Right off the bat, we’ll say it: client acquisition is difficult and we’re yet to meet a firm that has developed the proverbial ‘golden goose’.
It’s been a challenge within the profession for years, and in a digital heavy world where everybody’s shouting as loud as possible to get heard, you have to go a long way to break through the noise.
Campaigns do work
In our experience there are three main fundamentals that firms get wrong when approaching client acquisition:
- They don’t stick at it; and
- They don’t target specific markets,
- They don’t involve the whole firm.
Client acquisition should be a continuous program that builds your so-called ‘head of steam’. It needs to become an integral and ongoing part of what you do as a firm.
One email blast isn’t going to do it. All too often we speak to firms who have fired out an email promoting their forecasting service, not had any responses and concluded that there’s no demand.
Driving client acquisition campaigns every quarter helps put things in perspective and removes the reactionary measure that sees many firms jump from activity to activity with little or no impact.
Targeting works, too
As with any campaign, you need to target a specific sector - something that we see a general refusal of by firms who “can work with any owner-managed business regardless of sector”. Almost all of our partners are general accounting practices and work with a wide range of business types and sectors.
This is great for keeping your client spread interesting and gaining commercial insight from a number of perspectives, but not so good for standing out. It may seem like you’re widening your audience, but in reality, your message is being drowned out by the all too common “dynamic firm of accountants offering a wide range of services to owner-managed businesses within…”
There seems to be a belief that potential clients will somehow pigeonhole any firm that pushes a specific message into a specific target market. But that’s not true.
You needn’t sell yourself solely as ‘The accounting firm for small to medium construction businesses’ - just sell yourself as a firm open to and with expertise with construction businesses. Tell the construction industry you’re there and want their interest.
You’re building a strategy around targeting, not exclusion.
Research, research, research
It’s extremely important to ensure that you’re well versed in your target audience, your aims with your campaign and the general knowledge needed to execute your strategy. Consider:
- Who are you looking for?
- Where will you find them?
- What are you offering them (and why)?
- What’s your message to them?
Decide on your strategy. Once you’ve answered the above questions, you should know who you’re looking for and where, so your next step is to plan your attack, armed with content.
Time for a brainstorm.
Plan your attack
What is it your potential client would like to see? What kind of bait is going to hook them? You’re going to need to be an expert on your client’s industry in order to serve them well, so this is a great point to do some research. Work out how the challenges that commonly face businesses of their type or industry are answered by your services.
There are lots of ways you could turn this into promotional content or marketing for your firm. Maybe it’s a three email nurture to some leads you picked up at a recent networking event. You can find more ideas in our ultimate guide to marketing your services here.
Assemble your army
Ah, the power of the humble referral. Like attracts like is the golden rule, right? If you can get a referral from an ideal client, you’ll have opened the door to a wealth of similar clients. Businesses, especially small businesses, thrive in communities. Whether it’s Facebook groups, meetups or networking groups, having advocates for your firm is an extremely powerful tool.
How do you set yourself up for referrals? Well…
First and foremost, simply provide a good service. Forget the bells and whistles, flashy marketing or expensive tokens - just do your job well. Take on your clients' feedback, mold your service to suit their business and go above and beyond. Your current clients will have a reason to talk about and recommend you. This approach goes much further than any marketing scheme and costs you much less.
Thinking back to your brand advocates - who would your prospective clients most like to hear about you from? Your current clients. Building a bank of client case studies or testimonials is great collateral for getting newcomers on board and giving them positive and realistic expectations.
First impressions count
Kick-off with a bang. Nail it in that first meeting and you’re laying the groundwork for success. Set clear expectations - what can they expect from you? What do you expect from them to make sure that works? Get these agreements sorted as early as possible so there aren’t any ugly surprises later down the line.
Similarly, don’t shy away from a discussion about pricing. Once you know a little about your client’s business, you can begin identifying where your services would be of use. Skirting around the subject of pricing makes things awkward for both of you. Be upfront.
Now, we said talk… but don’t just talk. You have the power and opportunity to show your client what you can do. Make some example dashboards and put them on-screen during your meetings. Show your clients the kinds of insights they could be getting, and they won’t be able to resist.
Last but not least, the number one rule for building any good relationship: listen. The more information you have on your client, the better you can serve them. By personalizing their service package to them, you’ll have happier clients who are benefitting (and therefore willing to invest) more.
Start with your best foot forward and set their expectations high (but realistic!).
Nail your speech
How’s your elevator pitch? Practice it anyway. You’re not a salesman, but your services do need selling… so we’ll say describing your services should be second nature. You should be able to recite them as soon as someone says ‘My cash flow doesn’t look too good’ or ‘Hmm, I’m not sure if I can afford another office’. If your ears don’t prick up, it needs work.
Translate. Speak in a language your clients understand. The last thing you want is empty nods and glazed eyes. And that’s exactly what speaking in jargon will do. Your clients don’t want reams of numbers, they want words and stories and proper, jargon-less education on what their numbers really mean.
Persistence is key
Once you’ve built out your client acquisition strategy. You need to stick with it. Like we said earlier, too often is a strategy researched, built and then given up before it’s had time to grow and show results.
Even if your strategy isn’t performing the way you wanted or expected it to be, there’s no reason to abandon ship before you’ve set out. Just imagine all those plans floating about in the realm of ‘almost’.
You won’t see results on day one, day two - you might not see results on day 20. But, in the coming 30, 40, 100 days, you will see an improvement. How big of an improvement? That’s where we perfect the art of perfecting the art (confused?). It’s time to fine-tune.
Fine-tune as you go
We’re not saying to let your campaign run wild. If your strategy isn’t performing well after a while, it’s time to optimize. Fine-tuning is a far better option than throwing your whole campaign in the bin.
Your brain’s already hardwired for data analysis (if it’s not… you might be in the wrong industry...) so take a look at those numbers. Is anything underperforming? Is one of your emails doing significantly better than the other? You do this for your clients - set some KPIs for your firm.
Keep an eye on your customer retention, too. You can do all the client acquisition in the world, but if you’re losing the clients you’ve already won, then client retention should be your main focus.