What counts is what we can do

We had a very interesting speaker at a meeting I went to the other week. He was very knowledgeable in his subject and sounded as though he could really help his clients through tough times and to achieve their best.

After the talk, there was a general discussion during which it emerged that he had a doctorate in his subject. He was asked why he did not mention this in his talk or in his promotional material. He said he did not think it mattered. I suggested that potential clients and customers were not interested in qualifications, but only in what the person or business could do for them. That is my experience.

One way of showing what our business can do to help is to present case studies. I have several on my website. One client who came to me a couple of weeks ago first read my case studies last year. He was obviously a slow burner, but seeing what I had achieved for other clients ultimately persuaded him to come to me, and of course I can and am helping him to solve his problem.

People think of me mainly as a tax practitioner. What I really do is take away the worry and stress people go through when they have tax problems. That sort of pain relief allows my clients to get on with their lives rather than live a life of anxiety. Do you do that too?

 

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Staying in touch

Human beings are social animals. We like to hear from people. We like to know that we are in the thoughts of others. We like to belong.

Our clients and customers are human beings. They like to hear from us not just at the time we do work for them. They like to know we are thinking about them.

It is important to stay in touch, not just with the occasional generic email or newsletter. Check how your customers are. Make it personal. Ask them if there is anything they need. Make them feel wanted. You like to feel wanted, don’t you?

Freebie folly

I had an email from an accountancy firm asking if I would give free tax advice in half-hour sessions over the telephone. I thought the guy must mean free to the client, but his firm would be paying my business.

It turned out he really did mean “free” and that I would be giving this free advice in the hope of picking up start-up businesses as clients as a result of their gratitude.

Things I have learned about free advice:

  • If you give it, you will never be asked for more advice for which you get paid.
  • Your insurance position is questionable if someone thinks they had the wrong advice.
  • Someone who wants it has no respect for all the experience, study and learning you have put in.
  • You could be being paid for the work you would be doing instead, rather than giving time away free.

Yes, I sometimes do give free advice, but that is on behalf of a registered charity. Never, never, never sell your work short, and never, never, never, never work for nothing except for a cause you hold dear.

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

“Thank you for your time”

That is something the TV news presenter says quite often to someone they have just interviewed. I think that phrase is a clue that they have not learned much from the interviewee; perhaps nothing at all which will help the viewers with an understanding of whatever subject was being discussed.

If the presenter had said “Thanks very much for your input, which was really interesting” then I think we can take it that the information gleaned was useful.

In the past I have to confess that a prospect might have said to me “Thank you for your time” after we had had a discussion about how I could help them. I now know it is a warning that I did not get my message across. Has anyone said it to you?

I always do my best to engage possible new clients in how their situation might be improved considerably if they went with me. If I hear that phrase, either I should ask before they go what they did not understand. Otherwise I think I should call back soon to clear up anything they did not understand.

“Thank you for your time” is the big brush-off, but we should not take it lying down. Follow up and clarify, and maybe not lose the business.

How do I compete?

“How do I compete?”

That was a question recently put by an accountant who has another 125 accountants within a five mile radius. The easy answer might be “don’t”. Give in and do something else.

Then again, there is a lot of demand for accountancy services, but clearly plenty of supply.

The answer might be here:

  • The other accountants are not competitors but colleagues.
  • Do you have specialist areas in which you are strong and others might not be?
  • Can you sell your services to the others and outsource some of the work you are not good at or don’t like to them?
  • Can you concentrate on marketing your strong specialist areas to the public, making it clear you are different from the rest?

I am a tax guy, but I do not work in all areas of taxation. I specialise in landlord tax, capital gains on property, non-residents and a couple of other niches. Anything I do not like and am not good at, I simply do not do.

Do you stick to what you are good at? It is more enjoyable and more profitable too.

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Twitter? How do you find the time?

I was asked the above question over lunch at a meeting of tax practitioners. I was a bit surprised, but on reflection the guy asking is an employee. He is engaged to work on particular clients and tasks which are assigned to him. He does not understand what it is like to run a business. He keeps working at the coal face.

For those of us who work for ourselves, we not only work at the coal face and engage others to do so, but we have to sell the coal. Otherwise there is not much point in digging it out. We need customers.

I do not claim to be the greatest user of Twitter for business purposes. It is an important part of my marketing – not advertising because we do not use Twitter for that, do we? Interacting with my Twitter contacts means I can give business to others in order to receive. I can point people towards useful information. They might remember that information later, and remember me.

Marketing is one of the issues we manage in running a business, so we have to make time and also bill our customers enough to give them good value and make a profit.

Put like that, I think we all should be finding time to make a profit. Twitter is part of that, but try explaining that to an employee.

Great sausages, but plan your business in advance

A long time ago when I was in my early twenties, my Mum thought she would like to run a pub, a free house which is one not tied to a brewery. This was following lunch at a very good one when I was driving her to the West Country. I remember the sausages were great and I liked her idea.

The more we thought about it, the more we realised that the commitment and the long hours, the organisation and the large amount of money made the dream unattainable. At least it was for us, with no previous experience in catering.

On the main road through our village someone opened a restaurant. This would be around three or four years ago. I think that since then, the business has changed hands twice, or the tenants have changed.

I have not tried the restaurant although I have not heard bad things about the food. However, it has never seemed very busy. They do not seem to get enough customers.

Why would this be? Well, there is no parking outside except for a lay-by for four cars to serve four businesses. It is on a very busy road and the noise must be a deterrent. Sitting at the two tables outside would not be a pleasant experience, and I have never seen anyone trying it.

This is no place to have a restaurant . Surely there is no hope of having a viable catering business on this site other than for fast food, and even that would be restricted by the parking issue?

Any business needs to sell the right product in the right place. It does not take a genius to know where is the wrong place, and we should all ask our business friends before committing a lot of money to start a new venture.

I feel sorry for business owners who fail, but do look before you leap.

Born free, but life isn’t free

I get a lot of business through websites; both my own and others where I have a presence. The enquiries I receive as a consultant on somewhat technical matters fall into three categories:

  • Genuine requests for help from people who have evaluated my expertise or need confirmation that I can help them.
  • Requests from some who want answers, but do not appreciate what value those answers will have.
  • Requests for free information or queries that are designed to try to obtain free information in any proposal from me.

It is not always easy to tell the difference between the three, but I usually have some idea. I respond sometimes to ask more questions before quoting a fee, but if the requirements set out are pretty comprehensive then I quote straight away. I avoid giving free information for my own safety, but also for that of the foolish person who might act on it without having given me all relevant facts.

By the second email I will have proposed a fee based on the value of the information required, provided it is worth my while. Usually for those who understand that value in the context of their own circumstances, I will get a swift acceptance. These will prove to have been the genuine requests.

For the other two categories of requests, once having proposed a fee I will hear no more. Very occasionally, if a telephone number has been provided I will make a quick call to make sure that my “prospect” has understood what I have said. Mostly though and without a phone number, I know it is a waste of time following up.

Experience tells me when I am wasting my time. I may get business from around one-in-six to one-in-eight of the incoming emails seeking information. I am quick in dealing with them because it is not worth wasting time, and certainly not on follow-ups. One-in-six to one-in-eight is plenty enough too.

Not every business is the same. If I were selling goods I might follow up more.

Are you a consultant? Do you follow up when your enquirer goes quiet? How much?

Politics, religion and social media for business

Some signs we ignore at our perilHere in the UK we have had an election. In the run-up, many people in my business circles have shared their opinions on the parties’ policies, and post-election they are sharing their views on those who have a different opinion from them.

We all have political opinions, and unfortunately when they are attacked we cannot help taking it personally. It seems they are taking pot shots at us. Yet in a business environment we may like those who differ from us, but it is inevitable their politics colour our opinion of them. In other words, their opinions damage our relationship because we see them in a different light.

Generally online, via Twitter or Facebook amongst other places, I do not see small business people spouting their religious views, which is a great relief. Religion is a cause of conflict when people do not see eye-to-eye.

When I became a radio amateur (ham) as a young chap, passing the exam, I knew that it was rule that we did not discuss on-air either politics or religion. That way we avoided bad feeling. To me, using social media to maintain my business circles, it should be a rule that we avoid politics.

Of course that is just my opinion.  I am human and can be offended by others’ beliefs if their outspoken opinions seem directed at my friends or at me.

How do you feel about mixing politics with business?

Don’t be shy. Be positive.

I met a very go-ahead sort of guy recently, who needed my immediate help. In the longer term I felt that one of my business friend’s offerings would be a better fit. I told my client of my recommendation, spoke to my friend, and introduced them by email, giving them each the other’s contact details.

My business friend then sent my client an email listing his businesses generic services. “We can offer… etc.”

Goodness me! I give my friend a new client “on a plate” and instead of taking the initiative, telephoning and introducing himself, and proposing a meeting, he gives a rather dusty impression, writes a boring email and sounds like everyone else.

I telephoned my friend and asked “Have you spoken yet?” The reply? “No, but I will later in the week”. That is probably too late

I made the introduction because I know my friend is good and well up to looking after this client. However, the only way to make an impression is by introducing oneself confidently and quickly after getting the referral, and by explaining to the hot but rapidly cooling prospect how much better she or he will be by engaging us and allowing us to take the stress.

First impressions really do count. We must not make a mess of them.