Practice management: Back to basics – Winning new nlients

Independent research shows repeatedly three major issues considered by potential clients as most important when making a decision to change accountants;


Implementation of these issues will win you a significant number of new clients.


This is the single most important issue which potential clients will consider when deciding whether to change to your firm; ‘Do you specialise in what I wantto buy?’.

You can specialise by industry or by product line.

Product line – most accountants offer a fairly comprehensive range of products – audits, accounts, tax, business plans, payroll etc. Even when the service is not available in-house, accountants will sub-contract the work to specialists eg. inheritance tax and estate planing, or management buy-outs. Many accountants feel it necessary to offer all services to achieve credibility.

However the most successful and profitable firms are those that specialise in a limited range of services – someties only one. There are two major reasons for their success:

1. They ‘specialise’ in the services they offer, thus giving better value for money.

2. All the services they offer complement either a low or a high staff/partner ratio. Either they have a high staff/partner ratio offering services like audits, accounts and compliance tax, or conversely, they have a low staff/partner ratio offering tax consultancy, litigation support, company acquisition and disposals etc.

None of them offer a general practice service with a typical staff/partner ratio.

Industry – this is very much easier to adopt into the practice because, as we have just seen, the product line approach could involve a massive change. Many, not surprisingly, would find that too daunting.

Nevertheless, there is tremendous scope for winning new clients by industry specialists. One client in an industry can be leveraged to win more clients in the same industry with surprising success. The initial step is to decide in which industry you are going to ‘specialise’, there are four items to consider:

1. Growth industries will be more profitable than those in decline.

2. Having a reasonable number of potential clients in a industry is important.

3. Having at least one client already is useful.

4. An active trade association in your “patch” will be very helpful.

Your basic action points are:

  • Contact your potential clients in writing, telling them of your specialisation.
  • Contact the trade associations and try to get along to their meetings, preferably as a guest speaker.

Ask your clients to introduce you. (You’ll find they know most of their competitors quite well).


There is a wide variety of sources who will recommend accountants. That recommendation is extremely influential when a potential client is considering a change of accountants.

Let’t think for a minute where the natural recommendation sources are:

  • Clients
  • Ex-clients
  • Banks
  • Lawyers

The not so obvious ones


  • Staff
  • Ex-staff
  • Estate Agents – commercial
  • Computing companies
  • Office furniture installers
  • Printers (especially for business start ups)

I would like to consider a few of these listed and put forward ideas for you to increase recommendations from these sources.

1. Clients and ex-clients

There are two essential ingredients to be successful in this area: firstly, the service to the client must be good and you must understand what ‘good’ means) and secondly, you have got to let your clients know that you are looking for recommendations. (That’s not to say you’re desperate – more like saying ‘business’ is very good and we would like to do more.)

2. Staff and ex-staff

It can be a useful exercise to ask your staff if they know any potential clients (or banks, lawyers etc). You will surprise yourself how much and who they know. Secondly, give all your staff their own business cards so they have something to hand out – let’s not make an issue about this, please – let your staff decide for themselves whether they put their title on the cards or not.

Finally, give all staff unlimited expense accounts. If you don’t that will be one of the reasons that your staff will not entertain clients, potential clients or anybody else who they feel would help the firm in marketing. In practice, far from ending up with enormous lunch bills, you will have extreme difficulty in persuading your staff to use the facility. They will need encouraging.

In summary, ask your staff to get involved in selling the firm – specifically to clients and potential clients (at an appropriate level of staff) and let them make the decisions as to which clients and which person within that organisation.

With ex-staff, I would recommend they are added to your mailing list and receive direct mail from time to time (eg. newsletters and invitations). You are obviously aware how many accountants leave the profession and become very influential as financial directors etc.

3. Banks and solicitors

Historically banks and solicitors have been a major source of reference for accountants. There are two practical issues which have to be addressed in order to get the best results:

1. Being human, bankers and solicitors will tend to recommend the accountants they last saw (ie. the one that springs to mind).

2. Not every banker and solicitor is in a position to recommend the type of client you are looking for.

So, firstly, identify the individuals most likely to deal with relevant potential clients and, secondly, ensure that you see them and contaft them regularly.


It may be surprising to know your potential clients consider this an important issue when deciding which accountant to choose.

It means that an accounting firm must be active in its marketing activities. (re direct mail, seminars, business clubs, free consultations, press relations, advertising and sponsorship). Of course, one cannot throw money and time away just to demonstrate aggressiveness. it is enormously important to agree a budget and also to “focus” the marketing activities – this would normally be done at the beginnig of the yar – marketing plan.


The above is an overview briefly outlining the important issues an accounting practice should focus on, and which we know are of concern to potential clients.

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