This is the second of a three-part series drawn from short interviews I conducted during my annual networking ski trip earlier this year.
I interviewed a number of fellow skiers who run their own businesses. I encouraged them to share their views to provide useful insights for AccountingWEB members.
The first article in the series focused on their frustrations. This second piece references their approach to recommending their accountants. Do they do this and if not, what has to happen before they would?
It was instructive to hear how these business owners talked about their accountants. Although most offered instinctive frustrations, this wasn’t universal.
Some are already happy to recommend their accountants and do so without being asked. Others haven’t thought to do it and haven’t been asked to do so. In answering this question, some also revealed further frustrations:
1. “By his own admission he could do with more staff support. Seems like he’s very busy. He has good expertise in the property arena but I’d be more comfortable recommending him if I felt that the whole practice wasn’t so reliant on him. I don’t think he has the time to take on new clients and continue giving me such a good service.”
2. “Wow us occasionally! I know that’s difficult of course. But I’d like them to invite us to relevant seminars. And to stop sending me newsletters that seem to be simple cut and paste jobs that show no evidence of having been personalised to reflect what matters to me.”
3. “I have already recommended Rob Walsh of Clear Vision a number of times and even had an opportunity to do so during [this networking ski trip]. The reason I’m so happy to recommend him is because I know he’ll do everything he can to improve the profitability and success of each client.”
4. “Yes I do recommend him occasionally as he knows his stuff. He always knows the answers off the top of his head. None of this I’'ll need to check and get back to you’. He answers calls from me on his mobile phone and he uses ‘Receipt Bank’ which has revolutionised my bookkeeping.”
5. “No, I never recommend them. I couldn't do that until they start being proactive and I’d like them to become a client of mine too, which is perfectly feasible.”
6. “Not until they stop treating me like a number. They aren’t sufficiently credible. I fear my reputation would be questioned if I recommended them to anyone I know as I’m not sure the accountants live up to their brand promises and expectations”.
7. “Yes, I do recommend them [Stiddard of Maidstone] because I want other businesses to be trained in the appropriate use of numbers in their business. My accountant runs workshops to help small business owners to understand their accounts, numbers and business”
8. “Yes, I have probably recommended them half a dozen times in the last two years because the level of their service is so high. They understand my business sector, now. I don’t think they did originally but they took time to do so and to find out what it’s all about.”
9. “If they asked me to recommend them I'd do so willingly. But they’ve never asked.”
10. “No, I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone else as they’re always saying how busy they are. I don’t want them to have less time to look after me properly.”
Most established accountants claim to get most of their new clients through recommendations and referrals, typically from existing clients. Often this tends to be unplanned and not very strategic even for those accountants keen to grow their practice.
In this connection the responses transcribed above reveal some obvious truths, such as:
- If you want clients to recommend you to people they know, you should ask them to Or, at least, make clear that you welcome referrals and introductions
- Don’t discourage clients from making referrals by constantly telling them how busy or stretched you are. If they get the impression you need more support, they may be reluctant to add to your pressures. And they don’t want you to have even less time to look after their affairs
- Providing a simple, basic compliance service will be sufficient for some clients. If you want more of the same then that’s probably all you can expect to get by way of referrals from these clients
- If however you want to get recommended to new clients who need bucket loads of advice, you probably need to be offering more advice to the clients you would like to recommend you. They need to know you are capable and keen to do more than the basics, even if they don’t need anything more
I was concerned to hear that one client especially liked their accountant because he seems to know the answer to everything, never needs to check and never needs to research anything. He knows it all.
Of course I can understand why this might appear superficially attractive. But I do hope the accountant in question recognises what he doesn’t know and has just got lucky so far, in that the client has only asked simple stuff. If he’s simply taking a punt and giving ill-thought through advice, it will come back to bite him and his client sooner or later.
On a final note, none of my interviewees mentioned being incentivised or rewarded for making recommendations. I know some accountants offer do this. Perhaps my interviewees haven’t come across the idea, or maybe it only appeals to a different type of person.
In any event I wouldn’t assume everyone will make recommendations simply because there is an incentive for doing so. However unsolicited and unexpected rewards are generally well received and can help reinforce a referral mentality in your clients.
Most of the 15 plus networking skiers I interviewed for this series preferred to remain anonymous in case their accountants could identify themselves.
Others who also kindly agreed to be interviewed and who were happy to be identified were:
- Robert Craven – Business author and expert adviser
- Barnaby Wynter – branding expert and marketing speaker
- Mike Jennings – Owner of business parks and entrepreneur
- Robert Fenton – Serial entrepreneur
- Chantal Cornelius – Small business marketing expert
- Chris Iles – Network marketer of health and beauty products
- Siam Kidd – Ethical and realistic forex trader and trainer
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and a speaker at conferences and in-house events, helping accountants become more memorable, win more work and secure more referrals. He also facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists who provide support to smaller practices
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I provide NED-style mentoring and business development support to sole practitioner accountants who want to overcome feelings of isolation, frustration and overwhelm - being the only decison maker in their practice.
I am also Chair of the Tax Advice Network - a highly ranked online resource for anyone seeking indepdent tax advisers....