Co-founder Mazuma
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You can’t grow a practice without clients

20th Aug 2019
Co-founder Mazuma
Columnist
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Attracting clients
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You can’t get clients without knowing who they are, where to find them, and more importantly, how to sell to them. 

Mazuma accountants co-founder Lucy Cohen concludes her two-part ‘How on earth do you actually grow a practice’ series by focusing on the bread and butter of any practice - the clients.

Who is your ideal client?

Back in the early days, we spent a good amount of time figuring out our ideal client. This is after we'd learned some tough lessons about taking on the wrong clients. We actually drew a picture of our ideal client and stuck it to our wall. It sounds daft, but it really worked.

If we got approached by anybody who didn’t fit those criteria we turned them away. And then we took things a step further. We looked at how they had come to find us in the first place.

Part of the challenge of growing and taking on the right client is identifying how the wrong clients found you. Ideally, you never want to turn business away - not because you should take on everything that crosses your path regardless, but because the wrong client should never have actually approached you to begin with. 

Did you put an advert in a magazine and suddenly get an influx of enquiries from the wrong client? Track it down and don’t do it again. Did you give a talk at a seminar that wasn’t really for your client base? Maybe don’t agree to do it next time. 

Having to turn away clients takes time and energy that could be better spent elsewhere. Minimise the impact by making sure it doesn’t happen all that often. 

Even today, when we are approached by the wrong client we look at how they found us and see if any of our messaging is off. Over the years as we have refined our message. The number of wrong clients who approach us is barely worth mentioning. It’s taken time, but if you start now you’ll reap the rewards in the future. 

Where is your ideal client?

Once you know who your ideal client is (and isn’t), figure out where they are – literally and figuratively.

  • Do they attend local networking groups? If they do – go to the groups.
  • Are they all fans of a local sports team? Ask about sponsorship.
  • Are they all in a Facebook group? Join in and get involved in conversations with people. 

What you can do in terms of advertising may well be limited by budget, but don’t underestimate the power of a bit of bootstrapping. We did it for years and always found ways to reach our market.

The main take away from this is that business will not just come to you. You can’t stick an advert in the Yellow Pages (retro!) and expect the phone to start ringing. You need to go out and get the business in.

Sell! Sell! Sell! 

If, like me, you’re not a natural salesperson, don’t worry. Hopefully, this phase won’t last all that long. Once you’ve built up a small book of your perfect clients, ask them for referrals. 

I know that a lot of people feel really awkward about asking clients to refer them business, but ask yourself: if you were super happy with a service you’d received, and wanted the business to do well so that you could continue to receive the great service, would you refer business to them? Of course, you would.

It’s as simple as that. Pick a client who you love and who loves you, and ask them to refer a carbon copy of themselves. You can offer them a reward or incentive if you like, but we’ve often found that happy clients will merrily refer others to us for free.

Now, here’s the bit that might seem like a dreamy luxury. Take a look at your client book every six months and ditch your bottom 20% of clients.

I know, I know. You started reading this series because you wanted to grow and I’m telling you to ditch clients. But it really is the old 20/80 rule though. You’ll probably have 20% of your clients who take up 80% of your time. And perhaps you feel like you still really need their fee income at this point if you reached a plateau or struggled to build momentum. I’ve been there and I know how it feels. 

You don’t have to ditch them all straight away though. Instead, how about a one out, one in policy? Once you have enough clients to sustain you, ditch a bad client and take on a new good one. 

But the trick is that you have to ditch the bad one first. Otherwise, you won’t have the time and resources to look after the nice new perfect-fit client. Ditching a client also tends to light a fire under you to go out and find a more suitable replacement. 

Ultimately, as discussed in this series, growing your practice boils down to being certain of everything at every stage. 

  • Know who you are as a practice
  • Set your prices and stick to them
  • Only take on your ideal client
  • Ditch your bad clients
  • Repeat

Set out your stall and stick with it – at least long enough to see if it works.

Replies (6)

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By why always me
20th Aug 2019 10:44

Oh my days, another ditch bad clients story. Sorry but getting a little tedious.

Unless they are abusive then clearly ditch them, but why not charge for the work you do than this 'cull' of bad clients.

Thanks (1)
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By Ian McTernan CTA
20th Aug 2019 11:40

Now, here’s the bit that might seem like a dreamy luxury. Take a look at your client book every six months and ditch your bottom 20% of clients.

So you spent all that time choosing the 'right' clients, etc and then have to ditch 20% of them? 'only take on your ideal client' is what you say...

Sounds like your system doesn't work.....

The key to my client retention is to treat my clients as human beings not just another profit centre to be churned as fast as possible to maximise profit whilst they are your client.

Thanks (3)
bike
By FirstTab
21st Aug 2019 08:12

PLEASE Sift please move on from Jack and Jill articles on running a practice. They are many of these on the website. We are grownup.

Aspiring practice excellence winners to talk about their EXPERIENCE. I am more likely to listen and learn from this. Advising the likes of me, another small practice owner, just does not work. This may be reflected by the comments on this piece so far.

PLEASE listen Sift. I have been beating my drum on this for some time now.

Thanks (1)
Replying to FirstTab:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
21st Aug 2019 09:01

It's good to hear from you, FirstTab. Hope all is well?

We have readers at various stages of their practice life which is why articles like this are needed to help guide those at the beginning or those that have hit a moment of doubt.

Thanks (4)
Replying to Richard Hattersley:
bike
By FirstTab
22nd Aug 2019 06:50

Hello Richard, thank you.

I look forward to reading practice management content on AW, that goes beyond the obvious/start-up stage. For this it needs to about the reality of practice management. The experience and not promotion of the practice in question.

Thanks (1)
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By GR
22nd Aug 2019 21:26

Thanks for the article (especially given that it is free) and especially given that it is written by a successful accountancy practice owner. I am just starting out so it is useful to read articles like this. Admittedly this article won't be for everyone but does provide some good food for thought.

Thanks (1)