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An Accountant’s Top 10 for Professional Service Providers

ticked checkboxThe first in a 2-part series, read these tips to improve the performance and operation of your professional service practice.

1. Forget the timeclock. Ask a client why they came to you and they won’t say to buy hours. Whatever you value in your office is what your staff will emphasize. If you stress that all staff time should be chargeable then they will make sure all their time is billed but their emphasis will be on billing time rather than solving client problems.. However, if you ask the client what they want, they want results. Hours have very little correlation to results. If you start measuring success the way the client measures it, then your staff will put their efforts to accomplishing that. Another problem in the current model is when we bill a client for little things that have no relation to what the clients want such as billing for copies, long distance, etc. When you go to Wal-Mart you pick an item off the shelf and you say I am willing to pay the marked price for this item. You agree on value and go on. Compare this to the service industry, which says we can help you but that will be $500 per hour plus expenses. If you expect the bill to be $1,000 then estimate it at $1,300 and take the unknown out of the picture for the client. Now they agree on what they are paying for the result they want. You get a premium price because you took the risk and they get a fixed price, which they are comfortable with. Why is that concept so hard for service firms to grasp?

2. Measure client excitement by number of referrals. An excited client tells many, a happy client tells few, a satisfied client tells no one, an unhappy client tells everyone. Consider rewarding staff for referrals from clients. What you reward is what staff will emphasize. Very few clients will refer someone they are not excited about. Therefore, by simply rewarding referrals you will encourage staff to do all the things necessary to make a client excited. Send the client a little special gift thanking them when they refer someone. Clients love it when you appreciate what they do. On the other hand if you have to beg them for referrals, they are often uncomfortable because they equate this with all the high pressure door to door sales they have experienced in life. If you aren’t getting referrals you need to look at your services, how you deliver them and reinvent your business. More on that in item 8 below.

3. Do what is important, hand off the rest. Most professionals got in business because they were good at their profession and that does not necessarily translate to being good at running their own business. When you started your business you had to do it all because there was no one else. As you grow, you have to step back and ask yourself what is most important to the growth of your business. There are typically just a few key things that the “rainmaker” in the business does to drive the business. Once you identify those key drivers you need to hire or contract with others to get rid of all but those key tasks. The true cost is not what you pay to outsource day-to-day tasks. The true cost is what it costs in lost profits by you diverting your time away from the key drivers of your business.

4. Contract with someone to harness the power of the web. SEO, key words, social media, etc. Professionals are slow to change so your competition isn’t doing it YET. The older you are, the more afraid you are of the internet and that is good when it comes to professional service firms because most are not very creative or open to change. That means the first one to embrace change gets the biggest piece of the pie at the lowest cost. Many industries stay on the leading edge in technology but professional service firms are usually late adopters. When it comes to driving business via the web look for someone who has been successful. I recently started working with a web firm that ran an analysis and predicted a 7 to 1 return for the fees they charge me. That is an easy decision. If they can deliver then I gain $7 in new revenue for every $1 I spend with them. Once you start looking in this area you will be bombarded but narrow your search to those who are willing to deliver a return on your investment and have some track record you can check out.

5. Find an accountant who can read the tea leaves in your financials to you. Your financials tell a story of where you’ve been and where you need to go if you will just read the book. Numbers are pretty boring and most professionals like to get their financial statement and stick it in the drawer. I always tell people everyone makes mistakes but we try and not make the same mistake twice. If you don’t understand what your financials are telling you, how can you avoid repeating the same problems you had in the past? The numbers in your financials can help you spot trends, compare to industry standards, see where costs are out of line, predict your ability to take on new debt, predict the value of your business, tell you when labor costs are out of line and lots of other things. If you don’t understand the numbers, find someone who does and pay them well to help you use the numbers to manage your business.

Join un next Monday, November 29th, for the conclusion of this series.

Photo credit by bredmaker.

3 reasons to use PPC (even if you have great rankings)

cash in walletI’m often asked at client development presentations and seminars a question like this: “Why should I use PPC? I already rank well with SEO.”

I love these questions, because it gives me an opportunity to talk about my favorite topic — paid marketing. For nearly every business, paid marketing must be part of your mix.

Here are my top 3 responses to the “why should I use paid” question:

 

  1. Control the page. Even if you had the greatest SEO team in the world, the best you can get for any given search is two organic listings. So what better way to dominate the page than with a paid result as well? In most cases, you’ll have two, if not three links (think “chances”) to capture a potential prospect. And when using the same keywords for both paid and organic, you should see far better results overall (for both spots).
  2. Control the message. The snippet and URL shown for your organic search results may not be the best possible place for your prospects to visit. Instead, support this listing with a paid result. Within reason, you can say what you want to say in the ad, and direct clicks to the page on your website which converts the best. From another perspective, if you’re facing negative or less than desirable organic results, use paid marketing to level the playing field.
  3. Expand your reach. The only way to expand your reach organically is to create content and links which support your additional keywords. But try doing this for more than a few dozen terms, and you’ll never make progress. If you want to be found for hundreds, even thousands, of potential keywords, the only way to get this type of reach is through paid marketing.

With the given change in Google’s search page, organic results are getting further and further down the page. These three reasons apply in all situations, and for all businesses. To borrow a page from politics, you’ve got to pay to play, and the only guaranteed way to get traffic from a search engine is to buy it.

Photo credit by Penny Matthews.

Five Things You Didn’t Know About LinkedIn

blackboardAs readers of this blog will confirm, I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn for selling and consulting. I wanted to share a few additional features many casual users of LinkedIn probably are not aware of:

LinkedIn has a store, where you can buy branded merchandise. Up for sale include mugs, shirts, luggage tags and even reusable grocery shopping bags. For me, I’ve got my eye on the lapel pin for in-person networking.

The LinkedIn blog is frequently updated with all the new and cool enhancements on the network. Writers use the content here for their own blog posts. And for those of you who like to comment on blog posts, the structure here publishes your profile URL, which is a unique twist, and may help you with optimization.

A fairly new feature is the ability to reorder the elements on your profile. Via simple drag and drop, you can move the pieces of your profile around to best highlight your skills, expertise or experiences and stand out from the crowd.

I launched my first DirectAds campaign earlier this week, and the results seem promising. The targeting is robust, but the $10/day minimum is pretty high when compared to Google and Facebook ($1/day or so). More to come on the results of my campaign.

LinkedIn also makes it very easy for you to promote your profile with badges. When logged in to your account, the badges are automatically updated to include your profile URL.

I hope you find these features useful to your networking goals on Linked In, and I welcome your comments, and connection requests.

Photo credit by ilco.