Step one – consider your strengths
Why do your clients use you? Why do they keep coming back?
Is this perhaps due to a question of geography – are you very local for them? Or are you a specialist in a particular area of accountancy? Is there a unique relationship experience that you offer that your clients love? Is your fee-package for your services fantastically competitive?
The first step in growing your business is to concentrate on your strengths. If you can identify what it is about you and your business that attracts clients, you will be able to replicate it and attract other such clients. You will also be able to articulate what your unique offer to clients is. As a small business, your time for developing the business will be scarce. If you can focus on winning new clients who are similar to the great ones you currently have, you’ll find the experience more lucrative and more enjoyable.
Step two – consider your clients
So what do these great clients look like? When you consider your best clients what features do they have? How did you win them in the first place and what are the factors about you that make them stay loyal? This analysis applies just as equally to private clients as it does commercial or non-profit-making organisations. The aim here is to pinpoint the common denominators that make a really great client for your business. This will stop you wasting time and energy on pursuing clients who you may not be best to serve or who will resist your approaches. It will also help you to realise the sources, places and situations where more great clients can be found.
Step three – consider your referral network
The next step is to really consider who does or could refer business to you. These may be fellow professionals who refer clients; they may also be your delighted clients. Both groups are great sources of new business for you if:
- They are aware you are keen to receive referrals from them (i.e. you’ve told them).
- You do a fantastic job with their referrals, so their judgement as a referrer isn’t ever undermined.
- They gain something out of the referral (i.e. you give something of value to them in return). This needn’t be commission – it could be advice, a business lead or another opportunity, which adds value to them in some way.
So, consider all your potential referrers and spend time with them to see if you can support or help what they are trying to achieve. In doing so, and when appropriate, keep them informed of the benefits and successes you have brought to specific clients and extend that help to people they know in a similar situation. Don’t be afraid to ask for appropriate leads. If you have given the referrer value in some way and they trust you to handle that referral well, they will be motivated to send great opportunities your way.
Step four – target the clients you want to win
Taking into account the great clients you’ve got and their underlying characteristics, consider where similar clients may congregate. Are there groups, networks or events (business or social) where they can be found? If there are, then you try making yourself more visible to these groups. In professional services people buy people and so the more visible you or your people can be with a target group, the greater your chances of building relationships and attracting new clients. There are several ways in which you can do this.
Typically many firms will choose simply to advertise or sponsor something. This can be costly in relation to its return on investment. Whilst these activities may create a general awareness of a firm – they do little convey its real strengths and what benefits it brings to its clients. They do litt le to start building relationships. So consider ways in which you could become more visible and highlight your strengths to these groups. Consider offering focused activities – such as seminars, workshops, surgeries, authoring articles, case studies, top tips, offers etc. The content of these should be guided by the benefits you’ve brought clients and the areas you’ve helped with. If you can think in terms of what your clients have gained from their interactions with you, the easier it will be to demonstrate your possible value to potential clients. Please, however, don’t try and ‘sell’ in these situations, as people will resist you. Instead seek to understand and then give some form of help. Potential clients will be more receptive to you if you can do this.
And if your potential clients aren’t accessible through groups, consider making a targeted approach. This isn’t about sending a general mailshot or making a cold call. Instead, try and glean information about the prospective client – one that identifies their current situation, opportunities and challenges. Gather together several pieces of information that could really help them – e.g., articles, books, case studies, newspaper clippings, podcasts etc. These items should not try and sell a particular service. Instead, they should address a particular issue and give insight and help on it in some way.
Over several weeks, you can drip-feed this information to them. What you want to do here is to demonstrate that you:
- Understand their situation.
- Want to try and help them.
- Need to demonstrate some of your thinking in this area to see if they are happy to meet.
- Once you have sent out several items, call them (within the timeframe you’ve suggested with your last item).
You will find that the more your items have related to the real issues they are facing and the more those items bring real value, the more they will want to meet you.
Step five – widen your net
In addition to your current referrers, consider other businesses or organisations whose clients, customers or members may benefit from your strengths. Aside from the lawyers, banks and other professionals you know – who else could you stimulate referrals from? If you have a High Street presence are their particular retailers whose customers you could create particular offers for? Could you develop a joint promotion for a local organisation or association’s members? If you can consider the wider referral opportunities available to you, you will start to build a stronger competitive position in your chosen market. This in turn will stimulate even more referrals as market perceptions start to see you as more successful adviser to some of your competitors.
Making marketing work for you
Marketing isn’t a luxury; it is essential to growing a business. Hopefully the five steps we have revealed have demonstrated that it need not be a huge expense. The best marketing results come from very focused actions – ones focused on specific people with specific issues and whom a specific approach has been developed. The more specific and focused the approach the easier it is to measure. Often this simply requires time rather than cash. And yes, whilst time is money in the accountancy profession, this investment does have a positive impact on your top line growth.