The accountant’s guide to keeping clients

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A lot of investment and time goes into attracting new clients, but Philip Fisher believes just as much attention should be paid to your existing clients.

Over the years, the writer has lost count of the number of times at which he has been the yawning victim of motivational speeches claiming that the only way to expand an accounting practice is to bring in new clients. While this is undoubtedly a very necessary part of practice development, it can be a misguided approach.

Far too often partners who specialise in selling, usually the loud-mouthed extroverts, spend significant parts of their lives in bars, restaurants and at social events desperately trying to persuade the unwilling to listen to them and buy the services that they are offering. This is highly commendable and undoubtedly pays off, although the hit rate tends to be very low.

What many running even significantly sized firms fail to realise is that they could potentially utilise super rainmakers and the talents of technical experts to keep existing clients through providing great service and using charm offences that will be much better appreciated.

There has been much literature generated over the years about the cost of bringing in a new client to run accountancy practice, as opposed to keeping an existing one. The multiples vary but everyone agrees that attracting new clients is expensive.

On the other hand, existing clients should love your firm. They are likely to offer new projects either without even being asked or in exchange for arranging the occasional meeting or on the telephone line. Going a step further, you don’t need to offer them loss leaders, although they may eventually drive fees down. There are also usually going to be your best referrers.

In this light, it should be obvious that anyone who is client facing in an accountancy practice ought to be charged with taking time to develop close relationships with existing clients so that they are in the right place when new work opportunities arise but also can find out at a very early stage if there is any kind of dissension developing.

All too often, whatever might be said about fee levels, the reason why a long-standing client moves on is the feeling that they are no longer cared for.

In exit interviews, hidden messages may often translate into something along the lines of “nobody from your firm has come to see me in the last year but someone from a competitor invited me to their box at Chelsea followed by a night at the opera and then offered to do the audit for 20% less”.

The stupid thing is that the key people you need to know, whether they are a sole trader or finance directors, managing directors or others are generally the kind of people to whom you can relate and with whom you have much in common, since you know all about their business affairs and probably very much more. Therefore meeting them or chatting with is often a really enjoyable experience, as well as a lucrative boost to the profitability of your practice.

In summary, treat your clients well, look after them and don’t take advantage. In return, the vast majority will show loyalty, pay fairly and help to advertise your practice at no cost.

About Philip Fisher

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18th Aug 2018 05:11

I cannot stand beer swigging big bellied extrovert loud mouthed " experts" who think they know everything. Trust me they will frighten people away.
The truth of the matter is that you are as only as good as the client allows you to be. Clients will lodge cheques into their private building society accounts thus evading tax. They will be called to a compliance interview be penalised and then sack you asserting it was your fault as fiscal agent.
Clients / people are volatile. One client sacked me because he was angry his wife had caught him having an affair with the lady in the next door business unit.
Human nature can be strange and I reiterate that you are only as good as the client permits. A level headed loyal client will stay with you for 100 years.

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18th Aug 2018 05:17

I am a quietly spoken modest man of humility with impeccable manners. After all manners maketh man

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20th Aug 2018 10:20

Its really quite straight forward - be pleasant, professional, accessible and responsive.

Charge reasonable fees for a good service and clients will stick with you and recommend others to you.

Don't over promise and under deliver.

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21st Aug 2018 17:42

I reiterate people are strange creatures. You can be polite affable honest and competent but you are only as good as the client. Some people are volatile capricious with no empathy and let's be honest many clients see the accounts fee as a necessary evil.

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21st Aug 2018 20:46

Never become too close to a client especially if her husband has muscles. Always tell a client that you are more of a debit than a credit to him. Your asset value must be stressed.

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21st Aug 2018 20:51

Tell a client that you were born solely to help them self assess. That you could have been an airline pilot but you were too grounded. This should ensure their goodwill for eternity

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21st Aug 2018 21:00

Impress a client with base periods and overlap relief. Brag about entrepreneur relief roll over relief .flaunt your nil £5000 dividend knowledge . Your AIA. Capital allowances will impress. So much to seduce your client

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