In order to grow your practice, it’s important that you, the practice owner, focus significant time on the strategic aspects of your business. And in order to do that, you must be willing to relinquish many day-to-day tasks to other people who can carry them out effectively.
However, we’re living in a transient world, where people seldom stay at the same job for thirty or forty years. Your new recruits are coming into your firm with a mindset in which their expectation is to work for several companies over the course of their career.
In “the old days”, employees accumulated impressive stores of knowledge about the way things were done within the company. Particularly if they stuck around for decades and rose through the ranks, working at many different levels, eventually they might know how every job in the firm was done. These were the employees to whom employers would send their new hires to be mentored, confident that there were few questions the new employee could ask that the veteran employee couldn’t answer.
But things have changed, and not just in how long people stay (or don’t stay) at one job. Technology has changed things, too. Now, many procedures change rapidly in order to keep up with the pace of related technology. So even the employees that do stick with you for years are forced to constantly relearn how to do commonplace tasks.
Meanwhile, you have to be able to rely on your team so you can focus on the bigger, strategic picture for your practice. How can you in such a fast-paced, ever-changing world?
Practice owners today must lean heavily on documented systems. If you don’t have a “how-to” manual on how to do things in your practice (or, more ideally, a series of manuals), I urge you to get that project started now. Have your employees start writing down what they do in their jobs, and compiling step-by-step instructions on how. As they document their regular procedures, direct them to imagine a brand-new employee walking into the firm and not knowing how to do anything. Their instructions should be clear and detailed enough so that a newbie can read them and hit the ground running.
Compiling a comprehensive set of manuals for your practice may take time, but don’t let that deter you from starting.
Also, don’t be tempted to think of this as unnecessary bureaucracy. Documenting systems for all the functions of your practice will make the process of delegating to your staff much smoother. As changes happen, you can simply adjust the systems you have in place to accommodate them. In our times, documented systems are crucial to your practice’s survival.
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In his book Psychology of Persuasion, Kevin Hogan tells us that people are more likely to do what you ask if they believe you have their best interests at heart.
We can easily apply this to our CPA practices. After all, building a business relationship means we have to show our client that we’re looking after his or her interests. It’s the kind of trust that can only be nurtured over time, and it requires taking an interest in our clients as human beings. As Built to Last author Jim Collins says, “Don’t be interesting. Be interested.”
Exactly. Turn your attention outward. Remember to look at your clients as individuals. Learn about them. Be curious. Listen to them. The more you understand what they like and dislike, the better able you’ll be to tailor your services to them.
For example, you may send a client a link to a particular news story that may interest him, or swipe an article from a magazine and pop it into an envelope for her. It makes a client feel special when you obviously know what interests them, or when you recognize their personal achievements and family events. It’s the personal touch that keeps clients wildly happy, and referring their friends and business associates to you.
Need more ideas on how to make your clients feel special? Here are four easy ones:
- Use their name. Simple, but powerful.
- Talk with them about non-business subjects.
- Tell them early about your new services.
- Respond promptly to their calls and e-mails.
Depending on your relationship with a client, you may even incorporate personal visits. This isn’t something I do often, but some CPAs I’ve mentored have done this with great success. Some clients may be more receptive to this than others. Use your best judgment.
By the way, are you on Twitter? So are we! Please follow us. We’ll gladly follow back.
Until next time,
Have you developed a truly effective marketing message for your CPA practice? Check these points to be sure:
A Well-Defined Market. More than a few CPA practices have made the error of trying to be all things to all people. It makes it hard to establish a clear position in any market. Have you defined your market clearly enough?
Labels Aren’t Descriptions. It’s not enough to merely have a label, like “Jim Smith, CPA”. You need to focus on the benefit you offer the client. For example, saving them tax dollars. What benefit can you bring to your prospects? Have you worked it into your marketing message?
Are You Bragging? How many times have you read an ad for a CPA firm that says “We’re the largest CPA practice in Smithville!” Good for them. But guess what? Your prospect doesn’t care about you. Think instead about what the client is looking for in a CPA, and use that.
Simplified Message. You want your marketing message to be easy to remember. If you try to make it cover too many things, it will be less memorable and also less believable. Instead, keep your message uncomplicated.
…But Not Too Simple. Simple is good, but you don’t want your message to be so short that you’re not really saying anything. It has to be long enough to convey a specific, meaningful benefit. Saying that “We’re here to solve all your problems” is way too general. Tell them exactly what you have to offer.
The Right Media. Even if your marketing message hits every other point just perfectly, you can still waste money and time by choosing the wrong media for that message. Identify the best way to get your message to your target market. Learn where your ideal client is spending his or her time, and find a way to place your message there.
Want to learn even more about marketing your CPA practice? Check out my book The Ultimate CPA Practice in the New Economy: 10 Secrets to Attract More Clients, Boost Profits and Live Your Ideal Lifestyle.
Until next time,
Looking to get better results from your marketing and advertising? Try stepping outside the boundaries of traditional approaches.
I talk to many CPAs who think just because they’re in a professional business, all of their marketing communications must be “formal”. They think anything else would be perceived as un-business-like. But nothing could be further from the truth.
If you subscribe to my Superstar CPA newsletter, no doubt you’ve read my critiques of real-life CPA marketing and advertising materials. Have you noticed what most of the “before” pieces have in common? The sales letters, the ads, the banners and business cards…all of them, dry and boring.
Your prospective clients are just like anyone else – they crave a little excitement in their lives. Anything you can do to make your marketing more fun and interesting will attract their attention.
Start thinking about what you can do to brighten up your marketing materials. To help get your imagination humming, here are three examples:
- Lumpy Mail. Do you send out direct mail marketing like a sales letter in an envelope? Make the package lumpy. Include something inside that creates bulk, because it’s more likely to get attention. For example, you could tape an aspirin to the front of the envelope with the saying, “Is your tax bill giving you a headache?” You can get really creative with the items you include inside a package – anything from a pen to a tennis ball. The point is, you want to be sure your mail goes into the pile that will actually be read later, rather than into the “junk mail” pile or worse, directly into the trash.
- Spruce Up Your Digs. Make the experience of coming to your office more pleasant for your clients. Freshen wall paint, install some new furniture, or build a coffee bar.
- Advertise Somewhere Different. Be creative with the places where you advertise. Maybe it’s advertising in a non-business location, or hanging a banner in an unusual place. With a little brainstorming, you can stretch your advertising dollars by getting great results for less money.
Identify some creative ways to promote your practice. Invite team members to contribute their two cents. Ask them to be looking around for ideas, and follow up a week or two later to pick their brains. You never know where the next brilliant idea will come from.
Referral marketing works incredibly well for CPAs, and here’s why.
Most people enjoy being helpful. Most of us get a kick out of being able to share useful information with someone we know – especially when it’s connected to something that’s worked out well for us. (Keep in mind, however, we’re just as quick to spread the word when a service provider has disappointed us!)
Your clients will want to help you because they see themselves as being in partnership with you. Because they interact with your firm, they also see themselves as experts on your practice and what you have to offer.
So, one of the reasons referral marketing works so well is because your clients receive something from the giving process. They’re sharing what’s worked for them and being helpful to others. For many, that’s a powerful motivator.
Referrals are attractive to you, the CPA, because clients who are referred to you are your most cost-effective prospects. Once you calculate the lifetime value of a new client, you’ll see that you’re spending pennies on the dollar to attract referrals from your current client base.
In addition, clients who are referred to you will often turn out to be your best clients. They will already have an idea of what you do and the benefits of retaining your services.
Another benefit of getting referred clients is that they tend to be more loyal. If someone has taken a friend’s advice through a referral, they are less likely to switch to a new provider, because they wouldn’t want to embarrass the friend. Referral marketing is therefore the ultimate win-win solution for you and your clients.
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