As the next generation of small business entrepreneurs becomes a larger share of the economy, the traits they seek in consultants is changing from what the last generation appreciated most. The next generation wants authentic, accessible, and public-facing professionals who are thought leaders in their industry (again – industry focus comes into play!).
They prefer a short iPhone video to a lengthy whitepaper explaining the regulatory or economic factors that impact their business. They are more likely to engage with you and your firm (and, hopefully, become a long-term customer and advocate) if you provide relevant information in real-time. While there will always be a place for long-form content, today’s pace of business also means that immediate advice and analysis is especially appreciated. Sharing your expertise with clients, prospects, your industry at-large, and even your competition is incredibly important and valuable. This approach certainly varies greatly from the traditional way professionals would build recognition and trust, but when it’s done well, it can be a highly impactful way to separate yourself from the pack, establish credibility, and become a valuable firm for today and long into the future.
Whether shooting your own iPhone videos or writing thought leader articles, there are myriad ways to leverage media both for yourself as a professional and for your firm. Here, I’ll share a few of the areas and techniques that have proven to be highly effective in building recognition and trust both for myself and Ceterus — strategies you can replicate as you become an accounting professional for the future.
A lot of people will encourage you to use social media to promote your firm — it’s buzzy and popular. And while those people are not necessarily wrong, the advice needs to be more pointed if you really want to build recognition and trust.
Simply posting advertising content or random Winston Churchill quotes on social media isn’t effective. Do not expect your posts, videos, or tweetstorms to go viral — they almost never will. With the massive amount of content flowing through social media platforms, it’s hard for accounting firms and even tech companies to rise above the chatter enough to attract new clients. Instead of thinking about social media as a tool to “promote your firm” to prospects, leverage it as a way to engage with your existing clients, connect with other entrepreneurs in your clients’ industries, and establish yourself as a thought leader financial consultant in the industry(s) you serve.
To do this right, work toward creating truly useful content for your clients and share it on the platforms where they’re already spending time (Facebook is just more fun than email, after all). If it’s helpful content, your audience may like or share it, generating some additional exposure within your industry. Prospective clients who are researching you will see that you are a leader and that you’re confident enough in the ideas and resources you create to share them with the world.
Once you work towards this content, pick the right one, two, or maybe three social channels for your brand. Choose the one(s) that your target audience — your current customers — uses the most, and make sure you use it well. Savvy users can spot a novice or an imposter immediately. Whether you choose Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or LinkedIn, be good at it. Find the channels where your customers spend time, learn how to master sharing on those platforms, put out valuable content, and don’t ask for anything in return. You will bring value to your customers, which will in turn help your business grow.
Live 1-to-Many Media
We all love interesting links, helpful articles, and witty posts, but few things are as effective at establishing trust with multiple customers at once than live video.
Webinars are an increasingly useful way to engage with groups of customers and/or prospects at one time. At Ceterus, we’ve had success hosting webinars with large groups of anyone interested down to groups limited to three customers in a specific industry. No matter the audience, the key thing is to make the content relevant, interesting, and concise. The small business entrepreneurs you want to serve aren’t looking for a sales pitch, they’re looking to learn things that are relevant to their business.
The channels for live 1-to-many media are numerous. You can use a public platform like Facebook Live or Youtube Live, share a login on GoToMeeting, or create a more intimate setting on Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. Because live media tends to be appointment-based rather than read and quickly shared, it’s an effective way to create connection. Like all of your media, the content and tone are far more important than the medium. At Ceterus, we’ve had success developing relevant and engaging content by inviting guests who our audience will appreciate (think: adjacent vendors or deep subject-matter experts). We’ve also found that taking live questions or setting up an FAQ in advance is a great way to engage the audience through live 1-to-many media.
COVID-19, the economic crisis, and government assistance programs like PPP and EIDL have made small business entrepreneurs more curious than ever about what accountants have to say. That makes now a great time to start a regularly-scheduled webinar or start hosting live Q&As to position yourself as a resource now and in the future. Of course, I’m not delusional enough to think entrepreneurs will always be this engaged with their accountant and accounting, but I strongly believe that the current experience during Coronavirus has solidified just how important useful content, connection and personality, and participation are now, and for the professional accountant of the future.
Live 1-to-1 Media
Meeting 1-on-1 with clients is something accountants have done forever. As much as I talk about the future of accounting and new things you should do, I still firmly believe that nothing is more important than face-to-face meetings with your clients. These interactions build trust and confidence. That said, the simple concept of “face-to-face” has evolved thanks to cloud technology, industry specialization, and remote work. In fact, COVID-19 has made remote meetings more than a possibility, but a necessity.
I believe that the best firms will lean into the remote 1-on-1 meeting even beyond the pandemic. Virtual meetings allow for flexibility, frequency, and recording. You can hop on a video call to consult with a client much faster than you can drive to a meeting. Video on live 1-to-1 media makes things personal and allows you to share screens. If your client approves it, video 1-to-1 meetings can be recorded so they can go back and listen or share with their partners (if your client does not approve recording, by all means, do not record). Those recordings are also a helpful tool internally to improve your consultation game and/or that of your team members.
Keep having 1-on-1 meetings with your clients. Do them in-person when possible. Do them remote when the client is remote or your office is not open due to health considerations. Regardless of the platform, remember that these 1-on-1 meetings are your time to shine as your clients’ business therapist.
Your brand as a professional must have a strong, non-consensus, and controversial opinion on something. I’m not suggesting that you make everything you believe controversial — that would be exhausting and alienating, and most of the things you share should be more widely accepted. However, if you want to stand out, I recommend finding something you believe to be true about the industry or profession that is non-consensus and leaning into that idea.
For example, I believe that firms should fire clients who are not in the niche(s) they focus on. I also believe that firms should fire clients who do not accept the systems, processes, and reporting that they offer businesses in the respective niche. Being controversial can also work for your firm’s brand, but if your personal brand differs from your firm’s, it is not as important for the firm as it is for you to have a controversial opinion shared strongly and often. These kind of unique and strong ideas will push you ahead as a thought leader and can be leveraged across all of the media we’ve discussed.
The world is changing, businesses are changing, and the entrepreneurs who run those businesses are changing, too. Media is an inexpensive way to play a role in these changes — it allows you to share valuable information, prove your industry expertise, promote your brand, and to lead yourself and your firm towards long-term success. You don’t need to be a technology wiz, you just need an iPhone, savvy opinions, and an authentic approach.