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3 Ways to Gain High-Quality Clients

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What do you do when you get an email from a referral source with the name of a prospect who could use your help? Are you someone who instantly tries to figure out what you need to do to seal the deal, or do you step back and ask yourself if this is a client you really want?

Not every prospect is an ideal client. Firms that take any work that comes through the door often find themselves dissatisfied with realization, client responsiveness, last-minute requests or something else.

There are clients out there you can serve better than others – and they will be better clients, so stop chasing every lead you get and focus on ways to attract higher-quality clients.

1. Identify Your Ideal Client

Even if you haven’t thought about it, your firm can serve some clients better than others, but you can’t help everyone; there are many factors that go into what makes your “ideal” client. To understand the depth and breadth of what you do, begin with this market segmentation exercise:

  • Create a table in Excel.
  • Every row is a service you sell. Be as specific as possible. Instead of accounting, think QuickBooks®, payroll processing or financial statement preparation, for example.
  • Every column is an industry that your clients operate in (example: manufacturing, construction and retail).
  • Now, drop every dollar of your prior year’s revenue into the corresponding cell.
  • Tally up the rows and columns and determine what percentage of your total revenue the cell represents.

The rows and columns that make up the highest percentage of your revenue represent the areas in which you have the most expertise. To drill down further, consider the size of each business, whether it’s public or private, and the structure of the internal accounting department. Also, think about how technology savvy you need your clients to be in order to match how you deliver your service.

At the end of this exercise, you should have a clear description that sounds something like this: “Private businesses with less than $3 million in revenue in the healthcare industry, where there is no internal CFO and who are willing to work in the cloud.”

2. Develop a Solid Channel of Distribution Strategy

Now that you know who your ideal client is, you need to know where to go and what to do to find them. A channel distribution strategy is the path your services take to reach your buyer. You sell business to business (B2B) rather than directly to the consumer. This requires that you clearly know what service you are selling, to whom and through what channel (service channel target).

You probably have clients who sell their products through a wholesaler or retailer. Who or what is your retailer? Channels could include a publication your targets read, an event they attend or a member association. It could be a relationship with centers of influence who target the exact same people you do. It could even be a piece of content you push out through a targeted digital platform. You want to hang out where your buyers hang out: that’s your channel of distribution. (For more information on how to create this buzz, read this article!)

If you are strategic about where you are going to sell your services, you will better position yourself for the referrals and prospects you actually want.

3. Know When to Say No

Let’s say someone outside one of your channels of distribution refers a prospect who doesn’t fit your ideal client profile. If this is truly outside your scope, you should say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” However, there are accountants who believe they can effectively work with non-ideal clients. If that sounds like you, be careful when deciding how many, and what types, of clients you want to work with who fall outside of your sweet spot.

The more clients you have that meet your ideal profile, the better job you do understanding their needs and servicing them. That generally translates into more revenue, greater profitability and happier staff. When you service clients who fall outside of your ideal, the engagement is more costly because you have a learning curve, inefficiency and lower realization.

Saying “no” to potential revenue is hard. Be honest with yourself and recognize that not all revenue is good revenue. Work you aren’t set up to perform often causes more stress, takes more time and makes your team irritable. Is that what you really want for your business?

Be strategic about the types of businesses you work with, and over time, the quality of your clients will increase and your firm will be stronger.

8 responses to “3 Ways to Gain High-Quality Clients”

  1. I am just starting my business and I am having a hard time trying to figure out how to charge. I have 2 clients that are in the daycare business and request for me to handle everything, I am clueless on how to charge.

    • Pricing is a strategy and there is no one-size-fits-all solution here, Jeannine. Today, clients are demanding pricing that is more detailed and predictable than the typical rate times hours. More firms are beginning to implement productized pricing, which sounds like it may work here. Basically, you are taking your intangible services and making them tangible. You are putting them in a figurative box, labeling what is included inside and sticking a price on it. In these situations, you’ll see various levels of service (think bronze, silver and gold) where the buyer gets more with each higher level and the price adjusts accordingly. If you know your buyers, you know what they need. Perhaps a basic tax return is your bronze level. With your next level you offer some accounting help. Finally, your top level is where the company outsources everything to you.

      Since you are just starting out, I suggest you ask these clients how much they are willing to pay for your gold level service. Tell them you’re willing to try it for a period of X months and reevaluate pricing with them at that time. You will then have first-hand experience to help you decide if you are profitable, and you’ve set the stage to discuss adjusting your prices (only up; never down if they were/are willing to pay it). You’ll also want to pay attention to what your competitors charge. This will happen over time as you talk with prospects about how much they are currently paying. The good thing with this strategy is that it will move you away from timesheets and commoditization.

      Also, check out, How Do Your Tax Preparation Fees Stack Up? here on the Intuit blog for pricing considerations for tax prep services.

  2. I really like the exercise to determine your ideal client. A follow up question – how would you suggest tailoring that exercise for someone who is just starting out? Thanks!

    • Lori, as you are starting out, there are a couple approaches that come to mind. The first time you do this exercise, you probably have revenue spread out across many industries. You could pick a handful of those areas and try to get more clients there. As you are doing this, you will want to take time to understand the ecosystem – what are they looking for – and how/if you can help. (This can be done with online research and, most importantly, one-on-one conversations with a variety different people in the industry.) Pay attention to the services they need that you currently provide or that you could provide. This combine information will then help you narrow down the couple areas you want to focus on longer term. This is more proactive than my other idea which would be to repeat this exercise frequently as you are building your practice to see what areas eventually rise to the top. My guess is that you’ll need to look at this quarterly for a couple years until you see substantial shifts in one niche area. I think doing the research on the front-end will ultimately help you build your business faster and in a more strategic way. Good luck!

  3. After reading your article, I now understand that accepting every client no matter what their business is, does not mean it is good revenue. Saying “no thanks” is difficult when you see the
    potential income, but sometimes the stress from that client is not woth the income.I will use your
    strategy to attract and seek out clients that better suit who I want to work with.

    • Turning down revenue is incredibly difficult. However, if you are focusing your time and efforts on those businesses you can best help, you will have a pipeline of prospects you’ll enjoy working with. Good luck starting down the path of strategic growth. It’s not easy, but will pay big dividends in the future.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ben. Too many practitioners try to be all things to all people when, in reality, they all have unique strengths and abilities. If you know who your best clients are, you will do different things to attract and service them.