Is it hard to get new clients right now?

We've got a record number of leads but we're not getting yes's or no's

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I've spent the last few months wondering what is going on with our growth. We've been going over 10years as a practice and typically in the past have generated approx 8 leads a month that would equate to 2.5 clients onboarded.

Now due to our significant investment in marketing, we're generating around 12 leads a month but are struggling to land more than one new client.

We mainly focus on limited companies and our proposal and follow up process is good and our pricing has been slightly lower than our near peer firms in the area. We're not getting no's, people are just taking a really long time to make a Descision with many saying they will use us as their accountants but not just yet.

Are other accountants experiencing this? A lot of our clients are struggling right now, is it just the economy? 

Replies (26)

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By SXGuy
23rd Apr 2024 08:02

Most of my new clients are via word of mouth. I don't have the level of marketing you have to get 12 leads a month but at the same time, any lead I do get is a yes because they've already come to me on a reccomendation.

If someone said to me they will use me in the future but not right now, that would signal to me something is not quite right.

Either they don't actually want an accountant and it's an excuse, or you've not explained to them the need for needing one right now and not a year later.

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Replying to SXGuy:
Accountants Northampton
By Shamrock
23rd Apr 2024 08:20

We get several word of mouth referrals and I agree that they are more receptive and likely to convert.

My specific question however is that assuming all other factors in your growth strategy have stayed the same, have you seen a slow down in growth?

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By Roland195
23rd Apr 2024 08:50

Assuming that the leads generated by whatever means are realistic, I would say this suggests there is something between the proposal & follow up that is putting them off.

I don't recognise the pattern you describe as being a feature of the current conditions or that clients are any more difficult to get now than ever, although their requirements have shifted.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
23rd Apr 2024 09:19

It sounds like your marketing is exceeding your actual business offering.

If i was quoting 12 I would expet to land 8 to 10 in that I had prefiltered the time wasters already. 1 out of 12 is major alarm bells. The sheer time that would take too, thats what 3 days a week quoting to land one client? Ouch. of course if you are taking 10 minutes a client to quote......I see your problem already.

Are these people even actively looking for an accountant? or have you picked them up from a "comapre how much your accountant costs" type lead generation outfit? or one who just spams folk and see what lands.

Id look at the marketing first up.

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By bernard michael
23rd Apr 2024 09:29

Is your marketing dipping into the same pool of available clients as your previous efforts. If so you would expect a diminution in effect??

My best client increase was when I added another pub to my round of drinking establishments and took on their established MDTP

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Replying to bernard michael:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
23rd Apr 2024 10:33

My thought, the apple barrel is emptying and there are fewer apples with limited rot, you have already consumed most of the good ones.

More realistically, everyone is currently looking to trim costs so greater number of tyre kickers are out there, testing the market but maybe not that serious.

My tenants are right now certainly cost saving, recently one announced giving up office at lease end in October (they are going to stop having an office), a charity tenant is giving up office in September and moving to Stirling for lower fixed costs (not sure real reason as our unit is cheap) and another charity want to sign back up but with less space, handing back 1,300 sq ft. Right now everyone seems to be trying to save costs.

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John Toon
By John Toon
23rd Apr 2024 10:48

No slow down in growth here, if anything it's likely to be higher than last year. I'd suggest that, given you've changed your marketing mix that your getting exactly what's to be expected - colder leads generating maybes, which in reality are a no (but either you or they are unwilling to admit to...)

If, as you say, your prices are generally lower than other peers, that also tends to invite more tyre kickers, who will use your proposal to negotiate down with their existing advisor - another reason for those maybe answers.

Also, in my experience, lower priced clients tend to be the ones that yoyo around depending on economic conditions so not surprising to hear that a lot of your clients are struggling.

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Replying to johnt27:
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By FactChecker
23rd Apr 2024 13:02

Broadly agree ... but, putting it a bit more bluntly, I don't know why OP expected any differently.

Pre new marketing: "approx 8 leads a month (and) 2.5 clients onboarded."
Post new marketing: "12 leads a month but .. 1+ new client."

Not mentioned but I'm prepared to bet that without any active marketing (just networking and referrals) those figures would have been closer to 3 leads per month and 2 onboarded.

Relying on active marketing for lead generation that delivers new clients requires:
* a lot of expense - not just on the marketing but on back-office filtering and on generating proposals (with an expected drop-out rate);
* more of a churn approach to acquiring/onboarding new clients, with less on the subsequent retention (as that could've been expended on more marketing);
* and is best suited to the less personalised 'standard offering' that assumes profit will come from 'pile 'em high' growth.

This is not an anti-marketing rant ... just an observation (as an ex-marketeer) that you need to know what you want to achieve before you start a marketing drive and to put in place the mechanisms to manage it - which will not be what you were used to previously.

OP: no, there's no shortage of business out there. What there is is an increase in people who are confused/frightened by all the uncertainty (political, legislative, economic and so on) ... who are exactly the type of people likely to be attracted to making an enquiry of a no-commitment marketing campaign, but were never a likely 'lead' in the first place.

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Replying to johnt27:
By JCresswellTax
23rd Apr 2024 13:41

johnt27 wrote:

If, as you say, your prices are generally lower than other peers, that also tends to invite more tyre kickers, who will use your proposal to negotiate down with their existing advisor - another reason for those maybe answers.

Seriously? Do advisors actually agree to negotiate down with clients? You do that, you are saying that you have been overcharging previously, not to mention you don't value yourself highly.

Mugs game which I would never get involved in.

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By williams lester accountants
23rd Apr 2024 14:07

We had a lot of this about 4 years back, before covid. But found that a 20% fee increase on the quotes actually got us more yes than no answers. Maybe you are not charging enough to convey the value you are offering?

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Replying to williams lester accountants:
Tornado
By Tornado
23rd Apr 2024 22:55

I would agree with this. Aim for quality clients rather than quantity.

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Accountants Northampton
By Shamrock
23rd Apr 2024 17:30

There are some interesting insights here although also quite a few assumptions, but then I guess I could have provided more detail.

In general our fees are at a good level, whilst I know local firms that charge more, there are others who charge almost half of what we do for the same services, we're talking to prospects who use them that are unsatisfied with the value they are getting especially due to a lack of support and late submissions. That said I'm also aware there are two sides to the story, but feel our fees are not attracting the wrong client type.

Our marketing mix hasn't changed drastically, the extra leads are coming from telemarketing, however I do recognise that less is often more and not all leads are equal. The telemarketing leads are colder and do require more management but I've also been introduced to some really good businesses via it and we have a marketing person to help.

I'm surprised people aren't seeing businesses struggling, we have some really good quality clients and they have seen a hit to their sales and I read somewhere that insolvencies are at a 20 year high.

In general I don't believe the conversion rate will drop off drastically, while it's slow with growth just now I think there are enough good quality leads that just take longer then usual to nurture that will eventually convert, especially when in my opinion they are dealing with more urgent issues in their business.

Our marketing person would typically have a brief 15 minute call and then book a meeting in with me, this gets most of the unsuitable leads out of the way and she'll also create the proposal and follow up on it. We are very specific about the type of business we work with, which can be a challenge but has also helped use build a really good quality client base with 99% of them on accounting software and direct debits.

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Replying to Shamrock:
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By FactChecker
23rd Apr 2024 18:39

"I'm surprised people aren't seeing businesses struggling, we have some really good quality clients and they have seen a hit to their sales and I read somewhere that insolvencies are at a 20 year high."

I thought you were asking about whether practices were struggling (which is what others have responded to) not the state of their clients' businesses - many of which are undoubtedly under increased stress (but not necessarily struggling).
AFAIK insolvencies are at nothing like a 20-year high (I don't believe they've even reached the heights of early-lockdown) ... but anyway the rate, as always, tends to be very sector-specific.

Anyway ... I'm surprised by your "Our marketing mix hasn't changed drastically, the extra leads are coming from telemarketing" assertion. If, as you seem to be suggesting, telemarketing is new to you then that is very much a major change to your marketing mix - and as others (not just me) have commented is the most likely reason for the change in 'convertibility' of any leads.

But it's your final sentence that seems to shine a light on it all:
"We are very specific about the type of business we work with, which can be a challenge but has also helped use build a really good quality client base with 99% of them on accounting software and direct debits."
So it sounds like you *are* chasing the 'standard offering' to which I referred previously - in which case the efficiency of your telemarketing will depend on how well it can find those who meet your ideal profile.
Out of curiosity does the telemarketing delineate between those who already tick all your boxes and those who merely express a willingness to comply?
Simply qualifying-out those who are not a good fit doesn't mean the remainder are!

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Replying to FactChecker:
Accountants Northampton
By Shamrock
23rd Apr 2024 18:57

This FT article refers to a 30 year high for insolvencies, although I'm uncertain about the exact context. https://www.ft.com/content/d1b95539-4afe-4a33-9e08-b05c1099efb8

I was referring to John Toons comment about lower priced clients struggling in economic turbulence.

As I mentioned telemarketing is in addition to the base level of leads we were at so our underlying mix hasn't changed.

My specific question remains unchanged and it certainly wasn't if practices were struggling. It was if growth in the industry had slowed. We are certainly not struggling as my underlying business is profitable to a good level.

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Replying to Shamrock:
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By FactChecker
23rd Apr 2024 20:08

Thanks, but I too am not sure as to context of FT article as I don't have a sub to view ... the title however is "Corporate insolvencies" which of course is hardly precise.

There are a regular (sometimes somewhat contradictory) articles on this site covering the topic ... one of the more recent (16th Feb) said:
"New figures released by The Insolvency Service show that there were 1,769 insolvencies reported last month in England and Wales.
Of this total:
- there were 339 compulsory liquidations,
- and 120 Administrations,
- and 1,294 creditors’ voluntary liquidations (CVLs),
- and 16 company voluntary arrangements (CVAs)"

Hardly a tsunami - even if many are personal tragedies (and conversely many are simply running away from repaying BBLs or whatever).

There are sectors which I would not wish to be in at the moment (in no particular order restaurants, office rentals and hi-street retail spring to mind), but to say that even a small majority of businesses are struggling badly feels like an over-statement.

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Replying to Shamrock:
John Toon
By John Toon
24th Apr 2024 09:08

Quite happy to defend my comment, even if it was something of a generalisation. Businesses that don't tend to see professional service fees as an investment, don't tend to spend money on the other things that make them more resilient to economic changes as well. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule and certain economic conditions will affect particular industries in unexpected ways (COVID on retail/F&B, for example) but I would suggest my rule still applies

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Replying to Shamrock:
Stepurhan
By stepurhan
24th Apr 2024 14:14

Shamrock wrote:

As I mentioned telemarketing is in addition to the base level of leads we were at so our underlying mix hasn't changed.


Is telemarketing in addition to your previous marketing (a significant change to your marketing mix as has already been noted) or something that you have done all along that is now producing higher leads (so the change is what parts of your marketing are producing leads, not what marketing you are doing).

Either way, my past experience of telemarketing is that it has a bad conversion rate and tends to result in more problem clients too. If your increased leads are from telemarketing, then your fall in conversion rate is to be expected at any time.

Referals (free for doing good work) and decent web presence (not necessarily expensive when focussed) so you come up in searches have always produced much better results.

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By bernard michael
24th Apr 2024 09:28

After re-reading the OP's post I have to ask why he's spending/wasting money on marketing rather than relying on his existing methods,which generate more clients

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Replying to bernard michael:
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By B Roberts
24th Apr 2024 09:44

bernard michael wrote:

After re-reading the OP's post I have to ask why he's spending/wasting money on marketing rather than relying on his existing methods,which generate more clients

Indeed.

In fact, the OP needs to strop what they are doing - although leads have increased, the number of conversions has reduced, so they were better off before.

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By mkowl
24th Apr 2024 10:53

I always think it somewhat amusing when we assist setting up a new co, the registered office is ours and within days the marketing emails and old school through the post immediately arrive. The letters offering the client low ball fees somehow fall into our shredder.

But an advocate for client referrals, aside from a first meeting where the interview is sussing them as much as the other way, you have the job. Indeed the most recent job where it was more "on spec" call by the client, as recently ended with me suggesting he find another accountant and him sacking me at the same time.

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By NewACA
24th Apr 2024 16:08

One would expect more insolvencies, as interest rates have risen over the last 2 years, and it take a couple of years for that to start materialising into the death of what were previously just zombie companies anyway whom wouldn't be ideal clients usually. So I don't think insolvencies are a good barometer.

However, I have noticed that larger accountancy firms have stopped hiring, and I know a few friends who have been made redundant in the last 12 months in various industries. The UK has been in a technical recession recently, but the press have been quiet about it, as they have learnt from experience that if you shout "Recession" the recession just gets worse and less people buy there newpapers (if anyone still does that).

I think there has been a cumulative negative effect of sustantial rises in the national minimum wage in recent years that pushes everyone's wages up, which means its getting almost nigh on impossible to hire new staff in most industries, combined with lower levels of productivity since COVID, meaning companies have having to pinch money from elsewhere to pay staff and not take on new staff: equals no growth and the potential to look for cheaper accountants to cut costs.

Also, with the higher rates of corporation tax, coupled with the constant increase in dividend tax since 2015 (even though personal national insurance has gone down) more and more new businesses are incentivised to be sole traders or partnerships, who tend to need less accounting and tax assistance.

I recall using telemarketing 13 years ago. We spent about £40k on it, with loads of leads and meetings, but very little to show for it, it definitely cost more than we got out of it. Telemarketing used to be very good back in the early to mid 2000's or before the milennium, so its hayday was more than 15 years ago for accoutancy firms.

If you are not the top of Google for accoutants in your local area, for natural listings I mean, as people tend to ignore the paid ads, then I think that is what your should concentrate marketing spend on. People generally take being the top of the natural listing as a sign you trustworthy and good at what you do, even if that has nothing to do with it. Being top of the list makes users think if Google puts you at the top, you must be a well-established successful firm and of course in accoutancy trust is essential, increasing levels of brand trustt and awareness. Accountants provide a largely invisible service to the unitiated, for compliance work at least.

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Accountants Northampton
By Shamrock
25th Apr 2024 07:23

Thanks for the feedback everyone. It's becoming obvious that telemarketing isn't the way forward and is quite likely having a negative impact on previous lead generation as it's using up way too much time.

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Replying to Shamrock:
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By FactChecker
25th Apr 2024 21:50

That's about the size of it, indeed!

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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
25th Apr 2024 23:39

We've just disengaged a new client who took up circa 40 hrs of time - AML, onbording and [***]*ng around - and looked back to the last time we lost a client through natural causes: two in the last decade. One was a tax case who was a self-confessed nutcase (upon which degenerative basis we engaged -a boyfriend of an existing client, who'd evaded HMRC for the better years of his life) ; the other wanted "free unlimited access" and found it elsewhere only to be met with the opening salvo "I'm not going to discuss the cricket scores with you - call me whenever you have a real issue".

The client we disengaged from this decade had unreasonable expectations. But the single matter that stuck in the craw, so to speak, was that his previous acccountants charged £100 a month for bookkeeping, payroll, statutory accounts & CT600. Lordy! For good measure, there was a QB subscription inckudeed.

I don't know how... or wheter to... compete with any of that. The accountants were East European - am i allowed to say Magyars? - with first year AAT training and a HMRC (or perhaps an Institute of Boookeepers) ticket to ride. The resultant mess included a HMRC payment for VAT and (separately) for PAYE being posted to P&L accounts and input VAT being over claimed (yes, although it beggars belief, input tax reclaimed on paymens to HMRC).

I guess the answer is to keep on smilin;, do things right, and lose the earring.

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By djokhoo
27th Apr 2024 23:47

Good day N.Patel,

There are a number of reasons for clients finding sales falling as well as potential client coming forward to seek accounting services but cannot commit. You are not alone - it is a worldwide situation, from large countries to small ones, all are facing the same issues. People are not understanding the change in climate (golden age /Revelations has been here since 2012). We are in the changing age and we must adjust ourselves to meet that change, it cannot be business as usual.
Recently businesses are being bombarded with “Sustainability” and “ESG”, not because they want to make changes but human beings are making changes themselves and business leaders are trying to keep up with the future new thinking coming from youths and younglings.
Since 1992, after a lot of growth in the UK, the 2008 recession hit and growth slowed, people lost jobs and houses because they could not meet their mortgage students couldn’t qualify for loans to pursue further education. The writing was on the wall. People had to change their buying patterns and live a different lifestyle. Even when things got better, their buying patterns did not change – fear enveloped their minds about the uncertain future.
In 2012, a lot of teenagers and young business entrepreneurs’ mindset started to shift away from money being the only goal of life but wanted a more balanced life and stated to think of money more as quality rather than quantity.
When Covid hit, the fear in society returned with the same uncertainty about the future. Greed stepped in and large organisations who saw small business as treats, started consuming these smaller businesses by offering them good buyout packages. Inflation was forced onto the society which saw smaller business not being able to cope with the higher cost of production as well as having ridiculous loan requirements.
The fear of Covid coupled with the uncertainty left people holding onto cash rather that consuming it. Many businesses lost sales and eventually closed shop. Those who could innovate, managed to stay afloat. Covid did however bring a change to the world. Young persons who were stuck at home, found that being in silent for that time led them to realise that their hobbies and passions could be turned into a business, and so the younger generation are now coming into businesses just like the olden Mom & Pops shops did in the past. This is where the new clients are, the only difference is that they use technology for everything, they are aware of what they want but are unable to manage finances and terribly need advice. These younglings see the world as one, they see diversity and inclusion as cornerstones, they will not accept borders and perimeters, and if you do not understand that, they will ignore you and create their own society. This is the effect of the changing age.
It is true that the older shops will see a fall in sales and that is because they have not adjusted to the conditions of the changing world. For example, in the past when I was but a child, the Crown ruled our island and most shoes were Clarks, Hush Puppies or Bata. Most men wore Clarks and took very good care of it, resoled, stitched and polished regularly as required. As they got older and out grew the shoes it would be passed onto the next generation and this happened for about four generations. This was the way society practiced everything, the sharing culture. In today’s world we have forgotten that, and now if you can rekindle that, the economy will start moving once more.
For example, let’s say you have a client in the clothing business and you were to encourage them to get together with more clothing shops and they would then encourage their customers into a charity drive that would see the poor benefiting from charity of clothing items. Then those who brought items in for charity could be given a chit to purchase a new item at a discounted price having given away the old item. This would have the effect of the poor getting a better standard of living, the customer would make purchases and be content, the merchant would get business and their lives would also be happier. This would get the economy moving just by doing some simple charity and all will benefit.
If N-accounting encouraged its staff to participate in such a drive, I am sure you will be recognised as a change for the future and people would recognise you as a mentor rather than just a businessman.
Incidentally your Vision & Mission speaks in the third person but I believe now these statements should address the client directly by replacing “them” with “you” and including the words “diversity and inclusion”.
The word “small” suggest limits. “Rock” suggest stability but also changeless & motionless. “Challenges” suggest difficulty. No good. Younglings need direct vision and communication, they are hard-headed. They need positive orientation.

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Replying to djokhoo:
Accountants Northampton
By Shamrock
30th Apr 2024 11:12

Thanks for your comprehensive reply djokhoo and the research you've put in. Yes you've made some good points about our setup which I'll implement. I've had a couple of good conversions last week and one did come from telemarketing, I'm going to stick with it for a bit. I generally feel based on many people I've spoken with, that sales is just taking longer at the moment.

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