More referrals

When you first start building your professional practice you will naturally gravitate to known acquaintances to spread the word that you are on the look-out for new clients.

Over time, this band of willing referrers will diminish – they will run-out of contacts of their own to refer. Which means you will need to  search further afield and seek referrals from your client base.

What is the major benefit of a referral?

The major benefit in a referral is that the person referring you has completed most of the sales process for you. The referred prospect comes to you with the expectation that you can do a good job.

This is a clear and obvious reason for making the most of this source of new clients.

Why do businesses seek out new advisers?

Ordinarily, we have to work hard to convince a business prospect to take up our services. They will need to feel that there is a perceived benefit in the move. Classically, most businesses seek out a new adviser for two reasons:

    • They feel they paying too much, and/or
    • They are not getting the help and support they need.

There are good arguments to rebut the first reason – they are paying too much – usually, when you drill down, its not the cost that is the problem, it’s that the value ascribed to professional work provided that does not match up to the cost.

What motivates clients and others to refer your practice?

If you read a book on Amazon, you can only write a testimonial/review based on your appreciation of that single publication. If it’s a good review, this will encourage others to buy.

In similar vein, if the only service you provide a client is say payroll management this is the only service they can objectively recommend. If you do a good job, they are likely to spread the word. But what about other services that you offer?

There are occasions when a friendly comment “you should go and see my accountant, she does a really good job on my payroll” will be enough to inspire the prospect to give you a call; even if the service that they require is unrelated to payroll.

But how much better would it be if your referring client knew that you could offer additional services?

Educate your clients, they are your most effective business ambassadors

One way to inform clients about your other services is to have systematic cross-sales campaigns. Advise them of the range of services you offer, even if they do not want the services themselves they will then be aware that you do provide that advice; and if approached by a friend with an issue that would benefit from that service, they can jump in with a targeted response “my accountant does that…”.

Take a look at the Landmark Fee Builder program

If you want to extend and expand the range and number of referrals for your practice, extend and expand the number of services you offer clients.

If you want a ready-made cross-sales solution, our Fee Builder program has a number of service options that you can consider for your practice, and associated marketing documentation to send to clients. Take a look> 

Improving prospect conversions

If you want a particular business or individual to be a client of your firm one way to achieve your goal is to give the prospect an experience of what it is like being a client of your practice.

Most practitioners simply add a prospect to their mailing list and send them a periodic newsletter update. Whilst this is one, low-cost strategy to keep in touch, you may need to invest more time if you want to speed-up your conversions.

Ranking your prospects

In much the same way that you could categorise clients: as A, B, C, D etc, it is worth considering the same process for prospects.

You could also select valued services, those that are not pure compliance activity, and tag prospects accordingly.

For example, if you supply a business fitness solution you could send prospects – that you feel could benefit from this sort of service – information about the service and how this might be of use to their business.

We would suggest that you rank your prospects on the basis of desirability: make your A category those that you most want to sign up, and those that you invest time in converting.

Prospecting is like fishing

The bait that will likely “hook” your prospect is if your presented service resonates in some way; if it solves a problem or helps to achieve a goal. Essentially, it will distinguish your practice from their present adviser, that is NOT offering the advice.

Take a look at the Landmark Fee Builder program

No need to scratch your head, conceiving services that you could promote to prospects. We have created a comprehensive range of services and the documentation and resources that enable cross-sales and wider, prospect conversion strategies.

Our Fee Builder program has a number of service options that you can consider for your practice, and associated marketing documentation to send to prospects. Take a look> 

 

Strengthening relationships with clients

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering that a business may have an abstract legal identity, but I’ve never see a business laughing or drinking coffee.

Our relationship is always with people, the partners, sole traders, director/shareholders and individuals that may not drink coffee, but they do walk on two legs and speak our language, in the main…

Setting appropriate boundaries

To some extent, our relationship with clients is limited by a client’s willingness to communicate, and our psychology.

As advisers, it is beholden on us to make a client feel comfortable with both the content of the services we offer and the way in which those services are delivered.

I have met practitioners who never see their clients; all communication is by post, phone or email. This suits practitioners who are on the shy side. This may also be a client choice, the way they want to be managed.

Unfortunately, the human attributes that tend to reinforce the client/practice relationship do require a certain amount of engagement on the part of the practitioner. Top of the list in my opinion is “empathy”.

Why empathy is important

Accountants are trained to know. Our instinct is to be right. The language we use floats back and forth between Queen’s English and jargon.

If a client starts to open up about a problem there is a natural tendency to see the solution. This is what we do, solve problems. As soon as do see the solution we are closed to further insights that may be relevant.

What I suggest may be required is training ourselves to listen in the first place, then reflecting back what we have understood a problem to be, and then, only then, consider what we can offer to meet those client needs.

This may seem to be an unnecessary touchy-feely approach, but what it creates from across the table – from your client’s perspective – is that they have been listened to and understood. It will give clients confidence that they can be open with you and add an important layer to the glue that will lock in loyalty and help build a lasting relationship.

Take every opportunity to convince client you are on their side

One way to do this is to keep them informed.

As we have mentioned in previous posts on related topics, clients will appreciate you sending them information about services you offer that may further their goals and aspirations and solve their problems.

Better that than ignoring the situation until it becomes a problem, with no solution, and one that will cost the client; not only a monetary loss, but unwelcome stress and anxiety.

When was the last time you took a look at your client list and identified cross-sales opportunities based on new or existing services you offer?

This is a sure fire way to work at bonding with clients and improve the relationship. Avoid “I told you so” conclusions. Instead, work at predicting client opportunities and problems and offering solutions before they become acute.

Take a look at the Landmark Fee Builder program

No need to scratch your head. We have created a comprehensive range of documentation and resources that enable cross-sales and wider, prospect conversion strategies. Take a look> 

 

Distinguish your practice from the competition

If you go to a food market with a yen to eat mango and only one stall has mango, it’s a no-brainer where you will buy.

If ten stalls have mango you have a buying decision to make. You may shop at your personal favourite stall, the stall with the lowest price, the stall that has the best looking fruit or the stall recommended to you by a friend. From the stall holders’ perspective there are limited options to affect your buying decision.

In the opening remarks to this article, the sole provider of mangoes is likely to get your business.

This rather over-simplification illustrates why it is important to distinguish your practice from your local competitors.

Who are your competitors and what do they offer?

To consider these issues you need to know what your competitors are offering and compare this with your range of services. This is an exercise that can pay dividends and the easiest way to achieve insights is to visit your competitors’ websites.

Returning to the opening remarks of this post, every accountant offers accounts and tax return preparation, but what “mangoes” do you have in your service offerings that would distinguish you from your competitors, and are you promoting these services on your website? Or featuring them on social media?

Obviously, if a competitor is as rigorous as you are, and they are looking at your website from time to time, they will look to close this competitive edge. However, how many firms do you know who check out competitors in this way?

Promoting that you have “mangoes” on offer

There is no point in being coy; if you have unique services promote them.

For example, the fruit retailer could make a list of produce that only they – or very few – stalls offer. With this insight they could print a short flyer and drop this into every carrier bag. Or have a section of the stall that proclaims “You can only buy these here”.

This raises a key point: the low-hanging fruit (no pun intended), the persons (clients) you should be targeting with this information, are your existing clients. If you have something unique to offer then promote this to your clients first. It is easier to sell to individuals with whom you have an existing relationship.

Cross-sell to distinguish your practice

This is by far the most productive way to increase your fee income, impress clients with what it is you can achieve for them and distinguish your practice from the competition. But it is a process, you will need to actively promote services you cannot expect clients to know about these matters by osmosis.

The key is to constantly increase your service offerings

Everyone sells apples – accounts and tax return preparation – very few firms promote specialist services (business fitness programs for example). If you are keen to be seen as the firm to visit for support then you will need to set out your stall accordingly.

Like a few ideas to inspire you?

Take a look at Landmark’s Fee Builder program. Distinguishing you from your competitors is just one of the benefits of this service.

Why invest in an accountancy franchise?

Accountants meeting

The following post was provided by Bracey’s, a thriving firm who are building a franchise under the Bracey’s brand.

Firstly, let’s talk numbers, we are accountants after all. Over half of all UK franchises achieve turnover in excess of £250,000. 97% of the franchisees surveyed were profitable. So, we’ve got some solid foundations for success. If you’re ambitious, motivated and keen to run your own accountancy practice, this article will give you the inside scoop.

Primary reasons

You can be up and running quickly. It can take years to set up a successful business with setbacks along the way – you can short cut those – rather painful – lessons and set up with ease. Also, your earning potential isn’t limited by the usual costs and pitfalls associated with starting a firm from scratch. Oh, and a key thing to mention here, you’ve got the appetite, stamina and determination. Irrespective of cost savings, you need the right attitude to run a successful franchise.

Specific pre-launch benefits

Whilst we can’t speak about every accountancy franchise available, we know that at Bracey’s Accountants, you’ll receive

  • Support systems such as website, software, regulation-complaint procedures and manuals
  • Exclusive territory.
  • Branding, logos, merchandise.
  • Email address set up and working with support.
  • Fully optimised website driving leads to your inbox.
  • Xero Gold status immediately.
  • Training and support

On-going benefits

Yes, you’ll be set up for success, but we know that doesn’t mean the challenges are over. You are running your own firm after all. Having worked closely with our franchisees, we know what you need in place to continue to be successful. This includes:

  • Speaking with colleagues who have been through the start-up franchise process.
  • Access to marketing and PR advice from a proven and specialist external agency.
  • The experience and in-house team for pitching to large clients who would be inaccessible to an independent one-man band.
  • Ability to offer specialist services to your clients.
  • Support with meeting client deadlines when you’re busy.
  • Help to keep your business running in an emergency.
  • Constant review of all procedures to keep up with regulatory changes. You don’t have to worry about finding the solution, we do the research, design a system and test it for you.

If you’d like to know more about franchising at Bracey’s, visit www.braceys-franchise.co.uk or contact our Franchise Manager on 01462 413249

Building client loyalty

Answer this question:

Would your clients call you if they had received information from another accountant that you have not provided or that seems to be at variance with advice that you have provided?

Or would they send you a “Dear John” letter?

Client loyalty requires investment on your part

Most accountants believe that their clients owe them loyalty; after all, you offer the best advice. Why would they not be loyal?

This is a myth. Client loyalty is a consequence of a business relationship that works for the client. The building and maintenance of client loyalty is a process that requires action on the part of a practitioner. It is not sufficient, in my opinion, to simply do a good job and hope for the best.

How do you measure client loyalty?

Tricky. You could ask clients for feedback, are they happy with the service they receive? Unfortunately, most of us are drawn to extremes when asked theses sorts of questions, its either “everything is fine” or Pandora’s Box flips open and years of spleen is dumped in your lap. It could also be seen as you fishing for compliments.

The most objective way to measure loyalty is to witness what happens when the proverbial  hits the fan: either you make a mistake, or returning to the opening remark to this post, one of your competitors offers advice that had not occurred to you.

How do you maintain and strengthen client loyalty?

Certainly you can have heart to heart conversations with clients – as part of say an annual review – and that may help to clear up any lingering issues. You can also eye-ball clients and ask them to contact you if they have any problems with the service or advice they are receiving from your practice.

If you go down this route be sure to ask “open” questions that invite the client to be honest with you. Say “Do you have any issues regarding the services we have provided?” not “I assume you are happy with our work?”.

And most importantly: appoint someone to make periodic calls to the client to check out that all is well. A few “open” questions that help the client to clear the air will further the process.

Seek and you shall find…

Clients have two basic needs that advisers can help to satisfy: the fulfilment of their business and personal financial goals and sorting out problems. Some of these goals and issues you will be aware of, but what about those that you are not?

Seeking out these goals and problems should be a further key feature of your conversations with clients. 

If you do get involved in tracking down these goals and problems, and then provide services that keep clients on track, you will go a long, long way towards your goal of building client loyalty.

Are you keeping vital details under your hat?

Whilst clients will generally be aware of their own aspirations many will not be aware of all the services you offer, and therefore, the issues that you could help them with. The old adage: its what you don’t know that you don’t know that catches you out.

This is when you can step in, and the way to do this is to actively campaign to cross-sell relevant services to all your clients.

Do not stop the clock when you have succeeded in completing accounts and tax returns

The most important rhetorical question you can ask as a committed practitioner and adviser is “what other services can I offer that would support this client?”. Ironically, the cross-sales process is the most productive way to increase your practice fee income, and as a bonus, support the ongoing process of building client loyalty.

To see how Landmark can help you with this quest take a look at our Fee Builder Plus service.

Increase your practice fees

I think the days of relying on referrals may be numbered.

During my full-time periods in professional practice I too relied on a constant stream of new client introductions from existing clients. Certainly, in the early, heady days there were plentiful additions to recurring fees from this source. Unfortunately, as my practices matured, referrals started to reduce as loyal clients basically ran out of contacts to recommend.

In the current market place, competition now plays a much larger part in this process. The advent of increasingly complex, and competent, accounts and tax software has enabled less qualified persons to step into the compliance market. To some degree this has lowered the price of basic accounts and tax return preparation. This in turn has added downward pressure on the quantum of fees and profits earned by professional firms.

Should we increase our fees?

Hopefully, I am speaking to the converted on this question.

New business is the lifeblood of a thriving practice. Even if a practitioner is approaching retirement, fee-attrition is unfortunate as it will simply reduce the value of practice goodwill.

So, the answer is yes, in my opinion we should plan for growth in client acquisitions and rewire our practices to sell services that may have a recurring element, but that also offer those extra elements: to assist tax-payers in achieving their dreams and aspirations, and solving their problems.

We are more than problem solvers

Accountants are ideally placed to lift away the time consuming work of meeting compliance deadlines; historically, its what we do. The problem with relying on compliance work is now appreciated and more and more practitioners are successfully offering so-called “added value” services to clients that shift the emphasis away from “grudge” services (meeting HMRC and Companies House deadlines) and instead offer support services that are appreciated, valued and can justify a more realistic level of fees.

This shift from pure compliance to advisory work should be adopted by all practitioners. However, we are more than problem solvers, we are also partners in assisting clients to fulfil their business and personal financial dreams.

How do we increase our fees?

Certainly, we cannot rely solely on referrals to increase our fee income; but stepping outside of this passive approach, we will need to act: to adopt and maintain a structured marketing plan for our practices.

There are two basic threads to this planning exercise: to approach existing clients and sell them additional services and secondly, to win new client appointments. Each requires a distinct marketing approach.

Cross-selling

The low hanging fruit is to approach your present client base with additional services. Do not fall into the trap that dismisses cross-selling as a waste of time, that clients are only interested in minimising the cost of your services. If this is how you feel, then you need to re-engineer your service offerings to embrace the “valued” service definition: services that not only solve problems, but that also assist clients meeting their goals.

Take a look at our Fee Builder program

We can help. I have created a Fee Builder program that can be adopted by practices of any size. It offers ideas and practical support to develop new services for your practice and a simple stepped process to achieve gains in cross selling to clients and improving new client acquisitions.

See what Fee Builder can offer your practice.

Are you interested in increasing cross-sales and prospect conversions?

FEE BUILDER

Download our Fee Builder “Getting started guide” that will outline our low-cost process for achieving these goals.