By Jennifer Katrulya
CPAs and accountants often ask me for advice on how they can build their firms. More specifically, they want to know how to find prospects and convert them into highly profitable clients who will be with them for the long term.
Sound familiar? It should. The number one topic on most firms' radar is recruitment and retention, but before you can have an intelligent plan for finding and keeping clients, I think you have to take the time to figure out (1) who your ideal client really is, and (2) what kinds of referrals you don't want to receive.
We all know about the A, B, and C buckets. Your ideal clients are in your A bucket. These are the ones you hold in highest regard and, most likely, they feel the same about you, but I've seen too many firms forget one important thing: our best clients also are the ones who have the potential to bring us more business.
All of us look at our best clients a little differently, but because we are in a service business, my ideal clients are the ones I help the most by discovering an opportunity, helping them solve a problem, or saving them time and resources. You also know instinctively when this happens; it's the lightbulb you see getting brighter whenever a client is satisfied or pleased with what you offer, which could range from finding ways to lower the client's tax liability, upgrading software so the client becomes more efficient, or providing assistance in any one of a dozen other areas.
The bottom line is your clients trust your opinion, so having a conversation with them about finding ways to help them grow - while also discussing ways to help you grow - seems natural and unobtrusive. Let's face it . . . the last call any one of us wants to receive is from a pushy salesman asking us for our business. A better way, of course, is to find quality referrals that can either generate more business or connect you to their friends and colleagues who may need your services.
Logically, then, your ideal clients are also your best source for referrals.
Where are you currently finding your referrals? In this day and age, business can no longer be done on the golf course. In other words, you have to make an effort to seek them out; they aren't going to come to you organically without any effort on your part. Still, the question you'll be asked most often is to define what you do so your best sources - again, your ideal clients - will know who to refer.
Instead of coming up with an explanation of what you do so others will know who you want as a client, try beginning the process by thinking about the kinds of prospects and referrals you don't want:
People your referral sources don't hold in high regard. If your ideal clients don't respect the person they're referring to you, how can the relationship get on solid footing?
Prospects who need something outside your niche services. Do you provide ongoing accounting and advisory services and want to move away from one-time data file cleanup and/or software training projects? If so, then it can be hard, but it's incredibly important to avoid taking that next referral who asks you to provide one-time services. It's as simple as that.
Prospects who work in industries in which you are unfamiliar. It takes quite a bit of time and investment on your end to develop certain industry focuses. While accounting is accounting, it's done very differently by industry, and the software expertise you need to know is also very different. This is especially true if your firm is providing outsourced CFO and/or high-level advisory services. In order to provide the expertise your client truly needs, you need to be sure your prior experience and ongoing involvement in the client's industry are similar to or greater than someone the client would hire to fill that position internally.
While all of these points are good to keep in mind, here's one more that might seem contradictory: Sometimes, prospects don't know what they don't know, and one thing CPAs and accountants aren't necessarily good at is cross-selling and realizing how much they know. For example, your prospect's business is stagnant, yet the owner can't figure out why it's not growing. Business is coming in, so there must be something else going on that isn't apparent. One look by you at the financials uncovers gaps in receivables or spending. As a result, the referrals you think you don't want may be the ones you can help the most.
Don't sell yourself short. Think about all you have to offer and find the best opportunities possible. Remember who your ideal clients are and exchange referrals. Sure, there are many ways to find new business, but doesn't it make sense to find it through your most ideal clients?
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 roadmaps 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.