Referrals: How soft skills can help
This year more than three-quarters of Accounting Excellence entrants cited client referrals a strategy for business growth – up from 57% the year before.
Referrals can come from both existing clients and other professional partners and there are a number of factors and soft skills that can increase your chances of being referred to prospects.
Human behaviour is based on some deep-seated habits, so making a good impression, listening well and showing an interest in other people are not just positive life skills, they can make a practical contribution to your business development efforts.
Showing interest in your clients
If you provide a valuable service, there is a good chance your clients will mention your name to other acquaintances looking for accounting services.
Showing interest by actively listening to your clients and offering good advice is a great first step. Aim to maintain good regular communication with your clients, even if it is online, but also try to visit them in person regularly.
During these meetings, you can make a good impression by asking them questions and adopting a positive body language. Be interested in your clients and ask them light and easy questions about their personal lives, such as about their family, holiday plans, hobbies, birthdays and so on. If necessary, you can keep track of these details in a spreadsheet to that you can mention them in future conversations.
In addition, use your listening skills when you meet your clients. Avoid interrupting them, get rid of anything that may distract you, including your smartphone and concentrate on what they say. Also, pay attention to non-verbal gestures. A person’s tone of voice, gestures, and facial expressions can give you as much information as what they say.
“If you know everything there is to know about someone’s finances, you pretty much know it all,” CooperFaure Accountants’ founding partner, Freddie Faure, explained. “The accountant-client relationship involves a lot of hand-holding, not just professionally but also sometimes they have worries and concerns that stem from their businesses but flow through to their personal lives.’
Developing closer relationships with your clients will put you in a better position when new work opportunities arise.
Networking and first impressions
AccountingWEB members have long debated whether networking is an effective way to drive referrals. For rogerp.aims, it’s a matter of regularity: “I would say that networking can bring you new clients if two conditions exist - the meeting has to have a referral element, and should be weekly, as meeting that frequently seems to help build trust and provides continuity of contact. Anything less frequent can become just a nice chat.”
Choosing the right events, following up afterwards and connecting on LinkedIn with valuable new connections will ensure you make the most of these opportunities.
Whether you are directly looking for referrals or looking to meet like-minded peers your practice can benefit from indirectly, making a good impression and making sure they remember you is essential.
When attending new events, be prepared to introduce yourself to new people during coffee breaks and lunches. Chartered accountants’ charity CABA offers the following personal networking advice:
- Make eye contact with your companion
- Smile and keep your posture open - avoid crossing your arms or legs and use open gestures, such as keeping your palms open
- Ask open questions
- Mention the other person’s name during the conversation
The charity also suggests subtly mirroring the other person’s posture or language and finding what you have in common with the other person to build rapport.
Building your personal brand
Take a moment to think what makes your practice different. Why would peers or clients refer you to others? What makes you stand out from the rest? Being distinctive is a challenge for most practitioners and branding marketing, although not a priority for most firms, can make the whole process of finding new clients a lot easier.
In an interview with AccountingWEB, Rachel Balchin from Bulldog Accounting explained the branding problem as saw it: “It’s all a bit grey and bland and we do the same stuff.” So she put her bulldog Esme at the centre of her branding strategy to attract compatible clients.
Similarly, accountant Psyche Coderre created a very distinctive goth image for her Death and Taxes practice: “There are a lot of accountants out there and they all seem the same. When you are a bit different you stick in people’s minds more than other people do.”
To find out more about these techniques visit CABA’s online guide to building your self confidence.
How are your networking skills? When attending events, do you lurk in the corner fiddling with your phone or are you shaking hands and exchanging small talk at the coffee stand? What advice would you give to the more introverted networkers?