Attracting New Customers Through New Servicesby
Michael Ly, CEO of Reconciled, unveiled a simple, four-step plan at QB Connect 2021 to help accounting professionals get outside of their comfort zone and successfully implement new services.
Launching a new service, such as advisory, for your accounting firm can be scary, but if you’re seeking out new customers, it could be one of your best options. Reconciled’s Michael Ly explains.
Phase One: Explore
You’ll begin by figuring out where your firm can get involved in something new. The focus here, Ly says, is on issues your customers are dealing with right now that are not being solved by the services you currently offer.
He recommends asking yourself, “What types of problems are my clients facing outside of accounting problems?” and then making a list of three to five. While the “outside of accounting problems” part may seem like a daunting challenge at first, it’s likely you actually already know about client issues. You’re even probably helping them find solutions without charging them for it.
Here’s what this phase might look like in a real-life firm: You may send an email survey to current clients asking them about issues they’re dealing with right now or even spend five to ten minutes discussing this topic with them on the phone. To gain additional insight, consider conducting some observation sessions, where you spend some time with clients and writing down what you see.
Interviewing customers about specific problems they’re facing and asking how they think you can help will also be useful. Remember that the person who works with the client regularly will be an incredibly useful resource, so if one of your team members spends more time with a certain customer, you should include them in your fact-finding mission.
Ly offered some examples from his own experience working through this phase at his business, which offers virtual bookkeeping services. In addition to wanting the company to assist with human resources problems, customers were regularly asking the organization about how they could run their businesses better.
Phase Two: Evaluate
Now it’s time to look at the list of problems you amassed during the Explore phase. As you review the issues customers spoke to you about, ask yourself questions, like:
- Is there something you’re already able to solve and could easily do so right now (or could easily get what you needed to be ready in the near future)?
- Which problems are you excited to work on?
The goal is to pick one thing you could fix with a new line of service. Ly urges sticking to just one, cautioning, “Don’t try to provide multiple services or solve multiple problems….because the goal here is to be successful at launching a new service.”
He went on to explain how this phase might play out in real life. Look at each problem statement, and jot down some potential ways you could solve the issue. What resources would be necessary? How do you feel about your capacity to effectively fix the problem?
If you work with a team, make sure you get their feedback as well. Once you’ve narrowed down your list, talk to a few long-time, trusted customers and ask what they think about the possible new services.
At Reconciled, Ly and his team decided to focus on offering HR services and asked both staff and clients what they thought might be good solutions. They also asked clients about services they’d be willing to pay for if Reconciled started providing them. Through a customer, he met an HR expert who was interested in starting an online advisory service.
Phase Three: Prepare
This phase is relatively self-explanatory, in that you’ve chosen the new service you want to offer, and now you’ll get ready to launch it. First, figure out who will be offering the new service, whether it’s you or you need the help of an outside expert.
Ask yourself the following:
- Is there anybody else in your professional network you’d like to include? What needs to change at your firm to ensure the new service will be successful?
- Do you need to hire more people or create a temporary marketing budget?
In the real-life execution of this phase, make sure you address every aspect of planning, and be specific. Ly recommends documenting everything, even if something seems self-explanatory.
- Write down the names of current or former team members or business associates you have who you’d like to involve in the launch.
- Figure out an exact workflow for how you plan to deliver the service and reach out to the tech partners you’ll need.
- Be sure to develop sales contracts and pricing models for the new service.
Here’s how he prepared to launch his new HR service at Reconciled. The team met with an outside HR expert to figure out exactly what direction they should take and to identify gaps in their understanding. Staff members took Gusto’s People Advisory Certification, and the sales team was tapped to help Ly figure out how Reconciled could successfully sell their new service and include it in a package with their bookkeeping offerings.
Phase Four: Launch
The focus of the final phase is to guide the first new customers through the inevitable hiccups that will happen with the initial sales and marketing processes. Rather than hoping someone will contact you, see if you have any current clients who’d be willing to be a guinea pig. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to your professional network and ask them to spread the word.
In real life, this phase involves a lot of marketing. Ly suggests sending out newsletters announcing that you’re launching a new service, as well as ensuring target markets receive press releases.
You should also have a list of specific people you want to talk to personally. These should be individuals you’ve identified as being very likely to purchase your new service, whether they expressed interest in it or you realized they would benefit from it. This doesn’t have to be extensive, five or ten names will suffice, according to Ly.
So, how did he and Reconciled complete the last phase? After their meetings with the outside expert, they decided to launch a separate partner company to provide their new HR services. This was accompanied by an internal offering that included more than just payroll and a partnership with an appropriate tech vendor.
In closing, Ly suggested a few services accountants could consider: coaching, mentoring and people advisory. All of these are services someone with the right experience could successfully offer without having to go back to school or the first-hand background. And, better still, they’re all unique services your customers could be interested in purchasing from you.