Twitter for accounting professionals?

Dennis wrote a post a few days ago about Twitter within “a business context” entitled “The pain of disruption“:

I want to DO something with Twitter. The more I think about what Twitter might deliver, the more scary it becomes. Twitter challenges my ingrained notions of how services and value are delivered.

In case you haven’t heard of Twitter, it is basically like group instant messaging. You create your own account and start making small (144 characters is the max) posts about what you’re doing or thinking about. Other Twitterers “follow” you and receive your postings on their home page.

For whatever reason the post really ignited something within me and I found myself commenting right away, although with an idea that sort of just fell out of my brain half-baked:

Off the top of my head, how about Twitter channels for large, distributed groups working together (I’m thinking specifically of audit teams but there are obviously other applications) to aid communication. Group IM seems useful as long as it can be secured for sensitive business.

I continued to ruminate on the issue and hoped some more ideas could be generated.

How about for Twitter for an entire accounting firm office? I could throw out a question to the entire firm, like “Does anyone have a GST reconciliation schedule template handy?” or “Why is the capital gains exemption limited to only qualified small business corporation shares?”

Being able to ask those sorts of questions is helpful since I’m rarely in the office unless it’s busy season (and even then it’s just evenings and weekends). Being able to ask my more senior colleagues technical questions when I’m in the field would be great, but not too different from using email. The difference I guess would be not having to enter all their addresses.

How about using Twitter to communicate with clients? This has some possibilities as well. Being able to communicate with clients about new accounting standards coming into effect, or relevant changes to tax law would improve client service and provide timely updates that blows the current model away.

Any other ideas for using Twitter within a business context or specifically for accountants?


Blogs can be important marketing tools

Originally published in The Bottom Line February 2007 print edition only.

Blogs are all about having more personal and meaningful conversations with an audience about a topic. When you’re an accountant or accounting firm, blogs are a way to reach people interested in your expertise, whether they’re fellow accountants interested in discussing the profession or potential clients looking for an accountant with an aptitude for technology and an ability to stay on top of the trends.

Why should an accountant blog?

If you’ve got something to say about accounting or, even better, a specific area of competency within the industry, having a blog will help establish your name online, and in a profession such as public accounting, getting your own name out there is important for your career. “Personal PR” should involve offline networking as well as an online component. Blogging will allow you to meet like-minded accountants from around the world and gain useful contacts.

You have to enjoy writing to be able to blog productively and to come up with enough interesting topics every week – regular updates are critical to growing blog readership. Once a week seems to be the accepted minimum frequency, but there are some prolific bloggers making several posts per day.

Blogging can be part personal release, part professional development. Blogging is a creative outlet, where you can explore new ideas and argue constructively with other bloggers about the industry. Blogging will also allow you to differentiate yourself from the pack, since it is still a relatively new medium and certainly has not been embraced yet by the accounting mainstream. Current CFOs don’t read blogs much (yet), but future CFOs do.

Blogging about accounting will allow you to keep up on the hot topics in the industry in a more meaningful way. In 2006, options backdating in the US and income trusts in Canada have been on the front burners of accountant blogs. Being able to weigh in on those topics with some credibility allows a blogger to have a level of influence that otherwise would go untapped.

As a Canadian, an accountant blogger can make Canada’s voice heard on an international scale. This will become even more important as we move to international accounting standards. Educating others about the situation in Canada with income trusts could help other countries better deal with the problems flow-through entities can present.

Why should an accounting firm have a blog?

It’s a bit different if you’re blogging about your firm. In this case, you’re selling something a little more blatantly than if you’re blogging independently.

It is a good idea for all accounting firms to embrace blogs as a way of keeping in contact with clients and providing relevant accounting and tax news and firm information. You can also communicate with clients more frequently by blogging every other day on a new topic of interest, and speak to them on a more personal level compared to more traditional forms of communication like periodic informational leaflets.

Firms can focus their blogs on different topics, for example, a corporate tax blog, a personal finance blog, and an audit and assurance blog. Breaking up the audience into segments like this will increase the overall exposure of the firm in search results.

Search engines, and especially Google, have caught on to the blog phenomenon and will now crawl frequently updated blogs at least daily, which will have a dramatic impact on your firm showing up in search results when a potential client searches for a topic you’ve blogged about. Imagine a potential client searching for information about the changes to dividend tax, and finding a recent blog post that highlights your firm’s expertise on the subject.

Blogs can even be used purely internally to share news within the firm and encourage dialogue about firm policies. Engaging accountants in your firm in dialogue at all levels will help your firm retain the top talent, as it will encourage them to take a more active role in the firm at earlier stages of their development.

How should an accountant blog?

Take advantage of the nature of the medium to have a more personal conversation with your readers. Engage them in the discussion and encourage community. A blog really isn’t a blog without the ability of readers to post comments, and blogs that do not allow comments are isolated from the blogosphere, which is critical to building traffic and a reputation.

Most important is to let your personality shine through in your writing, because accountants already have a reputation for being about as interesting as a block of cheese. Be a real person, and speak from the heart. Have opinions, and explore them. Although you are selling yourself and your ideas, being a phony will never work since the next blog is just a mouse click away.

Resist the temptation to slap some ads on your blog. You won’t make anything from them until you’ve built a solid readership, and building that readership will be harder if you’ve got ads framing your writing. A professional, hosted blog can cost as little as $15/month, and you should consider it an investment in your career or firm.

That being said, you can easily start blogging right away and it will cost you nothing at all except your time using any one of a variety of free blog hosting services, such as Google’s Blogger ( It will allow you to get your feet wet and experience what blogging is all about on a trial basis.

Blogs are not a fad, they are here to stay and will grow and evolve as the tools become more sophisticated. An accountant or accounting firm has a lot – of potential clients and contacts – to lose by ignoring the phenomenon. So take advantage of this new method of communication to build your network of clients and contacts!


Engagement letter update

Before accountants can get down to the business of providing service to clients, we have to issue what’s known in the biz as an “engagement letter.” Contrary to what I’d initially thought, this doesn’t tie me down to any one person for the rest of my life, for better or worse, in good times and bad.

What it does is provide in writing the services agreed to by both parties in case anything goes wrong over the duration of the letter. My firm requires new engagement letters every three years. It spells out the services to be provided and the liability assumed by each party. This basically involves reminding the client it is all theirs (liability for the statements).

Which is what brings me to the point of the post – most clients don’t like the wording of the engagement letter, and I don’t really blame them. They hire us to perform some work and the first communication we send them basically says “can’t be held responsible.” Reminds me of The Freshmen by The Verve Pipe.

Dennis, at AccMan, has come up with a much better engagement letter template in a recent post on his blog. I like it because it’s plain English and it doesn’t make the accountants sound like we’re washing our hands of the client before we’ve even started getting them dirty.

Should the engagement letter be updated and translated into a more understandable English? Is it even possible, given its nature as a legal document?


Alcatel buying Lucent for $13.5 billion

The French telecom company Alcatel is buying Lucent in what is reported to be a $13.5 billion acquisition made to improve R&D capabilities in both organizations.

Lucent’s CEO, Patricia Russo, doesn’t speak French but will become the new CEO of the Paris-based giant. I wonder how well that’s going to work out. It will be difficult for her to communicate her executive vision to the troops if she can’t speak their language.

Some details:

  • Alcatel will own 60% of the common stock of the combined company.
  • Both companies will have equal representation on the board of directors, with two additional independent directors.
  • Revenues will be approximately $25 billion.

Lucent has some sensitive US government work that will be overseen by an independent subsidiary with three US citizens on its board of directors. The deal still has the potential to become a “political football” much like the Dubai Ports World deal that fell through and when Lenovo bought part of IBM.