How to Really Get Things Done (Set Deadlines)

A terrible failing in many accountants is the habit of waiting until you have it (whatever “it” is) just perfect before you market it to your clients. mountain

Part of this has to do with the fact that your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness.  Of all the accountants I’ve known (and that’s plenty), I’ve always been incredibly impressed with your solid commitment to ensuring you are giving the best advice, taking care of your clients, delivering what they need so they can take action on real-life things like selling a business or buying a car or bringing another employee on board.

It’s a brilliant quality.  And part of this quality includes caution, and care, and attention to detail.  You’re aware that if one number is off, the whole deal might not go through. If the facts aren’t spot on, your client might be left in the lurch.  So you are right to have that caution, and it makes you an excellent accountant.  When it comes to accounting, he who hesitates is a winner.

Unfortunately, when this caution is applied to marketing, it doesn’t have the same positive result.  He who hesitates in marketing has indeed lost. Big time.

In marketing, he who hesitates is definitely lost.

Marketing is in a different category altogether. As I’ve shared with many of you personally, or you’ve heard me say on a webinar, marketing – especially online or digital marketing – doesn’t follow clear-cut rules. The rules change all the time.  Google comes up with new algorithms every few months.  The logo colour that was trendy yesterday is out of date today.  The expert advice about when to send emails doesn’t apply anymore, because everyone checks email on their phones.  What someone else is doing may just be a fad, not a brilliant new marketing approach (and vice versa).

Lest you feel I’m being hard on you, it’s not just accountants.  Business owners of many kinds fall into this trap. Some of it comes from past experience.  We’ve rushed into a brilliant new idea and realised too late that it wasn’t such a great idea, after all.  We signed up for the newest marketing activity only to find that it doesn’t work for us. Or we focused so much on the new clients that the more long-time clients got left behind.

In spite of this, the answer is not to give up on new ideas, or let them gather dust until someone else has actioned them while you are still “getting it right”.

Set a real deadline, so people are depending on you.

My tip for today, to prevent you from losing out on your great new marketing idea, is:

Set a deadline.

A real-world, people-are-relying-on-you, clients-have-signed-up deadline.

Here’s an example. One of our client firms in Ireland, RDA, recently decided they would run some webinars for solicitors. (They very wisely followed my advice to choose a target market that they are experts in.)  They had never run a webinar before.  They didn’t even have a webinar account, or a landing page on their website, or email campaigns.  They had a list of solicitors with email addresses and a seminar presentation they’d given in the past.  But webinars were brand new.

Their solution (and it’s a brilliant one) was to simply set the date of the webinar and commit to running it.  (It ran yesterday.) They weren’t even deterred by the fact that it’s a week before Christmas, or that they’d never run a webinar before.  And they had 42 solicitors register, 14 of whom asked to be contacted about a free pension review, and I couldn’t have been more proud.

You see, when you set the date and people are counting on you – that’s the key.

It’s not a true deadline if it can be moved. If you say “We’ll get a new logo done by the end of the month”, no one is going to be disappointed if it takes three months – because they have no idea you’re doing it.  If I didn’t have all of you waiting with bated breath for my Friday marketing tips, I wouldn’t be sitting here on a Thursday afternoon, setting everything else aside to make sure it’s finished.

Granted, there’s always a grace period.  I’ve missed a few marketing tips in the past, and the world didn’t fall apart.  If you’re running a webinar on the 18th of December, and you have to change it to the 13th of January, it won’t be the biggest disaster ever.  But you will think very, very hard about changing the plan when there are people expecting it to come about.

Tell people about your deadline.

If the deadline stays in your head, or is known to only one or two select people, you can constantly change it.

But what if everyone knew?

The beauty of email, and social media, and websites, and the whole internet world is that you can set a deadline and be kept accountable to it. This may not sound nice to you.  As accountants, you’re excellent at what-if scenarios. “What if we don’t meet the deadline? What if something terrible happens? Won’t it destroy everything we hold dear?”

Well, another beauty of the online world is that it’s well used to change. Things change all the time, and it’s easy.  You send out an email and realise that the webinar date was wrong, so you send an apology email with the correct date.  Takes a few minutes, and the benefit is that your audience is reminded that you are a real person, a real business, and you don’t get it perfect all the time.

So, here are a few ways you can set yourself a real-world deadline:

  • Webinar: choose a date.  Set it up on Gotowebinar and publish the registration page. That way people start registering, and you’re stuck! (In a good way.)
  • Seminar: choose a date and venue.  If you can hold it in-house that’s the simplest and least effort, but if you’ve booked a hotel or venue for your live event, that’s a solid deadline.
  • Product or service: Prepare the marketing material and send it out to your clients, even before it’s perfectly ready. When you have prospects or clients requesting it, you’ll change into top gear right smartly.
  • Strategic partner:  Create an offer that your strategic partner will share with their clients and contacts, and promise them the materials (a website page, email wording, a PDF download) by a certain date. They’ll be expecting it, and you’ll realise the “I got busy” excuse doesn’t work.
  • Team meetings:  One of our firms in the States holds “daily huddles”.  They find them much more effective than weekly or monthly team meetings – and in this case, the deadline is always immediate.  You don’t put things off for a month until the next team meeting, because you’re checking in the next day.
  • Guest blog post:  Offer to write a guest blog post for another company, client, or strategic partner, and put a deadline on it. Again, they’ll be expecting it, and you’ll surprise yourself with how you can shift what’s needed to get it done.
  • Client video testimonials:  Identify some clients that would express themselves well on video, and ask them for permission to shoot the video.  Set a date for it, and arrange for the videographer to go.

There is one area I would be extremely cautious about setting in advance, and that’s a website launch date.  In our (rather extensive) experience, there are so many things that go into a new website that even with all parties making every effort, it can often get delayed.  Often we find that the longest time period is the time for the accountancy firm to review the site.  All the discussions and ideas are now before you in black and white (or living colour), and you suddenly realise that maybe you didn’t want to say it quite like that, or you really would prefer to have an ebook on that page – and that’s more time that wasn’t planned for.  Again, accountants are particularly notorious for this – and that’s not a cruel attack against you, it’s simply a fact. You’re not primarily creative types, or writers, and you may not know what you like before it’s created, but you certainly have a better idea once you see it.  Also, you might suddenly decide you do want a new logo after all, or to get proper photographs taken.

For those of you in the UK, the 31st of January is a perfect example. (Same with 15 April in the States, or 31 October in Ireland.)  The HMRC has set the deadline, and your clients know it.  Even those who drag their feet all year long somehow manage to scramble their numbers together and get it to you in January.  (I’m sure you sometimes wish you could arrange with the HMRC to tell the client it’s actually the 31st of December, for a false deadline!)  It’s because they know the penalties kick in then, so they make it happen.

Ideally, you want to set deadlines with a benefit, not a penalty.  But either one works to help you get marketing done.

Have a great Friday!