5 ways to kill your credibility

I recently attended The Professional Speaking Association’s Spring Convention and had the good fortune to attend a ‘Meet the Pros’ session led by Mel Sherwood.

Mel’s focus is on helping people to craft powerful pitches and to speak confidently in public. Her business is called ‘Grow your Potential‘ and she helps people who want to persuade with passion and power.

Mel’s presentation at the Convention dovetails quite nicely with my focus on how you can STAND OUT from the pack.  What follows was inspired by Mel’s session as it largely amplifies the points I make when addressing the A (Appearance and Attitude) element of my 7 point framework.

1 – Your attitude

You want to avoid coming across as negative, arrogant or complacent. Better instead to evidence a positive and professional approach.

2 – Your image

As many people make instant judgements based on your appearance you need to think about the image you intend to present.

Mel points out that we should avoid tight, dirty and inappropriately revealing clothing as well as chipped nail varnish. I’ll add these to my list!

Mel’s recommendation is that we wear appropriate clothing and accessories, appear well groomed and ensure that our outfit is flattering. Think about the style, colour, fit and whether it is ‘brand aligned’.  I suspect she means that some people might want to be aligned with high value brands; others with cheaper brands. Either way, congruency is important.

3 – Your Body language

Your body language carries subconscious messages and can undermine your credibility or enhance it.  Again it’s important that it is congruent with your words and message. For example, do you want to come across as friendly and open or as reserved and very private?

Mel suggests we avoid slumped shoulders, fidgeting, too much touching of our faces and necks and excessive pointing.

Positive tips include to stand tall with your shoulders back, maintain good eye contact, use open gestures and offer the ubiquitous genuine smiles and a firm handshake.

4 – Your Voice

Mel’s focus was on helping professional speakers but her tips concerning a speaker’s ‘voice’ apply more widely too.

Many people will make assumptions about you based on the way you sound. For example, do you speak unusually quiet or very loudly? How expressive and varied is your tone? Do you screech in a high pitch tone? Do you mumble or speak in a boring monotone voice? These can all adversely impact your credibility.

5 – Your Words

Again, Mel’s emphasis was on helping fellow professional speakers. But again very similar points are equally relevant to all professionals keen to create a good first impression.

It’s important to minimise your use of ums, errs and starting too many statements with fillers such as ‘so’ and ‘actually’. Better to make good use of positive sentiments and to come across as confident in what you are saying.

 

As Mel notes, this is all common sense. “You know it already but are you aware of how you come across? Self awareness is key.” I agree. Get it right and you’re on a level playing field with many of your competitors. Get it wrong and you will undermine your credibility.

As I have explained elsewhere, your ‘Appearance and Attitude’ are but one of the 7 fundamental principles that will determine whether or not you STAND OUT from the pack. Get this one wrong and you will reduce your opportunities to STAND OUT, full stop.

Appearance and Attitude are at the start of the 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 principles you can adopt to STAND OUT from the pack, because first impressions COUNT!

Will this merger of two more mid-tier firms do the trick?

I was saddened but unsurprised by the news that Moore Stephens and Chantrey Vellacott are to merge with effect from 1 May 2015.

I originally trained at a predecessor firm of Chantry Vellacott and the current managing partner, Mike Tovey, was my manager when I qualified as a chartered accountant in 1982.

The name of the firm I was with, Wood & Co, disappeared long ago so it’s not the disappearance of the Chantrey Vellacott name that saddens me.

The press release announcing the merger contains the standard factual outcomes and the ubiquitous aspirations that accompany all such ‘mergeovers’:

  • The firms will merge and continue to use the larger firm’s name, brand and international association.
  • This will reinforce their position as one of the UK’s biggest mid-tier firms.
  • “The merger provides a platform for continued, sustainable growth. There are real synergies, not just in terms of the services and sectors but a coming together of similar philosophies and values to form a strong combined firm.”
  • “This provides an important strategic development for both firms. The combined firm will provide our clients with a broader range of expertise, along with an increased depth of sector knowledge and experience.”
  • “Clients will also benefit from access to much wider UK and global capabilities through the [larger firm's] UK and international network.”

Much the same thing is said every time two mid-tier accountancy (“rival”) firms merge. The drivers for these mergers are typically the ongoing struggle for multi-disciplinary mid-tier firms to generate sufficient profits and to STAND OUT from all of their competitors.

The simple fact is that the downwards pressure on fees and the overheads involved in running mid-sized firms are a constant battle.  And this battle has challengers on both sides.

First there are the larger firms which are perceived to have more credibility and clout. They typically have more than one or two suitably experienced experts in any discipline you might name.  Everyone recognises the name of the firm and many top graduates aspire to work for one of them in the first instance. The larger firms invest time and money in networking and marketing their services and key people to target clients – many of which are currently serviced by mid-tier firms.

Secondly there are the smaller firms which are perceived to offer similar quality services, more regular direct access to partners, greater flexibility and, typically, lower fee levels.

The struggle for the mid-tier firms that want to survive and thrive is threefold. They need to:

  1. Convince larger clients that they do not need the services of a larger firm. This often necessitates having more than one or two credible client friendly in-house experts for each of all necessary specialisms. And those key clients need to know who they are. When a large client moves on to a larger firm, examine the real reasons and avoid the internal blame game. What can be done to avoid a recurrence? Maybe a merger is the only (short-term) solution to sustain the practice. I wonder though whether this is ever enough to retain those larger clients who are tempted to move to a larger firm?
  2. Improve their market focus so as to secure increasing numbers of new and profitable clients.  Without this clarity fewer and fewer businesses will see any good reason to move their affairs to a larger version of the smaller firm they were with previously.  I would add that this approach requires a move away from the traditional game of rewarding partners and staff for picking up new fees, regardless of size and unaware of the, typically, disproportionate cost of acquisition of clients where the fees are relatively low.
  3. Clarify a clear, credible and consistent focus on specific market niches rather than trying to be all things to all people. That old-school approach rarely has any credibility any more, in any size firm. If pursued it will invariably result in the firm sliding into a merger that benefits only the most senior partners. Few growing businesses will be attracted to yet another ‘fits all sizes’ accountancy firm that doesn’t evidence the necessary expertise in relevant specialisms.

I’m generalising of course. But the writing has been on the wall for years. Before I joined BDO in 1997 I was a partner at, what is now, Crowe Clark Whitehill (CCW). Even back then this mid-tier firm was recognising the value of adopting a clear focus on 3 distinct specialisms. I don’t know for sure but I would expect that it is this approach that has helped sustain CCW over the last 18 years.

The firm has long evidenced a consistent focus and expertise in advising Professional Practices, Not For Profits and Pension Funds. I’m sure that this approach is also a major contributor to their ability to recruit good partners and teams and to consolidate their position in the top 20. I am sad, but unsurprised when yet another mid-tier firm of accountants is merged out of existence.

For many years I advised on mergers of professional service firms. I can still recall one of my favorite mantras that “the merger of two weak and unprofitable firms rarely creates a strong profitable firm”.

What saddens me is that the merger of Moore Stephens and Chantrey Vellacott is a reminder of the large number of accountancy firms that are perceived as being ‘just another’ mid-size firm. Just another large firm of accountants who are all perceived to do much the same things, in much the same way for similar types of clients.

Of course they struggle to win as many new profitable clients as they would like to do. And of course they lose some of their better partners and staff to more profitable firms. It’s hard for larger firms to get the buy-in and commitment from enough partners to change engrained habits. This requires strong leadership, informed external stimuli and a willingness to invest sufficient time and money to make the necessary changes. The fewer partners who need to be convinced this will secure the longevity of the firm, the easier it is to take the necessary steps.

All sizes of firms of accountants would benefit from adopting simple names and brands that are distinct and memorable. They also need to clarify their business focus and evidence how specific groups of clients benefit most from engaging their services. This is not easy.

To most people, most accountants are much the same.  And it’s rarely credible or  sufficient to claim that “it’s our people that make us different”.

That claim only has credibility if all those people have grown up in the firm and not worked elsewhere. If there are many recent recruits everyone needs to be able to confidently and honestly talk about the differences they have noted since moving to their new firm. And for those new recruits to be able to assert that ‘Yes that this firm’s style and approach really is different. Everyone’s focus is genuinely on helping clients and there is less of the internal politics and internally focused targets that most other firm obsess about. Clients benefit because we know that without our clients we’d have no business.” And so on.

Of course, the more firms whose people make such claims the more they all sound the same again. This is part of the reason why I am a great believer in the importance of individual partners and staff being able to STAND OUT from their competitors. Of course it helps if the firm has a strong brand and clear business message. But ‘Business branding and messaging’  is only one of the 7 fundamental principles that you can use to STAND OUT from the pack.

I wish everyone in the newly merged firm, Moore Stephens, all the best. And I hope that the merger creates a sustainable, profitable and respected firm that is a professional and fun place to work.

In the mean time I’ll await news of the next mergover in the accountancy sector. I doubt I’ll have to wait long.

What did the Leaders’ Debate teach us about how you can STAND OUT?

I watched the Leaders’ Debate on BBC iplayer over the Easter break. As I’m not a political pundit I won’t be adding to the many reviews and post-debate analyses in any conventional way. But I have considered what the Leaders’ Debate can teach us about how to STAND OUT from the pack. This blog post is longer than my usual style so I hope you’ll stick with it and find my analysis helpful.

It’s not often we get to see  a group of similar people side by side, each seeking to influence us and each wanting their competing messages to last long beyond the occasion itself.

As regular readers might have anticipated I have applied my 7 point STAND OUT framework as I consider the lessons we can learn in our efforts to be more influential and to STAND OUT from our competitors.

Appearance

Like many commentators I felt that the women stood out immediately simply because we are less used to seeing ladies being (rightly) afforded parity with male politicians in such a debate.

Nick Clegg seemed more comfortable and relaxed than others as he often had his hands in his pockets but did that convey the image he wanted? Equally, Nicola Sturgeon leaned casually on her lectern on occasions. David Cameron and Ed Miliband both appeared earnest and typically appealed to viewers directly down the camera lens.

Ed Miliband was no doubt determined to present a better image than the negative ones that have featured in the press. His facial movements and hand gestures were no doubt carefully rehearsed – to good effect in the main. One sartorial surprise, to me, was the absence of the traditional red tie worn by Labour party leaders.

At the end of the debate the cameras allowed us to see how each of the 7 moved to shake hands with the others on the stage and then with audience members. What impression did this have as regards how you perceived each of them? In the overall scheme of things, did it have any real impact?

Looking back now, I suspect that little of what we saw on the evening stays with us. How much does it impact our perceptions over and above what we have seen previously? Those who didn’t watch the debates live are only able to base their opinions on what they read and on the clips shown on the news and online.

On this occasion and in these circumstances I would suggest that each person’s Appearance and body language could have been crucial in helping them to Stand Out.  Had there been any presentational faux pas or overtly negative movements we might recall them. As we would also have recalled (negatively) anyone who was wearing anything especially unusual or noteworthy. No one did on this occasion.  Everyone dressed appropriately and thank goodness there has been little reference to the leaders’ choice of clothes, shoes and accessories.

In more conventional circumstances the quality, smartness and appropriateness of the clothes you wear, and the consistency of what you look life in real life with what you look like online, will all contribute to the extent to which you STAND OUT – positively or negatively.

Business messaging and branding

All the leaders endeavoured to repeatedly put across their key points and to emphasise key messages. I perceived various attempts to create sound-bites that might catch the news or social media. None seem to have succeeded here although most of the  parties’ social media teams attempted to reinforce their leaders’ messages both in real-time and subsequent to the event.

Anyone likely to have been influenced by what they heard during the debate may hope that such promises will be included in the party manifestos when they are published.

How much will floating voters be influenced I wonder? Many people will vote for the party they have always supported. Others will vote by reference to one or two issues that matter most to them. Much of what we heard will have seemed like different shades of grey.

What this tells us is that if you already have a strong brand this will have more of an impact than specific messages that may change over time. That is, unless you are able to reinforce those messages – especially if they are new and distinct.  What you say on one occasion is unlikely to have much positive impact. Of course, if you get it wrong then one poor message can make you STAND OUT in a negative way. Remember when Gordon Brown was heard referencing Gillian Duffy as a ‘bigoted woman’?

Plaid Cymru (the party of Wales) and the Green Party probably gained most from their inclusion in the debate as their brands now have a much higher profile. Many people who can vote for these two parties may have heard their messages for the first time. This could mean more people will consider them a credible option. To that extent their branding Stood Out. It is what happens subsequently that will determine whether the messages shared by all of the leaders Stand Out and influence voters.

Conversational Impact

In real life this is often an easy way to STAND OUT from the pack. You listen more attentively than most so that you can ensure that everything you say resonates with the other person.

It’s hard to consider this principle in the context of the debates even though the substance of what each leader said should have been important. None of them was in conversation with us as individuals. They could only convey their messages in what they had probably been told would be an effective way to ‘touch’ either their supporters or the undecided voters.

Each of the leaders did attempt to respond to the 4 specific questions  posed by audience members. And most of them repeatedly referenced each questioner’s name when they replied or commented on the topic later. This can be a useful technique when you want to remember the other person’s name. It seemed forced and unnatural in the context of the debate.

Some of the leaders did occasionally speak over each other but probably less so than we might have expected. And, as I have already noted, some of them attempted to speak directly to the viewer – by focusing on the camera lens rather than the studio audience.

Listening to the questions and comments made by the person with whom you are conversing is key. It helps ensure that your conversations have more (positive) impact than those of less engaging people.

Dependability and Trust

Each of the leaders attempted to stress the extent to which they can be relied on to keep their promises and assurances. How effectively they were able to do this depends to a large extent on what we have seen and heard previously and on their past record.

Nick Clegg reiterated his previous apology for promising not to raise student fees and then being unable to resist doing this once in Government. How people feel about him will depend, in part, on how they feel about his apology. Has it made him inherently untrustworthy or can we trust him more now that he understands the importance of not over-promising what cannot be provided?

This debate was a classic reminder of the importance of being believable, dependable and trustworthy if you want to STAND OUT and win more work (or an election!)

Expertise and Experience

We heard a lot of reference to each of the main party leaders’ expertise and experience.

The debate was based on the US model where voters actually get to vote for their President. We simply choose our local MP and then it’s maths that determines which party has the most seats and who can convene a Government.  Only their local constituents get to vote for each of the leaders (and Nicola Sturgeon isn’t even standing for a seat at Westminster). Nevertheless most of use are probably influenced by the leaders’ expertise and experience when deciding which party and MP to vote for.

These are also always going to be important factors that impact how people choose who to engage as their advisers. How you reference your expertise and experience will also impact the extent to which anyone will recommend you when they get to know you a little.

Each of the leaders in the debate referenced their past records and those of their parties in an effort to convince us that they should be trusted with our votes on May 7th. Simply stated they know that if you are perceived to lack experience you will lack credibility.  Only a minority of people will go for someone without relevant experience, especially if they also show a lack of expertise and credibility.

Following up

As ever, this is key. I would expect that, after the debates, the social media teams of each party were posting links to their websites and further messages to reinforce what their leaders were saying.

We have been told that many more people will only have heard extracts from the two-hour debates than listened to the whole thing. And even more people will simply read about it. All of the post-debate references are part of the follow up. How much effort are each of the parties putting into building on and reinforcing what their leaders’ said during the debate?

Floating voters are unlikely to recall too much from the debate or from what they have seen or heard about them. What will matter most is how effectively do each of the parties follow up with such people.

You really are missing an opportunity if you fail to follow up after you give a presentation, after you meet someone at a networking event or after you pitch for work (on the phone or at a meeting). The more effectively you follow up, the more you will STAND OUT as compared to those who fail to do so.

Giving and sharing

This is the seventh of what I consider to be seven fundamental principles that anyone can choose to use to STAND OUT from the pack. You’ll have noticed that they each start with the first seven letters of the alphabet (A-G).

The leaders could hardly hand out giveaways during or immediately after the debate. However, some promised to provide specific benefits if their party was elected and all sorts of tax reductions, without convincing me that these were affordable or how they would be funded.  As a result I questioned their credibility, their dependability, their ability and their expertise.

The minor parties specifically targeted their core voters and sought to tempt others like them to vote for their own special interest – as is human nature.

When I reference, as part of the framework, the value of having a giving and sharing mentality I stress that it is not enough to give away promotional marketing materials. What you give and share should be of value to each specific recipient. Your objective is to show you understand what matters to them so that you STAND OUT from all of the other advisers who are simply focused on their own interests.

Conclusion

I have referenced my seven point framework in this analysis as to whether any of the party leaders was really able to STAND OUT from the others. My summary here suggests that no one stood out specifically in a positive vein. So I  am unsurprised that the instant post-debate polls were inconclusive. Equally no one was exceptionally bad as even those with objectionable policies largely stayed on message and said little new.

What I hope this analysis shows however is that, in real life, there are a range of ways in which you might choose to STAND OUT from the pack. None are that difficult or revolutionary. And the more positive ways in which you choose to STAND OUT the more likely you are to achieve your objectives, to win more work and to be remembered, referred and recommended.

Don’t follow up more than once – unless you want to win more work!

Regular readers will know that I believe that following up effectively is one of the 7 fundamental ways you can distinguish yourself and STAND OUT from the pack.

Most people only think about following up after they have met someone. I have previously recommended that you: Start your Follow Up BEFORE you meet someone for the first time.

It seems that to date I haven’t focused here on the more conventional timing of following up after you meet someone new.

You could do what most people do of course. That’s to just add the person to your mailing list and send them your newsletters. And hope that your conversation was so scintillating and your business card so impressive that they will contact you when they need your services. Or perhaps you think that your initial conversation with them was sufficient to inspire them to promote you to their friends, family and business connections.

Well done if this has been working for you to date. It doesn’t work for many people. Sending a quick follow up email doesn’t often have much effect either.

Much better to plan your follow ups. If you only meet new connections occasionally this is quite easy. If you attend networking events or business meetings and collect many business cards each week, you will need to be more systematic.

Choose who you want to follow up with. Not everyone you meet will typically be either a prospective client, introducer or influencer. Be clear who you want to follow up with.

Here’s what I try to do (although I do vary this if I have met dozens of accountants at a conference and they have asked or agreed to join my mailing list):

Within 24 hours

  • Look them up on Linkedin and send a personalised connection request that references our meeting.
  • Send an email referencing Linkedin and attaching anything I promised to send by way of follow up after we met. Sometimes I won’t be attaching anything I’ll be supplying a link, answering a question or effecting a connection to a third party.
  • If I can find them on twitter I will follow them and start to reply or ReTweet occasional tweets that are relevant to our mutual interests.

A week later

  • Phone or email them with a further follow up that builds on the previous one.
  • Look for opportunities to reference a relevant piece of news, a blog post or website related to something that came up when we were speaking.
  • Try to set up a meeting that would be of value and benefit to both parties.
  • Look out for tweets and also Linkedin posts that I can share or comment on

A month later

  • If we’ve not yet met up or spoken on the phone, I’ll call within the month of our first meeting.
  • Aim to send something else of value to THEM by post or email to help cement the new relationship.

If the contact has expressed interest in The Inner Circle or in being mentored I will continue to keep in touch using the drip, drip, drip approach. I will ask for a definite yes or no when we speak. But here’s the thing. I will not just leave a lead in the absence of a reply. I accept that most people are really busy. I know how valuable it can be to keep in touch as I have won work in the past through this approach. And I have engaged people to provide services for me because they have adopted this approach too.

My follow up KIT (Keep In Touch) can be summarised as 24, 7, 30.  Take action within 24 hours (not too fast, as that feels a bit too eager and odd), follow up within a week (7 days) and then again within a month (30 days).

 

 

Does your business message get on the RADAR?

We know, don’t we, that good communication is important in business. In my view, one of the most fundamental pieces of communication is how we talk about what we do.

There are many challenges to be overcome here. We want to avoid sounding just like everyone else in the same field. We want our message to resonate with people and we want them to remember us.

One traditional approach here focuses on crafting an ‘elevator pitch’. Another requires us to identify a Unique Selling Point (USP). Both of these miss the point in my view.

Elevator pitches originated with the idea that it should be possible to deliver a summary of your idea or plan to an important person in the time span of an elevator ride. By definition in such cases you know almost nothing about the other person so cannot tailor what you say so that it resonates with them.

I am also not a fan of USPs or even ESPs (Emotional Selling Points) and have suggested previously that a better idea would be to identify the Unique Perceived Benefits (UPBs) of your service proposition. See: Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants.

If you really want to STAND OUT from others in your field I suggest that you work on crafting your business message so that it gets on the RADAR. As you will see this means that you do not attempt to rely on one standard statement that you trot out to everyone you meet. The best business messages get on the RADAR because they are:

  • Relevant – They resonate with the person to whom they are expressed as they contain terms they can understand and address points about which they care.
  • Authentic – They do not sound trite or like something a marketing expert crafted for you. You are comfortable expressing the message and it contains language that you use. Whilst the words may not come from your heart, they could have done.
  • Distinct – They are different to what others in your field say. These distinctions though need to be expressed in terms of how your clients benefit from them, not simply differences in the way you deliver your services.
  • Accurate  - They do not contain exaggerated or misleading claims.
  • Repeatable - They are sufficiently clear and understandable that whoever hears them can remember them and tell other people about you.

This is not something that many of us find easy to achieve. For example accountants who feel that they provide a service that appears indistinguishable from many others who do the pretty much the same thing. It is also hard, for different reasons, if you offer a number of services, as I do for example.

How does your business message measure up against the RADAR acronym?

Lessons for accountants from ……a sales training expert

During a recent dinner with my old friend, Andy Preston, I got to thinking about how some of the principles he mentioned are more widely applicable.

Andy is a sales training and cold calling expert. He speaks at conferences and training courses for very large companies all over the world. Our dinner took place in Cape Town, South Africa. I was on holiday. Andy was in the middle of a hectic series of talks.

I was impressed that he kept referencing the benefits of STANDING OUT and assumed he was referencing my work in this area. I was amused later to realise that Andy is the creator of the STAND OUT selling system. Its purpose is to help sales people stand out from the competition, close more deals, and win the business – even when selling at a higher price!  This clearly dovetails nicely with my own work on how Accountants can STAND OUT from the pack.

When it comes to applying the experience of sales people to accountants, I must admit I have always known two conflicting ‘facts’.

On the one hand, accountants generally do not like to operate as or to be considered to be in ‘sales’. On the other hand, it’s hard to build a service based business, like accountancy, if you don’t do any selling!

One of Andy’s firm beliefs is that, these days, it is no longer appropriate for sales people to base their presentations on the ‘features’ and ‘benefits’ of the products they want to sell. This is a traditional approach that no longer works (if it ever did).

These days most purchasers do their homework online before they start shortlisting vendors. The purchaser typically already knows which products suit their needs and uses online comparison sites which invariably focus on the features and benefits, as well as the costs etc. Sales people who do not build rapport with prospects are unlikely to survive in the 21st century. (And it’s one of the reasons Andy is so busy). Who’d be a professional sales person?

The lesson for accountants, I would suggest, is that it is now more important than ever to STAND OUT in ways that prospective clients understand will benefit them.

You’re an accountant so they know you can do the work (or at last they assume you can). In what way will engaging YOU, rather than any other accountant, ensure that the client gets what they want and need (and more)?

As Andy suggests, a great deal hinges on the extent to which you are able to build rapport, to engage the prospect and to get them to know, like and trust you. This does not mean talking about yourself though. It requires effective questioning techniques, evidence that you’ve been listening to them and convincing responses to their questions about how you operate (if they ask).

A failure to execute these key ‘sales’ skills, will mean you don’t win the client, just as it means the salesperson fails to make the sale.

[If you think it would be good to improve your skills in this area, take a look at something I produced recently for accountants. Perhaps it could help you too? Full details here>>>]

10 shocking mistakes that frustrate your clients

During my annual networking ski trip I asked a number of my fellow entrepreneurs and business owners to talk to me about their accountants. I have since written 3 articles for AccountingWeb by reference to the notes of those conversations.The first article has been published and has already stimulated much online discussion.

By way of summary and especially if you don’t have time to read the whole thing I have summarised below the 10 mistakes which were identified as frustrating by my interviewees:

  1. Working too close to deadlines – regardless of when clients supply their information;
  2. Charging differing (time based) fees each year even when the work done is substantially the same;
  3. Failing to offer business focused advice to business clients;
  4. Taking an unreasonable amount of time to respond to client enquiries and to follow up after meetings with them;
  5. Refusing to provide regular advice sought by clients;
  6. Omitting to provide the most basic piece of advice sought by clients as it’s not embedded in the accountant’s standard procedures;
  7. Delegating work to junior staff who cannot communicate effectively with clients;
  8. Failing to make the client feel that their views and desires are important;
  9. Taking on a client even though it will become obvious the accountant has no relevant experience of that business sector and is unwilling to close the gap;
  10. An absence of processes such that client feels the accountant is disorganised and making it all up as they go along.

When these sort of issues come up during mentoring conversations I stress that what matters is the client’s perception, as their perception is their reality.

The skill comes in learning how to help clients to recognise that you are doing your best to help them, that you’re on their side, and that you understand and want to help them succeed in their business.

The language you use in conversations, emails and forms/checklists all contribute to your clients’ perceptions. How confident are you that your clients aren’t harbouring unspoken frustrations that could mean they are ready to move to a new adviser any day now?

7 reasons you don’t get enough referrals and recommendations

We would all like to secure more referrals and recommendations to provide our services to new and ideal clients. Most advice, articles and blog posts on this topic focus on what you need to do in this regard. Below I have referenced 7 examples that could help explain why you don’t get as many referrals and recommendations as you would like.

  1. You don’t look the part. Your image doesn’t match what people expect from someone in your line of work and your personality isn’t sufficiently strong to overcome this negative impression. Perhaps your online persona and profile doesn’t reinforce the real you either.
  2. Your message is muddled. When you talk about what you do, it’s not easy enough for people to understand or to recall when they meet others who could benefit from your services. You sound just like every other person in your field such that no one is inspired to want to know more or to think about engaging you themselves.
  3. You talk too much. Most people will find you more interesting if they perceive you to be interested (in them). When they asked you ‘what do you do?’ they didn’t want your life history, business CV or a list of all the services you provide. You need to be listening more than talking so as to build rapport.
  4. You are indiscreet.  Are you talking about current and past clients and what you have done for them? Would they be happy to know you’re talking freely about such things?
  5. You do not inspire confidence. There can be a fine line between confessing your inexperience and evidencing your relevant expertise if the two don’t match up exactly. You cannot expect people to be impressed by your qualifications unless they understand how these benefit them.
  6. You don’t keep in touch. So what if you gave them your business card? Why should anyone  you meet keep you in mind  during their busy life?
  7. You’re only interested in what you can get. You take advantage of others’ goodwill and offers of help but do nothing in return or to encourage a culture of reciprocity.

Regular readers will recognise that this list is the antithesis of the 7 fundamental principles I normally reference. They form part of an easy to recall framework from which you can pick and choose the principles that you want to adopt. And of course, the more you work on these the more likely you are to be remembered, referred and recommended.

Should accountants outsource their facebook activity?

I recently wrote an article which posed the question: Should accountants be more active on facebook?

I concluded by noting that every survey I have seen about accountants’ use of social media suggests that facebook remains a minority interest. This comes as no surprise to me and I don’t see this changing very much.

Sure, there are some accountants who could secure valuable business benefits from becoming more active on facebook. Those who are best placed to do so are those willing to focus on promoting a specific niche service, to a distinct group of facebook users.

In order to keep the article to an acceptable length I removed the following section. This addresses the issue of whether it is worth paying someone else to set up and/or manage your practice’s facebook activity.

It’s easy to find people to whom you can outsource your facebook related activity. They tend to be enthusiastic as to what you and your practice could achieve through facebook. I remain cynical about this for the vast majority of smaller firms of accountants.

If however you are tempted then, before agreeing to commission such a service I would encourage you to do a little research of your own. Those who offer such a service tend to be excellent sales people. Their blogs and articles talk about all of the potential (theoretical) benefits of being active on facebook.

I would suggest that you first speak with previous clients who outsourced their activity 6 months or more ago. You are interested in those whose objectives and ideal clients are similar to yours.

This is the same approach one should adopt when considering any form of new marketing activity.

I would ask those who have used the service to explain the demonstrable financial benefits they have secured and which can be directly attributed to their outsourced activity on facebook. Do they feel that the fees they have paid and the time devoted to discussions with the consultancy have been warranted?

Almost every time I have asked accountants about this they simply repeat back what their marketing consultants have told them. Few have won much, if any business, through facebook. But they ‘believe’ that having a facebook page helps them to stand out, shows they are modern and that it will, at some stage, prove a worthwhile investment.

If that’s good enough for you, then go ahead.

Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post intended to reference  ‘Examples of good facebook pages for accountants’.  I invited readers to post links to such pages. Despite the many comments on that blog post, which has also become one of the most popular I have written, I am still waiting ;-(

The 5 things clients want from their accountants

I first used this list when training staff in practice almost 25 years ago. It’s evolved a little bit in that time but hasn’t required much change.

I still use the same list occasionally during mentoring sessions when working with accountants who have recently started their own practice.

In my experience, these are the five things that clients typically most want from their accountant. I’d encourage you to keep these five in mind whenever writing, phoning or meeting with clients. You can also reference them when speaking with prospective clients to help show that you are focused on their priorities – in general terms at least.

As you will see there is an easy way to recall this list:

A = Advice – More than anything clients want Tax Advice.  It’s the primary reason most clients go to an accountant. A is NOT for Accounts and it’s not for Answers  – See: Do you just give clients Answers or do you give them Advice?

B = Barrier – Clients want their accountant to act as a Barrier between them and HMRC, to protect them from hassle, from challenges and from problems.

C = Compliance – Accountants need to deal with all of the Compliance paperwork and processes so that clients can relax and be Confident that everything is being dealt with properly.

D = Dates – Accountants need tp make sure that clients know when they need to do things and when the accountant will do things, when tax needs to be paid and when refunds can be expected.

E = Estimates – Accountants aim to provide estimates of the tax payable and repayable and update these as and when the information changes.

Does anyone care to try to improve on the above?

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