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The Rise and Fall of Social Media Accountants

A few weeks ago I wrote an article called Where did the good accountants go depicting my view of the cultural shift around professional visibility and then last week about Fatherhood v Entrepreneurship where I discuss the struggles and pressures that come with running a business alongside a growing family.

This week we saw another of our own, Laura Taylor of Empowered by Cloud someone I have great admiration for had sold her practice and is not looking to return to the accounting arena anytime soon (watch this space I said the same thing back in 2019). When the shining beacons of hope of the accounting industry decide to hang up their calculator what does this trend and its impact on the accountancy industry say? People don’t sell their practices because they are living the dream, they sell them because they are burnt out. This is the tip of the iceberg.

The landscape of the accountancy industry is undergoing a significant transformation. The rise of social media and platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram has given birth to a new breed of accountants who leverage their online presence to build their practices quickly. These accountants become influencers, attracting clients and talent through engaging content and the allure of a glamorous lifestyle. However, this phenomenon comes with a dark side, as burnout, disillusionment, and the subsequent sale of practices are becoming increasingly common.

The Allure of Social Media Stardom

In an age where visibility equates to credibility, accountants have turned to social media to differentiate themselves. By sharing insights, tips, and a glimpse into their day-to-day lives, these professionals create a persona that resonates with both potential clients and aspiring accountants. The benefits are immediate:

Rapid Growth: An engaging online presence can attract clients and employees swiftly.

Brand Building: Personal branding helps establish authority and trust in the market.

Revenue Streams: Beyond traditional accounting services, monetisation through ads, sponsorships, and online courses adds to their income.

If you go back to 2011 the ‘Cloud’ was the modern-day equivalent of social media, and we will see a similar cycle where early adopters gain great traction, but it is short lived. More so with content creation in an AI driven era will not be a USP for as long as being in the ‘Cloud’.

The Burnout Cycle

The reality behind the curated content often tells a different story to the public perception. The pressure to consistently produce engaging content, manage a growing client base, and maintain the facade of a perfect lifestyle leads to burnout. Many of these accountants find themselves overwhelmed, leading to a common outcome: selling their practices. This cycle raises several concerns:

Client Trust: Clients who bought into the personal brand feel betrayed when the face of the practice changes.

Employee Disillusionment: Employees who were attracted by the vision and culture of the influencer may feel lost and unsupported after the sale.

Industry Image: Frequent exits of high-profile accountants send a damaging message about the profession’s sustainability and satisfaction levels.

The Mentor and Coach Phenomenon

Interestingly, many of these burned-out accountant’s pivot to becoming mentors and coaches, offering guidance to other accountants who wish to emulate their success. While this creates a new revenue stream for the influencers, it raises ethical questions:

Disingenuous Promises: Selling a lifestyle and career path that they themselves abandoned feels misleading.

Quality of Guidance: The advice and training offered may not reflect the challenges and realities of the profession in the current marketplace.

Who can blame anyone from becoming a content creator or coach. It is a lucrative market potentially on a one-to-many basis tapping into knowledge and experience gained by doing the hard yards. Despite what many outside of accountancy may think building and running an accountancy practice is extremely hard and takes dedication, diligence and skill.

The Dangers for Aspiring Accountants Trying to Mimic Their Online Heroes

Aspiring accountants often look up to successful professionals on social media and try to emulate their paths. However, this approach comes with several dangers:

Unrealistic Expectations: Social media often showcases the highlights and not the struggles, leading to an unrealistic view of the profession.

Burnout: Trying to keep up with the high-energy, always-on lifestyle of online influencers can quickly lead to burnout.

Misguided Focus: Prioritising personal branding and social media presence over developing core accounting skills can be detrimental to long-term success.

Disillusionment: When reality doesn’t match the glamorised version seen online, it can lead to frustration and disillusionment with the career.

Financial Risks: Investing heavily in personal branding and marketing without a solid client base or experience can lead to financial instability.

How to Run Your Own Race

By focusing on your own growth and staying grounded, you can build a rewarding career that’s true to your personal and professional aspirations. Remember, success isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey, and running your own race will lead to a more fulfilling and sustainable career.

Set Realistic Goals: Understand that building a successful career takes time, effort, and patience. Set achievable milestones and work steadily towards them.

Focus on Skills: Prioritise acquiring and honing your accounting skills. A strong foundation in your field will serve you better than social media fame.

Balance Online Presence: While a social media presence can be beneficial, it shouldn’t overshadow your professional development. Use it as a tool, not a goal.

Seek Mentorship: Find mentors who can provide guidance and support based on their experience and insights. Real-world advice is invaluable.

Maintain Balance: Ensure you’re not sacrificing your well-being for the sake of online popularity. Sustainable success comes from a healthy balance.

Be Authentic: Be true to yourself and your values. Authenticity resonates more deeply than trying to mimic someone else’s persona.

Adapt and Evolve: Stay adaptable and open to learning. The industry and your career path will evolve, and so should you.

Are We Being Duped?

It’s easy to wonder if we’re all being duped by the glitz and glamour of social media accountants. The allure of quick success and a luxurious lifestyle may blind both clients and aspiring accountants to the underlying issues. However, it’s essential to look beyond the facade:

Critical Evaluation: Assess the long-term sustainability and satisfaction levels of the profession, not just the immediate gains.

Authenticity Check: Seek out professionals who genuinely enjoy their work and are transparent about the challenges they face. How much time these professionals spend on client facing tasks? The personal brand you are buying is not doing the work.

If the so-called best in the business no longer wants to do accountancy, what does that tell you about the state of the industry? It’s a stark indicator that something is seriously amiss. When top professionals, who presumably have the passion, skills, and success in the field, choose to leave, it raises several red flags.

This trend underscores the need for a reassessment of how the accountancy industry operates, supports its professionals, and adapts to the evolving career landscape.

The Allure and Risk of Trendy Accountants: A Cautionary Tale for Professional Bodies

To appeal to the next generation, accountants who have built significant followings on social media are often celebrated with industry awards, prime speaking slots at events, and widespread exposure by professional bodies and software vendors. This trend, driven by the large marketing budgets of these vendors, creates a narrative that positions these influencers as the face of modern accountancy. While this strategy may seem beneficial in the short term, it poses several long-term risks for the integrity and sustainability of the profession.

The Benefits: Visibility and Engagement

Increased Visibility: Featuring popular social media accountants can bring attention to the profession, making it appear more dynamic and appealing to younger audiences.

Engagement: Leveraging influencers can increase engagement with industry events and initiatives, driving higher participation and interest.

Marketing Appeal: For software vendors, aligning with trendy figures helps promote their products more effectively, leveraging the influencers’ large audiences.

The Risks: Erosion of Professional Standards

Quality Over Popularity: Prioritising influencers based on their social media following over their professional expertise can dilute the quality of industry events and undermine the credibility of awards and recognitions.  

Misaligned Values: Social media popularity often hinges on engaging content rather than substantive expertise. This misalignment can lead to a focus on style over substance, detracting from the profession’s core values of accuracy, integrity, and reliability.

Short-Term Gains, Long-Term Losses: While trendy accountants may attract attention quickly, the long-term health of the profession requires a commitment to continuous learning and ethical practices, which may be overshadowed by the pursuit of online fame.

Dependence on Marketing Dollars: Allowing software vendors with large marketing budgets to control the social narrative can lead to a conflict of interest, where commercial interests overshadow professional standards and independence.

Exclusion of True Experts: Genuinely skilled and experienced accountants who may not be as active on social media could be sidelined, leading to a loss of valuable insights and mentorship opportunities for the industry.

While leveraging social media influencers can bring immediate attention and engagement to the accountancy profession, it is crucial to ensure that this strategy does not compromise professional standards. By adopting a balanced approach that values expertise, integrity, and ethical practices, professional bodies can harness the benefits of social media while safeguarding the long-term health and reputation of the industry.

Entering a Period of “Show Rather Than Tell”: Actions Speak Louder in Accountancy

In the accountancy industry, we often hear about best practices, innovative strategies, and the latest trends from industry leaders and influencers. However, there is a growing gap between what is preached and what is practiced. This disparity leads to scepticism, especially when businesses tout rapid growth as proof of their methods’ effectiveness. It’s time for the industry to embrace a period of “show rather than tell,” where tangible evidence and real-world applications take precedence over aspirational rhetoric.

The Problem with “Tell”

Aspirational Advice: Many industry leaders and influencers share advice that is more aspirational than practical. While these ideas sound impressive, they often lack concrete implementation steps. In 2017 I backed away from a sale of my practice costing me £7k in solicitor fees because I deemed the practice owner to be aspirational. Not with my clients.    

Lack of Transparency: Without transparent, real-world examples of these practices in action, it’s hard to assess their true effectiveness.  

Assumption of Success: Rapid growth is often taken as a sign that these practices are being followed. However, growth can result from many factors, not all of which are sustainable or ethical.

The Need for “Show”

Real-World Examples: Demonstrate how strategies and best practices are implemented in actual businesses. Case studies, detailed walkthroughs, and behind-the-scenes looks can provide valuable insights.  

Data-Driven Results: Share measurable outcomes and data that support the effectiveness of these practices. This includes key performance indicators (KPIs), client testimonials, and employee feedback.  

Transparency in Challenges: Be open about the challenges and obstacles encountered along the way. Honest accounts of both successes and failures provide a more realistic picture of what it takes to achieve growth.

Implementing “Show Rather Than Tell”

Case Studies and Success Stories: Publish detailed case studies that highlight how specific strategies were implemented and the results they achieved. Include metrics and direct quotes from those involved.  

Live Demonstrations: Host webinars, workshops, and live demonstrations where industry professionals can showcase their methods in real time. This could include live audits, financial analysis, or technology integration sessions using. Using dummy data of course.  

Interactive Content: Create interactive content such as videos, infographics, and simulations that allow viewers to see the application of strategies in a dynamic and engaging way.  

Peer Reviews and Audits: Encourage peer reviews and external audits of business practices. Independent verification adds credibility and trust to the claims being made.  

Collaborative Platforms: Develop platforms where accountants can share their experiences, discuss challenges, and provide feedback on what works and what doesn’t. This community approach fosters learning and transparency.

The accountancy industry stands to benefit immensely from a shift towards “show rather than tell.” By focusing on demonstrating the actual application and effectiveness of best practices, the industry can bridge the gap between aspiration and reality. This approach will foster a culture of transparency, trust, and continuous improvement, ensuring that growth is not just rapid but also sustainable and ethical. It’s time to back up words with actions and let evidence speak for itself.

Conclusion

The trend of accountants turning into social media stars and then burning out is a concerning development for the industry. While it offers quick wins for the individuals involved, it does little for the long-term health of the profession. As a community, we need to foster a more sustainable approach to career development and client engagement. It’s time to move beyond the smoke and mirrors and build a profession that values authenticity, resilience, and genuine passion for the work.

In the end, the accountancy industry must navigate these changes carefully, balancing the benefits of social media visibility with the need for sustainable and ethical practices. The future of the profession depends on it.