One of the accountants I mentor has long been proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies.

And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived. Some of the accountants in this category may, unintentionally, be undermining their credibility.

I have, on occasion, pointed out that if clients or contacts perceive that you are not running your practice very well, they may be unwilling to pay you for regular business advice – or even to take your advice generally.

That would be a shame, especially if you want to expand into being seen and paid as the provider of business advice over and above more traditional accounting services.

This can be more challenging than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart.

Despite the cobbler’s inability to make shoes for his children, his customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

Consider these questions:

  • Do you have the appearance of someone who is successful or struggling?
  • As regards your business advice especially, are you practicing what you preach?
  • Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing?
  • Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients?
  • Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation?
  • Do your networking contacts think of you as professional or pathetic?

Your contacts may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. They may even be very happy to refer clients to you who simply want a new accountant to complete and file accounts and tax returns.

I know plenty of regular networkers who have told me that:

  • they are happy to refer accountants for ‘the basics’ (their words); but that
  • they are not sufficiently confident that those same accountants would be competent to give good business advice to the people who need such advice and whom they might be able to introduce as clients.

When you talk to your business contacts are you building or damaging the confidence they might have in your ability to deliver valuable business advice to clients?  And when you talk to clients about your business advisory services they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value to them.

Once people are sold on this they could choose to take advice from or to find someone else to provide it. Someone they consider to be successful. How do people see you? As successful or struggling? The difference will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If clients are not agreeing to pay you for business advice and you’re not getting the referrals you would like, might this be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business?  Don’t dismiss this idea without giving it some honest thought.

This very point has been an issue for some of the accountants I have worked with over the last couple of years. With my support and guidance they have learned to build a much more positive first impression with new contacts and to ensure they do not highlight their own failings when talking with clients.

What about you?

I’m not a great believer in the ‘fake it until you make it’ concept. However I do believe that accountants need to find a balance. Don’t boast about things that are untrue. But, equally, don’t be so modest that you undermine your own credibility.

I’m pleased to say that those accountants I have worked with always seem to grow in confidence, to attract and win more of the clients they want and go on to be more successful, in their own way, than might reasonably have expected previously.

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