What is the No. 1 reason why your firm is not growing as much as you would like? I bet if I asked 20 partners from 20 different accounting firms the following question, I would get some very interesting responses.

A few might say they have difficulty finding qualified staff, others that there is too much competition. Some would answer bigger firms are getting the engagements, cite an inability to make presentations to prospects, or claim a lack of referrals. I disagree!

The No. 1 obstacle is the same for all these firms, and it can be summed up in one word: "Perceptions."

The importance of perception occurs in all aspects of acquiring new engagements. Beginning with the firm, quite often members are uncomfortable pitching services both to prospects and clients, an activity seen as distasteful, and compared with being a snake oil or used car salesperson. No wonder those individuals are having trouble generating new business.

I wonder how successful they would be if they changed their perception by adopting the approach in True Professionalism, by David Maister. "Being good at business development involves nothing more than a sincere interest in clients and their problems, and a willingness to go out and spend the time being helpful to them," he says.

It's no different for potential clients and those who make referrals. It is most likely their perception that's stopping them from picking your firm or recommending others to use your firm. For example, if there is a perception that your fees are too high, maybe it's because you haven't shown all the value that your firm would provide. If the prospect believes only a bigger firm could perform the engagement, showing your success on other, similar engagements can change that perception.

Referrals are often not given because the one who would make the referral only perceives a possible downside that the referral it might jeopardize its own relationship with the potential client. You must show that individual the upside.

In all three instances, the key is changing perceptions. And, in reality, perceptions are much easier to deal with than something like foreign tax prep outsourcing, over which you have no control in changing.

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