Plan ahead to build your start-up client base
In 2012 I highlighted some proven ideas to get your first clients and some preliminary tasks to ensure that you wouldn’t waste time money and energy, explains Mark Lee.
What follows adopts a different approach and focuses on how you might plan ahead to build up your client base BEFORE you start a new practice.
You did what?
I have the utmost admiration for those who choose to start their own practice. The bravest and most ambitious are those who make the decision but have no existing bank of clients on which to rely at the outset.
I have less positive thoughts about those who start out without a plan as to how they will build up their client base. ‘Hope’ alone, even if combined with hard work, will rarely be sufficient. If you are driving in the wrong direction it will take a long time to reach your destination.
They came with me
It is quite common to start out with some of the clients that you used to work on at the firm for whom you used to work. Ideally you would discuss this with your previous boss and secure their agreement to those clients whom you would like to take with you. The clients themselves need to be comfortable with this too.
It is rarely a good idea to ‘take’ clients surreptitiously or to pursue them after you have left. It’s not ethical and thus is in breach of the ethical principles that should govern the behaviour of all professionally qualified accountants.
At best such an approach may just create bad feeling with your previous employer and colleagues. At worst you may have to defend a legal action for breach of the non-solicitation clause in your employment contract.
They followed me
Years ago this would rarely have been a genuine argument. Now it could well happen due to personal connections that can be built up via social media and LinkedIn.
Let me be clear. If you look to connect with clients online in anticipation of encouraging them to follow you when you leave your current firm you are being disingenuous. You will also, almost certainly, be in breach of your employment contract and open yourself up to legal action when you make your move. Many clients would be unimpressed by this tactic too.
However it is equally feasible that some clients might indeed choose to follow you when, or some time after, you set up your practice.
Your office number, address and email will all have changed when you moved to set up your own firm. However your mobile number may well remain the same, your Twitter handle need not change and, most importantly of all, your LinkedIn profile will provide a simple way for anyone to keep in touch. It is also easy for anyone who knows your name to find your new contact details and website and to see what you are doing.
Social media and LinkedIn
I feel the need to restate that what I am suggesting here is not about you taking any active steps to encourage clients to move away from your current firm when you leave.
Instead I am simply highlighting that in a LinkedIn world anyone who has known you in the past can stay in touch with you or find you again in the future. The same is true of followers on Twitter and ‘friends’ on Facebook as well as through other forms of social media.
And this is why I stress the value of planning ahead.
The earlier in your career you ensure that your LinkedIn profile works well for you and that you start building connections with clients and contacts there the better. Starting to do so just before you leave to build your own practice is not a good idea.
Much better to routinely use LinkedIn to forge connections with everyone you encounter in a business context. Also, to join relevant LinkedIn groups and to be active and helpful in group discussions. This all builds your personal profile (subject to any reasonable constraints imposed by your employer re your use of social media and LinkedIn).
If clients like you and if they then miss you once you have moved on they will be able to find you through LinkedIn – or whatever other social media you and they use.
I shared further more detailed tips for building your LinkedIn profile as a start-up practice in the first part of a series on LinkedIn for startups.
Planning v hoping
Returning to my initial point you will want to evidence your accountancy skills and business knowledge by formulating a workable business plan before you start up your practice.
Of course this is tougher to do if you are suddenly fired or made redundant. It’s tougher in that you have to do things faster but you still need a business plan of some sort. New clients aren’t going to find you unless you take some positive action. And do remember that spreadsheets make it very easy to forecast big profits. What is more crucial is to be doing whatever you need to do to generate the clients that will allow your spreadsheet’s predictions to come true.
- Can you sell what your start-up is doing?
- 14 marketing ideas for startup practices
- More marketing ideas for startups
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB. Beyond this he facilitates The Inner Circle group for accountants, is a regular speaker on How to STAND OUT and be more than ‘just another accountant’ and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax specialists.
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