I have lost count of the number of times I have heard CPD speakers and so-called practice development gurus telling us we need to me more proactive. Apparently, compliance work is about to dry up and we're going to lose all our clients unless we start being "proactive". And they present this as something new.
But hasn't this always been the case? Someone once said "clients don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." I suspect in fact some witty writer made that up and attributed it to an anonymous guru, but whoever said it - they were right.
When I look back over the clients we have gained and lost, the new clients often with a sorry history of a previous accountant that didn't talk to them or give any advice. And very often our losses are those that fell through the net, where we should have tried harder and spoken more often but for some reason we didn't (in my defence I could identify quite a few personality clashes in this group, clients who simply wouldn't communicate anyway).
Have these clients joined or left us because they wanted a firm that offered fancy tax planning or state of the art software tools? No, in most cases they just wanted someone to talk to.
So my take on 'proactivity' is simply getting out there and talking to clients. I know it's out of fashion with electronic communication and the squeeze on compliance fees, but our goal for 2012 is to ensure that all our clients get the conversations and meetings they want to feel that we care. In my experience, meetings often generate new ideas and new work, so even where we can't get the full rate for a meeting there's a strong argument for not charging for it and treating it as a marketing exercise.
As BT used to say, "it's good to talk" - not to text or email or write. An unsolicited telephone call to a client to ask them how they are getting on is a good start. A face to face meeting at their premises is best. You can always say you are passing and can you drop by for half an hour for a coffee. If you don't, there's a risk that some of your best clients will be talking to someone else, and you don't want that!
About Nigel Harris
I'm a partner with Burton Sweet, chartered accountants & business advisers, and run the Shepton Mallet office down in beautiful Somerset. Despite the name, Shepton Mallet is actually the home of Glastonbury Festival! I trained in audit and corporate tax with Grant Thornton and came to my current position in 1991 via small local practices and a stint with a training consortium.
I have the distinction of being one of the original members of the AccountingWEB editorial team, having been a freelance writer here for a year or so before John Stockdyk joined!