DVP, Channel Strategy ADP
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7 Reasons Your Tax and Accounting Practice is Having Trouble Attracting New Clients

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact, have you stopped to think about attracting new clients or are you focused only on retaining the ones you have? It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Jul 30th 2020
DVP, Channel Strategy ADP
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**Lee Reams II, Founder & CEO of CountingWorks PRO, co-authored this article.

In reality, with tax and accounting professionals being on the frontlines of the economic recovery right now, there is plenty of work to go around. Moreover, if you aren’t actively looking for growth, you’re missing out.

Even once you decide to proactively seek out new business, however, you might still run into issues getting those prospects to find you. Here are seven reasons why your firm might be having trouble attracting new clients:

1. Poor (or nonexistent) online presence and reputation

2. Reliance on in person referrals

3. Inbound inquiry management

4. Generalizing instead of specializing

5. Not adapting to virtual client engagements

6. Stagnant or irrelevant offerings

7. Friction in buying process

Today, we’ll explore each of these obstacles and offer actionable tips your practice can take to attract more clients in the digital age.

1. Poor (or Nonexistent) Online Presence and Reputation

In the digital age, much of our interaction, research and decision-making occur (at least partially) on the Internet. This is highly evident in the tax and accounting profession – and professional services overall – where prospects almost always conduct their own online research prior to deciding who they’ll work with. If you don’t have a substantial online presence and a positive reputation, the odds of those potential clients choosing you is significantly lower.

In a previous article, we discussed our spin on the customer lifecycle, but specifically for tax and accounting professionals. Your online presence is the biggest piece of this six-step process:

Step 1: Attract

Step 2: Consider

Step 3: Convert

Step 4: Serve

Step 5: Satisfy

Step 6: Advocate

To build up a solid online presence and reputation – and attract more prospects – practices need the following:

  • A professional, authoritative website
  • Positive, recent reviews across various platforms
  • Relevant and informative blog content
  • Optimized Google My Business (GMB) listing
  • Active social media profiles
  • Directory and citation optimization
  • Inbound links
  • Video content

...and more

You can learn more about how to boost each of these aspects of your online presence here.

2. Reliance on In-Person Referrals

Ask any successful CPA, EA, bookkeeper or tax professional who’s been around for a long time about how they grew their practice and you’ll likely hear the same answer: Referrals.

Personal recommendations (referrals) have always been a major cornerstone of the tax and accounting industry. These person-to-person suggestions carry weight – especially when you’re talking about something as crucial and sensitive as one’s finances.

But even if you’ve always been built on referrals, your practice must recognize the middleman that has emerged in the referral pipeline: the Internet.  Relying solely on referrals without optimizing your online presence (as discussed above) is a major mistake.

Sure, referrals will always be valuable to tax and accounting firms – and you should continue asking for them from clients – but you also need to ensure that when prospects go to research you in the interim period, they find plenty of positive reviews and a stellar online presence. Otherwise, that qualified lead may never reach out to you at all.

This is even more relevant in the time of COVID-19, which has essentially brought about the end of in-person referrals at events, trade shows, meetups and more. Without a strong online presence, it’s very possible the referral pipeline may dry up on you.

3. Inbound Inquiry Management

According to our 2019 survey of small business owners, responsiveness is one of the top traits clients look for in their tax and accounting professional. If a prospect reaches out to you with a question or expresses an interest in working with you, do you have a process in place to manage those requests and follow up?

Ensure every member of your team is trained on how to field those inbound inquiries. There should be set processes in place that send tasks or follow-ups to the proper member of your staff (or, if it’s just you, make sure you have a tracking system in place so you don’t forget anything).

Any missed inquiry is a lost client opportunity. Treat every person who contacts you as an important lead and you’ll start to see more growth in your practice.

4. Generalizing Instead of Specializing

One key aspect of your business that could be an obstacle to attracting new clients is the way you choose to market yourself and target certain customer groups. There are plenty of generalists out there, but that’s not where the trends are headed for the most successful practices.

The firms we’ve seen thriving the most both before and during COVID-19 have chosen to target one or more niches or specialties. This doesn’t mean you can’t still offer a wide range of services (under a more generalist umbrella), but targeting key client groups is a fantastic way to showcase expertise and beat the competition in search.

Here are some examples of niches and specialties you could choose (but remember, the options are endless):

Niches 

  • Restaurants      
  • Medical offices
  • Uber & Lyft drivers        
  • Retailers            
  • Nonprofits        

Specialties

  • SBA loan and disaster assistance
  • Expat tax services
  • Payroll
  • IRS tax problems
  • Virtual CFO

By selecting a niche or specialty (or several), the goal is that people will start associating that target with your brand. Think about it this way: If I am starting an eCommerce retail business, I am probably more likely to seek out an accountant who has expertise in this space as opposed to a generalist. You want a prospect to see your firm and think: “This pro gets me.”

In order to build a practice that will be seen in this way, you must invest in marketing. You have to cultivate a brand and messaging that illustrates your expertise.

How can you do this? By creating content, copy, and a brand that speaks directly to your target client groups. Think through these questions:

  • What are their pain points?
  • What keeps them up at night?
  • Why are you the right practice to solve those problems?

While specializing means you’re targeting a smaller group than just general “tax and accounting” clients, it also drastically increases your chances of getting found by your ideal clients.

5. Not Adapting to Virtual Client Engagements

The world has been shifting toward digital for years now and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that trend. For tax and accounting professionals, this means adapting your practice to secure, virtual client engagements as quickly as possible.

Whether you’ve started this digitization process or not, it’s important to understand that your prospects and clients probably already expect it. Moreover, if you don’t adapt they’ll find a pro who will.

Here are some areas you can focus on to accommodate virtual engagement:

  • Secure client portal
  • E-Sign, KBA and secure file sharing
  • Virtual (contactless) meetings
  • Online appointment scheduling
  • Email newsletters and blog content for important updates

Your goal should be to provide a seamless experience that offers the same level of service online as your clients would have received in person. It may sound like a difficult shift, but we know firsthand from our pros that it’s not only possible – it’s a game changer for the success of any practice.

6. Stagnant or Irrelevant Offerings

The needs of your target client base may change with the times and your goal should be to adapt your service offerings to those needs.

For instance, any practice that works with small businesses has likely spent a lot of time on various aspects of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) since the initial application phase in April. Did you shift your offerings to help clients with their applications and the various requirements involved? Are you also planning to offer assistance with the loan forgiveness process?

This is just one example of adapting your services to meet the moment. Especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change like we’ve seen with COVID-19, your clients and prospects will turn to you for guidance. Make sure you’re keeping up with what prospects are looking for so you can show them your practice is one they can trust at all times.

7. Friction in Buying Process

Do you make it as easy as possible to start working with you? If not, prospects may get discouraged or frustrated and turn to your competition.

In order to take the friction out of the buying process, consider these potential changes:

  • Offer transparent pricing on your website
  • Map out the onboarding process and illustrate its simplicity
  • Provide multiple ways to contact you or your team
  • Use packaging to showcase the value clients can gain rather than the amount of your time they will pay for
  • Make your calendar available online

Most of all, don’t make it difficult for someone to become your client. As the one they are choosing to trust and pay for services, it is your job to simplify the entire process and make buying and onboarding as seamless as possible.

Conclusion

There’s plenty of work to go around these days. Your ideal clients are out there right now looking for help – with their small business, with their tax planning, or with some other aspect of their finances. As long as you set your practice up to attract those prospects through your online presence, up-to-date offerings, virtual engagement opportunities, and seamless buying process, you can grow through any challenge that comes your way.

Want more marketing and client retention insights? Join our FREE webinar, How COVID-19 Has Disrupted the Referral Pipeline, on Thursday Aug. 13 at 2P EDT, eligable for 1 CPE credit.

**Co-author Lee Reams II is Founder & CEO of CountingWorks PRO. He is actively involved in product development, marketing and website development. Lee has presented marketing and growth concepts to tens of thousands of tax and accounting professionals. 

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