audiences when I am speaking at open/public events, I hope they are helpful in this regard but have never asked an audience how many saw the video or booked as a result.

Micro-blogging

Twitter

As is evident to anyone who follows me here I enjoy twitter and am very active. I hope my enthusiasm to help and contribute rather than to constantly ‘sell’ is apparent. I feel I must be doing something right as my follower numbers continue to rise and are more than ten times the number of people I follow. In other words I’m not generating followers by following thousands of people and hoping they will follow me back.

Does any of my business come from twitter? I like to think my activity here contributes to my online reputation. It certainly contributes to my klout score (79 out of 100 – about the highest online influence score you can have as a non-celebrity). This in turn leads to me being highly ranked in various charts of top online influencers, eg by ICAEW, economia, suppliers to the financial services profession and speakers’ power list.

I’d like to think that such rankings will, in time, lead to more bookings.

For now twitter is more a source of leads for my online products and related services for sole practitioner accountants.

How much of YOUR business comes from social media?

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My friend the slob and why he didn’t get a referral from me

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a lovely guy* whose focus was team building in larger businesses. One day he asked if I would introduce him to my contacts in a specific company he was targeting and where I had worked previously.

I took a deep breath before answering him honestly. I said I was sorry but I wouldn’t do that because he always looked a mess. His shirt and suit looked too old and too small for him and he really just didn’t look the part. If he smartened up I said I’d be happy to effect the intro as I knew how good he was at his job. I also knew that he had made a conscious decision not to change the way he looked. He liked the shock he caused when people found out how good he was and that appearances can be deceptive.

I explained however that I was concerned that my credibility would be damaged if I effected the introduction. I knew the Directors of the company well enough to be certain their view would be the same as mine. Even if they were impressed by my friend’s skills and approach they would be equally reluctant to bring him in-house for a team building event. he just didn’t give the right impression. The company wanted all of their staff to give a good first impression to clients, prospects and influencers. They would never engage a trainer who evidently didn’t agree with the company’s approach.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I misjudged my ex-colleagues. Maybe.

The point is that my friend missed out on the referral he sought because his view was not the same as mine. Or, I would wager, the same as many other people.

My friend didn’t think his appearance should be a determining factor. Maybe he was right. But human nature being what it is, why put up a barrier that doesn’t need to be there?

So far as I know he never worked for the company concerned. He also didn’t change his style. It’s almost his trademark – which is fine. But it limits the number of companies that will choose to work with him.

My advice is that it’s a good idea to ensure that you don’t create a negative first impression either face to face or online. You can think what you like about the impact that clothes should make on other people’s first impressions of you. The fact is that you can ensure the first impression others get of you is a positive one or a negative one. The choice is yours.

Making an effort with your appearance and evidencing a positive attitude could well ensure that you STAND OUT positively compared with your peers and with your competitors. Especially if any of them haven’t given the issue any thought!

 

 

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How to ensure that people can recall your business message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDERSTANDABLE – Avoid jargon.

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

INDIVIDUAL – What you say should be distinct from what other accountants might say

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

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

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

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

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My social media journey

After being ranked in the top 3 of online influencers by the ICAEW I was recently interviewed about my social media journey. The following extracts may be of interest.

When and why did you start using social media?

It was 2006 when I first registered on Ecademy.com This business focused online networking site predated Linkedin but ran out of money and is no more. Through Ecademy I was introduced to twitter and Linkedin.

Which platforms do you use, and for what?

Over the years I have written a number of blog posts which show how I manage my time across various social media platforms. The last such blog post was in May 2015>>>

Currently I would summarise my use as follows:

Linkedin.com – online business networking to make new connections, typically with accountants and other professional advisers. I have almost 5,000 direct connections here and run 3 groups for accountants and other professionals. I belong to around 40 groups.

Twitter.com – to source and share knowledge, insights and news on topics of interest. I also add all UK accountants I can find on twitter to one of my two twitter lists, which enables anyone to see how UK accountants use twitter. I also have a similar list of all the magicians I can find on twitter!

Facebook.com – Few of my real life social friends are active on facebook. However I keep in touch with many of my old Ecademy friends here. Also many of my friends in the worlds of magic and of public speaking are active here so I can keep in touch with them too. We share tips, ideas and advice. I also have a facebook business page promoting both my services to accountants and to other professionals.

Youtube.com – I watch videos here – and sometimes post my own, normally about talks I have given or am about to deliver. I sometimes add comments beneath videos, typically those posted by people I know.

AccountingWeb.co.uk – I have written over 200 articles for this site and routinely engage with readers who post comments both on my articles and on those written by others.

ion.icaew.com –  When I get emails prompting me to check out articles here I often read them then ‘vote’ them a thumbs up or down and occasionally add my thoughts by way of comments.

How do you use it on a day to day basis?

I look for opportunities to help my contacts, connections, followers and friends on social media – much as I do in real life. If I can answer a question, contribute positively to a discussion on a topic of interest or offer some insight and advice I’m happy to do so.

I tend to make more use of social media when I’m out and about eg: waiting for trains, buses, taxis rather than when I’m office bound all day. I also use some tools that allow me to automate and schedule some of my posts on twitter and facebook.

How has social media helped you professionally? For instance, making new connections or finding new business.

In this context social media is a form of online networking that allows me to connect with a far wider range and a larger number of people than would be possible face to face. We can then determine whether to meet or speak directly. I find this much more efficient than attending random networking events. Equally however it can be more distracting as so many new connections on social media are not local to me.

Over the years I have established relationships with many people who have, in time, become clients or who have engaged me or recommended me to speak at conferences and other events. Others offer assistance when I seek help or advice. One great example is Tony Margaritelli who runs the ICPA. He frequently engages with me on twitter and has both booked and rebooked me to speak at the ICPA annual conference.

Social media has also helped me to build up my email distribution lists although I am careful to avoid promoting too many things as this would probably mean a drop off in my follower numbers etc. And my high profile across a number of sites with a target demographic helps keep my name in the frame when people want to engage a professional business speaker, a mentor or simply want to commission articles and content on relevant topics.

Finally, the independent online social media influence scoring system, klout.com rates me as having a very high score of 79/100. Only celebrities tend to score above 80. Although klout is not widely recognised in accounting circles my high score does generate interest and has contributed to me securing a number of speaking gigs as a social media ‘expert’.

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STAND OUT Christmas greetings

I tried to do something different this year. Like many others I stopped sending cards to everyone a while back. 
 
These days cards sent with a personal message can STAND OUT positively as they are now much less common than once was the case.
Some cards and messages specifically STAND OUT. I remember one card I received a couple of years ago from the presenter of a course I had attended 3 months earlier. It was a bespoke card with a handwritten message. I kept it for months. I assume he’d sent them to all attendees. It must have been a labour of love, but it paid off.
Maybe it’s me, but with the odd exception, I don’t remember who did or didn’t send me a card or a message last year. I recall I received loads of ecards – some with attached videos as is happening again this year. 
 
The only ones that really STAND OUT for me are the bespoke ones – like those produced for five years running now by the accountancy firm Cassons.
Other popular variations are the standard good wishes email, a newsletter review of the year or a card with printed signatures. 
There’s a lot to be said for sending genuinely personalised messages to special clients and connections. Physical gifts often STAND OUT too. I recall receiving a book last year that a business contact had chosen from my online amazon wish list – it was a complete surprise and very thoughtful. 
But what about your wider network? Only you can say what will have the most powerful impact or, indeed, if cards and messages etc are appropriate across the board at Christmas time in our multi-cultural and multi-faith society.
I’m always touched by the cards and messages I receive at this time of year – but mostly only where I sense some genuine thoughtfulness that shows I am considered to be more than simply a name on a database. 
The key question, as ever, is why do you send Christmas cards and messages to business connections? Are you doing it because you always have? Because you like to give (and to receive)? Do you consider it the ‘right’ thing to do? What would people think if you don’t do anything? (I suspect that many will not even notice!) It’s a way to keep in touch? (Really? as one of hundreds of people doing much the same thing at the same time of year?)
Does your chosen approach help you achieve your objectives?
I have tried something different this year. I sent a series of 3 festive greetings related emails to my wider (15,000+) network. I first divided the list into 5 groups and tailored the messages for each group. 
The first email apologised for an email mess-up I made recently and also contained a greeting plus a daft disclaimer. I’ve copied this below for posterity.
The second email contained greetings and gifts. These were free downloads that I genuinely hope will be of value. I tailored the gifts for each of the 5 groups of recipients.
The third email encouraged recipients to identify 3 or 4 key achievements of which they are proud in 2015. And then to set 3 or 4 key objectives for the coming year. I shared my own too. Again, I have copied this email below as you may find it helpful too.
Email 1 – Greetings and giggles for you
Let me start with an apology for the recent emails I sent asking if you wanted to remain on my list. Then I have something I hope you’ll enjoy. 
 
The recent emails were intended for people I was emailing but who didn’t seem to be interested. Sadly I set things up wrong which meant that the emails also went to people like you whom I hadn’t emailed for a while. I’m really sorry. 
Now I’m serious about wanting to send personal greetings to you and all of the other people I know. It would take a heck of a long time to do that as, in addition to you, I’m in touch with thousands of others too.
I don’t know the answer but that’s why this email contains more than simple best wishes for the holidays and New Year. And it’s also why you’ll receive two further greetings from me over the next few days. 
 
For now I send my best wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy, prosperous and non-too taxing New Year.
To cover all bases I should add the following disclaimer:
These festive wishes are sent with no obligation, implied or implicit and carry no guarantee as to the outcome for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or your choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all…
…and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2016, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make Britain great, (not to imply that Britain is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to your race, creed, colour, age, height, weight, physical ability, religious faith, sexual preferences, choice of computer platform or internet browser. 

By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by me to actually implement any of the wishes for you or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at my sole discretion.
These wishes are warranted to perform as can reasonably be expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and this warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish whenever I feel like it. 
 
Email 2 – Greetings and gifts. See below
 

Email 3 –  Review and forward planning for 2016 

Last week I sent you my formal festive greetings and then some links to special gifts that I hope you’ll find useful. 
 
In this third and final installment of festive greetings I invite you to identify your top 3 achievements in 2015 and the 3 things you would most like to get done in 2016. This should help you finish the year on a high and excited for what is to follow. I’ve also shared my own answers to the same two questions.
 
Doing this yourself also means you’ll be more inclined to talk positively about things when you are chatting with family and friends over the next couple of weeks. Not that you’ll be focused on work then of course. But just in case it comes up. Or maybe your achievements and ambitions are not work related anyway.
 
It’s all too easy to dwell on stuff that’s not gone as we would have liked. Some people find doing this helps motivate them to do better next year. It doesn’t work for me though.
 
I always encourage those with whom I work to adopt a more positive mindset. But to remain realistic of course.
 
So, two questions for you:
 
1 – What are the 3 or 4 things you have achieved this year of which you are most proud? 
 
2 – What are the 3 or 4 things you are seriously keen to achieve in 2016?
 
Answering the first question is likely to get you in the right frame of mind to answer the second question.
 
If you want to talk about how I might be able to help you achieve those 2016 objectives do get in touch.
 
For now, I repeat my previous wishes for a fabulous xmas and a wonderful new year.
 
Regards
Mark
 
ps: If you’re interested my answers to the questions are:
 
2015 – Most proud:
1 – After keynoting at the ICPA 2015 annual conference for the first time I was rebooked to speak at next year’s ICPA annual conference;
2 – Launched the Successful Practice Pack weekly online support for accountants in practice;
3 – Being ranked as one of the top 3 online influencers in the accountancy profession for the 2nd year running;
4 – Hitting two milestones re my practice focused column on AccountingWeb: Over 200 published articles and well over one million views.
 
2016: Objectives:
To be even more careful with the settings on my emails to avoid you getting too many, too often and/or those that are simply not appropriate for you!
 
Beyond that:
1 – Fill my mentoring programme for 1-2-1 support of ambitious professionals and executives;
2 – Secure the remaining bookings I need to hit the target (agreed with my mastermind group) for full fee paid speaking engagements where I can entertain, enlighten and inspire audiences of professional advisers;
3 – Increase the number of accountant subscribers to my Successful Practice Pack to 500. If you’d be willing to pass on details to your accountant or to an accountant you know – please let me know.
4 – Secure at least 5 consultancy, workshop and speaking gigs to help businesses focused on securing business or referrals from accountants.
 
THANK YOU!
If you’ve read down to the end of this blog post I hope you feel it was worthwhile. Should you feel inspired to send me a personal message re anything in this blog post I promise that I will read it and respond personally. This is what I’ve done with all of the kind messages received in response to the emails summarised above. If you’re interested I’ll also send you the links for the free downloads that were included in email 2 😉
 
In the meantime I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy, prosperous and non-too taxing New Year.


 

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