How to attract and retain high end clients

There is a wonderful restaurant in Temple Fortune (a suburb in NW London). It doesn’t look like a high class place. Indeed it looks quite ordinary and seems to be under the same ownership as the bookshop next door.

Unexpectedly the quality and presentation of the dishes they serve at Cafe Also are outstanding and yet the prices are quite reasonable.

Indeed you could be served comparable dishes in a top rated London restaurant. But, if you were, you would be charged two or three times the menu prices at Cafe Also.

Why is that? It’s probably because an ordinary looking restaurant in Temple Fortune cannot attract enough of the customers who would pay top London prices. But this doesn’t dent the chef’s ambition or commitment.

The comparison with accountants isn’t perfect but I hope you get the idea. Your appearance conveys your status and often impacts the fees you can charge. First impressions count.

If you’re based in a dingy room above a high street shop, if you have an old fashioned website, a cheap business card, a hotmail email address, a photo of your home appears in the google search results and you don’t otherwise give the impression of being successful…. Well, quite simply, you will probably struggle to attract and retain high fee paying clients. The fact that you make an effort to provide a high quality service often will not be enough.

I provided a longer list of the ‘wrong’ reasons for Standing Out in this earlier blog post >>>>

The bottom line is clear. If you are looking to secure premium clients paying premium fees you will find it easier if you give an appropriately positive first impression. If you want to keep those clients you will need to follow through and show that the value you deliver warrants higher than average fees.

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25 great answers to the question: How much do you charge?

One of the questions Accountants don’t like hearing, when approached by a prospective new client, is “How much do you charge?”
All too often the question is asked, too early, out of context, and before you’ve established exactly what accountancy and related services you will be providing. And yet, if you blow the answer, your prospect is gone.
Keep in mind that many people have no idea how else to start a conversation with an accountant other than asking about fees. It doesn’t always mean this is all they care about and that they simply want to find the cheapest accountant around.
Too often we worry about how to transition from one question to another, or we remember the childhood rule that when someone asks you a question, you have to answer it. This is not a rule for adults in business.
Here then are the 25 great answers to the question: “How Much Do You Charge?”
  1. I’d love to answer that but I can’t yet because I don’t know exactly what help and support you need. Can I just check some things with you first and then I’ll be able to quote you a fee.
  2. I’ll answer your question in a moment but to give you a more accurate answer, may I ask you three questions first?
  3. It depends on exactly what you need. I have learned not to assume that every client wants or needs exactly the same services. Let’s run through a few things that experience has taught me I need to clarify before I can quote a fair fee.
  4. Well, the friends and family rate might apply but we’re not friends yet – do you mind if I ask you a few friendly questions that will help me understand exactly what you need, before I determine what the fee will be?
  5. It could be over a million until I know exactly what services you need. Can we spend a few minutes narrowing things down to help us get down to a more realistic figure?
  6. I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that you don’t have a half million pound problem. The bad news is that you don’t have a £10,000 problem, either… If you can help me answer some key questions, we’ll both know a lot more about what your investment might look like.
  7. Unlike some other accountants I don’t charge standard fees as my clients receive a personalised service. And that means a personalised fee too. Let’s see what you really need and then you can decide if you can afford me.
  8. If it works, it’s cheap. If it doesn’t, it’s expensive. What’s it worth to you?
  9. Tell you what. Let me check a few points with you and then I’ll be able to give you a rough idea – a range of fees. If that’s ok we can then check some more details so that I can give you a specific quote.
  10. Let’s talk about what you’re trying to accomplish first and then we can get to what you’ll need to invest to get what you want.
  11. I’d love to find out more about your company first so that I can give you an accurate quote that covers everything you’ll need. Would you like to set up a time to talk?
  12. Most of my clients are paying something between £60 and £250 a month for the sort of services I think you’re going to want.  Some pay more.  Few pay less. How does that compare with your budget?
  13. I don’t know. Let’s talk about your objectives and what you really need from me first.
  14. Before we discuss fees can you help me get a better idea of what you’re looking to achieve? That will also enable me to work through exactly what services you’ll need and how much contact and meetings are likely to be required.
  15. Moving to a more proactive accountant like me only makes sense if it’s already in your budget. None of my clients woke up one day and suddenly found the money to invest in more commercial accountancy and business support. If you can share the budget range you have set aside for this, I can tell you if it makes sense for us to talk any further.
  16. I have a feeling that if I quote a random number right now, I’ll be dead in the water. Do you mind if I ask you some questions to get a better idea of what your goals are? Then the numbers we talk about will be specific to you and your situation.
  17. There’s no good answer to that question in a vacuum. Can we talk a little more about what you’re hoping I can do for you? Then I’ll give you some fee options that make sense for your budget.
  18. Smile and hesitate and then say: That’s the best part! Review the benefits and intended results and then say: You get all that for X. Now smile again. THEN say: When do you want your monthly direct debit to start?
  19. Just like you need to make an educated decision about which accountant to appoint, I need to give you an educated answer to your question about my fees. But I don’t know enough about what you need or your circumstances to quote a fee yet. Do you mind if we have a 10-minute conversation about your situation? After that, I’ll have a much better idea of what you’re after and some different ways we can help.
  20. Sounds like price is the most important factor to you. In my experience, everything is expensive until you want it. Can we talk about what you want and then work our way to the pricing options based on that?
  21. It’s going to cost you more than a cab ride to [local landmark, e.g.: The London Eye”] but less than what it cost to build [the landmark, e.g. “The London Eye””]. If we can chat for 10 minutes about why you called, I can give you a much more specific answer. Do you have 10 minutes now or shall we book a time later in the week?
  22. Until I have a better idea of what you want – and whether or not we can even help – any number I give you is going to be too high. Would it be OK if we spend a few minutes discussing why you called? Then if we can help, I’ll get you the pricing options you need. And if we can’t, I’ll refer you to some other great resources that do things we don’t. Fair enough?
  23. If my fee is your primary concern then I may not be the accountant for you. Can you help me understand why you’re looking for a (new) accountant and what difference it will make to you if you choose the right one?
  24. That’s the best part. Unlike many other accountants who only [do part of the job] we also ensure you [get more value]. And yet the total monthly fee you’ll pay is less than you would pay those other accountants. It’s typically between £xxx [the lowest fee you would ever charge such a client] and £zzz [the highest such fee].
  25. At this stage I can simply tell you that I’m not the cheapest accountant around, nor the most expensive.  If you’re looking for the cheapest service regardless of experience, expertise and advice maybe I should save us both some time and let you choose someone cheap.
Clearly the next part of the conversation is also crucial, as is the way you present your fee, any caveats and conditions you want to apply, your payment terms, and your fee review process.
These are topics we regularly address during the Sole Practitioner Breakthrough webinar Programme and at round table meetings in London with The Inner Circle for Accountants. These topics are also addressed in the Successful Practice email Programme and often come up during 1-2-1 mentoring sessions.
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Do people see you as successful or struggling?

Some accountants I know are proud of how efficiently they look after their own business affairs. Others though are embarrassed at their inefficiencies. And there are some who do not appear to give any thought as to how they are perceived.

If clients or business associates become aware that you are not running your practice very well, they may come to question the business advice you offer. And clients may choose not to accept your offer to provide business advice on a regular basis (for a fee). That would be a shame as it is a key ambition for many sole practitioners who want to grow their fees.

This is much worse than the old story of the cobbler who did fine work for his customers but allowed his children to run around in shoes that fell apart. The cobbler’s customers could judge the quality of his work as they could see and feel it. Clients cannot do that with the advice you provide. All they can do is ‘look’ at how well they perceive you to be doing.

Do you give the impression of success or of struggling? Are you practicing what you preach?  The people you meet in business and when networking associates may know and like you. They may also trust you in a general sort of way. But do they trust you to be competent to give good business advice to the people they might be able to introduce as clients?

Is there a risk that you don’t really understand or believe in the advice you are sharing? Do you talk about your problems and challenges with clients? Does the way you ask for referrals smack of desperation? Do they think of you as professional or pathetic?

When you offer business advisory services to your clients they will only agree to pay you if they believe the advice will be of value. Once they are sold on this they could choose to take advice from someone else. Someone successful. Or, at least someone who seems successful. How do your business clients and contacts see you? That will often depend on how you see yourself and the impression you give.

If you’re not getting the referrals or business you would like, do consider whether this might be due to the perception you give as regards how you run your own business.

 

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Key tips for new accountancy practices

I am often approached by accountants who started up a year or so ago or who are planning to start a new practice. So when I was asked recently to provide some tips for an online interview on this topic I decided to repurpose my replies for this blog.

Let’s start with the most common mistake I see. This is when the website for a small firms of accountants tells me nothing about the accountant themselves. When you’re starting out (and often, down the line too) YOU are the firm and you need to reveal who YOU are as a real person and as an accountant. The sooner you can reference positive vibes and feedback from clients the better. Unless you’ll be happy with lots of low fee paying clients, you’ll want to help prospects appreciate why they will be better served by you than by others. Finding your voice at the outset is key.

All too often start-up accountants have invested in a website but made the mistake of thinking that this will magically attract the clients they want. Or maybe they’ve invested in some SEO, content marketing, blogging or social media activity that someone told them would help. Yeh. Right. This all takes time and generally doesn’t work in isolation. This is why so many start-up firms struggle to win as many of the clients they want as quickly as they hoped. There are thousands of small firms who were so desperate at the outset that they took on anyone and everyone as a client. And now they are frustrated by the pressure to service loads of low fee paying clients who don’t want to pay more.

One way to avoid this is to start by building your reputation and the relationships that will generate referrals and introductions. From the outset. And to ensure your online messages (on your website, linkedin and any email marketing) are congruent.

Other tips:

  1. You will need to develop your ‘closing’ skills. Even when your website, referrals, emails and other promotional activities are bringing the right prospects to your door/phone, YOU need to have the skills to reel them in as clients. And then to have efficient client take-on procedures so that the process is smooth and easy for them (and you).
  2. Think about who you want to have as clients. The type of people, the services they will require and why they should come to you rather than another accountant Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re no different to other accountants. You are. I have yet to meet two accountants who provide identical services in the same way. So, if you want to work with clients who need more than the basics and are not looking for the cheapest service, ensure you talk to them and about them. One start up I worked with recently wanted just that. He’d invested in a flashy website that probably alienated the very people he wanted to attract. It said nothing about him and focused on 3 levels of low cost services for local trades people. No wonder he wasn’t attracting the type of clients he wanted.
  3. Think about the advice you would give to a new start-up business. Remember that you too are starting a business (it just happens to be an accountancy firm business). Your plans (rather than simply hopes and dreams) need to be focused on generating profits both in the short and longer term too. Why should your business thrive without a practical business plan that includes reference to how and where you will attract the clients you want?
  4. From the outset put in place standard systems for new client take on procedures and for the delivery of each of your services so that you can scale and grow your practice over time.  You don’t want to be caught out having to constantly reinvent the wheel which also means wasting lots of time.
  5. Take time to plan how you will deliver value to your clients. Value that they will appreciate and be prepared to pay for over and above the basics. If you only focus on delivering tax returns, accounts and VAT returns you will struggle to grow the practice and to generate higher fees.
  6. Resist the temptation to try to appeal to ‘anyone and everyone’. The clearer you can show you have a specific client type in mind, the easier it will be to win those clients. It’s counter-intuitive but also a fact that you will win more clients if you can be more specific and choosy about who you really want to help (serve) – even if you also do all the things expected of a typical local accountant. If you simply talk about those things you will struggle to become sufficiently distinctive and remembered, referred and recommended.
  7. Plan for how you will charge for the services you provide and when you will expect payment.  You may need to adapt your terms in the light of experience but do not start without clarity. You need to be clear and focus on the value you provide, not simply the hours you spend. Unless you are only seeking clients who want to pay the lowest rates around, you can relax and pick your own rates. There is no ‘going rate’ if you recognise that your service style, approach and experience is unique to you. You will also want to learn to quote with confidence and to give clients what they want and need.

The Successful Practice Programme (of weekly emails) addresses all of these points, and much more. You don’t have to do everything alone. Check it out now and see how you could build a more successful practice for just £1 a week >>>>

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“What tools do you recommend to help a sole practitioner stand out?”

This was another question I was asked during a recent interview. This post is drawn from the notes I made before giving my answer on air.

Many accountants and bookkeepers reference their best source of new business as being referrals and recommendations. So let’s deal with this first.

Tools I would recommend here include:

  • Linkedin – you can use this to keep in touch with what clients are doing , to like, share and comment on their updates and news. It helps to have a decent profile here yourself. Check out my free Linkedin profile tips here>>>
  • Your website is key of course. It’s a tool to attract people to your practice rather than to your competitors. I’ve mentioned many times on this blog how important it is to reveal who YOU are rather than hiding behind your firm’s name and brand. You don’t need to invest a fortune in your website. You can STAND OUT positively simply by addressing the basics and making it really easy for prospective clients to find key information before they get in touch.
  • A decent CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to ensure that you’re keeping in touch regularly and can recall key facts about each client.
  • A practice management system – monitoring time limits and deadlines, so you can avoid doing things at the last minute and provide a timely service to your clients. You only tend to get positive referrals when clients feel that you are on top of things.
  • A referrals strategy – this could be a simple spreadsheet or it could be built into your CRM system.

Other tools that could also help you to STAND OUT positively to people who don’t yet know you include:

  • Twitter and facebook – but only if you believe that your target audience are active on these platforms.  With twitter you’ll stand out more if you tweet in your own name with a decent profile headshot than if you tweet in your firm’s name.
  • Linkedin – once you have a decent profile you can use the advanced search facility to seek out either specific prospects or those who fit your target profile. Then you can ask to connect with them and start to build a business relationship with them – before meeting up if you both feel this could be worthwhile. Don’t move into sales mode until you know what they want and need.
  • Giveaways – I don’t mean you need to create a promotional brochure or  gimmicks. But if you have branded giveaways that people will find of use and value, you can use these to stand out from your competitors. As will focused tip sheets that highlight a specific sector or niche – as distinct from being the same old, same old generic tip sheets everyone else sends out.

If you’re aware of other tools you would recommend for sole practitioners, do please add them as comments on this post.

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