How NOT to tell people that your business grows through referrals

Most of the accountants I meet claim that most of their best new clients come through referrals.  When I dig deeper I find this is typically for one of the following reasons:

  • They remember that their most recent new clients were initially generated by referrals;
  • They don’t get many new clients and also don’t ask for referrals, but they think that one or two definitely came via referrals;
  • They don’t get much contact via their website, don’t advertise or market the practice and are not active on social media, so they assume that new clients must be coming through referrals;  Or
  • They actively encourage referrals – either indirectly or directly. But this is rare 😉

Many accountants don’t feel comfortable actively asking for referrals. That’s a shame but I understand. It can feel pushy and make you feel like a grubby salesperson. You don’t need to feel like that. It all gets easier when you learn:

  • how to ask for referrals (in a way that works); and
  • when is the right time to ask.

Part of the challenge is that we don’t always ask in an appropriate manner; or we say the ‘right’ things but at the wrong time. When we then get rebuffed we are discouraged.

The indirect approach

This is how some accountants try to encourage referrals via their website and, more commonly via their email message footer. I saw the following phrase on an email I received from an accountant recently. I’ve seen variations on it before and, having now checked, I note that the same phrase is also used on lots of accountants’ websites.

“My Business grows through referrals.
If any of your friends or colleagues are concerned about any areas of their accountancy or taxation, please feel free to pass on my details.”

It was this referrals request that promoted the title for this blog.  No doubt it works – to a degree. But before you copy it, let me suggest that you adapt it to suit your practice.

The more specific you are the more successful you’ll be

Who do you really want as new clients? ANY ‘friends or colleagues’ with ANY ‘concerns about ANY areas of their accountancy or taxation”. Wow. You must have plenty of time on your hands. And that would make you very different to most of the accountants with whom I speak. The reason I suggest this approach requires you to have plenty of time is that it suggests that you are keen to be referred to any of the following:

  • A retiree with a small pension and no other income
  • A student wanting to claim a refund of PAYE from their part-time job
  • A self employed trader simply looking to pay less than the £200 they currently pay each year for their accounts and tax return!
  • Someone needing help with their self assessment tax returns every year but who is unlikely to ever need much more than a basic compliance service.
  • Someone who matches the profile of your best client and who will value your services sufficient to pay you £1,000, £2,000, £5,000 or more each year

Please understand that I am not suggesting there is anything wrong in having clients who need very little help and who can only afford to pay low fees. If you are happy to encourage more of these, that’s fine.

My point is simply that without any clarification you are at risk of wasting time meeting with people who you don’t really want to take on as clients. And your lack of clarity actually reduces the number of referrals you will receive. If you make your referrals request more specific you will make it easier for people to refer exactly the right type of prospective new clients. And, typically, such referrals happen more frequently too 😉

by

How do you allow clients to communicate with you?

In the days before email there were only 3 ways that clients could communicate with their accountants. In person, by phone and by letter. Now the list of options is much longer. Do you encourage, tolerate or refuse to accept communications by less conventional methods? How does this impact your client base?

Email is perhaps the most common form of communication these days but some accountants talk about how they are being approached by prospects and by clients using skype, facebook, twitter, whatsapp, text messages and Linkedin.

I’ve been asked whether it’s acceptable to engage with clients and prospects using these platforms.  My answer is simple. ‘Yes’. The key question is whether you come across as professional and appropriate in your communications.  There is also the question as to why have facebook and twitter links on your website if you do not want to encourage communications via these platforms? There’s little point trying to look modern and uptodate if you can’t cope when people choose these facilities to communicate with you.

Ground rules

Moving on, you need to decide whether to allow clients to do whatever they want or if you want to set some ground rules. And you need to decide how to record or keep track of communications across multiple platforms.

My advice depends on how often you get enquiries and questions via less conventional methods. 

You could welcome and embrace such approaches. “I’m flexible and modern and let clients engage with me however they choose. But we do encourage email for substantive conversations and when we provide ‘written’ advice”

Or

You could adopt a different stance and reply to initial enquiries, along the lines: “Many thanks for getting in touch here. I’d love be to discuss your issues on the phone or face to face. 

Please note that we are happy for clients to contact us use by whatever media they choose. However as a professionally qualified accountant I cannot engage with non-clients on platforms like this.”

Social media

If clients want to ‘meet’ via Skype – you need to agree or accept that they may choose to go elsewhere. Skype offers the advantage of face to face communication (over the web) but avoids anyone having to travel to a meeting. This is the same reason that I run monthly webinar meetings for sole practitioner accountants who do not want to travel into London to meet with me regularly.

Like many people I tend to think of facebook as a non-business communication platform – principally for friends, family and fun. However I also know that some accountants have popular business pages on facebook and that prospects and clients may communicate with them on facebook or via messenger.  This is most likely to be the case if your clients are themselves very active on facebook.  Whether you want to encourage or discourage communications via facebook, make this clear on on your facebook page. 

Again, you may have some clients who see you are active on twitter and send you messages there. Or they may have a preference for whatsap or texting. It’s up to you whether to reply in detail (not easy – even via direct messages) or to copy their message then reply to it via email. If you copy their message into your email reply it will be easier for you to keep an audit trail of your communications. Just bear in mind that some clients may check their twitter accounts and texting apps more often than they check their emails. So I’d advise that you always send an acknowledgement back by the same method that the client approached you eg: “Thanks for that. I’m replying in detail by email. Will aim to get you something within in the next few hours, or do you need advice more urgently?”

I would suggest that your emails always reference the platform on which the original query arose (facebook, twitter, Linkedin, whatsapp or elsewhere!)  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding it very frustrating to glance at a new message notification and then to later forget which app I need to review to find it again,

Clients first?

Unless you can afford to alienate the odd client, I think it’s important to allow clients to communicate with you however they choose. So don’t deny them the facility. But you can take control of how you respond. To keep track of the shorter messages, that you don’t confirm by email, you could take screen shots from text, facebook and twitter apps. Then save those photos to relevant client directories or files in the cloud – direct from your phone.

As the number of clients engaging with you in less conventional ways increases, so it’s important to identify the processes and systems you want to have in place to keep track and to retain an audit trail re advice you give clients. This becomes even more important if your advice reflects questions, facts or assumptions you noted via ‘social media’. And you need to ensure that any staff or contractors whom clients communicate with also follow your ground rules.

A more traditional approach would be to tell clients that you only accept instructions and communications by email, letter, phone or in person. I tend to think that approach will not help you to win or to retain clients. But it’s your choice. It’s up to you how you allow clients to communicate with you. If you want more clients of the type who are active users of social media, the more important it is for you to appear flexible and capable of engaging via your clients’ preferred means of communication.

by

Be proud and positive about your profession

This week’s blog post is derived from the response I received from a recent attendee at one of my talks. She had been very enthusiastic so I asked her what she had learned specifically. This is her reply:

Things I took away from yesterday:

  • That it’s OK to be on the quiet side at networking events – I am surrounded by [male] ‘chest-beaters’ all justifying their own existence and who talk at people rather than to them!
  • To be specific about what I am looking for in a referral – something that I need to work on …. It’s not all about [a type of target she mentioned during the course] … and that this may vary depending on my audience.
  • And to stop apologising for being an accountant, which I often do and a close friend tells me off regularly for it. This must come across in my ‘first impression’ but won’t be a good impression to make on someone. I can stand out from my peers by being me and being proud and positive about my profession! I definitely need to work on the impression that I leave people with ….

She added: “Your presentation yesterday was very engaging and entertaining.”

Just to amplify her 3 key main points:

1 – I had explained that introverts are often more effective networkers than extroverts. The latter tend to talk too much whereas introverts are better at listening to what other people are saying. If you listen more effectively you can ask better questions and learn more about them. The more you learn the better you can focus the stories you tell so that they resonate. This will help you and your stories to be more memorable.

2 – It’s too easy to sound like ‘just another accountant’ when you talk with people such as bankers, lawyers and fellow attendees at networking events. This means they are unlikely to remember you or to refer business to you. You can ensure such conversations are more worthwhile if you can be more specific about the referrals you seek. This means talking about the type of people you want to meet in terms that are memorable and distinct.

3 – Absolutely accountants should be proud and positive about being an accountant. If you’re not giving a positive impression why should anyone believe that you are the right accountant for them or for anyone they know?

All of these points are also addressed in my Successful Practice Programme, come up in my other work with sole practitioner accountants and in my talks at conferences and seminars.

by