The UK is not the US. Accountants on both sides of the Atlantic need a steady stream of new clients. Unlike their US counterparts, UK accountants are identified with doctors, lawyers and other members of the professional classes. They don’t look for clients. Clients come to them. So where will these new clients come from?
Where they won’t
It’s far easier to explain where UK accountants draw the line. It sounds like an excerpt from the ten commandments:
- Thou shalt not ask clients to send me referrals – Clients are paying for a service. The obligation ends there.
- Thou shalt not ask “who is new or just moved to the area” – It seems desperate if you look like you need clients.
- Thou shalt not put out a lawn sign “accepting new clients” – You are not a nail salon.
- Thou shalt not give out pens or other gifts as incentives – It looks like a bribe.
Where they might
Clients don’t want to feel they are being pressured to send business. They probably don’t know how to bring the subject up, anyway. On the plus side, they like you, respect your professional skills and realize you help people. Under the right circumstances, they might gladly be your advocate.
The first two strategies have been around for decades:
- Learning – Tax laws are constantly changing. Your client calls, wondering how the changes apply to their situation. You answer the question. They know more than what they knew before they made the call. You ask “does anyone else want to learn about this?”
Why it works: They had a need for information. It’s been met. They likely have other friends wanting to have the same conversation. They feel that they are doing those friends a favor, volunteering your expertise.
- Helping solve problems – A client has a problem. You meet them, learn the details and walk them through several options. You have helped them. They are satisfied. You ask: “Is there anyone else I can help?”
Why it works: As above, they have a need. They came to you because they asked their friends for advice first. They came up dry. No one knows the answer. Now they do. Rather than repeat your explanation (and risk getting it wrong), it’s easier to say you helped them find the answer. They suggest their friends call you.
- Visit their office – Today, clients either visit you or exchange information online. The less they see you, the more likely they are to consider alternatives because the relationship becomes abstract. Seeing them strengthens the relationship. This can easily take place at their office. They will likely introduce you to their colleagues.
Why it works: Your clients will likely say good things about you. They work with a professional! Their peers notice you make house calls! That’s personalized service. They ask if your clients are happy and this gets the ball rolling.
- Join their trade association – You handle their business account. You handle similar clients elsewhere, although their identities are confidential. Your client understands. They belong to an industry association of similar business owners. Your research reveals they have an associate membership category for firms providing professional services. You explain you are considering joining. It’s your niche market. Your client thinks it’s a good idea.
Why it works: Although you are bound by confidentiality, other members will quickly figure out you understand their industry. As people are impressed, your client will likely say: “He’s my accountant!”
- Anonymous success stories – If you are busy and successful, clients may be unaware you are accepting new clients. When making small talk, they will likely ask: “How’s business?” Without mentioning names, tell the occasional story of how you added a new client and where they came from. Perhaps you mention the type of business.
Why it works: Without asking for referrals, you have indicated your business is growing and other people send potential clients in your direction. They conclude you are successful because you don’t ask, however you are accepting some new clients when they are sent your way.
None of these strategies violates the four commandments listed above. They don’t put the client on the spot. In most cases, the client feels they are doing a friend a favor. It was their idea.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania.