11 Strategies to Help You Win & Keep Accounting Clients
If you’re like a lot of small-practice accountants, you may love the work you do but dread the idea of marketing or selling your services. So how can you ensure your pipeline is strong and your business remains vital enough that you can keep doing what you love?
We spoke to three accountants who run small practices for their insight on getting new clients. Collectively, here’s what they recommend:
1. Build Relationships
We all know intuitively that we prefer to do business with people we know, like, and trust, and that we’re happy to do favors for the people we care about. Bernadette L. Harris, a Tax and Forensic Accountant with By The Book Accounting, recommends building strong relationships, and that accountants be “genuinely interested in [clients’] success.” She notes that developing this interest helps both win new clients and retain existing ones.
This strategy isn’t exactly a secret (after all, the customer relationship management software is a $31 billion industry). But don’t think you have to invest in a digital CRM to connect with clients. As Harris notes, simply asking questions about your customers’ lives and professional goals will go a long way.
When you ask questions, make sure you actually listen to how your clients (and potential clients) answer. Harris emphasizes the importance of listening, both to what a prospect says and to what they don’t say. “You have an opportunity to see if they have any misconceptions, and you can dispel those,” she notes.
She added that in a recent conversation, she discovered that a potential client thought having an accountant meant automatically having to pay on a monthly basis, a misconception she was able to correct. Listening lets you understand exactly why a prospect is hesitating and therefore gives you a better chance to close the sale – if it’s a good match.
3. Make Sure the Price Is Right (and Right There)
Speaking of billing misconceptions, Ben Surace, a sales and retention leader at Australian bookkeeping firm BeFree, recommends two strategies for getting new clients: post your pricing structure online and offer value-based pricing in addition to hourly options.
Today, many accounting tasks can be completed more quickly than in the past, thanks to technological advances. Offering clients an opportunity to pay per service rather than per hour can go a long way toward communicating that you’re focused on outcomes. Displaying your prices clearly online makes life easier for prospective customers shopping on the web.
4. Maintain a Solid Online Presence
It’s wise to make sure people can find you online. Having a business website can help demonstrate your legitimacy, but don’t stop there. Tiffany Powell of Sapphire Bookkeeping & Accounting Inc. notes that her company’s Yelp page “has helped tremendously with marketing.”
Review sites like Yelp can be helpful because they’re free to maintain but lend your business legitimacy through customer reviews. Give prospects a chance to hear good things about your business by making sure you do the following
- Claim your Google My Business profile.
- Claim your Yelp listing.
- Create a profile on Manta.
- Pay attention to and address any reviews posted on your company’s Facebook page (if you have one).
5. Ask for the Referrals You Want
Of course, the internet isn’t the only place accountants can get new business referrals. Harris recommends asking current clients for specific referrals: “Your clients are your best marketing force, but many times they do not know if you want new clients or what type of client you want or need more of. So, let them know.”
And if a client refers a new customer, she notes, be sure to send a prompt thank you. But referrals aren’t just a one-way street.
6. Build Referral Relationships with Other Businesses
Whether your clients are mostly small businesses or individuals, chances are good they also need services you don’t provide. Building relationships with other businesses (e.g., lawyers, financial planners, etc.) can mean a source of new clients for both you and them.
Powell notes that her firm maintains a list of referrals for anything her clients might need that her firm doesn’t offer. In fact, she notes, they “do not do any advertising but work only on a referral basis.”
7. Skip Paid Advertising Channels
One tip we heard repeatedly: don’t bother with traditional paid advertising channels. Harris notes that paid channels have always been the least effective for her firm. “I have done Yellow Pages, monthly fliers that get mailed to homes, magazine ads, and a few others. They have ALL cost much more than they ever yielded.”
Powell’s firm does no advertising at all, getting new customers only from referrals. And Surace contends that learning how to have a sales conversation (“something accountants don’t do!” he insists) can have a bigger impact on winning new clients than paying for advertising.
The reason ads don’t have great ROI for small accounting firms isn’t hard to guess: people want an accountant they can trust, and they’re much more likely to trust someone recommended by a friend or current client than someone who paid for a mailer.
8. Become a Trusted Adviser – Not Just an Accountant
In a recent Wasp Barcode survey of small businesses, respondents note what bothers them most about their accountants:
- Reactiveness rather than pro-activeness
- A lack of guidance
- Failure to provide advice
- Failure to educate the business owner
Translation: small-business owners want more from an accountant than someone who can crunch numbers. You have an insider’s view to the bigger-picture issues that might affect their business finances, so feel free to talk with them about their long-term goals – and then guide them toward achieving those goals.
Surace agrees, noting that becoming a trusted adviser has proven an effective way for his firm to retain clients.
9. Understand the Financials of New & Existing Clients
When thinking about attracting new clients, Surace recommends keeping two important lessons in mind:
- It’s less expensive to retain a client than to win a new one.
- Revenue doesn’t always mean profitability.
In other words, make sure you understand the different levels of service you offer and how many clients at each level you need to maintain to remain profitable. This doesn’t mean only working with the big fish: if you bring on a client for lower-level services and win their trust, you might soon find yourself providing more lucrative services.
10. Get Back to People Fast – and Use Plain English
Every industry has its jargon, but accounting-speak can be especially jarring to non-accountants, as they may already be intimidated by financial matters. Harris recommends speaking plain English in all conversations with clients. “They already know that you are smart,” she says. Speaking simply helps you connect on a personal level, which can improve trust.
She also emphasizes the importance of replying as quickly as possible to phone and email communications. “I have had several clients say they feel like they are my only client,” Harris notes. Demonstrating that level of commitment in your day-to-day services builds up the kind of goodwill that translates readily to referrals.
11. Embrace New Technology
Surace notes that embracing new technology and industry changes is crucial to growing a practice. This means you have to stay up to date on the latest developments in software and services that might benefit your businesses.