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How to turn people you meet into clients

6th Oct 2014
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Mark Lee considers the steps start-up practices can take to ensure they maximise the chance of new contacts becoming clients.

Not every accountant is keen to build up their practice, especially those who feel they already have enough clients. But for the rest, especially start-up practices, there is an understandable desire to convert new contacts and connections into clients.

In recent articles I have suggested a seven-step approach as to how accountants can STAND OUT from the crowd. Let’s now take that a stage further. This means focusing on the sixth step (follow up) I explained in the second article.

In the context of this article I will consider how you can follow up in the hope of converting new connections into clients.

No magic wands

One of the reasons so many accountants dislike networking is because they have unrealistic expectations. They feel it’s been a waste of time if they don’t return from events with at least one new client. I’d be surprised however if many people attend networking or other business events in the hope of finding a new accountant.

The only exceptions are likely to be those people who have recently started a business but who have yet to appoint an accountant. They may not have attended the event with the intention of finding an accountant, but they may be more open to the idea than more established business people.

My point here is that you cannot expect to wave a magic wand and instantly convince new contacts that they both need a new accountant and that you are best placed to perform this service. If that’s your objective you will invariably be disappointed. It makes as much sense as when a single guy or lady attends a party hoping to find someone who will agree to marry them in the next few days.

However, if you set more realistic expectations you can increase the number of new contacts who subsequently become clients.

The seven steps framework

I outlined the seven steps in the two articles referenced earlier. To remind you, the framework addresses seven factors that will influence the people you meet. These factors, which can be recalled as starting with the letters A-G, are most relevant as follows when considering prospective clients:

·         Your Appearance – what impression did you leave with the prospect? And is this confirmed if they check you out online?

·         Your Business branding and messaging – was this sufficiently clear, relevant and memorable?

·         Your Conversational impact – were you evidently listening more than talking and able to engage the prospect with relevant stories of how you have helped other clients like them?

·         Your Dependability and trust – did you evidence this when you met and how can you do so as part of your follow up?

·         Your Experience – does the prospect know you have sufficient relevant experience to provide the support and advice they need?

·         Your Follow-up from the meeting – this will be focus of the remainder of this article

·         Your willingness to Give and share – which can also form part of your follow up where appropriate

It’s never too late to start

A member of AccountingWEB sent me a message recently. He said: “I wish I’d read about your seven steps framework before I started attending networking events last year. I’ve not got much benefit from networking to date but I’ve persisted. Now, I know what I’ve been doing wrong and what needs to change.”

I would guess that this accountant has been collecting business cards from people he hoped might be prospective clients. No doubt he gave them his business card too and has been waiting for them to contact him.

Perhaps he added them to his mailing list and has sent them some generic newsletters. Or perhaps he just sent a standard message to everyone he met at each event. So he had followed up. Once. Not surprisingly he has been disappointed by the subsequent lack of interest in his services.

Anyone in a similar position could now choose to follow up and contact those people in a more personal and effective way. A starting point would be to go back through that old pile of business cards and picking out those whom you can recall and feel it could be worthwhile contacting again. Don’t assume they will remember you though. So you will have to re-introduce yourself. This is when it pays to have noted on the back of each card you received when and where you met people.

Prospects or suspects?

I’ve been talking about prospects and prospective clients. Actually most of the people you have met are probably simply ‘suspects’. That is, you hope or suspect that they may become prospective clients. This only really happens once they have expressed some interest in talking to you about your services.

Part of the reason for following up with new contacts is to see if your suspicions and hopes are correct. May I suggest that you do this subtly rather than too overtly? At least until after you have established some form of relationship with them, beyond the initial chat you had when you first met.

Categorise your new contacts

I suggest you divide your business cards into four groups:

1.       People you spoke with sufficiently to judge that they may have the potential to become clients in the near future

2.       Those people who you feel have the potential to refer prospective clients to you

3.       Those people you spent less time with and who you hope have longer-term potential to become clients or referrers

4.       Those cards you took out of politeness but who seem unlikely to ever become clients or to be able to refer prospects to you

The thing about that fourth category is that you don’t know who they know so don’t write them off.

In the context of this article we are focusing on the first group. Can you call them or email them to follow up on something they talked about when you met?

Keeping promises

To evidence your dependability you may have promised to do or send something specific by way of follow-up after you met your new contacts. Make sure you keep those promises. Failure to do so will count against you, as it suggests you cannot be trusted.

Follow up ‘meetings’

We are all busy. Respect your prospect’s time and recognise that they may not be able to make time to meet you for a coffee “to continue the conversation we had when we met recently.”

Alternatives include phone conversations and Skype.

In most cases such ‘meetings’ with prospects will be easier to arrange if you identify a clear objective that appeals to your prospect. Indeed a well structured email or phone call to arrange such meetings can help ensure you only meet up with prospects rather than with suspects.

Clearly it is generally easier to help a prospect become a client than some random person about whom you know very little.

What makes someone a prospect?

I said earlier that prospects are people who have expressed some interest in talking to you about your services. How can you find out if this is the case?

Ideally you will have done this during your initial conversation when you first met. This is part of what I mean when I reference ‘conversational impact’ as the third stage of the framework.

If you didn’t do it when you met then you either have to do it on the phone or when you have your follow up ‘meeting’.

Of course you could ask them a direct question. But you might be more comfortable starting with more subtle questions, listening to the answers you get and adapting your conversation accordingly. Does your prospect seem interested in the stories you are sharing about clients you have helped who seem to be in a similar situation to the prospect?

Generic follow ups

The problem with all of this is that’s it doesn’t generate immediate new clients and it takes time to follow up personally with everyone you meet.

This is all very different to the position when someone approaches you directly or in response to an advert or promotional material. You know they are prospects – so you simply need to focus on ‘closing the sale’. [See: Closure is crucial for start-ups and Getting prospects from ‘no thanks to ‘yes’] Both articles also contain advice and examples that can be adapted to help turn the people you meet into clients.

There is a temptation to simply send everyone you meet a generic follow up message. You may see this as ticking a box so you can say you follow-up with everyone you meet. Except that you don’t. A generic message is just that. It doesn’t tick any of the seven steps that can help you to Stand Out. It’s what so many other accountants do. It’s boring and it’s unlikely to convert any of your new contacts into clients. Wasn’t that the objective?

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB. He has created a seven step framework to help accountants who want to STAND OUT; he facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants, entertains as a conference speaker and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists who provide support to smaller practices.

Mark will be speaking at this year’s Practice Excellence Conference on 6 November at Dexter House in London.

Replies (12)

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By Tom 7000
07th Oct 2014 11:13


Fundamentally youi have to know the difference between marketing and sales

Attending Networking is Marketing.

if you think its sales you will be disappointed.

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By johnjenkins
07th Oct 2014 14:13

Hence the phrase

"network marketing".

Mark, this article seems to centre on conversion. I'm not sure what the rate is in Accountancy. Life assurance tends to be 10%.

I don't think start-ups should be thinking like that, otherwise it becomes something like micro management. Yes, you will get business but will you might get "found out" further down the line.

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Replying to Constantly Confused:
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By Mark Lee
07th Oct 2014 19:27


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By Mark Lee
07th Oct 2014 19:28


johnjenkins wrote:

"network marketing".

Mark, this article seems to centre on conversion. 

Hi John

I'm confused how you could reach that conclusion from what I've written in this article. I've written about 'closing' and 'conversion' previously. Not here.


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By johnjenkins
07th Oct 2014 20:09


You know they are prospects – so you simply need to focus on ‘closing the sale’.

Building an Accountancy business is not about "closing sales" etc. It's about intergrity, honesty and professionalism. I have said this many times before Mark. The world of Accountancy has no place for sales gimmicks dressed up in whatever form.

I look forward to hearing your speech on the 6th November. (No don't worry I won't heckle or throw eggs).

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By Mark Lee
07th Oct 2014 23:10

er John, that line you have quoted from the article needs to taken in context. The article is specifically NOT focused on those people (prospects) who have identified themselves as interested in the accountant's services.

So I remain mystified as to why you think that the article is centered on conversions.

Regardless, I will let you have the last word.  I'm happy to leave the thousands of members who read my regular articles to make up their own minds.  I don't get the impression that many agree with your oft stated views. It doesn't mean you're wrong, just that my insights and support seem to have a regular audience. Unless they only return to see how I address your regular challenges.  ;-)


Ps: I haven't been invited to deliver a speech on 6th November. But if I was presenting I would suggest you would prefer to be elsewhere as you so seem to disagree with my views more often than you agree. 


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By AndrewV12
08th Oct 2014 09:39

Keeping promises is a very key point, though be careful what your promises are, some Accountants do promise lower bills, and before any one starts up I have worked for more Accountants that promise lower tax bills than those who do not.



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By johnjenkins
08th Oct 2014 10:18


The very fact that you "allow" me to have the last word suggests that deep down you know I'm right.

It doesn't matter if I have taken your words out of context. It is the fact that you use those words in the first place that is the problem.

The main success of most "business" is sales and for that you need a good salesman/force in whatever guise.

We are not a business. We are a profession. Look what happened when the banks ceased to become a profession.

You write a damn good article, Mark, and most of what you state is correct, but it is meaningless. Being in practice we are talking about advising business in many ways. They get the experience for that from their training. So when they eventually start a practice of their own or become a partner they will be able to cope with the day to day events.

Your article will appeal to those that don't go through the normal training procedure and feel there is a short-cut to becoming an Accountant.

This is good for me because I pick up many clients from these "Accountants" but it worries me about the future of our profession.

If you go on the website you will find you are mentioned as a speaker. You obviously don't like people disagreeing with you or is it just me? 

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By Mark Lee
08th Oct 2014 10:56

Good grief

John - It simply means I'm bored and accept you're not going to change your mind. Nor me mine.  Few accountants can afford to just sit there and hope/expect work will fall into their laps. The world has moved on.  It's great that such a strategy works for you by simply doing a good job for an existing sizable group of profitable clients. A huge number of accountants (whether qualified, experienced or not) cannot afford that luxury. I'm confident this is why so many read my articles and my blog, attend my webinars, talks and so on.


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By johnjenkins
08th Oct 2014 11:24

You're quite right

Mark, the world has moved on. I'm just not sure that it is for the better. You can write or talk as much as you like, Mark, it won't make the person reading or listening a better Accountant (nor will qualifications).

Why are you bored, Mark? I don't get bored trying to persuade you that your approach to start-ups is sales orientated, which in our profession is wrong. Maybe it's because you know i'm right and don't have an argument or is because you feel people shouldn't disagree with you because of what you have achieved in life?

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By Sadick Arthur
08th Oct 2014 15:19

Startup Strategy


Interesting debate and I agree that accounting is not sold as a 'product' but rather a profession......but based on your experience what'll be the best approach/strategy to sign new clients as a start-up experienced professional accountant with zero clients.  

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By johnjenkins
08th Oct 2014 16:31

Loaded question

which are always the best. Do you mean qualified or professional as in outlook?

Firstly there is no such thing as a start-up experienced professional Accountant with zero clients. If there is then they shouldn't be in practice (they won't have what it takes to have their own practice).

For the benefit of this debate let's assume that a CA with 30 years experience finds themselves out of a job and decides to go it alone. If they are any good they would have built up a small portfolio over the years. They would know that they should have a years bill money behind them so that they can concentrate on their work. They would also have forged relationships with business that they have worked on and, no doubt, some will come over. I'm sure many Accountants have people say "If you ever leave Blogg's let me know and I will come with you". Certainly a website and a free entry in yell or whatever as a point of contact. Then it's just hard slog and word of mouth. Of course there are shortcuts, the main ones being buying a block of clients or taking over from a retiring Accountant.

My view is that if you have to think about starting your own practice then it's not for you. It should be a natural progression. However there are probably many Accountants out there that can prove me wrong. 

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