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Pain-free selling (and more growth tips)

12th Aug 2022
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Award winning CRM & practice management software

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In our fourth Summer Session – on growing your business – we explored: goals and metrics; identifying the ‘right’ clients; picking lead sources; asking for referrals; and finding opportunities to upsell. It was a rather productive hour.


Our panellists

John Thompson is ‘The Advisory Guy’. He runs The Complete Advisory Solution, which provides accountants with tools and processes to get started in advisory and generate lots of revenue from it.

Lucy Cohen is one of the co-founders of Mazuma – a subscription-based accounting service for small and micro businesses. Lucy was awarded the AccountingExcellence Outstanding Contribution Award in 2021.

Wayne McCormack co-owns Zoo Accounting and Business Solutions. Zoo has grown from 40 to 400 clients in five years and Wayne hasn’t had any sleep since.

Imran Sumar is founder of I Sumar & Co. Imran has experienced rapid growth since the pandemic started and becomes another long-term AM representative on these sessions.

How do you approach goal-setting?

John: When you start out in business, it’s clients, clients, clients – then spend per client becomes more important. Wrote your goals down, it might sound twee, but stick them on the wall, it’ll get them inside your head. 

There’s a phrase: If you don’t share your goals, you don’t really mean them. So share your goals even if it’s with with family and friends.”

Wayne: We set ourselves short, medium and long term goals, 18 months, 3 years, 5 years – like a budget. It doesn’t have to be financial, it could be staffing levels, increasing your net promoter score, getting more clients on direct debit... 

Make them achievable otherwise it’ll be demoralising. And if you don’t achieve them, make sure you look at the reasons why.

Lucy: It’s all about: what’s the most important metric to measure to show that we’re moving the needle? Is it the ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue)? Is it the number of subscribers we have? 

We could pour money on sales and grow the top line, but we’d end up with a leaky bucket if our foundations and systems couldn’t cope. So we’ve spent a couple of years developing technology, retraining staff and implementing culture. 

We’ve all lost clients by taking on too much. I’d argue, if you haven’t and you’re looking at growth, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough!”

We set ourselves a B-HAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) which is to have 10,000 subscriptions, but that has to tie in with financials. We start with the B-HAG and work backwards, what does that mean in terms of ARPU (average revenue per user)? Or ARR?

What are the ‘right’ kind of clients?

Wayne: We have a bar in the office called the Zebra Cross Inn. Clients book our boardroom so they can have a meeting, a quick pint and play darts. Once, a prospect questioned, ‘Oh, you have a bar…?’ That’s fine, he wasn’t the right fit for us. So you do need those little niches. 

One of my mentors gets rid of the bottom 5% of her clients every year. We reprice them, sometimes they go, but if they do stay, at least they’re paying a fee that warrants you putting up with them!

Imran Sumar: Initially, we were just accumulating clients, but then, during the pandemic, we had time to filter down to the clients we wanted to invest our time in. We also started focusing on specific industries that had the potential to grow further.

Our number of clients has actually reduced substantially down. However, the volume of income has not reduced, rather it's gone up. In terms of growth, we focus on quality of clients. If there are some clients you spend too much time on, you will incur the loss. 

Lucy: Every minute you spend working on a client that doesn’t fit what you do in your business is a minute you’re not working on one that does. 

I come from an abundance mindset. There’s plenty of business out there for all of us if we pick our lanes.”

If you have clients that aren’t paying enough or are a pain – one, you’re not happy and you didn’t start your business to be unhappy. Two, you wouldn’t move into an office building that didn’t meet your needs, so why take on clients that don’t? I often hear “but they might refer us”. They will only refer clients that look like them! 

How do you go about asking for referrals?

John: A lot of people find this difficult. Try building it into your daily processes. If you’ve done something really good with a client, before they leave the office or call, ask them if they know anyone that needs similar help. Once you start, you’ll get comfortable with it.

Lucy: When we ask for a referral, if they can’t think of anyone, we ask for a testimonial or review. And we cross-refer work with other accountants. Those are our main lead sources. 

You can’t set up any lead source and let it run, you have to nurture it. Don’t abandon a lead source because you haven’t put time in, these things can take time. Make sure you’re measuring it and setting expectations. If it’s not meeting those, then let go. 

How do you find opportunities in your existing clientbase? 

John: What we offer is a process for accountants to onboard their clients – not the admin, but what your client’s priorities and plans are, so you can match your services to them. You can replicate that with your existing clients. Look at the top 20% and try to transition as many as you can from compliance into advisory compliance. 

You don’t have to be a ‘business advisor’ you can be a personal advisor – and you’re probably bloody good at that already.”

You can say ‘We have this great new onboarding process for new clients and we’d love to use it with our best existing clients – and we’ve selected you.’ 

There’s a lot of nonsense about ‘advisory’ being business advisory, it’s not, it’s client advisory. Business coaches don’t have the tax knowledge you have – you’re more than a business coach.

Wayne: We do an annual net promoter survey, as part of that we ask ‘would you like to hear more about these services?’. So you’ve got an upsell as well as gathering feedback about the practice. It’s much softer than ‘in your face’ upselling.

There’s a chart from GoProposal that’s been key to our growth. There’s your clients down the left and your services – and their value – across the top. In the boxes you put what each client has, so you can see in one place where the upsell opportunities are. 

How do you approach business development? Any tips on pricing?

John: I was talking to this firm where they’ve made a relatively new guy a partner. He’s brilliant with clients but isn’t so comfortable going out networking and speaking at events. I said ‘Well, why does he have to? He can concentrate on existing clients and maybe they’ll require more services if he understands them more deeply.’ 

Time and time again we come across firms that very rarely put their prices up. But increasing prices is legitimate business development. There’s a very successful firm in London who, every 24 months (regardless of inflation because inflation goes on top) put their prices up by 5%. 

Wayne: Myself and my business partner came from industry into practice, so we’d never done it before. I would say, go into as many forums as you can. There’s so many accountants out there that are willing to share their knowledge. Take their good habits and learn what not to do. 

I read ‘Selling to Serve’ – absolutely brilliant book. There are so many tips in there about having confidence in yourself and charging the prices you know you should be charging. We’ve gone through all this studying and pain to qualify and provide this service, so you are worth it!

Lucy: I hear that from so many accountants – they don’t know what they’re worth. You studied and worked so hard and took the risk to run your own business – all of that has innate value. If you’re starting a practice, whatever you think your prices should be… stick ‘em up 5%. 

Yes, it’ll only take me an hour, but that’s because I spent five years doing exams for it.”

And don’t be scared. We had a member of staff that was so resistant when we put prices up, she’d say ‘but they’ll kick off!’ We have 3,000 clients and each time, only one or two will complain. Percentage wise it’s nothing. It’s not a big deal, prices go up. 

John: There’s a trend where firms are offering bronze, silver and gold service packages. Bronze is compliance with an annual meeting. Silver is more regular meetings plus the compliance. Bronze: Annual, Silver: Quarterly. Gold: Monthly. If I’m a potential client, I can self-select. It takes that pain away from selling. 

Lucy: Yes! And if a client picked Bronze but they’re asking for more, we can say, ‘it’s great that your business is more complex, but we need to move you onto Silver.’ It’s a much easier conversation than: ‘you’re taking up more time, so we’re charging you more.’

Google Ads, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn… what works?

Lucy: It’s thinking about how they’re going to find you. LinkedIn doesn’t work for us – because our clients don’t hang out there! It’s great for connecting with other accountants though. 

We’ve tried Facebook advertising and never got it to work, you can waste a lot of money very quickly on Facebook – and reporting on the metrics can be a bit janky.

We do a lot of digital marketing on Google. Get someone who knows what they’re doing. It can be easy to rule it out if you put in £1,000 and it doesn’t yield anything – just because you haven’t done it properly. It does work for us but it’s an expensive form of business development. 

Contact our panellists:

The Complete Advisory Solution


Zoo Accounting and Business Solutions

iSumar & co

Register for our last four Summer Sessions here