by Brian O’Connell
When folks learn what I do for work they often ask me the same thing, “What’s the best way to obtain new clients?”
That’s not an easy question to answer. There’s no one answer. Whole books have been penned on that topic. It’s dependant on the type of practice you have, where you’re located, where you’re trying to take your firm, and of course, your character. Each firm needs to craft a marketing scheme appropriate to the talents of it’s people but I’ll give you a short, generic, abstract to kick-start you.
There’s almost no immediate benefit to networking, but get started on it right out of the gates anyway.
Networking may be the life’s blood of any successful firm, but it’s a long term strategy. Take the time to cultivate prospects. At first the time will feel wasted. It will likely seem to be frustrating and senseless at the start, but as the years pass and quality prospects start contacting you you’ll be glad you did it. The most thoughtful, wisest business people rely on networking to find their accountants. Period.
In the meantime there are a lot of rank and file clients to be had, but there are also a lot of accountants competing for them. When you first get started these people will form the bulk of your client base. These clients are what used to be called “walk-ins”.
Ten years ago direct marketing was very effective, but times have changed. Direct marketing is pretty much useless these days. You could track down recent business licenses in your area and try to contact the owners by phone. For many years I made a a good living out of this strategy. It just doesn’t work any more, though. I don’t recommend it.
Get yourself some business cards (with web address and tag line) and network your butt off. Give them to everyone. And don’t forget the tag line. Every time you hand someone your card give them a reason to visit your site. Don’t be shy. Get cards. Just ask for them. Get phone numbers and email addresses. Once you have them, cultivate them. Sign them up for your newsletter. Send them an Email wishing them a happy thanksgiving.
In my admittedly biased opinion the internet is one of the best sources of clients. Get a good website and a monthly email newsletter. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a lot of work and very slow and expensive, but it’s also an AWESOME prospect magnet. For the long term it’s worth investing in. For short term just buy ad space on Google using Google Adwords. Also, get your business on Google Maps and optimize your site for Google Places (Local search). This will probably also require some investment on your part, but local search is a let cheaper and easier to get a good ranking in than old-school SEO. Expect a one-time cost of about $500.
So how can websites help accountants network?
The basic strategy of networking is to identify a prospects need, then to offer a solution to fill that need. It’s all about demonstrating the benefit of your service to the prospect. As an accountant you’re in a unique position to offer solutions to problems that really matter to people. Perhaps they’re buying or selling a house. Maybe they’re saving for their children’s education, or retirement, or maybe they’re not certain if they should buy or lease an expensive piece of equipment for their business.
Don’t misunderstand the purpose of this kind of marketing. Prospects will almost never be so impressed with that value that they’ll fire their CPA and hire you right there on the spot. It won’t rack up billable hours for your firm. Networking is a long term marketing strategy. The goal of your networking efforts is to demonstrate your value to the prospect. You’re trying to put your brand in front of the prospect and keep it there so that in a year, or two, or five; when the prospect is ready to switch accountants; yours will be the first name they think of.
A well designed accountant’s website can significantly impact your networking power. Online financial calculators and a libraray of financial articles will bring visitors back to your website over and over. As we’ve already established, when networking your job is to figure out what that persons needs are and demonstrate your value by presenting a solution. Your website can help with that. Next time you hand a prospect your business card you can offer a solution that takes them to your website, complete with your brand at the top of the page and your phone number at the bottom.
Learn the art of the Tag Line. Nobody is going to call you or even visit your website unless you give them a compelling reason to.
These “walk-ins” will pretty much take care of themselves if you do a good job setting up your website. Just pop into your adwords account from time to time and make sure you’re not getting outbid by too many competitors.
It’s time to get busy networking again.
Learn to use online social networks too. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook…
Then network your butt off. Everyone is a potential prospect. Parents, friends, vendors, everyone. Be careful not to judge prospects. That’s a trap. Nobody is too poor for a business card. In 5 or 6 years they may well be standing someplace very different.
About the Author
Brian O’Connell is the CEO and founder of CPA Site Solutions, one of the country’s leading web design companies dedicated entirely to websites for accountants. His firm presently provides websites for more than 4000 CPA, accounting, bookkeeping, and tax preparation firms.