What’s in your freebie business toolkit?

Here’s my list of freebies that I often recommend to help with businesses starting up and marketing on a shoestring. 

1)                 Free:  WordPress blogs

2)                 Free:  Social media such as twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc but also not forgetting business forums such as ukbusinessforums.co.uk for forming business relationships and getting advice and support

3)                 Free:  Directory listings such as freeindex

4)                 Free:  Spreadsheets for Accounting and bookkeeping or ask your accountant

5)                 Free:  12pay.co.uk for payroll software with payslips and links to HMRC

6)                 Free CRM systems such as Zoho (there are others too but this is my current favourite)

7)                 Free VOIP number from Voipfone or geographical  numbers from £1.99 per month

8)                 Free TPS checks from either tps-manage (only 5 per day) or £10 per month for unlimited checks via Selectabase

9)                 Free advice and courses from Business Link. Some grants also available (varies by region/industry/need/size of business and when they are offered etc)

10)             Free:  Companies House webcheck to check companies details such as registered office

11)             Free surveys, great for market research from surveymonkeys

12)             Free bulk email trial from Constant contact but there are other systems that offer some free use too.

13)             Free networking events if you go as a guest with someone else

14)             Free landline call packages usually available for small subscription upgrade.

15)             Microsoft Security Essentials for virus protection

 So what’s in your free toolkit?

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Telemarketer’s twitter tips

Maybe my tips as a telemarketer who uses Twitter will vary a bit from the run of the mill Twitter tips so here goes …

1) a key skill of a telemarketer is about listening. This is not just to be polite, or a feel good factor, but is a very productive and efficient use of time. Twitter is a fabulous tool for listening to conversations … Where are peoples needs, what are they having pains with, what solutions are they looking for. Listening is the first key step to identifying and locating prospects. I am not suggesting that you dive in and start spamming fellow tweeters with unsolicited sales pitches, but I am suggesting that you can use Twitter as a tool for identifying trends relating to your industry or service or product and identify groups of people that may be a good target audience.

2) Targeted conversations with fellow tweeters is possible by using the advanced twitter search function. This can often be more reliable than some purchased data lists as contact details are provided on tweeters profiles.

3) Do not start phoning without having checked the phone numbers via TPS or CTPS as just because they are on Twitter and are a business does not mean your call is not unsolicited!

4) Similarly do not start emailing either without permission. Even though you may legally be able to do this if it is a business and not emailed from a bulk email tool, emailing without permission is likely to end up in the trash bin and a reputation gained for spamming.

5) Do your homework and see what they have tweeted about previously, have a look through websites and blog articles. Make references if you need to when on the phone to demonstrate you have visited their site or blog and make a connection with people.

6) Think about what you would like to come away with from the call. Permission to send an email perhaps, or invite a sign up to newsletter maybe. Or maybe an appointment to meet face to face at a dedicated appointment or even a networking event that you may both be attending. Maybe even arrange a call back to discuss a proposal.

7) Follow up with special contact depending on the call outcome. Blanket or standard emails do not make people feel special or demonstrate that you have specifically listened properly to anything that mat have come up in conversation.

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34% of Accountants don’t answer the phone!

This is much higher than we usually experience for no answers / engaged / answering machines compared with other industries that we call and these calls were made during normal office hours and not at lunchtime.

Does this mean that the popularity of call answering services for accountants is reducing?

Does it perhaps mean that they are too busy to answer the phone?

Does it mean that it is an indication generally that some Accountants are less customer focused that other businesses?

Apologies to those who are providing a great service but I really thought I should share this so that the other 66% of Accountants can feel happy with themselves.

But really, what is a company saying about itself when the first impression a potential new customer has when they try to call is that they cannot get through? It doesn’t inspire confidence that future enquiries and queries will be handled promptly.

And what marketing spend is being wasted either through pay-per-click campaigns, telemarketing, direct mail etc, when the potential new client decides to call and then is put off by there being no answer…or even worse, an answering machine message saying “sorry but the office is closed now until Monday”.  I mean, come on, it’s only Wednesday today!

None of these Accountants that we called today gave callers the opportunity to wait in a queue if they wanted to.  Just zero, nothing, zilch, not even the option of a mobile number to call, or an indication of when they would be available.

Just thought I would share 🙂

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Marketing for Annual Accounts and Returns by Postcode

It’s that time of year when accountancy firms are targeting companies with filing dates of 31st March. This is the biggest anniversary of the year and we are already being asked to make follow up calls after direct mailings.

The opportunity is probably bigger now as more companies have attempted DIY and need an Accountant at the last minute.  There seems to be more posts at UKBF for urgent assistance. Perhaps this is influenced by less time to file and penalties and dissolutions seem to be happening quicker.

Accountants have recognised filing dates as marketing opportunities for a long time and it is nothing new.  It is a good excuse to make contact and introduce services.

The problems come with getting data. Companies house data products are quite expensive and unmanageable for a lot of users.  Magnetic tape updates available either daily or weekly at £48k or “24k per annum.  DVD’s are available at £1000 but the versions either require a system that caters for 2.8m records approximately or time consuming copying and pasting from a browser.  The £30 one off CD is not currently being produced.

No marketing information is available with CH products such as contact names, phone numbers, TPS/CTPS checks, email addresses, trading addresses and so it is difficult to arrive at accurate daily CH data with marketing information.

Only 16% of Accountants were using Companies House data products regularly

This was one statistic that came from our market research in October. Others were using work-arounds that were time consuming with poor marketing efforts.

From the work we have undertaken so far, the results have been encouraging.  Some accountants even ended up with more work from existing clients (ie; shareholdings needed to be changed before filing the annual return, or because they decided to delegate more work)

A key thing to mention is brand awareness and reputation.  If a target audience gets a regular impression of professionalism, efficiency, and value for money then it can lead to valuable sales pipeline for new business.

This is why we have launched this marketing service where we identify prospects, contact them by phone, letter and/or email to introduce services in the accountant’s name, and use our selling skills to articulate the benefits of using that particular practice.

Accountant’s can now subscribe to a service which does everything for them with a supplier who understands lead generation for Accountants.  Pricing is either on a fixed monthly cost or pay-per-lead basis with a guarantee of delivering qualified leads.

To find out more please email us at info@maxxy.co.uk or visit http://www.maxxy.co.uk/Telemarketing/Overdue_accounts_and_annual_returns_service.htm

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Regards, Max

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Finding an Accountant

Business link’s first paragraph says “It’s important to select an accountant who’s right for your business” and they have a checklist on their site as follows:

  • ask about their qualifications
  • find out how many partners there are in the practice
  • investigate whether they are experienced in dealing with businesses of a similar size and at a similar stage of growth to yours
  • assess whether they understand your business sector and its needs
  • find out who will look after your business on a day-to-day basis
  • ask about their estimated response times
  • ask whether the service you will receive will be proactive – eg whether they will remind you when you need to submit accounts, or send you updates on changes in tax law
  • find out if they offer any additional services – eg inheritance planning or advice on information systems
  • ask whether the practice offers any specialist services – eg in start-ups or stock-market listing
  • investigate their charges and what they cover – find out if a fixed fee can be arranged for the first 12 months

I thought it would be useful for me to expand and contribute to some of these points based on my experience of telemarketing for accountants as I regularly gather feedback from people that I speak with who are considering finding an accountant or moving accountants.

Qualifications, whether they understand your business sector and its needs, and whether the practice offers specialist services.

There is such an array of qualifications from the UK and abroad that people can use to advertise their services without people really understanding the difference in them and what it means to them and their business.

Example 1:  The Diploma in Charity Accounting (DChA) is a qualification issued by the The Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW). (see Toni Hunter’s blog for more info here) yet the people that I have spoken with in the charity sector have been largely unaware of this qualification and the potential benefits that using someone who has studied specifically in their sectors accounting needs could bring.

Example 2):  The Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) is a scheme relevant to people in the construction industry requiring contributions to be made directly to HMRC relevant to construction sub-contractors.  Among other things, it means that statements need to be issued showing contributions made and for returns to be submitted monthly.  Some accountants have been known to interpret this as a voluntary scheme rather than a mandatory one, but that is a whole different blog article!

Admittedly, qualifications are not everything, and it’s what you do with them that counts, but it should go some way to giving a certain level of confidence and trust in technical ability.

It is difficult for most prospective client’s to try and assess whether an accountant understands their business sector and it’s needs relevant to accounting and financial business advice because put simply “they-don’t-know-what-they-don’t know”.

Something else that can make things difficult is the use of language as one accountant pointed out to me recently.  She explained that some accountants, especially highly qualified tax advisers can slip into jargon and spout case law and legislation. This is off-putting for the client as it is more useful to explain complex matters in a way that the business owner understands and this is crucial to a good professional relationship.

So perhaps these are some of the reasons why people resort to choosing an Accountant purely because they are a friend of the family, or have convenient office location with lots of parking, or other reason not related to Qualifications, industry experience, and professionalism.  

Where to find a good accountant

Business link suggest that the best way to find a good accountant is by using professional associations or through personal recommendations and say it can be “helpful to ask for recommendations from:

  • friends, family, business associates and contacts
  • bank or lawyer
  • professional or trade associations – this can be a particularly useful route if you’re looking for an accountant that specialises in your industry.”

However, going back to the previous points about Qualifications and Experience in business sectors and relevant to the business needs, it is possibly not the best idea to rely on recommendations from friends, family, business associates and contacts who do not have an appreciation of the business and the business sectors needs.

Business link also say “Once you have found some names and considered their reputations and qualifications, you should draw up a shortlist of about six accountants you’d like to contact.”

This can be time consuming and baffling and it is sometimes a reason why people will actually talk with a telemarketer who is aware of qualifications, industry specific needs, and needs particular to that business to.  People do consider our suggestions in line with other recommendations as it is another source of information for them rather than just friends, family, or business associates not in their industry or with different needs.    

 Business Link suggest that the relationship with an Accountant is reviewed every 3 to 5 years

 Their website says “The needs of any business do not stand still and a good accountant should adapt with you. However, every three to five years, it can make good business sense to ask:

  • Is my business still getting value for money?
  • Is my accountant informative and easy to contact?
  • Does my accountant still suit the needs of my business?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, then it could be time to find another accountant who is better suited to your current requirements.”

From our experience at Maxxy, not many people review the relationship with their Accountant that often.  Some will be prompted to review after an unsatisfactory event or when a change is imposed (such as the Accountant’s moving office location or change in the person dealing with day to day affairs) but not many people deliberately make a point of reviewing the relationship when things are ticking along satisfactorily even if they could potentially save money in fees or get better value for money elsewhere.

A telemarketing call can sometimes serve as a prompt to find out a bit more information and consider a review of services for their business needs.

I would be happy to hear people’s views and a link to the Business Link site that I have used as a source of information is here

Regards

Max

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Anyone using XML Gateway at Companies House?

This blog article is just intended to find out a bit more and share information on use with the Companies House XML Gateway.

From reading the documents and talking with Companies House it seems to enable a search by a list of company numbers and pull back information in a prescribed format quickly, saving time and effort in looking up information one by one through web-check or through subscribing to other data products and doing look ups offline.

Sorry if I am waffling but just finding out a bit more at this stage as it would be useful for our telemarketing lists to refresh against company status etc as part of our data cleansing.

The subscription I believe is £5.88 per month + VAT and more info can be found at http://xmlgw.companieshouse.gov.uk/

Thanks for comments 🙂

Max

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Gentle Telemarketing that gets results

You know you need to do it but dread the thought of cold calling.  Here are a few ideas if you would like to ease in gently to cold calling, where a gentle approach to making calls could make it more comfortable and build confidence

Market Research Calls

Do a survey by phone and have an online version to send out with an email where the purpose of the exercise is to gather info. This is good as

a) you get email addresses for ongoing marketing/newsletters/promotions etc

b) it gets conversations going with out any pressure to sell,

c) the results of the market research can help you look at things objectively and can be a huge confidence boost to get on the phone later when you know what people like across the board.

Do an “Opt in” campaign

These calls are purely calling to introduce yourself and ask who would be the best person to send some info to by email, capture the relevant email address. Be prepared to have conversations about your product or service as people don’t like to give their email addresses out willy-nilly but this is really about having conversations rather than “must-get-a-sale”.

Call friendly people

Calls to friendly suppliers, people in the industry, influencers can be useful to see if they would refer others to you and again just to have conversations and see what comes out of it.  From these calls you can possibly send info to them or explore joint marketing opportunities

Call an “A” List

Build up a highly targeted list, and really do your homework before you get on the phone so you know what their business is like, have an idea what their needs are, who the decision makers are in the business etc. When you start making calls to these people you will have the feeling and attitude that these are likely to be more interested than anyone else on your other lists and mentally you are likely to feel better prepared for any questions that you receive.

Realistic expectations

Don’t have unrealistic expectations from cold calling… just keep a note of how many call attempts you make, how many conversations you actually have with decision makers, how many not-interested, send me info, quotes, appointments.  When you make future calls you will know what the realistic ratios are likely to be so you don’t focus on the rejections just how many you need to make to build up some good pipeline and instant leads.

Hope this helps and would be interested to hear other views on gentle telemarketing.

Please note that TPS/CTPS checks are still required for all types of unsolicited cold calls.  For market research calls a check is not required but you must not promote your business (contact trading standards for more guidance).

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