Marketing for Accountants – 3 Keys to Winning New Clients in 2014
Since 1996 I’ve advised hundreds of clients how they can build their accounting practices. In every instance there are two basic phases: first we have to attract prospects (marketing) and, second, we must convert these prospects into clients (sales).
Today’s blog focuses upon the marketing phase, and its purpose is to identify three effective and actionable Keys to finding more client opportunities in 2014.
Key #1: Knowing that asking a friend or colleague for a recommendation is by far the most common technique people use when seeking an accountant (5 – 6X more than searching online, which is the second most used technique).
Key#2: Having greater visibility will ensure your name is more frequently considered when a recommendation is solicited.
Key #3: Possessing a strong professional reputation is what causes the person who has been asked for a recommendation to not merely consider you, but to actually recommend you.
You can take actions to directly impact Keys #2 and #3 while Key #1 is primarily a consequence of the other two.
Now let’s tie these keys together and look at some practical action steps you can take in 2014 to find some great new prospective clients.
Hinge Consulting makes the argument that the combination of visibility and professional reputation creates an accountant’s brand. I think this is a succinct and accurate statement. So, how do you enhance your brand and thereby obtain more recommendations?
First of all, visibility and reputation are very different animals and are obtained in very different ways. Simply to make a point, I’m sure you have seen examples where the perpetrator of a heinous crime gets very high visibility via TV and the internet. However, this exposure will do little do enhance their reputation for being anything but a bad guy.
Positive professional reputation is acquired when someone becomes aware of one or more of your applicable personal qualities. Examples include professional competence, specialized knowledge, professional experience, flattering word of mouth from peers, etc.
The trick is to obtain visibility in a manner that simultaneously enhances your reputation. How, in the everyday real world, can you go about accomplishing this? Here are some examples:
Jan, who practices in an area with lots of farms, writes a plain language blog that focuses upon financial and tax issues impacting farmers and ranchers. She initially mailed it to a list of a couple hundred addresses and in the third mailing asked recipients to tell her their email address if they wanted future issues to be sent electronically. Between the two methods, she’s up to over 300 now.
Jan has leveraged her visibility from the blog into a number of speaking opportunities (which greatly influence likeability and the perception of her knowledge and professional competence). She’s picked up about a dozen new clients so far – several by direct contact and others by referral (“Say, Frank, I need a new accountant. Do you know one who really understands our issues?”) – and considers her effort to be a big success.
Whether you practice in New York City or Ames, Iowa, the strategy is to pick a specific, definable niche and focus upon that.
Bob is an example you may recognize from earlier blogs I’ve written. He decided to focus his business development efforts upon real estate brokerages. With some study he acquired a sophisticated understanding of 1031 exchanges and approached brokerages with the offer to provide to the broker and their agents a 30 minute, brown bag lunch presentation on 1031 exchanges; what they are and their potential value.
His talk focused upon how this specialized knowledge could empower individual agents and brokers to differentiate themselves from competitors (you can see how Bob’s strategy provided both visibility and the opportunity to acquire a positive professional reputation). He gave attendees a cheat sheet of potential tax benefits for future reference. Bob has become the de facto 1031 expert in his area and has been very successful in acquiring not only brokerages as clients, but he has also been referred to numerous individuals who are investors in real property.
A third example is Anthony, who involved himself in a local, grass roots effort to prevent a local library from closing. Stressing the library’s value to the community and especially children, Anthony was interviewed by the local media, made speeches to groups such as the Lions Club, Rotary, etc. and spoke at City Council meetings. He also was involved in approaching various businesses seeking support and funding to keep the library open.
Anthony didn’t get involved to obtain more clients, and was surprised when a surge of new clients coincided with the visibility he obtained as an advocate for the library.
How did his public lobbying for something totally unrelated to accountancy positively impact the perception of his reputation? Well, it turns out that public altruism is considered a strong positive and Anthony also demonstrated clear that he was someone who was invested in his community, i.e. one of us.
Anthony’s situation underscores another reality that you always have to remember: the vast majority of your clients think all accountants are similarly competent. If someone has a business card, a degree on the wall, a website and all the other indicia of an accounting professional, then it is assumed they can accomplish the typical financial reporting and tax-related tasks most clients need.
What this means is that you don’t necessarily have to shoot for a means to acquire the perception of professional competence (Jan & Bob). Instead, you can substitute an activity that demonstrates positive character (Anthony).
All three obtained a slug of new clients – via direct contact and referral – by becoming more visible and while doing so, acquiring the perception of being professionally competent or, as in Anthony’s case, being an involved, well-spoken, proactive individual doing good works within the community. It can work for you, too.
As always, I invite your comments. Let me know how you’ve utilized these three Keys to expand your book of business.
Thanks to all my clients for a successful 2013. Have a great Christmas and Holiday Season! I look forward to launching the sixth year of this blog in January.