Unlike some commentators, I entirely accept that many accountants have some clients who want nothing more than a basic compliance service. And that you get very frustrated to be told by consultants that you should offer your clients “advisory services”. After all, you know your clients don’t want, cannot afford and will not value such advisory services.
Assuming that to be the case you have a choice. Either:
- Accept that over time you MAY struggle to replace the odd client who leaves, dies or retires. Again, I doubt anything will change overnight, so much depends on how much longer you plan to be in practice; or
- Start to offer relevant advisory services to those of your clients who might actually appreciate it and be able to afford the additional fees; or
- Look to attract new clients who are not the same as your existing clients and who do value advisory services.
Or of course, you could also pursue a combination of the 3 choices.
One of the accountants I have been mentoring started by telling me about the problems he was having with many of his clients.
“They’re all legacy clients, have been with me for years and I know they don’t want advice and won’t pay higher fees.”
I asked if he was sure this applied to ALL of his clients. He was NOT sure.
When we talked he realised that he had won a good few new clients in the last couple of years and hadn’t yet explored whether they would be willing pay for commercial business advice. In effect he was still operating like a start-up practice and hadn’t adapted his service to reflect his wider experience and desire to earn higher fees. I shared some tips and tricks he could use to move things forward. And we now speak regularly as he finds this a helpful incentive and support mechanism.
Another accountant (who I don’t work with) approached me as he wanted to increase his fees and to offer more business advice to his clients. He then added:
“None of my clients want anything more than the basics”.
He assured me that all of his clients were tight on fees, had pretty simple affairs and earned too little to afford or warrant business advice. He was adamant that nothing I did with other accountants was relevant or would work for him.
I apologised that I could not just wave a magic wand and change his clients’ attitudes. If he knows – with certainty – that none are capable or willing to pay more, then nothing I or anyone else can do will change things. If he wants the profile of his clients to change he will need to take action himself to attract and then bring on board some new clients. He didn’t want to do this.
I sympathised with his position and let him go off to find someone with more patience who would persuade him to change his attitude and approach. I prefer to work with accountants who are prepared to take my advice. I choose who I work with. As can you.
In an ideal world I wouldn’t have to continually seek out new clients. But I accept this as a necessity given that I want to earn a decent living from my work with accountants. I also only want to work with accountants I like (and who like me). You can make a similar choice. It’s easier if you are clear what this means and if you make it easy for clients to tell whether you are the right sort of accountant for them.
Do think about what decisions and actions you could take to make sure you’re living in a world with great clients that are a pleasure to work with.
One action you could take is to develop your ‘lead generation’ skills. This will mean you have a steady flow of good new prospects approaching you to act for them.
If you’re in a lead desert with very few leads, you basically have to work with whoever you can get. And, as you’ve seen to date, that means you end up with low fee paying clients who don’t want to pay you for advice they don’t value..
If you have a surplus of leads, and significantly more potential clients than you could work with, then you get to pick and choose. You can focus on clients who are the very best fit for you and who you’re going to enjoy working with.
Simple in theory. But generating lots of high quality leads isn’t easy. For many accountants it’s the hardest part of marketing. That’s why they end up desperately negotiating and bargaining with the few leads they have to persuade them to become clients.
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