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I have been in practice for around 5 years and have mainly got clients from telesales. Over the past few years the telesales have dried up and clients had either gone bust (credit crunch) or have naturally left (normal churn). However, the clients that leave are not being replaced, so the general trend is going down.

My wife is pregnant and I am expecting our personal costs to increase significantly soon. I need help to increase my client base but am not sure what the best way to do this is?

I don't really want to spend much on marketing until I am sure that the money I am investing is generating a return. I have tried other marketing activities in the past an found that only telemarketing seemed to work. I am based in London (not central london) and have a very basic website (I did try a fancy one but it was costing me each month and I was not getting any prospects)

I would really appreciate any suggestions you have.

Count

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05th May 2011 11:32

What level of client referrals are you getting?
Even with the alleged recession, most businesses are surviving and many are prospering, so don't fall into the trap of assuming there's no work out there, because there's still lots of it about. You mention natural wastage which is fair enough, but most practices find that referrals from existing clients and current client growth tends to keep the practice ticking over, with new/growing replacing leavers meaning a fairly steady fee level.

I think you need to consider whether you have more than your fair share of clients leaving to other firms and you also need to consider the reasons if you're not getting a steady stream of referrals from existing clients. Either could indicate that your "customer service" isn't up to standard. This is the area to concentrate on first. There's no point trying to get new clients if you can't keep them or they're not happy enough to recommend you to others.

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05th May 2011 11:42

Expand or Die

Didn't that win the Grand National a few years back?

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05th May 2011 22:21

Probably not the answer you want...

... I started from scratch in 2001 and built up a £500k GRF firm before selling out (in a disasterious deal) but through out that time, my experiance was that it cost about 50p per £1 of GRF to get the clients. The 50p was always up front, the £1 came later. As such, my practice was a very thirsty cash monster that had to be continually fed (as I kept growing) and which I eventually was "forced" to sell because I wasn't prepaired to take on yet more debt.

What I am trying to say is that unless you are prepaired to sink some cash into your business and grow your way out of the place you are in now (and its not just the marketing, its the staff, the infrastructure, the WIP, the debtors etc, etc) you are either going to have to cut your cloth to what you have - and you don't give details of what you have, so I cannot suggest what cut you need - or cash in your chips, and go looking for a salary.

And just becuase you cash in your chips does not mean that you have failed or that you cannot come back to the table later, it just means that you are a prudent player and not a gambler risking that which he cannot aford to loose.

Hopes this helps; good luck with it and let me know what you do.

Regards

Steve

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05th May 2011 22:50

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The first 100 clients are hard to get.

The next 100 are easier - because half will be referrals from the first 100.

The 100 after that are still easier - because 75 will be referals from the existing 200.

And so it goes on, until eventually you will have enough referrals to continue growing without advertising.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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06th May 2011 10:11

Niche markets

Do you have any specialities that you can concentrate on and become the expert in that field rather than being a general practice?

Also have you tried the social netyworking sites - cheap and with she who must be obeyed about to be off work, perhaps that is something she could help with?

Finally, you could always approach the larger firms in your area and sell you client base and move into employment again - as an earlier post said, it is not admitting failure, but realising you assets for a change in circumstance

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You need to look at your business (or yourself)

 You experience is not the same as mine. I don't think I have lost any clients as a result of the recession and I have zero chrun unless you count people who are transient between employment and consultancy work as many of my clients often are. If you are losing clients in this way then I would suggest that you are over promising at sale or underdelivering on service. I met a new client yesterday who was coming from the 'top' practice in a large town ... he was a s/e carpet cleaner, reasonable records, £40k t/o, no employees etc. They had been charging him £1300 for the accounts and £500 for the tax return and it took him 4 years to get the message ... all I am saying is that churn is not normal in our business!

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06th May 2011 11:00

expand or die

we have experienced something similar a lot of clients have gone PAYE or left the country which has nothing to do with customer service. We used to have a lot of clients in the music industry but that whole industry is on its knees.

the only answer is to spread your risk into different industries.

Sometimes its just bad luck.

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06th May 2011 11:37

Many thanks for your replies, I very much appreciate the support and advice given here.

I started the practice about 5 years ago, but didn't (and still don't) have much cash to plough into the business. The clients I have are small and price sensitive. I can relate to steve's comments and also found the business very cash hungry (when i did expand). But then I stopped marketing and tried to draw some of the cash I ploughed into it. I think this is what caused the practice to slowly die.

I am prepared to throw money into marketing but am a little nervous as to where to invest the cash. I am also considering buying some block fee to help but do recognise that this is going to cost more than generally acquiring clients via marketing.

I will take a look at the social marketing but does this really work?

 

thanks again !

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By stratty
11th May 2011 11:32

Grand National

 The horse I believe was Comply or Die

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11th May 2011 12:08

Look local
A little bit of local advertising can be cheap and effective. A few years back we contacted some local shops (some clients/some not) to see if we could advertise our services in them. This was done in the form of a nice leaflet in a nice display holder shown prominently in their shop. We pay a one of fee of upto 5% of the first year fee to the shop that the leaflet came from. Estate agents are particularly keen to display services and hairdressers worked well.

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By frauke
11th May 2011 12:12

Social networking does work

I've been using social networking for a few years mostly as a learning tool, and last year I lost 4 clients (3 ceased trading and 1 left to go another accountant) and gained 16 new clients.  The fee income from the 4 was not much as they were all low fee income clients, but of the 16 new clients - 12 were referals from existing clients and 3 from social networking.  My fee income from each of the 3 clients from social networking is more than the fee income from the 4 clients put to gether - so it certainly is worth allocating the time to do it.

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11th May 2011 12:12

in the short term

you could increase your income by offering yourself as a sub-contractor to others needing short term help.

As others have said there are no easy answers and we have all tried various ideas and failed in some and sucessful in others.

Good Luck

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11th May 2011 14:28

Referrals

 Hi, I do sympathise with your situation but I agree with other posters that you do need to examine closely why clients are leaving before you start wasting money on telesales etc. 

I have been in business for 28 years now and there have been ups and downs in the level of clients, but there has also been a steady increase overall. I have never used any marketing tactics and am only now venturing into the realms of setting up a web site which I intend to make as friendly and helpful to future prospects as I can. The only advertising I have done is with Yellow Pages and the local church magazine, the latter having produced the majority of my "cold" refferals whilst also being much cheaper to advertise with. Most of my new business is by referral and to be honest that is the way I like it. I would NEVER consider telemarketing or cold calling as an option and although I am sure I will get shot down on this I don't feel it shoud be necessary if your existing clients are happy. 

It might be worth doing some research amongst your existing clients to ask them what they most value about you and your services and target that area as your "special" service. Be prepared for some home truths though I did it once and some of the comments were a little painful but very enlightening and it proved a valuable tool.

We have also steered well away from the more "formal" image of Accountants as many small business people are litterally terrified of that first appointment. I think as a profession Accountatns and Solicitors come a close second/ third only to a visit to the Dentist. We try to offer a more laid back, friendly service, whilst still trying to remain totally professional. It does not bring in the big guys but we have a steady stream of reliable and friendly clients who actually listen to what we say and even pay our bills within 7 days. I think the proof of the relationship comes in the fact that they know that if they cannot pay the bill immediately they can phone to let me know rather than wait to be hounded (which we have never had to do). They appreciate that I will not make them feel uncomfortable and will always be willing to negotiate terms which they have always without exception met. I rarely get a bad debt (possibly 5 in 28 years) which is just as important as the new business.

If you feel that you are not easily able to "relate" to clients or "sell" yourself at teh first appointment it may well be right for you to look for employment as things are probably going to get worse if you are stressed about money. I am afraid it is true what they say about the cost of bringing up a child!

Good luck and I hope all is well with baby. You need to do whatever enables you to relax and enjoy those first years, they can never be got back. 

Incidentally when exisiting clients do refer new business I always make the point of sending a small thank you gift - a small arrangement of flowers, a box of chocs etc. Nothing too over the top and surprisingly, this really goes down well, probably better than a cash bonus would! I think that is the best use of my marketing budget!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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11th May 2011 15:45

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I rarely get a bad debt (possibly 5 in 28 years) which is just as important as the new business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by beverly chester on Wed, 11/05/2011 - 14:28

 

Spot on Beverley.

Advice I got many years ago was simple, but very true. - "Any fool can work for himself, it's getting paid for it thats the clever bit. "

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Expand or die

I tried leafleting a small wealthy town in the north of England and then some less wealthy suburbs. I did it all by hand myself to ensure that the leaflets were actually posted. I learned a number of lessons:

1) Leafleting is physically extremely demanding and takes forever to do.

2) Leafleting is best done in cooler weather.

3) I was surprised at the lack of interest.

4) Wealthy people does not necessarly translate to interest in your services.

5) More new clients are obtained through some form of referral.

6) There was more interest shown from people nearer to home than farther away.

7) Latterly I understand that for about £400, someone can design a leaflet and then arrange for the Post Office to post 10,000 (all for £400). That is a lot of leaflet for £400. If you get at least 1 client then you've paid for it. I haven't tried it myself but may do so sometime.

It's not much input but I hope it helps.

 

 

 

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