Not everyone who calls me for my input becomes a client. I sometimes offer some simple advice to accountants who are not yet in a position to need or afford my mentoring services (even though these are much more affordable than you might expect).
One of the accountants I spoke with recently has been struggling for a couple of years to build their own practice. It wasn’t the first time I have had such a conversation.
They told me that they had managed to win a fair few clients in their first year, but that some then moved on. The accountant feels their service is good enough and that their fees are not excessive. They talk to lots of prospects but sense they are all just searching for the cheapest accountant. My caller also told me they had identified over 100 other accountants within a 5 mile radius of home. They specifically wanted to know what they could do to get on to page one of Google.
I suggested that wasn’t the right question. What they were really concerned about was how to compete and then win the type of clients they really want.
Here’s the bare bones of my reply:
Prospects vs suspects
You think you are good with clients but that you seem to struggle with converting prospects into clients. I wonder if they are all even prospects. Some may be simply ‘suspects’ – for example those who are looking for cheap quotes. You don’t really want such people as clients and, unless you commit to always being the cheapest they won’t stay with you.
Can you distinguish suspects from prospects? The latter are not just people who want an accountant but people YOU have found out enough about to know that you could provide what they want/need and that you are happy to provide those services.
The sooner you learn to distinguish suspects and prospects the more you can ensure you only spend time with genuine prospects.
As I said at the start of this blog post, I could tell very quickly that this accountant was not a prospect for me as he is not in the right place to engage me as a mentor. He’s too young, has no money to invest in his practice (or my services) and it’s too early in his journey. He needs to invest his time more wisely in the right marketing activities rather than pay me for strategic advice, guidance, insights and support. Being a good accountant but not good at marketing or not able to pay someone with relevant experience to help with your marketing is a common problem. No one else can wave a magic wand to get you great new clients without your input – unless you are an employee.
So far as I am concerned I didn‘t fail to convert a prospect here. I was approached by someone who was not a prospect. If it happened too often I would look to change how I promote my services. He needs to be able to do the same thing.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about ensuring your website appears high up the search results when people search online for the services you are offering.
You’re right. It will be hard to compete with 100 other local accountants apparently offering the same thing to the same people using the same words on their websites and competing on price.
My Tax Advice Network is close to the top of the search rankings when anyone in the UK searches for tax advice. Not that we have ever spent any money on SEO. But more because we have been around a long time, have high visibility, credibility and authority.
Equally I know that many people are looking for ‘free’ tax advice so we make it easy for them to realise that‘s not available from our website. So we try to subtly encourage them to go elsewhere rather than waste the time of our members.
In other words, even when your website is highly ranked this is no guarantee that the people who visit are going to be decent prospects for your practice. You need to ensure that the home page of your website helps them to clarify whether you could be what they were looking for.
There are typically two types of people who search online for an accountant:
- Those who just want any old accountant (be it their first one or to switch from a bad one)
- Those who want an accountant who specialises in helping people just like them
It sounds like you’re hoping to be found alongside all of the other generalist accountants around, regardless of who is looking. And you are only being found and approached by people seeking a cheap local accountant.
While there will be fewer people searching for a specialist accountant, more of them are likely to be pay good fees for specialist advice and you will face less competition if you aim to be found here.
So think about what you could say on the home page of your website that will appeal to your ideal target client. Your ideal prospect. And then ensure that your online messages (on your website, on LinkedIn and on any social media platforms) are congruent. You don’t want to confuse the very people you want to attract.
The more they feel you are talking to them, the more likely they are to get in touch. and the less likely they are to be focused on your fees. Your expertise and relevant experience will be far more compelling.
And do remember that most people searching online are looking for someone local – regardless of how capable you might feel you are of servicing clients across the UK. So be proud of your location. Stop trying to pretend you are are a nationwide business simply because you have the odd client from further afield. No one cares.
Which brings us on to what you suggest is your biggest issue. You may be right. But equally if you can distinguish yourself, your service and your approach from other local accountants you can build a sustainable and profitable practice.
There are 3 issues to consider here:
Are there enough prospective clients in the area? (Almost certainly ‘yes’ – tho you may need to wait for their current accountant to mess up before they will move to someone new – you!)
Can you position yourself as the accountant enough of them should aspire to be serviced by? Having a half decent website (or better) and high ranking on Google is only part of the story and not a crucial one either.
Are you confusing the sameness of the output from your services (eg tax returns and accounts) with the distinctiveness of who you are, how you operate and how your clients feel about your style and approach?
These are typically referenced as the ‘best’ source of new clients for accountants.
You should be aware however, that many who claim this are not looking to build up their practice quickly. They are happy winning a few new clients each year to replace the few they lose each year.
Establishing a sustainable referrals strategy is absolutely worthwhile. Again though it’s easiest if your clients, friends and associates can say something distinct, when referring you. Something more than simply that you’re an accountant (just like all the others).
‘Completing the sale’
I wonder also if you yet have the confidence and relevant skills you need to ‘complete the sale’ with real prospects? – ie: to help them to want to engage YOU as their accountant?
This demands both structured conversational skills, knowing how best to present your fees and ensuring that you can get the right paperwork to prospects at the right time.
Failure on any of these points can prevent you from converting ideal prospects into clients. And to imagining that the only reason you are not winning them over is because your fees are too high.
If you want to build your own successful and profitable practice you need to accept that simply being a good accountant with website is not good enough. It never has been.
After the call I sent him links to a number of salient blog posts I have written that address related points in more detail. I do like to help accountants even if they are not yet ready to become clients.
If you face similar issues as this accountant, email me and I’d be happy to highlight the key blog posts that will help you.
On the other hand, you want to check out if I might be the right mentor for you (short or long-term), and you can afford to pay for my services, do please book a call without any obligation >>>>