Outstanding client service remains the number one route to repeat business and client referrals
With the economy looking in the foreseeable future at best sluggish, many firms are revisiting their approach to marketing recognising that every opportunity must be progressed in the pursuit of maintaining and growing the practice.
Given that most firms attribute the source of their new business to clients let us look at how this potential for new business can be maximised. How can you improve your service so that clients want to trust you with further engagements or feel confident and motivated to recommend you to others? Can you improve turnaround time (target to complete accounts in less than four weeks)? Do you reassure clients they are paying the minimum tax? Is your fee known in advance? Do you bill promptly? Do you offer a range of non compliance serves such as payroll, sales tax returns, bookkeeping, management accounting? But before you think that clients can’t afford these services it is important to take into account that clients have what I call ‘fee flexibility’ – that is they have a bandwidth of about 50 percent of the compliance fee for other work so long as they can see the value of that work.
If you improve in each of these areas you are managing a business that qualifies to gain more business from clients. But what about client referrals? Clients are the best advocates for your services, but do they recognise you are looking for more clients? Over 90 percent of business owners attest to the fact that they are happy to recommend their accountant, but have never been asked to recommend – so why not ask, “Do you know anyone who needs a good accountant?”
Before looking at a range of marketing strategies we need to allocate resources – time and money. My recommended benchmark for time is a minimum of 200 hours a year for every firm owner and between one and three percent of gross fees. Marketing is an intentional and ongoing management activity and not something you do when a client is lost. Marketing enables you to have a greater control over how your business develops.
I was lecturing a number of years ago and somebody volunteered that they regarded themself as ‘an average accountant.’ But no one is average as no client ever seeks to engage an average accountant – believe you are the best accountant in the community.
So, how can you enhance your visibility and improve the prospect of gaining new business? It is unlikely there will be many ‘suspects’ (all those who could be your next client) that are not on the Internet so it is important to make sure you have a web presence. I estimate that only half of those offering accountancy and tax services have a website. While you will almost certainly know someone who can prepare a four or five page site, there are companies who provide hosted sites. Enter “websites for accountants” and restrict your search to the UK and there are over 1,000 links – expect to pay from £300 ($450) a year to £3,000 ($4,000) for a fully hosted content-rich site. These service providers usually have sample sites so if you are going to design your own site check others out for ideas – e.g. PracticeWEB (www.praciceweb.co.uk) have over 15 sites in their portfolio.
Are you listed in LinkedIn? This is an important networking site and allows you to provide details of yourself and your services. It’s free to join and can be good fun.
If you tick both these boxes is your site optimised for Search Engine Optimisation and do you have a 100% rating on LinkedIn? For a little additional stretch you could write or buy in PDFs to send to prospects and clients.
How well do you know your customers? These are the professionals who use the information you produce in the course of conducting their own business. List the bank manager, solicitor and IFA for each of your top 20 clients. Cultivate the relationship maybe meeting with them at least once every six months and having at least six to whom you also make recommendations in accordance with the Golden Rule.
I will conclude by sharing my seven favourite marketing ideas:
1 Create a marketing plan
Many people don’t market because they don’t have a plan. Develop a plan – even if it is a one pager and make sure you keep it up-to-date by developing your strategies based on what works.
2 Clients to die for
Carry a card in your wallet/handbag with a list of the clients you would ‘die to act for’. Make sure this includes the prospect’s name – not just the name of the business.
3 Be famous
What do you do that sets you apart? What is your area of expertise? We all need to have skills that will help us stand above the crowd.
4 Great questions
Ask good questions – my favourites include, “If you could change one thing about your business what would it be?”or “What is going on in your company that cannot be ignored?” Good questions are like seeds – plant them and they will grow.
5 Give aways
Make sure you have something to give away such as fact sheets, tax card, (branded) memory stick or pen etc.
6 Business cards
Has everyone in your firm got a business card? At a networking meeting make sure you collect cards rather than hand them out – then contact potential referrals or prospects afterwards and meet.
We often hear the phrase, ‘Image is everything’. Be willing to invest in your personal appearance, car, office, printed materials.
It’s not what you know…
…it’s what you do with what you know that counts. Enjoy reaching out and sharing with others what you can do to help. We all live in a noisy, busy and complicated world where there appear to be regulations, deadlines and penalties at every turn. As accountants we have the privilege of being a trusted adviser – make sure you continue to invest in your own personal development for you should be wiser than you were ten years ago – and you are better qualified to serve the community. Marketing is your pathway to those for whom you can give good service as well as being highly valued and rewarded.