Extending client relationships
Today, a common challenge faced by many practitioners is whether to work in their businesses, dealing with the daily round of phone calls, emails and appointments, or take time out to work on their businesses tackling issues such as:
- firms with fewer overheads, qualifications or scruples who are ‘low-balling’ fees and luring our clients away;
- clients who want to take up 80% of our time and only seem to be prepared to pay for 20% of our chargeable hours.
I’m sure if you applied yourself you could fill two sides of A4 with further bullet points.
It’s time for change. If you are going to build a thriving practice in today’s ‘shaky’ economic conditions it is no longer possible to rely on client referrals to get you through – in my opinion. And yet, in despite of the general malaise I am describing, I do come across valiant exceptions: firms that do invest time and resources in developing their practices and they are thriving... yet they are in the minority.
Such firms are achieving four critical practice development tasks:
- take steps to lift the perceived value of their compliance services;
- work tirelessly to improve client service;
- take every opportunity to cross-sell high value, specialist services to clients;
- have a systematised process to build prospect lists and convert them to new client appointments.
The tool that allows them to engage in a positive way with all of these issues is surprisingly simple. It is complimentary services. Let’s look at how this is achieved in practice:
John Smith, the senior partner of A N Other & Co, is standing in a queue at his local deli when he notices a plate of cheese samples on the counter with an invitation to try. So he does, and they are delicious. So he buys some. In a rare moment of clarity a lightbulb flashes in his head. He can’t wait to get back to the office.
In less than a week A N Other & Co had created their very own plate of cheeses – complimentary services. The first they produced was a simple questionnaire that generated a report on a business's record keeping: would a business survive a business record check by HMRC? The report could be produced in just a few minutes.
Here’s how they used this simple complimentary tool to achieve the four points mentioned above:
Before every meeting with a client to discuss their management or annual accounts, the accounts staff produced a printed report using the business record check tool, based on their understanding of the client’s record keeping. As a result the client received more than a set of accounts to consider. They received additional, useful, information that lifted their perception of the service they received. And at no additional cost.
The report and the discussion that followed improved client service delivery.
If the report highlighted areas of weakness in record keeping this opened up an opportunity for John Smith to sell a small business systems review, or cross-sell other specialist services.
John Smith set up a new marketing campaign to send all their business prospects a printed copy of the business record check questionnaire and invited them to fill it in for a free report. The form had a fax back number. Those that responded were visited by John, with a nice printed report, and he was able to secure a number of new client appointments.
The lesson to be learned is that complimentary services, provided at low cost, are an invaluable practice development tool. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
My company, Landmark Regions UK Ltd, has created a practice development tool kit that has eight complimentary services including the business record check feature. See our website for more information, email me at email@example.com or call me on 01926 334 773.
Bob Edwards is a chartered certified accountant with many years’ experience running a practice and supporting UK accounting firms with development issues.