Two and a half questions to help you in 2018

This week I invite you to identify your top achievements in 2017 and a few specific achievements you would most like to pursue in 2018. 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, here are your two and a half questions:
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 2018?

And, the half question is: What are you going to do to help ensure that each of those ambitions becomes reality? Remember, ‘hope’ alone is NOT a strategy. If you want some help, just let me know.

Here are my answers to the two questions:

Milestones and achievements in 2017

  • Receiving regular (almost weekly) thanks for my blogs, emails and calls that evidently provide useful insights, tips and tricks that are helping (especially) sole practitioner accountants to be more successful
  • Being invited to judge the 2017 British Accountancy Awards (as I have done a number of times in the past)
  • Presenting the closing keynote talk at the end of the Accountex  conference – this being the 6th consecutive time I was invited to speak there
  • Being identified by Sage as one of their top 100 GLOBAL business influencers (not that I have any ongoing relationship with Sage!)
  • Being identified as an Accountancy influencer and the sole such VIP invited to the mega QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose

Plans and ambitions for 2018

  1. Fill the remaining 2 places in the Inner Circle for Accountants (for London based sole practitioners who want my face to face monthly input to help them achieve more)
  2. Secure at least 5 more commercial bookings of my new talk for accountants: (working title) Are you ready for the future and what it will bring? (This looks way beyond cloud accounting and MTD!)
  3. Continue to publish The Magic of Success: weekly emails for accountants containing insights, tips and tricks that will bring you greater success
  4. Fill my mentoring programme for 1-2-1 support of sole practitioner accountants who want more encouragement, support and accountability
  5. Increase the number of accountant subscribers to my weekly email Successful Practice Programme to 500.
  6. Attract at least 50 new accountant subscribers to my monthly webinar programme: The sole practitioners breakthrough programme

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. Equally, if you would like a quick chat about anything here or want to see if we could work together, feel free to call. This is best done after booking a convenient time using this facility that accesses my diary to see when I’m available >>>

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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How accountants can take control of their career success

Duncan Brodie is a former Finance Director who helps accountants build successful careers. I’ve known him a while and feel his views are worth sharing here.

Duncan’s views will be especially helpful to you if you are nearly or recently qualified.  As he explains:

Once upon a time a professional accounting qualification almost guaranteed that you would progress pretty far in your career. These days this is no longer the case. There are many who get qualified but fail to achieve the success that they had hoped for.

If you want to achieve success in your accounting career you have to take control. So what should you do to take control of your accounting career?

Determine what you want from your career.

This might seem like a statement of the obvious. Yet in truth most just drift along. People usually only give this any significant thought when something significant happens like being made redundant.

This was true in my day too. I originally studied accountancy simply as a way to get a business focused qualification whilst deferring the decision as to what I would do career wise. When I qualified I was no closer to knowing what I wanted. I moved into tax – as that was the only exam I passed first time. And I had realised that clients would gladly pay good money for good advice on how to reduce their tax bills. (The top rate of tax back then was 98%!)

I stayed in tax for another 25 years before concluding that I enjoyed the non-tax aspects of my career more than the tax focused ones!

Duncan continues:

It’s also worth remembering that what matters will be different at different stages in your career. Money and earning more is definitely a consideration when starting out.

As you progress other factors like enjoying your work, gaining the right experience and being challenged matter more.

He advises that you:

Plot out your key moves. There are certain important points in your career and the decisions you make can help or hinder.

The first key move is when you qualify. It can be tempting to jump ship too quickly.

The decision you take at this point can have a huge bearing long term.

I’ve already mentioned that I moved into Tax when I qualified. Duncan’s first job after qualifying was as a Head of Internal Audit.  Why?

I knew that I would get the chance to set up a new function from scratch and also get exposure to Board level working.

If you don’t know what you want to do long-term (and why should you?) make a conscious choice about to do first. You can review your choice down the line. At worst you will have discovered one of the things you do NOT want to do long-term!

Duncan also advises that you take responsibility for your professional development:

In the early stages of my career there was little or nothing available to me in terms of professional development.

That all changed when I went to work for a bank. Areas for improvement to make you more effective were openly discussed and then courses found to build capability.

When I worked in the Big 4 this was even more evident.

Despite it never being easier to access professional development opportunities, it’s surprising how few take personal responsibility for it.

That is really good advice. When you ask for permission to attend specific courses, make sure you can identify for your bosses why you will be more of more value to them after you have been trained in these new skills or enhanced your abilities.

Duncan also suggests that you actively seek out new challenges and responsibilities

You can very easily just plod along doing what you can do extremely well. The problem is that if you are not challenging yourself you are probably not growing.

I found that getting involved in business projects was a great way of building knowledge, skills and attributes.

And adopt a long term outlook.  Yes some make it to a senior level quickly. For the vast majority it is a much slower progression. I encourage people to take a long term view of their career. In my experience a career is more like a marathon and less like a sprint.

Don’t expect it to be plain sailing. There will be:

  • Setbacks
  • Disappointments
  • Rejections
  • Judgements
  • People who don’t rate you

The important thing is to stay positive and believe in yourself, even when the going gets tough.

Many thanks to Duncan Brodie for sharing his careers focused advice for accountants. You can access his free guide The 7 Biggest Barriers To A Successful Career In Accounting here >>>


10 tips to help sole practitioners reduce debtor days and lock up

When I was first in practice the normal practice for accountants was to issue invoices after doing the work and then to provide clients with a further 30 days (or more) credit. I now encourage my sole practitioner clients to move away from this historic approach.

One sole practitioner accountant recently told me that, over the past 6 months he had reduced his debtor days down from  over 90 days to less than 30 days. This had allowed him to withdraw around £10,000 more from the practice – and with no change to his tax bill. It was ‘free’ money. Already earned and taxed but previously tied up in the business as debtors.

I appreciate that you may have some longstanding clients who are now akin to friends. And you may find it tough to push them to pay you faster than they have ever done. But, that is no excuse for running your practice like a charity, ignoring best practice and revealing your own poor business sense to clients.

1.   Many studies have revealed that an increasing number of accountants have moved their clients to monthly standing orders or direct debits. This helps with fee quotes for new clients too. A fee of £40 per month sounds much more affordable than £480 a year.  For lower fees, even quarterly bills are better than single annual bills and make better business sense in most cases.

It’s not just a question of improved cashflow – though this is a key benefit of regular income. It also reduces the risk of you remaining unpaid after you have completed the work. And it reduces the time you have to spend reviewing and chasing debtors. All told it leaves you with more time to do productive (billable) work.

2.   Make it was easy as possible for clients to pay you. Credit cards, paypal and GoCardless all make it easy and although each facility levies a small charge this is invariably better than having to wait and chase for payment at a later date.

3.   When you issue invoices for ad-hoc and advisory work that is not part of the regular billing cycle, when is payment due? Why not ‘on presentation’? Why automatically give 30 days or even 14 days credit? As a sole practitioner accountant you should keep in mind that your credibility is at least, in part, a function of how well you are seen to run your business. If clients know that they can simply take extended credit from you, this WILL damage your credibility (as well as your bank balance and the profits of your practice).

As you probably know, your ‘Lock-up’, is the aggregate of your debtors and work in progress. It’s the total amount you have ‘locked-up’ in your clients at any one time. By way of contrast if you bill all work in advance you would have no ‘lock-up’ at all.

For years established professional firms often seemed to struggle to get their ‘lock-up’ down to less than 100 days. For many it was even longer than that. Now the trend is downwards in all better run practices.

Techniques for keeping ‘lock-up’ down and reducing debtor days can be used at every stage of the billing process – thus

4.   When quoting for work – Consider seeking payments in advance, especially from new clients you don’t know from Adam;

5.   When the timescale for the work is extended but you’ve started the work – assuming it’s not your fault that completion has been deferred;

6.   When you discuss the proposed fee with your client – thus avoiding unpleasant surprises and reducing the prospect of subsequent challenges and delays;

7.   By enforcing your standard payment terms – perhaps allowing an independent credit controller to chase up for late payments (see below);

8.   By stopping ongoing work if the previous fee has yet to be paid – to continue working in such cases just increases your lock-up and the likelihood of write-offs down the line.

9.   Here’s one simple idea you can use when presenting an invoice to a client at a meeting.  As you do so ask, in the same breath, When can I expect to receive your payment or bank transfer? Some clients will respond by asking if 30 days is ok? Others will have their cheque books with them and write one out straight away. Or offer to pay via their smartphone. Others will say ‘within the week’.

10.   To everyone who promises to pay you after the meeting ask “Can I hold you to that?”



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Are technical skills enough for sole practitioner accountants?

Most sole practitioners are justly proud of their technical skills. It is also common to find that some sole practitioners undervalue the importance of ensuring that they have all the business skills they require to be profitable in the short-term and successful in the longer-term.

At best only lip-service is paid to the development of non-technical skills. And yet, there are few accountants whose success is solely dependent upon their technical skills.

I know that my own career success owes more to the development of non-technical skills than it does to my knowledge and application of tax law.

How do we gain our technical skills? No one is born a great accountant, lawyer, tax adviser or whatever. Typically we learn by working alongside experienced colleagues, by studying to pass relevant exams and by our experiences in practice.

Why then should anyone imagine that the other key skills of a profitable accountant can just be left to ‘common sense’?

Some people assume that all of the important non-technical skills can be developed merely through trial and error. And to an extent they can. In time. If we are willing to recognise what works and what doesn’t work and to adapt our behaviour accordingly. This is great as it means that no formal training is necessary.

Anyway, we know that older practitioners didn’t have any such training. Either it wasn’t around or they didn’t need it. But life was simpler back then. Accountants didn’t have to market themselves. There was less competition and clients had less idea as to what they could realistically expect from their accountant.

The world has changed. Clients are far more choosy now and can easily find a new accountant whenever they choose.

It won’t surprise regular readers of this blog that I do not agree with the idea that it’s best to just learn from your mistakes. Nor do I accept another similarly flawed attitude one encounters all too often: Practice makes perfect. No it doesn’t. ‘Practice’ makes ‘permanent’. If you develop bad driving habits and practice driving, you won’t become a better driver. You will merely reinforce your bad driving habits. The same is true of running a small practice.

Sole_Practitioners_Breakthrough_Programme_logo_V1 (1) (2)

I have long been a believer in the importance of developing key personal and business skills. Now I am collaborating with Patrick McCloughlin and we will shortly be launching the Sole Practitioners’ Breakthrough Programme. We will be focusing on those key skills that enable sole practitioners to breakthrough to higher profits and more success. We’re running a launch webinar next week. Do join us>>>


New hologram support service for accountants

Press Release

Renowned accountants’ mentor and commentator, Mark Lee, has teamed up with a Tokyo University for what he is calling an outsourcing knowledge experiment.

This new service is quite distinct from Microsoft’s recently announced holoportation which uses different technology. Using a simpler Japanese originated smartphone app, accountants will be able to have a hologram of Mark projected into their office to provide outsourced practice support, knowledge and advice.Hologram of Mark Lee

Mark is delighted to be able to offer accountants a facility to interact with him akin to that of the holographic doctor in the TV series ‘Star Trek Voyager’.

“Obviously this new facility isn’t comparable with what may be available in the 24th century but it’s still way beyond what we might have imagined just a few years ago. It seems like Magic but it’s science” says Mark who is Treasurer of The Magic Circle and includes a touch of magic in his keynote talks.

The technology in question was developed in 2010 by the University of Tokyo’s Department of Complexity Science and Engineering (DCSE). Mark is the first person in the UK to be licensed to test the technology for commercial purposes. He became involved through a friend, Pria Lolof, who works at the DCSE.

“We’ve been planning this for some time and are concerned that Microsoft’s recent announcement about their holoportation is a spoiling tactic. The timing is very coincidental” says Mark who has been providing support to smaller practitioners for many years and has been looking for a way to fill a gap in his service offerings.

“I provide loads of free stuff on my website and a low cost online course to help accountants build a more Successful Practice. Beyond that I have a face to face group called The Inner Circle which meets in London and a premium 1-2-1 mentoring facility too.

I’ll be launching a new online programme shortly to provide support to a wider range of accountants around the UK. This hologram facility may become the technology we use to deliver the programme. If it turns out to be impracticable I’ll go back to the original plan of online meetings.”

The hologram service is only being promoted today because of the nature of the Japanese Outsourcing Knowledge Experiment. Thereafter accountants will be invited to attend a webinar being prepared especially for sole practitioner accountants who want to make a breakthrough in the development of their practice. Please email Mark if you would like to be advised when the webinar is being run.


How do you decide which bookkeeping software to trust?

It’s not often that you see a huge supplier to your business sector subliminally promoting you. Maybe that’s stretching the facts but I was amused to see a recent post on the Sage One blog titled: TrustMark.

TrustMark is a Government backed quality scheme that is intended to signpost people to reputable local firms and expert tradespeople working to Government-endorsed standards.

Why am I referencing TurstMark here? Partly because I found the post on the SageOne blog, partly because it sounds like an encouragement to recognise my integrity but primarily because of an analogy that I hope you’ll find useful.

It seems that TrustMark was launched 10 years ago, which means I should have come across it previously. I’d have thought I would remember, but it seems not. I would imagine that there was a bit of a fuss about it when it was launched. Since then it has been partly superseded by better known and better funded alternatives eg: Checkatrade, TrustedTraders and TrustaTrader – even though they are all quite different.

Something similar has happened in the world of bookkeeping and accounting software. I read recently that Sage has reached 100,000 Sage One subscriptions in the UK. Few of the alternative suppliers have the same pedigree and yet we often hear more about them than we do about Sage. Why is that I wonder?

I’m not a tech blogger as you know. My focus is on helping individual accountants (and other professionals) to STAND OUT from their competitors, from their peers and from the crowd. The accounting and bookkeeping software houses have to do this too. I imagine they all seem pretty interchangeable at first glance. But I understand that there are some quite significant differences in terms of functionality, price, support, ease of use (for you and for clients) and all sorts of other factors.

If you have yet to choose a preferred solution you need to be careful to avoid simply following the herd. What suits other small practitioners may not be ideal for you and your client base.

Indeed there are plenty of accountants who are, effectively, software agnostics. They are happy to use different software for different clients. If this approach resonates, what will be your policy when you learn that a prospective new client uses a bookkeeping package that is new to your practice? Is there a limit as to how many different packages you will allow your clients to use?

Now that you have the facility to run these programmes in the cloud one key reason for limiting the number of different packages has gone. Cloud based software doesn’t require you to install regular or even annual updates. In theory therefore there is no need to limit the number of different packages that clients use. That is unless you have learned from experience or from other accountants of limitations and irritants that you wish to avoid.

But I am now in danger of over stretching my ability to comment on these systems. I like to limit myself to those topics about which I can speak with some authority – whether on my blog, in workshops or on conference stages.

Three years ago I spoke at the Sage Accountants Roadshow on the #FutureOfAccounting. The focus of my presentation was how accountants can use social media. As ever, I debunked some of the hype (much of which exists to this day). I love doing this and my enthusiasm for doing so probably comes across even stronger now than it did in 2013.

I used an analogy back then comparing social media to a car. I suggested that some accountants who start using social media are like people who get into car and try to drive without first understanding anything about the clutch and the gearstick. It wouldn’t be a very comfortable journey and might well put one off driving. Many accountants who try out social media are in much the same position. They don’t find it useful or helpful, principally because they have bought into the hype but don’t really understand what they are doing.

Does the same sort of thing happen with some cloud based bookkeeping and accounting packages? As we move into 2016 I suspect that we will hear more about which suppliers we can really trust. What do you think?

This blog post was kindly sponsored by SageOne.





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.
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.
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.



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.





How I manage my time on social media each week

How long do you need to spend on social media to build up a decent following, contribute effectively and secure a good level of engagement?

I’m not sure much has changed over the years since I started to use social media in 2006. The answers to those questions depend on your reasons for getting involved and using each of the social media platforms.

Sure, there are some agencies and individuals to whom you can outsource much or all of your social media activity. This MAY make sense for well-known brands but in the main I doubt it’s worthwhile for many professionals.

I am often asked how I manage to spend so much time on social media and whether it’s worthwhile. It’s all a matter of perception and probably takes less of my time than you might think. I am very selective as to which platforms I use and where I engage with people online. My approach works for me. I am realistic as regards what I can achieve on each platform. Social media is not a place to promote and sell your services. It’s simply a new starting point for building relationships that will grow only through direct contact, whether by phone, skype or face to face meetings.

What follows is the fourth summary of my approach that I have posted here. The first was in 2010, the second was in April 2012 and the third was in March 2014.

It is clear to me that the time I spend on social networking sites continues to reduce over time. And the time I do spend online is more focused than ever before. Despite my enthusiasm for social media I still consider it to be over hyped as a marketing tool and widely misunderstood as a communication tool.

As ever the time I spend online each week depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active online when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting.

So how much time do I allocate to social media?

Business online networks


I believe Linkedin is quite distinct from the social media sites identified below.

Because it is a business online network I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across all areas of my business activities. I use Linkedin to look up almost everyone I am due to meet, have met or who contacts me by email or phone. I ask to connect with people and accept connection requests from most people who approach me – once I know why they have done so.

I am not convinced there is enormous value in posting long form blog posts/articles on Linkedin. My efforts in this regard have not proved worthwhile to date. I do however check out the activity on my home page, contribute to relevant discussions in key groups, administer requests to join my groups and monitor all new connection requests and messages most days.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Social Media


I have started to use this more than before, largely because I have got to know so many members of the Professional Speaking Association. There is a popular facebook group to which many members contribute. Doing so is a way of helping each other and keeping one’s profile high.

Beyond this most of my use of facebook is related to keeping in touch with old friends I haven’t seen for a while. I still see the site as being largely for fun, family and friends rather than for business generation.

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.


It’s never grabbed me and recent developments vindicate my longstanding advice to ignore it.

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

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change). I am planning to post more videos on line over the coming year. It is more time consuming than I would like but I note that YouTube is an important channel for professional speakers.



I am now even more focused than I was previously. I still rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every few hours. As there are over 600 posts to choose from this means no repeats for over a month. It also means that I appear active even when I am otherwise engaged. I supplement these posts with links to current blog posts and replies to and RTs of other tweets and links I think will be of interest to my followers (who number well over 6,000 – and more than 10 times the number of people I follow).

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Accountancy website


As consultant practice editor I write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week


WordPress – The STAND OUT blog and my Blog for ambitious accountants

These are the regular blogs I update every week or so – you’re reading one of them now.  Total time: Probably an hour per week to post one or two items and to review and reply to comments.

Blogger – The lighter side of accountancy and tax

My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. I seem to have reduced the time I spend adding posts here. Total time: No more than 10 minutes a week.


It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above since 2006.

How about you?

Like this post? You can now access the ebook I wrote specifically for accountants who want to get more value from the time they spend on Social Media. Click here for full details>>>


Will this merger of two more mid-tier firms do the trick?

I was saddened but unsurprised by the news that Moore Stephens and Chantrey Vellacott are to merge with effect from 1 May 2015.

I originally trained at a predecessor firm of Chantry Vellacott and the current managing partner, Mike Tovey, was my manager when I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1982.

The name of the firm I was with, Wood & Co, disappeared long ago so it’s not the disappearance of the Chantrey Vellacott name that saddens me.

The press release announcing the merger contains the standard factual outcomes and the ubiquitous aspirations that accompany all such ‘mergeovers’:

  • The firms will merge and continue to use the larger firm’s name, brand and international association.
  • This will reinforce their position as one of the UK’s biggest mid-tier firms.
  • “The merger provides a platform for continued, sustainable growth. There are real synergies, not just in terms of the services and sectors but a coming together of similar philosophies and values to form a strong combined firm.”
  • “This provides an important strategic development for both firms. The combined firm will provide our clients with a broader range of expertise, along with an increased depth of sector knowledge and experience.”
  • “Clients will also benefit from access to much wider UK and global capabilities through the [larger firm’s] UK and international network.”

Much the same thing is said every time two mid-tier accountancy (“rival”) firms merge. The drivers for these mergers are typically the ongoing struggle for multi-disciplinary mid-tier firms to generate sufficient profits and to STAND OUT from all of their competitors.

The simple fact is that the downwards pressure on fees and the overheads involved in running mid-sized firms are a constant battle.  And this battle has challengers on both sides.

First there are the larger firms which are perceived to have more credibility and clout. They typically have more than one or two suitably experienced experts in any discipline you might name.  Everyone recognises the name of the firm and many top graduates aspire to work for one of them in the first instance. The larger firms invest time and money in networking and marketing their services and key people to target clients – many of which are currently serviced by mid-tier firms.

Secondly there are the smaller firms which are perceived to offer similar quality services, more regular direct access to partners, greater flexibility and, typically, lower fee levels.

The struggle for the mid-tier firms that want to survive and thrive is threefold. They need to:

  1. Convince larger clients that they do not need the services of a larger firm. This often necessitates having more than one or two credible client friendly in-house experts for each of all necessary specialisms. And those key clients need to know who they are. When a large client moves on to a larger firm, examine the real reasons and avoid the internal blame game. What can be done to avoid a recurrence? Maybe a merger is the only (short-term) solution to sustain the practice. I wonder though whether this is ever enough to retain those larger clients who are tempted to move to a larger firm?
  2. Improve their market focus so as to secure increasing numbers of new and profitable clients.  Without this clarity fewer and fewer businesses will see any good reason to move their affairs to a larger version of the smaller firm they were with previously.  I would add that this approach requires a move away from the traditional game of rewarding partners and staff for picking up new fees, regardless of size and unaware of the, typically, disproportionate cost of acquisition of clients where the fees are relatively low.
  3. Clarify a clear, credible and consistent focus on specific market niches rather than trying to be all things to all people. That old-school approach rarely has any credibility any more, in any size firm. If pursued it will invariably result in the firm sliding into a merger that benefits only the most senior partners. Few growing businesses will be attracted to yet another ‘fits all sizes’ accountancy firm that doesn’t evidence the necessary expertise in relevant specialisms.

I’m generalising of course. But the writing has been on the wall for years. Before I joined BDO in 1997 I was a partner at, what is now, Crowe Clark Whitehill (CCW). Even back then this mid-tier firm was recognising the value of adopting a clear focus on 3 distinct specialisms. I don’t know for sure but I would expect that it is this approach that has helped sustain CCW over the last 18 years.

The firm has long evidenced a consistent focus and expertise in advising Professional Practices, Not For Profits and Pension Funds. I’m sure that this approach is also a major contributor to their ability to recruit good partners and teams and to consolidate their position in the top 20. I am sad, but unsurprised when yet another mid-tier firm of accountants is merged out of existence.

For many years I advised on mergers of professional service firms. I can still recall one of my favourite mantras that “the merger of two weak and unprofitable firms rarely creates a strong profitable firm”.

What saddens me is that the merger of Moore Stephens and Chantrey Vellacott is a reminder of the large number of accountancy firms that are perceived as being ‘just another’ mid-size firm. Just another large firm of accountants who are all perceived to do much the same things, in much the same way for similar types of clients.

Of course they struggle to win as many new profitable clients as they would like to do.  And of course they lose some of their better partners and staff to more profitable firms. It’s hard for larger firms to get the buy-in and commitment from enough partners to change engrained habits. This requires strong leadership, informed external stimuli and a willingness to invest sufficient time and money to make the necessary changes. The fewer partners who need to be convinced this will secure the longevity of the firm, the easier it is to take the necessary steps.

All sizes of firms of accountants would benefit from adopting simple names and brands that are distinct and memorable. They also need to clarify their business focus and evidence how specific groups of clients benefit most from engaging their services. This is not easy.

To most people, most accountants are much the same.  And it’s rarely credible or  sufficient to claim that “it’s our people that make us different”.

That claim only has credibility if all those people have grown up in the firm and not worked elsewhere. If there are many recent recruits everyone needs to be able to confidently and honestly talk about the differences they have noted since moving to their new firm. And for those new recruits to be able to assert that ‘Yes that this firm’s style and approach really is different. Everyone’s focus is genuinely on helping clients and there is less of the internal politics and internally focused targets that most other firm obsess about. Clients benefit because we know that without our clients we’d have no business.” And so on.

Of course, the more firms whose people make such claims the more they all sound the same again. This is part of the reason why I am a great believer in the importance of individual partners and staff being able to STAND OUT from their competitors. Of course it helps if the firm has a strong brand and clear business message. But ‘Business branding and messaging’  is only one of the 7 fundamental principles that you can use to STAND OUT from the pack.

I wish everyone in the newly merged firm, Moore Stephens, all the best. And I hope that the merger creates a sustainable, profitable and respected firm that is a professional and fun place to work.

In the mean time I’ll await news of the next mergover in the accountancy sector. I doubt I’ll have to wait long.


Pricing for profit – who’s charging what?

At this week’s meeting of the Inner Circle, members shared their approach to pricing 6 specific client situations.

A variety of distinct entrepreneurial approaches became apparent during the round-table discussion.

In a clear sign of the times, none of the members referenced time-based fees or timesheets.

Most members quoted monthly fee rates, or annual fees – typically to be paid monthly. They also shared their views about how to deal with clients coming on board close to their accounting date or who leave part way through the year.

One member said afterwards that he now had the confidence to increase his fees by at least 25% almost across the board.

As ever, members shared freely what worked for them, what they’d tried and what lessons they’d learned through experience. This all means that everyone around the table moves up the learning curve that much faster. Everybody wins.

I have just sent the follow up notes from the meeting to all members, including those unable to attend due to pressures related to the 31 January deadline. The notes include a summary of the discussions, the key learning points noted by members at the end of the meeting, plus links to all of the services and facilities we discussed – plus links to related blog posts and articles. Copies will also be added to the members’ online archive for the benefit of future members.

If this sounds like the sort of exclusive group you might like to join, you can see more of what it’s all about here>>>


Website and blog stats review 2014

This will be the third time I have posted an annual review of my website and blog stats. It’s as much for posterity as it is for those who may be interested in such things. The 2013 review can be found here>>>

Once again, visitor numbers and blog posts read are all significantly up on previous years. I am delighted that an increasing number of professionals (not just accountants) seem to find what I write to be of interest and value.

Blog posts each year

2014 – 64; 2013 – 68; 2012 – 70; 2011 – 56; 2010 – 59;

2009 – 59; 2008 – 109; 2007 – 93; 2006 – 52

Visitor numbers

According to my WordPress stats the site has averaged over 30,000 visitors a month this year (2013: over 20,000).

The day the site had most visitors was 29 October 2014 (1,716) which is 35% up on last year’s most visited day which had just 1,272 visitors.

Popular Blog Posts

The top ten blog posts and pages of the site according to wordpress, in terms of the number of times they have been viewed/read are as follows. Figures in brackets are those recorded a year ago:

(1) Welcome 66,750 (44,110) This is the main landing page for my website.
(-) Giving constructive feedback 43,491 A post that has risen in popularity since it was first posted in 2008.
(5) Five modern marketing tips for accountants 31,112 (9,231) This popular searched for topic has generated loads of interest in what is now a 6 year old blog post from January 2009.
(6) How do you set charge out rates? 30,600 (9,076) Another popular searched for topic that has promoted interest in another 6 year old blog post.
(2) What’s your approach to the provision of business advice? 27,919 (22,441) This one only dates back to 2012 and has seens a smaller growth in readership during 2014 than the posts above.
(3) Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 20,604 (14,463) The most popular of the posts I wrote in 2012 is often found through searches for information on this topic.
(9) Will you get paid more for iXBRL accounts? 20,341 (6,039) I remain mystified as to why this niche post from August 2010 has again been so, relatively, popular this year
(4) Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 17,501 (11,773) I got lucky with this title in 2008. It transpires this is a very popular searched for topic. NB: I doubt that many of the visitors who read it have any interest in anything else I write or do.
(-) Lessons for accountants from… dating sites 15,798. A popular post from 2013 that was not in the top ten at the end of that year.
(7) Why accountants don’t NEED to bother with twitter 13,288 (8,439) Promoted by me and by others who challenge the logic of this 6 year old post. It’s as true today as it was in 2008.
I will post a separate list of the top ten most read blog posts from 2014.


2014 – Highlights of my professional year

In my last email newsletter of the year I promised to post here a summary of my highlights and what I have achieved and shared in 2014.

January – Started researching and planning the launch of what became The Inner Circle for Accountants

February – Appointed Treasurer of The Magic Circle. Very proud. Have been a member for about 30 years.

March – Conceived The 4 suits approach to having more powerful conversations. Referenced it in a blog post and have since found it to be a key element of The 7 principles anyone can use to STAND OUT from the pack.

April – First meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants. Delighted by positive feedback and encouragement from initial members whose input has helped refine the offering.

May – Attended and spoke at two major conferences for the professions: Accountex and Legalex. Full lecture theatres for my new keynote talks on ‘How to STAND OUT from the pack’. Very positive feedback afterwards.

June – Launched a new Linkedin group for professionals who want to STAND OUT from the pack and win more work, be remembered, referred and recommended. Do join us.

July – Ran the first of a number of webinars for accountants this year. An easy way to share knowledge, insights and advice for free. Very popular. If only the technology was more reliable ;-(

August – I was appointed Network Independent Director for Winmark’s Tax Director Network. My first quasi NED role.

September – Published what has become my most viewed article (over 16,000 todate) on AccountingWeb this year: Twenty signs you’re a bad accountant

October – Attended my first convention as a member (a Fellow in fact) of The Professional Speaking Association. What a fabulous experience. Presented a ‘Meet the Pros’ workshop that was well received.

November – Attended The British Accountancy Awards in London – having fulfilled my role as a judge for a number of the award categories a couple of months earlier. Glorious evening celebrating with many well deserved winners.

December – Planning new online product and services to be available from 2015. Exciting. More news soon.

Before we get back to normal in the New Year I will be posting my 2014 blog stats and my PIPs for 2015 – that’s my Plans, Initiatives and Promises.


The Business Hour – Radio interview with Mark Lee

I was delighted (in November 2104) to be invited onto Margo Manning’s radio show: The Business Hour on HCR.  [Edited: Sept 2016: Sadly the recording is no longer available].

Margo started by asking me to comment on a couple of news related issues. We then moved onto talking about how businesses, business owners and professional advisers can STAND OUT from the pack. And the value of having more powerful conversations.

You can find key elements from the interview using the time index details below:

  • 0.00 – 01.45     Music
  • 01.45 – 04.38   Introduction by Margo.
  • 04.38 – 08.00  Discussion re Duke of York’s recent suggestion that British Businesses need to be less polite, more competitive and embrace the Chinese market. Should we be more pushy or assertive?
  • 08.00 – 18.08   Possible differences between an employee mentality and a professional mentality.
  • 18.08 – 18.52    How to be more assertive without being pushy in sales
  • 19.00 – 20.15    The 7 key principles that can help you to STAND OUT from the pack
  • 20.15 – 44.58    How to have more powerful and impactful conversations
  • 44.58 – 49.00   Adapting the principles to online conversations
  • 49.00 – 54.59    Adapting the principles to networking events
  • 54.59 – 57.52     Final tips and thoughts

The free materials referenced at the end of the interview are available here>>>


More doubt spread re ‘approved’ tax schemes

If this blog was a redtop newspaper the headline might have read: “Tax Barrister blows the lid off Tax Schemes scam”. I admit I was tempted!

Regular readers will know that only very occasionally do I use this blog to reference tax related topics. When I do so my observations are still focused around helping accountants in practice.

I have long been dismissive of those promoters and commentators who have sought to encourage accountants that they MUST advise clients about tax schemes. By which I mean those schemes that HMRC regard as abusive or aggressive.

My cynicism about such schemes contributed to me choosing to leave the world of tax advice in 2006. Since then my stance has been justified many times over – see links below.

Jolyon Maugham, a tax barrister at Devereux Chambers, has now ‘blown the lid off’ what some of us have long suspected.

In a well written blog post Jolyon effectively accuses a small group of tax barristers of knowingly giving positive opinions of tax schemes that are unlikely to succeed.

The opening paragraph of his blog (which has been republished in Taxation magazine) gives you a flavour of his views:

I have on my desk an Opinion – a piece of formal tax advice – from a prominent QC at the Tax Bar. In it, he expresses a view on the law that is so far removed from legal reality that I do not believe he can genuinely hold the view he says he has. At best he is incompetent. But at worst, he is criminally fraudulent: he is obtaining his fee by deception. And this is not the first such Opinion I have seen. Such pass my desk All The Time.
Later he notes:

The [promoters] will then go out and sell that idea to taxpayers. In the case of individual taxpayers, they will sell it, typically, through IFAs to whom they will pay a sales commission.That sales commission, too, can be very substantial, running in some cases into hundreds of thousands of pounds for a single client. So the IFA can be strongly incentivised to persuade their clients that the idea works and – should the taxpayer client care about such things – that it is not aggressive tax planning.
What happens next?

The taxpayer will make their tax return, HMRC will disallow the beneficial tax treatment, and the taxpayer will challenge that disallowance in the tax tribunal (causing years of uncertainty and substantial professional fees). Should that challenge fail, the taxpayer will lose whatever money he put into the idea, face an unexpected tax charge and, very often, be publicly pilloried into the bargain.
Suffice it to say that Jolyon’s expose further supports my view that accountants can safely ignore all those promoters encouraging them to introduce clients to their tax schemes. Even those apparently ‘supported by Leading Tax Counsel’. Sad to say, these opinions may be costly to obtain but also potentially worthless. As we have seen so many times in recent years, ‘abusive’ schemes are being successfully challenged all the time – despite the assertions of their well paid promoters when clients were being encouraged to ‘invest’.

If you have clients being encouraged to invest in a scheme that seems ‘iffy’ to you, Jolyon’s blog will give you added confidence to provide independent constructive advice about the risks.


Reviewing 6 months of The Inner Circle for accountants

When I started The Inner Circle 6 months ago I could only speculate that members would benefit and find it of value. That was confirmed again this week after our 6th meeting.

Members explained why they had joined. There seem to be five explicit reasons which keep them coming back month after month:

  • To learn from others what they are doing better than me;
  • To avoid reinventing the wheel;
  • To focus on building the practice rather than just servicing clients;
  • To gain a greater commitment to achieving my goals; and
  • To learn new ideas I can adapt and implement to suit me, my practice and my clients.

When I started The Inner Circle I had other objectives in mind – and these are set out on the introductory page of my website>>>>>

Over the last 6 months we have addressed many issues of practical and commercial importance to this select group of smaller practitioners.

  • Distinguishing our practice from the competition
  • Business growth strategies and tactics
  • Effective use of technology and reviewing new ideas/trends
  • Making efficient use of social media
  • Attracting the right type of clients
  • Obtaining high quality clients through effective marketing
  • Attracting talented staff
  • Adding value (and fees) to our existing client base
  • Getting clients to give us what we need faster

The key learning points and follow up notes from each meeting are building up into a valuable pack that will also be available to new members – to reduce the temptation to ‘reinvest the wheel’ ourselves. And most members are keen for me to hold them to account when we have our monthly 1-2-1 conversations between meetings of The Inner Circle.

At this week’s meeting members agreed that I should set out the agenda for the next 6 months – which I will do after first running a short survey to ascertain the most popular topics from those members have said they want to address. We often sidetrack a little but my role, in part, is to ensure that we keep (relatively) focused and avoid repeating previous conversations.

If you’re tempted to find out more, do have a look at this introduction and let me know if you’d like to have a chat. We’re quite selective though as it’s important the members are comfortable with each other. The key criteria are not onerous but all members do satisfy them. You’ll also need to be able to get into London for our monthly meetings. You can see the basic membership criteria here>>>


What is Mark Lee doing now?

This blog normally contains advice and insights to help readers. Every now and then I use it to share something more personal – for example, so that I have a record of related stats. This time I am answering a question I am often asked: “What are you doing now?”

Since 2006 I have pursued a portfolio career. It took a while to work out what links the various strands. These are best summed up as: Helping professionals who want to STAND OUT and ensure they are remembered, referred and recommended.  

This focus includes advice across a range of topics including elements of marketing and personal branding, networking, social media, reputation management and related practice development skills.

Whilst many of the professionals I work with are accountants and tax advisers, I also work with lawyers, financial advisers, finance companies, consultants, speakers and bankers. Naturally I can adapt my services for others too.

To quote from my Linkedin profile:


  • engaging me to speak at your conferences, seminars, networking groups, masterclasses, webinars and training sessions;
  • booking me to mentor you 1-2-1;
  • engaging me to write for your publication or blog or to provide strategic consultancy advice; or
  • subscribing for my regular blog posts, articles, podcasts, webinars and newsletters

As indicated on my website and on my bookmark-shaped business card I am a Speaker, Mentor, Facilitator, Author, Blogger and Debunker.

That final reference to being a ‘debunker’ is intended to emphasise that my input, insights and advice are focused in the real world; despite my energetic and enthusiastic approach I am no fan of the hype and empty promises made by so many other bloggers and consultants to the professions.

In addition to the above I also hold a number of distinct professional roles. These include:

  • Facilitator of The INNER CIRCLE FOR ACCOUNTANTS – a select group of smaller practices in London who assist each other in overcoming day to day and strategic frustrations.
  • Chairman of the TAX ADVICE NETWORK – connecting accountants with independent tax experts.
  • Network Independent Director (think Non Exec Director) of Winmark’s TAX DIRECTOR NETWORK – for in-house Heads of Tax in FTSE 350-sized companies.

Some people still approach me for tax advice although I gave up being a tax adviser in 2006.  I shared my reasons here>>>  When asked for tax advice all I can do is direct the enquiry to the Tax Advice Network that I chair find out here now. That Network comprises many tax experts who provide advice across a wider range of tax topics than ever I could have done, even after a 25 year career in the profession.

If you would like to see if I can help you, your clients or anyone you know, do explore my website, give me a call or drop me an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.


Getting sufficient support for your practice

The main topic for discussion at last month’s meeting of The Inner Circle was: How do you get the right staff and support for your practice?

The topic had been raised during a number of the conversations I had with members after the previous meeting. Not all have staff however.

We met at The Eight Club in Moorgate, London and members of The Inner Circle again benefited from the willingness they all had to share their experiences and insights during our round table discussion. In accordance with one of our key membership principles everyone agreed to abide by the Chatham House Rule.

During the morning we discussed a range of related issues including:

  • Formulating job specs and people specs; being clear as to what you really need and how to assess candidates’ suitability.
  • Using your website to effectively support your message and what works in practice including related tools and automated systems.
  • Sourcing, managing, liaising with and relying on home workers and other remote workers (either in the UK or overseas).
  • Making interviews more informative and a better filter.
  • Titles and roles that appeal and which motivate – whether or not they are on staff.
  • Inducting new workers effectively – whether or not they are on staff.
  • Motivating the right people to stay with you.

At the end of the meeting everyone shared their key learning points and takeaways. Two observations stood out in this regard.

One member said he didn’t have any staffing issues but he still valued the meeting and had benefitted from some of the related issues we addressed. Another member who had been making copious notes announced that there was so much he would be doing as a result of attending the meeting he wasn’t sure where to start.  We’ll address that when I have my catchup call with him later this week!

After the meeting I circulated to all members my summary of all of the identified key learning and action points. I also shared links to the third party sites mentioned during the meeting and also to some of my blog posts that address related issues.

If you’d like to know more about The Inner Circle, just click this link>>>


Accountants vs SMBs – Intuit’s research

One of the advantages of attending Accountex for me is to be able to catch up with interesting developments I may have missed. One such was a white paper issued by Intuit at the end of 2013 on The Changing role of Accountancy. Subtitled – The Strategic Accountant: A Case for the Cloud.

It’s well worth a read as it is based on in-depth opinion research conducted by an independent company. They collated the views of 200 owners and senior managers of UK businesses with between 2 and 250 employees. (identified as SMBs). The objective was to determine how the accountancy profession is changing against a backdrop of rapidly evolving technological advancements and heightened client expectations.

You can read a quick summary of the key results here>>>

The stats I consider worth highlighting on this blog are from the SMB’s:

72% believe that accountants must modernise their brand to deliver on their role as a strategic business adviser
65% say accountants need to stay ahead of the technological curve; and
66% say accountants need to update their accountancy software (though one wonders how clients know or why they would care much about what software their accountant is using)
65% express an immediate need for business advice and a further 31% anticipate a need for this in the near future; but only 35% consider their accountants to be strategic business advisers.
65% claim that they would ‘really value’ a business consulting service
62% believe that accountants need to introduce new offerings and strategic services to move to a valued adviser position.
The report then quotes accountants and highlights both where their views coincide with those of the business owners and also where they diverge. eg: 40% of accountants believe that their clients would be “sceptical” about paying for consultancy.

Another example of divergence is quite revealing. 63% of SMBs require a bookkeeping service but only 37% of accountants provide one. This struck me as odd. So I went back and noted that the survey of accountants’ views was limited to “100 owners and senior managers of accountancy firms with between five and 250 employees in the UK”. I’m sorry but that’s not a very representative sample. The vast majority of accountancy firms here are sole practitioners and have fewer than 5 employees.

So, whilst the survey responses of the owners of SMBs may well be representative of the majority of such businesses, the responses attributed to accountants only represent a small sub-set of the UK accountancy profession.

Do you agree? How close are the survey responses to the experiences of ‘most’ UK accountants?


Linkedin survey of accountants – results and tips

Well over a hundred accountants responded to a recent short survey in which I invited them to summarise their biggest challenge using Linkedin back in 2014.

Following the survey I arranged a webinar for accountants which I ran with Mark Perl. Almost 100 accountants were online. Feedback both during and afterwards was very positive.

Mark focused on the challenges identified by the survey which told us that key concerns and challenges seem to be:

  • How to compose a professional and effective profile
  • What is best practice and effective when it comes to posting status updates
  • How to give and get worthwhile recommendations

There isn’t room to summarise the presentation here but here are some of the points Mark addressed that I know are not covered by my ebook on the subject:

  • Linkedin has around 15m users in the UK. That’s about 50% of the working population. So clearly they are not all job hunters or recruiters.
  • Basic due diligence these days includes checking out someone’s Linkedin profile. I do this all the time and I assume others check out mine too. What does yours say about you?
  • Your profile should focus on ‘what you do’, more than on ‘what you are’ (eg: an accountant).  It’s also important to include something that highlights what makes you STAND OUT as compared with others like you.
  • Status updates are only seen by those people who visit the home page of the website (when logged in) and those who know they can access a link to your recent activity when they visit your profile page.
  • When posting status updates think like an editor, engage the reader and stimulate their engagement through something that catches the eye. If you succeed in generating comments, make sure you reply.
  • Only people with whom you are connected can see your Recommendations on Linkedin. Everyone else can simply see how many you have.
  • Check out the Recommendations of your local competition. Aim to have more (quantity) and more valuable recommendations than they do.
  • The best Recommendations to give and to get are those that are outcome focused. Keep this in mind when giving them and when asking for them. eg: What value did you get from the presentation, meeting, interaction or service provided by the person that you wish to recommend?


My favourite twitter tools

I received a tweeted message from ‘twopcharts London’ on 6 July notifying me that it was the 6th anniversary of the day I joined twitter. This led me to check out ‘twopcharts‘ which was where the message originated.

Despite my continued ambivalence about the business benefits of twitter I continue to be an active and enthusiastic user. I’m also interested in related stats and twopcharts offered me two new ones. I’ve noted them below for posterity and have also then shared a note about my favourite twitter tools. These have evolved over time.

Firstly a couple of stats from that are not otherwise available from twitter:

I’m included in over 240 twitter lists curated by other people. I think that’s more than most, which is nice.
And apparently I’m among the top 5,000 tweeters in London. Not sure if that’s really worth celebrating!
On my computer I typically use hootsuite to track tweets by those I follow, tweets that mention me, conversations I’m having, tweets by those on my twitter lists and tweets I have sent. I only open this a couple of times each day – to avoid being constantly distracted.

I very rarely ever visit other than occasionally to see how many people I have listed in the various lists that I curate. You can follow any of these lists if you want to see the tweets from the type of people listed – without having to follow each of the tweeters individually.

On my iphone I rely on the echofon app to read and post tweets as I find it more user-friendly than the mobile twitter app. I also rely on buffer – see below.

Every now and then I visit:

manageflitter – this allows me to check out who I follow and who follows me by ref to various criteria – such as how active or inactive they are. I may then choose to unfollow some of them. I do this as I like to track the ratio of ‘real’ people I follow and equally those who follow me. I’ve never been keen on playing the game of following others to get them to follow me. If I did I might well have more followers but doubt they would be interested or ‘listening’ at all. This is why I tend to think that the ratio of followers to those you follow is informative as well as the number of followers.

Twitter counter – this lets me track movement in the number of my tweets and followers etc

twtrland – I recommend this as a way to find tweeters you might want to follow in any profession or with any specific interests.

Buffer – this is a wonderful aid. It allows me to spread out my tweets across the day even though I might have written them all, found interesting links or spotted items to ReTweet during a ten minute splurge first thing in the day. My buffer account is synchronised with my home computer, my chrome toolbar, my echofon account and my iphone. Buffer also provides stats about the tweets it has managed. How often have the links been clicked, and the tweets been retweeted or favourited. I am frequently disappointed by the low figures in each case.

Which other twitter apps and sites do you use and rate?


Linkedin and Facebook. What's the difference?

A trainee accountant I know had just heard that I’d been speaking about Linkedin at an accountancy firm’s away day. He was amazed that a firm would need this as, in his words, “Linkedin is just like Facebook isn’t it?”

This is a common misconception, fuelled in part by surveys and articles that reference Linkedin simply as just another social networking site. This causes many older people to dismiss Linkedin as they have no interest in social networking. And many younger people then pay it little attention as they are already active on Facebook. “Why bother doing much on a copycat site?”

My view is quite simple. The two sites are very different.

For professionals, like accountants, I suggest viewing Facebook as being principally for fun, friends and family.

Linkedin however is where you can build, manage and utilise your business connections. It’s more of a professional business networking site rather than somewhere to share your social activities and non-business views.

Crucially, as I explained to my young friend, his career moves are more likely to benefit from his Linkedin activity than from his use of facebook. The latter has more potential to have an adverse impact if postings and comments are not carefully considered.

Linkedin can also be used as a powerful career enhancer and I have spoken about this before. More and more recruitment decisions are influenced by Linkedin profiles. Also relevant to your career success will be your activity and the connections you build up on Linkedin.

The other key distinction between facebook and Linkedin is that the latter is a powerful lead generation tool that can be used by accountants – of all ages.  And this tends to be the focus of the talks I present on the subject both in-house and at conferences.  Hence my conclusion that Linkedin is VERY different to Facebook and a far more valuable and important tool for most accountants.


Confessions of a tax avoidance scheme promoter

At last week’s annual Taxation Awards event I found myself chatting with someone who used to promote tax avoidance schemes. What he had to say was well worth sharing with readers of my blog.

First though let me offer some background. I want to provide enough details to justify why what Mr X had to say is so important. But I am respecting his preference not to be identified here especially as I made no notes at the time so I do not want to specifically attribute his comments.

I have known Mr X for 15 years or so. When I was in practice I attended many meetings with him and was always struck by his honesty and integrity. Although I was never a fan of tax schemes, when Mr X promoted a tax scheme I knew HE had always researched it thoroughly himself and understood exactly how it worked. He was in favour of making full disclosure on tax returns and was very choosy about the schemes he promoted – even before the DOTAS regime was introduced ten years ago.

Mr X has been a top private client lawyer and tax adviser for years. He belongs to a number of professional bodies; his expertise and independence are highly regarded and he frequently writes cogent and hard hitting articles for the professional press.

Our conversation started by referencing the latest media reports about the icebreaker tax scheme and Gary Barlow and Take That. See: Why weren’t all accountants promoting those tax schemes? This is a post I wrote when the same story first became news almost 2 years ago in 2012:  (It has since become apparent that the scheme dates back to 2004 – rather than only to 2010 as I suggested in that post)

When we talked I learned that Mr X has found that the market for tax schemes has dried up in recent years.

In his experienced and credible view NO professional accountant in their right mind spends time promoting tax schemes to clients any more. There is NO point in accountants spending time trying to get their heads around new schemes, as an independent conclusion will always be that the scheme will not survive attack by HMRC.

Mr X told me that in his view the only people still actively promoting tax schemes to clients are the naive and those whose independent view has been compromised by their need to earn a living. Oh, and the liars who know that their assurances are unreliable.

There will always be greedy people who will want to believe that they can reduce or remove a large tax bill by doing what they think the rich and famous do. And there will always be slick salespeople who can exploit that desire for a profit.

Mr X still advises on tax but confessed that he no longer promotes ANY tax schemes. He does however get involved in helping extricate people from schemes that have been found not to work or where this is now anticipated to be the likely outcome.

Supplemental point

When I was at Accountex last week I noted that two well known membership groups for accountants are encouraging their members to use the services of their preferred tax scheme promoters.  I tend to think there is a combination of naivety and greed involved in such arrangements.

Having said that, maybe this is the right approach for that handful of clients who want to know what their options are. Especially as they will only want to pay a fee if someone is going to help them pay less tax.

I must admit though that I wonder how often well advised clients actually choose to go ahead with tax avoidance schemes these days. I have noted previously that barely one in ten clients proceed once they understand what is really involved.

As Mr X confirmed when we spoke, the outcome of any remaining tax avoidance schemes must be in some doubt. Because of the inevitable prevarication and argument the final outcome will typically only become clear over the next 5-10 years.

Much better, in my view, to simply seek the advice of a suitable experienced tax expert to help ensure that a client’s transactions etc are being arranged in the most tax efficient and non-controversial manner.  Mr X does this. And the Tax Advice Network provides a simple way to secure such input from independent tax experts around the country.

Related post: Why weren’t all accountants promoting those tax schemes?


Effective use of new tech in accountancy offices

This was the main topic for discussion at yesterday’s meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants. I have summarised below some of the key issues members addressed.

We met at The Eight Club in Moorgate, London and Members again benefited from the sharing of knowledge and insights around the table. Inevitably we strayed onto related topics as will be seen from the summary below:

– Likes and dislikes about key practice software
– Software that members had tried but given up on
– Different approaches to CRM using software solutions
– Synchronisation issues and solutions
– Managing multiple client and prospect databases
– Workflow management tools
– Managing online marketing campaigns
– Pricing formulas and fee quoting software

One of our members is among, what he believes to be, less than 300 UK accountancy firms to have invested in a branded ‘app’. His views will evidently impact other members’ response to the heavy marketing push around this topic.

Half of the members present had been at Accountex last week and provided their feedback as to whether a visit is worthwhile and how to gain maximum value when you do go.

At the end of the meeting I invited members to share what were for them the key learning points and takeaways. I have since shared these with all members of The Inner Circle along with related links to save them time trying to locate them. I will also share a fuller note of the issues discussed and shared at the meeting in due course together with additional relevant ideas. In accordance with our Membership Principles all such notes will comply with the Chatham House rule.

The Inner Circle is a facilitated group of like-minded accountants in practice who share similar challenges – and are willing to help each other by sharing practical solutions.

Check it out and follow the link to watch the intro video and then get in touch so that we can discuss whether joining would be good for you and for your practice