Are you quoting myths or facts to support your advice?

Here’s a question: How confident are you of the validity of the stats you quote to clients and prospects in support of your views?

Misquoting stats and research can undermine your credibility. Here’s a common mistake I spotted again recently:

“Effective personal communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% content of the words.”

This is simply not true. It’s based on a complete misreading of the 1971 research undertaken by Professor Albert Mehrabian. Indeed my 2007 blog post debunking this myth is consistently one of the most popular pieces on this site.

Some years ago I heard a speaker at a seminar on business skills for accountants misquoting the research and stating the 7% statistic as a fact. Sadly it was a key part of her presentation and slides.

I was a fellow speaker at the event so professional courtesy ensured I didn’t point out her mistake publicly. Instead I approached her quietly and privately later in the day. I asked if she knew the origin of the statistics she was using. She confessed she didn’t but that they were well known to presentation skills coaches like her.

After we spoke she told me that it didn’t matter if she was using the stats inappropriately during her presentation skills coaching sessions. She said audiences liked them and they helped prove her points.

In effect this lady, who had seemed impressive, but for this error, was telling me she was actually quite unprofessional. At least that’s what I think of someone who quotes stats or research without first checking the facts and the origin of these. Even more so if the person knowingly continues to misquote the stats or research because “it doesn’t matter”.

Another common example is when people attribute a popular Marianne Williamson quote to Nelson Mandela. It starts:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure….”

Mandela  is often referenced as having included the full quote during his 1994 inauguration speech, but this didn’t happen. He didn’t say it, he didn’t write it and it wasn’t written for him. (Here’s the debunking piece).

These days there is no excuse for failing to check first before referencing stats, quotes or research. It’s invariably easy to trace online the original and to ensure you both give credit and get the references correct. And it’s especially important if you are going to build a presentation around the stats or research in question. And, if you get it wrong, to acknowledge this and to avoid repeating the mistake.

Failing to do so means you risk damaging your credibility and, in so doing, standing out for the wrong reasons.

What do you think?

Pricing for profit – who’s charging what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your top skills and expertise?

The top ranked personal skill or expertise on my Linkedin profile is currently ‘strategy’.  It has been moving up the list over the last year.

I am flattered that hundreds of people have endorsed me for ANY skills and expertise on Linkedin. Until recently ‘Accounting’ was top – presumably by reference to my background in and knowledge of the UK accounting profession.

The reason for this post though is because of the question in my mind since I started considering why hundreds of people were endorsing me for ‘strategy’. As I admire so many other strategic thinkers and advisers, I am quite thrilled anyone should feel this word is relevant to what I do.

After I comment on this below I share some lessons that may be of use to you re your Linkedin profile.

Do I do ‘strategy’?

I have not, to date, referenced ‘strategy’ as a skill, topic or expertise in any of my online, author or speaker profiles. So why does it appear to be so popular among my Linkedin connections?

It could be simply a function of Linkedin’s algorithm such that it is the most often promoted skill when anyone visits my profile on Linkedin. Or it could be a down to the impression people get through much of what I write about, speak about and share. Or, most likely, a combination of these two reasons.

This has caused me to reflect on the impression others get from what I do.

I frequently find myself debunking over-hyped ideas and forecasts about the speed of impact of changes on the professions. I also tend to discourage anyone from chasing the latest fad without first thinking about their target audience and focusing on ways to engage with them.  And I always encourage my audiences to clarify what it is they wish to achieve; then I recommend having a plan rather than just experimenting with new ideas all the time.

Hmm. And what is business strategy all about? It’s about identifying your objectives and creating a plan as to how you will achieve them.

So, yes, perhaps I should reflect on how others see my advice as being strategic. If you agree by all means add your endorsement to my Linkedin profile

How much importance do you place on the endorsements you get on your Linkedin profile? Remember, that endorsements are very different to recommendations.

The skills and expertise on your Linkedin profile

When Linkedin introduced their endorsements facility in 2012 I saw it as a bit of a game. I determined that it wasn’t important to get loads of endorsements. I have however long maintained that it was key to only accept onto your profile endorsements for skills you really have and which you want to promote. (See: What I like about Linkedin endorsements – October 2013)

Linkedin asks visitors to your profile, with whom you are already connected, to endorse you for a range of skills. Some of those skills may already be on your profile. Others are on the profiles of people who Linkedin thinks are a bit like you. In theory people who know you should only confirm you as having skills you really have. But, in practice, many users think they are helping you if they confirm you have skills as suggested by Linkedin. There’s no guarantee that they really think you have those skills.

Over time though it seems that Linkedin stops asking about random skills – especially if you haven’t added new ones to your profile even after people confirm you have them. This is certainly true in my case. I don’t recall the last time I had rejected the addition of a new skill that someone had endorsed me for (prompted, no doubt, by the Linkedin algorithm).

I would encourage you to reflect on the top 5 skills/expertise currently showing on your profile. Do these reinforce the message in the summary of your profile and in your profile title? Or will these skills/expertise confuse your message?

My advice is to delete any reference to skills/expertise that you do not have or that you know are not relevant to what you wish to be known for. And then, maybe ask some of your close connections to visit your profile and to endorse you for just 3 or 4 skills/expertise that you genuinely feel are relevant and justified.

This will serve three purposes.

  1. It will help you to understand what people really think you’re good at;
  2. It will encourage Linkedin’s algorithm to focus more on those popular topics when it invites other people to endorse you; and
  3. It will enable you to revise your profile to better reflect what you’re known for which should make it easier to achieve your business or career objectives

So I suggest this is a sensible strategy to pursue ;-)

My PIPs for 2015 (That’s my Plans, Initiatives and Promises)

This is not intended to be my New Year Resolutions. Instead this is simply the last in a series of four inward facing blog posts. Normal service will be resumed next week!

The first two posts in this series referenced the growth in popularity in this blog and website each year. The third post referenced my 2nd place in a recently published top 50 chart. This fourth post in the series simply focuses on what you can expect to see from me in the coming year.

Background

I have posted almost 600 pieces here since I first started blogging in 2006. Over the last few years I have never once even considered predicting how the blog would develop or what I might choose to do with it. I wasn’t sure which paths my portfolio career would take. I was ‘finding myself’ I suppose and waiting to find some clarity too.

I am delighted by the continued increase in readership of this blog. We have now hit a new high of over 32,000 visitors each month since August 2014.

Going forwards I have more specific plans than ever before. This makes it much easier to anticipate the direction and focus of the blog. It will also be interesting (to me, at least) to look back in a year’s time to see how things have turned out.

If you have not registered to receive email updates from this blog please do so using the sign up form to the right.

Plans

This website and blog will get a makeover shortly to make it easier for readers and visitors to find what they want. This will be the first update for two years and the first major revision to the site since its launch in 2006!

The new look site will also better promote:

  • My availability as speaker, author, facilitator and mentor;
  • The Inner Circle for accountants; and
  • My ebooks and related products. I will shortly launch my first audio product to help accountants who want to get more work, referrals and recommendations. It will focus on a fundamental prerequisite that is rarely addressed in sales or marketing texts and courses.

Initiatives

I invite commissions to share my advice and insights in regular columns for online and hard copy magazines. This seems especially relevant given my recent showing as number two in the top 50 social media commentators for Accountants as voted for by readers of Economia magazine.

Unlike most other commentators and advisers to the profession much of my advice is aimed at the thousands of small practitioners rather than multi-partner firms.

I also invite invitations to speak at conferences and at in-house events and away days for larger firms in 2015. As a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association I have a passion for this activity and always give of my best – energetically, enthusiastically and entertainingly.

Promises

I am committed to starting and running a second Inner Circle for Accountants in the Spring.

You can be assured that, in all my activities, I will retain my independence and integrity. I will continue to challenge and debunk the hyped up marketing messages that bombard you every day. And I will continue to blog and write about real-life, practical and commercial issues that matter to you.

I conceived the acronym ‘PIPs’ for this post. I believe that they are more than glorified New Year Resolutions. But maybe time will be the best judge of that.

Mark Lee voted 2nd for social media influence in #Economia50

The monthly finance magazine for accountants, Economia, has just published their annual list of:

“the top 50 most influential sources of finance news and information in social media, voted for by economia readers and ordered by Leaderboarded and Klout”

This year I am ranked 2nd – just one off the top spot.

I’m thrilled and amazed. Last year I was ranked around 20th, which was astonishing enough. The precise rank moved around a bit as one’s klout score varies. Mine has been quite consistent around 78 (out of 100) for most of 2014 and that clearly has a major impact on this year’s ranking. Few other people in Economia’s top 50 this year have such a (relatively) high score.

In previous years the top 20 places in the Economia top 50 have been largely populated by well-known journalists, economists and broadcasters. Many of those famous names are nowhere to be seen in the latest top 50 list. As such I can’t help but wonder whether I really have jumped from around 20th to 2nd in just one year.

There are also quite a few new names on the latest list – some of them seem to have pretty low klout scores, relatively few followers and only very limited activity on twitter.

Maybe my continued objectivity and cynicism about social media (and this top 50 chart) is part of what qualifies me to be so highly rated in this field. I understand the limitations of social media. I do not see it as a panacea or as an essential part of every accountants’ marketing activity and I do not believe that all accountants NEED to be on twitter. Equally I am well aware of what can be achieved if social media is approached with an informed perspective.

Having said all that, I am extremely grateful to those who voted for me this year. Thank you. I am delighted that my contributions, tweets and posts are considered to be of such value and interest. And I will continue to help spread the word about how useful social media can be to those accountants willing to take the time to understand it. That means both as regards the opportunities it presents and also the limitations as to what can be achieved if you don’t really understand the medium in question.

Top blog posts from 2014

Most of my blog posts in 2014 were initially only seen by a few hundred people. This rises over time and most have now been viewed at least 2,000 times. Some older posts from previous years have now been read by many thousands.

Just for the record, when I posted a similar list last year of the top ten blog posts in 2013, the number of views ranged from 1,540 upto the most popular with 2,246. This year even the blog post at number ten on the list has had more views than this. This suggests there has been another general increase in the level of interest in my blog this year.

Feel free to take a look if you missed any of them first time round:

  1. Why am I among the top ranked accountant bloggers on twitter? (5,537)
  2. 10 time saving tips for busy accountants (4,157)
  3. How to win at the Networking card games (3,419)
  4. Make that the last January of hell (2,891)
  5. You need to avoid STANDING OUT for the wrong reasons (2,890)
  6. Are your social media activities focused on Volume or Value? (2,887)
  7. Key business quotes for accountants (2,665)
  8. My Linkedin ‘Pom-Pon’ stick (2,643)
  9. The worst thing to do when you get a bland Linkedin connection request (2,553)
  10. Lessons for accountants from…. Coffee enthusiasts (2,360)

Comments on blog posts

Whilst readership is up the number of comments on my blog posts is down. I do really appreciate and enjoy reading genuine comments and feedback from regular commentators and new ones too. Akismet blocks most of the fake and spammy comments thank goodness.

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 , want to share your view or you have a question – which I will generally attempt to answer.

Website and blog stats review 2014

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

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

Blog posts each year

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

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

Visitor numbers

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

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

Popular Blog Posts

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

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

I will post a separate list of the top ten most read blog posts from 2014.

 

2014 – Highlights of my professional year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does anyone care or remember what you look like?

Whilst I recognise the name, Lennie Kravitz, I admit to not having listened to his music. So why did recent reports of his live performance at Wembley Arena catch my eye?

I think it has much to do with the emphasis on his appearance some 25 years after he first played the venue. Apparently he was “dressed in trademark aviator shades, ripped denim and leather”. His image has evolved though as previously he was worn “a white catsuit and red, high-heeled platform boots”. So not consistent across the years but sufficiently well known to be recognisable and highly regarded.

Of course the real focus of each of the reviews I saw was his music, performance and showmanship. But, I submit, if he didn’t look the part this would have been held against him. He was performing largely to fans who already knew him so he had little to do to influence their views.

Attention to your Appearance is the first The 7 Principles anyone can adopt to STAND OUT from the pack.  We never get a second chance to make a first impression. Do you want to come across as confident and powerful or as a nervous novice? Your Appearance has a huge impact on people who have not met you before. Many will form an instant opinion that, if it’s inaccurate, you will need to work hard to revise.

The Appearance of your online profiles will also have a similar impact. What impression will someone you don’t know get from the profile or absence of such on your website? Or of your profile on Linkedin and on social media sites? The reaction someone has will determine whether or not they then get in touch with you.

You can access a free guide to craft a powerful Linkedin profile here>>>

How to use the 3Rs when you’re seeking more work

In an educational context we refer to the three Rs as being those crucial elements that all children need to master. That is, Reading wRiting and aRithmetic. This is somewhat ironic given that only one of the three topics actually starts with an R. (The phrase is used as each of the three words, when spoken, has a strong R sound at the start).

Professional advisers keen to win more work would do well to focus on a different set of 3Rs.

You want to be Remembered, you want to be Recommended and you want to be Referred. Let’s consider each in turn:

You want to be Remembered

How might you become more memorable – for good reasons?

One way to do this is counter-intuitive. Instead of talking a lot about yourself and your practice, develop a natural curiosity and interest in other people.

It can be really helpful to learn how to ask good questions and then to listen carefully to the replies. The more genuinely interested you are in someone else the more they will remember you as an interesting person. Yes, this means you talk less but your questions may themselves, if well worded, evidence your experience and credibility.

You want to be Recommended

This can only happen once your clients have experienced your advice and can express an honest opinion about your work.

Think about any service provider who has done work for you. If you are really pleased with their service you will gladly recommend them when someone asks you if you know a good decorator, plumber, mechanic, dress-maker or whatever.

You want to be Referred

Again I am grateful to Andy Lopata who helped me to understand the distinction between referrals and recommendations and also how these differ from tips and leads.

  • A tip – This is quite simply a piece of information. It rarely includes contact details and may even be based on a misunderstanding. Nice though it is to receive tips, they leave us with plenty of leg-work to do ourselves to determine if they are each worth pursuing.
  • A lead – This is more than a tip, in that you may receive contact information, but a lead is little more than the first stage in the sales process.

When someone gives you a name and a number and says ‘You need to speak to this person’ they are simply giving you a lead. If they invite you to use their name when approaching the prospect that is simply a ‘warm’ lead.

The other side of a lead is when an introducer recommends that someone looking for an accountant gets in touch with you; but the introducer is unable to recommend your services as they have not experienced them.

Referrals are much more valuable than tips and leads. Andy explains that there are three steps to referral heaven. In the context of this blog post these three steps would be:

  1. The person referring you identifies someone who needs a professional like you to help them.
  2. They talk to the prospect and determine that they are interested in speaking with you.
  3. The prospect is then expecting your call which will follow after the introducer passes on the referral to you.

Can you see how much more valuable this would be than a tip or a lead?

The importance of these 3Rs is a key reason why I speak on the subject of how you can STAND OUT from the pack. It’s so that you can win more work, but also so that you  and your colleagues are Remembered, Referred and Recommended.