It might be difficult to think strategically about your firm without looking through a Covid-lens. But this shall pass, even if not as quickly as we had hoped. When the time comes, and if your firm has invested in all-mobile online technologies and practices to stay productive during the pandemic, you’ll be well-positioned to start growing when society relaxes again. For some professionals, they might sense that it’s the right time to venture out on their own and start a new firm.
In either case, driving new client growth is essential to building and maintaining a successful practice. While some firm owners or partners may be satisfied in keeping their practice the same size, having a proactive strategy to replace lost clients or attract better ones can help the firm become more profitable.
In addition to keeping your firm visible in the community and online, here are a few tried and true methods to bolster you list of business clients:
1. Identify Ideal Business Clients
There are clients and then there are great clients, with the difference being the profitability your firm realizes from servicing each. This is measured not only in the total revenue they send to your firm, but also in the productivity of the work. If the work is labor intensive and not as profitable as other potential services, then your focus needs to be on other potential clients.
If your firm has a specialty niche, it likely sees a premium on the value of services it provides to these clients because of your expertise in their field. Ramping up new clients in this area would be a natural (and profitable) direction.
2. Upsell Current Clients
One of the most effortless ways to increase business is to offer more services to clients you already serve. If they use other professionals for services your firm also offers, take the time to explain why your firm can serve them better; whether this be through cost benefits, improved productivity, or more accurate and reliable data. During this discussion, take the time to explore opportunities you might be able to provide to other organizations they may be involved in, as well as their friends and colleagues.
3. Ask Current Clients For Referrals
It’s often said that the most effective salesperson is a satisfied client. Your business clients likely interact with many other small business owners in the area, and their recommendation of your firm can add exceptional value to your reputation. Instead of taking a “wait and see” approach to these referrals, take a proactive approach by asking at least one or two clients with whom you have a close relationship to spread the word about your firm. Some firms even try a more defined referral rewards program, through which existing clients receive a discount or benefit as a result.
4. Partner With Specialists
You might have clients or prospects that have specialized needs related to services that your firm doesn’t offer (or you can’t do so profitably), such as legal representation, investing, complex transaction tax issues, or technology concerns. Your clients’ continued financial health and your relationship with them might depend on the success they have in dealing with these other issues, so it is imperative that you play a role in helping them find successful representation. By establishing business alliances with other professionals in your area, such as lawyers, investment professionals, technology consultants and similar service firms, your firm can not only better serve clients, but also benefit from mutual referrals from these other professionals.
It may also be valuable to establish non-competitive relationships with other similar businesses in your area, particularly if each of you have different specialties. For instance, a practice with strong sales and local tax (SALT) expertise may offer bilateral referrals with a firm that has strong ex-patriate tax expertise. Or a firm may partner with a less specialized general bookkeeping or payroll practice for those functions.
5. Network With Others
A lot has been written about the value of networking events. While the current pandemic has put a halt to most in-person events, when the time comes to do so again, they are exceptional opportunities to meet new prospects, especially for businesses focused on serving other local businesses. If you can help sponsor such events (through your local chamber of commerce or other business groups), you can usually obtain attendee lists beforehand This can allow you to better prepare for these events and know more about the attendees. Think about what would make your firm valuable to these potential clients and be sure to follow up with them after the event.
You can also participate in non-business-focused events as a hobby or when volunteering with community activities. While trying to push sales during these events may be inappropriate, it’s still a point of contact and a shared interest from which to start up a conversation later. Whether you’re active in historic preservation of the community, are a competitive cyclist, spend your time at the gym, or are a duffer on the golf course, these casual interactions can turn into strong client relationships.
6. Amp Up Your Online Presence
When’s the last time you updated your firm’s website? Now’s a good time. Make your site not just a glorified contact page, but offer genuinely useful resources, such as timely articles on business issues (such as the PPP, taxes, entity formation). Also offer calculators for various financial issues, such as retirement, loans, mortgages, or college savings. This content is often included with some of the website tools designed for accounting firms , with little work necessary for the firm itself to maintain it. You can also get involved in various groups on social media as a way to expand your online presence.
7. Find Your Technology Fit
Many businesses have moved to the cloud in the last few years (and many had to in order to make it through Covid). It is not simply a trend. If your firm is adept at working remotely and in collaborating with clients digitally, then you are better positioned to serve businesses with a similar preference than an antiquated, “old school” accounting firm. Take advantage of this mutual focus on technology by marketing your services to the right targets.
8. Cold-Calling & Visits
Not even professional sales people like cold calling, but sometimes it can be effective. The key is to gain as much insight into the potential client as possible before your interaction. This allows you to hone your sales pitch and talk directly about the benefits you can offer their business- and to do so with as little disruption to them as possible. At the very least, know who you want to speak with, what their role is, and what some of their needs are. And don’t forget to listen- since the quicker you can turn your pitch into a conversation, the better.