Ask and ye shall find: Helping your clients get the best from the web. By Richard Sergeant

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There is real value in helping your clients to explore the web, says Richard Sergeant.

The Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) recently reported that July 07 saw online sales of 4.2 billion, compared to 2.43 billion for the same month last year. This is a phenomenal increase, and one which reflects the enormous amount of confidence that we have in the efficiency and security of the web to handle our purchasing transactions.

It is also good for business, which are increasingly able to exploit the web to: increase sales, drive efficiencies, manage customer relations, reach a much wider potential audience, and engage with more targeted an...

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31st Aug 2007 09:34

I think you can be more constructive
Sorry Dennis,

I don't think your comments are being particularly useful - and frankly your blatant self publicity is beginning to take over some of your postings.

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30th Aug 2007 11:50

Dennis misses the point...

If anything the article says that as professionals we DO have the skills needed to talk to our clients about their businesses. If asking a few simple questions can open up more discussion then I’m all for it. In the process we learn more, and we can back client motivated ideas up with sound financial input. I don’t think this has anything to do with marketing- it has to do with not being scared of the “Inter-web”(sic), and being able to gain useful insights into our clients thinking and helping them to spot opportunities and provide the metrics to evaluate it.

Also, paradoxically perpetuating the lie "this is not something professionals can readily relate to even though they should. So how can you advise on something you don't do yourself or of which you have little understanding?" seems distinctly unhelpful and frankly insulting.

"Bring it on I say"

I remember seeing Howard Graham of Westbury doing an excellent session on just such a thing at the 2020 conference last year. He talked about developing his own online company formations businesses on the basis of pay per click and measuring return on investment, and how this then was able to provide leads to his general practice. He also talked about how he was able to just start conversation with clients about their online activity with no real expertise or technical knowledge – just an interest.

Dennis, rant on you crazy diamond! But I’m happy to disagree with you this time.

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30th Aug 2007 17:33

Of course I miss the point
Of course I miss Richard's point - because it trots out the same tired ideas I've heard for 30+ years.

The fundamental issue is that professionals in small and mid-tier practices DON'T have the skills to provide the kind of help Richard Gerrard suggests. If they did, then 2020 Group would be out of business tomorrow.

You can do all the listening you want but if you have little clue how to implement an actionable plan or you're repeating something you've only heard about then you do your client no good.

Richard says I "Also, paradoxically perpetuating the lie "this is not something professionals can readily relate to even though they should. So how can you advise on something you don't do yourself or of which you have little understanding?" seems distinctly unhelpful and frankly insulting."

Really? Show me the evidence that more than 1% of professionals have any general understanding of the interwebs. It doesn't exist.

I don't know the case you refer to but I do know about the cases I handle and you are right - 'interest' is critical. People understand the things in which they're interested. But it requires a different way of thinking to turn that into action.

If I am wrong then my web presence would be dead on its feet and the clients I help would not be award winners or outperforming their peers by orders of magnitude.

If by crazy Richard means being on the cutting edge of new technologies that deliver quantum value then sure. Guilty as charged.

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28th Aug 2007 16:26

What about blogs?
And what about wikis?

This is the 21st century

Accountants should be talking about now. And pay per click is so old hat

Richard Murphy

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29th Aug 2007 12:32

Here we go again
Marketers cocked up email campaigns, did the same with online advertising (of which I see more here), now they're trying to hijack today's web stuff with more snake oil. I honestly can't understand why professionals listen to, and more to the point, soak up this stuff.

It takes a LOT more than being a listener to make today's web work for you. It sure as heck doesn't take part educated marketers.

Pimping Google is the first step towards hiring even more snake oil sales people - the SEO specialists who turn common sense into a crazy black art. And waste a LOT of your clients' money. If you think it works 'just like that' - ask Intuit who have a partnership with Google. Better still, ask Google which is sending out the equivalent of Yellow Pages reps to snag the small business customer to cough up for AdWords.

As for these comments: "What would Amazon be if you couldn’t find what you were looking for? How long would be selling goods and services if its design hadn’t changed since 2000, or if it could not handle online transactions?"

Amazon spent years losing money and investing billions. Tesco - ditto. Do you think most practitioners could relate to that and then parse it out to client advice?

Bottom line - this is not something professionals can readily relate to even though they should. So how can you advise on something you don't do yourself or of which you have little understanding?

Dennis Howlett

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31st Aug 2007 16:15

What is Dennis guilty of?
It seems Dennis is guilty of two things:

1) Listening to what people say

2) Promoting himself on the Interweb

Both things that the article says we should do

So what's he doing wrong precisely?

And to get to the nub of this - Dennis is right: most accountants are frighteningly ignorant of the net. Tatty web sites that are poor reproductions of brochures are not what the web is about, nor is providing a list of tax rates added value. In particular, interactive use of the web is absent from large numbers of accountant's web sites I've looked at. What's the use of that?

But perhaps this is not surprising: most accountants are almost entirely unaware of how to run a business, having never done so. And I'll tell you running an accounting practice is nothing like running a real business. Most people don't have 5th April to guarantee the work comes in.

I read AccMan. Dennis does understand business and the web. That's why he's worth listening to.

Richard Murphy

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31st Aug 2007 13:08

Wassup doc?
Aw Richard - you said bring it on and I have. At least tell readers how my remarks are not being useful. The fact you disagree isn't good enough I'm afraid.

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06th Sep 2007 09:19

It's not my job to defend Dennis
Nor is it my job to defend journalists

But I would point out that so bad is Dennis' style that he's paid to blog by ZD Net - one of the biggest names in the IT publishing business

They're sure he has something useful to say, and a way of communicating it that is effective

And he personally gets a blog readership that sometimes approaches that of Accountingweb as a whole

There has to be a reason for that....

Richard Murphy

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05th Sep 2007 14:36

Dennis is also guilty of...
...unnecessary rudeness. I'm sure if his awful English and his barely-intelligible, condescending and uninformative writing style were addressed in the same embittered manner, he would be the first to whinge.

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09th Sep 2007 22:04


I shall certainly think about your advice (as below) however I would still prefer to read what you have to say. I do think however you could generally be more constructive- and even if you can't be more optimistic about my profession and my colleagues, I would certainly prefer that you THEN try to be constructive.

Finally, I really don't see how your statement "the article was written on the premise that professionals understand the web and online strategies" can possibly hold water!

Is your reading so askew?

"Although you may not know the intricacies of the web, you do know business. You also understand key business metrics, financial and business process and most important of know your client."

In fact I'm not going on further on this as i think it is pretty self explanatory.

Dennis, i think your contributions are very interesting and i do not doubt the respect and credibility that you obviously have. However, please take on board my comments as constructive criticism and read some of the articles you comment on a little more carefully before reacting as you do.

The week starts a fresh, and I for one will be asking my clients about what they are doing on line!

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06th Sep 2007 12:48

Simple solution
@Arnold: there's a very simple solution - don't read what I say. Ignore it. Then you won't need to make ad hominem remarks instead of addressing the issues.

But before switching off entirely - the article was written on the premise that professionals understand the web and online strategies. Fact: ICAEW IT Faculty has around 5,000 members. Fact, about half are in practice. Fact: ICAEW membership is 132K - ergo my 1% probably needs uplifting to 2%. Encouraging but still depressing when you consider we live in a 'connected' world.

When the basic premise upon which the argument is made is fundamentally flawed then all else crumbles.

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10th Sep 2007 13:57

Knowledge economy
Richard. We live in a knowledge economy. That requires expertise applied to specific situations in order to render the best result. That's why we have tax, business advisory, M&A and technology consultants among our members.

I still question whether general practising accountants really do know business as you suggest. Check the ruck going on elsewhere on this site over value pricing.

Few in practice understand cost drivers and especially sunk cost. These are basic things that business needs to have clear guidance upon. If we can't understand those factors then parsing the web is way beyond many practitioners' capabilities. That's not being rude, it's a matter of fact.

We can listen all we want but if we can't provide a plan against which to execute, that takes account of the factors impacting business, we're no more than psychotherapists who leave the client to work out issues for themselves. The web is not a magic wand as many practitioners will tell you. They're the ones with sites that are not producing a penny in additional revenue.

There are a lot of very smart people out there in my network, some are recognised as the best in their field. Many are far smarter than I'll ever be. I make it my business to get alongside these folk in a mutual exchange of knowledge built out of respect.

The knowledge you might pick up along the way as an accountant will in no way prepare you for the 21st century web-enabled environment because it is changing so rapidly. You have to be immersed in it to really see what's going on.

So if there is a positive to put I'd argue that RIchard Murphy was right early on. Engage with the blogs. These are the people who know what's going on.

...should provide a decent start. Follow the links, look at who these people are referencing and reading, find out what they're saying and why. Check out Facebook (BADCASS has around 100 members in its Facebook group.).

Google? Everyone's gaming it so leave to the SEO specialists but preferably not the ones selling snake oil.

Finally - the reason I'm so passionate about this stuff is because it represents a great opportunity for practitioners who are prepared to give this 'stuff' time and effort. But you've got to live it to get it. IMO.

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