You’d be hard-pressed to find an accounting firm that isn’t interested in winning new clients. Established firms often benefit from referrals, word-of-mouth business and name recognition.
However, attracting and retaining new clients when you’ve just opened your firm can pose a challenge. New firms and sole practitioners usually have limited marketing and business development resources, which means they must rely on creative and straightforward strategies.
Identify your niche and ideal client
Accountants starting their own firm often take on any client —anyone with a pulse and a checkbook will do. But identifying and pursuing your target clients early will help you connect with the right prospects more quickly. It will also save you the time and frustration of weeding out clients that aren’t the right fit later.
You’re inevitably starting with some base knowledge about certain industries or service lines, so think about where you want to apply your existing expertise and skills. What do you know that you can capitalize on?
Be where your ideal clients are
Now that you’ve narrowed down the types of clients you want to attract, try to put yourself in their shoes. Where are they located? What events do they attend? Which websites or industry publications do they read?
For example, if you’ve identified real estate as a target niche, you’ll want to join the local or regional real estate association and attend the same local networking events and national conferences that your ideal clients attend. Make sure you play an active role: take on a leadership position, attend book-signing and speaking engagements, be a guest on a podcast or webinar or contribute useful content to their magazines and blogs. This will ensure you get seen by potential clients.
Don’t let a fear of public speaking dissuade you from seizing on these opportunities; if you’re going to open your own business, you simply have to get over that fear.
Bring in help
Accountants often start a small business thinking they can handle it all— bookkeeping and tax compliance, marketing, technology selection and implementation and client service.
However, you must position yourself from the start as a client-facing professional. Outsource and automate many of your back-office functions and consider hiring at least one person to help with answering phones and preparing proposals. This will give you more time to focus on business development and client service.
Build the client experience intentionally
Once you start bringing on new clients, consider what you want them to experience while working with you and your firm. Consider whether you will interact online, in person or both. Start thinking about the processes and technology needed to support the client experience in a way that can scale with your firm.
Sometimes, you will need to make hard decisions. For example, hand-delivering documents and meeting with clients weekly may be feasible when you have only a handful of clients, but that level of service isn’t practical when you have 100 clients. Establish expectations and a price for your services based on where you want to be in five or 10 years versus where you are now.
Develop client relationships
Many well-established firms were built on transactional and compliance services and are now trying to shift to offering more advisory and consulting services. As a new firm, you have an opportunity to build your firm any way you want, so start with a focus on higher-value services, and let the transactional work be secondary. Successfully delivering advisory and consulting services requires trust —this is why clients come to you and stay with you.
Succeed at the basics, such as doing what you say you’ll do and using “please” and “thank you.” Be a trustworthy and reliable professional in everything you do, and you’ll build a trusting relationship with your clients over time.
Finally, make your clients feel amazing. Whether you leverage technology or handle aspects of the engagement personally, ensure your clients feel like they’re well taken care of. Great client service is hard to find these days, so delivering on that promise will ensure you get referrals from existing clients and help you grow the firm you dream of owning.