Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Where Do I Find New Clients? – Part 2

In last week’s blog we touched upon the traditional marketing efforts all professional service providers rely upon and then explored the first of two somewhat more unique approaches to finding new clients. The first one we looked at was becoming an expert. This week we’ll explore the second approach, which is to look in your own files. Your present clients represent the easiest path of all to bring additional revenue to your practice.

I have seen scenarios such as the following occur way too many times: Bob prepares the tax returns for Mark and his wife Mary. He sends Mark and Mary a reminder in January to organize their raw data, which is dutifully sent back and Bob notices that Mary has started a business. To top it off, there is another accountant’s name on the P&L! Dang! How did this happen!? Bob calls Mary and after some gentle probing hears her say, “I’m sorry Bob, I didn’t realize you worked with businesses too. I thought you just did taxes, so I went to a business accountant. He said he could do our personal taxes, but I told him you did that for us.”

How could Bob have prevented this? You know instinctively the answer lies in communicating with his clients. One way or another Bob must ensure his clients understand what he can do for them so they don’t stray off the reservation.

And, to underscore the importance of this, I can tell you without reservation that your existing clients are predisposed to give you new business when it makes sense to do so. Why wouldn’t they? You know them; they trust you, they think you are professionally capable and even if they don’t want to hang out socially, they at least feel comfortable working with you. Unlike the challenge of a stranger, who has formed none of these beliefs or feelings, your existing clients offer virtually no sales resistance. All you have to do is demonstrate an acceptable value equation and they will authorize the work.

And, more often than not, it’s good business. As they strive to achieve their definition of success, your clients are constantly on the move. They buy things, start businesses, get into investments and do all manner of things that they might do more profitably or at lower total cost if they ran it by you first.

Let’s be clear that we aren’t just talking about damage control here, i.e. taking steps to ensure business isn’t lost. We’re also talking about taking proactive steps so that if a client gets into something really good you can also share the ride. This leads to my suggestion that when (not if) you review your book of business for opportunities you look not at just the 20% - 25% of your clients that generate 80% of your revenue, but also at those who exhibit potential. They are trying things, innovating, looking for markets and niches and you need to be aware of what they are up to.

Two posts ago I emphasized how important it is to meet face-to-face with your most valuable clients. It’s probably an obvious statement, but both surveys and empirical experience underscore the conclusion that a telephone conversation just doesn’t work as well. The post discussed the personal meeting in the context of maximizing retention, but any meeting represents an opportunity to find out what they are up to. Ask some questions, offer a bit of free advice, get involved, position yourself as their go-to source, emphasize your availability if they have a question, etc.

Maybe they want to start a business. Did they know about the benefits of doing so in a local enterprise zone? Are they thinking about buying an airplane? Have they considered purchasing it in their name and then leasing or renting the aircraft to their own or a third party’s business on either an ad hoc or hours per month basis? Could their cabin in the mountains be made available to employees for retreats or reward? Is there some way to structure such activity to generate a deduction?

The point is that you want to be a part of the financial lives of these dynamic clients. You want them to seek your input and advice before they make moves that have the potential to meaningfully impact their financial circumstances. By doing this you are giving them the best professional accounting service they have ever experienced and it should come as no surprise the result is a loyal client base and a steady stream of excellent referrals.

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