Developing Authentic, Ongoing Client Relationships

By Jennifer Katrulya

Just about every day, my BMRG GAP members ask me a question similar to, "How do I grow my clients? I want to increase my revenue, so what do I do?"
 
The answer is simple. Growing your business is about stellar service, but it's also about communications and developing relationships with your clients that go beyond what they need – and are more focused on what you need. 
 
While there are many ways to do this, I think if you truly want to increase referrals to enable growth, you have to take the lead in facilitating these kinds of relationships. That means constantly being in touch without being overly obtrusive. The bottom line is that you want clients to instinctively and automatically refer business to you.  
 
Many clients and business owners are puzzled as to how they can refer business. While some do it very well, others might come back to you with the statement, "I really don't know anyone to refer." Nonsense. Of course they do. All you have to do is get them to understand the kind of business you're looking for and make them understand your needs (see the sidebar for some tips).
 
In order to avoid a seat-of-your-pants way to being more in touch with your clients, you should create a manageable plan that outlines how you can provide your audience with thought leadership that's useful to them, yet showcases your services. This mix should include social media efforts where you connect with clients and people you meet while networking or even when walking the dog. Your marketing strategy should also include other tools, such as your website and an e-newsletter. 
 
But What Do I Say?
The tactics are one thing, but the message is another. Let your message be determined by the media:
  • e-newsletters. An e-newsletter should be more than just a sales piece. It needs to contain useful information to your audience, such as a reminder of a tax deadline, for example. It should also showcase your knowledge and link to a website where people can learn more about your services. 
  • Social media. You should regularly post updates, especially to LinkedIn. These are short, focused statements that showcase your current projects; training, continuing education, and business events you're attending; or reminders about tax deadlines. 
  • Blog. Blogs allow you to share your point of view in more depth than a newsletter and help you raise search engine results – but they take time and energy to manage. Don't commit to doing a blog if you aren't going to keep it updated. 
 

Three Ways to Help Clients Understand Your Needs

Clients may not refer you to their colleagues, friends, and family because they don't know what you need. Here are three ways to do that:

  1. Tell them in an e-mail the exact kind of client you're looking for. Saying something like "anyone you come across" is too broad, and they won't know who to refer. Be specific.
  2. Take them to lunch or coffee to discuss. This accomplishes two things: you can have a comfortable conversation about whom you want as a client, and you can also spend some quality time outside the office with your referral sources.
  3. If you still have a business card (and you should, even if you swear by social media), use the reverse side to print what kind of business you're seeking. Seeing this in print will help the referral source remember what you want.
 

Step Beyond Marketing: Making the Relationship Personal

While marketing efforts are fundamental to staying top-of-mind with clients, you need a strategy to personally deepen the relationships you have:
  • Segment your audience. Spend time analyzing your clients. Segment them by revenue, industry, potential, or just by whom you like working with best. 
  • And segment again. Not all clients are created equal. Some clients may be profitable, but very hard to deal with. Others take less time and are fun, but have no budget. Once you've looked at your initial segments look again. Prioritize which ones have the most potential for additional business or referrals and those you can't afford to lose.
  • Create an outreach plan by segment. Once you have your prioritized list, create tactics to ensure you're in touch personally, especially with those who are in your top segment.  Call or send a card on their birthdays or maybe on the anniversary date they started with you.
    1. Top segment: This group demands the personal touch. Call or visit with these clients at least quarterly so you know what's happening with them. You can offer advice and help them reach their goals.
    2. Middle segment: Consider a personalized e-mail checking in on these clients at least twice a year. Something like, "Just thinking about you. How is business these days?" is adequate. Don't fret too much if they don't respond. Just letting them know you're thinking of them builds goodwill and customer loyalty.
    3. Bottom segment: This is where your basic marketing plan comes into play. Ensure, at the minimum, you're connected via LinkedIn to all of your clients and that you have their updated contact information for your e-newsletter.
Make sure you track how your clients respond using a CRM or client relationship management system. (Microsoft Outlook isn't a CRM; dig deeper and discover CRM systems that add value.) Did someone just have a baby or grandbaby? Did someone make a big sales goal? It's easy to lose track of the details. The entire point is for you to know about your clients and remember them!
 
Managing Your Time
"But, I can't do all this and my work!" you may say. Well, this is part of your work. You should spend at least thirty minutes of every day working on building your practice. Put together reminders in your CRM or online calendar with dates to call your clients. It's easy to let these things slide, but they truly are what give you an authentic voice to your clients.
 
The Results = Loyalty and Referrals
Of course, relationships don't make up for shoddy work. Assuming you have quality work, good customer service, and reach out to clients, you will have clients who'll share your name with others. Once you've developed a good rapport, don't be shy about asking them to recommend you on LinkedIn, be a reference, or refer you to friends and colleagues. That's how business grows!
 
More articles by Jennifer Katrulya:

About the author:

Jennifer L. Katrulya, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is president and CEO of BMRG, LLC. Katrulya provides advisory and mentoring services to growing and large CPA firms seeking to successfully establish best practices, educate, and motivate management and staff during periods of change and to streamline integrated processes in a hosted and SaaS environment. She is a frequent author and instructor on a wide range of technology topics. Katrulya also serves as a consultant for a number of software developers who seek input from her regarding their anticipated road maps and strategic plans, constructive feedback about solutions and/or features as they are developed, and ongoing feedback from her as her firm and BMRG's clients use many of the solutions. Contact her at jkatrulya@bmrg.net.

 

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