Let’s face it. Most CPAs are not hurting for business these days, but they’re often not getting the right kind of business. They’re asking themselves: “How do we get the business that’s the best fit for our staff, our systems, our expertise and our processes? How do we make sure we’re not exhausting our resources trying to serve clients that aren’t the right fit for us?” They’re also asking, “How do we find a better home for those clients who aren’t the right fit so we don’t get blowback from the referring client?”
The answer may be simpler than you think.
I realized the other day that some of my firm’s best referrals have come from other accounting firms, not from clients. Why not reach out to fellow professionals at nearby accounting firms and ask them: “Who do you most like to work with? Here’s who we like to work with.” See if they’re open to introductions.
As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
Here in Dallas, I know two sizable accounting firms that are targeting big accounting and consulting clients — clients too large for my firm to serve. These larger firms don’t specialize in what we do — high-end tax planning for successful families. Considering their large staff and overhead, there’s not enough revenue for them to do the kind of work we do. They’re more than happy to refer those opportunities to us. And we’re more than happy to refer to them businesses and high net worth individuals whose situations are too large or complex for us to handle.
If you’re trying to develop a niche, one of the best things you can do is talk to other firms. Chances are they have clients that they’re trying to cut loose — clients who might be a perfect fit for your niche practice. They’re not necessarily problem clients; they’re simply clients that the other firm either doesn’t know how to serve or isn’t set up to serve profitably.
Getting the referral ball rolling
How can you expand your referral network beyond attorneys, bankers and transaction consultants? Consider other accounting firms in your area. Here, you have two options:
1. Contact similar-sized firms with a different industry focus or different services from yours.
2. Contact larger firms looking to take care of clients that are too small for them to service.
I’ve found the direct approach is best. If you’re a partner at your firm, reach out to a partner at a similar size firm in your area and tell them: “From our past conversations and from what I’ve heard around town, you’re doing great things in hospitality and hedge fund finance” or whatever their specialization may be. Then say: “We sometimes get referrals for those kinds of clients, and it’s not really what we do. We would love to have somebody to send them to. Also, we like to focus on outsourced bookkeeping and high-end tax work, which I know is not something you do. We’d love to see if we can help them.”
Again, don’t forget to explore referral possibilities with larger firms in your area. Often, they’ve had families and business owners referred to them who are too small for them to service. They want to make sure they refer that prospect to a smaller firm that will treat them as a high priority and make them look good. But since they don’t know how to do it, they end up telling the prospect: “Sorry, we’re just not a good fit” and the opportunity dies on the vine.
In this case, let a partner (aka professional peer) at the larger accounting firm know what your process looks like. “If you send somebody to us,” you say, “here’s how we handle the introduction, the onboarding, and the ongoing service of that client relationship. You can rest assured they’ll be well taken care of.” This will give the larger firm confidence that you can serve the referral well, and that will make them look good to the client that made the referral.
If you’re uncomfortable reaching out to partners at other accounting firms in your area, make friends with their business development folks. They get referrals and introductions all the time that are not the right fit for their firms. If you’re clear about who you work with and how you nurture those relationships, they’ll be very interested in referring to you. Again, they’re going to ask you: “What does the process look like when I send you a referral?”
The simple answer is: “Here’s what we’ll say to the prospective client. Then we’ll follow up with them within X days or hours, and as soon as we schedule a meeting, they can make a decision about whether or not they want to work with us. We will keep you in the loop of course.”
There’s so much business in the accounting industry right now. I’ve never had anybody ask, “How do I find more clients?” It’s about finding more time in the day and only working with the right type of clients. Improving your referral sources is a big step in the right direction.
How do you handle referrals at your firm? I’d
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