It’s every practice owner’s nightmare – when a significant chunk of your business income moves on. For one AccountingWEB member this nightmare scenario became a reality. So, how do you quickly replace a client of this size?
A sole practitioner spoke about being blindsided on Any Answers after discovering their client had decided to take everything in-house, leaving the AccountingWEB member Anony1974 in a situation where they have to replace the fee income urgently.
The pitfalls of relying on one client for a significant amount of income are clear. Only last month, Any Answers heard another member struck with the dilemma of dumping an unappreciative, but significant money-making, a client without jeopardising their practice.
Having recently seen his second biggest client fall into liquidation, AccountingWEB regular Marks can sympathise. But although it’s a big fee, fortunately, Marks noted that his firm will make back the loss in the next month with £10,000 out in proposals.
But without a pipeline, as the AccountingWEB community advised, the sole practitioner is now left experimenting untried avenues such as digital marketing or plumbing tested client acquisition methods such as referrals.
Fortunately, as AccountingWEB regular Glenn Martin noted, the run-up to self assessment season has proven to be when accountants see a spike in referrals. Cited by 76% entrants in this year’s Accounting Excellence entries, referrals continue to be a solid business growth strategy.
Networking events are a great way to forge these relationships and help drive referrals. As somebody who attends breakfast, lunchtime and evening events, David304 recommended starting with the FSB, BNI or the institute of directors. “Just type your area and business networking into Google and plenty will come up. A number will allow you to go along for free to your first event.”
But if the still somewhat distant 31 January deadline isn’t pressing enough to unearth new clients, AccountingWEB member NH suggested buying fees as the quickest fix. “I was also quite surprised recently when I found out just how many potential buyers there are to sellers and how sellers are becoming much more selective,” they said.
There are other quick fix options if the fees available are scarce; John Jenkins advised the sole practitioner to subcontract their services to local accountants. “It may not be ideal”, he added, “but it will put food on the table.”
Investing in Google Adwords also cropped up as a popular quick fix suggestion from the AccountingWEB community to drum up work. But like sweeping up the January laggards, Glenn Martin warned that they’d need to filter “a few tyre kickers and cheapskates” when they call.
Slow burn options
While those options keep client acquisition on the boil, Marks saw losing a substantial client as an opportunity for the sole practitioner to take stock and question exactly who they want to attract.
“Do you want to be a generalist who will take on anyone looking for accounting services?” he said. Since this approach hampers the sole practitioner to stand out, Marks proposed the idea of niching. “If you can micro niche, [where you] offer a particular service to a particular type of business, then that can make you the go to expert but again this takes time to gain traction.”
Agreeing, Chris Mann recommended this slow burn option when rebuilding. “Yes, it will take time,” he warned, “but attracting new business won't happen overnight. These events should be regarded as 'opportunities'.”
Once the sole practitioner has established what kind of client they want to replace the void, they can then shape their marketing and online presence to attract them. It’s the slow burn trifecta of SEO, social media and content marketing which will lasso the clients you want – although as Marks said, it will take 12 to 18 months to gain traction.
After all, as Mark Lee said, “there is little point spending money on marketing if the clients you want to win will be turned off by your website”.
For Lee, a starting point would be to brush up your social presence, particularly on Linkedin. Advising against overtly selling yourself on the platform, Lee said: “Start connecting with people in your area who you know. Then search out those people in your area who you don't know and who might be good influencers, referrers or even clients.”
But if all this sounds like far too much faff, you can follow Alex_T’s lead and outsource your digital marketing. “I'm not an expert so I employ a lady a few hours a week to take care of it for me. It's a fraction of the cost of other forms of advertising and I've managed to pick up a few clients this way.”
Don’t burn the bridge
But finally, as DJKL comforted, don’t burn bridges with your departing client – it’s not over until it is over. “Keep tight with departing client, try to keep your name in their minds and make sure you have made it clear to them that if events change [you’d] be happy to have them back on board,” advised the member.
It is not just wishful thinking. As DJKL reasoned, the departing client may realise that by taking everything in-house they can’t do everything as the sole practitioner did before, or it may not work out – so guess whose name would be top of their list. “In effect never burn your bridges and ensure all is very friendly, and bend over backwards to assist in the transition,” concluded DJKL. “You never know what may happen.”
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.