Mark Lee highlights some proven ideas and some preliminary tasks that will ensure those starting up in practice won’t waste time, money and energy.
Is it brave, naive or evidence of a lack of good business sense to set up your own practice before deciding how you will generate your first clients? I must admit I’m surprised by the number of times that this appears to be the case when I’m scanning questions in the Any Answers section of AccountingWEB.
Plenty of good advice has been shared here over the years. However well intentioned, some of the suggestions imply that winning your first new clients is easier than is typically the case.
First things first
Are you looking for bookkeeping work, accounting work, tax returns for private clients, traders, companies or to give advice to businesses and to help them reduce their tax bills? And do you want to be someone’s first accountant or do you want to encourage people to switch from their existing accountant to deal with you in future?
To win your first clients you need to be able to articulate what you can do, who you can do it for and how they will benefit from using you.
Are you going to be “just another accountant”? Or will you be more interesting and attractive than others, perhaps due to a specialist focus or because you will make it more convenient for clients to deal with you rather than their current accountant?
And, most importantly, you need to be clear in your own mind how you are going to price each of your services. What level of fees are you hoping to generate from your first clients? Will you take on just anyone and seek to undercut their current accountant? (NB: This is a short-term approach that leads to all sorts of problems down the line).
Until you can articulate the issues set out above you will struggle to win new clients, regardless of the methods and routes you pursue.
Those “new to practice” accountants who start out without tackling these issues typically waste money on promotional materials (including website design) that don’t work. They also waste time networking and visiting prospects and referrers to no avail.
Promotional marketing materials and activities will always be more worthwhile when you are able to clearly express what you do, who you do it for, what makes you different and how clients benefit as a result. Your focus should be more on them than on you.
Wayne Morris expressed a similar point last year in his article, Two mistakes that keep accountants poor. He suggested that “the biggest mistake accountants make” is to market themselves as “an accountant”. He explained that “people generally don’t want an accountant, what they want is what an accountant can do”.
Regular readers will know I’m an avid user of various forms of social media. However I remain doubtful that any social media sites are a fast route for new accountants to generate profitable client bases.
Social media is NOT a broadcast medium. It takes time to build relationships and an audience. I would suggest that the new clients you may be most easily able to generate through this medium are themselves new start-up businesses. That’s great if they are your target, but beware some will never become sufficiently profitable to pay decent annual fees.
Three years ago I authored a piece here entitled: HOPE is not a strategy. The key message I shared was that simply “hoping” that everything will work out ok is foolhardy. You need to put strategies in place that go beyond simply hope.
What have you found works when setting up your practice and looking for your first clients?
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWeb and writes the BookMarkLee blog to help accountants have more fun and build more successful practices. He is also Chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists.