STAND OUT advice from Spencer Wright of Dains

During the judging process for the upcoming British Accountancy Awards I spoke with fellow judge, Spencer Wright who is the Managing Partner of award winning accountancy firm, Dains. Later I mentioned my conviction that partners need to create a powerful professional impact so that they STAND OUT from the crowd. I asked Spencer what advice he gives colleagues in the firm  as to how they can progress and develop themselves within the profession. I was delighted to learn that Spencer’s advice accords with my own. Here is the quote he sent for me to use:

Firstly they need to work hard on their relationship pyramid. They need to forget their contacts book which contains 100′s of ‘business card acquaintances’ and concentrate on the 20 or 30 that they can develop into formal and informal friends in business or even better ‘allies’ whether they be clients or professional contacts. This takes work and effort but will pay dividends in a few years. Secondly, I encourage them to really think about what they want to become ‘famous’ for both in Dains and the market. This can be anything but in my opinion everyone has something special that they can develop and exploit. Mine was simply guts and honesty!

With a leadership mindset like that it’s no wonder Dains is doing so well with Spencer at the helm.  This Midlands based accountancy practice was awarded ‘Mid-Tier Firm of the Year’ at the National 2013 British Accountancy Awards. I suspect this is why Spencer was invited to join the judging panel for this year’s awards. I’m inclined to say it’s a huge honour, but as a fellow judge, I would say that wouldn’t I? ;-)

“How we can grow our ‘social authority’ on twitter?”

I was approached recently by the marketing manager of a smallish firm of accountants who asked me: “How can we grow our ‘social authority’ on twitter?”  This followed my recent blog post in which I explained why it was UNsurprising that 10% of the largest firms have no twitter account.

Here is an extract from my reply to the marketing manager:

What are you hoping to achieve through being on twitter? This needs to be more specific than simply to ‘grow the firm’s social authority’. Who with? With what end-game in mind?

Have you achieved any of those objectives to date?
Have you taken any advice from anyone about how to use twitter effectively for the firm (and how credible was the person giving the advice)?
Do you have many clients who use twitter? Are they among your ideal client types?

I notice that while the firm has 2640 followers, you are following almost as many people. Who typically follows who first?

Does your account follow people who then follow you back; or do you simply follow back those who follow your account first? Or is there little overlap between your followers and those you are following? It’s quite easy to build up random followers by following loads of people who then follow you back.

Do you know how many of your followers are among your target audience? ie: the audience you want to influence in some way?

A quick look suggests that your followers include dozens of businesses keen to market TO you or that are simply fellow accountants.

A quick look through the firm’s tweets in recent months suggests you have fallen into the same trap as many other firms: There’s barely any interactions/conversation; they are largely self promotional or tweeting news items.

On the plus side there are a handful of tweets that mention Manchester (where you’re based) which is always a good idea; and I did see one RT.

The firm has a great looking website by the way. Love the branding, look and feel. That’s another big plus as when people click through from your twitter account, if the website doesn’t engage them it’s all been a waste of time.

My quick and simple advice to firms of accountants like yours is to review what you hope to achieve through being on twitter and then to determine how realistic that is.

Often firms start out with wholly unrealistic hopes based on misconceptions as to what is achievable. This is typically due to misleading generic articles and tips about how to use social media generally and twitter specifically. It also follows from some third parties who offer to run accountants’ social media campaigns for them. This makes little sense to me – even for the biggest firms, but certainly for smaller ones.

The question has to be what is the opportunity cost of the time (and of any money) invested in twitter? That comes back to your objectives, whether these are realistic and whether there are more effective ways to secure the desired outcome.

As head of marketing for a smallish firm (the ‘team’ seems to comprise just one director and one associate, per the website), what are your priorities?

I have been active on twitter for over 7 years, I have been advising accountants to understand what are realistic objectives when it comes to twitter for almost as long. Much of my advice from some years back remains just as true today. You can access more of it here>>>>

How do you develop the personal and business skills you need to succeed?

Most professional advisers build up their technical competence and experience over a number of years, often also while studying and taking exams.

In some professions the exams and studies endeavour to address related business and personal skills. These are invariably almost as important as the technical skills. There are some notable exceptions – such as the medical surgeon or consultant who has little in the way of bed-side manner. It’s a nice to have skill, but ultimately we simply want to be operated on by the best there is.

The specific personal and business related skills we each need to succeed in our chosen career will vary, by profession, by office, by colleagues, by clients and by ambition. Some years back I set out a dozen key skill sets that most professional firms need to have if they are to grow and succeed. In some cases the skills will be spread across a number of people. In other cases, especially for professionals running their own small practice, this can be more of a challenge.

How does the firm or business in which you work help ambitious professionals to develop key business skills? This is especially important as promotion is likely to depend upon such skills just as much as on technical competence and ability.

There are essentially only four options available to an employer. They will either:

  • pray, hope or make a wish that you magically develop all the necessary skills so they can justify promoting you;
  • send you on a range of generic personal skills courses and pray, hope or make a wish(!) that you pick up and practice sufficient tips to make the time and effort worthwhile;
  • arrange for you to receive personal, tailored mentoring that overcomes the problems inherent in the “courses” approach;
  • recruit someone else who already has proven business skills across the board.

Some employers combine the last two options and arrange mentoring as an additional benefit to attract potential recruits. In such cases the mentor is usually an independent third party; this evidences the firm’s commitment to the new candidate and will be a positive supplement to the firm’s conventional induction process.

Senior experienced colleagues can provide mentoring support. Or this can be bought in from a suitably experienced external mentor.

Mentoring can be equally motivating for sole practitioners, senior managers, directors, junior and established partners where traditional ‘hopes’ and courses have not enabled them to yet achieve their potential or to be as profitable as might be ideal.

 

Ten networking tips for professionals

I developed the following ten tips some years back. The list is drawn from my mentoring programme for ambitious professionals and from my ebook on How to STAND OUT when Networking so that you are remembered, referred and recommended.

1 – Get in the right state, not in a right state. Keep in mind that you want to gain some value and benefit from the time you are committing to attending the networking event. You’ll need to look friendly and relaxed if you want people to be comfortable talking to you.

2 – You will be more interestING if you are more interestED. We have two ears and one mouth so we should aim to listen for twice as long as we speak. The people you meet will be more comfortable talking about themselves than listening to you.

3 – Networking is about starting to develop valuable business relationships; it’s not about ‘getting work’. People buy professional services from people they know, like and trust. You’re unlikely to meet someone who just happens to need your services the first day you meet them. You will need to keep in touch and to demonstrate that you can be trusted. For example by promising to follow up with an email or supplying some valuable information in the next day or so. Then ensure you keep your promise and create further opportunities to keep in touch thereafter.

4 – “What do you do?” Don’t pigeon hole yourself as yet another solicitor, accountant or barrister. Practice answering the question in such a way that ensures you are remembered specifically and distinctly from all of the rest of your profession. This is crucial if you want to eventually be referred and recommended.

5 – Focus on a niche not a list. Even those new acquaintances who are genuinely interested in you will quickly switch off if you try to identify all of the things you do or could do for clients. In the first instance you need to focus on a key area or topic no matter how broad your expertise and experience. I still remember one property lawyer I met many years ago who told me that he had advised on the acquisition of a number of petrol stations.

6 – Flirt as you network
F is for FUN
L is for LAUGHTER or at least having a smile on your face
I is being INTERESTED in what other people have to say
R is RESPONDING to what other people are saying through conversation
T is TALKING appropriately not extensively about yourself.

7 – You’re not alone if you feel alone. There will always be someone else standing alone who will be so pleased and relieved if you just go over and start a conversation with them. The chances of rejection are tiny. Simply introduce yourself, ask them their name and what do they do.

8 – Listen to what people say; don’t try to sell. You can only solve people’s problems or help them make the most of opportunities if you know what these are. That means listening and absorbing, not talking. If you listen well they’ll trust you and if you ask the right questions, you’ll uncover all the clues you’ll need in order to decide if you have something to offer them.

9 – Get the other person’s name and business card. Don’t offer your card until you’ve got theirs; this avoids you seeming pushy. If you didn’t catch their name when first introduced, ask again. No one objects to repeating their name to someone who evidently wants to remember them.

10 – Follow up afterwards. Having given up your time to attend the event make sure it is worthwhile by keeping your promise to follow up with each of the people you met. Even if you think that they may not be the most valuable contact remember that you don’t know who they know who could be interested in what you do.

These are just ten of the many issues that are commonly misunderstood when professionals go to networking events. Most may well be common sense – but that doesn’t mean they are always common practice.

You can get my 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to STAND OUT and Network more effectively. Just click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch.

Twitter tripe re Top UK accounting firms Twitter rankings

I was asked recently why my website, online profile and business card all mention that one of my roles is that of a ‘debunker’. It stems from the years I have spent trying to clarify poorly researched media reports on issues about which I feel quite well-informed.

Sometimes the reports or articles derive from lazy or naive reporting. Other times it is because the data on which a survey or report is based is unrepresentative or starts from a false premise.

It’s been a while since I did any debunking but last week I couldn’t help myself. I saw reference to Top UK accounting firms Twitter rankings.  The report in Accountancy Age quoted Martin De Saulles, marketing lecturer at the University of Brighton and founder of ColdLime, who put together the ‘Firms on Twitter’ research. Accountancy Age reported that he is “surprised” that 10% of the Top 100 Accountancy firms in the UK don’t have a corporate Twitter account.

The inference behind the piece was that firms are missing opportunities and need to beef up their twitter activity if they are to achieve any form of social authority.

I must admit I’m not surprised by the research results. I have been monitoring how accountants and accountancy firms use twitter for some years. Chasing follower numbers is a mugs game. It’s much more important to track and respond to any negative tweets and to engage with clients – if your key connections are themselves tweeting. To be fair the report does reference this facility to use twitter for reputation management. This is a potentially valuable use of twitter especially by firms with well-known names.

I curate a number of twitter lists. One shows all UK accountants who tweet in their own names. Another shows all those who tweet in the name of a UK accountancy firm. I add to the lists as and when I find new names.

At the time of writing there are over 700 accountants on each list. You can follow either or both lists to see the difference in tweeting styles. Those who use the firm’s name are invariably more boring with fewer followers – other than for the biggest firms where name awareness is more widespread. There is also more need to monitor what is being said about the firm so as to be able to respond promptly to limit the damage – especially if the media are monitoring and waiting for negative tweets. It is also clear that only a minority really understand how to make twitter work for them.

Few of the top 100 firms tweet more than once or twice a day and only the top 7 have more than a few thousand followers. I have more followers personally than do all bar the top 7 listed firms – though, as I said above, follower numbers are not worth chasing. How many people will be influenced  by twitter when making their choice of a top 100 accountancy firm?

The research shows that these firms don’t see twitter as a key communication medium – nor do they need to in my view. To suggest that they are (all) at fault for failing to embrace twitter is to both misunderstand twitter and to misunderstand what motivates the firms.  I have my own views as to what it is and what it is not worth such firms doing on twitter. Clarity of focus and of objectives is crucial. Simply being present and posting links to press releases is unlikely to serve any valuable purpose.

What is Mark Lee doing now?

This blog normally contains advice and insights to help readers. Every now and then I use it to share something more personal – for example, so that I have a record of related stats. This time I am answering a question I am often asked: “What are you doing now?”

Since 2006 I have pursued a portfolio career. It took a while to work out what links the various strands. These are best summed up as: Helping professionals who want to STAND OUT and ensure they are remembered, referred and recommended.  

This focus includes advice across a range of topics including elements of marketing and personal branding, networking, social media, reputation management and related practice development skills.

Whilst many of the professionals I work with are accountants and tax advisers, I also work with lawyers, financial advisers, finance companies, consultants, speakers and bankers. Naturally I can adapt my services for others too.

To quote from my Linkedin profile:

ALLOW ME TO HELP YOU BY:

  • engaging me to speak at your conferences, seminars, networking groups, masterclasses, webinars and training sessions;
  • booking me to mentor you 1-2-1;
  • engaging me to write for your publication or blog or to provide strategic consultancy advice; or
  • subscribing for my regular blog posts, articles, podcasts, webinars and newsletters

As indicated on my website and on my bookmark-shaped business card I am a Speaker, Mentor, Facilitator, Author, Blogger and Debunker.

That final reference to being a ‘debunker’ is intended to emphasise that my input, insights and advice are focused in the real world; despite my energetic and enthusiastic approach I am no fan of the hype and empty promises made by so many other bloggers and consultants to the professions.

In addition to the above I also hold a number of distinct professional roles. These include:

  • Facilitator of The INNER CIRCLE FOR ACCOUNTANTS – a select group of smaller practices in London who assist each other in overcoming day to day and strategic frustrations.
  • Chairman of the TAX ADVICE NETWORK – connecting accountants with independent tax experts.
  • Network Independent Director (think Non Exec Director) of Winmark’s TAX DIRECTOR NETWORK – for in-house Heads of Tax in FTSE 350-sized companies.

Some people still approach me for tax advice although I gave up being a tax adviser in 2006.  I shared my reasons here>>>  When asked for tax advice all I can do is direct the enquiry to the Tax Advice Network that I chair. That Network comprises many tax experts who provide advice across a wider range of tax topics than ever I could have done, even after a 25 year career in the profession.

If you would like to see if I can help you, your clients or anyone you know, do explore my website, give me a call or drop me an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Getting sufficient support for your practice

The main topic for discussion at last month’s meeting of The Inner Circle was: How do you get the right staff and support for your practice?

The topic had been raised during a number of the conversations I had with members after the previous meeting. Not all have staff however.

We met at The Eight Club in Moorgate, London and members of The Inner Circle again benefited from the willingness they all had to share their experiences and insights during our round table discussion. In accordance with one of our key membership principles everyone agreed to abide by the Chatham House Rule.

During the morning we discussed a range of related issues including:

  • Formulating job specs and people specs; being clear as to what you really need and how to assess candidates’ suitability.
  • Using your website to effectively support your message and what works in practice including related tools and automated systems.
  • Sourcing, managing, liaising with and relying on home workers and other remote workers (either in the UK or overseas).
  • Making interviews more informative and a better filter.
  • Titles and roles that appeal and which motivate – whether or not they are on staff.
  • Inducting new workers effectively – whether or not they are on staff.
  • Motivating the right people to stay with you.

At the end of the meeting everyone shared their key learning points and takeaways. Two observations stood out in this regard.

One member said he didn’t have any staffing issues but he still valued the meeting and had benefitted from some of the related issues we addressed. Another member who had been making copious notes announced that there was so much he would be doing as a result of attending the meeting he wasn’t sure where to start.  We’ll address that when I have my catchup call with him later this week!

After the meeting I circulated to all members my summary of all of the identified key learning and action points. I also shared links to the third party sites mentioned during the meeting and also to some of my blog posts that address related issues.

If you’d like to know more about The Inner Circle, just click this link>>>

Lessons for accountants…… from car mechanics

The new owners of our local garage prompted me to take the car in for an MOT recently. It passed – which was a relief. But then just two weeks later I received a note from the same garage reminding me that the car needed a service. Why didn’t they check when this was due and remind me so that they could carry out the service at the same time as they did the MOT?

It’s a bit of a pain getting the car to the garage, coping without it for a day and then repeating the exercise a few days later. especially, when, with a little planning it could all have been done at the same time.

Of course if I cared more about my car perhaps I might have realised that it was likely to need  a service and I could have taken the initiative to ask the garage to do this at the same time as the MOT. But they have all the records. Why didn’t they do this?

In a world where we are all encouraged to up-sell, is the garage owner losing easy business I wonder?

I would like to think that perhaps he wanted to avoid giving customers the feeling that they are being upsold to more services (no pun intended) than are required at any one time.  I think it more likely that the garage systems had not been programmed to check and combine upcoming prompts for work needed on customers’ cars.

I doubt I’m alone in preferring to avoid the unnecessary nuisance of returning a second time within just a couple of weeks. And, even though the garage had recently changed hands I would have welcomed evidence of thinking about things from my perspective.

What lessons can we draw for accountants here?

- When you chase up missing data for accounts and tax returns, do your best to ask for everything you need rather than make such requests in dribs and drabs – unless you know the client is more likely to respond to a succession of requests for separate items spread out over a number of days and weeks;

- Whenever you meet with or speak with clients think about any upcoming deadlines so that you do not seem to be completely removed from any subsequent automated reminders;

- Until you have built trust with new clients try to avoid making them feel that you are pressurising them into spending more money with you – ie: premature upselling;

- Once a client trusts you they are more likely to take your advice about things even if this involves them spending more money with you; I know next to nothing about what goes under the bonnet of my car. If a mechanic whom I trust tells me what I need to do, I tend to accept their advice.

What other lessons can accountants draw from car mechanics?

Accountants vs SMBs – Intuit’s research

One of the advantages of attending Accountex for me is to be able to catch up with interesting developments I may have missed. One such was a white paper issued by Intuit at the end of 2013 on The Changing role of Accountancy. Subtitled – The Strategic Accountant: A Case for the Cloud.

It’s well worth a read as it is based on in-depth opinion research conducted by an independent company. They collated the views of 200 owners and senior managers of UK businesses with between 2 and 250 employees. (identified as SMBs). The objective was to determine how the accountancy profession is changing against a backdrop of rapidly evolving technological advancements and heightened client expectations.

You can read a quick summary of the key results here>>>

The stats I consider worth highlighting on this blog are from the SMB’s:

  • 72% believe that accountants must modernise their brand to deliver on their role as a strategic business adviser
  • 65% say accountants need to stay ahead of the technological curve; and
  • 66% say accountants need to update their accountancy software (though one wonders how clients know or why they would care much about what software their accountant is using)
  • 65% express an immediate need for business advice and a further 31% anticipate a need for this in the near future; but only 35% consider their accountants to be strategic business advisers.
  • 65% claim that they would ‘really value’ a business consulting service
  • 62% believe that accountants need to introduce new offerings and strategic services to move to a valued adviser position.

The report then quotes accountants and highlights both where their views coincide with those of the business owners and also where they diverge. eg: 40% of accountants believe that their clients would be “sceptical” about paying for consultancy.

Another example of divergence is quite revealing. 63% of SMBs require a bookkeeping service but only 37% of accountants provide one. This struck me as odd. So I went back and noted that the survey of accountants’ views was limited to “100 owners and senior managers of accountancy firms with between five and 250 employees in the UK”. I’m sorry but that’s not a very representative sample. The vast majority of accountancy firms here are sole practitioners and have fewer than 5 employees.

So, whilst the survey responses of the owners of SMBs may well be representative of the majority of such businesses, the responses attributed to accountants only represent a small sub-set of the UK accountancy profession.

Do you agree? How close are the survey responses to the experiences of ‘most’ UK accountants?

 

 

 

Linkedin survey of accountants – results and tips

Well over a hundred accountants responded to a recent short survey in which I invited them to summarise their biggest challenge using Linkedin right now.

Following the survey I arranged a webinar for accountants and this was presented earlier today by acclaimed Linkedin expert, Mark Perl.  Almost 100 accountants were online for the webinar and feedback both during and afterwards was very positive.

Mark focused on the challenges identified by the survey which told us that key concerns and challenges seem to be:

  • How to compose a professional and effective profile
  • What is best practice and effective when it comes to posting status updates
  • How to give and get worthwhile recommendations

There isn’t room to summarise the presentation here but here are some of the points Mark addressed that I know are not covered by my ebook on the subject:

  • Linkedin has around 15m users in the UK. That’s about 50% of the working population. So clearly they are not all job hunters or recruiters.
  • Basic due diligence these days includes checking out someone’s Linkedin profile. I do this all the time and I assume others check out mine too. What does yours say about you?
  • Your profile should focus on ‘what you do’, more than on ‘what you are’ (eg: an accountant).  It’s also important to include something that highlights what makes you STAND OUT as compared with others like you.
  • Status updates are only seen by those people who visit the home page of the website (when logged in) and those who know they can access a link to your recent activity when they visit your profile page.
  • When posting status updates think like an editor, engage the reader and stimulate their engagement through something that catches the eye. If you succeed in generating comments, make sure you reply.
  • Only people with whom you are connected can see your Recommendations on Linkedin. Everyone else can simply see how many you have.
  • Check out the Recommendations of your local competition. Aim to have more (quantity) and more valuable recommendations than they do.
  • The best Recommendations to give and to get are those that are outcome focused. Keep this in mind when giving them and when asking for them. eg: What value did you get from the presentation, meeting, interaction or service provided by the person that you wish to recommend?

We hope to be able to make a recording of the webinar available at a later date.

If you have any related questions that I may be able to help with just note them as comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.