I came across an article in an accounting magazine about growing your business through referrals, but started falling asleep when the author got into psycho-babble about projecting positive body language. This is the kind of stuff you get in Cosmopolitan magazine: smile often, have an open body posture, make eye contact and pay attention to non-verbal gestures, such as tone of voice.
What the hell is this? Are you trying to get a date?
If that’s how you’re going to win clients, then I think the game is a bust.
This is a subject I know something about. Some years ago I started writing a blog about a particular aspect of the law: how to defend yourself against blood-sucking banks, and all the devious ways their creepy lawyers had invented to side-step the law. I wrote just like this. Aggressive, mocking, outraged, sometimes funny. I quickly figured out which articles people like to read:
- Humanise the story: put a real human being at the centre of it, and tell their tale of misery in dealing with the banks, how they were evicted from their homes for falling three months into arrears, or had their car repossessed. Nearly everyone can identify with this, since there is hardly a soul on the planet who hasn’t hit a financial wobble. And, truth is, most people think the banks are a worthy target for abuse (whether right or wrong).
- Tell the reader something about the law they don’t know. Here I was guided by the best lawyers in the business. Make the reader feel they can fight back, that they have rights even if they owe the bank money, that that can regain some of the dignity that is stolen once you enter litigation with lenders.
- Connect with the reader at an emotional level. Make them angry or make them laugh. This is a call to action. The reader wants to do something, to move from effect to cause. They want to feel part of a like-minded community. They only feel weak when they are alone.
This became my style guide. My inbox flooded with emails. To this day I receive emails from people who trip up on articles I wrote years ago. I don’t give legal advice but I can refer them to a network of people who can.
Here’s the point I am trying to make to you, dear accountants: if you want referrals, never mind about your body language or having to fake a smile. You must have something unique to offer. You have to capture your share of that mysterious and elusive commodity: attention. You do that by being really attentive to the clients you already have. Shower them with love, and then tell them straight: you are expanding your practice and are on the lookout for new clients. You ask them for referrals. Don’t be shy. You’re the master of business turnaround, or IT, or whatever.
Because you know in your heart of hearts that you are better at your job than anyone else around. If you don’t, you need to cultivate that belief. You know you can solve that guy’s problems and save him money.
When you talk like that, you have someone’s attention. Money talks. When you can show someone a way to save money, or make more money, the deal is all but sealed.
While you pay special attention to the clients you already have, you want new ones. That takes a different approach. I wrote about it here. You need to send out professional-looking newsletters, create a blog, update it with content regularly, promote it on social media. That’s not hard to do. But if you push out dry, turgid prose without offering any new insights, you will kill it off in no time. Don’t be shy to hold a strong opinion on something. Like Markus Jooste of Steinhoff did nothing wrong. Every press outlet in the country is beating up on this guy. That’s cowardly. Maybe someone should stand in his corner and offer a different viewpoint. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t, but I don’t enjoy seeing a man being kicked when he is down.
Become an opinion leader
Promote yourself as an opinion leader. Don’t be afraid to be contrarian, but don’t be contrarian for the sake of it. Believe me, you will get noticed.
Put out communications in the form of newsletters and blog posts. Write great headlines, and great ledes (opening sentences): punchy, arresting and devoid of froth. Humanise the story: relate the events of a client that you just helped avoid bankruptcy. Talk about the effect it had on his wife and kids. Get the emotional juices flowing.
Specialise in something
Specialise in something and let people know how great you are at it: like detecting fraud, showing how working capital is squandered, or better budgeting for a more profitable business. There are a hundred ways you can do this.
My accountant has been my friend for decades. He will always be my accountant because he has become a buddy. I refer others to him. I don’t make any money out of this. I do it to help people.
Try this out and thank me later at Christmas with a bottle of Jameson.