Do you know what's changed the most in business over the last 30 years? It's not computers. Or phones. Or travel. Or technology.
It's business coaches.
Business coaches didn't exist 30 years ago. At least not the way they exist now. Oh, I'm sure there were some super-rich executives in the 1970s living in LA and snorting cocaine who thought it would be a great status thing to have a "business coach" at their side to impress their friends. But nowadays everywhere you look there's a "coach."
They work out of their houses. They charge $200 per hour for their advice. They seem like they've got it all figured out. Except it's never really clear what they did before they became a business "coach." None of them are licensed, because there's no such thing as a licensed business coach. But they all give advice on life, love and running a successful company. Even though I don't know many who have accomplished even that.
Except for Brad Finberg. CPAs looking to enhance their client service can learn a lot from Brad.
Like any profession, the "coaching" profession (if you can call it that) has quality people that rise to the top. Which means that there are people who spend their lives coaching who actually know what they're talking about and provide a valuable service to their clients. Brad Finberg is one of those guys. He's actually not a full-time coach - he runs a construction business outside of Dallas. His business has done incredibly well, even during the last recession. He's grown it to the point where he now has a general manager running it day to day. So he started his own coaching thing to help other contractors succeed.
As coaches go, Brad's pretty legit. He has a good resume. He's had success. And he's coaching because he not only likes to work with others, but because he's got good advice to give. His clients love him.
Brad's not the typical business coach you'll meet. First of all, he's a man (and for some reason, you don't get too many of those in coaching). He has actually run a successful business, and didn't go into coaching because he was fired from his last job or "needed more flexibility." He doesn't hawk his own corny books or videos. He doesn't ridiculously describe himself as a "life coach," because, as he said, "When you find someone who actually knows how to understand life, let me know who that is." He doesn't wear a turtleneck sweater. He voted for George W. Bush.
So when I asked Brad what has helped him the most in becoming such a good coach, he said simply, "Videos." Brad uses video technology as one of his key coaching tools. And video technology has helped make his coaching business a success.
VIDEO TOOLS FOR SUCCESS
That's because Brad's business, like a good CPA relationship, is based on personal interaction. He coaches other business owners on how to make more money, balance their lives, manage their daily professional challenges. His clients are all over the country. They're busy people too, so he meets with them at all times during the day. He speaks to his clients at least once a week, sometimes more. He has pre-arranged sessions and is available for ad hoc calls. And he does this all from his home office.
"Without using the video tools I use, I could never have been this successful," Brad admitted.
Brad likes a service called Oovoo (www.oovoo.com). It's a two-way chat application that's very much like the popular Skype chat application. Brad finds it much easier to use than Skype. All he does is download the application (once) and set himself up as a user. Then he can send an e-mail to his clients inviting them to a chat session.
With Oovoo, the client only has to click on the link in the invitation e-mail. They're automatically directed to Brad's session and within seconds Brad's smiling face appears on their screen. If the client has a webcam on their computer, then Oovoo will recognize this and show his smiling face right back at Brad. (Unfortunately most of Brad's clients aren't smiling - remember, they're in need of coaching, right?) The two-way chat session is ... free. If you want to hook in more users, higher resolution or the ability to store calls, you can purchase a plan. Brad, penny-pincher that he is, has never found the need to do so.
Brad also likes to use Talk Fusion (www.talkfusion.com). TalkFusion costs $175 to start and then $20 per month thereafter. For this price you can record up to a five-minute video message and then blast out an e-mail with your video embedded to one or hundreds or recipients at one time. You can do this as many times as you want. TalkFusion also offers video conferencing, live broadcasting and other features for this price too. A slightly more expensive plan expands the service, offering more users and increased video time.
Brad likes to use Talk Fusion for sending video messages. He records a weekly general business tip and then sends it out to all of his clients. Sometimes he'll record a video message aimed directly at a particular client.
"For some of my clients, it's better to communicate my thoughts via video than writing it out in an e-mail," he said.
NOT FOR EVERYONE
Video making isn't for everyone. Unlike most business "coaches," Brad is a normal-looking person. He does not have overly curly hair, out-of-date sport jackets or androgynous suit outfits. He's comfortable in front of a camera. He always keeps a spare jacket and tie in his office in case he wants to make an impromptu message. And his office is clean and professional - no sheep dog snoring behind him, no mood music playing in the background, no barf-inducing posters on the walls that say stupid things like, "We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails."
Brad also suggests a good, high-resolution camera. He invested $150 in a decent Web camera for his computer. And good lighting, too. You don't want your message looking like some type of Al-Qaeda terrorist message. Your video doesn't have to look like Avatar either. But quality is important. "People get distracted by bad video." Brad said. "And the message can get lost."
Which brings us to the last piece of advice from Brad: "Video isn't everything, it's just one part of my communications." In other words, just because you use Oovoo or Talk Fusion doesn't meant that you're still not sending e-mails, making phone calls or ... gasp ... meeting with clients face to face.
Video is a good way to communicate, but Brad uses it effectively because he uses it as part of his communications and not his only form of communication. "Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting," he said.
Unless you're meeting with one of those other annoying business coaches, that is.
Gene Marks, CPA, is the owner of the Marks Group, which sells customer relationship, service, and financial management tools to small and midsized businesses.
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