Are you interested in more accounting clients?
Whenever a professional leaves a company job to start their own business, they realise that they need to wear a lot more hats in their own business. Two of the most important hats are sales and marketing. You may bring 10 years of accounting experience from a great firm and be very good at what you do, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a full roster of clients on day one (or consider yourself very lucky if you do).
Finding new clients isn’t an impossible task, and it doesn’t require you to be a natural-born salesperson. There are plenty of ways to use new social media marketing and traditional face-to-face strategies to find those initial clients and start building a successful accounting business.
Are you stuck saying yes to every opportunity that comes through the door for fear of not having enough work? Don’t let chance determine the kind of work you do. For a truly successful accounting practice, here are five steps to help you attract the accounting clients you want.
Luck and chance seemingly play a large role in building an accounting practice. The work that comes through the door ends up defining what you do. And yet many accountants are dissatisfied with their working lives and feel powerless to change it. But you can design your accounting practice.
The world is changing. If you don’t work for a large firm that constantly assigns you to projects, you probably need to bring new clients through the door of your accounting practice. This creates a problem because you didn’t get into accounting to do marketing or sales.
Even worse, you may know some people who think trickery and deception are the tools of the sales trade. They give sales a bad name. But you still need a steady flow of new business.
So, what can you do?
Choose your focus
Imagine your ideal practice. What do you want to be known for? What sort of accounting work do you most enjoy? It could be a transaction, an industry, a type of client or a business situation. Is there an interesting job you’ve done for one client, and others might have a similar problem or need?
By identifying a niche and understanding who your ideal client is, you’ll be better placed to start attracting the work you want – and saying no to anything that doesn’t fit the bill.
Demonstrate your value
When most people buy something, they consider several potential brands or suppliers before selecting one. To be chosen, you must be on that shortlist. You need to be on their radar before they need you.
Publishing articles on the Internet provides a way to inform people who are already in your network about your specific expertise and professional interests. What you write about shapes people’s perceptions of what you can do for them.
Say it with impact
To get attention in a noisy world, summarise your point succinctly, then find a way to make it memorable. You could use a diagram, metaphor, catchy quote, surprising statistics or a set of actionable steps. Allow your tone of voice to sound like you, not a textbook.
Produce a consistent flow of information. One article isn’t enough. But don’t dilute your efforts by writing on every subject on which you could advise. Pick a theme and stick to it, and delve deep to demonstrate your understanding.
Once you’ve written an article, make the most of it. Publish it through Twitter, Facebook, your blog and on LinkedIn.
Build your network
The more people who know what you do, the faster your practice will grow. Go out and network to meet people, and stay in regular contact with them. Be patient and consistent. Build your profile, and you’ll get more inquiries. You’ll be able to choose your clients, not have them forced upon you.
Identify your target clients
Not all clients and prospects are created equal. You can probably put your existing clients into three groups: great, average and not-so-great.
Think about the factors that determine what a great client looks like to your firm:
- How easy are they to deal with?
- How much total revenue do they generate?
- Can you work quickly and effectively with them?
- How profitable are they?
- Do they bring positive exposure?
- Do they create connections to other great clients?
There may be other factors you need to consider. The important thing is that you understand what your ideal clients look like before you start chasing them. Sometimes there are trade-offs involved. It’s not always financial factors that put a prospect on the list. You might be moving into a new area of expertise. You may be prepared to work for less profitable clients while you’re building your reputation.
Or if your firm has a specialty, you may be able to charge a premium. Looking for new clients in the area you specialise in could be a natural and profitable direction for you.
Partner with other qualified and trusted professionals
Your clients may already use other firms for services you don’t offer, such as:
- legal representation
- investment advice
- recruiting needs
Even if these aren’t your firm’s areas of expertise, you must play a role in helping them with referrals if you can.
Think about establishing or improving the business alliances you have with other trusted professionals. Good lawyers, investment advisors, technology consultants and recruiters can help serve your clients. And you may receive mutual referrals from them.
It may also pay to establish non-competitive relationships with other firms you trust. But make sure you’re not in direct competition. For example, a firm with strong company tax expertise may offer bilateral referrals with a firm that has substantial company advisory experience. Or if you’re changing your firm’s focus, you could partner with a less specialised general bookkeeping or payroll practice. They could take on the day-to-day functions as you begin to specialise in higher-value services.
Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals
It’s hard to find a better salesperson than a satisfied client. Your clients don’t exist in an exclusive relationship with you. They interact with other businesses of all shapes and sizes. Their recommendation of your firm adds value to your reputation.
Don’t take a “wait and see” approach with referrals. Be proactive. Ask your best clients to spread the word about your firm. Remember to use professional networking services like LinkedIn for recommendations and endorsements. Put testimonials on your website. Some firms use a more structured referral rewards program. These provide existing clients with defined discounts or benefits as a result of a referral.
Upsell complementary services to your existing clients
You can often increase business by offering additional services to clients you already serve if they use your competitors for services you also offer, explain why your firm can serve them better. But pick your moment and take your time. Set up a special meeting, presentation or workshop. Think about the most suitable forum.
And don’t just talk about your firm. What are the additional benefits you can offer to your client? These could be:
- cost or fee benefits
- improved productivity
- more accurate and reliable data
- better service
- smarter and more experienced people.
And if your clients are already well-served? Look for opportunities to provide additional services to their partners, friends and colleagues.
Learn how to network more effectively
Networking events are vital if you learn how to make the most of them. Even in today’s digital age, in-person events are great opportunities to meet new prospects. It’s still hard to beat face-to-face interaction when done well. Networking events are even more effective for businesses who serve other businesses.
It’s important to be prepared before you attend networking events. Find out as much as possible about the other attendees before you go. It may be possible to get an attendee list in advance. Think about what would make your firm valuable to these potential clients. Make sure you meet key people and be sure to follow up afterwards.
Open doors by doing business with like-minded people
When you spend time with like-minded people, you’ll find casual opportunities to share stories and network. Non-traditional events, groups and activities provide great networking opportunities.
Do you participate in activities or hobbies that include business decision-makers? You’ll already have a starting point for conversation. Whether you’re active in community projects, a cycling group, or a golf club, these interactions can become strong client relationships.
Look for businesses with the same approach to technology
Many businesses have moved to the cloud in the last few years. It’s not simply a fad or a buzzword. If your firm is comfortable with remote working, and if digital collaboration with clients is second nature, you’re already well placed to serve similar businesses.
Make the most of your love of technology by marketing your services to the right prospective clients. Invite them to tech and innovation conferences – ideally where you’ll also be. Send them links to new, relevant and interesting tech stories and clips. Share technology providers you rate, such as:
- cloud providers
- IT security firms
- web design companies and agencies
- development and integration shops
- ISPs and hosting providers
- hardware resellers.
Don’t spam your clients endlessly. Less is more. An insightful link shows you understand their world.
Think strategically about cold calling and visits
Cold calling often has a bad reputation, but it can be very effective. It depends on your perspective, preparation and execution. The key to cold calling is to gain as much insight as you can into your potential client before your interaction. Know who you want to speak to, what their role is and what some of their needs are. And don’t forget to listen carefully. A natural conversation is more effective than a sales pitch.
Some firms use specialist salespeople to make calls to key decision-makers at potential clients’ businesses. This can be extremely cost-effective. This method can be used to turn a list of unsorted prospects into cold, medium and warm leads. Once qualified, the warm prospects can then become leads for senior sellers in your firm.
Use speaking engagements and seminars to raise your profile
Think about the best conference or seminar you’ve ever been to. Who was the best speaker at that conference? Chances are you’ll never forget what you heard or saw. That’s an incredibly powerful tool.
There’s no reason why your firm can’t leave a lasting impression. You need to make sure you pick the leading conferences where the right people will be. And use your best speakers or presenters. Make sure the presentation is memorable. Use storytelling to communicate your ideas. A story well told is memorable, compelling and interesting.
Extend your reach with social media, blogs and content marketing
You have a rich store of valuable industry information and knowledge in your head. Now think about the collective intelligence of your firm. That’s an incredible amount of intellectual property that can be unlocked and shared with potential clients.
You can reap the benefits from this knowledge using your website, social media, blogs and other online content tools.
Be active, interested & interesting – The ability for a presence on LinkedIn to provide you with instantaneous leads upon the creation of your profile is just not how it works. Your profile is very unlikely to be seen by anyone other than those who are specifically searching for you – or others wanting to sell to you in your role as an accountant. However, if you regularly contribute content – whether it by sharing your blog posts or commenting on other threads, then it is possible to build up a steady influx of leads over time—the caveat being, of course, that the content you share must provide value to the audience. The worst thing you can do is create a profile and go on the hard-sell to people you do not know.
Ask for LinkedIn Testimonials
Before coming to meet you for the first time, there is a good chance that the prospective client will search for your LinkedIn profile to get a feel of what kind of service you and your firm provide. Having testimonials show up as social proof that you are worth your salt is a great way of reassuring prospects. The more testimonials, the better, but having just 4 or 5 glowings, but honest, testimonials on your profile is exponentially better than having none at all. There is no harm in asking for a testimonial from existing clients, colleagues and suppliers.
Ask for Trust Pilot Reviews
Sometimes, your clients just need a little nudge in the right direction. There is no shame in asking for them to provide an online review of you and your firm. Trust Pilot is a reputable review website that potential clients may look at before choosing an accountant. The more positive reviews you have on Trust Pilot compared to other accountants’ listings in the local area, the greater the chance of you being the first (and final) accountant they call/email.
Google Business Reviews
Ever wondered why the firm of accountants down the road has so many Google Reviews? Perhaps your firm has been trading twice as long as them, and you know that your service offering and experience is as good, if not better than theirs. It boils down to one simple fact – they ask their clients to review them on Google. There that’s it. Simple. Of course, you can optimise the likelihood of the client providing a particularly glowing review by strategically choosing the point in time that you ask them for a review. When do you think your client review is going to be most favourable to you? When you send them a tax bill that is slightly higher than they were expecting at a point in time when cash flow is tight? Or when you have managed to identify ways of saving the client hundreds of thousands of pounds in tax for the next ten years?
Start your own podcast
Creating your own podcast can be exciting. However, you must have a good think about who you are talking to. Is the podcast aimed at other accountants or your target clients? Adapt the language used to suit your preferred audience. Perhaps bring in other experts who can spice the podcast up a bit – rather than each episode being a twenty-minute monologue. You could also invite existing clients on the show to talk about their own business – along with talking about how great and helpful your accountancy firm has been to them, of course!
Although most accountants provide free initial consultation as standard, not all explicitly make it clear in their marketing material. Anything that communicates the fact that the initial contact with you as an accountant does not come with a financial risk must be a good thing. Think about it, if the prospect is picking which of three very similar (at least on paper) accountants they will contact first – and only one of the three explicitly mentions that the meeting won’t cost them a penny – with all other factors being equal, which do you think they will choose?
Billboard / Bus Stop Advertisement
You don’t see many accountants advertising on large billboards or bus stops, do you? That’s probably for a good reason. However, that is not to say that a strategically placed display wouldn’t work in some circumstances (e.g. outside a business exhibition).
Publicise Client Case Studies
How many times have you helped a business owner with a financial problem they were facing? Countless times? Probably. Pick three or so of these real-life examples of the great work that you do and write it up into a short case study. Perhaps write a blog post about each situation—link to the case stud from your social media posts. Prominently link to the case studies from your website homepage. Of course, you should ask the client involved for permission to use them as an example – and remember to send them a copy of the case study for their approval before it goes live.
Once you do land your first few clients, do all that you can to provide them with great service and build a friendly relationship. That is how you get word of mouth and momentum going. Focus on helping, rather than hard-selling, and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make great connections with opportunities for great clients.