By Jenny Lukas, AVN
Your accountancy practice needs a steady stream of new clients if it’s to flourish. And the best way to do that is to use a range of acquisition methods. But there’s one option that I believe should be in every accountant’s toolkit.
While Google ads, telemarketing or even direct mail can be very successful, this is one of the most effective. It’s also very simple, costs nothing and you already know how it works.
What is it?
It’s asking for referrals from your existing clients.
A referred lead is easier to convert than a completely cold lead, so you expend less effort, spend less money and have a higher conversion rate. What’s not to like?
You no doubt already have clients who started off as a referral, but chances are they came to you ad hoc and you don’t get them very often. If you want to accelerate the number and quality of the referrals you get, you need to systemise the process.
Get more new clients from a great referral system
A systematic approach makes a huge difference.
Imagine you have 100 customers and you put systems in place to get the names of two contacts from each of them (i.e. 2 referrals from each). That’s 200 sales leads. Since it’s easier to convert these referred leads, let’s say you manage to achieve a 50% conversion rate – so half of these become paying clients.
How much would your business grow by if you did this systematically over a year? You’d have another 100 clients, double the number you had at the start. Of course, those are just estimated figures, but you can see the potential.
How to put a referral system in place
Start with the WHO, WHEN and WHAT.
Which of your clients should you ask for referrals? I’m tempted to say all of them; after all, the more you ask, the more you’ll get. But don’t ask for referrals from clients you aren’t happy with, e.g. if they’re not paying you enough, or they’re always trying to beat you down on price. Chances are the message they’d give out to their contacts about you is that you’re cheap, or that you always come down on fees. Don’t let the referral be all about how much you cost.
Choose your moment to ask. The best time is obviously when you’ve done something that they’re really happy with. It could also be at the start of some work you’ll be doing for them, when they’re excited about the impact you can make on their business. Do you ask your clients for feedback? That’s another good time to pop the referral question. Whatever point you choose, make sure you include asking for a referral as part of the system.
Knowing what to say is often the stumbling block for accountants. We often hear, “How do I ask without sounding desperate?’ Here are a couple of suggestions:
“I’m really pleased you’re so happy with the work we’ve done and I know you appreciate the way we help businesses like yours. If you have any contacts that would benefit from the same kind of help, I’d love to get their details and see what we can do.”
“I know you grow your business via word of mouth and it’s the same for us. So if you know someone who’s looking a for a new accountant or just wants to have a chat, it would be great if you can put me in touch with them.”
You will have most success if you feel comfortable asking for the referral, so play around with the wording until you find a format that works for you.
Here are a few more points to remember:
- Make clear that you won’t put any sales pressure on the new contact. People will be reluctant to pass on their friends’ details if they think they’re going to get a full on sales pitch.
- Tell your clients what kind of businesses you want to work with – then they can spot your ideal clients for you!
- Make it easy. When physical meetings are possible again, it’s a good idea to give your clients some of your business cards so they can hand them out to their contacts. You could even have cards printed that are specifically aimed at referrals. In the current situation where physical meetings are impossible almost everywhere, you could send out a link to your Zoom room and an online calendar to book a time slot with you.
- Refer your own contacts to your clients when appropriate. If you send them business, they will be even more willing to do the same for you.
- Take on any old client just because they’re a referral. You may be worried about upsetting your existing client if you don’t accept them, but if they aren’t right for you, no one will benefit in the long run. When you don’t feel the fit is right, send them on somewhere else that would suit them better. This way everyone is happy.
- Break the rules. A thank you gift for a referral goes a long way to making your clients feel appreciated. But be aware of the rules that your professional body sets.
AVN can help you attract more of the right kind of clients for your accountancy practice. Through coaching, training and a huge range of tools and resources, we support our members in creating the practice they want. Interested? The first step is to book a strategy call. We’ll look at the issues you’re facing, share insights from others in the same position and offer suggestions to help you improve. This is emphatically not a sales call. Find out more here.