This was highly unusual for me - not receiving an enquiry but the source of the enquiry. Most enquiries I receive come from referrals, if they are not referred then they are almost always from LinkedIn. I can't ever remember receiving an enquiry via Google before and so this really got me thinking.
You see, I would never think of searching for a business service via Google, I might look for a plumber for my house or try to find an answer to a question, or even look for something that may have been in the news but I would never consider using Google for finding an important business (service or product) partner.
Maybe I am unusual but I am aware of the process it can take to get yourself a top ranking in a Google search, businesses seem obsessed with it…..but being top of a Google search doesn't show that they are good at what they do (unless they offer SEO services!).
So I decided to conduct an experiment.
I have just had to pay a pretty hefty tax bill, it's that time of the year and it is never a pleasant experience but I was somewhat shocked when my accountant gave me the bad news!
So I have decided to look into the possibility of changing my accountant and seeing if I can get better advice on tax issues. This seemed an ideal opportunity to compare my preferred method of finding a business (LinkedIn) to a Google search.
In Google I simply typed in the words "tax advice" Manchester and here is the result;
I don't know about you but I tend to ignore the results in the top (highlighted) section because I know they are paid adverts and the same goes for the column on the right. I somehow feel that the main (non highlighted) results are the most genuine. That said, I also know that it is a distinct possibility that the reason those ones appear is because the owners of those website have spent time and money on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques - is this any more genuine than the ads?
The first 2 results are a directory of professionals in Manchester, this is OK but takes me through to a list of tax specialists in Manchester with some very basic, one dimensional information. The next two are specific organisations who may be of interest. The problem is that I have no idea who any of these companies are. They may be suitable, they may not, they may provide a great service (they all tell me they do) or maybe not. The 4th result looks like an option, the link takes me through to a page detailing specific tax services, with the name of the contact and a link to email him....its a very good website but this person is not known to me and I still have no idea whether he is any good.
I am really not used to searching for something in this way, I would much rather search LinkedIn. Lets see what results I achieved when I searched for "tax advice" in a 25 mile radius of Manchester;
Now this looks much more user-friendly to me. Firstly I am not getting website results, I am getting real people and I can see plenty of information about them - where they work, what they do, who has recommended them and most importantly who I know that may know them (note the top 5 results are all 2nd tier connections) so I could contact a 1st tier and ask them if they could recommend them.
LinkedIn is so mainstream these days that you can be pretty sure that any business you wish to find will be represented on LinkedIn and the information that you see in a search result is so much more valuable than you see in a bland Google search result.
So is this how I went about sourcing a new Accountant? Well no it isn't actually because there is a better way.........
Whilst the above results are useful, LinkedIn does provide us with a more powerful tool that makes Google look like the Yellow Pages (remember them?). LinkedIn Answers (found under the 'More" menu) provides you with the facility to ask a question and send it to up to 200 of your 1st tier connections, so this is what I constructed;
Having written the question I filtered my connections to those in my area and sent this question to all 180 of them.
Within seconds I had my first response by email which read;
Hi Mark. My accountant saved me £10,000 TAX and £5,000 VAT - if you want an intro let me know!
At the time of writing (30 minutes or so after posting the question) I have had 12 similar responses, mostly from people I have met but also from others, all giving me valuable personal recommendations. I am sure this will probably double within the next day.
Actually forget the 12 responses...its now 16.....oh and none of them appeared in the Google result!
So my advice is to restrict your Google searches to non business related needs. For business matters turn to LinkedIn and ask the people you know you can trust - your network.