The old adage that ‘people buy people’ is true; I, for one, would never put my money and business in the hands of someone I found on a list in the phone book. First I would want to meet them and develop a rapport. I would want them to demonstrate by what they say and how well they listen that they understand my business and will be able to deal quickly and efficiently with my accounts. I’d want them to think of solutions to any problems and offer business advice that can help me. I’d like to look them in the eyes and see that they are trustworthy. I would be more interested in the practice if they offer services I might need in the future, such as payroll and bookkeeping.
I’d like them to be proactive, not reactive; I’d like them to remind me that I need to do X by such and such a date. I’d like them to keep me within the law but to save me as much tax as possible. I’d like to know what their services will cost every year and be reassured that there will be no surprise bills. I’d like them to be affordable and, if possible, I’d much prefer that they had been recommended by someone I trust.
Even in this age of online social networking, when it comes to getting new clients, nothing beats recommendations. After all, as an accountant you are dealing with clients’ successes and failures and their most confidential area – their money.
One accountant I know binds all the accounts for all of his clients in an expensive looking folder. It only costs a few pennies, but when his client is showing them to his bank manager, friends, and business associates they all comment on the fact that their accountant does not do that. Remember - every client is a potential ambassador for your firm.
As has been highlighted in other articles on this site, it often costs more to get a new client than it does to achieve extra fee income from existing clients, so to increase your fee income, the first course of action should be to extend the range of services you offer. But what else can you do to increase your fees and client base?
A network of affiliates is one answer: investment advisors, lawyers, bank managers, real estate agents, business mentors, product providers will all meet clients who need accountants. While you don’t want to seem too desperate for business, asking affiliates to recommend you can reap rewards. A simple ‘We’re expanding, so if you know anyone who needs an accountant please point them our way’ can work wonders. You could also ask them to keep a supply of fliers, brochures, or business cards to hand out.
You may already network through everything from the Rotary Club to the golf course, but if you haven’t got those networks and want to target business clients effectively, it could be worth joining a business networking club. Some people swear by them, while others say they are a waste of time and money - but you won’t know until you try. There are hundreds of them, so there is bound to be one in your area.
There are business networks specifically for women, while others incorporate specific interests.
Some are free to join, while others charge a membership fee. Some also charge an entrance fee to meetings and there can be an additional fee for food and drinks, which may not be covered by your membership. However, the most expensive networks aren’t necessarily the best.
Most business networks meet once a month, some for breakfast and others for lunch or after work. To get the best out of them, you need to attend regularly. As Woody Allen said, 80 percent of success is turning up.
You are highly unlikely to get new business contacts on your first visit, but as you will have handed out lots of business cards, hopefully a member may need you in the future or will pass your details on.
Ten top tips for effective networking
If there are 30 people at an event, you’re obviously not going to be able to spend 30 minutes with each person – five to ten minutes with as many people as you can is perfectly acceptable.
Judy Perle, who runs network training workshops Management Advantage, recommends the following golden rules:
- Giving is better (and more comfortable) than getting, so think about what you can offer, rather than what you stand to gain.
- Step outside your comfort zone – just meeting people you already know and feel comfortable with doesn’t do much to extend your network.
- Think laterally – who do you know who could introduce you to somebody new?
- Re-establish relationships that may have fallen by the wayside.
- Get out and about – go to networking events / conferences / meetings regularly.
- Be interested in other people – don’t push or sell yourself.
- Always carry your business cards – you really never know when you might meet someone interesting.
- Try to follow up quickly when you meet someone for the first time. Otherwise, how can you expect them to remember who you are?
- You can network anywhere, anytime (not just at officially designated ‘networking events’).
- Stay in touch with people – one night ‘stands’ aren’t usually very productive.
On a practical note, one wise chap I know says he always has one pocket for his own cards and another for those collected. As he moves onto someone else, he makes a few notes on the back of the collected ones about the conversation held, and writes a few visual clues, such as ‘tall, with glasses’ as a memory aide. He also e-mails every contact the next day, not to ‘sell’ himself, but simply to say how nice it was to meet. “The clients it has brought in has paid my network club many, many times over,” he says.
Nicola Draper runs Draper Hinks, a firm specializing in brokering the sale and purchase of accountancy firms in the UK. She is a member of the Federation of Small Businesses network club.
Reprinted from our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk