How to Start Blogging As a CPA or Lawyer

Professional services firms have been very good clients for me over the years. With many firms, I am charged with improving their marketing results. One of the topics that often comes up is social media. Many billable hour professionals struggle with making the commitment to initially launch a social media presence; others with how to optimize what they have. Kevin O’Keefe, who blogs about the need for lawyers to blog, is someone I follow on Twitter. Kevin wrote a blog post some time back wherein he referenced Steve Robinson, a small business specialist for Constant Contact, whom I also follow.law firm library

O’Keefe summarizes Robinson’s top recommendations to small business bloggers, with an emphasis on how to apply the principles to a professional services firm:

  • Find your target audience. Before you set up a Twitter account or create a Facebook Business Page, research who’s participating there and ask your clients and their influencers (reporters, bloggers, association leaders) which forums hold their attention. You may find they like blogs and email as opposed to Twitter and Facebook. Once you determine where they are, follow them to their preferred destinations.
  • Focus your efforts. Identify the top two places where your audience is most active and fully engage them there as opposed to spreading yourself too thin across a variety of social media platforms. Professional services firms often want to do a little bit of everything resulting in going a mile wide and an inch deep. Following relevant sources and subjects via readers such as Google Reader or Flipboard; truly using LinkedIn; and blogging will enable professionals to build relationships and enhance their reputation. Other social media tools can follow.
  • Identify the most active participants on your target social media platforms. Then initiate conversations, respond and repost their messages, follow their feeds, comment on their blogs, and cite their blog posts on your blog. Third parties have tremendous influence over your clients and prospective clients. If you can get these third parties (bloggers, reporters, business association leaders etc) referencing and sharing what you are saying online, your stature and reputation is only going to go up. When people get your name from a referral source, they’ll Google you and see positive references by the influencers to what you have shared via social media.
  • Balance social media with other marketing efforts. Social media should be part of a balanced marketing effort that includes online and offline activities. Leverage the enhanced reputation you are establishing by going to networking events, speaking to groups, or even asking to have coffee or lunch with someone you’ve met via LinkedIn or other social media. Share your blog posts via email to relevant clients now and again to show them you are thinking of them. Social accelerates relationships and reputation, but talking with and meeting people is needed.
  • Don’t mistake silence for disengaged. A lot of social media is built around listening and responding only when it makes sense. If you aren’t getting a lot of responses to your blog posts or items you share online, don’t assume that your audience has tuned you out. Ask questions, inquire about your followers specific interests, and reach out on a one-on-one basis.
  • Position yourself as an expert resource. This is what it is all about. Individuals, businesses, and trusted advisers to your clients are looking for a reliable authority in their field. Don’t be afraid to focus on a niche area, industry area, or client issue that you truly enjoy working in or on. What may have taken 15 years or more, if ever, to establish a strong word of mouth reputation in a niche has been greatly accelerated via social media.

All of this makes such great sense that I chose to excerpt it almost verbatim from an O’Keefe blog post. Hope it’s helpful for you!

 

Advertisements

When Less Polish is Better

 

The week before last, I stopped by one of my satellite offices to visit with my team mates. Unfortunately, none of them were there as all had outside appointments. What I did encounter, however, was a leftover Christmas gift. A referral partner of mine had dropped an envelope off for me and I hadn’t been by since he did. Inside the envelope was a book and a very kind note. The book’s title, Getting Naked, caught me off guard, but the contents were a very pleasant surprise.

The author is Patrick Lencioni, famous for his previous work, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni is well known for teamwork, leadership, and organizational health expertise on the speaking circuit. The book is told as a type of fable, with narrative mixed in with didactic lessons. First person narrative is used to show a change of heart from a traditional approach to client service to one that is very vulnerable, transparent, and self effacing. Excerpts from the book are provided below to give you an overview of its themes and principles.Young consultants

Lencioni writes that most service providers are susceptible to three fears that prevent them from building trust and loyalty with clients:

1. Fear of Losing the Business

No service provider wants to lose clients, business opportunities, or revenue. Ironically, though, this fear of losing the business actually hurts our ability to keep and increase business, because it causes us to avoid doing the difficult things that engender greater loyalty and trust with the people we’re trying to serve.

2. Fear of Being Embarrassed

No one likes making mistakes in public and having to endure the scrutiny of spectators, especially when those spectators are paying us for advice or counsel. And yet, like a fifth-grader, we know that the only thing worse than raising our hand and having the wrong answer is failing to put our hand up at all (and realizing that more often than not, we did indeed have the right answer). This fear, then, is rooted in pride, and it is ultimately about avoiding the appearance of ignorance, wanting to be seen as smart or competent.

3. Fear of Feeling Inferior

Like the previous fear, this one has its roots in ego, but there is an important difference between the two. Fear of feeling inferior is not about our intellectual pride, but rather about preserving our sense of importance and social standing relative to a client. 

Lencioni makes several great points.  It is so easy in a client facing role to withhold information that we sense the client may perceive to be bad news. There is almost a subconscious thought that the client will think less of us because we can’t control the outcome. Instead, we are exhorted to be frank and sincere because in so doing we will win confidence and trust. In the long run, we are more believable for having let our guard down–not less! In addition to being willing to say tough things, the thought of asking crazy questions without worry about how we will be perceived is very freeing. When a service provider is not afraid to make the client look good at her own expense, she has the right view of how the relationship should be structured. We ar to be there for the client’s needs–not the reverse.

 

 

Avoid Deskitis

Business owners are a very interesting breed. In the early days, when they are most entrepreneurial, most are willing to do “whatever it takes” in order to get the business off the ground and well established. The average executive at this point in the life cycle of a small business wears every hat and can predictably be found doing dirty jobs because there’s no one else there to do them. As the business experiences a little success, hirings are made and there are others to whom some tasks can be delegated. At this point, the owner may still take on tough assignments like outside sales, negotiating contracts with vendors and customers, and handling sticky customer service situations. If the business grows beyond the first 5-10 employees, some specialization of labor begins to occur and the owner should be smartly stepping away from  business disciplines that don’t match what I’ve heard referred to as “motivated ability.” 

However, it is very common that a business will hit a plateau at some point in it’s first several years. When this occurs–whether due to changes in the competitive environment, or simply apathy on the part of the original 5-10 employees, it is time to do something that hasn’t been done in a while. One must roll up his sleeves and get the job done. What job? Spending time outside the office, talking to customers, suppliers, even competitors in an effort to determine what is working and what is not. Why don’t most executives do this? It can be attributed to an acute case of deskitis.

desk chainIn case you are not familiar with the term, deskitis is an affliction in which the infected feels attached to his desk at work and that prolonged contact with the desk will resolve all problems known to man. You chuckle only because you’ve encountered people who suffer from the malady described and it seems to you to be as trivial as the common cold. Unfortunately, this is a very severe disease and must be treated with the utmost care and concern.

Who are the prime sufferers from this affliction?

  • Billable hour professionals who think that billable work is more important than community involvement, networking, and relationship maintenance.
  • Owners of a trade business (one that relies on a specific skill that is often learned through apprenticeship)
  • Any executive in a small business whose base compensation is over six figures per year

What can be done to counteract onset of the condition known as deskitis?

  1. Leave the office, damn it!
  2. Visit someone who is important to the success of your business–
    • a referral source
    • a client
    • a fellow board member of a non-profit
    • your attorney, CPA, banker (as long as they are not going to charge you for the appointment)
    • your spouse
    • an association executive in your industry
    • someone who is a good networker
    • the local chamber of commerce executive
    • your friendliest competitor
    • a supplier
  3. Ask the other person what they think about the direction of your niche market.
  4. Take notes!
  5. Ask many follow-up questions; you do not know it all!
  6. Buy their lunch, coffee, etc; thank them; ask what you can do for them in return.
  7. Go to your vehicle and review your notes.
  8. Identify what new questions come to mind, what nuggets you’ve found, and actions you think you should take.
  9. Review your lists the very next day with your leadership team.
  10. Reinvent your business continually!

Hope that these suggestions are helpful to you. As a business development mentor, organizational development consultant, and management succession resource, I observe deskitis more often than I should. Don’t become a statistic–become vigilant instead!

 

Stop the Rhetoric About SmallBiz, Politicians!

We small business owners watched the political conventions over the last month and were listening to what the pols had to say about watching out for our interests. Numerous speakers took the podium to address an economic challenge not seen in this generation. We of the post-Baby Boom era are wondering whether our way of life will bounce back, rather than when. So many people have lost jobs, big companies have lost revenues they had taken years to build, and small business owners have lost both jobs and revenues as well as their livelihoods. We are, to say the least, keenly interested in whether we are being heard by Washington and our state capitals. We are certain that social security and probably Medicare will not be there for us when we reach retirement age. We truly do not care what happens to those programs–tell us what is going to be done to help us with issues we face!

Saying that small business is the backbone of the economy is not enough–both presidential candidates kowtowed to the convention audiences and said what they had to, but it wasn’t convincing. Part of the reason the comments seemed disingenuous is that “small business” is a catch-all phrase that does not distinguish between differing types of enterprises. As  others have pointed out, a restaurant is a very different type of company than a small manufacturing concern.  Dan Danner, the CEO of  the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) says, “There is always a tendency for lawmakers to think that small businesses are just smaller versions of General Motors, and they’re not.” Main Street businesses have very different perspectives on policies that are developed by government. Policies  covering health care, trade, taxation, and ecology often reflect the lobbying power of big business over small business. Chris Holman, chair of the National Small Business Association, says that politicians often “go and vote against small business.”

Data from the Small Business Administration shows that small business has been hit harder than big business by our recent recession. One of the statistics–share of nonfarm GDP from private companies–fell from 48+% in 2002 to <44% in 2010. With home building and related trades suffering from the aftermath of the mortgage crisis, there has been a very slow return to stability –let alone growth–in many small business sectors. Uncertainty over potential changes in the tax code and Obamacare has many small business owners anxious as to what to plan for and how to develop strategies  focused on more than just a few months down the road.

Bloomberg Businessweek writer Peter S. Green profiled several small business owners in the September 17-23 issue who spoke to the issues above. Tom Campbell, who owns the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC, spoke out against the unfair advantage online retailers like Amazon have due to sales tax exemptions. He’d like to see the exemptions lifted to create a more competitive playing field. The 20 employees under his supervision have concerns about the future of small bookstores who have to compete in an environment where their customers pay an additional 7+% due to the imbalance in tax liability.

Tom Secor, who owns Durable Corp. in Norwalk, OH, feels that the tax system favors larger businesses. Preferential loopholes in the tax code seem to favor those who have the klout to petition government to listen to them, he says. “Big business is getting the better end of this because they have the money to spend.” Secor’s comments are similar to those voiced by Richard Eidlin, director of public policy at the American Sustainable Business Council. Eidlin decries subsidies offered to big business–whether broadband spectrum or ethanol price guarantees. He says, “If there’s going to be corporate welfare, you could throw some of that at the small corporations.”

In summary, small businesses want someone who understands their needs, can develop programs for sectors of the small business economy, and won’t bog them down in paperwork and red tape. While few actually believe that a president can personally be attuned to these issues, we hope against hope that they will make it a part of their platform and governance!

The Turnaround Adviser’s Responsibility

The ability to turn the company around quickly without getting it bogged down in the minor setbacks is a hallmark of a good turnaround adviser. Emphasizing a solution-oriented approach, the adviser can rise above circumstances and fight another day;  such determination distinguishes the true turnaround expert from the would-be practitioners of company revitalization. Rather than dwelling on problems and making too much of an ultimately inconsequential event, effective advisers confront each challenge ready to overcome the odds stacked against them.

For example, a company may become delinquent with creditors and be unable to pay them in full in the near future. Under those circumstances, a partial payment plan can be worked out, but only if all creditors agree. Non-compliant creditors should then be segregated and handled separately. Whether they are paid at all during the turnaround is an issue; it may be better to let them file liens, since the liens can be repaid according to a schedule that is devised later at the magistrate’s office or in a court of law.

Primary Responsibilities

It is the turnaround artist’s primary duty to critically assess the executive team’s vision for the company and create a recommended course of action for realization of a mutually agreeable vision. In light of this duty, the adviser has three primary responsibilities:

  1. analyzing problems,
  2. drafting a turnaround plan for marketing, operations, and finance, and
  3. implementing the plan.

Therefore, the adviser should not be confused with consultants who merely offer advice. he must necessarily preside over plan implementation and be prepared to modify it as changing conditions demand.

Analytical Responsibilties

The analytical role includes the gathering and analyzing of marketing, operations, and financial information. Both internally produced reports and externally researched intelligence should be scrutinized in creating the turnaround plan. Any errors and omissions in the compiled plan must be noted for further investigation. From this analysis, the adviser develops the road map–a basic critical path of action.

Critical Path of Action

First, crucial points of action within the critical path are prioritized, such as completing a project for billing or getting to a key milestone on another before a window of opportunity is missed on behalf of the client. Personnel are then assigned responsibilities based on the established priorities, which are time sensitive. The turnaround adviser conducts regular debriefing meetings to update all affected parties on turnaround progress and the focal areas for the upcoming time period. As problems surface, the managers responsible for prioritized critical points, rather than the top executive, conduct troubleshooting sessions. If the sessions require negotiations with third parties, the turnaround adviser initiates these negotiations. For example, if lenders turn up the heat, the turnaround adviser must assuage their fears. Clearly, it is the  adviser’s general job requirement to put out all fires or make sure that someone else does.

Education

The turnaround adviser’s final responsibility is to educate the top executive, her team and other managers in the principles of sound business judgment and practice. If the group can observe the adviser’s actions during the renewal process, its members will learn a great deal about management techniques and strategies. When the adviser leaves, he or she should feel that the existing team is capable of steering the company through any weather.