Why giving away the answers actually brings more questions (and to you, more business)

give to gain for accountantsMost of you are familiar with the concept of “give to gain”.  It has been shared in various formats for various reasons and it is far from an old concept (“Give, and it shall be given to you: a full measure, filled up and running over, will be poured into your lap.”)

But despite our familiarity with the principle, or even our habit of agreeing with someone when they proclaim it, many accountants are not utilising it fully when it comes to online marketing.  Oh, when it comes to referrals you’re doing brilliantly.  You genuinely want to help your clients and are looking out for them (and vice versa).  But in the world of online marketing many are either giving away the wrong things (link), or just holding your cards close to your chest and never opening up the game.

Here’s the reasoning often used:

“If I give too much away, people will take what I give them, do their own work, and have no need for me.”

Now, reading that sentence ought to strike you very quickly how ridiculous that statement is.  You’re an accountant.  A tax accountant.  A consultant or business advisor.  An advisor.  A specialist.  Many of you have twenty, thirty, or forty years’ experience doing accounts for small businesses. You’ve beat out at least one recession and are beating another as we speak, and your clients always come to you for help and assurance and advice and support and help….because you know what you’re doing.  You’ve forgotten more about tax regulations than anyone else in your large circle of acquaintances and friends ever knew.  How is it possible that by your giving away something for free – a template, presentation, document, list of tax tips, whatever – the person reading or using it will somehow fancy themselves an expert and properly take care of their own accounting issues?

They won’t.

What they will do is take free stuff.  They’ll download it, save it to their computer, promise themselves they will read it later.  They’ll sign up to get a free book from you, read a few pages, agree, and come up with a few new ideas for their business.

And eventually, when they’re tired of trying to sort things out themselves and their business is struggling (or doing really well and they’re swamped with work), who will they think to contact?  Who will come to their mind when they are considering the fact that they clearly don’t have the expertise they should?

You will.

Now, here is the second critical aspect.  You can’t just give things away for free randomly with no system.  If you do that, you will miss out on some new business.  So here is a quick list of some things you can give away for free to your clients and prospects – but more importantly, read on to the end to find out what has to be the continuous silken thread through the whole process.

Things you can give away for free:

Book – It is surprisingly simple to write a book.  An accountant I know in Glasgow has written a little book on mistakes most business owners make, and has had it bound and printed and offers it free to prospects and seminar attendees and networking connections and everyone she meets.  (It’s also for sale on Amazon with the link above!) This is a marketing opportunity that could be sitting on your computer right now waiting to be utilised. You’ve got emails you have written to certain clients, blog posts, leaflets, articles, and other material that could be combined into a resource that prospects would gladly ask for and read.

E-book – If you’re not ready to get even a little book printed, you can produce an e-book at a very low cost.  I would highly recommend getting a graphic designer to put it together for you, but even without that you can produce something that is free, valuable, and requested.  (But make it valuable – see my point on this below.

Top tips – If you have expertise in any particular area, niche, industry, or topic, this can be an excellent opportunity for a free giveaway that has genuine value.  Even if you think you don’t have much expertise of this kind, you would probably be surprised.  For example, think about the client you have who is your favourite (the one you like doing business with the most, perhaps you get on with them the best or they rarely trouble or bother you).  Then identify a client for whom you have delivered the best results (profits, improved business, saved taxes, etc).  And then identify a client who has been the most profitable to you or your firm.  Now that you have those three clients in mind, you can first see whether there are any similarities.  Is your favourite client in the same industry as the client for whom you have delivered the best results?  Perhaps your favourite client IS the one that is your favourite AND for whom you’ve delivered the best results?  Or just pick one category among the three.  Either way, you now have something about which you can write.  Examples are:

– Five golden rules for property owners (one of our clients does this here)

– Top 10 bookkeeping mistakes

– Common questions asked by medical practices

– or something else of this kind.

Templates – This type of free resource is one that accountants are remarkably wary of sharing.  As mentioned above, you want to keep your cards close to your chest, be the expert, not give anything away.  But bear in mind that 90% (or more) of those who download it will do absolutely nothing with it; 5% will do something with it but not much, or will forget it later; and the remaining 5% (at a high guess) will use it and not need to talk to you, which means they aren’t the kind of client you want to work with.  And it leaves you with 95% of the prospects to get new business from – and that, I’m sure, is plenty for anyone.   Some examples of templates you could share would be:

– Simple cash flow estimation

– What if analysis

– Profit improvement ideas

– Tax saving suggestions for certain categories/niches/industries

– Rate calculators

Ideas – This is a bit of a catch all category – but if you have some great ideas (particularly for certain types of businesses or industries), sharing them can be the best thing possible for those who are trying to discover if you’re the type of person or business they want to work with.  Sharing brilliant ideas and identifying opportunities shows that you care about how they can improve their business or be happier or richer or get more time to do what they want to do.  And you can use some of the types indicated above (e-book, book, template, tips, etc) to share these ideas.

Don’t recreate the wheel

If you can at all, follow your competitors.  Look at what they are doing.  Sign up for email updates from fellow accountants, advisors, consultants, coaches, and even other professional service advisors in other fields.  Be alert to what others are doing, because it will spark great ideas for your own use.  Remember that many accountants would love to share ideas and thoughts with others – I know a group of five or six accountants spread out over the UK who meet a few times a year simply to share what’s new, what’s working, and what isn’t.  They aren’t in competition with each other, and they trust each other and everyone benefits.  It’s encouraging to see that happen on its own.

Give Genuine Value

The key with all of these free resources is that they need to be genuinely valuable, not generic.  The deal is not that you simply copy and paste some generic content that you know every other accountant in the UK, or in the world, has access to.  Think about it from the reader’s perspective:

  • What do they really get that they didn’t have before?
  • Will they think about it or take action on it?
  • Will you be respected more highly because of it?
  • Is it easy and practical to actually use?
  • If you had a friend or family member in this business would you share this resource with them?

Follow up, and do it forever.

Finally, and this is the most important factor, don’t forget follow up.  Giving away free resources are only so helpful if you don’t track them or engage with those who request it.  Make sure that you:

– Ask for an email address at a minimum (possibly a phone number, but not always)

– Create a follow up system that will be in direct contact with the prospect in a systemised way – a thank you email, a follow up email a week later, a phone call a month later, or whatever fits best.  Talk to us if you are not sure how to do this, it’s our specialty.

– Assign someone in the firm to be in charge of the follow up, or else outsource it.  For some of our accountancy firm clients, we set up the sign up forms, follow up emails, and the whole system.  When we recognise there is a real interest, we hand that over to the accountant or the firm to take it from there.

– Don’t lose the enthusiasm.  Just because someone downloaded a free e-book and hasn’t written you in six months does not mean they have forgotten you.  They may be watching and listening and downloading and connecting with you in the background until they’re ready.  It’s how online marketing is done.