What’s better than saying that your business grows through referrals?

Feb 21, 2023 | Business messaging and branding, Lead generation, Marketing and promotion, Networking, Social Media, STANDING OUT

Are you like many of the accountants I meet who claim that most of their best new clients come through referrals? This is certainly great when it’s true. But when I dig a little deeper I find that it’s often not quite as accurate a statement as the accountants thought.

It’s an easy answer

Often the reason for any assertion about the value of referrals is down to one or more of the following:  

  • They remember that their most recent new clients were initially generated by referrals;
  • They don’t get many new clients and also don’t ask for referrals, but they think that one or two definitely came via referrals;
  • They don’t get much contact via their website, don’t advertise or market the practice and are not active on social media, so they assume that new clients must be coming through referrals;  Or
  • They actively encourage referrals for exactly the type of new clients they want – either indirectly or directly. But this is rare 😉
  • Many accountants don’t feel comfortable actively asking for referrals. That’s a shame, but I understand. When done badly it can feel pushy and make you feel like a grubby salesperson. You don’t need to feel like that. You don’t even need to ask explicitly.

    It all gets easier when you learn:

    • how to ask for referrals (in a way that works); and
    • when is the right time to ask.
    • how to talk about your clients so that anyone listening (or reading your posts online) can identify the type of clients you enjoy working with

    Part of the challenge is that we don’t always ask in an appropriate manner; or we say the ‘right’ things but at the wrong time. When we then get rebuffed we are discouraged.

    The indirect indistinctive approach

    This is how some accountants try to encourage referrals via their website and, more commonly via their email message footer. They don’t ask explicitly. Instead they prompt clients via a message in their email footer and marketing materials.  Something like:

    “My business grows through referrals.
    If any of your friends or colleagues are concerned about any areas of their accountancy or taxation, please feel free to pass on my details.”

    The accountants I know who have tried this tell me that such messages probably don’t do any harm and ‘might’ have a positive impact.  Whether it’s worth relying on depends on how keen you are to secure more of the right type of referrals.

    These accountants are also active on Linkedin (and sometimes on other platforms too). Active but not very successful. They come across as ‘just another accountant’ and their activity rarely results in new clients. When it does they don’t worry too much as to whether these are the type of clients they really want. But at least the time they have spent on the platform has yielded some results. Even if it’s just more low fee paying, simple clients.

    The more specific you are the more successful you’ll be

    Who do you really want as new clients? ANY ‘friends or colleagues’ with ANY ‘concerns about ANY areas of their accountancy or taxation”. Wow. You must have plenty of time on your hands. And that would make you very different to most of the accountants with whom I speak.

    The reason I suggest the indirect indistinctive approach requires you to have plenty of time is that it suggests that you are keen to be referred to any of the following:

    • A retiree with a small pension and no other income
    • A student wanting to claim a refund of PAYE from their part-time job
    • A self employed trader simply looking to pay less than the £200 they currently pay each year for their accounts and tax return!
    • Someone needing help with their self assessment tax returns every year but who is unlikely to ever need much more than a basic compliance service.
    • Someone with a quick question about the return they are about to submit themself
    • Someone who matches the profile of your best client and who will value your services sufficient to pay you £1,000, £2,000, £5,000 or more each year

    Please understand that I am not suggesting there is anything wrong in having clients who need very little help and who can only afford to pay low fees. If you are happy to encourage more of these, that’s fine.

    My point is simply that without any clarification you are at risk of wasting time meeting with or at least talking with people who you don’t really want to take on as clients. And your lack of clarity actually reduces the number of referrals you will receive.

    If you make your referrals request more specific you will make it easier for people to refer exactly the right type of prospective new clients. And, typically, such referrals happen more frequently too 😉

    Your best new clients

    You may have missed the fact that my opening comment was very specific in that I ask how you get most of your BEST new clients. Not how do you get most of your new clients. It’s all too common for accountants to get client referrals that are not ideal – but you don’t want to turn them away. It’s probably easier to take them on than to make any effort to reach the type of potential clients you REALLY want to work with.

    Specific requests

    Here’s the thing. The easier you make it for your colleagues, contacts and connections to recognise who you would be a good referral for you, the more likely you are to receive valuable introductions.

    How serious are you about wanting to be referred to the right type of people who will be willing to pay you decent fees for doing the sort of work you most enjoy and want more of? How clear are you as to who these people are? Until you’re clear on this, you’ll probably continue to get too many of the wrong sort of referrals.

    If you’d like to have a conversation about how you could clarify your ideal targets just pick a  time that suits here >>>    There’ll be no charge, obligation or hard sell. I’ll enjoy the call and may use the anonymised conversation to inspire a future blog post, talk or article.

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