Lawyers and accountants just don’t do it: sell themselves, that is. Business tends to come by way of referrals, which is the cheapest form of marketing there is.
But referrals will only come if you smother your existing clients with love. A lawyer’s job is to protect you against potential traps and pitfalls not yet visible. An accountant’s job is not much different – ensuring legal, tax and accounting compliance to avert potential trouble down the road. But there’s more to it from an accounting perspective. As business rescue practitioner Louis Klopper (who is involved in rescuing the Gupta companies) puts it: you have to be alert to the signs of incipient insolvency long before they happen, and make these known to the client.
Those signs are not difficult to detect: cash flows starting to evaporate, debtors taking longer to pay, creditors knocking on the door. Back of that could be a myriad of reasons: bad working capital management, redundant stock, the business owners sucking cash out of the business, treating it like a personal bank account.
What does this have to do with selling yourself and your accounting practice?
One of the most effective tools is creating a newsletter and sending it out to your existing clients once a month or every second month. Never underestimate the power of communication. Make it look professional – not hard to do in this age of newsletter templates (thank you Microsoft Office!).
Most of all, tell your clients something they don’t know. Position yourself as an opinion leader in the field of accounting, making sure you are up-to-date on all the latest tax and accounting developments.
Then brag about your company a little. Profile one or two of your staff and show what great people you have in the company. Create a blog and drive traffic there through social media. Create content weekly and build up an extensive email list. Keep communicating. Learn the art of great headline writing. A clever headline will get attention. Write up some case studies, such as:
5 steps you must take now to avoid bankruptcy
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Believe me, business owners live and breathe the threat of bankruptcy. All businesses go through rough periods. In such moments, they need inspiration. This is where you, as accountants, can come in as the white knight. Your newsletters and communications keep on reminding clients how proficient you are. So when you get the call from a new client, ask all the pertinent questions. Dave Emmerman, writing in Accountingweb, says it is important to get a very clear picture of what the client expects from you, and be clear on exactly what you will deliver.
“I like to start by interviewing the prospect. I do this because I am trying to better understand what they really need from me. At the same time, the prospective client is also trying to determine whether the referral or the piece of marketing they received matches with how we are selling ourselves. You’re both probably going in having done a little mutual Google research on each other – it really is a bidirectional process,” says Emmerman.
Take time building a relationship, but move through the engagement process as quickly as possible. “You know you are good at what you do, but if you get stuck at this step because you haven’t developed a good process, you can easily fail here. It’s the worst feeling when you get a follow-up email from a prospective client after your first few meetings asking for the proposal you promised them.”
The engagement process is critical to getting your proposal out the door. Set specific time frames you know are easily achievable for you and your team to hit, and articulate this timeline for your prospective client. Transparency is important here, adds Emmerman.
Also, make sure you have all the data you need to create your proposal up front, and take great notes. If your note-taking skills are a little off, record your calls so you don’t miss any details (of course, make sure the client is aware). Everyone has a different engagement style, so find yours and make it work for you.
There are many ways to market yourself. A newsletter is a good start. Build up email lists. Create content. Have a busy blog. People will trip up on it. Get your clients to refer people to your blog, which should have interesting and vital-to-know content. Believe me, the clients will roll in.