How to Lead Clients to the Right Serviceby
How can you steer clients toward services that will help them most? Our contributor Annie Mueller took on this question by interviewing CPA Caitlynn Eldridge who works exclusively with online entrepreneurs beyond managing taxes and books.
Most clients may think they know what accounting services businesses need, but fail to see the long-term picture or underlying dependencies.
They’re often seeking to solve an immediate problem, like tax planning and preparation. However, from the state of their financial documentation you can clearly see the greater need: Professional bookkeeping, cash flow forecasting an audit or even a virtual CFO.
To get some insights, I asked Caitlynn Eldridge, CPA about her process. Eldridge has a very thoughtful approach to the services she offers and how she works with clients. Her strategies can be applied to both single-person practices and to multi-member firms.
Limit Your Core Services
When you clearly define and limit the core services you offer--as an individual or as a firm--you can either eliminate or reduce other service offerings. Be strategic for both your clients and your practice: Eliminate the services which don’t work well for you and your firm, and reduce the offers which bring only short-term value for your clients.
“I began with a very traditional firm approach: tax preparation, bookkeeping, payroll, some combination of those for some clients (bookkeeping and tax returns for example). As I dug into how I wanted to serve clients and their businesses I found that doing tax return prep as a standalone service was no longer going to work,” says Eldridge. “It was too high volume and not enough of a relationship for how I operate.”
- Professionals: Consider the profitability of each service, then examine how each service fits in your long-term business goals.
- Firms: Identify the strengths in your firm, then add or update core services to match.
Create Subscriptions and Packages
Eldridge offers a membership group for new business owners, and a packaged service which includes basic financial services as well as consulting. Combining services helps lower your onboarding cost, reduces task-switching, and ensures that clients are getting the full array of services needed for financial health.
It’s a more valuable approach for clients, and a better strategy for firm growth. However, you must be willing to release some of the short-term sales from standalone services. Eldridge chose to offer tax prep services only to her monthly clients. The result is that tax returns are easier and more accurate, since clients “aren't ‘guessing’ at numbers and we have actual figures to work from,” she says.
- Professionals: Add more value and turn offers into ongoing agreements. To reduce single-serve clients, follow Eldridge’s lead and limit standalone services.
- Firms: Designate a firm member to focus on standalone offers (such as seasonal tax prep) and make it easy for single-serve clients to move into an ongoing arrangement.
Tailor Services to Clients
You can only customize services according to how well you know your clients. To know your clients, choose a particular group, industry, or business type as your focus. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so pick the people you want to please and do just that.
“I primarily focus on online service based businesses,” says Eldridge. “These are businesses that have grown quickly and are messy.” It's a fun challenge, she says, which “often involves starting books fresh for a year and coaching the clients on how to keep their LLCs protected and make decisions that help their businesses profit.”
Because Eldridge has defined her primary clients, she can tailor her services for what they need most. “These individuals are amazing at making money, and part of what I try to help them with is keeping it,” she says. For her clients, pairing services such as bookkeeping with consulting allows her to help clients build long-term business sustainability.
- Professionals: Do you know your target market? Don’t be afraid to turn away clients who aren’t a good match for your expertise.
- Firms: Create a firm standard for target clients, including industry/vertical, business size and type, and other factors that matter for your services and firm values.
Build a Filtering Process
Filtering helps you work with the best clients for your practice, and make sure they get the best service for their needs and budgets. Eldridge starts her process with a form which asks key questions and offers details about services and fees. The process allows her to know which approach to take in the initial discussion with new clients.
“Do they really make sense for the package, do their numbers support it, are they someone that we want to work with, are we someone they want to work with. I find that by having the prospective clients go through this form first, they've usually decided by the end if they are ready to move forward or not,” she says.
- Professionals: Create an automated process, such as a form, to filter potential clients into groups for different services.
- Firms: Set firm-wide standards for filtering clients. Ongoing relationships between clients and firm members are where the real client-service matching happens.
Focus on Client Education
Educating clients does not remove the need for your expertise, but helps clients understand the value of the right financial services. “Education with all services is so important,” says Eldridge. “I encourage questions. I want to talk to clients about how things work and why we do things the way we do.”
Many people have fear and confusion about financial issues, but lack basic knowledge. Build client education into your content and your client relationships. “When clients show up saying all they need is a tax return prepared, it's a great opportunity for education on why bookkeeping services can be useful,” says Eldridge. “We need to respect the client enough to let them, ultimately, make their decision without fear--just education.”
- Professionals: Transcribe client calls, then write a FAQ and other content from the common points of client discussions.
- Firms: Approach content with an education-first approach, with a focus on the firm’s expertise and practical insights for target clients.
After nearly a decade in public accounting and corporate tax offices, Caitlynn Eldridge, CPA has honed her passion and talents to help small business owners by not only preparing their taxes and books but also to educate and empower them to better understand the numbers and take ownership over the number decisions in their business.
Annie Mueller, an experienced financial writer and principle of Prolifica Co, specializes in producing content that helps financial professionals establish their expertise, future-proof their firms, and effectively market to the right clients. She has worked with...