How to find the perfect client for your accounting firm

As an accountant, landing the best clients is often tantamount to conducting the best business.

When I started my accounting firm some 15 years ago, I made the fatal mistake of opening the doors to all and sundry. I didn’t care which clients I took on board. I thought that I could service all their needs and they would all be great clients to work with. Sadly I was wrong. I managed, over the initial years to accumulate a client base of slow paying, unappreciative and demanding people.

Then I spoke to a good friend of mine, Brendt Munro, who had a very successful and very entrepreneurial accounting practice – a practice I wanted my accounting firm to grow to be like. He said to me the following when I asked him why I was attracting the types of clients I was:

“The types of clients you are attracting directly relates to the type of marketing you are doing.”

I was marketing very heavily in the early days of my accounting firm — but I was attracting the wrong types of clients, and I had no idea why. Then it dawned upon me. One clue was that I was offering to beat any previous accounting fee for new clients.

I thought I could grow very quickly with this marketing strategy. Guess what? I only attracted clients who were after the lowest possible price. They certainly were not the best clients to have, and it’s not the best marketing strategy to employ if you want to build a firm full of quality, A-class clients.

My marketing strategy was completely back-to-front. In the early days, I should have first decided on the types of clients I wanted to work with and then designed and implemented a targeted marketing plan to find these specific clients.

It’s simple: ask yourself what type of clients you want and where will you find them. You need to get very specific in the types of clients you would like to work with. If you don’t, then you will attract all types of clients that will drag your business down.

When I worked out what was wrong with my firm, I defined the ‘perfect client’ I wanted to work with, and then I set about marketing to this perfect client group. If you implement the following two steps in order, you will grow your accounting firm with the clients you want:

Step 1: Create a Perfect Client Profile (PCP)

Sit down and list out what your perfect client would look like if they walked in the door right now. Create a very specific list of the types of industries they would be in, what their annual sales would be, how many staff they would have and so on. In my firm now, I have a list of 21 qualities that I use to vet potential clients of my firm. My entire marketing plan is based solely on my PCP and finding where they are so I can reach them. Here is a sample of the qualities I look for:

1. Must be an existing business, not a startup (too risky). Must be still growing, not in a decline phase and:

  • Have a minimum three to four employees — not a sole trader
  • Have a minimum of $500,000 annual turnover
  • Not in a declining industry or a situation with limited opportunities. Client has potential and is interested in growing business further.

2. The business is not in decline, and the client is not eyeing retirement
3. The business makes a profit now
4. The client is in line with our niche with regards to industry, products and geography
5. The business owners must be ambitious
6. The client is open to new ideas
7. The clients are nice people to deal with and treat us with respect
8. The client is willing to play by our rules
9. We can eventually achieve minimum of $280 average hourly rate on their work
10. The client is not a price shopper

Before you even spend one dollar on marketing, you need to get very specific on the type of clients you want to attract. If you don’t, then you will waste time and marketing money chasing the wrong clients.

Step 2: Build a plan to target your perfect client

Now your entire strategy needs to focus on where you will find your perfect customer and how you can market your services to them. Everything from your firm’s branding and your website, to where you choose to advertise is dependent on the PCP you have just created.

My accounting firm only specialises in business owners and investor clients. This means my website will state that fact very clearly. When a prospect client calls, I make sure they fall into these categories; otherwise, I don’t agree to an interview. At the meeting, I have my perfect client profile on a checklist that I tick off against when I interview them.

I also specifically target my marketing efforts at business owners at local chamber of commerce events by presenting at business breakfasts and at industry-specific functions.

All my direct mail and email marketing campaigns focus only on business owners in specific industries that I want to get clients from. I have purchased and built mail and email lists based on the qualities listed in my perfect client profile. I now have very focused and specific marketing activities aimed at my target market of clients I want to work with. Sure, at times I still attract clients outside my target group, but I do not usually take them on board.

If you want to market your accounting firm to the types of clients you want, you must first be very specific in describing who you want. There is no point in casting a wide net and marketing to all the fish in the ocean; otherwise, your net will fill up with the dregs of the ocean, like mine did when I first started my accounting firm.