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How to win new business

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2nd Dec 2009
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Forget the Yellow Pages, the best way to find new clients is via referrals; but finding more people to recommend you means more networking, advises Nicola Draper.

The old adage that ‘people buy people’ is true; I, for one, would never put my money and business in the hands of someone I found on a list in the phone book. First I would want to meet them and develop a rapport. I would want then to demonstrate by what they say and how well they listen that they understand my business and will be able to deal quickly and efficiently with my accounts. I’d want them to think of solutions to any problems and offer business advice that can help me. I’d like to look them in the eyes and see that they are trustworthy. I would be more interested in the practice if they offer services I might need in the future, such as payroll and book keeping.

I’d like them to be proactive, not reactive; I’d like them to remind me that I need to do X by such and such a date. I’d like them to keep me within the law but to save me as much tax as possible. I’d like to know what their services will cost every year and be reassured that there will be no surprise bills. I’d like them to be affordable and if possible, I’d much prefer that they had been recommended by someone I trust.

Even in this age of online social networking, when it comes to getting new clients, nothing beats recommendations. After all, as an accountant you are dealing with clients’ successes and failures and their most confidential area – their money.

One accountant I know binds all the accounts for all of his clients in an expensive looking folder. It only costs a few pennies, but when his client is showing them to his bank manager, friends and business associates they all comment on the fact that their accountant does not do that. Remember - every client is a potential ambassador for your firm.

Networking clubs
As has been highlighted in other articles on this site, it often costs more to get a new client than it does to achieve extra fee income from existing clients, so to increase your fee income the first course of action should be to extend the range of services you offer, but what else can you do to increase your fees and client base?

A network of affiliates is one answer: IFAs, solicitors, bank managers, estate agents, Business Link, business mentors, Business angels and product providers will all meet clients who need accountants. While you don’t want to seem too desperate for business, asking affiliates to recommend you can reap rewards. A simple ‘we’re expanding, so if you know anyone who needs an accountant please point them our way’ can work wonders. You could also ask them to keep a supply of fliers or brochures to hand out.

You may already network through everything from the Rotary Club to the golf course, but if you haven’t got those networks and want to target business clients effectively, it could be worth joining a business networking club. Some people swear by them, while others say they are a waste of time and money - but you won’t know until you try. There are hundreds of them including BNI, BRX, NGR, FSB, 4Network, Urban Business Network - even Business Link and Chambers of Commerce have them, so there is bound to be one in your area. BNI seems to be popular with accountants, especially as they seem to take care to invite only one accountant member per meeting.

There are business networks specifically for women, such as Women in Business and Everywoman, while others incorporate for specific interests, such as Park Lane Walking Group, Manchester – networking on the hoof, as it were.

Some are free to join, while others charge a membership fee (from a few pounds to £600+ a year). Some also charge an entrance fee to meetings and there is usually a fee for food and drinks, which may not be covered by your membership. However, the most expensive networks aren’t necessarily the best.

Most business networks meet once a month, some for breakfast and others for lunch or after work. To get the best out of them, you need to attend regularly. As Woody Allen said, 80% of success is turning up.

You are highly unlikely to get new business contacts on your first visit, but as you will have handed out lots of business cards, hopefully a member may need you in the future or will pass your details on.

Ten top tips for effective networking

So, with your glass of wine in hand, a pocket full of business cards and a room crowded with strangers, you decide to get up close and personal - but do you confidently work the room or hide behind the aspidistra, longing for escape? Don’t be afraid of introducing yourself to someone you don’t know. They are there for the same reason, to grow their businesses.

If there are 30 people at an event, you’re obviously not going to be able to spend 30 minutes with each person – five to ten minutes with as many people as you can is perfectly acceptable.

Judy Perle, who runs network training workshops Management Advantage, recommends the following golden rules:

  1. Giving is better (and more comfortable) than getting, so think about what you can offer, rather than what you stand to gain.
  2. Step outside your comfort zone – just meeting people you already know and feel comfortable with doesn’t do much to extend your network.
  3. Think laterally – who do you know who could introduce you to somebody new?
  4. Re-establish relationships that may have fallen by the wayside.
  5. Get out and about – go to networking events / conferences / meetings regularly.
  6. Be interested in other people – don’t push or sell yourself.
  7. Always carry your business cards – you really never know when you might meet someone interesting.
  8. Try to follow up quickly when you meet someone for the first time. Otherwise, how can you expect them to remember who you are?
  9. You can network anywhere, anytime (not just at officially designated ‘networking events’).
  10. Stay in touch with people – one night ‘stands’ aren’t usually very productive.

I would add to Judy’s excellent advice that you shouldn’t make assumptions about the person you’re talking to. Even if they are not interested in your services, they will know others who are.

On a practical note, one wise chap I know says he always has one pocket for his own cards and another for those collected. As he moves onto someone else, he makes a few notes on the back of the collected ones about the conversation held, and writes a few visual clues, such as ‘tall, with glasses’ as an aide memoire. He also emails every contact the next day, not to ‘sell’ himself, but simply to say how nice it was to meet. “The clients it has brought in has paid my network club many, many times over”, he says.

Nicola Draper runs Draper Hinks, a firm specialising in brokering the sale and purchase of accountancy firms. She is a member of the Federation of Small Businesses network club.

Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 02476 303121

Judith Perle is a director of Management Advantage.

 

 

Replies (2)

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By pauljohnston
02nd Dec 2009 11:49

Networking is great

but it does notwork for everyone ijn the same way.

Depending on the type of clients you want and have will affect the sucess rate.

Me I still try and use this medium but find that personal referrals work much better.  People use yell.com etc and websites to find out more about your business and for clients that are not picked up by networking

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By onesys
22nd Dec 2009 15:43

Would You be More Comfortable Networking Online?

The few accountants I know personally, feel uncomfortable in groups of strangers, unless they have had a drink or two and this stops them from networking in person.

The fact that you are reading this proves that you are comfortable on the web and like my friends, you would find online networking a simple and effective step on the road to finding new clients.

The Accountingweb Discussion Groups are a great starting point and there are many business related online forums, networking sites and trade associations that facilitate online discussions. Try www.ukbusinessforums.co.uk , www.linkedin.com , www.a1businessforums.co.uk , forums.teneric.co.uk , www.thewholesaleforums.co.uk , forums.internetbusiness.co.uk or one of the many other business related sites out there. (just Google)

Once you have communicated with a person online, you can arrange a meeting to reinforce the business relationship or seal the deal. One great advantage of online networking over personal networking is that you are not limited by locality. Another advantage is that you are in control of the timing. You will find it much easier to gather sufficient clients if you fish in a bigger pond.

You can keep track of all your new contacts, including what was discussed, in a contact management software module like Sage ACT! or similar. That way you can follow up on contacts at a later date, as timing is everything in business.

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