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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Is your business name sufficiently memorable?

Most professional advisory firms are simply named after their founders. Some retain the names of just the first two or 3 partners, Others might extend to 4, 5 or 6 names. The longest I have found, unless you know better, was a small Los Angeles entertainment firm, once known as: Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. I pity the receptionists required to reel that off when answering the phone!

Firms often combine their names when they merge. By way of example, the firm I trained with, named after the founding partner Mr Wood, was Wood & Co. Then it became Wood King, next Chantrey Wood King, then Chantrey Vellacott and now it has been absorbed by Moore Stephens.  None of these iterations tell anyone anything about the nature of the business.

It remains the norm for smaller professional firms to be named after the founder(s), possibly with the addition of: “and associates” or “& Co” (even when they work alone). If your name is sufficiently distinct and memorable this may work fine.  And there’s nothing wrong with this approach in any event.

But a firm named after an individual will rarely STAND OUT from the crowd. This may not matter if you have a strong tag-line or if you and your practice STAND OUT for other reasons. But why not also consider choosing a distinct STAND OUT name for the business?

Many historical restrictions by professional bodies on the naming options available to their members ended long ago. Some people have chosen one-word business names that STAND OUT as they are distinct. Sometimes the word is one that is favoured by the founder. There may or may not be a simple story that explains the choice of word and how it links to the business of the firm. Told well such stories can help the business name to be better remembered than might otherwise be the case.

The largest professional firms have all retained elements of their traditional names even if now limited to just one word/name or a set of initials (eg: Deloitte, KPMG, Linklaters, Baker & McKenzie).  I suspect that some people running their own practices want to give the impression that they are bigger than perhaps is really the case. Perhaps this is the reason for retaining the same naming convention as the larger firms in your profession.

Some of the STAND OUT business names for professional firms I have encountered recently include:

Numbers + Beyond – Chartered Accountancy and Virtual FD practice run by Linda Foster

Virtuoso Legal – Law firm specialising in intellectual property

Grow Smart Finance – Chartered management accountancy practice run by Liesl Davis

The Will Bureau – a will writing practice led by Andrew Edwards

Signature Litigation – Law firm specialising in litigation work

Simply bookkeeping – Bookkeeping(!) practice run by Coral Hamze

The Tax Guys – Tax and accountancy practice run by Jonathan Amponsah

Cheap Accounting – Accountancy franchise established by Elaine Clark

I assume that some experts believe that the best business names are abstract words – as there are so many of these around. My preference, if you want to STAND OUT is to adopt a name that makes clear what your business is. For the same reason I’m not a fan of coined names (that come from made-up words) as, in the absence of a large marketing budget, these are unlikely to be as memorable as real words.

Finding a business name that is simple enough and easy to recall and spell isn’t always easy. Unusual words may STAND OUT for the wrong reasons as they may be hard to recall and tough to find on line if people cannot recall the spelling.

Regardless of whether you use your name, a real word, a made up word or a combination of words, do not make a final decision until you have checked what shows up when you search for that name online, that you can obtain the domain name and that  can register it at Companies House (even if your company/LLP is to be dormant if you operate as a sole practitioner).

Do you have or do you know of any other STAND OUT business names for professional firms? Please share them below as comments on this post.

 

 

 

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Is it really about the competition or is it about you?

I recently offered some help by way of comments in response to an accountant’s query in an online forum. Most of my observations and advice are of more general application so I am sharing them here too.

The questioner has been in practice for 3 years and is struggling to build up his client base. He has already lost a number of those he picked up in year one. His question was headed: How do I compete? He has identified 127 other accountants within a 5 mile radius of his home and wants to know if he can ever expect to get onto page one of Google.

Here’s my reply:

——

Reading your original post and your comments I suggest there are a number of issues to address:

Prospects vs suspects

You think you are good with clients but you seem to struggle with converting prospects into clients. I wonder if they are all even prospects. Some may be simply ‘suspects’ – for example those who you say are not ready with their business model. Is the service such people require different to what you’re offering? Maybe they need help building their business model?

Can you distinguish suspects from prospects? The latter are not just people who want an accountant but people you have found out enough about to know that you could provide what they want/need and that you can provide those services.

Online promotion

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about ensuring your website appears high up the search results when people search for the services you are offering. You’re right. It will be hard to compete with 127 other local accountants all offering the same thing to the same people.

There are typically two types of people who search online for an accountant:

A) Those who just want an accountant (be it their first one or to switch from a bad one)

B) Those who want an accountant who specialises in helping people just like them

It sounds like you’re hoping to be found in (A) regardless of who is looking. While there will be fewer people searching for a specialist accountant, more of them are likely to be pay good fees and you will face less competition.

‘Closing’

Do you have the confidence and skills to ‘close’ a prospect – ie: to help them to want to engage you as their accountant? This demands both conversational skills and the right paperwork at the right time.

Local competition

Ah yes, this is what you suggest may be the biggest issue. You may be right. But equally if you can distinguish yourself, your service and your approach from the others you can build a sustainable and profitable practice.

Again, there are 2 issues:

a) Are there enough prospective clients in the area? (Almost certainly ‘yes’ – tho you may need to wait for their current accountant to mess up before they will move to someone new – you!)

b) Can you position yourself as the accountant enough of them should aspire to be serviced by? Having a half decent website (or better) and high ranking on Google is only part of the story and not a crucial one either.

Referrals

This is always referenced as the ‘best’ source of new clients for accountants. I am aware however, that many who claim this are not looking to build up their practice quickly. They are happy winning a few new clients each year to replace the few they lose each year.

Establishing a sustainable referrals strategy is absolutely worthwhile. Again though it’s easist if your clients, friends and associates can say something distinct, when referring you. Something more than simply that you’re an accountant (just like all the others).

Happy to discuss this further. I love helping accountants who want to STAND OUT and become more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding. By all means book a call here: www.calendly.com/bookmarklee/phone

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What do clients pay you for?

Are you one of those accountants in practice, who still charges fees by reference to the time you spend working on a client’s affairs?

Even if you have moved to fixed pricing, menu pricing or value pricing you may still complete timesheets to show how much of your day has been devoted to each different client.

Thinking back to when I was in practice it was many years before I realised that a timesheet may have uses as a management tool but that it did not ‘prove’ how much time had been spent doing anything. It was a guide, nothing more.

After I left practice in 2006 I continued running training courses (very different to the talks I give now) and I asked accountants what they would bill in a variety of situations. The varied answers proved that the timesheet was simply a guide and that the ‘time costs’ that it reveals are rarely the same as the fees billed (or that could be billed).

A quick search online reveals that many accountants websites still assert that “Accountants sell time”. What nonsense. This is a sad misconception. It’s based on a misunderstanding and it’s misleading. Some accountants may try to determine SOME OF their fees by reference to time. They may try to charge fees by reference to their time records but TIME is not generally what accountants sell. If it were then the corollary would be that TIME is what people who want an accountant set out to buy. And they don’t.

In my view accountants sell (or should focus on selling) Trust, Confidence and Peace of Mind. These are 3 of the key qualities, if not THE 3 key qualities, that clients seek when they want to appoint an accountant. If prospective clients do not quickly trust you, have confidence that you will do the necessary, and gain peace of mind that they can rely on you, you will not keep them as clients; indeed they may not appoint you in the first place.

Yes they may have more specific needs – such as to prepare accounts, complete tax returns or resolve issues with HMRC. They don’t really care how long it takes you to provide your services. They just want things done. What do you think clients pay you for?

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What do you enjoy doing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5 tips from Stephen Lansdown’s entry on The Accountancy Rich List 2015

I was intrigued by elements of the Accountancy Rich List 2015 published by economia magazine.

The magazine itself, as distinct from the online list, contains pen portraits of ten of those on the list, described as “inspiring entrepreneurial chartered accountants”. In each case a sentence or quote has been given explaining ‘How he made it”. One of the quotes stood out as offering important lessons that are more widely applicable.

Stephen Lansdown – ranked 5th on the Accountancy Rich list 2015 – is one of the founders of Hargreaves Lansdown which began life in 1981. It has since grown into one of the UK’s best-known financial services firms.

In the box summarising ‘How he made it’ Stephen is quoted as saying: “It was a combination of marketing our business, getting clients or potential clients on board and then convincing them to do business with us.”  Having been on the receiving end of Hargreaves Lansdown’s marketing for some years I am inclined to extrapolate some specific tips from this quote:

  1. Marketing is key. People need to be aware of your business before they can buy from you.
  2. Prospects need to know exactly what you can do for them and how they can benefit from using your services.
  3. You need to make it easy for prospects to decide they want to do this.
  4. You need to keep in touch with clients so that they keep coming back and doing more business with you.
  5. You need to follow up. Getting in touch once and hoping someone will remember you when they need your services is rarely sufficient. Following-up effectively is key and this is why it is one of the 7 key elements in my STAND OUT framework.

 

 

 

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