Networking is a Priority:  Treat it that Way!

Networking is a Priority: Treat it that Way!

Professional services firm leaders feel acutely the fact that every minute you spend on networking is a minute you’re taking away from something else. That often becomes an excuse for why it’s not happening… one I don’t condone.  Although thousand person chicken dinner events, drawn out coffee meetings, and “being in the right place at the right time”, aren’t options right now, the focus on nurturing meaningful interactions with the people who matter most hasn’t changed.  To get the most possible value from your networking time—and to use your contacts’ time respectfully—consider a systematic approach to networking that focuses on connecting regularly with your most important contacts. 

Finding Your Networking Circle

networkingWith referral sources, quality matters over quantity—and that’s true even when you’re communicating remotely.  Be intentional about how many people you bring into your inner circle. The more people you cultivate relationships with, the less time and attention you’ll have to devote to each of them.

For an inner circle, 10-15 contacts is a manageable group for most people. In addition to the other marketing and networking commitments you have, aim to reliably commit to a one-on-one networking session two to three times per month, so you’ll be able to spend quality time with each person in your inner circle two to three times a year. 

How do you pick the people you put on your short list? Obviously you want them to be positioned to refer work to you, but you may know dozens of people professionally who could make referrals. Narrow down the list by honing in on contacts who meet other valuable criteria.

Think about people who you actually like and would enjoy spending time with (even if it’s virtual time). Other good contacts are people who have previously referred you to really good clients, and people who have the networks and clients you aspire to have. If you’re a member of any networking organizations, fellow members of those organizations could be useful contacts since you’ll cross paths at events and be able to make introductions for each other then.

Your outbound referrals should go in this inner circle as well. You might even want to introduce non-competing referral sources to each other as a benefit to you all. 

Making a Plan

When things get busy and you’re focused on time-sensitive tasks, networking meetings aren’t top of mind—but ignore those relationships too long, and you won’t be top of mind for your contacts either.

By creating a system to schedule your networking meetings, you’ll increase your chances of the meetings actually happening!  Consider creating a series of calendar invites for yourself on the first of each month. In the invite, include the names of the people you want to connect with that month. When the invite pops up, reach out to those contacts to schedule conversations. This is a much more effective way to get that critical “face-time” with referral sources, compared to saying “let’s get together sometime!” and not following up.  

Using Networking Time to Move Forward

Though you may have expertise across several industries, or be able to speak on a range of issues within your own industry, you don’t necessarily want to be that broad when talking to your referral sources. A better goal is to position yourself as a great resource within a niche industry or service that relates to what your referral source does for their clients. The idea is that when one of your referral sources is looking for help with the niche you mutually serve, you’re the person who comes to mind right away.

The risk in being “all things to all people” is that you’re never top of mind for anyone, and you get the worst referrals because you aren’t displaying your expertise in any particular space. Effective networking is about creating lasting relationships that help people to understand your work over time through examples, stories, and getting to know each other’s strengths and style through shared clients.  

For the “B” List
It’s entirely possible that you don’t think you can reduce your networking list to just 10-15 people.  For that, I would suggest that you either dedicate more time to networking, or create a “B” List; a list of people you email each month instead of offering to get together.  This can be a check-in email and can even include an article or some other resource that the person might find useful to help continue your bond.  The benefit of this is that you will keep in contact with more people but also that you may find someone who bubbles up from the “B” List to the Inner Circle.  

2020 has forced us to change our habits and has disrupted our “usual” ways of keeping in touch.  Networking will look different for a while, but it can’t be ignored entirely.  Strong relationships find a path through any challenge.  Stay close with your closest allies and you will both be better for it. If you want to up your networking game, contact me today. I’m deeply invested in all of my clients development.

Should your CPA Firm Switch from .com to .cpa?

Should your CPA Firm Switch from .com to .cpa?

This piece has been featured in the May 2020 edition of Sum News, published by Massachusetts Society of CPAS. 

You’ve seen web addresses that end with .org, .edu, .com, and likely others. These extensions, known as top-level domains, are now supplemented by over 1200 nuanced and private extensions like Amazon’s .aws. Now it’s public accounting’s turn with the 2020 roll-out of .cpa.  The launch of .cpa is being administered by CPA.com, the AICPA’s technology subsidiary. The AICPA won the rights to the .cpa domain from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees domains, and they are encouraging CPA firms to make the switch.  Let’s look at the Pros and Cons, and what it would take to make the change if that’s the direction you decide to go in.

The Case for Changing to the .cpa Domain

Nearly 360 million unique domain names were registered worldwide as of the third quarter of 2019. More than half of those used .com and .net domains. These generic domain names don’t tell you anything about the site owner’s expertise or industry. By contrast, using the .cpa domain signals “trust and distinction,” according to CPA.com. At the very least, anyone who sees that your website name ends in .cpa will immediately know what it is that you do.

The AICPA is committed to maintaining a high brand reputation for the CPA designation.  With cyber criminals rampant online and active in their email phishing attempts, the AICPA took measures with .cpa to improve cyber security. Erik Asgeirsson, President & CEO of CPA.com, says that the difference between the .cpa domain and other domains (like .com) will be a higher level of security. The registry that will run the .cpa domain will monitor it for malware and malicious activity, he says, which doesn’t happen with general domains like .com.

cpa.comBarry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, the president and CEO of the AICPA said in the AICPA press release  “We want the public to have confidence that someone using a .cpa domain address for email or a website is affiliated with the CPA profession.” Therefore, only approved CPA professionals will be allowed to register .cpa domain names.  The aim of this is to increase confidence in CPA firm websites and email communications. Phishing strategies include  creating look-alike domain names to trick people with illegitimate sites or illegitimate emails. Let’s say there’s a firm named Miller, Landon, Quinn & Thomas, and its website is mlqtllc.com. If a cyber criminal wanted to deceive the firm’s clients into providing personal financial data, he could create a similar-looking site called m1qtllc.com. A client who receives an email with that link might not look closely enough to notice one letter had been changed, and could be tricked into providing personal data. But if the firm’s site used the .cpa domain, any look-alike domain would be noticeably different.

Potential Downsides to the .cpa Domain

While changing domains could help you from a branding and security perspective, it will hurt your SEO (how your site’s pages rank and appear in search results) strategy for a year or more.  Switching domains can lower your site’s page rankings due to Google’s preference for sites that have longer history and performance (e.g.- established click-through rates, consistently fresh content, inbound links, no security issues). Properly redirecting your site from .com  to .cpa (see the next section for more on this) tells Google that you’d like to confer the .com site performance to the .cpa site, but it’s not 100%.  Also, there’s nothing you can do about the history (age) of the site; that will start again at zero.  Lastly, Google has confirmed that new domain extensions will offer no ranking advantage over traditional .com or .org domains.

In addition, we’ll have to see how much marketing effort the AICPA puts into promoting the .cpa domain to the general public.  Without some unified roll-out, your clients may see the .cpa and actually shy away from it vs feeling more comforted, since any change can be met with hesitancy due to cyber security concerns.

The offline expense of a domain change will include updating and reprinting items that have your domain name on them such as your business cards, stationary, folders, banner stands, and other printed items.  Be sure to take this expense into account when making the switch.

Domain Change Logistics

Changing your domain won’t require you to change your entire site, or rebuild it from scratch. The process is like forwarding your mail with the USPS. The process requires attention to detail and knowledge on how to redirect site traffic correctly.  It’s critical not to take any shortcuts here.  Instead of redirecting all pages from your .com domain to the homepage of the new .cpa domain, you’ll need to execute a thorough and in depth 301 redirect mapping plan so that each page is sent to its new equivalent page.  For example, you would send mlqtllc.com/team to mlqtllc.cpa/team.

Making the transition should be fairly smooth, though there may be some hiccups. When your site domain changes from .com to .cpa, anyone who has bookmarked the old address should be automatically redirected to the new address if the redirects were implemented correctly. Because many of your contacts are likely wary of phishing scams, and may be alarmed when they’re redirected to a new page, you may want to acknowledge the change by sending out an email or adding a notification message on the site.

In addition to your website’s name, your firm email addresses should also be updated to match. For the fictional firm of Miller, Landon, Quinn & Thomas, their website would change from mlqtllc.com to mlqtllc.cpa. An employee’s email address might change from jsmith@mlqtllc.com to jsmith@mlqtllc.cpa.

The new .cpa domain isn’t available just yet. CPA.com is still working to meet ICANN requirements and is preparing the technical elements necessary for the launch. There’s no word yet on exactly how much it will cost to adopt the new domain. CPA.com only says that prices will be “competitive with market rates,” which is about $15 a year per domain.  Early registration will run through the first half of 2020, and the domain should be generally available to the community by the end of the year.

For now, interested CPAs can learn more here. I’ll be sharing updates as information becomes available, but please reach out if you want me to directly inform you of anything I learn. I’m sure you know you can always contact me with questions about this new domain, or anything related to your website.  If you decide to make the switch, my team can help implement that with you.  We can work together on everything from the purchase of your domain name through the AICPA’s process through to re-mapping your website properly and updating your stationary.

 

 

Content that Connects: Get More Clicks and Conversations

Content that Connects: Get More Clicks and Conversations

Do you remember the childhood thrill of getting a pencil with your name printed on it? Maybe you recall twirling racks of personalized keychains in gift shops, looking to spot your own name. (If yours is an uncommon first name, you might still be jealous of the Kevins and Sarahs of the world, who could always see themselves represented.)  These days, it takes more than seeing your name in print to get your attention. And yet, there are a lot of marketers out there who are still focused on “personalized marketing” – basically, the idea that putting a recipient’s name into the subject line of an email or onto a postcard’s first line will compel the recipient to pay attention to the message.

Personally, I think this is crap. All it means is that you have a database of people’s names and that your email or printer has a way to do variable inputs. Ten years ago this might have been an impressive technological trick, but it’s basic stuff at this point; just about anyone can figure out how to personalize emails and other communications. This alone does NOT equal good marketing.   So what DOES constitute good personalized marketing?   Your goal is to create a “must read” instead of “default delete” newsletter.  It’s more work, but it’s worth it, and here’s how it’s done.  

Database Segmentation

Your database of contact information for clients and potential clients is absolutely a huge asset, but a good marketing strategy uses that database meaningfully, not just to pull first names for “personalized” email subject lines. Good marketing means segmenting your database so that you can present each audience with the content that would be of interest to them.

Just as importantly, it means not giving them articles they don’t care about. Picture your own inbox. How many emails do you get each day that aren’t relevant or interesting to you? Do you notice the same companies spamming you over and over with these messages? That’s not the kind of name recognition you want for your own firm. You want to cut through the clutter in your target reader’s inbox, to be a “must read” sender instead of a “default to delete” sender.

It’s more important than ever to address this need because cutting through that clutter has gotten even more difficult in the last few years. Outlook, Gmail and other email inboxes now create present “focused” / “primary” and “promotional” / “other” tabs. Every email sent through an email system (like Mailchimp or ConstantContact) is going to go into the recipient’s “promotional” inbox automatically, and you need to get your audience to move them to the “focused” inbox so they actually see these messages.

As an example, a CPA firm might have clients in a range of industries and specialties. The firm might segment separate lists for Construction & Real Estate, Manufacturing, Healthcare, and Nonprofit audiences. Each of these audiences has different interests. This firm might send a “Lean Production R&D tax credits” article to the Manufacturing list only, but send an “Opportunity Zone” article to C&RE, Manufacturing, and Healthcare because it’s a topic potentially applicable to all of those audiences.

What Does it Take to Create Segments?

Effectively employing this strategy means you need more than one list, more than one newsletter and enough content to regularly communicate with each group. How do you do that? You may need to divide and conquer within your firm by assigning writing tasks to various people to share the load, get help from outside writers, or round-up a regular suite of guest bloggers. You may also choose to curate well-written articles from reputable third parties to bolster your content quantity in the newsletter and on your social media. If you choose the latter, it’s best if you include an opinion on the piece; maybe you expand on something the writer missed, highlight the most important point or even disagree with something in the piece. (If you don’t have anything to add, why wouldn’t the reader just follow the third party instead of you?)

A firm of any size can make this work. If this strategy is new to you, just pick one industry to start with. Continue to send your general newsletter but also create a second newsletter with content just for that one industry group. Do NOT send them the general email – remember, we’re segmenting, not doubling the number of emails a client receives from you. You can include any tangentially important content that you created along with curated third-party content to round it out. It’s not glamorous, but it is effective.  

From Content to Conversations  

Final thought: Blog posts educate, but people who are truly interested in a firm visit service pages or bio pages. Include links to those in your articles so that anyone who’s in buying mode can move along to those pages and easily contact you. People who are in learning mode will be willing to read more articles about the same topic, so include links to other blog posts in the same category to keep them on your site longer.  

Your website and email list are powerful tools that you have right at your fingertips. Take the next step of getting the right content in front of the right people. If you’re ready to take your blog to the next level with content that connects reach out to me today.

Website Accessibility and the ADA: What is My Responsibility?

Website Accessibility and the ADA: What is My Responsibility?

Website accessibility is simply a new application of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the digital era. As a culture, we understand that it’s important to ensure full access to places of public accommodation (movie theatres, supermarkets, hotels, local town offices, etc.) for people living with disabilities—and now we must do the same with digital properties. For example, a person who is blind needs to have the ability to check his or her bank account online just like a sighted person can.

As much as 20% of the U.S. population has some type of disability, and many of these lead to serious barriers for web and app use. Visual, auditory and dexterity impairments can limit people from accessing web content. As such, the onus is on content publishers and website owners to make sure that our digital properties are accessible to everyone.

How to Make a Website Accessible

The tools and best practices have been around, essentially, as long as the internet itself. But as websites have developed over time and benefited in many ways from technological and graphical advances, focus on accessibility has waned. This has led to a high number (90% or more according to some studies) of sites falling well short of  ADA requirements.

The good news: there is a proper way to code and publish content that allows for appropriate access to all—and it’s not very difficult to achieve. Simply by following guidelines and best practices, we can resolve accessibility issues. Adaptive (or assistive) technology takes care of the rest for us.

Groundbreaking tools like JAWS allow blind and low-vision users to hear the content of a website read to them out loud—or even utilize new Braille technology on a refreshable surface. Just as effectively, more established technologies like closed-captioning videos can help users who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. And users with dexterity impairments can utilize specialized keyboards to navigate websites instead of relying on a mouse.  While businesses don’t need to provide these tools to users, they should create websites that enable the user’s tool to work properly.  Obviously, a video without close-captions cannot be read aloud.  

What the Law Says

Courts across the nation (Federal and state alike) have determined that the rules of the ADA apply to websites and other digital entities, and those decisions have been upheld by the highest courts. Companies used to think that a lawsuit would be thrown out for being frivolous or petty.  Thankfully this mindset is becoming a thing of the past as large and small businesses have lost lawsuits and are obligated to follow the ADA. For example, Domino’s Pizza was sued because a user who was blind couldn’t fully use its website through screen-reading software. Supermarket chain Winn-Dixie suffered a similar lawsuit and also lost. But smaller firms, like the Avanti Hotel in Palm Springs, CA was forced to deactivate portions of its website due to a similar suit.  In Massachusetts, bed and breakfast and small inns down the Cape have seen a slew of lawsuits.   

What You Should Look For on Your Own Site

Most websites that suffer from accessibility issues have similar problems—and most of them are relatively painless. The most common issues tend to be missing ALT tags, form elements not being properly labeled, videos without captions, color contrast and font size issues, and a handful of other best practices being ignored. Forms can be particularly important, as they are often used in site searches, ecommerce, contact pages, and job applications.

Many issues seem to exist on blog posts—many, many sites have dozens or hundreds of blog posts with images missing ALT tags. Embedded iframes from YouTube, Vimeo, reservation software, and other sources are often not coded properly. The same goes for many widgets and plugins on popular websites systems like WordPress and Shopify.

Most of the issues mentioned above are “behind the scenes.”  This means that when a site undergoes an ADA compliance review, the end result will look vastly the same to the majority of users, while being revolutionarily better for people living with disabilities.  

What Should I Do Next?

Taking an assessment of your site is straightforward—and can lend insight into where you stand with accessibility. Tools like Google’s Lighthouse and WebAIM can provide a cursory look at your site and identify key problems. Once you know what kind of shape your site is in, you can take the appropriate steps for remediation.

Whether your take on website accessibility is CYA or that now that you’re informed you know it’s the right and smart thing to do, 2020 should be the year your firm’s site becomes ADA compliant.  All you have to do to get onto this path is to contact me today and we’ll work together to make your site accessible to all.

A note to people living with disabilities.  I apologize that my site is not yet ADA compliant!  I am under contract with a web agency and am actively building a new site that will be fully accessible for everyone.

Co-authored with Mike McKenna from Adapatable

Marketing in a Pandemic

Marketing in a Pandemic

This post is being written in bursts between video uploads, legislative update emails, Zoom meetings, and many snacks for my 4-year-old who is at home with me all day.  (I stopped counting screen time and glasses of wine on Quarantine Day 3).  I don’t have all of the answers, but I have been giving thought to how I can best support my clients in helping you support YOUR clients through this terrible time.  If you find a typo or grammatical error below, forgive me on this Friday afternoon.  Also, yes the featured image is my little guy riding his bike… because one more photo of a virus is one too many this week.

Review everything in the queue   

First things first, anything you had queued-up or planned needs to be reviewed and potentially stopped.   What seemed OK in December would be appalling today and what seems OK today may seem tone-deaf next week.  If you’re working from an editorial calendar developed at the beginning of the year, you’ll want to review it before publishing articles on autopilot.  In doing this for my clients, I stopped an article in the queue for April for an estate planning law firm called “What to Expect as a Surviving Spouse”.  EEK!  That could have gone viral for the WRONG reasons!

Shorten your planning timeline

News is flying out of Washington and State Houses across the country.  The advice you give clients today may be different from what you will say next week.  While we might like to plan ahead for articles or third-party social posts or events to host in the late spring, now is not the time for long-range planning.

Consider this; a CPA firm client told me that he got a question from a business owner looking for a way to save cash and asked about delaying sales tax payments to the State.  The CPA had to advise against it – until two days later when the State changed those exact rules!

It is important to stay agile because the news is moving fast.  It’s OK to “plan” on something for a few weeks from now but I would be ready to delay or cancel any public announcements or publications depending on the mood of the community/country at that time.

Communicate often

E-V-E-R-Y company sent an email about their response to COVID-19.  After the 12th one I stopped opening them.  We’re past that phase.  We know you’re working remotely and that your email and phones still work.  Great.  Now your communications can back to be substantive.  Communicate often with clients about the ways in which they can count on you that maybe they didn’t need to before.  Their needs have changed and your guidance is more important to them than ever.

One client of mine is doing daily videos both about the legislative changes and about how business owners can survive this turbulent time.   We’re posting them on YouTube, the blog, social, and sending a daily aggregated email.

Synthesize information for your clients

A while back I wrote about the importance of professional services firm advisors being the information synthesizers for clients.  There is too much data, but not enough understanding.  Today that’s still true and ON TOP OF IT there is more misinformation in the world, facts are changing every day, emotions are running high, and everyone has TOO MUCH to do.  If you can be the voice of reason and help find order in the swirling storm of options and priorities, you’ll have found yourself a client for life.   Help your clients understand their options and take action. Business owners need to know what they should prioritize first and how to comply with new regulations.

Don’t just push out your version of the latest legislative announcement, tell your clients what it means for them.  If it applies to more than one audience, break it down into sections.   Or, better yet, if have (or can quickly) segment your database, you can send people just the information they need.   With “too much” out there, people find great value in content that is relevant to them.  (A quick note that this was GOING TO be my March article topic until, you know, the apocalypse.)

When you can, plan ahead

COVID-19 will eventually be under control.  Just as it was important that you were agile during this crisis, it will also be important for you to help your clients see the path out.  If you can take time to think through what questions you’ll get as we turn the corner, then you’ll be ready to provide guidance to clients as we transition back to the old normal.   (Hopefully it will be sooner than later.)  I predict “business as usual” will come sooner for some industries than others based on the ways in which they were impacted.   Think about your niche areas.  What might be different later than it was before?  Unemployment?  Company debt?   Employees who want to work longer because their 401(k)s are down?  Business owners who will decide to sell?   Companies that will be forced to merge?  Employees who refuse to go back to an in-office environment in favor of remote work?

Take care of yourself

You can’t advise others if you’re distracted, exhausted, and stressed out.  It’s Friday.  Those of you who can, take a weekend as a weekend.  Challenge yourself to a full day without screens (and especially Twitter… there’s nothing good happening there!).    My son and I went for a walk today to find evidence of Spring.  It’s coming!  Get outdoors, start your spring cleaning, read a book, breathe!

I’m here for you!

Whatever you need, we’re going to make it happen.  You know how to reach me!

And just remember…. Pants are optional for video conferences (or video play dates with your grandparents)… not pictured – me on a Zoom meeting… wearing pants!

Podcasting: How To and Why

Podcasting: How To and Why

Podcasts, you know, video without the images?   If you have something to say but won’t get in front of the camera (even though video is a great marketing activity), then podcasting might be the way to go.  After all, podcasts are now a deeply ingrained part of the daily lives of millions of listeners, which is remarkable considering they barely existed just a decade ago. People tune in to podcasts in the car, at home, in the gym, even at work.  

podcastungFrom a consumer’s perspective, podcasts are about entertainment and education. For marketers, branded podcasts (those shows made by brands or businesses instead of individuals) are another way to get people to engage with your brand while leading with education.

Virtually anyone can start a podcast, so why should your firm start one too? Considering the scope, power and relative ease of podcasting, a better question might be – why wouldn’t you start one?

Why Podcasting Matters

Simply put, the people you want listening to you are listening to podcasts. Research confirms that podcasting continues to grow in popularity, year over year, with no plateau in sight. In its 2019 Infinite Dial survey, Edison Research estimates that 62 million Americans listen to podcasts weekly. iTunes has more than half a million unique podcasts on its platform alone.

Launching a branded podcast gives you access to your audience in a way that other types of marketing don’t. Think about how differently a consumer engages with a TV ad than with a podcast. A TV ad might be on for 30 seconds in the background, while a podcast listener might spend 30 or 45 minutes primarily focused on an episode while doing laundry. 

Podcasting also lets you improve name recognition, boost engagement and maybe even establish yourself as an expert in your field. It’s a way to talk about your services and demonstrate your skills without having to be overly salesy. One other bonus? If you’re not already a strong verbal communicator, podcasting will force you to sharpen those skills. There’s nothing like listening to a recording of yourself to make you confront and address verbal tics.

How to Get Started

Unfortunately, podcasting isn’t an “If you build it, they will come” kind of endeavor. Remember, there are more than half a million options for the audience to choose from. You might only get one shot to impress a listener. Don’t fake it ’til you make it – start making a rock solid plan long before hitting record for the first time.

Logistics: Making Plans

Good podcasts may sound effortless to the audience, but there’s a ton of background work required to create a compelling show. Ask yourself lots of questions about what you envision for your podcast. First, think about who your podcast is for. What kind of typical audience member do you want to appeal to? Why will this audience want to listen to your show? What value will you offer them?

Even after you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have dozens more decisions to make. What will the podcast’s name be, and how will you name episodes? Will you have one main host or two or more co-hosts? Who’s the best fit as a long-term host? Will you have recurring segments in every episode? Will you interview guests? How long will each episode be? Will you be able to release a new episode every week, or is it more realistic to aim for monthly releases? Will you script the show, work from a bulleted outline, make it up as you go along, or some combination thereof?

Equipment

If you’re not familiar with podcasting at all, getting set up with the right equipment might seem like the most daunting part. In reality, figuring out your setup might be one of the simpler parts of getting started with podcasting.

A good USB/XLR microphone is your most important asset here. It doesn’t matter how great the show is; audiences won’t stick with a podcast that has bad audio. A number of podcast apps and platforms make it easy to capture your audio. Audacity is a popular choice for beginners. Your computer may also have existing recording software that will work, like Garageband.

A digital recorder is a must-have if you’ll be doing any recording away from your home base, or if you’re concerned about computer glitches causing your recording program to crash mid-show. Look for one that allows recording of multiple tracks at once, ideal for capturing conversations among multiple people; the Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder is one well-reviewed and relatively affordable option.

A few accessories help you get the best possible audio. Pop filters muffle unpleasant popping sounds that mics pick up. Mic stands allow you to keep your hands free and minimize the shuffling noises that tend to get picked up by handheld mics. Having a mixer isn’t absolutely necessary, but you may want to start using one as you get more comfortable with recording and want to tweak your audio or balance more than a few voices.

Still daunted? There’s also always the option to kick off with a podcasting starter kit. These packages include mics and other basic accessories a beginning podcaster needs.

Finding a Home

Where will the audio files of your show live? Hosting the podcast on your own website isn’t feasible for most businesses. Each episode will be its own large file, and most web hosting services don’t offer the necessary bandwidth to accommodate podcasts. A podcast hosting service can give your show a home and create the RSS feed that you’ll need to submit the podcast to iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify and other podcast directories. Some WordPress plans also allow for audio and video uploading, so WordPress customers may already have that as a hosting option.

Making Your Mark

What will set your podcast apart from all the competition? How will you build brand recognition? When you’re just getting started with your show, there’s constant marketing work to be done even when the microphones are turned off.

You’ll want to think about designing cover art that grabs a viewer’s attention, and possibly recording original music to start and end your episodes. Think about recording at least one test episode, and solicit feedback from the regular podcast fans around you. To grow your audience, network with other podcasters who might be willing to cross promote. Use social media to tease and promote new episodes and upcoming guests. Meanwhile, keep expectations reasonable. It may take months of work before the numbers start ticking up. 

Podcasting is one way to demonstrate that your firm is operating in the modern era of marketing.  There are many decisions to make about podcasting, but deciding to move forward is certainly the first step.  Contact me and we’ll begin this journey together.

Saying “Yes!” to Change– Tech, Trust, Grunt Work, Pricing, and Planning

Saying “Yes!” to Change– Tech, Trust, Grunt Work, Pricing, and Planning

Attend any conference and you’re bound to hear about change….  Lots of change…. At an ever-increasing pace.   After three days at the Massachusetts Society of CPAs Practice Management Forum conference, I found this almost dizzying.   That said, it’s always nice to step away from the office to take time to listen and think about the macro-level of what’s happening in professional services.  There are definitely some worthwhile themes that I think are worth sharing with you here.

Technology

Yes to ChangeOK, OK, don’t stop reading now, we’re just getting started.   Technology is not coming to take your job, but it will CHANGE your job.  Stay on top of technology and it will change for the better.   A the firm level, digitally mature companies are 3x more likely to report profit margins and revenue growth significantly above industry averages.

I’m saying “Yes, please” to automating repetitive processes, eliminating data entry, alerting me to problems I didn’t know to look for and opportunities I couldn’t find on my own.  “Yes, please” to scheduling tools that eliminate email chains comparing calendars, driverless cars (still 10+ years away, apparently) and the end of the keyboard in favor of voice recognition that works and is smart enough to do what you want. I’ll even say “Yes, please” to blockchain when the banks and credit card companies figure it out and start giving discounts/better rates to increased data security.

Conversely, however, if you fall behind, technology will create a laggard effect and your firm will struggle, fall further behind, and get beaten by competitors or be sold (or not!) for a lower price than you wanted.  Think you’re “too old” to change, then you better be planning to retire in the next 3 years, the experts said.

A quick anecdote.  I was talking with two bankers at the event.  They were playing the game where you list the 10 banks you worked at as the names change due to M&A or you moved around.  As they discussed which banks got acquired/merged, they were saying how surprised they were that “this” bank and “that” bank were gobbled up since they were so strong and had great technology.    I listened, then added…. I think that’s WHY they got acquired.  Maybe the bigger player wanted the lead on technology or wanted to eliminate a future threat.  Both bankers blinked, and said, “yeah, maybe you’re right”.

The End of Grunt Work.

An analogy:  I saw a Facebook post from Boston College (my alma mater) promoting the new athletic facility / gym / rock climbing wall / pool / spa…. OK, maybe not spa, but that’s what it seemed like!   Back in the day we had “the Plex” – and it was not good.   To play club water polo we literally took a van to Simmons College to use their pool.   I am supremely jealous of the students on campus today; but I don’t wish “the Plex” experience on anyone.   Likewise, I know what jobs I had to do coming up the ranks as an intern, entry level marketer, etc.   I wouldn’t necessarily wish that on anyone else either.  Back then, there was no alternative to much of the menial, repetitive tasks.  Today’s 20-somethings know there are solutions to these problems and they do not suffer fools. For the sake of employee development and retention, it’s time to give up the notion that our new hires are here to do the grunt work.  In fact, if you pay attention to technology, a lot of this work will be gone anyway.  I think it’s a good thing.  Salaries are high and the more you can leverage each employee, maybe we’ll all stop checking our emails at 10pm just to keep up.

Banking on Trust

CPAs are the most trusted profession in the US.  The fastest way to grow a firm may just be taking that trust and selling it in places we’re not seeing today.  Not so long ago, people would have said that 80% of a company’s value was reflected on its balance sheet.  Today, that number is 20%.  Corporate purpose is rising – no longer just shareholder value as the only goal.  With a majority of a company’s value based on non-financial measures, someone needs to come along and verify their claims in the areas of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria.  Other countries have embraced this already in the form of “Integrated Reporting”.

CPA firms can start attesting to not just the financials, but also the ESG traits.  A company that wants to claim carbon neutrality will need someone to verify its claims – perhaps a CPA firm.  A company that wants to claim its cyber security will need someone to verify its claims – perhaps a CPA firm.   Blockchain technology is purported to be immutable, but the public will want assurance of that for private company blockchains so early adopter companies may want someone to provide an audit for PR reasons – perhaps a CPA firm.

In a world of increasing change and different expectations, we need to be sure that our trustworthiness is applied to the right areas.  Need to understand where society is going to evolve so our skills and impact are relevant.   If CPAs stay in the lane of only attesting to the 20%, competition from outside the professional will start to claim attention rights over the 80% and the profession will suffer.

Pricing

There were a few ideas on pricing by presenters at this conference.  Value Pricing always comes up.  Subscription pricing was an interesting one that I knew about in other areas of life (Netflix, Office365, gym memberships, etc) but hadn’t thought about for professional services.  I’ll have to give this more thought as it is apparently extremely attractive to younger generations who are on a budget.

The pricing idea that caught my attention was the one based on choice, comparisons, and human inclinations.  I had heard it before, but this time it stuck with me.  Let’s start with a few basic ideas…. People love “3’s”, people love choices, people love value.

Let’s take the analogy of movie theater popcorn…. Never a good value, but here we are.   Small for $5, Medium for $8.50, Large for $10.    (For the sake of giving credit where it’s due, this is from Jenifer Elder of Sustainable CFO)

  • The small is VERY small; though let’s be honest, it’s actually the amount you would make at home. It would do the job, but it feels insufficient compared with the other options and in the enormous movie theater space.
  • The Medium is more than you need, but no one wants to run out of popcorn in the middle of the movie. It costs “significantly” more than the small, but for good reason – it’s “enough” popcorn.  People pick the middle option a lot anyway because it seems safe.
  • The Large is VERY large… like enough for everyone in your row, let alone your family. But, cleverly, it’s priced at only 15% more than the Medium making it seem like a great value.  Plus, the person behind the counter is trained to ask if you’d like a Large for “just $1.50 more”, a trivial amount of money in the scheme of a movie night out.

How can you offer Popcorn Pricing to your clients?

  • Estate Planners could offer a basic package that offers fewer options for a trust (beneficiaries would get their inheritance at 25, not any age of someone’s choosing); a middle package that includes all of the essential documents, executed well, done in the office, and provided both on paper and electronically; and an executive package that is done at the client’s home, and includes an additional service of answering estate planning questions by phone for one year.
  • CPAs could do this with tax returns. CPA firms could offer a basic package wherein the client would forego tax planning, must provide all of their documents electronically through an app by a certain date and must be willing to have their tax return extended if that’s possible; a middle package that would include a tax planning session by phone or in the CPA’s office, and a later date by which to provide documentation before an extension would be needed; and an executive package that would include not only year round tax planning but also an annual financial review in addition to the tax return, which would be put at the top of the list for completion above those at the other package levels.

Firm Planning

You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again, “Marketing doesn’t set your goals, it helps you achieve them.”    Again here, Jennifer Elder from Sustainable CFO had ideas that I’ll distill for you here.

  • The world moves fast, so do annual SWOT analysis on your firm. For the internal measures, focus on answering the question “What do you do better than anyone else?”  For the external measures, consider doing a quarterly Opportunities and Threats analysis since the pace of change may mean that a SWOT from 12 months ago is missing a key element.
    • Remain Flexible in your Planning. If you plan from the present moment and look forward, you’ll anchor yourself in the present and only take incremental steps forward.  If you “Futurecast” what you want your firm to look like at some future date and then work backward to set the plan, you’ll both set loftier goals and always know what the next step is so you won’t have to stop your progress.

There was also a conversation about “sacred cows” and not thinking that things have to be done the way they always have… but if you’ve met me then you know that’s baked into everything I do.   Anyway!  These are the highlights of what I got out of the three days.  I hope you didn’t miss me too much (some of you were there!).  Please reach out if you want to have additional conversations about any of these ideas, how they relate to your firm, and whatever else comes to mind.   Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 

 

Prescriptive Selling in Professional Services

Prescriptive Selling in Professional Services

Last year I got a cold that ended up turning into a painful ear infection. My doctor took one look in my ear and said she wouldn’t be surprised if my eardrum ruptured (it did on the drive home). In addition to rest and TLC from my family, she prescribed antibiotics and asked me which pharmacy I use.
Uh huh.

Nice story, Alison. What’s your point?

Did you read that exchanges as a business development transition? I didn’t.prescriptive selling  And yet, looked at through a different lens, I hired my doctor to provide advisory services (the medical appointment wherein she diagnosed my illness) and I then agreed to an additional, follow-on solution that cost me additional money (the prescription) without hesitation.

Your clients think the same of you as I do of my doctor… you’re the specialist who can diagnose the problem, propose the solution, and make it happen. And your clients will be as naturally inclined to follow your lead as I was to tell my doctor which pharmacy I use and pick up the prescription.

So, what can we learn form this?

What if you start thinking of yourself as the doctor and believing that your clients WANT your help and will GLADLY listen to and pay you for it?  You’d sell more advisory services, is what I think!

You have perspective on your clients’ businesses that their owners don’t have because of your years of education and experience in your field. (SIDE NOTE: I think that advisors forget this because your firm is full of smart people whose knowledge overlaps with yours – but 99%+ of the US population doesn’t know as much as you do about your areas of specialization.) Clients can TRULY benefit from your ideas.

Did you notice that my doctor recommended antibiotics and then swiftly moved to the next step by asking me where I wanted to pick them up? My motivation for writing this diatribe is that I have seen so many professional service advisors shy away from moving from problem to solution in one meeting for fear of seeming like a salesperson. You’ll know that a client needs help with outsourced accounting to clean-up their books, or disability insurance to protect their family, or a better time tracking system for their employees. Is your next step to give light to the issue and start to make that solution happen, or do you mention the issue and beneath your breath mumble that someone in the firm could get involved, leaving it in their hands to think about and maybe come back to you later? WAY too often, I see the latter and, in that case, both the client and the advisor are worse off.

Prescriptive selling is the process of identifying an issue, recommending a best course of action, and progressing toward the solution all in one conversation.

Oomph…. I can feel the resistance coming through the computer screen… Alison, this can’t work. Your analogy of an ear infection is too simple to translate to the complicated and expensive services we provide. There are multiple decision makers, it costs thousands of dollars — but, but, but.

OK! I hear you. My analogy is not cancer and the myriad of complicated health care options. I mean, even I knew the solution to my ear infection was antibiotics, I just couldn’t get them on my own. In return, can you agree that many times your clients have problems with somewhat obvious answers that they can’t move past on their own too? Maybe they need KPIs and a dashboard, or tax planning, or a financial plan. The prescriptive model works well for those circumstances where the client understands that your proposed plan is the logical next step.  In these circumstances you take responsibility for ushering the client toward what is best for them.

Even when your clients have complex issues, I think prescriptive selling has a place. Doctors have been knocked lately for giving patients too much data and too many options without weighing in on which course of action is best (maybe there’s a general scare of malpractice these days?). When big projects arise, be willing to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces, and to lead the client from one step to the next while keeping the big picture in mind.

Take me, for example…. My clients don’t hire me so we can have esoteric conversations about marketing. They hire me so I can prescribe a plan and help us to take actions that will help them reach their goals.

Anyway! That’s what’s been on my mind lately. I hope you find it compelling, and that you might even be willing to give it a try. Let’s keep talking! Reach out any time!

Oh, and Happy Halloween!

 

 

Does Your Brand Speak to Your Customers?

Does Your Brand Speak to Your Customers?

Guest post by Katie Leeman of Leeman Commmunications Collaborative 

Marketing efforts move quickly. Companies seemingly push out new content on Twitter 24 hours a day. An ad campaign that doesn’t hit the targeted consumer right gets rolled back and revised within hours. Completely revising your website several times per year is commonplace, and often necessary. And the opportunity for consumers to give you feedback in real time has changed the face of how, where and when we market.

Your brandWhen communication is this rapid, it’s tempting to just jump in and start marketing. It certainly seems like everyone else is, right? But if you don’t have a strategy and are just throwing money at the latest and greatest methods, you’re not doing yourself any favors. How do you know you’re communicating in the right ways, to the right people, at the right time?

It starts with understanding your customers. Sure, you might think you do, but have you actually asked them what they think of your products, your services? How they talk about you to others (or not)? How they like to interact with you?

Thoughtfully and thoroughly interviewing a subsection of your customer segments, while surveying the broad base of customers is the way you’re going to find out exactly what your customers think. That, along with a thorough competitive analysis, will give you a very clear idea of the kinds of relationships your customers have with you, what they want from you, where you fit in competitively, and whether or not you are truly resonating with the people you care about most.

It also allows you to develop clear and differentiated language that clarifies who you are—including (but not limited to) a brand promise and a positioning statement—and that can be used consistently throughout the organization.

Additionally, customer research gives you a roadmap for your marketing strategy. If your findings point to the fact that a very low percentage of your customers use Facebook, why would you waste money developing a channel that isn’t going to gain you lookalike customers? With a limited budget (and whose marketing budget isn’t “limited?”), you’re better off honing in on a few channels where you can really talk and connect with your customers—and find new ones—rather than spreading that money out over many channels…and never really reaching anyone.

And most importantly, brand research allows you to embrace who you are and how you’re different—and better—than your competition. It’s not uncommon for organizations without a strong marketing strategy tied to their business strategy to scramble around, trying anything and everything that seems like it will work. That’s not a strategy—that’s running scared, trying to stay relevant, and constantly being terrified that your competition is going to outpace you. In reality, you might not be talking to anyone who needs, wants, or believes in what you do.

What will increase your revenue through marketing is a solid understanding of your customers, brand language that positions you accurately, and a smart channel strategy that allows you to connect with the buyers with whom you can grow relationships with over the long term. Want to discover how your brand speaks to your customers? Contact us today, we’re here to help.

YouTube Optimization and Best Practices for Businesses

YouTube Optimization and Best Practices for Businesses

It’s 2019, so your business probably has (or at least wants to have) a digital video strategy. However, you need more than just great content for your videos to be a success. Understanding YouTube optimization and best practices are the keys to getting more views and likes, and hopefully translating that engagement into new or repeat business.

Creating Your Account

youtube optimizationFirst, create a Google Brand account and a YouTube for Business account. Remember, YouTube is owned by Google, and it’s basically a Google search engine for videos. This will be really important when we start talking about SEO, and a big part of why we’re focusing on YouTube as opposed to other video hosting sites such as Vimeo. A Google Brand account will allow you and others in your company to manage your YouTube channel and it will be separate from personal accounts.

Fill out Your About Page to Improve SEO

Start off on the right foot with these tips for your About page:

  • Write a keyword-rich bio.
  • Upload an eye-catching banner image (2560 x 1440 pixels, 2MB max).
  • Link to your website and social media profiles.
  • Include location and contact information to help clients and Google find you.

Tips for Video Creation and Scheduling

Once you have your channel set up, have a few videos ready to go so you can upload them as a batch. You can schedule them to go live on a pre-determined schedule. This minimizes issues if your production schedule gets off track.

  • Choose a schedule and stick to it. This makes your page seem more professional and can improve viewership since fans will know when to expect new content.
  • Be clear about the goal of each video and how you’re measuring its effectiveness. Time is money, so don’t get carried away with ideas that are creative but not necessarily productive.
  • Establish a handful of content goals. This will lead to more diverse videos. For example, your video strategy might include promoting services, establishing personal connections with staff and discussing industry trends. You’ll need to create a variety of videos to meet each of those needs.
  • Go into detail about products or services. Customers love to watch YouTube before purchasing and they want details.
  • Quality, quality, quality. Videos that look good, sound good and are interesting lead to increased watch time. The result? Better SEO, more loyal viewers and a better YouTube ranking.

Analytics

Now that you’ve optimized your channel and you’re making high-quality videos, pay attention to the numbers that will help you fine-tune your strategy and understand what your viewers want. Start with the basics by paying attention to watch times (how long viewers spend watching each video), location and demographics of your viewers. You also need to monitor comments for qualitative data that may not come through in the analytics. Along those lines, make time to watch other companies’ videos. Not only is this a useful way to see what peers and competitors are doing, but it’s equally important to engage on YouTube as on any other social media platform. For example, you may get a mention on someone else’s video and you want to be sure to respond!

Ads
Make sure your competitors are not running ads on your videos. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll want to make sure to turn those ads off. This can be blocked using Google Ad Manager.

SEO
Now for the age-old question: If a video was uploaded to YouTube but wasn’t SEO optimized, was it really uploaded at all? The numbers might say “no.” With so much video content available, SEO is the key to getting your videos seen by the people looking for your content. Follow these guidelines for SEO optimization:

  • Use a keyword-rich title.
  • Captions improve SEO and the user experience. There are several services out there that will provide captions, or you can use YouTube’s captioning service. Bonus – captions make video content more accessible!
  • Write an effective description with a minimum of 150 words. Front-load important keywords. If it’s a long video, include timestamps so viewers can easily skip to what they are interested in. Link to other new or relevant videos on your channel.
  • Add up to 15 tags.

Other Tips and Tricks

Keep in mind YouTube’s ranking factors:

  • Video Title, Keywords, and Description
  • Video Quality
  • Viewing Time, Viewer Count, and User Experience

Encourage viewers to subscribe in every video and in the video description.

Utilize playlists to keep your viewers watching your channel and not clicking away.

The first 15 seconds are key! Open with a question, set an expectation, etc. There are many tutorials on creating openers out there.

85% of videos are watched without sound (largely due to mobile) so soundless or captioned videos can get a lot of views. Soundless videos under 3 minutes can be very successful. On the other hand, long form videos are really good for SEO. Longer videos mean more time viewers can watch. Experiment with both.


Enhancing Videos

YouTube offers a variety of tools to make videos more engaging and interactive. For example, you can create a custom thumbnail that appears when the video is listed. This allows you to include a photo, text or a screen shot of your choice rather than the randomized options from YouTube. Try using cards (small, transparent calls to action that expand when clicked). Use them to direct viewers to your website, online store or even other videos on your channel. Since attracting subscribers is critical for increasing views, create video watermarks that function as custom subscribe buttons. To add them to your videos, follow YouTube’s simple instructions. Finally, strategically select other channels your viewers may follow. Participating in the community will benefit you in the long run.

Video can be a fun, personal and direct way to engage with clients, new prospects and your community. It just takes a bit of strategy, patience and creativity. Understanding YouTube optimization and best practices will help achieve the results you’re after. Whether you feel lost when it comes to your YouTube presence, or you’re ready to take your video strategy to the next level, contact me today. I look forward to helping you reach your goals!