In a recent Accelerator session, one of our members said “I notice you always reference books in our call. It would be helpful if you could recommend a list of books that we read to help us with our marketing. #TAYA!”
So, here’s the list! These are my top five – personally as a business owner, and in my experience with what is most inspiring and helpful for accountants being involved in their own marketing.
These ARE listed in order, and I’ve explained why.
(Oh – and I haven’t included any Amazon links because we don’t bother with referral links. Just… go to amazon. Or wherever. Maybe a local book shop even!!)
1. Rising strong by brene brown
As an accountant you’ll be tempted to start with the ‘doing’ books, the ‘more business-y’ books first. Something like Building A Story Brand (which helps you be clear about your target audience and build better content for your website) could feel more important or urgent than a book about heart, about courage, about vulnerability and weakness.
But this is why Rising Strong is my number one. Because it’s about the heart. It’s about what’s really going on deep inside, and why, and the qualities which help someone go from a low place or a tough place or a confused place or a broken place… to rise again. To rise, stronger.
Rising Strong is not a business book: but if you haven’t dealt with what’s in it for yourself personally, and with your team, that’s a higher priority than anything else. And here’s why.
Because none of your marketing is worth a damn unless you and your team truly live it out.
So if you’ve got hard things or unreconciled things or stories you’re telling yourselves…this has to be part of your team communication. Another of Brene’s books, Dare to Lead, is extremely powerful for any leader – but I wouldn’t prevent the team from reading it too. The ‘values’ exercise within Dare to Lead has been really powerful for us at PF to help get to know each other and how we tick.
Every six months the PF team reads a book together. We choose a deadline (usually our in-person team retreat, although those are virtual right now), and everyone reads it at their own pace. We take notes and highlight what we picked up from it. Then, in the retreat sessions, we go around and have each person take 10 minutes to share what they learned and noticed. Ten minutes, uninterrupted. No questions, no comments, not even an “oh yea me too, I loved that!” (Although lots of nonverbal support is welcome.)
When we did this with Rising Strong, it was one of the most powerful team sessions we’d ever had. Deep things were discussed. Hard things were shared. Some people were in tears. Some really struggled with the ten minutes, and had to sit in silence for a minute or so partway through.
And it led to deeper conversations not only during the rest of the team retreat, but in the weeks and months following. It’s led us to things like:
- Agreeing our PF values, right down to the exact wording
- Sharing our top two personal values (using the values exercise mentioned from Dare to Lead) so we know how each team member makes decisions & communicates, what they find hard and appreciate most in life
- Discussing what our “personal pillars” are – the simple things in life which we find joy in (for example, my five personal pillars are coffee, walking, faith, harry potter, and whisky – not necessarily in that order!)
- Getting personal mugs designed and printed for each member of the team (based on our personal pillars)
Rising Strong is my first recommend for a Brene Brown book – maybe because it’s the first one of hers I read – but pretty much anything by Brene Brown is worth reading or consuming, including:
- “The power of vulnerability” – her TED talk from 2010 with almost 50 million views
- Dare to Lead (or any other book she’s written)
- Netflix film “The Call to Courage”
- Podcast “Unlocking Us”
Start with Rising Strong, because business and marketing has to come from the heart. So start with the heart.
2. Building a story brand by Donald Miller
This book became number 2 on the list as soon as I read it, because of the core message:
Your client is the hero.
This is so important, so critical to your marketing that none of it will be any good if you don’t know this and believe it and have it at the heart of everything you do.
You are not the hero: you are the guide. You lead your clients to success (instead of failure) by giving them a plan and helping them work through it.
This flows through to every area of marketing, because:
- Your brand is not for you. Your accounting firm name, your logo, style and tone of voice, imagery, website – it’s all crafted entirely for your client, your hero
- Your website is not for you. The messaging, the journey you want people to follow, the calls to action in what order – you’re not “selling services”, you’re guiding a particular kind of person through a process so they avoid failure and find success
- Your marketing is not for you. Everything else – videos, social posts, blogs, anything – when you stop thinking about yourself and how your firm will benefit, and focus on THEM and how they will benefit, they’ll feel that and you will end up with more business because of it!
The Story Brand book is another one the whole PF team has read and discussed – and we’ve ended up having many team sessions to discuss what’s in it, and how it applies to PF. Things like who our audience truly is. What they truly care about, why they do what they do. Not just ‘accountants’, but what kind of accountant. With what attitude and purpose. Getting what kind of results (or not getting them which is why they want help).
Things like what our plan is, and why. What success looks like and how we help accountants reach it; what failure looks like and how we help them avoid it. Clearer understanding of which services deliver success and avoid failure. Whether we need a “one liner” and what that looks like. Structure for our new website.
There’s enough in this book to keep you and your team going for quite some time: and whatever marketing you’ll be working on this year – whether it’s a review of your brand, a website refresh, what content to create, or something else, this will help give you the right focus. Most of our Accelerator course members are reading this book as well as the next one on the list!
3. They ask you answer by Marcus Sheridan
This used to be my number one business book: and the only reason it got moved to position three is because of how foundational the first two are. Read it at the same time as the other two if you like – because it’s probably the single most inspiring book for accountants on content marketing. And I’d say this is not in spite of, but because, it hasn’t been written “for accountants”. It’s written for business owners who want to get enquiries from their very best clients – and ONLY those types of clients.
The principle of the book is right there in the title – whatever they (your clients) ask, you answer it in the form of content. Blog posts, video, website pages, FAQs, PDF guides, whatever the format is, you are answering the questions they ask.
Here’s what it does for you:
- It saves you time: Once you’ve created the content answering that question you’ve had several times (or a thousand times), you never have to create that particular content again. Although it takes a little longer the first time to properly write a blog post (rather than dash off yet another email), that’s the one and only time you’ll need to spend that amount of time on answering that question. The next time a client (or prospect) asks that question, you grab the link, send it to them, job done. A minute instead of ten minutes.
- It saves your team time: In addition to YOUR time, this also saves 5 minutes and 10 minutes and maybe even longer for every single member of your team who also answer this question over and over. Best of all, when you include in the content every aspect of that question, not only does your client get their question answered, they often get other questions answered they didn’t even know to ask.
- It builds trust: By answering their question before they asked it (proved by the fact you’ve instantly shared an existing link, or a blog post dated six months or even several years ago), you’ve proved this is not your first rodeo. You’ve dealt with this before. You know what you’re doing. You can be trusted. You have the expertise they need.
- Your prospects make their buying decision faster: Building trust happens faster, and so the delay between their objections and their ‘yes’ to your proposal is minimised. When you summarise your content in one place – a resource centre, an FAQs page, a videos page categorised by topic – they not only get their initial question answered, but they move on their own to other questions until the only one remaining is, “What services do I personally need and how much will those cost?” You could even shortcut that question too, so by the time you get to a meeting they’re saying “I think I need these services – can you confirm it costs this?”
There are many other benefits, but these are the ones which appear over and over. The accountants who have bought and read They Ask You Answer and implemented what’s in it have consistently gotten better and more qualified leads. Every time.
For some firms it takes a little longer because they’re doing less content or doing it on their own; for others it’s faster because the whole team is involved and they’re publishing it weekly or even daily. But when implemented consistently with a focus on the right audience, it always, always works.
One of our clients messaged me this week: “As of this week, I am preparing four proposals for clients and three are highly qualified leads who are familiar with my service offerings before I talked with them. I’ve not run Google ads, linkedin ads, facebook ads, local newspaper ads or virtually any other advertising since I started over 2.5 years ago. I have blogged, posted them and pushed them out through my small email list.”
4. Oversubscribed by Daniel Priestley
When you are consistently implementing what you’ve learned from the first three books on this list, what naturally happens next is you have too many leads to be able to manage.
This is a fear many accountants have come to me with. What if I do all this marketing and it works TOO well? What if I have more leads than I can handle? I don’t want to send them away – but I want to keep a high quality of service delivery. How do I choose? What if I put them off and they never do business with me?
Oversubscribed helps us understand why having too many leads isn’t a problem: it’s an opportunity. It’s what you want. It’s what everyone wants, and when you deal with it in the right way, your marketing will do the filtering for you.
It is possible you have too many leads because your marketing isn’t doing the best job of qualifying them. You’re appealing to too many, being all things to all people, being too vague. You have more discovery calls than you need to, and you’re wasting time. If that’s the case, you need to go back to the Story Brand and the hero client, and get very, very specific about who you want and who you don’t want.
Good marketing doesn’t bring everyone to you: good marketing divides. It speaks a message which is very appealing to the kind of client you want more of – and it turns away the ones you don’t want. You can do this in your own style: you can be direct or tactful, patient or fast.
But whatever your style, the Oversubscribed principle means you’re actually delaying people on purpose to find out if they are the right client for you. And helping them find out if you are the right accounting firm for them.
Despite what you’re tempted to believe at times, you do NOT want anyone and everyone, even if they’re ready to pay. Think about that one client you finally got rid of – or still need to! – who pays a lot of money but is really, really difficult and drives you and your team crazy.
Oversubscribed means you build a waiting list.
It’s what the music industry does (and will do again soon!) when a big concert is coming that everyone wants to go to, but not everyone will get a ticket for. It’s what Amazon does when a new book is coming out. It’s what the new restaurant location does so they have every table booked for the first month. What the Harry Potter studios do so they are always fully booked, but their visitors aren’t overcrowded. What airlines do to make sure everyone gets a seat. (Now more than ever this will be important, as restaurants and venues begin opening with social distancing!)
Oversubscribed points out that scarcity draws more people in: the right kind of clients, the ones you want. People like to feel special, to recognise not everyone can have it all the time instantly. Unless you’re Amazon, or Netflix, you don’t want to give everybody what they want straight away. And even Amazon makes people wait sometimes, and Netflix releases films at certain times.
You too can do this for your accounting firm. As you build expertise, particularly in a niche area or industry, you literally cannot serve all the people instantly, and you can’t do it well. So you build a waiting list. You prepare content and a client journey and you guide people through it in a way you know will work best for them.
PF has implemented this in several small ways already. Some of these will give you inspiration for the type of waiting lists you can create.
- Preparation list: For those who are considering working with PF, but want more information
- Diagnostic for prospects: For accountants who want to work with PF, but don’t know where to start or what they need
- DIY Content Marketer: This is a ‘do it yourself’ version of our comprehensive, live 12 week course on how content marketing works for accountants, and in what order. The DIY version is being developed now, and we have (surprise surprise) a waiting list you can join so you’ll be notified when it’s ready.
- Accelerator waiting list: We only run the live Accelerator course two times a year, so if you want to make sure you get a space, and the course is already running, you sign up for the waiting list so you get first dibs when spaces are available (and at the earliest early-bird pricing).
- Free resources: Practical support and marketing how-to’s for someone who wants to do it on their own at first
Here’s a video on how to create a waiting list page on your firm’s website.
Anything by Daniel Priestley is a good read: my other suggestion is 24 Assets. I feel pretty strongly about the content within that book, but I haven’t finished it myself yet!! So many books, so little time.
Which leads us nicely to the easiest and fastest reads of all!
5. Steal like an artist by Austin Kleon
This small, compact, easy-to-read book is subtitled “10 things nobody told you about being creative”, which is probably why I like it for accountants so much. Despite what you may be tempted to tell yourself (or others), accountants are creative, too.
And creativity isn’t restricted to painting pictures or carving wooden tables or writing books. Everyone has creativity in them, and true creativity isn’t really that original. Almost nothing is truly original – there’s “nothing new under the sun”. But every human being is original and unique, so your spin on something is always going to be different than someone else’s, even if the core idea is very similar.
This book is best read alongside Kleon’s two following books, Show Your Work! and Keep Going.
All three of these books exist in this strange juxtaposition of “super easy to read” and “so much in them it will take you months to really consume it”. They’re small square books, with lots of sketches and pages with only a few words on them. Lots to think about, but not heavy duty in terms of words.
I think it took me the grand sum of a half hour to read ‘Steal Like An Artist’, but I’ve returned to it so often and so many times that it’s like a little creativity encyclopedia. (But the fun kind.)
Here’s a sample of some of the principles in each book, to give you an idea:
Steal Like An Artist:
- Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started
- Do good work and share it with people
- Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done)
- Creativity is subtraction
Show Your Work:
- Share something small every day
- Tell good stories
- Teach what you know
- Stick around
- Every day is groundhog day
- Forget the noun, do the verb
- Make gifts
- You are allowed to change your mind
- Demons hate fresh air
So many books, so little time
There are so many other books I and the team would recommend, some of which I’ve read, some I’m partway through, and some I haven’t started yet but I know are excellent. Here’s a short list which we’ll continue to add to.
Some are not in the ‘business category’ in the traditional sense, but I believe anything which makes us better as a person makes us better as a business owner.
If you have read one of these – or another book not listed – and found it particularly helpful for you doing business as an accountant (or doing life as an accountant!), do share it with us.
- Everybody Writes by Ann Handley (how to write better)
- Traction by Gene Wickham (scaling your firm)
- Known by Mark Schaefer (building a personal brand)
- Remote: Office not required by Jason Fried (self explanatory!)
- Boundaries by Henry Cloud & John Townsend (how to set and stick to good healthy boundaries in your life)
- Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (understanding racial stereotypes and systemic racism as a white person)
- Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (biography of Jobs)
- Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (story of a silicon valley tech business which focused on profit over truth)
- One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (the power of daily gratitude)