5 Blogging myths for accountants

I saw an online promo recently suggesting that all accountants should be blogging. How objective is this idea and does it really make sense?

Given that I’m still an enthusiastic blogger you might expect me to also advocate blogging by accountants. But I don’t and it’s not just because of my experience with the Tax-Buzz blog – although that does confirm my view about the myths surrounding blogging for accountants.

I should stress that I enjoy blogging and have now posted almost 500 items here since 2006. I also have a separate blog on which I have shared hundreds of posts on the subject of The lighter side of accountancy and tax.  I stopped writing my third blog at the end of 2011. The Tax-Buzz blog was where I shared over 400 insights and advice re tax related stories in the media over a 4 year period. I explained why I stopped adding to that blog in a blog post(!) in May 2012.

Anyway, here are my 5 blogging myths – ie: reasons often given to encourage people to blog regularly and why I think that accountants are different. If you disagree, please add your comments below:

1 – Build your credibility – This only works as regards people who see and read your blogs. Most accountants in practice are not seeking to build credibility across the UK, let alone the world. Their target audience is more local than that. Will your target audience (prospective clients, advocates and potential staff) find your blog and read it sufficiently to be influenced? There are certain tools you can use to help here but my own experience suggests that the impact will be minimal in real-life, as distinct from in theory.

2 – Enhance your SEO – This refers to ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. How easy is it for your target audience to find you on the web? Not the people who know your name or the name of your practice but those who don’t know you and are looking for someone just like you. Might I suggest that the best starting point here is to arrange for your website to be Optimised before you start blogging – if this is your objective. I would also suggest that blog articles are typically seen as a great way to access free advice. I am doubtful as to how often anyone will contact an accountant and be willing to pay for advice received after reading their blog online. The web user is far more likely to keep searching for more free advice on the same topic.

3 – It’s fun – I’d agree with that. But then lots of things are fun. How many fun things can you fit into your life? It’s also time consuming.  Is it enough fun to warrant the time and effort? For most accountants I would suggest the answer is ‘no’. It’s nice to think one has been helpful and that lots of people have read what you’ve written. But unless this turns into billable work or trackable referrals at some stage it is simply ‘fun’ and probably less productive than many other fun activities eg: engaging on twitter, business forums and Linkedin (all of which I advocate – to one degree or another).

4 – Emphasise your niche – If you have one. During my talks for accountants I often stress the benefits of focusing on a niche and of highlighting a specialism.  The strength of the argument for doing this sometimes comes as a shock after years of trading as accountants to anyone and everyone. If you have no niche your blog will be just one of many generalist ones. But even if you do have a niche I have the same reservations as set out in the 3 paras above.

5 – Distinguish yourself from the others – I’m a great advocate of the idea that it’s ‘more important to be different than to be better.’  But those features that distinguish you need to be evidently of benefit to your target clients. Being 7 foot tall and always carrying a bright green briefcase will make you memorable but do those differences benefit anyone? In the same way, will anyone feel that they are getting more value for money or a better service simply because you are a regular blogger? I think not.

I was recently a judge in a competition to identify high performing accountancy firms. Some (not many) of the entrants referenced their use of social media as contributing to their success. I was pleased to see this. However, in most cases they went on to explain they were active on twitter, linkedin and blogging. No one seemed able to distinguish the value of different elements of their social media activity. What was unclear was whether any firm that was blogging could identify any of their growth as benefitting from this activity.

The other side of the coin

I’ve been blogging here since 2006. The frequency of my posts varies but it now averages about 2 per week. I get to post my thoughts and ideas here to help readers and I am then able to collate the posts to create articles for the press and for other websites.  I also often adapt my blog posts to create supporting material for my courses and seminars for accountants.

I am aware of a relatively small number of accountants in practice who seem to enjoy blogging. I know of far more who gave it a try and then gave up. They concluded that the benefits didn’t live upto the hype.  I don’t think that’s a reflection on the accountants. I think it’s more to do with the hype.

[This is an updated version of a blogpost I originally wrote in 2008. Beyond my own evidence, through the TaxBuzz blog, that sadly supports my contentions, nothing much seems to have changed in the last 4 years. Well, one thing has; there are now more marketing types encouraging accountants to start blogs and to outsource the writing to the promoters!]

What do you think?  Please add your views as comments to this post especially if you are an accountant who blogs.

I have written a 10,000 word ebook containing 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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6 factors for accountants to consider before paying to be listed on directory sites

In a separate post I have listed the existing and about-to-be-launched online directory sites for accountants in the UK. They are all intended to appeal to people using the internet to search for a new accountant.

The value of paying to be included in any such directory site seems to depend on at least six things:

1) Search results

The directory on which you are listed must appear sufficiently high up the search results and be sufficiently compelling to attract interest from users searching for a new accountant;  Bear in mind that those people will not all use consistent search terms and some will be more expert at using search engines than others.

2) User willingness to use the directory

Sufficient numbers of those users must be willing to ignore both the direct links to accountants who come up in the natural search results and those whose ads appear in the pay per click ads on the right hand side of the search results screen;  And these people need to be the sort of new clients you would like to attract as new clients.

3) Non-search related promotion of the online directory

Some directories may promote and seek interest from users who see adverts for the online directory in the conventional business or personal finance press, on relevant discussion forums and through social media.

4) Site useability

Sufficient numbers of users must find the directory service easy to use and do not abandon their search before finding what they seek.

5) Your directory entry/activity

Your directory listing and/or response to enquiries needs to be more compelling than those of your local competition.

6) Your website / closing ability

If the directory site links to your website, how easy is it for a new visitor to satisfy themselves that they should get in touch? How easy is it for them to find your phone number and a name of someone to ask for? And how good are you at converting such enquiries into new clients?  (I have addressed a similar point many time before on this blog in the context both of social media and of websites for accountants)

Have I missed anything?  What sort of experiences have you had re online directory listings?

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Why do I have 3 blogs and 2 websites?

I’ve been asked why I have a number of different blogs and websites. It’s not something I would encourage many people to do so perhaps it’s worth explaining my thinking. I accept it could be flawed, but bear with me.

Firstly let me stress that in all of my writings for professional advisers (eg: on AccountingWeb, AccountancyAge, New Model Adviser and this blog) I focus on encouraging best practice. I typically share what I have researched and can see or believe will be commercially viable advice for working professional advisers. I do the same in my talks. I offer an objective and independent view. I have no agenda re practice management or consultancy services. In this context I think, I write and I speak. That’s it.

I frequently stress that what works for me is not automatically going to be right for accountants in practice for example. The most obvious case in point concerns the way I use twitter.

Enough background. Here’s my thinking about my websites and blogs.

There are two key points to keep in mind:

  • The first is that I want the visitors to each site or blog to know they are in the right place;
  • The second is that I want to have clear analytics that reveal the relative interest from different types of audience.

My personal website www.BookMarkLee.co.uk started life as a consultancy business but it’s now simply a home for my profile and to promote my availability and expertise as a speaker. Also on this site is my blog. This blog.

More people are interested in my blog posts than in my availability as a speaker so I frequently link to the blog directly rather than expect people to find it via my home page.

I have a sense of humour and have long collected humorous stuff related to accountancy and tax. I maintain a separate blog (now called www.Accountant-jokes.com) on which I post all such items – it now has over 500. Much of the traffic for this fun blog comes from overseas. And the audience reaches far beyond the worlds of accountancy and tax. Many people are looking for the sort of material featured on the blog to include in speeches and talks. Keeping the fun blog separate means I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that anything else I do has a big overseas audience – unless and until it really does!  It also means that I don’t risk alienating those members of our profession who might not share my interest in the humorous side of things.

The Tax Advice Network has a wholly different focus again. That website has a home page for people seeking specialist tax advice. Those people are neither interested in Mark Lee, my blog posts nor my joke collection. It’s a sophisticated business website and has to be separate from my personal sites.  I also have specific landing pages on the website for Accountants, for Tax Advisers, for IFAs and, shortly, for solicitors too.

As a plug for the Tax Advice Network and to encourage relevant writing and speaking engagements I write the Tax-Buzz blog. This matches the Tax Advice Network branding but is hosted separately on Google’s blogger platform. This makes it more Googlicious than if it were integrated into the website.

Each of the blogs contains links to the others and to the websites.

So that’s what I do and why. To summarise:

  • Where the fundamental offering is the same (ie Tax Advice Network) but I have different audiences I have separate landing pages for each audience.
  • Where the subject matter of what the target audience is seeking is very different I have separate blogs and a personal website.

It makes sense to me. The only change I could realistically make would be to bring the accountant-jokes blog inside the BookMarkLee website/blog – whilst keeping the domain name and pointing it at the relevant section. I’d have to believe it would be worthwhile. At the moment I don’t.

Feel free to share your views below as to whether this makes sense to you or if you have some constructive suggestions/ideas.

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Yellow pages bingo for accountants

I love a blog post written by Paul Simister on his ‘Differentiate your business‘ blog.

He explains that Yellow Pages Bingo is a game for checking that your marketing hasn’t fallen into the trap of being too similar to your competitors. And he then reveals the results of playing the game with accountants in central Birmingham.

Paul’s game shows the high level of similarity when comparing accountants’ adverts in Yellow Pages. He looks at descriptions of firms, services and offers. I suspect the results would be the same across the country and that the content of accountants’ websites are also pretty similar.

Paul’s concludes by answering his own question:

What happens when every supplier looks the same?

The choice comes to either the cheapest or the most convenient.

I agree, but I’m not sure it’s a bad thing as it’s what most people want and those are pretty much the two most important factors determining how they will choose their first accountant. Cost and convenience.

Paul notes that the latest edition of his Yellow Pages has fewer adverts for accountants than previously. I suspect this is due to an awareness that most people now use the  web to find a new accountant. Back in 2009 I wrote a related piece:  Accountants’ adverts are not working any more

And here’s the rub. To be found on the web when someone searches for a new accountant you need to use the same words as everyone else – in so far as visitors may be searching for those terms.  Of course you have the facility to make your website stand out in other ways, beyond the words you use. But that’s a subject for another day although I have previously provided objective advice here on ‘websites for accountants‘.

What do you think about yellow pages bingo for 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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Accountants and the internet – survey results

Last month the Independent Association of Accountants Information Technology Consultants (IAAITC) announced the results of its survey on the effective use of the Internet by UK accountancy firms.

The two specific issues considered by the survey were the effective promotion of firms’ websites and their use of email for communicating with clients.

The key word in the survey title is ‘effective’ and I’m not sure that everyone would agree on the same meaning of that word in this context. In my view what the survey evidences is that a majority of the firms surveyed are not making the most of their web presence. This accords with my own conclusions – both from looking at many accountancy firm websites and also from conversations with thousands of accountants when asking them questions during my talks for accountants around the UK.

However I have also concluded that many firms do not (yet) perceive a need to devote more effort to the internet. In effect they see it as just another advertising medium.  The majority of firms do not have aggressive growth plans, they secure new clients through (what I call)  ‘accidental word of mouth’ referrals and they have enough recurring fees to keep them happy.  As I have explained on this blog previously, an accountant’s website is of little interest to their clients. It’s focus should generally be on helping to secure new clients.

In this context I would agree with the survey’s conclusions.  Out of date material on a website, forgotten listings on third party directories  and unprofessional email addresses (eg: @ Tesco, Sky, BTinternet, AOL, Gmail or any other  third party) may have an adverse impact on prospective clients.  Firms in such situations may lose out to firms who keep their sites and listings uptodate.

Even those firms that have email addresses using their own domain name will be losing out if they fail to provide a named contact on the  website (eg: only enouraging email contact via info [at] accountants [dot] co [dot] uk).  We have to remember that most people buy accountancy services from individual accountants (even if they work for a firm) and not from firms of accountants.

The survey also concludes that many accountants are become increasingly out of touch with current business needs.” What matters in my mind though is whether accountants are in touch with what THEIR CLIENTS and target clients require from them as accountants. Are you confident that you know the answer to that question as regards your own practice?

I suggested one new development in this regard in a previous post: Could you audit a client’s website analytics?

Are there others?


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Blogging myths for accountants

There are so many misconceptions about blogging and I am frequently surprised when I encounter bloggers who seek to encourage accountants in general to start blogging.  I would stress that I enjoy blogging.  This blog now has almost 250 posts on it – built up since 2006. I also write a tax insights and commentary blog for the Tax Advice Network and have a third blog on which I share Accountant jokes and fun.

But I’m not in practice. Given that I’m an enthusiastic blogger and spend a fair part of my time helping accountants to build more successful practices you might expect me to also advocate blogging by accountants. But I don’t.

Here are 5 blogging myths – ie: reasons often given to encourage people to blog regularly and why I think that accountants are different:

Build your credibility – This only works as regards people who see and read your blogs. Most accountants in practice are not seeking to build credibility across the UK, let alone the world. Their target audience is more local than that. Will your target audience (prospective clients, advocates and potential staff) find your blog and read it sufficiently to be influenced?

Enhance your SEO – This refers to ‘Search Engine Optimisation’. How easy is it for your target audience to find you on the web? Not the people who know your name or the name of your practice but those who don’t know you and are looking for someone just like you. Might I suggest that the best starting point here is to arrange for your website to be Optimised before you start blogging – if this is your objective.

It’s fun – I’d agree with that. But then lots of things are fun. How many fun things can you fit into your life? It’s also time consuming.  Is it enough fun to warrant the time and effort?

Emphasise your niche – If you have one. During my talks for accountants I often stress the benefits of focusing on a niche and of highlighting a specialism.  The strength of the argument for doing this sometimes comes as a shock after years of trading as accountants to anyone and everyone. But if you do have a niche then the same points apply in the ‘credibility’ para above.

Distinguish yourself from the others – I’m a great advocate of the idea that it’s ‘more important to be different than to be better.’  But those features that distinguish you need to be evidently of benefit to your target clients. Being 7 foot tall and always carrying a bright green briefcase will make you memorable but do those differences benefit anyone? In the same way, will anyone feel that they are getting more value for money or a better service simply because you are a regular blogger?

The other side of the coin

I’ve been blogging here for over two years now. The frequency of my posts varies but it seems to average about 3 per week. I get to post my thoughts and ideas here to help readers and I am then able to collate the posts to create articles for the press and for other websites.  I also often adapt my blog posts to create supporting material for my courses and seminars for accountants.

I am aware of a relatively small number of accountants in practice who seem to enjoy blogging. I know of far more who gave it a try and then gave up. The benefits didn’t live upto the hype.  I don’t think that’s a reflection on the accountants. I think it’s more to do with the hype.

What do you think?  Please add your views as comments to this post.

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Websites for accountants

I regularly find myself sharing my views on this topic so I thought it would be helpful to include in one place all of my previous posts on related issues:

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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Accountants’ websites – is yours doing the necessary?

I recently included the following note in my monthly newsletter for accountants and their clients:

 

I’ve been writing and advising accountants about their websites for some time now and have accumulated an enormous amount of tips, ideas and knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. I have also been researching ways in which accountants are making money directly through their websites and using them to provide an enhanced level of service to their clients.

Much of what I have written is available on my blog for ambitious professionals.

The simple truth however is that most accountants have simply done one of four things. Either they have:

  • created their own amateur looking website;
  • got a professional looking website that doesn’t work for them;
  • got a template website that looks much like many others;
  • yet to get a website.

Although website critiquing is not a mainstream activity for me I am happy to do this and can provide a tailored, practical and focused critique on request. It costs much less than you might expect and will highlight both the quick and easy things you can do as well as those that may require an investment of time and money to generate a positive return. If you want to ensure that your website works for you, then ask me about my Website Appraisal Critique for Accountants.

 

Mark AT BookMarkLee.co.uk or telephone 0845 003 8780 (local rate number – Tax Advice Network)

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Should you put your fee rates on your website?

I came across this question recently on a general business forum and offered my view which I have adapted below for ambitious professionals.  I’d be interested in what conclusions others have reached. In my experience very few firms have even considered the point.

I can only recall one occasion when I have seen specific reference to the fee levels of a professional adviser on a website. It  was a menu of prices for completing basic tax returns and the extras for each supplementary page (together with a caveat that additional fees would be quoted and charged if the client’s records were a mess – or words to that effect).

My view on the other forum was to suggest that the service provider indicated an entry level price – to keep out the time wasters.

Beyond that a service business has a choice:
– Commoditise each service and quote typical prices so that those that take longer than average are balanced by those that take less time than average (this is the menu approach outlined above);
– Give indicative prices or price bands but make clear that each case depends on exactly what is required in order to provide the desired outcome in individual cases (this is a variation on the menu approach outlined above).
– Not to mention any specific prices – which is by far the most common approach adopted by providers of professional services.

The advantage of the first route is you avoid spending time negotiating fees. The corollary is that you could spend additional time and effort before the work is agreed but you have no facility to reflect this hassle factor in your fee. It also denies you the facility to highlight the value side of your proposition.  Everything is just down to price.  It’s not an approach that would be adopted by many ambitious professionals I don’t think.

The second approach enables you to maximise your fees and to take account of all surrounding factors including the amount of time and effort it has taken to win the piece of work in question.

The last approach is, in some ways, akin to the expensive clothes shops that have garments in the window but do not put price tags on them. If you go into the shop you know it’s going to be expensive. Is that the impression you want to give?

In practice the first approach is generally preferable for low value work. The middle approach is better for high value work.

Some might say that the final approach is used by those who are unsure and don’t mind confusing their audience. However in the context of professional service firms it is the predominant approach so there’s not much chance of confusion.  But just imagine if you became the first to break the mould and to give some indication of your fees for recurring ‘compliance’ services on your website. Do you think that would increase or reduce the number of enquiries you receive and the number of good new clients you create?

There’s an obvious question that visitors to my BookMarkLee website might like to ask me in the light of my observations above.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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Client testimonials: A key mistake to avoid (part five)

I introduced this topic in four previous postings on this blog. Parts one and two introduced the subject and in part three I explained one simple way for ambitious professionals to obtain testimonials. In part four I explained how to choose which testimonials to use.

In this final posting in this series I want to highlight a classic mistake that people make when using testimonials and how you can destroy your credibility if you do the same thing.

First though let’s just remind ourselves why we want to use testimonials in our marketing materials. It is to add credibility to our sales messages and to evidence the promises we have made. Essentially we are acting as a conduit for a third party who is telling our prospective client how good we are.

So what is the key mistake that we need to avoid?Well, let me ask you a question. If you were thinking of engaging me to mentor you which of these two (fictional) testimonials would have most impact?

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
-Joe Soap, KPMG

I have overcome the issues that were halting my progress in the firm and, thanks to Mark I am now a confident networker and more effective in my new partnership role.
– Joe Soap, Wander, Cloak and Co (6 partner firm, Hertfordshire).

The only difference is the name of the firm. The first one is recognisable. The second is not.Which is the best one to use?

It can be a big mistake to assume that the quote from someone at a large firm or big name company is automatically the best to use. Why? Well, the starting point is, as always in marketing, to go back to think about who is your audience? Am I trying to influence people in other large firms or in smaller practices? Will my prospective clients relate better to someone in a Big 4 firm or a smaller practice? Will they be more interested in the impact I can have on someone in a Big 4 firm or in a smaller practice?

These are key issues to consider. Whilst it might be nice to have testimonials from recognised names and from partners in the largest firms and high street companies, this can work against you. It can alienate your target audience who may well conclude: If he works well with people in companies like that he’s probably not right for us.

Of course if you have a range of testimonials and the ‘big name’ is just one of many, it may add some further credibility but don’t make it the first one in the list just in case it works against you.

As I’ve already said, the key thing is always to focus on your audience. The primary audience for your testimonials is likely to be prospective clients that need further evidence that you are a credible adviser and right for them.

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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