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How to be remembered, recommended and referred

8th Jul 2013
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Mark Lee explains the three Rs as they could apply to start-up accountancy practices.

In an educational context we refer to the three Rs as being those crucial elements that all children need to master. That is, Reading wRiting and aRithmetic. This is somewhat ironic given that only one of the three topics actually starts with an R. (The phrase is used as each of the three words, when spoken, has a strong R sound at the start).

Start-up practices need to focus on a new approach to the three Rs - and they all start with R!

You want to be Remembered, you want to be Recommended and you want to be Referred. Let us consider each in turn.

You want to be Remembered

It is self-evident that you stand a greater chance of generating work for your new practice if people remember you. Few accountants are able to build up a new practice without meeting prospective clients and networking with local business people.

What are the alternatives? Advertising, telesales and paying for a flashy website that ranks well for search engine optimisation. All are costly and especially so if you may need to vary the promotional messages once the business takes off and you clarify your message. And that seems to be very common as it can take some time to decide what your practice is really about.

So what can you do to ensure you are remembered by the people you meet? Let’s turn that around. Think back to the last business event you attended. Who did you meet and what do you remember about them?

Most of us tend to remember people who appear more interesting than the norm. They may also stand-out as different from our preconceptions – perhaps because they didn’t fit the standard mould for their profession. Or perhaps they did or said something very unexpected and distinct. The other reason we remember people is that they stand-out for the wrong reasons. For example, when they are unable to articulate what they do, who they do it for or because they look messy or dirty. Clearly these are not good qualities.

How might you become more memorable – for good reasons?

One way to do this is counter-intuitive. Instead of trying to stand-out or talking a lot about yourself and your practice, develop a natural curiosity and interest in other people.

It can be really helpful to learn how to ask good questions and then to listen carefully to the replies. The more genuinely interested you are in someone else the more they will remember you as an interesting person. Yes, this means you talk less but your questions may themselves, if well worded, evidence your experience and credibility. And by expressing more genuine interest in the people you meet than do others they have met, you will start to be more memorable. Dr Stephen Covey, in his book ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, suggests something similar: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

You might also carry distinct business cards that will help people to remember you. I will address this topic further in a subsequent article.

You want to be Recommended

This can only happen once your clients have experienced your advice and can express an honest opinion about your work.

Think about any service provider who has done work for you. If you were really pleased with their service you will gladly recommend them when someone asks you if you know a good decorator, plumber, mechanic, dress-maker or whatever.

My friend Andy Lopata, author of ‘Recommended - how to sell through networking and referrals’, believes that recommendations are often mistaken for referrals. The distinction is clear from my example above. You can only recommend someone’s services as and when you become aware that these might be needed by a third-party. Equally no one can recommend your accountancy services until after they have been a client and experienced your service.

So, while you will want clients to recommend you, and you should encourage this, it is unrealistic to expect many genuine recommendations when you first start out.

You want to be Referred

Again I am grateful to Andy Lopata who helped me to understand the distinction between referrals and recommendations and also how these differ from tips and leads.

  • A tip – This is quite simply a piece of information. It rarely includes contact details and may even be based on a misunderstanding. Nice though it is to receive tips, they leave us with plenty of leg-work to do ourselves to determine if they are each worth pursuing
  • A lead – This is more than a tip, in that you may receive contact information, but a lead is little more than the first stage in the sales process

When someone gives you a name and a number and says ‘You need to speak to this person’ they are simply giving you a lead. If they invite you to use their name when approaching the prospect that is simply a ‘warm’ lead.

The other side of a lead is when your friends recommend that someone looking for an accountant gets in touch with you; but your friend is unable to recommend your services as they have not experienced them.

Referrals are much more valuable than tips and leads. Andy explains that there are three steps to referral heaven. In the context of this article these three steps would be:

  1. The person referring you identifies someone who needs an accountant like you to help them
  2. They talk to the prospect and determine that they are interested in speaking with you
  3. The prospect is then expecting your call which will follow after your friend passes on the referral to you

Can you see how much more valuable this would be than a tip or a lead? Can you also see that for someone to be able to refer you they need to know more than that you are simply are a ‘bog-standard accountant’.

Are you distinctive?

Clearly you will only secure referrals if people know you, like you, trust you, remember you and they know what is distinct about you.

How can anyone refer a prospect to you before they know what sort of accountant you are, what makes you distinct and what sort of clients you can best help?

It is unrealistic to expect a stream of referrals, for example, after attending your first business networking meeting. It is possible especially as different groups work in different ways. But most such referrals will simply be unqualified leads.

You are only really likely to start generating valuable referrals if you work on your relationship and communication skills. You want to maximise the chances that people you meet will like you and want to help you.

If this sounds like too much of a challenge you may want to reconsider your intention to start-up your own practice. Being good at the technical side of things is only one of the key skill sets you need. You also need good people skills. Or, at least, if you don’t develop these it will take much longer to build your practice.


So there we have it. The three Rs for start-up accountancy practices. What are you going to do to ensure you are Remembered, Recommended and Referred?

Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and has authored an ebook containing tips and advice for anyone who doesn’t want to be ‘Just another accountant’. He also writes the BookMarkLee blog and is chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax experts.

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