Do you have a drawer full of business cards you’ve collected through the years? Most people are lazy when it comes to following up, so if you just make a small effort, you’ll stand out as different.
More importantly, if you don’t follow up, you could be leaving money on the table. You never know who might need your services in six weeks, six months, or maybe a few years down the road. Prospects become clients when they’re ready, not necessarily when you’re ready.
Why Follow Up is Important
Research shows that it may take as many as eight touches before a prospect decides to do business with you. That means the goal with any networking event is not to get an immediate sale, but to begin a relationship.
Though you may think that accounting is about numbers, it’s really about relationships. By establishing a relationship with your prospects, when they have a problem that your services can solve, you ensure that they think of you first.
If your prospect already has an accountant, the relationship they have with their current accountant can make it very hard to get them to change to a new one. From their perspective, there are only two reasons to change accountants:
- they’re unhappy with their current accountant
- you provide services they need that they can’t get with their current accountant
So before you add your latest stack of business cards from a networking event to your collection, here are some ideas that can help you move that money off the table and into your bank account.
Begin with a Process
First, you need to set up a process for following up. Without a process, those cards will just join the business card graveyard in your desk drawer.
First, add their contact information to a CRM or contact management system. Here are reviews of the top free CRMs. In a pinch, a spreadsheet works, too. Don’t forget to include some notes about them while the details are still fresh in your memory.
Set up reminders within that CRM system (or equivalent) to follow up with those prospects on specific dates. As a starting point, you might try following up in three days, seven days, two weeks and then every six to eight weeks.
What to Do
Just the act of following up will set you apart from the completion because so few do it. If you want to really stand out, try doing something different from the usual.
The most basic is to send an email or make a phone call on your follow up days. While it may be tempting after a big event to send out a mass email to everyone you met, that’s not ideal.
A better method is to send each person a friendly email with a reminder of your connection, tailored specifically for them. That’s why it’s important to include notes about each person in your CRM system.
Here’s an example:
Great to meet you at last week’s networking event at the Q Bar! I really liked hearing about how you work with the clients in your investment firm to find out their long-term goals, and how you help them stay accountable.
Do you have time in the next week to continue our conversation over a coffee? I’d love to have a chat about how we can help each other’s businesses.
Your Name Here
You’ll really stand out if you include something of value for the other person. Maybe you just published a blog post or an article on LinkedIn.
Maybe you just listened to a great business podcast or perhaps you came across a news item or an article of interest to them. Include a link to that article in your email.
If you really want to stand out, print out that article and mail it to them, along with a brief note:
I just came across this and thought it would be of interest to you.
If your prospect is local, try to set up a lunch or coffee meeting. Depending on the situation, meeting for a drink at your favorite brew pub might be appropriate, but use your best judgment.
Today’s technology allows us to set up virtual coffee meetings. Consider sending out an invitation to do a quick Skype or Zoom meeting to connect.
No camera on your monitor? Use an app on your smartphone. I did that for years to talk to a writing client who lives in New Zealand.
If this is someone you’d really like to do business with, send them a business book that you think they’d enjoy. You can either send it from Amazon, gift wrapped and with a card, or mail it yourself.
If you send it yourself, a great bonus is to include a note that points to passages or chapters that you think would be of particular interest to your prospect so that they don’t have to read the whole book to get some benefit from it.
Make sure you reach out and connect with them on LinkedIn, Twitter and any other appropriate social media platforms. The key to success with social media is to be social and engage. Follow what they post, like it, comment on it and share it.
And of course, you should add them to your email newsletter list. Before you add them, be sure to get permission. The best email newsletters are the ones your firm creates.
An easy way to produce a newsletter is to collect articles you’ve come across that are of interest to small business owners and link to them. Remember that besides tax and accounting, business owners may also need help with human resources, managing multiple generations and marketing.
Be a Problem Solver
When you’re following up, focus more on finding out everything you can about their business and their goals. Seek out ways to help them solve problems, even if you’re not the solution provider.
Remember that it may take eight or more touches before anything comes of your new relationship. Most accountants don’t even make one touch, so you’ll stand out when you follow up systematically with prospects.
Liz Farr, CPA, spent 15 years in tax and accounting at small firms in Albuquerque, NM. Besides tax returns of all flavors, she worked on audits of governmental entities and not-for-profits, business valuations, and litigation support. Now she's a full-time freelance writer specializing in content marketing for accountants and bookkeepers around...