A parcel arrived in our office yesterday. At first we were a bit confused because it was addressed to a woman that we did not recognize. Anyway, after googling her name and realizing we could not trace her easily, we just opened the box. In it were all sorts of freebies including pens, coasters and socks.

There was also a piece of wood with “Bronze Partner” etched on it. Then the penny dropped.

The box was from Free Agent, the bookkeeping software provider. Apparently, we achieved this “Bronze” status by having a number (a very small number) of clients on our Free Agent portal. In recognition of our new elevated status we can now officially wear FreeAgent socks, displaying the Free Agent logo proudly on our feet.

Mind you as a marketing exercise, you have to say that on one level it was very effective because I am telling you all about our new socks and by way of explanation, that we have clients using Free Agent. We do however have far more clients who use each of QuickBooks, Xero, Sage and Kashflow.

One of the things that struck me was that the contents of this box all looked and felt quite cheap. I did not even take a pen out of the box. Even the socks looked cheap and gimmicky. So, what does that say about the FreeAgent software. Well, if you are with the Royal Bank of Scotland, Free Agent is free. If you are not, it is relatively inexpensive, but it is also limited in what it can do.  One of our staff commented last week that it was fine for a cash business but that something like QuickBooks was far better for a larger business or one with more sophisticated needs.

Many years ago I used a taxi company every Friday afternoon. The driver, who I had got to know quite well, one day gave me a pen. That was a nice pen and every time I used it, it cemented the relationship with that taxi company, and especially with that driver. I was very disappointed when I lost that pen. I was attending a Tax Conference and lent it to another accountant and never saw it again. When my kids were small and they thought I was being unfair on them, I used to say “never trust an accountant”. In the case of my pen, this proved to be true. I stopped saying this to my kids after I heard them saying this to other people.

What does your marketing material say about you? I could just as easily say, what does our marketing material say about us. When you read this, does it help to cement our relationship, or perhaps you are thinking that you would not want to do business with anyone putting out this sort of stuff. Hopefully the former!

Likewise, the sort of marketing that we did at Highland Spotlight, what does that say about us? The Nerf guns were certainly quite inexpensive. But I hope it showed that we understand that business is far more than the bookkeeping and accounts. That is just the record of what you have done. Accounts and tax is very little to do with winning new clients, making sales and order fulfilment. I hope the Nerf guns also showed our human, less accounting side, and that we are business people who can and do deliver more than just bank reconciliations and tax returns. Maybe a little unprofessional, slightly outrageous but good fun.

A few years ago at a Highland Spotlight event I was asked a question, I think it was the year that we set up a tax mastermind quiz with the black chair and all the right music. The question was “are there any other accountants attending the event”. I knew that there were 3 other accountants in the room but obviously they had not made the same impact as us. They were all much larger firms with much larger budgets. But they had sent a few staff along to stand behind a table with a few roller banners behind them.

So, we got the attention of people at the event but, at the end of the day, who developed the most new contacts and actually got business out of attending the event. I like to think that we did, but perhaps not. You can be the judge of that. One thing I can say is that we had more fun.

I was told that the best way to approach any business is to treat it as a game. That might be difficult to understand in these challenging times, but the point is that the business is not you. It is something that you do, and it is good to get that separation between you, your personality and your feelings, and the activities that you choose to do at that moment in time. What that means is that you can choose to stop doing that activity and it does not say anything about you. It is just a decision to stop playing one game and perhaps start playing another. But for many if not most small business owners, they are the business, and the business is them. To stop trading is in some way a reflection on them as a person.

If you saw me striding around with Free Agent socks, what would that say about me? I must admit I would rather be thought of as the guy with the nerf guns.

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Alan E Long

The Long Partnership

07770 738770



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