Feel the fear and do it anyway (for accountants doing marketing)

marketing basics

When you the accountant are faced with all the varied elements of today’s marketing, what do you feel?  

Video, Instagram, podcasts, graphic design,  branding, live events, online networking. Snapchat. Canva. Xero apps. Zapier. Slack.

The list goes on, and if you’re paying attention you may be coming to the realisation that without using any (preferably all) of the above tools and many more, you’re losing business on a daily basis.

Any and all of these can strike fear into the heart of an accountant who has long been operating without the need for them (or any marketing at all).

And if I’m honest I never really understood that before. Not fully.

From speaking to many accountants over the years, I did recognise the fact that many accountants are nervous or concerned or worried or frustrated or fearful.  But I didn’t feel it.

Recently I had the opportunity to really, truly feel that fear. 

I had signed up for a presentation training workshop with the world-class speaker Marcus Sheridan.

When I signed up, I was excited. This was going to improve my speaking and change my business life for the better. Marcus was an excellent speaker and a friendly person. The workshop was being put on by the Content Marketing Academy (led by the indomitable Chris Marr). All was well. This was going to be amazing.

Then we had the pre-workshop webinar. Marcus asked us to prepare two short presentations for the day. One simply a story; and the other a business presentation we would normally give.

And I discovered to my intense surprise that I was literally terrified. 

I give presentations all the time. Even better, I often get good feedback on them. Kind people assure me that they were helped or encouraged or inspired or educated, and I’ve been asked to speak for many different organisations, including the main stage at Xerocon London earlier this year.

But for some reason the thought of this workshop struck a deep chord of fear, and I couldn’t figure out why.

I looked for every opportunity to avoid the workshop. Maybe I wasn’t feeling well. A lot of people were getting colds – was that a scratchy throat? My car had an ignition wire fail and had to go to the garage, and I instantly thought, “Oh, what a shame, I can’t go” – despite the fact that I had never had the intention of driving to the workshop venue but was going to take the train.

None of these excuses truly worked, so I decided to use for my presentation the story of how and why I was so fearful. I went on that Monday morning, wrote the presentation out in full on the train, and had full intentions of being the first to raise my hand and present straight away.

I didn’t. My hand stayed firmly by my side. Before lunch I was desperate to get it overwith before we took a break…but I sat there quietly and listened to everyone else present. To be honest, the entire day was a bit of a blur to me, because I was so focused on myself and my worries (whilst being confused as to why they existed).

As it turned out, I never gave either of my prepared talks during the workshop. Marcus insists on using the day as it unfolds, rather than rigidly adhering to an outline with planned timings, so we didn’t get to everyone. At about twenty minutes to five, when I realised I wouldn’t be presenting that day, my entire body and mind relaxed and I was able to give more attention to the workshop in those twenty minutes than I had the previous eight hours.

That was all destroyed at a few minutes past 7 when we were all sitting round a long table, and Marcus suggested that those who didn’t get a chance to present during the day would do so at dinner.

The moment came. I shared my story – hardly even knowing what I said – and was encouraged that those around me were not only supportive, but best of all, in the same place.
Everyone had a high level of fear. Some people faked it, others showed it. Some went into the toilets to cry, some had voices that shook. Others couldn’t get the words out at all.

We were all afraid: but we all did it anyway. 

I want to encourage you as an accountant facing the brave new world of marketing that there’s nothing else for it but to head straight in.  

Go to the workshop. Give the presentation. Record the video. Write the blog post.  Choose the new logo. Sign up for Instagram. Attend the non-accounting conference. Hire the marketing manager, or the videographer, or the content writer.

6 ways to face the marketing fear 

Here are a few of the lessons shared by Marcus that apply to accountants as you face your marketing fears:

  • “Yes, and!” 

This principle helps when dealing with interruptions, changes, questions, problems. In a presentation, if someone’s mobile phone rings, ignore it. Focus on your delivery, not the small distractions. If a question is asked that wasn’t on your list, answer it.

The same applies to your marketing. Yes and it.

You went to get a new website built but the developer let you down? Yes, you’ve got the start of a new site, and with a little more effort you can get it up and running.

Everything was going perfectly until you lost that client. Yes, that client was using massive amounts of your and your team’s time, and that time can now be funnelled into systems or marketing efforts or new training or the latest client you signed up.

Insisting on seeing the positive changes your whole perspective: and the best part of marketing is that there are no hard and fast rules. So the yes and principle works every time.

  • The magic is in the second or third answer. 

When a member of the audience asks a question, it’s usually not the question. There’s a deeper one underneath that you have to find – and the magic is often in the second or third answer.

The same applies to your prospects. The first question may be, “How much does it cost?” But the deeper question could be “Will you let me down like my last accountant did?” or “Will I be constantly confused and feel stupid by what you actually do?” The beauty of sharing your expertise, thoughts, and personality with your prospects is that they will come to know and trust you before they’ve even met you: and you can get to the deeper questions more quickly.

  • Don’t accept settings built for failure. 

If Marcus walks into a room that is set up in a way which makes it difficult for his audience to see him, hear him, or engage with him during his talk, he’ll change the setup. Remove chairs, enlist help to shift the projector screen to the side, change audio settings.

We discussed in our recent webinar with James Ashford the new standards being set by accountancy firms all over the world – and they are high indeed. Huge investments are being made, custom systems are being created, and the lives of business owners are being changed forever. That’s not an exaggeration.

A firm that is set to run on tired marketing practices is built for failure, and you cannot accept them.

  • The audience is the hero.

It’s so tempting as a presenter to see yourself as the main player. The star attraction. When I recently presented at the Practice Live conference by AccountingWeb, alongside Paul Barnes and James Ashford, I at first jokingly suggested that I was merely hosting the Paul and James show.

But none of us were hosting a show about ourselves. The audience – with their questions and worries and fears and excitements – were the ones we were there for. The central focus. The hero.  

When you do anything in marketing as an accountancy firm, always remember that your client is the hero. The business owner is the hero. Your target audience is the hero. When you make everything about them, and genuinely care about them, you can’t help but win.

“Before I start any presentation, I say to myself, ‘I really, really love this audience!’” Marcus told us at the workshop.  “I go through the names of each person attending and say, I love that person! I’m so glad they’re here!”

Of course, this only works if it’s genuine. You can’t fake caring for people or prospects or workshop attendees. I’ve noticed recently that when I’m presenting to accountants, one of the first things I tell them is how much I absolutely love working with accountants.

This is not only because it’s true, but because I’ve begun to see how quick accountants are to put themselves down, to see themselves as bad marketers or slow to grasp new ideas or a challenge to work with. I can assure you: people in general are hard to work with. I’m hard to work with myself many a time. You can still love to help them. (And if you don’t, you may be in the wrong profession.)

  • Click publish.

Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. If like most accountants you are a perfectionist who likes to make sure everything is being done right, marketing is going to be hard for you. The best way to triumph over this is to click publish.

Record the video – and post it on YouTube. Run the Facebook Live session. Choose the logo, and stick with it. Offer to be the speaker.

Not perfect, but done.

Not perfection, but progress.

  • Ask yourself, “Is it possible?”

One of the ‘presenter tricks’ I hate more than anything else is when the speaker asks, “So will you go away and do [whatever it is] today?” And the audience nods, and people raise their hands, and everyone is enthusiastic.

Then they walk out of the room and pull out their phones and check email and rush to the train and go right back to how they were doing things before.

The most important question Marcus shared with us is not “will you?”, but “is it possible?”  

If you can get your audience (or your own self) to realise that something is possible, that’s a massive first step to powerful marketing for your accountancy firm.  

For the potential client… 

  • Is it possible to have an accountant who is cool?
  • Is it possible to never worry about a piece of paperwork ever again?
  • Is it possible to pay six or eight or fifteen times what I was paying my previous accountant, and be thrilled about it?
  • Is it possible to work with an accountant who is not local?
  • Is it possible that my profits will double this year?

And for you the accountant…. 

  • Is it possible for me to learn Twitter?
  • Is it possible for my entire team to be confident using cloud accounting software?
  • Is it possible that Slack, or Basecamp, or Trello, or some new app is better than thousands of emails?
  • Is it possible to hold meetings virtually?
  • Is it possible? Is it possible? Is it possible?

Yes, it’s possible. Yes, it’s amazing. And yes, it’s well worth the fear.  

I know it is, because I’ve been there.