How to get clients (1 of 4)

Do you have trouble getting clients? If so, please read on.

I was speaking at a seminar last week to a bunch of accountants. A young chap approached me during the break and shared some of the concerns he had about his own firm.

“James – how do I get new clients?”, he opened up to me. “I’ve been working with my father in his accounting practice for the last few years and things are going fine with our current client base but I’m finding it really difficult to attract or get new clients. How do I do it?”

This young chap was sincere, enthusiastic and energetic. I could sense that he was frustrated with his efforts to date and I really wanted to help him out. In the little time we had, I wanted to know what his thinking was when he approached potential clients. I asked him how he started off the conversation with these people. “What I usually do James is to tell them about my firm and what we do”

Let’s stop right there. This young guy has fallen into the same trap that the majority of accountants (and other professional advisers for that matter) can’t seem to help falling into.

Does it make sense to tell the person you are meeting with that you are an accountant and you provide the following A, B, C & D services? Is it safe to assume that the person you are meeting with already knows that you’re an accountant? I would think yes. So why oh why do most accountants in meetings with potential clients, in their marketing material and websites spend an inordinate amount of time & effort telling the world who they are and what they do? We’ll unpack this question later in this series of posts.

Let’s go back a step. Why is the person meeting with you in the first place? Is it a referral, a favour to a friend or perhaps the outcome of a successful cold call?

Hmmm – lots of questions. Over the next few posts I’m going to share with you how you can get clients. The strategy & tactics I will outline will help you differentiate your practice from the rest of the market – or at least those who don’t read this blog 🙂

Bye for now,

James E

Don’t forget to thank people

Recently, I was in a hotel cafe meeting with someone for coffee. A big part of my job as a headhunter is to meet with various people in cafes, hotels and the like and have a chat about career, business & life.

After saying good-bye to the person I was meeting with I went to the counter to settle the bill. After signing the various bits of paper, I got my gear together and started to walk out the main entrance to the cafe and noticed out of the corner of my eye, an old client of mine that I keep in broad touch with. Lets call him Clint.

A few months ago Clint had asked me for some introductions to potential clients for a new consulting business he had started with a friend. Back in November I sent some emails to a few specific contacts of mine introducing Clint to them and saying that he would be in touch with them shortly. I wanted to help Clint out so I made sure the introduction was done professionally and well. Usually I would prefer a face-to-face meeting to arrange the introduction, but given the time of year (it was November and the Christmas rush was already starting to bite) a “virtual” introduction via email was the way to go.

The email was sent. Client sent back a quick reply to say thank you for the intros and we went on our merry ways.

Bumping into Clint the other day, he mentioned to me that one of the people I had introduced to him had been great and was proving to be a very fruitful business relationship. Clint then said something like, ”Wow James I owe you a lunch or something for introducing me to Phil” I politely replied that there was no need for that, encouraged him that we should keep in touch and said good bye.

At the time I thought “that was good for Clint”, but since reflecting on it since I became annoyed and a little taken for granted. If I had not unexpectedly bumped into Clint that day then I may not have known that the chap I had introduced to him 5 months earlier was a great source of help.  Am I being overly sensitive to want some appreciation for what I did for Clint? Maybe … maybe not.

As professionals we need to be treating people that help us build our business in a way that fosters respect and appreciation.

What do you think?

All my best,

James E

Don’t look up at the mountain

Hey everyone. Sorry about not posting on Wednesday. I have lots of balls in the air at the moment with clients & various projects and simply ran out of time. Again my apologies.

In the last post (on Monday) I was sharing my thoughts regarding a presentation I recently given by Nick Farr-Jones the great ex-captain of the Australian Rugby team.

I ended the post with the words “The story that Nick shared that day, wasn’t about God but it was about the power & energy that comes from focus. The story involves a mountain & a man named Edmund. Nick had the privilege to have a question answered by this great man first hand.”

A few years back Nick was attending a Rugby Test match in New Zealand and just happened to meet Sir Edmund Hillary. He and Sir Edmund were invited to the match by the same corporate sponsor and shared seats in the same box at the game. After the usual introductions and small talk, Nick asked Sir Edmund if he would mind him asking a question about climbing Mount Everest. Sir Edmund, whom must have been asked tens of thousands of times about his expedition, graciously replied, “Of course not young man”.

Nick paused and then asked the first man who had ever conquered Everest the simple question, “Sir Edmund, when you were climbing the mountain did you ever look up at the peak and get discouraged or fearful”

“Honestly Nick”, Sir Edmund replied, “I never looked up at the mountain. All I did was to focus on the next step – concentrating on taking one step after the other. If I did look up at the summit I would most certainly have been discouraged and scared of the enormous obstacle waiting for me!”

It may be a long bow to draw but often in business we look up at the obstacles in front of us be they difficult clients who aren’t paying, challenges with the ATO, IRS or other government departments, demanding staff or rising costs of operating business and get discouraged, fearful or even depressed.

Accountants working in public practice can certainly fall into the trap of worrying about the myriad of things coming up rather than focusing on doing the things that are most important today.

Hope the above helps not just in your accounting practice but in your wider life 🙂

See you next time.

All my best,

James E

Nick & his great story

The other week I was attended a conference. One of the key note speakers was the famous Australian sportsman Nick Farr-Jones. People living in Australia will know Nick as a sporting legend – he was the captain of the Australian Rugby Team when they won the Rugby World Cup in 1991. Since most of the readership of this blog comes from the USA here is an example to put it in some kind of context. Nick is our equivalent of say your Troy Aikman – the Dallas Cowboys Hall of Famer.

Since leaving Rugby almost 20 years ago Nick has, alongside his professional work as a lawyer & dinvestment banker, contributes to many charities both in Australia & beyond. He is an all-round good guy.

Like you, I go along to many workshops, seminars & conference in the areas of business, accounting & technology. The above event I attended to hear Nick speak was different. Nick was speaking at a Men’s Conference at the church that I attend. Although I’ve never heard Nick speak before live, I was impressed by his humility, sincerity & openness. He relayed a story to the audience that day that was both insightful & instructive. In fact, it is one of those stories that you hear every now and then that help you think and see the world in a different way.

Don’t worry – I’m not about to preach at you 🙂 Although I’m a committed Christian and would love the opportunity to discuss such matters with you – this blog is not the right place to do that. The story that Nick shared that day, wasn’t about God but it was about the power & energy that comes from focus.

The story involves a mountain & a man named Edmund. Nick had the privilege to have a question answered by this great man first hand.

Tune into the next post to read the story.

Keep smiling & bye for now,

James E

 

One great way to win a new client

A while ago I was in a meeting with the CEO of a well-known architectural firm in Sydney. This particular CEO really knows his stuff – he is on the ball, has a good head for the big picture & detail and when he needs the right advice from external professionals he seeks out only the very best he can afford. He is one of those client-types who take people on face value, but at the same time will check and validate an advisers skill set, experience and reputation within his own network which usually consists of friends, colleagues, other business owners and sometimes clients of the adviser he is wanting to bring on.

Most CEOs, CFOs and business owners are not like the CEO I met above either because they’re time poor or have other reasons for not doing what they need to do.  A lot of them take the default position and think we can’t go wrong if we hire a “Big Four firm” when they need external accounting help. However, that might not be the right fit for the need at hand.

All accountants from both the big end of end and the small end need to make it simple and straightforward for their clients and prospective clients to “check them out” How does one do this? Simple. Invite your prospective client and a current client to a conveniently located cafe, introduce them to each other, buy them each a coffee & cake and then leave. If you are a half decent accountant that has done the right thing by their client(s) the words your client shares with your prospect will be far more valuable and authentic than anything you can possibly say! They will take care of the sale for you 🙂

Keep well and see you next post.

James E

Please … give it to me straight

We have all heard the old saying – “give it to me straight.”

Usually in the movies someone is sitting in a doctors office on a chair on one side of the desk with the doctor sitting on the other side.  The doctor looks worried, is fidgety and is searching for the right words to use. The patient (usually a man) calmly asks the doctor to “give it to me straight.”

The doctor replies, “Marshall … I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first?”

Marshall says, “Give me the good news Doc”

Doctor replies, “You have one week to live”

“What? One week to live! That’s the good news? What on earth is the bad news?, Marshall shouts out.

The Doctor sheepishly admits, “The bad news is … I meant to tell you the good news last week”

Funny story, but unfortunately many clients of accountants, are victims of not being told the bad news early enough.

A good friend of mine is a management consultant.  He is highly skilled and experienced and earns a very good living. Being self-employed he has to fulfill the usual compliance requirements for operating a small business. As you know, in Australia one of these requirements is to lodge a quarterly business activity statement (BAS). Along with lodging the documentation there is usually an amount of tax payable.

For some strange reason my friend hadn’t lodged his BAS’s for 12 consecutive quarters. For some strange reason his accountant didn’t remind or raise the issue with my friend not until one day four years later he had a difficult chat with his client. Needless to sy it was not a nice discussion – the outcome of which was a bunch of fines, interest on what was owing, and the balance of the tax payable – a truckload of money and a blemished record with the Tax Office.

A question for you … “Who is at fault … the client or the accountant? Legally its the client. Morally it maybe the accountant.

What do you think?

See you next post.

James E.

Generating ideas for your clients

A while ago I was having lunch with a client of mine who had recently joined a 2nd-tier accounting firm having left one of the Big 4 for greener pastures. During the lunch my client told me about an exercise his old firm would perform on behalf of clients. It blew my socks off!

From time to time this Big 4 firm would hold a sandwich lunch for all their staff & partners in each of their offices around the country in a given week. The Brisbane office would hold their lunch on Monday, Melbourne on Tuesday, Sydney on Wednesday and so on.

The purpose of the lunch was to get as many people together – partners, directors, managers, graduates, support staff and others sitting around a table to talk and think about a particular problem or two and how they would solve it. Each table had a facilitator to help guide the conversation. The problems were real world issues that clients of the firm were facing. The purpose of the lunches is give the clients ideas they can use to solve their current business challenges.

The Big 4 firm would make an offer to their clients or even a prospect they are trying to win along the lines of, “How would you like a thousand of our staff who are amongst the best and the brightest in the market work on your problem(s)? By the way … there is no charge. It is our way of adding value to you and showing that we are here to help.”

What business or organisation would say no to such a fantastic offer? Having a thousand men and women of varying experience working on ways to solve the problems you have in your operations, marketing, recruitment and strategy is an incredibly powerful and compelling offer. The cost to the Big 4 firm  to facilitate the “ideas week” of staff lunches? Well it was simply the price of providing sandwiches and orange juice to their staff which of course would be a few thousand dollars. But think of the tremendous impact such an exercise can have on the clients and prospective clients of the firm.

Now … I know what you’re thinking. That is fine for a Big 4 firm – they have truckloads of resources and big budgets to do such things. However, since the lunch I’ve been thinking about ways in which smaller accounting firms can provide similar value for their clients irrespective of their size.

Tune into the next post to find our how!

All my best,

James E

I don’t know what I don’t know

A while ago received a message via Facebook from the son of a friend of mine who had seen me driving back home and noticed that one of the brake lights were “out” on my car. What a nice young man!

So being the responsible & mature husband, father and professional (yes you guessed right – my wife doesn’t read my blogs 🙂 ) I called my local mechanic (I’ve known Mike for years) first thing this morning and asked if he could replace the broken brake light bulb sometime today. Being the trooper that he is Mike told me to bring the car down any time that suited me and he would do it right away. What wonderful customer service!

I dropped off the car at Mike’s workshop and told him I’d be back in a couple of hours – he offered to do it there and then but I didn’t think that was fair. A couple of hours later I walked into his office and paid the bill and asked him how business was going. Mike has been in business for more than 20 years and made a most telling statement to me about his accountant in reply to a something I had learned the other day about how the Australian Tax Office treats business credit card purchases which he found useful & interesting.

This is what Mike said:

I really hate that. Why did I have to learn from a customer about how the ATO treats those things and not be told by my own accountant? You know what he’ll say if I raise it with him? Mike – you didn’t ask me about it. How can I ask him about it? I don’t know what I don’t know!

What a most intriguing statement – “I don’t know what I don’t know”

Is it fair for accountants to read the mind of their clients and tell them everything about everything? I’m not sure about this.

There are so many areas in which accountants in Australia have to keep up to date with. They include areas as diverse as:

  • Tax and superannuation
  • Small business concessions
  • ATO rulings
  • CGT
  • FBT
  • GST
  • Payroll tax
  • Stamp duty

The list goes on and on.

From the clients point of view does he/she choose an accountant who is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants or what about CPA Australia or perhaps the Institute of Public Accountants? A lot of questions.

See you next post,

James

Increase your fees by not selling!

Last week I was reading a great article on the Forbes website written by Mike Myatt. It doesn’t speak specifically about professional services but it presents a strong case for not selling when wanting to build your business revenue. Confused? Read on … The full article can be found at http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemyatt/2012/05/01/to-increase-revenue-stop-selling/

Creating or expanding business relationships is not about selling – it’s about establishing trust, rapport, and value creation without selling. Call me crazy, but I don’t want to talk to someone who wants to manage my account, develop my business, or engineer my sale. I want to communicate with someone who desires to fulfill my needs or solve my problems. Any organization that still has “sales” titles on their org charts and business cards is living in another time and place, while attempting to do business in a world that’s already passed them by.

Engage me, communicate with me, add value to my business, solve my problems, create opportunity for me, educate me, inform me, but don’t try and sell me – it won’t work. An attempt to sell me insults my intelligence and wastes my time. Think about it; do you like to be sold? News flash – nobody does. Now ask yourself this question, do you like to be helped? Most reasonable people do. The difference between the two positions while subtle, is very meaningful.

The traditional practice of sales as a business discipline has become at best ineffective, and in many cases flat out obsolete. You see, good business practices are not static. Stale methodologies and disciplines simply die a slow and very painful death, and it is my contention the overwhelming majority of sales processes I see in today’s marketplace are The problem with many sales organizations is they still operate with the same principles and techniques they were using in the 60′s, 70’s and 80’s. While the technology supporting sales process have clearly evolved, the traditional sales strategies proffered by sales gurus 20 or 30 years ago have not kept pace with market needs. They are not nearly as effective as they once were, and as I’ve alluded to, in most cases they are obsolete.

Trust me when I tell you that your existing and potential clients have heard it all before. They can see the worn-out, old school closes coming a mile away. They can sniff antiquated selling strategies, and will immediately tune out on presentations not deemed relevant. If your sales force is still FAB-selling, spin-selling, soft-selling or using any number of outdated, one size fits all selling methodologies, your sales are suffering whether you realize it or not. If you want to create revenue, increase customer satisfaction, and drive brand equity, stop selling and start adding value.

Lest you think I’ve lost my mind, I want to be clear that I’m not advocating taking your eye off the revenue creation ball. Rather what I’m recommending will help you generate more revenue, with greater velocity by simply doing the right thing in putting your customer’s needs first.

I hear a lot of noise about the tough economy, and revenue being down for many companies. I hear complaint upon complaint that companies just don’t have money to spend, and that nobody is buying. If you’re experiencing this type of reaction from your customer, it’s not because they don’t have money to spend, it’s because you’re selling and not adding value. It’s because you’re talking and not listening. It’s because you don’t get it…

It’s not about you, your company, your products or your services. It’s about meeting customer needs and adding value. When you start paying more attention to your customer needs than your revenue needs, you’ll find you no longer have a revenue problem to complain about.

Not much to add here folks!

What do you think?

All my best,

James

 

One way you can grow your firm …

The Accounting profession, is no different from other industries when it comes to rationalisation. In Australia and beyond there has been a flurry of accounting firms leaving networks & joining others, firms buying/merging with other firms and groups of people leaving larger firms to set up their own shops. Mergers & acquisitions definitely appear to be the flavour of the month.

A little while ago I found a great article on inc.com written by Karl Stark & Bill Stewart. see http://www.inc.com/karl-and-bill/when-strategic-acquisition-makes-sense.html.

Although it doesn’t specifically address activity in the accounting sector its core message is pertinent for all accounting firms wanting to expand via merger and/or acquisition.

Our business is probably similar to your business, in that our primary source of growth lies in the people we hire. We need to find quality people, build a quality team, and create a culture for them to succeed. If they succeed, then we succeed.

We have high standards for our team, in terms of skill set and attitude. Over the past year, however, we’ve found that we are finding fewer people who meet our standards. It’s been tougher to find highly-skilled, strategically-minded people, and when we do find someone, it’s harder to convince them to make a career move.

This leads us to consider an acquisition of a small firm. Although we don’t need more equipment, new technologies, or additional locations–all legitimate reasons to buy a company–we do need to grow the size and quality of our team. And we may be crazy enough to think that buying another strategic advisory firm is the best way to achieve that goal.

So we’ve found ourselves faced with the same due diligence we would advise our clients and portfolio companies to pursue when considering an acquisition. Specifically, buying another company makes sense if:

1) It results in the acquisition of a strategic asset or capability that is too costly or too difficult to build internally

2) It will enhance value growth beyond what the core business is able to deliver on its own

3) It can be acquired at a fair price

In our case, an acquisition would not necessarily be a slam-dunk according to those criteria, but it would have other attractive characteristics:

We would acquire a quality team of individuals at all levels (which we need) who are already battle-tested
These individuals would bring with them a new set of relationships, which would give us the opportunity to bring our capabilities to more clients and investors
They would also bring new capabilities and new ways of thinking, which could help our business innovate and grow

However, we also understand the potentially significant downsides:

Some, or even all, of the key talent might decide to leave after the acquisition
We would likely pay a premium over the cost of hiring individuals directly
We may find (after the fact) that some of the new team members don’t fit well into our culture
The deal process may be a significant distraction to the continued growth of our business

Given these pros and cons, not any acquisition will do. We need to find the perfect fit, and we will need to invest significant time and effort to do so. In fact, there is a distinct possibility that we won’t find a single organization that meets our needs.

But we’ll keep looking, because the prospect of finding a company that would have a dramatic impact on our growth going forward is too important to ignore.

See you next post,

James E