As a teenager, before I started studying to become an accountant, I was a children’s party entertainer – and I continued doing this for about 25 years. When I look back I realise that I quickly learned 3 key lessons that now, many years later, still inform my thinking and thus my advice to accountants.
1 – Specialisation boosts business
Throughout my ‘career’ as a children’s party entertainer I was also working hard at school, then college, then work during the week. This meant that, other than at Christmas, I was only available to perform at weekend parties. And I soon realised I was a little choosy. I wanted to focus my efforts on parties where the children were most likely to enjoy my magic shows and to respond positively to my tricks, jokes and games etc.
When I had started out I had accepted every booking that came along. I had no filter. But I soon realised that 2 and 3 year olds were too young to really appreciate my magic tricks. To them, so I felt, life itself is magic. And I also soon concluded that once the children were over 7 they were more difficult to ‘control’ and were more likely to challenge my presentations. So I decided to avoid bookings for babies and for older kids.
I could have simply been more choosy when parents called to book me. Instead though I chose to change the way I promoted my services.
So, after a few years of learning the ropes I made clear on my business cards and yellow pages adverts(!) that ‘Marks Magic’ offered “Specialised Children’s Party Entertainment for 4-7 year olds”.
I remember that, soon after the first such advert appeared, the number of enquiries I received each week INCREASED and I was fully booked almost every weekend.
Looking back I realise this was because parents liked the idea of engaging a specialist, someone focused on entertaining children of a certain age and someone who didn’t attempt to be all things to all people/children. By definition I wasn’t doing babyish magic or anything too sophisticated.
Lesson translated for accountants: If you are seeking more clients you will often find it easier to attract them if prospects see you as a specialist in helping people like them, rather than ‘just another accountant’ who attempts to help anyone with everything.
2 – Pricing what clients are buying
When I quoted a fee for my first booking at a children’s party in the 1970s(!) I asked for 25p per hour, before I learned that the party would only be 3 hours long.
I quickly realised that the mother of the child wasn’t interested in my time as such. She was only interested in having her needs met: For the duration of the party the children should be occupied, entertained, happy and safe. She offered me a simple fixed fee of £1 for the afternoon.
Thereafter I always quoted a simple fixed fee for each party – with every element of my service fully covered by the fee. My ‘specialisation’ helped here as did my confidence.
Lesson translated for accountants: Why charge fees for the time you spend on a client’s affairs? Few clients care how long it takes you to do their work. They are not interested in your time as such. What they want is the output that they get – the accounts, tax returns, estimates of tax payable, the peace of mind you provide as well as the confidence and trust you encourage that your advice pays for itself and that they will get what they want.
3 – Tailoring your service
At some point I also learned to ask the person who called (typically the mother) what she wanted from an entertainer.
The answers were all pretty similar, but the fact I asked, rather than assumed, helped me stand out in a positive way from my competitors who assumed they knew what was required. They were probably correct as we can all make assumptions based on our experience. But our clients don’t know that’s what we’re doing. They may well assume we don’t care enough to ask what is required.
I empathised and reflected back my understanding of each mother’s objectives. Where appropriate I referenced other parties where the parents had thanked me for doing much the same as this mother was requesting. And I won almost every booking enquiry I received.
Lesson translated for accountants: However many clients you have you will always generate more positive responses and interest from prospects if you ask them questions, listen to their responses and reflect back to them what they want to hear. Assuming that you know, without asking them, can be seen either as indifference or arrogance. Neither is a good way to start your relationship with a new client.
It was only recently that I realised how long ago I had first learned the importance of these three lessons. For many years I assumed I had learned them from my experiences in practice as an accountant and then as a tax adviser. More recently I have been applying these lessons throughout my time as a mentor and speaker. And they have become popular topics for discussion during mentoring sessions too.
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