These days it typically takes a lot to get me cross. But one thing that really winds me up is the continuing wave of advice to accountants generally, telling them to do stuff that doesn’t work for everyone and is especially inappropriate for most sole practitioners.

This is quite different from the advice that was winding me up ten or so years ago.

Back then I got cross when I saw otherwise reputable commentators telling all accountants that they MUST promote EBTs and other fancy tax schemes. My negative stance even then was borne of my belief that such schemes were complex and risky. I actively challenged the view (pushed by plenty of promoters and commentators) that “ALL” accountants should be advising on such matters. And I rejected the ill-informed argument that accountants were at risk of negligence claims if they failed to tell clients about such schemes.

I’m not always right but I do try hard to only share strong views when I am sure of my facts. I especially care about sole practitioner accountants who have enough to do without anyone telling them they MUST do things differently.

I love working with sole practitioner accountants who want more profits, clients, time and satisfaction and who are fed up being told they must do this, that or the other.

I wouldn’t mind but all too often this advice is offered by people who don’t really understand how sole practitioner accountants work or the real challenges they face.

Years ago you could rely on specialist journalists to filter such advice but there are fewer around now with in depth knowledge and connections within the accountancy world. And of course anyone can set themselves up as an expert with a blog, articles on Linkedin and an email campaign.

One of my pet peeves is the way that some of these ‘experts’ cross-refer each other. It sometimes feel like there must be an agreement along the lines that “I’ll tell my contacts you’re great if you’ll tell your contacts I’m fab”.

My beef now is with the advice to author loads of online content, to write a book, to embrace multiple social media platforms, to produce loads of videos, and to invest a fortune in marketing.

Sometimes this advice includes instructions to engage (and pay) a consultant to do these things for you, or to help you to do these things yourself.

What’s getting me worked up is that much of this advice is based on inaccurate preconceptions and misunderstandings. Typically the advice comes from people who don’t really understand the accountancy market place. Often they also have an incomplete understanding of the medium on which they are offering advice. This applies especially as regards Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

I’ve seen countless articles, blogs and books which all essentially say “Produce a ton of online content and spread the news about it as widely as possible.” This sounds daunting and, no doubt, is partly intended to persuade accountants to outsource the writing and work involved.

In my experience none of this makes sense for many accountants and especially not for the type of sole practitioner accountants with whom I work. Most, but not all of them, are looking to generate more clients, paying higher fees. But once we have clarified their real ambitions it becomes clear they do not need any widespread ‘spray and pray’ style marketing. It doesn’t make sense for them to do this themselves and it makes even less sense for them to pay someone else to produce this for them.

Yes, we can always find the odd exception that proves the rule. What makes me cross is when other consultants promise they can help you to be as successful as these exceptions. Yes, there are a good number of sole practitioner accountants who find it easy to create content and who clearly enjoy their regular interactions online. How many are also running growing businesses and generating enough new clients to warrant their online activity we do not know.

But a moment’s through tells us that an accountant who enjoys working with lots of new clients is unlikely to also have time to post and engage frequently online unless they find it very quick and easy to do this.

Accountants I have mentored will be familiar with me identifying, what I call, their ‘displacement activities’. These are things they do in the HOPE they will contribute to long term objectives, because it feels easier to do these things rather than those that will make a difference in the short-term.

Or they spend money on a course or programme that makes them feel inadequate or that ends up costing far more than they can afford – and still doesn’t result in them winning the new clients they want.

This makes me so cross as it plays on the accountants’ insecurities and neediness.

Do you want to be more successful and to be better rewarded for the time and effort you devote to your practice? Good. You have ambitions. You’re not complacent. I may be able to help you. And plenty of other people can help you too. But first you need to decide on your objectives. The appropriate tactics to take will depend on your objectives. And then you can decide who is best placed to help you achieve your objectives. Please do not listen to those voices telling you what ‘every accountant must do’. They are wrong!


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