Service Minded

Debra Helwig on Marketing & Leadership in Professional Services

Posts Tagged ‘Marketing’

The Star You Are (A Salute to Supercat)

Posted by debrahelwig on May 8, 2013

Such excitement at C2013-05-08_17-04-32_357 (1)asa Helwig!! Today is Graduation Day!

Pre-K graduation, that is.

The ceremony this morning was an exercise in bottled cuteness from start to finish – 45 tiny children flying one at a time onto a stage to be handed certificates as “most helpful,” “most musical,” “most curious,” and so on, all giving huge hugs to the teacher and big smiles to mommy and daddy out in the audience. One little boy was wearing a seersucker suit, complete with bow tie. Every little girl was wearing her Sunday best dress and pretty shoes – except, of course, MINE, who had insisted on wearing her pink cat costume (complete with pink-eared hoodie, pastel pink jeans, and tennis shoes). Since she refers to herself most often as “Supercat”, at first blush it had seemed like SUCH a good idea. Watching all the kids on stage, though, I found myself fighting a giant “mommy fail” feeling because she didn’t look like anyone else.

My child was fine. Deliriously ecstatic, in fact. She loved being a cat! She was extremely proud of being named “Most Cheerful” and loved every second of the attention from the teacher and the audience.

So why on earth did *I* have an uncontrollable urge to apologize for not dressing her in Sunday-go-to-meeting gear?  I actually did it, too.  I cornered the teacher before the ceremony, confessing, “I feel rotten for not getting with the program and dressing her up today.”

Fortunately, our teacher is a very smart lady. Her response was dead on: “She will have a lot more fun memories of being a cat today than she would of being trussed up in a dress she doesn’t particularly like.” SO TRUE!

So Supercat received her graduation certificate, and all was well.  Hurrah for Supercat!

But this feeling was still bugging me. Why did I have an urge to apologize? I sifted it down to this:  EXPECTATIONS.

There are certain cultural norms that come with a graduation. A cat suit is NOT among them. So when it was obvious that we were the ONLY ones in the class who did not meet that norm, I became fearful of standing out in a negative way. I got worried, EVEN THOUGH the outfit my child chose totally reflected her interests and her personality. Deep down, I was much more interested in “fitting in” than “letting her be herself”. My reaction was protective. Born of love and parental concern.

And completely unnecessary, unhelpful, and misguided.

Marketing guru Seth Godin wrote a piece this week applying this very idea to business, called “Remind You of Anything? Simple Typography for Non-professionals.” He was talking specifically about typography, but his thoughts apply to companies and entrepreneurs in general:

Norms exist. People have expectations about how people and businesses behave and look. If you divert from those norms and are different, you will stand out. Choose carefully where you amplify those “differences” so that they work for you instead of against you.

What does this have to do with work? A LOT, actually. Every single marketing director and business developer in professional services can learn something from Seth and my little Supercat (and my outsized reaction). The lesson comes when we assess where we fall on the EXPECTATIONS scale – when we know:

  • The general norms in our marketplace about how firms like ours should behave
  • What our firm’s culture really is (how do we interact with each other and our clients? What matters to us as a company? How do we show that to the world?)
  • How the key individuals that represent the firm behave when they’re out in public
  • Where the gaps lie between those cultural norms and how we really operate

If our reaction as marketers is to be protective – to serve as the guardian of a reputation based in cultural norms (where the firm is “a valued partner” and “high quality”, etc. etc.), without pointing out places where we are unique, we are playing it safe. Dangerously safe. If we’re focused on being “the best accounting firm” or “the best law firm” instead of “the best ‘us’, who happens to do great accounting or law”, the truth we tell will be culturally appropriate – AND BORING. If we work hard to make sure our firm fits with the “accepted notion” of the industry by using the same language and concepts to describe ourselves, we will at the very best look like A GOOD VERSION OF EVERYONE ELSE. Not compelling.

Yes, highlighting differences may turn off some potential clients. But telling the truth about the firm and its culture will also attract people who will be much more likely to stay, because they are a good fit.

Expectations are just a starting point, so we can see where we are different than the norm. Everything comes together (in family, in business – heck, in LIFE) when we allow our differences from the expected to shine.  That’s the only way anyone will ever know just how much of a star we are.

Go Supercat go!

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Strategic Planning | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Planting Seeds

Posted by debrahelwig on April 11, 2013

planting seedsYesterday, I did a “career day” presentation at my kids’ school about working as a Marketing Director – you know, a “stand up and talk with PowerPoint slides and video in the background” kind of deal.

I speak fairly often as part of my job, and my platform skills are pretty darn good, so I wasn’t particularly nervous about it.  Bring some props, show some video, it will be fun.  Right? Right?

Ummmm, well….I gotta tell ya – those fifth graders were the toughest house EVER.

Eye-rolling. Fidgeting. Looking-at-anyone-but-the-speaker. Yawning. And when I asked questions, you could practically see the kids diving under the tables to keep me from calling on them.

The longer I went, the sicker to my tummy I got. “You’re not reaching them,” my cynical brain whispered. “You’re making yourself look stupid. You’re wasting their time. You’re wasting YOUR time!” By the end, I was feeling pretty crumpled – chewed up and spit out in a vortex of pre-teen apathy. I packed my laptop case in a funk, pretty much determined I would never do anything like THAT again.

So, imagine my surprise when the guidance counselor who’d invited me walked up and said, “THAT was GREAT!”

Whaaaaat? How in the Sam Hades could that spectacular display of “I don’t care one bit about what you’re saying” be GOOD?

“They might not have looked like they were listening,” she said. “But they heard more than you think. And for a handful of them, you said some things that will really impact them later on. You wouldn’t know it now – but you planted seeds. It was perfect.”

HUH!

And this morning, when I took my kids to school, that very smart counselor was proved 100% right. A kid stopped me in the hall. One of the ones whose eyes were rolling the WORST during my speech.  Her eyes were bright and she was grinning as she said, “Hey! Thanks for coming yesterday – I thought you were awesome. I didn’t know all that stuff you do was out there. Pretty cool.”

So… Lack of immediate positive reaction does NOT necessarily equal failure?  Wow.

When I got to my office a little while later, I understood exactly why I had felt so bad yesterday – and why the counselor’s version of “success” seemed so strange. That’s because I turned on my computer, and my first actions were:

1.    Check my firm’s Twitter feed to see how many retweets and mentions we’ve had since yesterday
2.    Check Facebook to see who liked and shared my stuff
3.    Check my blog to see how many people have visited and who’s reading
4.    Check email to see who’s responded to notes I sent earlier

ALL of it an exercise in immediate gratification. Who likes me RIGHT NOW? What are they saying TODAY? Now, now, now, now, now!  Show me the return on my investment! This minute!

How utterly short sighted.

And here’s what else I realized: a lot of professional services firms are doing this.

When we come back from a seminar, we don’t wonder how many people might remember us months or even years down the road. We count business cards to see who spoke to us and provided a lead we can follow up on TODAY.

When we post articles, we don’t think about someone stumbling across the piece in a Google search six months from now.  We want to know who read them right away so we can contact them immediately for “warming up” in our leads pipeline.

We don’t think about who might look at a year’s worth of our Facebook feed, or three weeks worth of Twitter, to get a sense of our company culture. We think about who we snared with THIS post, RIGHT NOW.

ROI, ROI, ROI – Google Analytics, multivariate testing, analysis, monitoring – all designed to tell us how our stuff is performing in the moment.  And sure, that’s important.

But maybe we shouldn’t forget that every time we put ourselves out there, every time we share good ideas and information and part of ourselves with the world, there is a strong possibility it will make a difference somewhere down the road (maybe far down the road).  And that’s true even if the reaction is muted or nonexistent at first.

You never know whose mind and heart you will touch – or how, or when.

So as we go to work each day, doing the business of business development, of course we should all keep an eye on the now – but perhaps we need to focus more clearly on taking every opportunity to share what we know, wherever we can, whenever we can.

Because the real work we’re doing is planting seeds – and we don’t control when they bloom.

Photo by London Permaculture. License.

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Beat Perfection Paralysis – Take it to the Happy Line

Posted by debrahelwig on July 26, 2010

To quote the immortal Hannibal Smith from A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

All right, I can’t believe I’m quoting the A-Team. But it’s true. Don’t you love it when your projects are spinning along just right? When your writing zen is on and you author the blog post of your life? When the marketing campaign you dreamed up lands ten times its projected leads? When your well-placed phone call makes the difference between keeping and losing the biggest client on your balance sheet?

Of course you do.  I do too.

When you’re aiming at perfection and actually hitting the mark, work is bliss. As the poem says, God’s in his Heaven and all’s right with the world.

But there’s a problem in this land of sunshine and glory, and I’m sure you already know what it is.

People. And circumstances. And you. Yes, you, on the days you have a cold, or didn’t get enough sleep, or had way too many jalapeno poppers at dinner the night before, or whatever other circumstance you can imagine. Stuff you can’t predict will always get in the way, darn it. And things get messed up.

Note, mind you, by “messed up” I don’t mean that your project is a train wreck, or even a moderate failure. By messed up, I mean that it doesn’t match up to what your inner perfectionist says it should be.

I’ve lived in this place. It’s not fun.

For the longest time, when things at work didn’t go exactly the way I thought they should (nevermind what anyone else thought), I would feel like a huge loser, because I knew I could do better. I had a vision of the perfect result I should have achieved, and my evil inner perfectionist would whisper, “What makes you think you know anything?” or, “If you keep this up you’re gonna get fired.” Then, I would react in one of two ways:

1. Overwork it. If the project didn’t feel perfect the first time, I’d keep at it. Rewrite for the thirtieth time. Take it back to design again – and again. Set up another focus group. Hold another group of employee meetings. Better to deliver the best possible job than let go something that’s less than perfect.

2. Avoid it. If I was afraid I couldn’t do a perfect job, then I’d push the project down to the bottom of the to-do list until I had the experience/skills/talent/contacts to do better. Or I’d ignore it until the need for it went away and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore.

Bad, baaad.  The perfection paralysis became a never-ending, vicious cycle, with my self-esteem as the target.  It took a very wise boss to jerk me out of it.

One afternoon a number of years ago, this boss called me into his office and asked to see the status of a marketing campaign I was working on. I told him I wasn’t happy with it, that there was still work to be done, that I wanted to tweak it for a couple more days.

He looked at my work, tossed it on his desk, and said, “Send it.”

“But wait,” I protested, “It’s not ready.”

“Oh yes it is,” he replied. “You’re at the Happy Line. Get it out the door.”

As I was leaving, he called after me, “Quit trying to make everything so perfect. Get to 80% of perfect and 99% of people will be happy with it. And you’ll get a heck of a lot more done. Take it to the Happy Line.

His advice rocked my world.  And I still live by it today.  Because he’s right.

Sure, there are some professions (tax accounting is one of them) where 100% accuracy is required.  But in marketing and customer service, the truth is that 80% of perfect is always, always better than 100% of unfinished.

By applying the Happy Line principle in my job, I’ve discovered:

1. I get more done – and more quickly – than I ever did before.
2. My creativity opens up and I have fresher ideas.
3. I stop playing it safe and try new things – and those things sometimes turn out to be my most innovative and groundbreaking work.

If you try this, what you do won’t be perfect.  But your work will be finished (on time!) – and maybe even great. Probably even great.

Aim for the Happy Line and see how far it can take you.

At minimum, you won’t be driving yourself crazy anymore.

Photo by • • • annajarske.com (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Leadership, Marketing, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

You Are Not a Loser if You Hate to Blog (or Tweet, or Facebook, or…)

Posted by debrahelwig on June 29, 2010

Wherever you go these days, there are people talking about how we have to get into social media. Blog now! Start a Facebook page! WHAT? You don’t have a LinkedIn profile??? The mantra, “You have to be ‘out there’ to be successful today” resounds from every corner of the business world.

But if you’ve given it a try, and every time you type a tweet your innards scream “I don’t WANNA!” Or if every time you sit down to write a Facebook status or blog post your guts cramp up, I have a wonderful, liberating piece of news for you.

You don’t have to.

Yes, social media is real and is here to stay. The blog, the Twitter account, the Facebook page – all that stuff will change the way some businesses work. But these things are TOOLS to help you do your business, which is accounting or law or whatever other great service it is that you provide. Contrary to what many, many consultants will tell you, it is permissible to read other people’s blogs and learn from them without having your own. You are not a gutter-trawling loser for limiting Facebook to just your friends and family.

Doing anything – social media or otherwise – because you’re afraid (of looking dumb? of being left out? of losing business or friends?) is a really bad idea. Fear is an incredible spur to action, but a terrible way to stay motivated and productive.  So don’t give in to fear.

If you have other offline ways you’re more comfortable working with people – you’re fabulous face-to-face or on the phone, but you’d rather eat uncooked tripe for lunch than write – then for goodness sake do what you do best. Work your magic your way and to hell with what anyone else thinks. Just realize that your clients may be looking for you in these social media spaces, and if you don’t want to be there, you’ll have to find other ways to keep them engaged. Or find clients who don’t care whether you have a social media presence or not. Both things can be done. You can do things your way and be successful.

This is not permission to quit with social media before you start. This is permission to say “No thanks, I really, truly tried that, and it doesn’t work for me.” That’s honest. And the people who work with you will know the difference.

Photo by jeannahmc (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Professional Services, It’s Time to Join the Age of Conversation

Posted by debrahelwig on May 19, 2010

Let’s talk social media for a second, folks. By that, I mean the “it’s more than just technology” part of social media.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs – they’re all exciting tools (or toys) on their own, sure. But it’s the stuff behind the technology where the magic happens. All that “people” stuff we were supposed to be good at as professional services providers before? Social media just makes it, well, MORE. Bigger. Like a guitarist who figures out how to crank his amp six notches past “10″ and rock the night away.

When you take on social media and become “part of the conversation”, you open a door to tremendous possibilities: the potential to build and maintain solid relationships over distance. To share ideas. To make connections. To help people do their business better.

Pretty spiffy stuff.

And now, no matter where you are on your social media journey, there’s a book that will give you a lot more insight about how to get social media working its magic for you and your firm. It’s called The Age of Conversation 3: It’s Time to Get Busy – and I am pleased and proud to say that I am a contributing author.

171 folks contributed to this book, providing lessons, insights, and examples of how to stop talking about social media and actually get the job done. As editor Drew McLellan says on his blog, “There are excellent case studies, some very candid ‘this bombed’ examples and a much more pragmatic, ‘from the trenches’ view of social media.”

I personally found a tremendous number of takeaways – and I believe the honest insights in this book would be of help to any professional services firm seriously interested in taking their firm to the next level with social media. Plus, 100% of the proceeds from sales of the book go to the Make a Wish Foundation, so you help kids while you’re helping your firm. What could be better?

You can find the book here: Hardback, Paperback, or Kindle.

Thanks to editors Gavin Heaton and Drew McLellan for giving me the chance to participate in this project. It’s been a blast! If you’d like to read the blogs of some of my fellow authors, click in the table at the bottom of this post. You’ll be blown away by the insight and value you’ll get from them.

Then check out The Age of Conversation 3. Because the world has changed. Our business has changed. And there’s no going back.

Thank goodness.

Adam Joseph

Priyanka Sachar

Mark Earls

Cory Coley-Christakos

Stefan Erschwendner

Paul Hebert

Jeff De Cagna

Thomas Clifford

Phil Gerbyshak

Jon Burg

Toby Bloomberg

Shambhu Neil Vineberg

Joseph Jaffe

Uwe Hook

Steve Roesler

Michael E. Rubin

anibal casso

Steve Woodruff

Steve Sponder

Becky Carroll

Tim Tyler

Chris Wilson

Beth Harte

Tinu Abayomi-Paul

Dan Schawbel

Carol Bodensteiner

Trey Pennington

David Weinfeld

Dan Sitter

Vanessa DiMauro

Ed Brenegar

David Zinger

Brett T. T. Macfarlane

Efrain Mendicuti

Deb Brown

Brian Reich

Gaurav Mishra

Dennis Deery

C.B. Whittemore

Gordon Whitehead

Heather Rast

Cam Beck

Hajj E. Flemings

Joan Endicott

Cathryn Hrudicka

Jeroen Verkroost

Karen D. Swim

Christopher Morris

Joe Pulizzi

Leah Otto

Corentin Monot

Karalee Evans

Leigh Durst

David Berkowitz

Kevin Jessop

Lesley Lambert

Duane Brown

Peter Korchnak

Mark Price

Dustin Jacobsen

Piet Wulleman

Mike Maddaloni

Ernie Mosteller

Scott Townsend

Nick Burcher

Frank Stiefler

Steve Olenski

Rich Nadworny

John Rosen

Tim Jackson

Suzanne Hull

Len Kendall

Amber Naslund

Wayne Buckhanan

Mark McGuinness

Caroline Melberg

Andy Drish

Oleksandr Skorokhod

Claire Grinton

Angela Maiers

Paul Williams

Gary Cohen

Armando Alves

Sam Ismail

Gautam Ramdurai

B.J. Smith

Tamera Kremer

Eaon Pritchard

Brendan Tripp

Adelino de Almeida

Jacob Morgan

Casey Hibbard

Andy Hunter

Julian Cole

Debra Helwig

Anjali Ramachandran

Jye Smith

Drew McLellan

Craig Wilson

Karin Hermans

Emily Reed

David Petherick

Katie Harris

Gavin Heaton

Dennis Price

Mark Levy

George Jenkins

Doug Mitchell

Mark W. Schaefer

Helge Tenno

Douglas Hanna

Marshall Sponder

James Stevens

Ian Lurie

Ryan Hanser

Jenny Meade

Jeff Larche

Sacha Tueni and Katherine Maher

David Svet

Jessica Hagy

Simon Payn

Joanne Austin-Olsen

Mark Avnet

Stanley Johnson

Marilyn Pratt

Mark Hancock

Steve Kellogg

Michelle Beckham-Corbin

Michelle Chmielewski

Amy Mengel

Veronique Rabuteau

Peter Komendowski

Andrea Vascellari

Timothy L Johnson

Phil Osborne

Beth Wampler

Amy Jussel

Rick Liebling

Eric Brody

Arun Rajagopal

Dr Letitia Wright

Hugh de Winton

David Koopmans

Aki Spicer

Jeff Wallace

Don Frederiksen

Charles Sipe

Katie McIntyre

James G Lindberg & Sandra Renshaw

David Reich

Lynae Johnson

Jasmin Tragas

Deborah Chaddock Brown

Mike O’Toole

Jeanne Dininni

Iqbal Mohammed

Morriss M. Partee

Katie Chatfield

Jeff Cutler

Pete Jones

Riku Vassinen

Jeff Garrison

Kevin Dugan

Tiphereth Gloria

Mike Sansone

Lori Magno

Valerie Simon

Nettie Hartsock

Mark Goren

 

Peter Salvitti

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Stifle Your Inner Wallflower

Posted by debrahelwig on March 26, 2010

Last week, I had the chance to attend a really cool session by MECLabs (parent to Marketing Experiments and MarketingSherpa) on Marketing ROI. The materials were great. Dr. Flint McGlaughlin had some truly eye-opening things to say. There was an entire room full of engaged, bright people there to share ideas with.

And I blew it.

I didn’t talk to anyone outside the two people sitting on either side of me at my table. I didn’t initiate conversations. I didn’t try to find out more about why people were there and what they’re dealing with and how I might learn from their pain.

That’s not like me, either. Usually, I’m full of advice and ideas and stories and — well, let’s just say I ain’t shy. And more to the point, when I’m up in front of professional services marketing directors talking about networking, my first advice regarding events is “Don’t hide in the corner.” I didn’t even take my own advice! Ai yi yi.

So what happened?

Bluntly, the topic was not in my comfort zone.

See, if you put me in a room of professional services people, or maybe even social media people or customer service people, I’m good to go. I know the lingo, and I have enough experience with the industry to know the general pain points and maybe even some solutions. I have stories to tell. I can gab. It’s fun. And I shine.

But at this meeting, I was the newbie. I’m not a numbers gal, and I’m not a huge believer in ROI. I attended the meeting to see what I might learn, what I might be missing – but I really felt unsure of my handle on the topic. My tongue tripped over phrases like “quantifying returns” and “multivariate test results”. Frankly, I felt a little dumb.

So I shut up. Did my best wallflower act. And I missed out on a great opportunity to connect with neat people.

I know for a fact I’m not the only one to do this. Great consultants in our industry coach on networking skills all the time. They talk about firm handshakes. About how to enter and exit gracefully from a conversation. About asking for the business card or the referral.

But probably the most important piece of advice I can think of is one that gets missed in many coaching sessions: you don’t have to be an expert on everything.

We all seem to have a touch of this animal fear when confronted with a subject that’s not our passion: I don’t know enough yet. I’m not good enough yet. I’m not enough of an expert yet. I can’t talk about that!

Maybe not. But here’s what I figured out, after a “try again” moment at an event this weekend where the topic was way outside my expertise: You can engage. You can listen. And you can learn.

At my weekend event, the hot topic was tax implications of the new healthcare bill – another area where I am definitely out of my depth – but because I jumped right in and asked good questions instead of playing the wallflower, I walked away with a handful of business cards and a whole lot of valuable information I can use both in my job and my personal life.

It was a magical sort of thing, really. When I asked questions, people got engaged. They liked it when I let them talk about what they know. I didn’t have to be the expert on their thing (taxes and healthcare). I could be the expert on my thing (service and relationships), and my questions helped us find common ground so we could talk about both. Hooray!

You can bet I’ll be taking these tools to my next session on Marketing ROI (and every other meeting, conference, and event I attend from now on.)

Take it from me: the next time you’re thrust outside your comfort zone, stifle your inner wallflower and tell the fear to go stuff itself. Dive in, introduce yourself, ask a few questions, and listen. You’ll end up smarter and more confident. You’ll make new connections with great people.

And you won’t look dumb in the process.

Photo by Bettina Tizzy (license).

Posted in Attitudes, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Be Who You Are – Out Loud: Why Authenticity + Consistency Are Critical to Wooing and Keeping Clients

Posted by debrahelwig on February 25, 2010

I have a new crush.

A few weeks back, a friend of mine turned me on to a great company called Better World Books. This bunch sings to me on a lot of levels – I’m an avid reader, a bargain junkie, a believer in literacy programs, and “green” enough to be a good recycler. Win + win + win.

But the other thing I love about Better World Books is their style. Check out this follow up email:

If your order hasn’t blessed your mailbox just yet, heads are gonna roll in the Better World Books warehouse! Seriously though, if you haven’t received your order or are less than 108.8% satisfied, please reply to this message. Let us know what we can do to flabbergast you with service.

Fun, simple and service oriented, just like their site and blog. These guys will get my money, because from site to blog to email, they present a consistent voice that I relate to.

But there’s another part to this story.

You might not like Better World Books’ message, and that’s cool too. If you’d rather have a cup of Starbucks at Barnes & Noble and finger the pages of every book before you buy, go with their blessing. There are plenty of other people in the world, like me, who belong with them. It’s a matchmaker’s tale. Find a person / client / business that resonates with your needs and values, you’ll wind up together.

With all that in mind, here’s the lesson for our industry – and the $64K question for you:

Are you gutsy enough to take the Better World Books approach? To unapologetically be who you are, with an eye toward working only with clients who are a great fit for your firm?

In a down economy, it’s such a temptation to say that any work is good work. Believe me, it’s not.

Doing work you don’t like for clients whose worldview is a bad match to yours sucks the energy out of your culture. Over time, your office will become a giant revolving door – for work, for clients, for staff. Because the synergy, the passion, the “why we belong together” isn’t there.

Do you know your firm’s culture inside and out? If not, then get to know it now. This minute. Be able to put images and words around it. Show other people what you’re good at, what you like to do, and how you get it done. Then be authentic and consistent in sharing that special culture of yours everywhere you do business, online and off.

Because if your communications don’t reflect the culture of your firm, the disconnect is costing you business – both by saddling you with clients who are a bad fit based on misperception, and by missing clients who would be perfect but who don’t understand why you’re great for them.

It’s not about fitting into what “society” says is hip and cool, either. It’s 100% OK to be a buttoned-up, marble-column, three-piece-suit firm in today’s world. But clients who want a firm like that won’t find you if your Web site is full of edgy Madison Avenue imagery and your firm partners network at trendy cocktail parties.

On the other hand, if your firm is hip, fun, and youth-oriented, having a Web site with a five-year-out-of-date board room photo of the partners on the main page, a blue and grey color scheme, and a nonexistent social media presence won’t do a thing to win the clients you want.

The path to success lies in fluently expressing your firm’s culture in communications designed to reach your “right people” (as Havi Brooks would say), and not being concerned about clients who aren’t a good fit. If you stay consistent, the right people will find you. And because they are your right people, the likelihood that they’ll stick around for the long haul is a lot higher.

Be who you are – out loud. Because authenticity + consistency = clients that stay. Clients you like, because at least to some degree they think like you.

Getting there is worth the effort.

Photo by Roland (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Doing Great Work Should Not Equal “Be Boring”

Posted by debrahelwig on November 2, 2009

Different_pencilA few months back, I read a post by Michelle Golden about the fact that a creative and edgy approach to business attracts clients.

She is sooooo right.

With startling regularity, I meet people who do really interesting things for a living. People like my chiropractor, who studied with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (yeah, the Beatles guru guy, that guy), or my neighbor who owns a balloon delivery business and leaves for work in a gorilla suit almost every Saturday. Or the gal who’s making a killing running a full-service day spa for dogs.

No matter what their line of work, these quirky, interesting people have one big thing in common. When I ask them, “Why did you choose THIS job,” almost all of them say, “I just couldn’t imagine doing something boring – like being an accountant, you know, or a lawyer.”

As if a professional services job is the most dull, lifeless, autonomic career in the entire universe.

Huh. I want to shout, “Buddy, you don’t know the accountants and lawyers I know!”

But maybe that’s the point.

Somewhere back in the mists of time, someone decided that accountants and lawyers shouldn’t present themselves to the world as quirky and interesting. I’m not sure who started the conspiracy. But whatever the cause, far too many firms succumbed (and STILL succumb) to the “me too” boring-itis of navy blue logos, bland Web sites, and marketing copy full of generic speak about “quality service”. For now, the professional services firms who choose to take a more personal, more creative approach to business are still the exception rather than the norm.

That shouldn’t be true. It doesn’t have to be true.

Social media gives you a seriously easy path to show a new, more personal way of doing business – one that’s a heck of a lot more fun. If you want to see how it can work, check out the people Michelle mentioned in her post: Valorem Law Group, MoFo, and Choate. And if Michelle’s list wasn’t enough to convince you, try these on for size:

Kelly Phillips Erb (TaxGirl) – Arguably one of the funniest and best tweeters in the legal profession, TaxGirl’s blog is also full of great repartee. Her site says it all: “Why Taxgirl? Because paying taxes is painful… but reading about them shouldn’t be.”

Steven Zelin – Tax accountant Steven Zelin isn’t just your average tax guy – he’s also The Singing CPA.

Jay Shepherd – Author of the top-rated Gruntled Employees blog and a witty tweeter, Jay’s work shows you that his firm definitely isn’t your run of the mill employment law firm.

Scott Heintzelman* – Scott’s Exuberant Accountant blog and his tweets put a face on “Servant Leadership” and provide a great introduction to him and to the values of his firm. Scott’s not zany – just real – and that’s an edge a lot of firms could use.

Paul Neiffer – On his FarmCPAToday blog, Paul talks to his clients in a personal way, in a language they understand. You won’t find a better example of a niche blog anywhere.

Stephen L. Snyder – This guy is a high powered litigator with major wins under his belt – and a massive sense of humor, as evidenced by his “Snyderman” videos. (Hat tip to Legal Blog Watch for introducing me to Snyderman.)

Notice – these are all high-quality professionals doing high quality work. Just like you. But they’re getting loads of attention (and business, by the way) from their commitment to showing the world not just what their firms can do, but who they are, why they are, and why it matters.

Not one of them is doing something you and your firm can’t do.

All it takes is the decision that being a professional services person doesn’t have to be cookie cutter. Or boring. It’s not a sin to show a little personality in your work – even if it does involve spreadsheets or legal briefs.

How can you and your firm show more creative spark?

Photo by Mommyof4Ruggies (license).
*In the interest of disclosure, Scott Heintzelman’s firm, McKonly & Asbury, is a member firm of my employer, IGAF Worldwide.


Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Law, Leadership, Marketing, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Lingo Bingo: Why Being a Good Interpreter Matters More than Your Technical Skills

Posted by debrahelwig on September 17, 2009

Lingo Want a wake-up-call about how to attract great clients? Have I got a story for you.

Last year, when my husband’s birthday rolled around, I casually asked about what he needed for his beloved woodworking hobby. “A stacked dado, probably,” he replied.

Oh, boy. Stacked day-dough. What the heck is that? Since I was being sneaky, I couldn’t ask. No problem. I’d go to a woodworking place and they’d know.

I started at the most exclusive woodworking specialty store in our area – upscale, smelling of lemon oil and cedar, full of expensive toys. Conversations about things I didn’t understand buzzed around me. Intimidated, I sidled up to the counter between two customers debating arcane aspects of rotary sanders and asked, “I need to buy a … stacked day-dough?” The clerk waved me over to a wall of – stuff. To an experienced eye, it was probably a cinch to see what I needed. But to me, it was a giant wall of metal pointy things. The clerk didn’t notice. The air in the room was definitely, “If you have to ask, you don’t belong here.” I left.

My next stop was a big box store. The orange one. The huge racks and displays were even more intimidating. But this time, the clerk made all the difference. My questioning, “Day-dough?” was met by a smile. “Ma’am, you have absolutely no understanding of what you’re asking for, do you?” he said. “NO,” I replied in relief.

So, for the next 10 or 15 minutes, this kind man asked questions. LOTS of questions that I did understand. What kind of work my husband did. How often he did it. Who he did it for. And at the same time, I got a kick-in-the-pants introduction to table saws and saw blades (including stacked dadoes). I bought what I needed. But – the much more important thing is – I felt great about it. I felt like this man cared about what my husband needed. He cared about making me look good. He cared about helping me learn something.

And, on B-Day, not only was my husband delighted with the gift, he was thrilled that I could talk to him about it. Hooray, me. Double hooray, big orange sales clerk! Big Box Orange immediately became my home improvement store.

And from that experience, I learned something that applies TIMES TEN in the professional services world: It’s not your skills that set you apart. It’s your ability – and desire – to listen and interpret.

Every industry is full of acronyms and insider-speak that are gibberish to folks on the outside — and accounting and law are worse than most. To a non-accountant, hearing phrases peppered with IRS, A&A, SALT, PCAOB, AICPA, IFRS, and the like sounds like little more than Jabberwocky.

And if they don’t understand in their own context what you’re doing, or why it’s valuable, they’ll go somewhere else.

It’s the same story as my quest for a stacked dado. Most of your potential clients aren’t sure what they need, and they definitely don’t know the ins and outs of how to get it done. Your value as a trusted advisor is greatest when you clearly explain what they need and why, in a language they can understand. A few folks will be impressed if you throw around acronym-laden insider speak, but most will just quietly take their business elsewhere.

At the end of the day, trust is worth more than talent. When you can meet a potential client where they are, understanding their needs and using their lingo to explain what you can do for them, you’re well on the way to a perfect meeting of the minds. And a highly fruitful client experience.

** For a fun (and scary long) list of accounting acronyms, visit http://www.all-acronyms.com/tag/accounting. For law, see http://www.all-acronyms.com/tag/legal.
Photo by zinjixmaggir (license).

Posted in Accounting, Attitudes, Business Development, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building, service | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Appearances: What Professional Services Can Learn from Susan Boyle

Posted by debrahelwig on April 16, 2009

susan-boylePretty much every media outlet I can think of, from mainstream news to Twitter and back again, is buzzing with the story of Susan Boyle. And rightfully so.

When Susan walked onto the set of Britain’s Got Talent this past Saturday, no one took her seriously. Not because she couldn’t sing – no one had even heard her yet. It was because she didn’t look like our modern concept of a singing sensation. She was silly and unlovely, and no one like that could possibly have talent, could they?

Then Susan opened her mouth and nailed I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables.

The audience went wild. Judge Piers Morgan called his “Yes” vote for her “The BIGGEST YES I have ever given anybody.” The overall sense from the audience was a giant “Where did THAT come from?”

The facts of the story – the intensity of the reaction – the viral-ness of Susan’s success – all these things should be doing more than putting a smile on your face. It should be giving you a wake-up call for your professional services career.

Really? Professional services? Me?

Oh, yes.

Because Susan Boyle is a fantastic example of the huge dichotomy between what we SAY and what we DO. Of the enormous contradictions when it comes to our gut reactions about looks and style and all sorts of other things that shouldn’t be important, but that matter – very much – in the day-to-day of our careers.

There are two lessons from Susan’s journey that you can apply immediately – and if you do, you have a huge opportunity to reach a very hungry potential client base and do truly great things.

Here’s lesson number one:

Your clients’ potential value cannot be measured solely by their appearance.

“Appearance” can mean a lot of things. On one level, I do mean personal appearance – how many tales have you heard over the years about the salesperson who turned away a customer because “he didn’t look like he could afford it,” only to have the guy whip out a roll of $100 bills and buy from someone else?

But personal appearance is only the first and most obvious point to consider. Your valuable potential client might have a tiny, unlovely office. Or a less-than-perfect Web site (or no Web site at all). Or a unappealing, “dirty job”-style line of business.

If you react from your gut instead of thinking it through, these kinds of “turn offs” can shut down a valuable relationship before it ever gets a chance to start.

Taking a moment to evaluate the possibilities behind the “appearances” could literally change everything. Intentionally turn off your preconceived ideas to clearly evaluate what their potential might be, and you might find a diamond in the rough who others have dismissed as not worth their time or effort.

Here’s the other half of the lesson – the contradiction – and it’s critical:

Like it or not, your appearance matters. In every situation, and in every medium where you connect with others on behalf of your firm.

I know I just said that you can’t allow appearances to muddy up your evaluation of a client’s worth. And the fact is, they shouldn’t be doing it to you either. But they are. Susan proves it. It’s a double standard, and it’s basic to human nature. So you have to make the first impression count.

A physical presentation that matches the tone of your firm is just part of the equation. You also need to consider the client you’re meeting, and what they might expect of you. A marketing director recently told me, “The client told me we got the work because we were the only firm who bothered to put on a tie for the meeting. We don’t wear ties at our office, but this was a buttoned up, old school company, so how hard was it to figure out that we should be a little more formal? No one else paid attention, and we got the work.”

There’s the key: pay attention.

Think about your Web site. Your proposal package. Your business cards and brochures and letterhead. Are they all in sync with one another and the best possible representation of your firm’s values and spirit?

Do they sing?

For better or worse, too many of us judge based on appearances. When we’re proved wrong, it is often an occasion for surprise and delight – but unlike Susan Boyle, lots of wonderful people and companies are never given the chance to get past an unfortunate first impression.

You can be the person who chooses to do things differently – and in so doing, you may change the trajectory of your business forever.

All you have to do is make your appearance count – and never put too much stock in anyone else’s.

Photo by Bert Kommerij (license)

Posted in Attitudes, Business Development, Leadership, Networking, Professional Services, Relationship Building | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
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