The Inner Circle – first meeting report

The inaugural meeting of The Inner Circle for Accountants was evidently a success last week.  I have summarised below some of the key takeaways.

We met at Soho House in London and Members clearly valued the mix of shared peer-led insights together with, as one said, “the independent common sense you always get from Mark Lee”.

It was a diverse non-competing group of sole practitioner accountants from different areas around London (eg: Rickmansworth and Wandsworth).

After members had introduced themselves we focused on two key areas:

  • Making efficient use of social media; and
  • Attracting and obtaining the right type of quality clients

In each case the discussion was focused on specific practical, relevant and commercial solutions. Those around the table talked about what they have found works and what doesn’t work for them. And, when appropriate, I shared my observations and experience too.

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.  I will also share a fuller note of the issues discussed and shared at the meeting in due course together with additional relevant ideas and a recording of the discussions. In accordance with our Membership Principles all such notes will comply with the Chatham House rule.

A couple of the key takeaways shared at the end of the meeting, together with my supplementary thoughts, are included below for the benefit of readers of this blog:

Sample key learning points

  • Often it’s the little things that can make a difference (eg: shortkeys.com to save having to keep typing the same sentences or paras of text over and over again). NB: Amongst other things I use this when replying to requests that I receive on Linkedin – both when I’m agreeing to connect and also when I ask for for more info before I will agree to connect with a stranger.
  • We agreed that the best new clients are introduced or recommended by existing or previous clients – and sometimes by other advisers who know, like and trust you. Rather than networking to find strangers with whom you could try to build relationships, start with the advisers to your existing clients. Ask your clients to introduce (and to recommend) you.

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 here and follow the link to get in touch>>> We can then discuss whether joining would be good for you and for your practice.

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My Linkedin ‘Pom-Pon’ stick

I’m a big fan of Linkedin as it can be a very effective online business networking tool. I always wince when I hear it being spoken of as a social networking site in the same breath as facebook, twitter and pinterest. It’s quite distinct and, in my experience, is generally used in a very different way from the more ‘social’ sites.

My enthusiasm for Linkedin together with my long time love of magic has led me to coin a new acronym for my connections on Linkedin. People On My Perpetually Online Network (‘Pom-Pon’). Henceforth the magic PomPom stick I’m holding in this old photo will be known as my Linkedin Pom-Pon stick. And with it I can evidence the power of Linkedin.

If you are attending Accountex this year you may see me with my Linkedin Pom-Pon stick. My main keynote talk is focused on: How accountants can STANDOUT and avoid being ‘just another accountant’. I’ll have the Pom-Pon stick with me. Hope to see you there. You could apply for your free tickets right now. You can come on Thursday 15th or Friday 16th of May.

 

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My Linkedin 'Pom-Pon' stick

I’m a big fan of Linkedin as it can be a very effective online business networking tool. I always wince when I hear it being spoken of as a social networking site in the same breath as facebook, twitter and pinterest. It’s quite distinct and, in my experience, is generally used in a very different way from the more ‘social’ sites.

My enthusiasm for Linkedin together with my long time love of magic has led me to coin a new acronym for my connections on Linkedin. People On My Perpetually Online Network (‘Pom-Pon’). Henceforth the magic PomPom stick I’m holding in this old photo will be known as my Linkedin Pom-Pon stick. And with it I can evidence the power of Linkedin.

If you are attending Accountex this year you may see me with my Linkedin Pom-Pon stick. My main keynote talk is focused on: How accountants can STANDOUT and avoid being ‘just another accountant’. I’ll have the Pom-Pon stick with me. Hope to see you there. You could apply for your free tickets right now. You can come on Thursday 15th or Friday 16th of May.

 

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The worst thing to do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request

If you are on Linkedin you will get connection requests from people you don’t know. And you will also get plenty of bland connection requests from people you’re not sure whether or not you know.

It’s very tempting to treat such connection requests in the same way as other unsolicited messages. But that would be a mistake.

Linkedin prompts users to connect with people they know and with people they would like to know. I think the worst thing you can do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request is to judge anyone badly for sending this.

Many users just don’t yet understand that it’s better to personalise the connection requests. Indeed they may be unaware that it’s possible. After all, facebook doesn’t provide this facility. Nor does twitter. And nor does the Linkedin ‘mobile’ site.

And then there are some people who think that it is the ‘done thing’ to simply agree with Linkedin when the system suggests you connect with people ‘you may know’. They click the ‘connect’ button and in some cases the system sends a standard connection request without even offering you the facility to personalise it.

I probably receive around 50 connection requests a week. Only a minority of these are personalised. They always stand out and always lead to me sending back a personalised response.

Very occasionally I’ll get a connection request from someone who is obviously a spammer and I report these. The other requests I receive fall into one of four categories:

1 – People whom I have met in real life or whom I am due to meet.

2 – Accountants and tax related people who may have read my articles or blog posts or heard me speak – I accept all such requests and send a personal note back.

3 – Apparent strangers who send a personalised connection request – I consider these on their merits.

4 – Apparent strangers who have given me no clue as to why they want to connect with me. Rather than automatically ignore these I send the following message:

Thanks for your invitation to connect. Although I have thousands of connections here I always hesitate before connecting with someone new. I find it helps to know why they want to connect as Linkedin prompts random connections as well as focused ones.

I’m sorry if my memory is at fault. If we have met for real or engaged on line please remind me. And do please let me know what prompted you to want to connect with me here. Is there something specific in my profile perhaps that makes you think that us connecting could be mutually beneficial?

Many thanks

Regards

Mark

Around 3 in 10 of such replies prompt a response which may lead to me agreeing to the connection. Those who don’t reply I then ignore. I leave it a few days though before clicking the ‘ignore’ button as, again, I know some newer users don’t check linkedin every day and don’t see all their messages.

Positive responses to the above message have brought me back in touch with ex-colleagues who I have forgotten or who have new (married) names, have generated speaking enquiries and bookings and have led to valuable introductions to third parties.

I do not agree with those people who check out the sender’s profile and only agree to connect if there is an obvious reason to do so. That’s the same mistake we make if we consider that networking is all about the people in the room. It’s also about the people they know. Unless we ask them we won’t know why someone has asked to connect with us.

So, to reiterate, I think the worst thing you can do when you receive a bland Linkedin connection request is to judge the person who has sent it, ‘ignore’ the request or penalise them, by refusing to connect with them, blocking them or sending back a snotty note.

Do you agree? What do you do when you get bland linkedin connection requests?

 

 

 

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How long do you spend on social media each week? (3)

Every so often someone asks how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. What follows is the current answer. It’s my third blog post on the subject. The first was in 2010 and the second was in April 2012.

I started to use social media in 2006. Now, despite my continued use of and enthusiasm for social media, I spend less time than ever before on social networking sites. And the time I do spend there is more focused than in previous years. This is in line with the advice I give to anyone who is inclined to experiment with or to become active on social media.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time I spend depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting. I no longer keep social media windows open on my desk top when in the office.

Social Networks

Facebook

Rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my bookmarklee facebook wall. I still feel comfortable with my decision to leave facebook to fun, family and friends rather than to try to use it for business generation.

There are two business related facebook groups to which I contribute regularly – indeed they are the main reason I am active there at all. But neither is directly related to my target audiences of accountants and other professional advisers.

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

Google+

I still spend no time here at all. Had a good look when it was launched and created a profile there. I get the odd notification that someone has added me to their circles. If and when it becomes a key communication tool for my target business audience I will have another look. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime I spend enough time online elsewhere on social and business media.

I am aware that activity on Google+ can have a positive impact on where you appear in google search results. Not sure mine would be much improved given my already high levels of activity online.

Pinterest

Again, I spend no time here. Unlikely to change – see comments re Google+ above.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change)

Micro-blogging

Twitter

I am now even more focused than I was previously and I rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every 2 hours. As there are over 500 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 5,000 – and more than 9 times the number of people I follow).

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

Business online networks

LinkedIn

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 also use it to get back in touch with people in a business context and to connect up with business people I meet whether socially or otherwise. I check out the activity on my home page, new discussions in key groups, requests to join my groups and all new connection requests and messages every day. I also look to post new discussions in my groups each week.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Accountancy and tax websites

AccountingWeb

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

Blogging

WordPress – Blog for ambitious accountants

My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it 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.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward.

Other blogs

I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to my Feedly Reader (since Google reader stopped operating) which I only access on my iphone. This enables me to keep up with blogs I find of interest, mostly while I’m out and about. Total time: Reading during train journeys: Maybe 2 hours a week.

Conclusion

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 better understand Social Media. Click here for full details>>>

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Announcing: The Inner Circle for Accountants

I rarely use this blog to advertise my business activities. But this is a special occasion.

The Inner Circle helps accountants build a more successful practice.
Priorities –> Progress –> Profits

Over the last few years I have spent much time participating in and facilitating groups of tax experts and of entrepreneurs. In fact, when I checked back I realised I started running such groups back in 2001!

More recently I have had plenty of requests from accountants who have wanted to work with me. To date the only option was mentoring which some consider to be quite pricey.

Away from 1-2-1 mentoring I really enjoy the stimulation and idea generation that comes from running a group of people who are keen to resolve similar issues. And it was this idea that led to the creation of The Inner Circle for Accountants.

It’s exclusive (no more than 20 accountants in the group), it includes regular 1-2-1 calls with me and it’s London based initially – though I hope to be able to replicate the concept around the country later in the year.

Before launching The Inner Circle I sought feedback and expressions of interest through my weekly newsletter. This enabled me to ensure that it will satisfy a need and provide forward thinking accountants with a fantastic new resource and facility. One that has been proven to work in all sorts of other business contexts. So far as I am aware, no one has previously attempted this with a group of accountants.  I am committed to the success of The Inner Circle so I invite you to check it out and let me have your feedback and expressions of interest.

You want to develop your practice? You have challenges to overcome? You want more of the right clients? Whatever your issues or dreams The Inner Circle can help.

The following links should tell you all you need to know:

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Website and blog stats review 2013

This time last year I reviewed my website and blog stats for 2012. That provides some comparison for this review of the 2013 stats. In summary, visitor numbers and blog posts read are all significantly up on previous years. I am delighted that an increasing number of accountants seem to find what I write to be of interest and value.

Blog posts each year

2013 – 68 (thus maintaining my target of at least one per week)

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 20,000 visitors a month this year. From August to December the average has risen to more than 25,000 visitors per month. This is over 1,000 each working day and more than double the average monthly visitor numbers in 2012.

The site attracted more visitors in the last year (244,000+) than in the two previous years (204,000 in 2011 and 2012) together.

The monthly average for 2012 was over 11,000 visitors and average page reads were almost 17,000 a month. In 2013 average page reads were double this, at over 34,000 views per month.

The day the site had most visitors was 17 September 2013 (1,272 visitors). This was the day after I posted an item: 

But as this has only had 647 reads (even as I type), it is more likely to have been the previous item I posted that caused the visitor spike after I flagged this post in my weekly newsletter:

Popular Blog Posts

Most of the 2013 blog posts were initially only seen by a few hundred people. This rises over time and most have now been read 700-1,200 times. Some have been read by as many as three or four thousand.

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. (1) Welcome 44,110 (19,481) This is the main landing page for my website.
  2. (-) What’s your approach to the provision of business advice? 22,441  For the first time the top blog post is one aimed at my target audience. But it dates back to 2012 so must have been showing up in search results.
  3. (3) Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 14,463 (7,059)  The most popular of the posts I wrote in 2012 is often found through searches for information on this topic.
  4. (2) Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 11,773 (7,374)  I got lucky with this title in 2008. It transpires this is a popular search term. NB: Few of the visitors who read it have any interest in anything else I write or do.
  5. (-) Five modern marketing tips for accountants  9,231 This popular searched for topic has generated loads of interest in what is now a 5 year old blog post from January 2009.
  6. (8) How do you set charge out rates? 9,076 (3,138) This is a popular searched for topic. The post in question is now over 5 years old.
  7. (10) Why accountants don’t NEED to bother with twitter 8,439 (3,072)  Promoted by me and by others who challenge the logic of this 5 year old post. It’s as true today as it was in 2008.
  8. (9) The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network 6,191 (4,260)  Surprisingly popular – possibly due to the odd title appealing when people search for ‘How not to network’. Again though, many visitors are not my target audience. Still, the post does include links to other key pages of the website.
  9. (-) Will you get paid more for iXBRL accounts? 6,039 I am mystified as to why this post from August 2010 has been so, relatively, popular this year
  10. (4) Twitter 5,346 (4,926) This page contains links to my various posts on related topics.

Countries

The oddest stat is the one showing where the 450,926 (206,000) readers of my blog (since records began in December 2010) are based:

  • United States – 173,000 (80,492) It is possible that this includes everyone arriving via web services hosted in the US.
  • United Kingdom – 65,631 (31,971)
  • China – 64,777 (15,028)
  • Unknown – 38,986 (35,178) It would be nice to think these are all in the UK but even then I would still have more apparent visitors from the US than from my target UK audience. Interestingly the figure has only increased very slightly on last year.
  • France – 15,912 (not shown last year)
  • Germany – Not shown this year (4,438)

The remainder come from dozens of other countries around the globe. Between them all my visitors have apparently read 728, 284 (321,821) items/pages of the site over the last three years. Again that suggests more has been read in the last year than in the two previous years together.

What does 2014 hold for the blog? There are some changes coming that I hope will increase the level of interaction and business that the site and blog generate. After all the number of visitors and of pages read is simply of academic interest. Whilst it’s nice for my pieces to be popular I intend to make the site more commercially successful going forwards too!

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Top blog posts from 2013

Tomorrow I will post a full review of the visitor activity on this website and blog. It may be of interest if you are into blogging.

For now here are the top 10 blog posts from 2013 – ranked by the number of times they were read (according to my wordpress stats). Feel free to take a look if you missed any of them first time round:

  1. 9 accountants’ business card mistakes – 2,246
  2. Succinct advice to help anyone win new clients – 2,188
  3. 25 reasons people change their accountants – 1,972
  4. How to build your personal brand – 1,824
  5. How do you know when a blog is worthwhile? – 1,802
  6. Lessons for accountants from dating sites – 1,691
  7. Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants – 1,600
  8. What skills set does it take to be successful as an accountant or tax adviser? – 1,568
  9. Accountants caught lying on their websites – 1,560
  10. 6 reasons people without accountants think accountants are boring – 1,540

I have also noted below those posts from 2013 that attracted the most comments:

  1. What skills set does it take to be successful as an accountant or tax adviser? (27)
  2. How do you reply when asked: What do you do? (8)
  3. 6 reasons people without accountants think accountants are boring (6)
  4. Accountants caught lying on their websites (5)
  5. No one cares HOW you do what you do (5)

Most of my blog posts attract none, one or two comments. I’d love there to be more. You are always welcome to comment even if you simply confirm that you agree with what I have written but especially if you disagree or have a question – which I will generally attempt to answer.

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Accountants resist newish service proposition – with good reason

Recently I was asked to help promote a new service for accountants. It has been around for a year or so but hasn’t really taken off in that time. I wrote back and explained my reservations – which are much as they were when I first heard of the launch last year. It may be a good idea but I doubt it’s value to accountants. Basically the service seems to be all froth with little substance of value.

If I don’t believe in something I cannot write or speak about it in glowing terms – which is what was being requested. I want to retain my independence and integrity so felt unable to help with the promotion.

On this occasion, despite the glossy and professional marketing materials I think the concept is flawed as I cannot see how it will really benefit those accountants who buy into it.

In an effort to be helpful I explained my thinking (in brief). I also expressed a willingness to reconsider if the promoters could produce suitable testimonials from accountants. I said these would need to date from 3-12 months after any accountants had started to use the service. The current testimonials they had showed me seem only to reflect the accountants’ first impressions before they had really used the service.

The other possibility I am willing to consider is to take a healthy fee to compensate me for spending some time taking a really good look at what is being promoted, to speak to accountant advocates and possibly to road-test the service. Time is money so such a commitment requires suitable compensation – with no guarantee that I would reach a positive conclusion. So I guess such terms would not appeal to any promoters. I’m not even sure they appeal to me!

As I frequently tell the advocates of new services and facilities for accountants “Your preconceptions are inaccurate, your assumptions are way off the mark and your message is not attractive to accountants”.

This new service is being promoted by people who claim to have worked with accountants for years. Maybe it’s ahead of its time. Maybe it will take off. Or maybe it’s a white elephant. I suspect the latter and also that the investment made by the promoters means they cannot give up on it. In the meantime I think accountants are right to resist the heavy marketing hype. Anyone feel they know what I’m talking about here?

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

 

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The Tax Advice Network's 6 year anniversary

Please indulge me for a moment. Six years ago today I launched the Tax Advice Network as the UK’s first virtual tax practice. A unique facility allowing accountants to access their choice of vetted independent specialist tax advisers, whenever a client’s problems required such expertise.

My first business plan showed that the Network’s various income sources would make it very profitable, even based on very modest projections. Not modest enough it turned out!

For a host of reasons the Network did not initially generate the level of interest or income that I had projected. Over the years though it has continued to grow and we now offer access to around 40 vetted independent tax experts around the UK.

Our website is a simple portal enabling you to find someone suitable to resolve almost any tax problem you can imagine. There is no middle man – you can either ring them or email them direct and engage directly with them.

Separate to the website facility many thousands of accountants have registered to receive the Network’s weekly tax tips – these come out every Thursday. Written especially for accountants in general practice and for their staff, there are always at least 3 timely, topical and commercial tips and advice with links to the source documents should you want to read further. Register here if you’ve not done so previously>>>

As we approached today’s 6th anniversary I had cause to look back to when the Network launched and to look forward to the exciting plans we have for the future. It seems we were ahead of our time when we launched. Now however I am confident that, together with my team, we know what needs doing to build on our first 6 years.

Our intention is to provide more support, help and advice to general practitioners, to provide easy trusted access to independent cost-effective tax advice and to build up the value of our brand. I am also, as ever, open to your suggestions and ideas.

So do please get in touch with your thoughts – or even if you only want to wish us a happy anniversary.

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5 ways you can read my blog posts for free.

Everyone has their own preferences. I’ve summarised the options for you below. Do pick whichever suits you best:

1. Subscribe to my 3Rs ideas notes as I regularly include references back to the most recent blog posts here. Simply complete the sign-up box on the right of your screen.

2. Subscribe to the email notification of new posts – this sends you an email shortly after a new post is added and you can then click and read it in full at your leisure.

3. Subscribe to the RSS feed and read my blog posts as part of your daily blog/news review when you check your feed reader (eg: Feedly)

4. Simply bookmark this web page and remember to check in at least once a week. Subscribing saves you having to remember 😉

5. Follow @bookmarklee on twitter and get notifications of new blog posts as well as of random old blog posts plus links to my articles, insights and ideas. You can also check out my feed by going to my twitter page. Of course, if you follow lots of people you’re bound to miss some of my posts so it’s probably best to subscribe to the newsletter 😉

What’s your preference and why? I’d love to know.

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Please ignore this self congratulatory post

Three months ago I mentioned, in passing, that this website/blog “had significantly more visitors (>19,000) and more page views (>30,000) in April than ever before.”

I am delighted to note that those April figures were no blip. July 2013 saw the highest number of unique visitors to this website and blog: 20,754 And the number of items viewed totalled 31,790.

Over the last 3 months the average monthly figures have been: 19,710 visitors and 30,560 views.

July 15 was the most visited day ever – 1037. A normal day is round 500-600 with a spike on most Tuesdays of just over 1,000 after I send out my weekly newsletter.

The latest figures confirm the upwards trend of visitor numbers and ‘views’ during 2013.  I don’t have any records from when I started the blog in 2006. But I can tell that both figures are now more than 3 times those of just two years ago in 2011 when average monthly visitors were typically around 6,000 and average monthly views were around 9,000.

I continue to post one or two new items here each week.

The increased level of attention given to this website and blog are not (yet) matched by increased earnings from speaking engagements or from writing commissions. However it still feels good in that more and more people seem to be interested in what I have to say. And that’s a reason for me to celebrate. Move along now please. Nothing to see here.

Related post:

May 2013: How do you know when a blog is worthwhile?

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Lifetime achievement award for Robert Maas

I was thrilled to be seated with Robert when he was announced as the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Taxation Awards ceremony last night. I am proud to count him as a friend and as one of my tax mentors.

In the light of last night’s award I think it appropriate to share my own thanks and admiration for Robert. Here is a man who really stands out in my eyes.

Whilst I no longer give tax advice I did initially start my career in tax shortly after qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1982. Robert was already well known and respected in the tax world even then. I believe he started in tax in 1965, the year that Corporation Tax and CGT were first introduced. It is also almost 50 years ago!

Some years later I think I met Robert at a conference. I assume I must have already started writing on tax matters as Robert recognised my name. He encouraged me to join the London Society of Chartered Accountants Tax Committee. Robert was the Chairman at the time. I was so proud and thrilled to be invited. In time I became Vice-Chairman of the Committee. Robert also then encouraged me to join the ICAEW Tax Faculty Committee, which in turn then led to me being invited to stand for election as Vice Chairman and then Deputy Chairman of the Faculty.

I benefitted from working with Robert on various Institute committees over the years including the ICAEW Tax Technical Committee, the Personal Tax and Finance Committee and the main Faculty Committee. I think I also provided a little support when he initiated the Faculty’s Younger members’ Tax Club and also the Faculty’s Tax Investigations Committee. Over the years Robert has kindly invited me to speak to various groups of which he is the prime mover. It is also due to this chain of events that he started which led to me recently being appointed Chairman of the ICAEW Ethics Advisory Committee.

In 2001 when I left BDO I seriously considered moving out of the tax world. I remember Robert, on hearing me suggest this after the CTA Address that year, taking me for a drink and persuading me to stick with it. He complimented my communication skills and said my departure would be a loss for the Tax World. I always thought he was exaggerating but I took his advice and this also allowed me to then go on to be Chairman of the Tax Faculty from 2003-2005. In the end I stayed active as a tax adviser until 2006 when I finally gave in and concluded that my brain just isn’t big enough.

During one of my talks (at least) I quote Robert. He taught me long ago that there is no shame in admitting you don’t know the answer to a tax question or problem. Despite his general reluctance to accept how highly regarded he is, he did tell me once that he couldn’t understand how any general practitioners could cope without ever engaging tax specialists. “If I have to stop and check with someone else every now and then, how much more likely is it that someone less experienced should need to do the same and more often?”

Robert is a giant in the tax world. But he is also a very unassuming man. Nevertheless I am aware that there are many other tax practitioners who have been influenced by Robert during their careers. Whether by attending one of his lectures, reading one of his books or articles or through his personal encouragement to join a committee. Many more people have been influenced by Robert than probably even he knows.

I recall attending Robert’s 65th birthday party some years ago – I have lost track of how many. I was so touched and proud to be invited. More recently Robert has taken up blogging. He loves tax and although he is still in practice at Blackstone Franks, he continues to write regular articles for the professional press. But if no one wants to publish what he has written he posts it on his blog – ‘Two cheers for the Chancellor’. This now has over 130 insightful and educational pieces on it and is well worth reading. Robert has also taken to LinkedIn but is reluctant to connect with anyone there he doesn’t know.

I don’t imagine Robert will ever retire. For now though his unswerving commitment to the tax profession has been recognised and rightly so. The announcement last night was met with a standing ovation. Robert is well-loved and much respected – with good reason.

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6 reasons people without accountants think accountants are boring

I am both astonished and disappointed by the number of people who assume accountants are boring. Some of them have accountants, but most I suspect, do not and are simply repeating the stereotyping they have heard others reference. This is evident from the increasing number of young people who routinely tweet variations on the idea that being an accountant is, in their view, the most boring job in the world.

Many of the people who don’t have an accountant but who think accountants are boring really mean either:

  1. I don’t understand what it is they are going on about;
  2. I have heard other people say accountants are boring so it must be true;
  3. I saw that old Monty Python sketch about a boring accountant who wanted to be a lion tamer and it had a ring of truth about it;
  4. All that accounting stuff sounds boring as it doesn’t interest me;
  5. Accountants are more intelligent than me so must be boring in comparison; or
  6. Anyone who talks about something other than me is boring.

It’s probably true that sometimes, some accountants are boring. But most are not. However the prevailing view that accountants are boring cannot be good for the profession as a whole or for individual accountants specifically.

What can we do to change the general perception?

[Edited June 2014] In 2012 I made a start with my ‘Boring Is Optional‘ campaign and my INABA awards (I‘m Not A Boring Accountant). I have since moved on as neither idea won widespread interest or support within the profession.

My other contribution has been to focus on helping accountants to STAND OUT and to be more successful. Please get in touch or share your ideas below as to what we can do to change the stereotypical perception.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STAND OUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Why don't all accountants promote tax schemes?

I had to laugh when I saw this headline in the Times on Saturday: “Barrister loses dispute over tax avoidance”.  I checked it out and it’s true. A leading Tax Counsel has failed in his claims that a LEGAL tax avoidance scheme reduced his tax bill. In other words, it was ineffective.

Ten years ago Rex Bretten QC devised a tax scheme that was within the letter of the law and he sought to take advantage of this. HMRC were not happy and the dispute went to Court. As so often happens many years have passed since the tax planning was put into effect. Times have changed and the tax tribunal has disagreed with Mr Bretten’s analysis. He is not entitled to any tax relief for the £475,000 loss he was claiming would reduce his tax bill for 2002/03 by £190,000.

Shock; Horror. It seems Counsel’s opinion was wrong. Not for the first time. (That’s a comment re Tax Counsel in general). Sometimes their analysis holds up, sometimes it doesn’t. The one thing on which they are generally correct is when they confirm that it is legal to take part in such a scheme – assuming  that the taxpayer and the promoter of the scheme make full disclosure of all salient issues.

Last year I wrote a series of posts to which this latest development is effectively a postscript that endorses my views. In effect, tax avoidance schemes are risky and are rarely worth an accountant’s time and effort. Such schemes MAY be legal but this does not mean that the hoped for tax savings will be secured. And, if the scheme fails then, for most people, the final outcome will be worse than had they not undertaken the tax planning involved in the scheme.

As tax avoidance schemes are often over hyped and do not always work, these days it rarely makes commercial sense for professional accountants to devote time and effort to checking out each new scheme or variation that is promoted to them.

Related stories:

 

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Can you describe yourself using 3 adjectives?

If you had to choose, which three adjectives do you think best describe you, as a person, as an accountant? I doubt you would opt to include ‘Boring’ as one of the three.

It can be quite instructive to write down the three words you choose and then to ask other people how they would describe you too. Ask friends and family – people who will be honest with you; ask business contacts and colleagues too. But bear in mind that some people find it hard to be honest.

The words that appear on these lists of three adjectives will vary enormously. What happens when you compare these lists with your own choice of adjectives?

If no one has suggested the words or characteristics you have chosen then perhaps you need to reflect on the implications.  You could always ask people to indicate what they mean by each of the three adjectives they have chosen. Perhaps they have focused on the same characteristics as those you highlighted, but simply chose a different word to describe this.

You may be lucky and find that no one honestly thinks you are boring. That would be great. And, of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  But if other people do consider you to be ‘Boring’ then you are the only person who can take action to change their perception of you. And it will take time.  Good luck!

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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The world needs you to stop being boring – A message from Kid President

“Boring is Easy, everyone can be boring”.  Don’t take my word for it. Listen to this pep talk from Kid President:

Kid President is actually 9-year-old boy, Robbie Nova, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (“Brittle Bone syndrome”). His video has been seen by over 17 million people at the time of writing and is just one of many ‘Kid President’ videos produced by the people at Soul Pancake.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Online profiles – make sure yours isn't boring

Online profiles are everywhere now. They appear on many firms’ websites, on social networking sites and on Linkedin. Actually pretty much all of the points below apply equally to any printed profile or CV you might produce too.

When you’re writing yours please don’t focus on the boring stuff – where you were born, what you did at school or college or your first few jobs (unless you’re very young and they are all still relevant).

Focus instead on the recent stuff, the relevant stuff and how what you do can make a difference. What have you achieved that benefits your clients, your current employer or your current firm? What expertise can you talk about that a prospective client might be looking for? What about a new employer or firm who is looking for a new recruit?

How much the same as every other accountant do you seem to be? Can you highlight real differences, a special focus, a niche?

Even your online profile photo can impact whether or not you look boring to people. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The key thing to stress is that you need to be authentic, consistent (not in a boring way!), enjoy yourself (without alienating anyone else) and evidence your enthusiasm – without going O.T.T.  Keep in mind the sort of people you hope will read your online profile and what they will find of interest. The boring stuff is rarely going to be key.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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A simple way accountants can earn £867 in just 7 minutes

This should be of interest if you have any interest in receiving valuable referrals from bankers.

Steve Pipe and Rob Brown have invited me to work with them on some ground-breaking research into how to get bank managers to give practices like yours more referrals. And between us we would like to ‘pay’ you £867 for 7 minutes of your time taking part.

Steve is, as you probably know, one of the most passionate accountancy gurus I have ever met. He’s the man behind the AVN network. Rob is the author of  ‘How to build your reputation’ and a recognised authority in this area.

Between us we have prepared two surveys. One for accountants and one for bankers. Both have been carefully designed so that the resulting report will reveal exactly and precisely what you need to do to receive more referrals from bankers… of the kind you really want. That report is expected to sell for £295.

But you will receive a pdf copy of the full report for FREE when you spend 7-8 minutes taking part in the online survey that is at the heart of the research.

You will also receive six other books, resources and training programmes we have created specifically to help accountants get better results (worth £572).

Earn your £867 here…

Taking part in the online survey is quick, easy and confidential. And you will find full details here:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AVN-AC-Research

Start getting closer to bankers here…

You can also, if you want, send an email to every banker in your area to see if they would like to contribute to the research too. The text for a draft email with a link to the bankers’ survey follows:

SUGGESTED TEXT FOR EMAILING BANKERS

Subject: Can I help you meet your targets by giving you more referrals?

Dear [name]

I am taking part in a major research study into how accountants and bankers can build more fruitful referral relationships with each other.

And the research team suggested that I contact you with a two-step action plan:

STEP 1 – I invite you to take part in the research (which consists of an online survey herehttp://www.surveymonkey.com/s/pba-research that is easy, quick and confidential – and gives you £495 worth of professional “thank you gifts” for 8-9 minutes of your time)

STEP 2 – When you receive the full research report (which is one of your thank you gifts) we get together to work out how best to use its findings to build a more mutually rewarding referral relationship.

I hope that sounds as good an idea to you as it does to me?

[Name]

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Apparently this is one of the Top 30 accounting and finance blogs

Last month I received what appears to be a genuine endorsement of all my work to make this blog useful, relevant, commercial and valuable to ambitious accountants.Best Accounting and Finance Blogs 2012

I was initially a tad cynical but this blog really is the fourth in a list of the Top 30 Accounting and Finance Blogs of 2012.

The note I received last week from Tina Ray, editor of BestAccountingSchools.net, said that:

“Of the hundreds of blogs we reviewed, yours was selected as being among the most helpful and offering the sharpest insight.”

If you scroll down you will note that I am now proudly displaying the award badge on the right hand side of this blog.

For the record, Best Accounting Schools’ mission is:

“To help you in your quest to become an Accountant or advance in your career in Accounting. We do this by providing high quality resources about how to get started in this field, along with information about the best accounting schools and degree programs available.”

It is an American focused resource which is ironic as my focus is UK based accountants.

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The upside of being a Boring Accountant

Someone who is perceived as Boring is often also perceived as possessing a host of very POSITIVE qualities. It sort of goes with the territory.

So, ‘boring’ accountants tend also to be:

  • methodical
  • disciplined
  • knowledgeable
  • professional
  • scrupulous
  • honest
  • ethical
  • trustworthy
  • detail focused
  • serious
  • cautious
  • predictable
  • reliable

and they like lists! 😉

These are all positive qualities that most people would want their accountant to possess. So please don’t assume that my ‘Boring Is Optional’ campaign is predicated on the idea that Boring is Bad. It’s not. I simply think it is better to project all those good qualities and not also to be perceived as Boring.

There’s no doubt that being Boring is invariably considered to be a negative attribute. And this is generally due to other qualities principally related to how we communicate, how we look and how we sound.  I’ll return to this idea in later posts.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads of valuable insights, short-cuts, tips and advice for accountants who want to STANDOUT and speed up their success. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Mourning the death of Tax Facts

There needs to be a special reason to give over this blog to someone else’s words. This is one such occasion. It’s important for accountants to be able to debate the tax news stories of the moment with confidence and conviction – based on the facts. This has become increasingly difficult in recent months, as John Andrews explained in a recent speech.

John is a former CIOT President and founder of the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group. The comments below are taken from his acceptance speech after he became only the third ever recipient of the CIOT Council Award this week. This is a prestigious and very well deserved commendation for John’s tireless work since his ‘retirement’. He remains one of the most highly regarded and respected independently minded members of the tax profession, so his words deserve wide attention.

Towards the end of John’s speech he referenced a recent debate on tax avoidance in Parliament (the Bold emphasis is mine):

This was generally a more mature debate and a realisation that we have an international problem that cannot be solved on our own. However, some parts were filled with heat and very little light. Other parts contained a distinct lack of facts, accompanied by impossible dreams, misunderstandings and many unsupported assertions.

This reminded me of a report in the US press last year [credit here to Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune] which made Facts into a mythical person and then criticised US politicians for killing Facts. The event that caused the demise was when a Florida Republican announced, without any evidence, that at least 81 of his fellow members of the U.S. House of Representatives were communists.

This made me think that some tax debates may have pushed our equivalent of the mythical person, Facts, to an early grave here in the UK.

Facts had a long life and I believe was born in ancient Greece, the child of Aristotle who saw that evidence was essential for his nurture. As Facts grew up people like Edmund Burke observed “Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.”

Facts helped to discover gravity, break the Enigma Code, discover DNA and, perhaps, introduce self-assessment.

In 2012 however, people seemingly unable to understand how tax systems work, began to doubt and ignore Facts. Opinion became the new truth and reprinting of such opinion in the press confirmed this new truth as correct. No feedback from Facts was thought necessary.

Facts had suffered serious injuries at the time of the 10% tax rate debacle in 2008 and through the misplaced assertions in 2010 about millions of errors being produced by the new PAYE system.

His health was improving, when early last year he was laid low by the absence of any sensible discussion about the granny and pasty taxes.

But nothing was to prepare him for the cruel assault which led to his demise in the final month of twenty-twelve. Assertions in the press that you can judge the right amount of tax a multinational should pay by looking at its turnover; followed by the revelation that for certain there was a £69.9 billion tax gap caused by avoidance, caused Facts to have a major stroke.

He was still in intensive care in hospital when the final straw came. His cousin TaxLaw was the one to break the news. TaxLaw had been admitted to the hospital’s isolation unit and had been ignored by all and sundry, including, at times, the Public Accounts Committee. The oxygen was rushed to Facts when he was told that a coffee bean company was now to be the arbiter of the amount of tax that people should pay; but it was too late.

That news coupled with the whisper that a burger chain would set the CPI in future had done its worst.

You will have seen from his obituary that Facts was aged 2,372 and was buried, at his request, in the birthplace of Parliament – the Isle of Man. He is survived by two brothers, Rumour and Dogma and a sister Shout Loudly.

Donations in his memory may be made to HMRC in a brown envelope marked “corporation tax”.

It is to John’s credit that he didn’t name any individual carriers of the virus that killed Facts. He was making serious points, about which he cares greatly, under the guise of an amusing valedictory speech.  Sadly much of the media is unaware or does not care enough that they are helping the spread of a virus.

John Andrews’ acceptance speech can be read in full here.

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The 500th blog post here

Just felt I should recognise this as no one else will do so.

The top ten blog posts since I started this blog in April 2006 have been:

  1. Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 7388
  2. Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 7075
  3. Twitter 4929
  4. The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network 4269
  5. How do you set charge out rates? 3176
  6. Twitter is not for accountants 3099
  7. Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand 2547
  8. Will you get paid more for iXBRL accounts? 2036
  9. Why weren’t all accountants promoting those tax schemes? 1982
  10. What’s your approach to the provision of ‘business advice’? 1921

The numbers are the viewer numbers during 2011 and 2012 as WordPress analytics only started counting on 30 December 2010.

My apologies that this is so similar to a recent post re my website analytics for 2012.

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9 accountants’ business card mistakes

Over the holiday period I went through many hundreds of business cards I have collected over the last few years.  That led me to post a reminder that: ‘No one refers work to a business card‘. This was a follow up to an earlier post with the same title.

Having reviewed all of these cards, from website developers, solicitors, bankers, PR people, bookkeepers, accountants, tax advisers, trademark agents, answering services and many, many other business people, I thought I would distil some advice for ambitious accountants.

Before getting onto the common mistakes let’s just remind ourselves as to the reason for a business card. I suggest that it is to provide the person to whom it is given sufficient details for them to get in touch with you – and to know why they might want to do this.

The following are among the most common mistakes I saw on all of the accountants’ business cards I looked back at last week. Some are boring, others are naive or just plain daft:

1 – info@accountancyfirm.co.uk

Email addresses that start with ‘info@’ suggest you’re new to email and will prevent you receiving some of the emails you want, for example if you sign up for newsletters etc.  Use your own name. After all, it’s your business card.

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

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

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

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

4 – Multiple office phone numbers

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

5 – Two email addresses on one business card

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

6 – Flimsy and cheap looking card

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

7 – Mixed up personal and business contact information

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

8 – Tiny font

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

9 – Forgetting to include ‘Accountants’ after the business name

So many of the business cards I threw out recently had business names on them but no indication of the nature of the business service they offer. Of course if you’re ‘tax specialists’ you might put that instead of ‘accountants’.  Remember too that even if you’re a member of the ICAEW and use the authorised logo, not everyone will recognise this so it’s not sufficient.  And whilst a marketing ‘guru’ may have suggested you call yourselves something like ‘business growth specialists’ you still need to use the word ‘accountants’ (or whatever) to make it easy for the person who looks at your card some time after you gave it to them.

Related posts

Feel free to add comments below and share other tips and mistakes you’ve seen if they could be helpful for fellow accountants.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Analysing my Website stats for 2012

Having had a good look at my website stats for 2012 I rather wish I had been recording similar data for each of the last 6 years. Better late than never though.

Blog posts each year

This is the 70th post I have added to the blog in 2012.

That is more than I posted in each of the last 3 years but somewhat fewer than I posted in 2007 and in 2008. (2011 – 56, 2010 – 59, 2009 – 59, 2008 – 109, 2007 – 93, 2006 – 52)

Visitor numbers

WordPress stats reveal that the site has averaged over 11,000 visitors a month this year. That’s over 500 each working day. (Indeed the figures have been rising all year ). Average page reads are nearer 17,000 a month.

Both figures represent significant increases on 2011 (The wordpress counter only started on 30 December 2010). The day the site had most visitors was 26 June 2012 (931 visitors). This was the day after I posted a couple of items which have proved quite popular:

Popular Blog Posts

Most recent blog posts have been read 500-900 times. Some of the earliest have been read less than 100 times. The top ten pages of the site according to wordpress, in terms of the number of times they have been viewed/read are as follows:

  1. Welcome 19,481 (This is the main landing page for my website)
  2. Three elements of communication – and the so called “7%-38%-55% Rule” 7,374  (I got lucky with this title in 2008. It transpires this is a popular search term. NB: Few of the visitors who read it have any interest in anything else I write or do)
  3. Examples of good facebook pages for accountants 7,059  (The most popular of the posts I wrote in 2012 and often found through searches for info on this topic).
  4. Twitter 4,926 (The page I promote on twitter as it contains links to my various posts on related topics)
  5. The Easter Bunny shows us how NOT to network 4,260  (Surprisingly popular – possibly due to the odd title appealing when people search for ‘How not to network’. Again though, many visitors are not my target audience. Still, I have now edited the post to include links to other key pages of the website)
  6. How do you set charge out rates? 3,138 (A popular searched for topic)
  7. Twitter is not for accountants 3,072 (Promoted by me and by others who challenge the logic of this 4 year old post. I wish I’d titled it: ‘Why accountants don’t need to bother with twitter’. It’s as true today as it was in 2008)
  8. Speaking 2,634  (one of the key pages of my website)
  9. Networking strategy – plan your follow up beforehand 2,538
  10. Working with accountants 2,026

Countries

The oddest stat is the one showing where the 206,000 readers of my blog (during 2011 and 2012) are based:

  • United States – 80,492 (It is possible that this is simply those arriving via web services hosted in the US)
  • Unknown – 35,178 (it would be nice to think these are all in the UK but even then I would still have more apparent visitors from the US than from my target UK audience)
  • United Kingdom – 31,971
  • China – 15,028
  • Germany – 4,438

The remainder come from dozens of other countries around the globe. Between them all my visitors have apparently read 321,821 items/pages of the site over the last two years.

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