It’s summer, which means you’re either resting comfortably on the beach sipping a cold refreshment or attending any one of a number of accounting conferences. While I’d opt for the beach just about any time, I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past six weeks attending these conferences, and along the way, talking to quite a few accountants about their QuickBooks practices.
It seems everyone’s pretty busy, which is a good thing, of course. Still, there seems to be one question I get asked more often than any other: How can I increase the scope of my QuickBooks practice to get more clients?
I don’t have the magic formula to do this perfectly, but I can guide you by giving you some tips (and tricks) to add new clients, while also retaining the ones you have.
Mine Your Client for Referrals
You can’t neglect the clients you already have, but I think so many accountants, CPAs, bookkeepers, enrolled agents, and others in the profession take their clients for granted, expecting them to continuously come back for more. Sure, there’s a certain “trust” factor involved here, with a relationship bond between the professional and the client. However, you have to make a conscious effort to interact more often in order to maintain your presence.
And why should you do this? To get as many referrals as possible. While I was attending various conferences, I asked many accountants how often they ask their clients for referrals. I was met with a mix of bemusement and silence. It seems most of them didn’t reach out on any regular kind of basis, let alone ask for referrals.
I’ve written about this topic many, many times, but I have to say it again! There’s nothing wrong with scheduling a meeting with your A-list clients to discuss your respective businesses and to talk about the kinds of clients you’re looking for to build your practice.
Now, think about this carefully. If you can’t articulate the certain kind of client you need, your referral sources aren’t going to know who to recommend to you. Spend some time thinking about this. If you excel in working with professional services clients, such as those in health care, law, or construction, seek out similar kinds of client referrals and get very specific about what you need. I liken this scenario to the job seeker who tells me she can do “anything” in public relations and marketing. We all know that’s really not the case, and just because you have a QuickBooks practice, it doesn’t mean you want to be all things to all people.
Market Your Specialized QuickBooks Practice
I’ve never met any QuickBooks ProAdvisor or consultant who said he or she could offer implementation and consulting services to cover the full spectrum of QuickBooks products. While I think it’s a good thing to know as much as you can about the full range of products and services, most practitioners aren’t going to focus on tax preparation, while also creating and coding an upgrade from QuickBooks Pro to Enterprise. In addition, we’re still at a point in time where many accountants are sticking their toes in the QuickBooks Online waters.
If you specialize in certain aspects of QuickBooks, such as Enterprise and point of sale, then market your strengths in those areas. Don’t just focus on your prospects and trusted referral sources, but also on accountants who don’t work in these areas. Let’s say, for example, that your colleague has a client who has outgrown QuickBooks Pro and is ready for Enterprise, but your colleague doesn’t offer Enterprise services. Rather than risk losing that client, your colleague should partner with someone who does offer Enterprise expertise – you! In this case, trust between you and your colleague is essential. You don’t want there to be any concerns that you’re going to “steal” your colleague’s client.
You can also get specific on your website and on social media to spread the word about your offerings. The more you push your name out there, the greater the benefit will be to you in the long term.
Create an Online Reputation
When I talk about this tactic, sometimes I get sneers and jeers. However, I’m here to tell you that it works each and every time. Hugh Duffy of Build Your Firm, a company that works in marketing with small accounting firms, is a huge proponent of using Yelp to market your practice. He has many clients who encourage their customers to go online and provide feedback about their experience.
According to BrightLocal’s 2013 Local Consumer Review Survey, 79% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. As an accounting professional, the trick to managing your online reputation is to ask for feedback directly after you meet with your clients, whether that’s annually or several times a year. Of course, for those who have monthly engagements, you won’t want to ask for feedback more than a few times throughout the year. Be judicious and try not to hassle your clients.
Yelp is great because it also gives you excellent search engine optimization. For example, let’s say you have a practice in Fort Lauderdale. If a prospect were searching for “QuickBooks Fort Lauderdale,” your website could come up on the first page of search results, but if you’re encouraging clients to give feedback through Yelp, those results will appear as well.
You should also be concerned about negative reviews. The reality is that, at some point, you could get a negative review about your practice or something related to your skills, knowledge, or experience. If so, don’t respond online back to the negative reviewer; that only serves to exacerbate the situation and creates an online debate. Instead, attempt to talk with the (former?) client to discuss what could have been done differently or to clear the air. If you have 10 positive reviews and one negative review, chances are the majority of prospects will trust you enough to at least have that very important first conversation about your services.
Time to Expand?
You may have reached a point in your practice where it’s time to expand your offerings beyond QuickBooks. While there are a lot of QuickBooks competitors out there, choose carefully. There’s nothing worse than signing on with another vendor and going through the hoops of certification, education, and changing your model, only to find you really don’t like that particular software after all.
My best advice is to ask your colleagues and those you trust for feedback. You’ll get many different answers, but over a short amount of time, you should be able to detect some trends. Tread carefully, but remember that you can’t sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Get out there and market!