Ideal Client Profile

How often do you turn away prospective clients?

During my talks about ‘How to avoid professional negligence claims’ I refer to that awful feeling you sometimes get in your gut when you meet a new client (or, more accurately, a prospective client). It’s the feeling that makes you think this person could be more trouble than they’re worth.  Sometimes you just know.  Other times you are consciously aware as to why you shouldn’t take someone on.

Maybe their only interest seems to be in how low you will set your fees.  That’s never a good sign is it?

In another of my talks about ‘How to make more profits from your smaller clients’ I stress the benefits of being clear as to the sort of clients that you want.  This is more than simply identifying a specialism or niche.  It makes you choosy. Selective.  And that will often make you more attractive as an adviser.  It’s as if it’s a privilege to become your client.

And, best of all, it reduces the prospect of you taking on clients that are not worth the effort. It allows you to FOCUS and, in so doing, to build a more successful, profitable and enjoyable practice.

Think accountants can’t do such things?  I disagree.  If it’s good enough for an IFA, then I’m quite sure that ambitious accountants can adopt the same technique. Here’s the ideal client profile for an IFA practice, Informed Choice, run by a friend of mine, Martin Bamford.

If you possess some the following attributes, you are likely to receive the greatest value from our
professional services.
• You have investable assets (including pension funds) of between £200,000 and £1m
• You are 35 to 65 years old
• You are prepared to seek professional advice and you are able to make decisions
• You are married with children, or family is important to you
• Your attitude towards investment risk is neither extremely cautious or extremely adventurous
• You have at least a basic understanding of personal finance but appreciate the value of good
advice
• You are nice to work with, have a good sense of humour and are polite (because we are—
always!)
Of course this is not a definitive list and we do work with clients who do not possess all of these attributes, but when we are looking for new clients to work with, we find that this tends to be the best description of our ideal client profile.

Now how could you adapt that approach for your practice? Even if you don’t publicise it you will do well to have it mind when meeting with prospective clients.

I have written a 10,000 word ebook drawn from my talk on How to avoid professional negligence claims, containing tips and risk management advice for accountants in practice. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How much free advice do you give to prospective clients?

As we’re providing professional (personal) services many of us tend to think we have to give some of our time away for nothing to strangers (whom we describe as ‘prospective clients’).  This is quite a standard approach for accountants who are offering recurring annual services including accounts and tax work.

But when it comes to specialist advice that is to be provided as a one-off to a ‘new’ client, how much time is it worth giving away?

Well, if the advice in question is likely to result only in a low fee, the answer should be – Not a lot. Equally, the longer we spend with someone who has yet to agree to pay us, the more we are likely to be ‘giving away’ such that they then ‘go away’ having found out enough to do it themselves.

There are techniques that some successful advisers use to limit the time they have to give away and to prequalify callers earlier in the process. Even those of us who are aware of (and teach) these techniques sometimes forget. One key tip is to note down your preferred sequence of questions. You have to be comfortable that the sequence and the questions suit your style and approach of course.

Related post: How to avoid giving free advice to prospects

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How memorable are you?

Although now focused on ‘ambitious accountants’ this blog started life as containing advice and ideas for a more generic audience of ‘ambitious professionals’. The following idea is SO good that I’m going to share it here anyway, although, I have yet to identify a way to adapt it effectively for accountants.

At a business networking event recently I met Christopher Higenbottam. I asked what he did and he told me he is an architect. (Indeed it transpires he is the MD of Tempietto Architects). We talked for a while about his work.  After a few minutes I think I asked him whether there was anything specific that distinguished his practice from that of other architects I might know.  I often ask variations of this question.  And it’s an important one for professional advisers (especially accountants) to be able to answer convincingly.

Most professionals, in my experience, fall back onto the hackneyed stand bys. They often talk about offering a ‘personal service’ (sometimes they even seem to believe that this is special, just like ALL of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors who say the same thing).  Other common  replies, that also fail to make the adviser memorable or distinctive focus on other intangible service elements.

When I ask the question it’s because I want to know what to listen out for when talking to people who might need the person’s services. If I’m not a potential consumer of the  services myself I want to know why I should remember and recommend that person rather than any of the other accountants, lawyers, surveyors I have met.  Knowing that a solicitor, for example, specialises in employment law is not enough.  I know dozens of employment lawyers.

Equally, when you meet people at networking events you need to appreciate that they have probably met loads of other accountants in the past.  I have addressed this need to be memorable many times on this blog.

So what did Christopher Higenbottam tell me that made him stand out? He focused on one element of his services – homes for individuals. I recall he talked about some special homes that he had designed.  Then he did something no one has ever done with me at a networking event before. He pulled out his iphone and showed me a short slide show containing 6 photos of beautiful homes he has designed. And guess what? I REMEMBER him.

As I said at the start of this blog, I’m not sure how this idea could be replicated by accountants. Showing a few photos of a well bound and balanced set of accounts for example wouldn’t have the same impact!  I’ve had a few thoughts whilst typing this post. None of them serious.  Perhaps you can do better?  Do please add your thoughts as comments on this post.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Unsolicited testimonial for an unknown accountant

I saw this on a private business network forum yesterday:

“Our accountant charged us £150 per month for the first 12 months of the business, including payroll, quarterly VAT returns and annual accounts. We pay extra for our own tax returns but he does those too. After a year, he said he needed to put his price up to us – having given us a special start up, first year rate. I gulped and prepared myself: he asked for £250 per month, including migrating us to Sage et all. Very good value I think.”

Hats off to the unknown accountant concerned. The business concerned has only a handful of staff and turns over less than £100,000.  First year’s fee £1800 plus additional for the directors’ tax returns (husband and wife).  Next year’s fee will be £3000.  AND THE CLIENT IS CLEARLY VERY HAPPY!!!

Why do you think that is and what lessons can you draw from this story?  Please add your comments to this thread.

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Websites for accountants

I regularly find myself sharing my views on this topic so I thought it would be helpful to include in one place all of my previous posts on related issues:

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Four essential elements to service excellence

When I first started this  blog in 2006 I focused on topics drawn from or which were due to appear in my talks, mentoring and coaching programmes.

More recently I have been focusing more attention on the development of my Tax Advice Network.  It contains its own blog containing tax commentaries, ideas, insights and news. In recent months I have noted that the posts on this blog for ambitious accountants have covered a wider range of subjects. The focus is still on helping you to achieve success – in your practice, career and business endevaours. It’s just that now I allow a wider range of issues and experiences to inspire my posts.

This one came about after I was asked if I was the same Mark Lee who asserted that there were four essential elements to service excellence: consistency, attentiveness, recoverability and continuous evaluation.  Now this may confuse the search engines but that Mark Lee is a past President of Singapore Airlines. He is reported to have conducted an exhaustive study in the early 90s to determine the factors that determine success in the airline world.

It was he who concluded that there were four essential elements to service excellence in that world: consistency, attentiveness, recoverability and continuous evaluation.

Before I share my views as to what might constitute service excellence in our world of accountancy and tax, let me ask for your suggestions.  Remember, as I have stressed in previous posts on this blog – what counts are what clients perceive in terms of the services we provide.

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Accountants in Action

On Sunday I enjoyed another fabulous day out at the delightful Art in Action event at Waterperry Gardens (near Oxford).  It’s an annual event and my wife and I tend to go most years.

Art in Action was created out of a simple observation: people are fascinated when artists and craftsmen openly demonstrate their skills and discuss their work.

Accountants of course can’t do the same thing – although I can imagine a comedy sketch where different marquees contain a selection of different professional people all showing visitors how they craft their skill:

  • Accountants in one tent showing how to apply deep brush strokes to create a great set of accounts from a simple trial balance;
  • Bookkeepers in another showing how a bag of rubbish can be made to look like an analysed cashbook;
  • Tax advisers in a third showing how graceful can be the transference of information from accounts to tax returns and how much can be lost on the way; and finally
  • Auditors in a fourth tent, showing how to find gaps and mistakes through a detailed review of a set of accounts and books.

Back to reality however, can accountants ever show prospective clients what they can expect? Would it help if they could?

I’ve commented before about how some accountants are able to evidence and promote REAL distinctive differences that could help prospective clients to choose them as opposed to another accountant who seems no different to all the others.

Would it be possible (or helpful) to go beyond those sort of marketing messages and to SHOW prospective clients how different you are? Here are some ideas to start you off. Please add your own as comments on this post:

  • Copies of your regular newsletter (that’s the obvious one of course);
  • Printed copies of your email newsletter;
  • A sample copy of an agenda for a tax return review meeting or an accounts review meeting – showing that it includes some tax planning topics too;
  • A sample set of accounts together with explanatory notes and helpful tips – ie something useful, commercial and constructive. Make clear that your clients have told you that they didn’t get this level of service from their previous accountants. Although it’s second nature to you, it seems that not everyone else does it;
  • Your year end tax planning tips – especially if they are tailored to different client sectors and so appear to be more relevant and specialist than a generic list;

What else can you think of that might make a difference and that would get close to showing ‘Accountants in Action’?!

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more marketing insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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“It’s more important to be different than it is to be better”

I was speaking at the CIMA members in practice annual conference last week about ‘Making more money from your tax work – without fancy tax schemes‘.

Also speaking at the conference was my old friend Chris Frederiksen of the 2020 group. Elements of my presentations have been inspired by Chris over the years – indeed ever since I first heard him speak some 15 plus years ago.

One of the many key points that Chris shared last week was a quote he attributed to Jeremy Harbinson:

“It’s more important to be different than it is to be better”

It struck me that this reinforces a similar point I have been making in various posts on this blog recently.

Even if you are ‘better’ than your competitors, very few prospective clients will be able to judge this – especially before they have engaged you. If you are ‘different’ however, you can stand out, be remembered, recommended and retained.

When Chris asked the audience few of them were able to express REAL differences in ways that would be understood by and appeal to prospective clients. What about you?

Like this post? You can now obtain my ebook containing loads more insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants who want to STANDOUT and become more successful. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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Networking groups are a waste of time – or are they?

I’ve heard plenty of accountants express such views. Equally I’ve heard plenty of accountants extol the virtues and benefits of the networking groups to which they belong. Is it a question of luck, who else is there or is the reason for the differing views more a question of the accountant’s attitude and approach?

A friend of mine, Andy Lopata, who is a networking strategy consultant, recently shared the following story:

I have seen people turn up to networking events without any focus, they’ve had no idea as to why they are there. As a result, they’ve achieve nothing. I’ve even seen an accountant stand up at a BRE meeting for his 60 second presentation, only to say ‘I’ve got nothing to say this week’!!! That’s what a lack of strategy, a lack of planning, a lack of focus will bring you.

Now I know that there are plenty of accountants who attend regular breakfast meetings of networking groups like BNI, BRE (now BRX), BoB and the like. If you’ve tried one and considered it was a waste of time, have you thought through why you felt that?

Did you have realistic expectations or did you expect people to immediately ask you to take over their accounting and tax affairs? Did you expect them to take your card, know who you could best help, why you were special and different to the other accountants they already know and then to refer their family and friends to you?

In my own case, I know that BNI meetings are not for me. I do enjoy NRG meetings however – they are mid day events, include a useful seminar and a lunch with other professional people. They are right for me and I have realistic expectations as to what benefits I can hope to achieve by attending them.

What about you?

PS: I have written a 10,000+ word book specifically for accountants who want to Network more effectively. Click here for full details>>>

If you would like to book me to speak on the subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. There’s an outline of my talk on ‘How to ensure your networking activity is successful’ here>>>  

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Sky+ adverts provide great example of my advice

Have you seen or heard the current advertising campaign by BSkyB to promote the Sky+ personal video recorder? It includes TV ads that feature celebrities including Michael Parkinson, David Gower, Felicity Kendal, Ross Kemp and Mariella Frostrup talking about the benefits of Sky+. I have also seen poster adverts that include simple quotes from the same celebrities highlighting how beneficial they find the Sky+ facility.

On my way home the other evening after travelling to Cornwall to present a full afternoon talk about How to make more profits from your smaller clients I saw one of the ads and realised that they reinforce one of the points I highlight towards the end of the talk. It’s also a subject about which I have posted extensively on this blog in the past. The power and importance of Testimonials.

Rather than repeat myself let me simply refer you back to these 5 earlier posts from last year:

The value of testimonials (part one)

Client testimonials: Why they are important (part two)

Client testimonials: How to get them (part three)

Client testimonials: Which ones to use? (part four)

Client testimonials: A key mistake to avoid (part five)

To my mind the adverts for Sky+ are very effective. And vastly more so than would be anything written by BSkyB or a conventional advert.  The key point is that most advertising contains mere assertions by the provider/supplier and mere assertions are rarely compelling.

If you are a regular reader of this blog you will have seen previous cross references to my Tax Advice Network website. Let’s assume you have yet to go and have a look. Here’s a couple of genuine testimonials copied from our promotional leaflet:

“I will certainly be using Tax Advice Network again – it’s just what small practitioners have been waiting for!” – Geoff Booth, Tax Savers Direct 

“Many thanks for your brilliant emails. This is now the only newsletter I read regularly and I pass it to my staff” – Ray Baxter, Baxter Associates

And they are probably far more compelling than anything I could write myself.

Don’t you agree?

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