The Sole Practitioners’ formula for identifying your premium fee paying prospects

This is a guest blog provided by Patrick McLoughlin. In it he explains how sole practitioner accountants can become really clear as to who is a premium fee playing client. And, having done that, how you can then clarify your future marketing and business generation activities. As Patrick’s approach is much the same as mine I am happy to share his thoughts here.

It doesn’t matter in which industry or professional sector you operate, if you provide a specialist service you are going to get paid more. To help you attract more premium fee paying clients, this blog focuses on transitioning your work and marketing to grow your GRF.

Here goes:

Know your strengths, understand who benefits most from your work

If you already have specialist knowledge and clients you provide a specialist range of services to, you can skip this point. If you struggle to define your ideal clients or your answers focus on personality types, read on.

As a starting point list all your clients on a spreadsheet. Then decide what issues you want to grade them on.  Typically focus on:

Level of fees paid

Profitability of work you carry out

Personality (How much you enjoy working with them)

Do they refer

Potential for fees to grow

Prospective lifetime value

Payment history

Mark the client out of 10 for each category then add up your scores. Focus on your highest scoring 10% – 20% of your clients.  Look at what they have in common. Maybe there’s a high number from a certain industry sector or you’ve helped many overcome a similar problem.

Profile your top clients

Now write a profile of those key similarities. Think about their turnover range, sectors to focus on or exclude, the postcodes you can reach within 30-40 minutes etc.  Now we are just starting to hone in on those clients you can build your future on.

Focus on Sam

To build a greater understanding create an ideal client persona. Focus on elements of your best clients.  Give them a name, a history, even a family background: For example, Sam has 2 young children under 5, an expensive mortgage and is aged 30-40 etc.

Even if you think you know, talk to your better clients about the goals they are chasing, maybe paying off the mortgage in 5-years or putting the kids through private school etc. Then list Sam’s goals, challenges and how you can help with both.

If Sam hopes to put the kids through private school you can help by planning and forecasting how the business needs to grow to achieve it.   If Sam’s company has stopped growing you may be able to help by systemising aspects of the business or improving management information allowing Sam to spend more time with potential new clients.

Focus on Sam’s opinions and feelings about the business. Sam might say that he doesn’t feel in control of the finances from one year end to the next.  Or maybe Sam doesn’t understand his annual accounts and they are no help to him in steering the business forward.

A great example of copy to address Sam’s lack of value & understanding of year-end accounts

You’ll find after you’ve completed the above that it naturally filters down to help you write a short summary of how you can help Sam. Try and use their language not your own.  And don’t forget to focus on easing their pain and fulfilling their ambitions.

If you do your homework you’ll find it so much easier to pick your ideal clients out in a crowd or a telephone conversation. Your ideal clients will relate to you better and chose you over cheaper competitors.

To help me, to help sole practitioners grow, please could you click this link and complete the short survey.

Thank you so much for your support. 

All the best.  Patrick.

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8 mistakes sole practitioners make on twitter

An increasing number of sole practitioners are experimenting with twitter. Some quickly conclude or believe instinctively that twitter could be a huge waste of time. And yet some also talk about how they have used twitter to secure new clients or otherwise found it to be a useful source of knowledge and information.

What follows are eight of the most common mistakes I have noticed sole practitioners making on twitter. As a result they waste a lot of time and effort and end up disappointed and frustrated. And then they give up. I say this with confidence as I have long been monitoring how thousands of UK accountants use twitter. Huge numbers stop tweeting after a few weeks or months.

I suspect they conclude it doesn’t work. This is much the same as you might conclude that a car doesn’t work as a good means of transport after you try to drive one, but where you have never learned anything about the clutch and you also hoped it would give you a smooth drive in first gear to see your friends who live 500 miles away. This leads us nicely into the first common mistake.

1. Assuming twitter will be an immediate source of valuable and relevant leads. This is a misconception as to what twitter is and how it can work for you. My advice is always to start out by simply using twitter as a source of knowledge and information. Follow people and topics of interest. Don’t worry about tweeting yourself until you get a better feel as to how it works after experiencing it for a while.

2. There is a rarely a good reason for a sole practitioner accountant to tweet using their practice name. Far better to use your own name and simply mention the practice in your twitter bio. Be yourself and you will attract more followers, interest and interaction than if you tweet from behind the name of your practice.

3. Don’t automatically follow everyone who follows you or chase hundreds of followers. If you do this you will attract spammers, marketing ‘gurus’, social media specialists, loners and losers. None of them will be prospective clients or advocates. They probably won’t even read any of your tweets. They will simply follow you in the hope that you’ll follow back and increase their numbers – and that is a mug’s game that many Twitter virgins play, although it serves no useful purpose.

4. Failing to clarify who you want to influence and ‘find’ on twitter. Sole practitioners are more likely to gain valuable leads by searching out local business people and others who operate in the business niche, in the local area or who share an interest with you.

5. Don’t assume that all of your followers will see all of your tweets. Think of it as a river. People jump in the stream, participate, and then get out. Equally, never worry about what you’ve missed – it doesn’t work that way.

6. Don’t set up a standard message to auto-welcome new followers – they won’t click on your links, and established twitter users don’t like them. It damages your credibility even before people get to know you and that’s never a good thing.

7. Despite the fact that you may be using twitter as a marketing tool, don’t try to solicit business or make sales. It looks spammy, and will not secure you new clients. Think of twitter simply as a way to short cut the process of finding people with whom you can build new business relationships. The bottom line is that you will generate enquiries only if your followers get to know and like you, and also if they know you’re an accountant and that you like your work.

8. Avoid trying to outsource your use of twitter. This would be as effective as giving someone else a mask of your face and expecting them to start building relationships on your behalf at a business event or party. If you want to build relationships you have to be involved.

To see how other UK accountants are using twitter, check out the tweets on these two twitter lists:

UK accountants who tweet as themselves and UK accountancy firms on twitter

Survey

If you are a sole practitioner, please complete this quick survey (just 2 questions) now, re the key issues you are facing generally in running your practice.

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10 commandments of client service for sole practitioners

Ok, maybe not real ‘commandments’ and maybe they are relevant to a wider audience than sole practitioners. Either way I hope you’ll nod as you look through the list. I suggest you aim to pick out one or two where you know you could do better. And then focus on what you could do to improve your client service in this regard over the next few days, weeks and months.
Could I also encourage you please to complete a quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues facing sole practitioners? See here>>>
1. Ask good questions: You need to identify and anticipate your client’s needs. Some clients may just tell you everything they think you want to know. But some need to be encouraged and many clients won’t know what’s important and relevant until you ask them to take about specific issues. You are the expert so you should know what additional information you need to give valuable advice. Do you get to the nub of the issue to find your client’s underlying issues, concerns and worries?
 
2. Listen attentively:  It’s all too easy to assume that one client’s situation and needs are the same as ‘all the others’ with a similar background. Even if that turns out to be the case, the fact that you listened to them will form a stronger bond, give them more confidence in your advice and increase the prospect they will speak positively about you – leading to more referrals and recommendations. Do you KNOW, as regards each client, what are their 3 most important concerns?
3. Make clients feel special: Smile when you meet with them. Be careful to only make promises you know you can keep. Be sincere. Only ever under-promise and then over-deliver. Give them more than they expect (as long as they will value the extras). Be respectful of clients’ time. Resolve their problems as quickly as possible and keep them informed of your progress (or lack of it). Every client interaction is an opportunity to show you care and to provide outstanding service. Deliver a solution that meets or even exceeds a client’s expectations and you’ll strengthen your relationship with that client.
4. Avoid jargon: Remember that clients don’t generally use the same acronyms and abbreviations as accountants. They may feel daft not understanding what you’re talking about and just nod quietly. Speak to clients using language they understand. Communicate to be understood, not to impress. Are you even aware of how often you use terms and jargon that clients may not follow? Clients hate it. Most people do, which is why I didn’t simply say: DUTMA.
(DUTMA = Don’t Use Too Many Acronyms!)
5. Bill promptly and fairly: With the possible exception of your smallest clients, you and your clients will benefit from regular billings across the year. ‘Prompt’ billings means around the time you provided the service and in line with your terms of business/engagement.  ‘Fairly means, fair to YOU as well as fair to your clients. If your fee is going to be higher than they might have expected, you should DISCUSS this with them before sending out the fee note and chasing payment.
6. Apologise promptly: None of us is perfect. When something goes wrong, be honest about it and apologise. Suggest how you might make amends and seek your client’s feedback as to what they want. Clients rarely swap accountants simply because of a mistake or two. The client service failing comes when your client perceives that you don’t care enough. Make it simple for clients to let you know if they have a problem. Make it clear that you value their complaints. Better they should let you know than tell other people! It also gives you an opportunity to improve. Even if customers are having a bad day, go out of your way to make them feel comfortable The client isn’t always right but they like to feel as though they have won – even when they are wrong.
7. Make it easy to do business with you: You don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. But you do need to be easy to contact. If you’re often out and about, consider a telephone answering service so that a real person takes messages. Consider an online diary scheduling service to allow clients to book meetings with you at mutually convenient times. I use calendly – but there are many other options. These facilities can make your life easier whilst also removing the frustration that follows when a client cannot easily reach you.
8. Focus on solutions vs problems: Clients don’t ‘really’ buy an accountant’s services. What they are really buying are good feelings and solutions to their problems. The more you can talk in terms of providing solutions to their problems, the more they will appreciate what you are doing for them and what you can do for them.
9. Admit what you don’t know: You are rarely doing clients a favour if you pretend to have more knowledge and experience than you do. Clients will rely on you more if they know they can trust you to be honest with them.
10. Seek regular feedback: If you are serious about wanting to provide great client service, you will only know if you seek feedback from your clients. How do you do this? Casually or in an organised way that adds to your credibility? The best method invites constructive criticism,  comments, and suggestions.
If you are a sole practitioner, do please complete this quick survey (just 2 questions) re the key issues you are facing.
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