By Allan Boress, CPA - With 2008 here, now is the perfect time for you to set your goals for how you will change and improve in the New Year. What kind of objectives do you have in mind for yourself – and your practice?
• To lose weight?
• To spend more time with your family?
• To build your practice with more quality clients?
• What are you planning to do about customer and client service? Let's face it -- you're primarily in business to do one thing: to serve your clients and referral sources.
The most important asset you have is the quality of your personal relationships with these people.
Sure, sure … you work on your client and referral source relationships on a daily basis, so it doesn’t really have to be a separate goal for you. I doubt it – most people in our profession are so busy that they have fallen into the “take-it-for-granted” trap. So much business happened by accident that many of our peers have fooled themselves into believing they are great business developers. Not.
A lot of CPAs have made a lot of money these past few years merely TAKING ORDERS from their clients and referral sources. In reality, there are very few good rainmakers out there, but many order takers. Which are you?
The future holds …
Do you really think this economy is going to last forever? Therefore, you need to make enhancing the condition of your client and referral source relationships a top priority in 2008.
Some sample resolutions for you
Here are some ideas to follow through on this priority:
• Resolve to fire some clients:
My good friend and master business consultant, Gene Cohen, once pointed out to me that there are three types of clients: “A’s,” “B’s,” or “C’s.”
“A” Clients are the family jewels. Oftentimes, they provide a vast majority of our business (the old Pareto Rule: 80% of your business comes from 20% of your clients). Because they are so important to your business, they often require a great deal of attention. Makes sense, right?
“C” Clients are large in number and tend to be small in relative dollars. They are not “B” clients because they are not big enough or because they don’t feed you referrals. Here’s the problem: sometimes these “C” clients require “A” level service or are simply a hassle to deal with and destroy morale in the office, in the plant, etc.
Here’s the real problem: Because “A” Clients require a lot of attention, and some “C” Clients require an inordinate amount of time and mindfulness, who tends to get squeezed? You have it: The “B” Clients are the ones that tend to get taken for granted and get pinched for attention and care. They then become the ones most likely at risk to your hungrier competitors.
Cohen says the way to build a profitable business is to FIRE “C” Clients who simply aren’t worth it. Then take that additional time, effort and energy and devote it to your “B” Clients and look to make them into “A’s!”
I’ve done it, as have many of my clients and it works. An added benefit: improved morale in the office and with your workers. When you take the guts to fire those jerky customers and clients and stand up for your people, they’ll love you for it.
• Resolve to fire some referral sources:
As long as we’re in a firing mood, why don’t we fire some of those people called “referral sources” who haven’t been doing their job.
The branch manager of a neighborhood bank and her big-shot regional manager decided to drop in one day last week. You should have seen the look on their faces when I told them that we weren’t going to be referring any more of our clients to them (we have referred dozens).
“Why?” she asked (because we had referred dozens of our clients to them with zip back). “Well, you know that it’s not often a banker can refer a client to a CPA firm,” she tried.
“Excuse me for being direct,” I replied. “I’ve been a CPA for 30 years, and have authored 12 books on selling and marketing professional services, published in 6 languages. I know THAT BANKERS CAN MAKE REFERRALS AT WILL WITH THEIR CUSTOMERS to a CPA, just like we do with our clients – and formerly for you – with bankers. Please don’t blow smoke at me. The gent up at Regions takes me out to lunch regularly and has tossed 6 great clients our way in the last six months. We can’t invest referrals with banks and get nothing back.”
Now, we’re their featured business of the week in the first week of January. Their people will be wearing our tee-shirts and we will have a full display in their lobby.
One of the exercises I require my CPA firm clients to do at the end of the year, or the beginning of the New Year, is to schedule out incoming and outgoing referrals for the prior year. Do some people really owe you? Have you spoken to them in the past and they still haven’t come through? Do you continue to feed them referrals? Are you nuts (see above)?
Resolve to find newer and better referral sources in 2008. Develop more and better relationships with people who can help you and vice versa. All that will happen is you will have more business, be happier doing what you are doing, and insure your continuing success in any coming economic downturn.
We will be firing 3 of our financial planner referral sources as they are great takers and poor givers. Boy, are they going to be surprised when they see their “referral machine (as one of them referred to us)” break down and go away.
• Resolve to take a look at your organizations
I admire people who are involved. It’s so easy to go home at night or not venture out of your comfort zone, rather than be active in organizations that may help the community, your profession or the public in general. I am always amazed at how many people get by without these “extra-curricular” activities.
Sometimes these pastimes are for God or for your kids. I just love it when people tell me they are involved in their PTA as their outside organizational work. I don’t think so. That’s something you need to do for your family. I’m talking about building your business.
Everyone has to be active and visible in at least one or two organizations where people can “bump into you,” and you them. You need to be in places to meet “strangers,” people you are not yet in relationship with. But you have to be in those places that pay off!
Resolve these next couple of months to take a closer look at those groups you belong to. Are they worth it? Are there better places where you can do better business? Don’t just be involved with a group simply because you always have. Does it continue to pay off? Maybe it’s time to replace them.
Where to go? Ask your clients and referral sources for ideas. You will discover powerful organizations that they can hand-carry you into you may not be aware of (and your competition isn’t either).
• Resolve to invest in yourself and your people: sales training, time management
What are you doing to continually get better at these skills? Do you know that Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest professional golfer of all time, still takes lessons? Are you so arrogant to think you can’t or shouldn’t get better?
Resolve to make 2008 your best year ever.