Six tips for finding your first accounting clients
Whenever a service professional leaves a company job to start their own business, they quickly realize that they need to wear a lot more hats in their own business — and two of the most important hats are sales and marketing. You may bring 10 years of accounting experience from a great firm and be very good at what you do, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a full roster of clients on day one (or consider yourself very lucky if you do).
Finding new clients isn’t an impossible task, and it doesn’t require you to be a natural born salesperson. There are plenty of ways to use new social media marketing and traditional face-to-face strategies to find those initial clients and start building a successful accounting business:
1. Spread the word
Don’t keep your new business venture to yourself; let everyone know that you’ve started a business and currently have openings for new clients. Word-of-mouth is always effective: 82 percent of Americans seek recommendations when considering a purchase. And chances are, your neighbor, someone in your gym class, or a fellow parent from your child’s school will know someone who needs your accounting expertise. So, tell your friends, call colleagues, email your existing network — spread the word about your exciting new venture and be sure to keep plenty of business cards on hand.
2. Articulate what you do — and what you can do for your client
To earn someone’s business, you first need to be able to articulate what you do and how you can help them. It’s not enough to say “I’m an accountant.” You need to be more specific — what’s your area of expertise? What makes you different and how will your clients benefit from your services? Any networking or promotional marketing activity will always be more effective when you can do two things: 1) clearly express what you do, and 2) explain everything in terms of the benefits and impact on the client.
3. Focus on your niche
You are likely not an expert in all facets of accounting, so you should target your clients based on your specialty — small business, specific industry, a particular demographic, etc. This way you can differentiate yourself from other accountants and target the opportunities where you can provide the most value.
If you don’t already have a particular niche, consider demographic trends in your local community. Are young families moving into the neighborhood? They probably want help navigating college funds for their children. Is the local population aging? They could use help with retirement or succession planning.
And once you’ve figured out your niche, brainstorm all the different ways in which you can help your target client. For example, if you’re focusing on small business clients, you could expand your portfolio to offer business formation and business compliance services. With a broader set of services, you can bring more value to your clients, grow your revenue per client, as well as potentially attract new clients who may need help at different stages of their business.
4. Volunteer your services
One of the best ways to get people referring your services is to give them value first. Ideally, you’re always getting paid for the services and expertise you provide, but sometimes, you need to kick things off with some pro bono work. If you are active with a local group, offer to handle their accounting tasks. Or volunteer your services for a few hours each week or month at the local Small Business Development Center or similar resource. The more people who get to know you and your services, the easier it will be to find paying clients. And don’t be shy to ask for referrals — even if it’s just for volunteer work.
5. Be an online and in-person resource
It’s always better to attract potential clients, rather than cold calling and chasing prospects down. A great way to build your visibility and reputation is to get yourself out there as a solid resource in your specific area of expertise. How? Write helpful articles for your local paper or relevant websites. While you can’t promote yourself in the article, you can usually include a link to your website or contact information. Participate in Facebook and LinkedIn groups and provide helpful (not self-promotional) answers when you can. Or, you can teach classes for your target client (i.e., small business owners) through the Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Development Center or other organization.
6. Use your advertising dollars wisely
Many new small business owners think they can set up a website, roll out a few ads, and wait for the calls to roll in. The reality is usually not so easy. In most cases, Google Ads will be too expensive for a new accounting business. But there are a lot of other options out there beyond Google. For example, you can purchase a few Yelp ads. This way local prospects will see your name when they’re looking for accounting services (and this is a great way to have a presence on Yelp before you build a robust client base and have lots of reviews). And don’t limit yourself to online and social media — think about advertising in a local newsletter or sponsoring a school or local sports team.
Once you do land your first few clients, do all that you can to provide them with great service and build a friendly relationship. That is how you get word of mouth and momentum going. Focus on helping, rather than hard selling, and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make great connections with opportunities for great clients.