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How to identify a successful client

23rd Aug 2019
Individuality
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Every firm wants more good clients and less bad ones. But what do these actually look like? Jeremy Sidaway reveals what client attributes indicate a good client or that sets off the alarm bells. 

It’s always interesting talking to accountants about their most successful clients. Do these clients share traits? Are there indicators that someone has what it takes to make it? Or, are there indicators that they really don’t have what it takes and may become a difficult client in the future?

A lot of accounting practice growth comes from having successful clients. You grow with your clients, and they push you into becoming a better practice that can advise on a far wider range of subjects. If you give them a great service, you’ll grow with them. To succeed in running an accountancy practice, you need to be able to attract successful clients.

The first thing to learn is how to identify a successful client and, perhaps just as importantly, how to identify one who won’t make it. Here are three factors my firm thinks indicate potential success and failure:

Hard work

Successful clients work hard. It sounds very simple but they do. They give it everything they have.

Last week, I met with a client who had been on the west coast of the USA all week in a takeover meeting. He’s looking at starting his own business. He flew back on Friday and met with me to discuss it. The next day, he was speaking at an event and had a board presentation to make the following week.

None of this related to the business, but he was totally focused. We left him with a few things he needed to do – he did them overnight. No fuss. No faff. He did everything we asked and had moved on, leaving us to do our bit. He hadn’t kicked the can down the road – instead, he’d finished the drink and recycled the can.

That sort of approach takes energy. All of our successful clients have this energy and focus.

You don’t need to chase a client like this to sign a document. Not more than once, anyway.  They don’t come back to you and ask the same question you’d already provided a detailed email response to the previous week. They are not exhausting to deal with. Their energy gives you energy and you do not dread a meeting with them. They work hard and they are not hard work. They are respectful and use your time; they don’t waste your time.

The desire to delegate

This is a tricky one. Ideally, you delegate in business. We’ve all read Stephen Covey and understand the concept of working on the business, not in it. Success comes from being able to delegate and work on your business, and crucially being able to accept that whomever you delegate something to might only do it about 80% as well as you would.

What about a client who buys a business and immediately wants to appoint a manager. This is almost always a bad sign. Can the business afford it? Is it appropriate at this stage?

This comes back to the hard work point above. Are they looking to delegate to free up their time, which they will then use energetically to work on the business? Or are they just looking for some free time?

Maybe they have read a business book and think that’s what you do if you want to be a success. But, in reality, are they just a bit lazy? Do they come in at 10am, leave early and expect others to do the work? That’s probably not going to be a successful client.

Our successful clients do delegate but they use the freed-up time wisely. They are probably in at 7am and won’t be leaving early.

The ability to manage money

Any client can need help with cashflow management and raising finance if they are looking to expand, experiencing rapid growth or looking to buy new premises. That’s a very positive use of our time. We can help with projections and raising finance. And clients love that sort of help and increasingly see us as part of their team. That’s what we want.

As part of that process, especially with the projections, we might look at ways we can free up their time by suggesting other services we can provide. It’s grist to the mill of expansion, both for them and for us.

But what about a client you help out of a cashflow crisis only to find they are immediately in the throes of another one? That’s just an inability to manage money and can become a very wearing assignment for the accountant, especially if the accountant is constantly producing numbers and fending off the bank for them. That’s not really our job. 

This scenario can be caused by the client having a decent business but unrealistic expectations as to how much they can draw from it. If this is the case, it might be a good indicator that the firm should politely withdraw from the assignment and concentrate on other clients.

Most firms would recognise the above scenarios. I wonder how many of us are brave enough to weed out the business clients who are not going to make it so we can concentrate on the successful ones?

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