Saturday, January 31, 2009

Getting More Business – Quickly

Jan, a CPA in Atlanta, sent me an email with an interesting question. She said that her growing practice is in the “tweener” size where she is in need to increase her staff but doesn’t really have the revenue to support a new person. She asked if there was a way to find clients quickly, even they aren’t optimum, to ensure there is cash flow to support the increased overhead?

There are some tactics that can give you the desired result. Let’s look at a few.

The first step is to decide who populates your target audience. Who do you want to reach? Obviously, Jan in the large metropolitan area of Atlanta will select a target audience that is more narrowly defined (e.g. retail businesses on the west side with revenues of less than $3MM) than an accountant practicing in Bismarck, North Dakota (all businesses in the trading area with revenues of less than $3MM).

With the target audience now in mind, the first tactic to explore is if you wish to aggressively engage in short lead-time mass marketing. By “mass” I mean shooting promotional material out to your target audience in your trading area. What media reaches those you wish to reach in your area? You might use post cards, letters, radio spots, flyers, handouts and a host of other “standard” marketing methods. In larger trading areas there are marketing consultants who will be more than happy to give you ideas with the hope you will engage them. If this option isn’t available, you can still head over to Borders or peruse Amazon’s offerings to find some good books on the marketing options you have. What promotional messages do you receive from other businesses? How are they conveyed? Would a version of any of these effectively reach your targeted audience? And remember, you can always try putting a toe in the water first and see what happens. Analyze your results, tweak things, and try another test group. Once you have it optimized, then it’s time to risk your advertising budget.

Once you get past these third party, i.e. indirect, business development efforts the question becomes what can you do individually to make something happen quickly?

A very effective method is to simply ask for more business. First of all, let’s be very clear about how we are going to go about this. We are NOT going to ask from weakness (“Gee, costs are up and I’m running short on cash. Can we maybe do some planning or something and you pay me 50% in advance?”). We are NOT going to be a victim (“This economy is rough. A lot of my clients are starting to use do-it-yourself tax software. I really need some income. Is there something I can do for you?”). Why not adopt this tone? Wouldn’t it generate sympathy and they’d be more apt to help you? Absolutely NOT! Why? Because your clients want their accountant to be a winner – a professional who is busy and prosperous because others in the community also believe in them. Nobody wants to deal with a professional who is only marginally successful, if at all. We are NOT going to give them that impression.

Secondly, we are NOT going to reduce prices or offer discounts. First of all, it suggests weakness (see the preceding paragraph) and secondly, you will find it difficult to raise prices in the more prosperous future and, based upon a ton of marketing research relating to promoting professional services, more often than not it won’t have the desired result of obtaining more meaningful revenue in the near term while at the same time solidifying your reputation as the low cost provider. This is a double bad.

Instead, we are going to go about this from a position of strength.

My first suggestion is to look at your clients and select those that have more complex financial pictures. If you aren’t doing planning or project work for them, you should be. When you discuss their 2008 taxes I recommend you suggest planning and/or project work that will have the effect of anticipating where the new administration’s tax policy will go and put some contingency plans in place. Examining and projecting capital acquisitions, hiring, bank lines, managing cash, creating/adjusting reserves (e.g. bad debt), examining benefit packages, insurance, etc. are all fair game.

My second suggestion is to tell every client you have any contact with that you are pleased to report that your practice has grown to the point where it requires expansion of staff and that you now have the bandwidth to handle a number of new clients. Would they kindly consider referring you to others who they believe could benefit from your services?

By doing this you are saying to them, in effect, a) their accountant is a winner and, b) they can help facilitate your further growth and thereby become even more of a winner if they refer you to others. Your clients like you. Many of them will respond favorably to this request. None will think badly of you.

A third suggestion is to talk with your friends at larger firms (whose overheads and rates are higher than yours) and mention two things. The first is an extension of the second suggestion wherein you will say that you have capacity to help them with any overflow they’ll have this tax season. In other words, you can do some sub-contract work for them. The second topic is to reach an understanding with them about referring business to each other. The quid pro quo is that a) you will refer clients to them that are too large and/or specialized and/or complex for you to handle if they, b) send you the clients that are too small, or too rate sensitive or don’t have the upside the larger firm is looking for.

Jan, the foregoing three ideas are hardly inclusive of all the options you have, but they are tried and proven action steps successfully undertaken by others faced with the same challenges.

Good luck.

1 comment:

Small Business Bookkeeping said...

most easy and fast way to get business is doing internet marketing .. i believe that it will really help...
i did it in past and get results for my Bookkeeping Services site...