How’s business? – Avoid falling in the trap when you reply

If you’re either a busy accountant and/or a regular at networking events, you probably get asked this question all of the time. You may also be asked by friends and family, ex-colleagues and prospective clients as well as by your bank manager, suppliers and potential advocates.

How carefully have you thought about the way that you answer this question? Did you realise that, completely unwittingly, the person who asks the question is setting you a BIG TRAP?

You probably want to avoid jumping in with both feet.

What’s the trap?
Quite simply it’s either implying that you’ve no time for more work or that you’re no good in any event.

It’s easiest to see the trap when someone else jumps in.

Imagine you’ve just met me for the first time in a few years. You’re aware that I have this new focus for my talks: Be ReMARKable and show you are more than just another….‘ and that I am keen to present my keynote and after-dinner talks at conferences and events for accountants in the UK.  You may even have received my weekly email containing tips and tricks for accountants or visited this blog. After the initial introductions you look me in the eye and you ask me, “So Mark, How’s business?”

How would you react if I gave you one of the following answers?

– It’s great thanks. I’m really busy; or
– Really good thanks – I’ve got loads on; or
– Fabulous. thanks for asking. I’m flat out.

If you’re like most people you might be pleased or relieved by my response. But what would your reaction be as regards referring conference organisers and anyone else who might want a speaker for their event to me? What if a day or two later you met the managing partner of 20 partner firm of accountants who was frustrated by the lack of relevance or credibility most speakers have to his firm?  Or you meet one of the team who are organising a conference intended to attract accountants? Would you think of suggesting that either of them contacted me? [I certainly hope that you’d do exactly that as I’d love to help them and to speak at their events.]

Or would you think something like – There’s no point in recommending Mark – he’s already got plenty of work? Even though you probably know that I would love you to recommend me in such situations, you might be hesitant. [Please don’t be as there’s plenty of room in my pipeline and I thrive on referrals].

Can you see the trap now?
If you tell people you’re busy you can discourage them from referring or passing work to you. It matters not that it’s your automatic response; that you weren’t thinking when you said it. The word ‘busy’ or any inference that you have plenty of work is often enough to put off people passing more work your way. They may well think to themselves: “Shame. I was going to refer some work to you, but now I’m not sure that you’d give them enough time and attention.”

Clearly there’s a need for balance here. The other way of falling into the trap is if your answer is something along the lines:

– Not so good at the moment; or
– Still plenty of space for new clients; or
– Thanks for asking – I could do with some more referrals please.

Again, if you’re like most people you might well wonder ‘why’ business is not that good and wonder how much of a risk you might be taking if you refer work to someone in such a situation. You might think: “How can he/she be any good if they don’t have much on at the moment?

Years ago an entrepreneurial marketing guru, Chris Frederickson, suggested that a good answer to the question “How’s business?” was: “Business is great and we’re looking for more!”

I tried that for a while but it seemed a bit too ‘American’ for me. For some years, when I was still in practice, my reply was more along the lines “Everything seems to be going really well at the moment; I’ve plenty of work, largely from referrals, and still scope for more.”

But I’ll bet you’ve got some even better ideas. So tell me: How’s business?

If you would like me to speak on this topic or a related subject at your in-house conference or training session, do get in touch. 

Like this post? You can get links to each of my new blog posts in weekly Magic of Success emails. These also contain other shorter, quick and simple practical tips and ideas for accountants and tax advisers who want to be more successful. You can join the thousands who get this each week by signing up here now>>>>

By |2020-12-22T15:48:37+00:00January 23rd, 2013|No longer current, Referrals|

About the Author:

Mark Lee
Mark Lee FCA is an accountancy focused futurist, influencer, speaker, mentor, author and debunker.


  1. Avatar
    Richard Joseph 5th February 2013 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    Hi Mark,
    Good point you make, – when I am in that position, I suggest a particular type of work I’m looking for. So I might answer, – “Business is good, – particularly pleased with the (whatever you are looking for) side of the practice, – would like to develop that more – so if you know anyone needing that you know where I am”.

    In my case, “That” would be dispute resolution or mediation type work at present, but for more mainstream practices, it might be “Business startups” or “audit and assurance work” or “tax investigation work” – or somesuch. By specifying a type of work, it takes out the “desperate for anything” connotation, and also, actively helps to get work in of a type you actually want or like to do, for whatever reason. In this day and age, I think small practices should target themselves in some way or another, particularly if the work you seek is of a type usually only done by larger firms, and usually at a very high price.

    Richard Joseph

  2. Avatar
    Amanda Watts 26th January 2018 at 8:23 am - Reply

    Hi Mark… I like the idea but don’t like the word ‘seems’ it implies ambiguity… it’s seems to be going well does not make me feel confident. Totally agree with Richards idea… something along the lines of: business is great, we specialise in (insert a niche/specialism) and are looking to help more people in (insert niche/specialism) who do you know that you could connect me with?

    Stronger and also will get the person thinking of people that fit your ideal client…

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