Secret Accountant: Where do clients come from?
There are a number of routes that the new practitioner can take to start or increase their client portfolio. However before the Secret Accountant looks at the options, it is worth briefly talking about the practice set up.
Know your employment status
ACCA members need to make a decision as to their employment status whilst they set up their practice.
Some members will be in the fortunate position that they can start attracting clients whilst still being employed. Ideally they can build up a client base until they are in a position to make that 'leap of faith' and become a full time practitioner.
The advantage of this is obvious as income is unaffected because the employment salary is still being received.
A few words of caution
In the past many ACCA members have started their practice in this manner. But watch out for:
- the more clients gained the harder it will become to juggle the two work commitments and effectively you may find yourself working in the evenings/weekends to service your own clients;
- employers will not like a potential competitor also being employed by them. In addition there may be non-competition clauses in your contract; and
- When you have worked at a senior level in an accountancy firm you will have developed a good relationship with many of their clients.
As a natural progression the conversation may get round to plans for your own practice. ACCA does receive complaints from employers where they feel ACCA employees are 'poaching' clients. There has always been a grey area relating to the 'did they contact me or did I contact them?' argument.
It is always best to be totally transparent and not to take clients from your employer unless there are proper reasons for this. Also be very careful to ensure that you are not using or taking intellectual property, like back-ups, client lists etc.
Avoiding problems with your employer
To avoid problems with your current employer you should talk to them so they know what you hope to do. If possible have a plan/agreement for the future - who knows, this may lead to some interesting discussion about buying some clients from the employer or even future prospects for partnership/directorship. If not, at least your conduct will be transparent and this will help with a smoother exit when the time comes.
Sourcing clients and marketing your new practice
Once the basis of your new practice has been decided on, look at these suggestions from the Secret Account on the main issues - where to source clients from and how to market yourself.
Make sure details are up to date on the ACCA Find an Accountant service.
Typical details might be:
- Certificates held
Members of the public can search for an accountant on the ACCA website so ensure that you have listed all of the relevant details about yourself and your practice.
Your own website
This can be a valuable tool, providing it is set up correctly so it can be used for marketing purposes.
Unless you happen to be a tech genius it is best to get quotes from website companies to do this properly. Make sure you let them know exactly what you need the site for particularly contacting existing businesses. Then keep the website up to date but don't cram it full of technical articles etc as most clients will not read these - keep it interesting and to the point.
Secret Accountant examples of companies that offer a bespoke accountancy website service:
Most accountants are not salespeople and so sometimes we are a bit embarrassed to promote ourselves personally. This is a big mistake as referrals are the number one way of growing your portfolio.
Don't be afraid to ask anyone who can help you such as relatives, existing clients, friends etc. The same reluctance to promote ourselves can often mean that we also feel uncomfortable in cross selling services - don’t be!
Many new clients will need more services as they grow so make sure you are the preferred provider for all areas of accountancy and tax.
If you feel competent don't restrict yourself to mainstream activities. Get involved in helping the client raise funds, deal with the bank etc. Remember, the more you can help a client the more they are likely to refer you to another business.
You do not need to be an IT genius to perform some local email marketing. On a small scale you can target local businesses and some internet research will often reveal an email address but be careful not to fall foul of data protection legislation if you are creating your own list.
To ensure that you comply with data protection legislation, make sure that the target business has the means to tell you to remove them from your list if needed. Don't forget to follow up your email with a friendly phone call offering a free consultation etc. Make sure that your email logo and branding are modern and eye-catching so that you stand out. It's also well worth investing in some e literature which can be easily sent or shared on social media and always keep your website up to date.
A bigger scale alternative is to buy email addresses and software which will target businesses in a larger area. The software will manage the responses or you could do this yourself. The cost of this will vary but again internet research will quickly provide you with a number of options/quotes.
Secret Accountant examples of companies that offer email marketing solutions:
The use of social media is now almost compulsory so make sure you are up to speed with the specific ways it can help you.
ACCA member Christina Christoforou recently did a free webinar on how to leverage social media to convert clients.
Client referral websites
One of the growth areas over the last five years is online agencies who match potential clients with accountants.
With some care and investment this can be a method of growth which works. The basic format is that clients register with various agencies that send out a brief summary of their required accountancy needs to accountants that have registered with the website.
The accountant can specify what size/type of client they are interested in. There are many of these sites readily available online.
The accountant reviews the summary and decides if they are interested in the client and if they are, they pay the agency for the contact details.
- Easy to register;
- Lots of sites to choose from;
- Regular email alerts for clients in your area that have requested an accountant to contact them; and
- Fees to contact the client are based on the stated size of the business, but can start from 15 GBP. Generally the fees are transparent and so budgets can easily be set.
Remember that the agency will sell the contact details to a number of firms so this means that you need to act quickly.
- Most importantly think about the message you are going to send and make it count;
- Make sure you follow up the initial email with a phone call while the lead is still current. You may be asked to give a 'blind' quote which means that you may be up against unqualified accountants who will seek to be the cheapest at any cost; and
- Have your costs structure clear in your mind before you use this type of service as normally speed is the key.
Inevitably you will come across contacts who will choose someone else and also time-wasters. But as long as you have set your budgets and have your sales pitch ready, you may find that you can get a decent conversion rate which makes the process cost effective.
Secret Accountant examples of agencies that offer this service:
Accountancy sales/merger agencies
If you have the funds available it may be that you want to buy an existing practice. To help with this there are a number of companies that act as agents to match buyer and seller. An internet search will quickly provide a number of potential options.
Before you contact any of them make sure you have a very clear plan of what type of practice you are interested in, the size, the staff, the location, etc.
The services of the agencies will vary as will their costs and some require deposits or fees in advance.
So go into any agreement with eyes firmly wide open to ensure you are aware of what you are dealing with. Patience may be needed but a reputable agency could provide an ideal match with your requirements. The Secret Accountant has produced a separate guide which deals with the mechanics of a potential purchase whilst we have produced a webinar – Buying & Selling a Practice.
Secret Accountant examples of accountancy practice sales agents:
Accountancy franchises have been around for a while now.
The services they provide include training, CPD, shop front-style offices etc.
But as you can imagine this all comes at a cost. The issue with franchising is that they do not always provide actual clients for the new start up practice.
So again be very careful that you understand what you get for your money. A glossy set up may be pointless if there are no actual clients to start earning money from. An alternative sometimes offered is to buy out an existing franchise which might be preferable to a new starter.