9+ Creative Ways to Attract and Retain Clients

In researching for this article, I began as most people in our day and age begin doing any research: I googled it. I was surprised to find that there were ton of articles regarding how to creatively attract customers in the world of retail, but not so much for us accountants.

What I did find was obviously written by one our own ilk and not exactly creative. “Join a networking group,” “create a web presence” and “give your business cards out everywhere” are all good ideas, but not really exciting or innovative.

The one notable exception I found was an article suggesting, of all things, a speed dating event at your firms’ offices and marketing it through a Craigslist ad! Can you imagine trolling for clients via a speed dating event?! If there is such a thing as too creative, this may be it. Ironically enough, this “unorthodox” idea did get me thinking, though, about the search for love, and how, in a funny way, the same rules can be applied to the business of getting and keeping clients.

First of all, just like in the world of romance, getting a client and keeping the client for years are two different issues and, as such, require different solutions. Moreover, the entire client–accountant relationship is, at its heart, a relationship between two people – just like our personal relationships. Similarly,  the methods for attracting and keeping them mirror those of any relationship. Let me show you, step by step, and give you some ideas in the process.

Step 1: Get out there and meet people. Mr. or Ms. right client isn’t going to just walk into your office. You have got to make yourself go to where the people are or bring them to you. Here are three ideas.

Idea One: Direct mailing home buyers in your area to find tax clients. When I first began my practice, I contacted a local company that creates and sells lists of new home buyers. There are many companies that make a living by going down to the local tax assessor’s offices and compiling lists of new home purchases complete with name, address and the sales price of the home. Most of these companies can filter the list by zip code, date purchased and sales price. In this way, it is possible to create a list tailored to your specific local area as well as the income level of your would be client. I would write a letter to these home purchasers, many of whom were new to the city and did not have an accountant – or, they were first-time homebuyers and could now itemize on their return.

I would make the letter short, honest and personal, beginning with something like “Congratulations on your new home purchase. I’ll cut right to the chase before you decide this is junk mail and stop reading: I got your name from a company that sells lists of new homebuyers and I’d like to become your accountant. Here’s what I can do for you …. Being honest like that really catches the eye of people, and believe it or not, around 5% of them called me, which is a very high percentage for direct mail. I got around 15 new tax clients a year in this way some of whom eventually started there own businesses as well.

Idea Two: Volunteer for a local non-profit. This is a great way to meet people in your community. You don’t need to be pushy about what you do for a living. Let it come up naturally. The key here is attraction and not promotion. By doing this, I guarantee you will find people who need an accountant at tax time and ask for your card.

No matter how you begin volunteering in terms of the task, let the staff and board know that you are willing to donate your accounting/bookkeeping services. I did the books for a small nonprofit for free and presented at the monthly board meetings. In this way, I was in front of board members as an “accounting expert.” Most of these board members were business owners or at least had complicated personal tax returns. Many of my clients came either directly of indirectly from these relationships.

Idea Three: Write an article for, or speak in front of, your local neighborhood association Most communities have a neighborhood association of some sort. If they have a newsletter, volunteer to write an article on tax tips. Whoever the editor is, he or she is usually stuck with writing the entire thing and will be thrilled to find someone to help share the load.

Make the article on tax tips even if you do bookkeeping and not taxes. People expect accountants to know at least a little about taxes and it’s something everyone is interested in come tax time. If they have meetings and you’re not shy, offer to give a 10- minute talk on taxes in the spring. The point is to get your name out there as an expert. I guarantee someone will reach out to you. Help them even if they seem to be a less-than-desirable client. After all, people are the best doorway to other people. This person may not be your Mr. or Ms. right client, but maybe a friend of theirs is a better fit for you. Thankfully, unlike in relationships, it is okay to have more than one client!

Step 2: Close the deal – Get them to say “yes!” Once you have there attention it’s time to begin courting them. Here are 3 suggestions for putting your best foot forward.

Idea One: Spend some time with them – in person. No matter how small the question, suggest that you get together for coffee, lunch or breakfast to discuss it – your treat. This way, you can get to know them and they can get to know you. Dress sharply, be on time and be sure to ask them questions about themselves unrelated to accounting. Show interest in their lives. People love to talk about themselves.

The point is to get them to like being around you. This is vitally important because true or not, many people view the accounting function as a “commodity." Therefore, how the person feels in your presence is often a huge factor in deciding whether you are “the one” for them. Don’t forget they will be sharing very personal financial information with you. They need to feel good around you.

Idea Two: Address their question. Come to this meeting having done some research on the topic they are asking about. Bring a cheat sheet if you need to, but be ready to discuss it. You don’t need to know everything about the topic; just enough to let them know you have the knowledge.

If there are any rates or dollar limits involved, make sure you can recite them (“well the maximum tax credit for tuition is $2,500 ….). Even though a good accountant doesn’t really need to remember this stuff and can just look it up, your possible client will be impressed that you just rattled it off. If they ask you something you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to say you’ll need to look into it. This is a good thing in that it gives you the opportunity to get back to them later with an answer – a second date of sorts, even if it’s just a phone date.

Idea Three: At some point – make the offer and end on a high note. If they don’t ask you – ask them. Some people are fine with the casual approach and can just be asked. Others will want a written proposal. Whatever happens as a result of the “ask,” thank them with an email after the meeting. Even if you are rejected, they may need you later or tell others about you. Remember: people know people, so be gracious.

Step 3 Once you got’ em – keep em’! Just like in our romantic relationships, many of us take our clients for granted. I have been guilty of this myself, passing off the work to my staff and moving on to new conquests. The few clients I have lost over the years have been the ones that I didn’t see that much during the year. Clients, like spouses, like to be attended to, so remember you are their one and only accountant and they want to feel like they are your only client, at least sometimes. The goal is to put yourself in front of the client, either physically or virtually, throughout the year, not just at tax time. Here are some ideas:

Idea One: Email the client periodically during the year. It almost doesn’t matter what the content is. You could create a monthly or quarterly tax tip that you mass email all of your clients. If any new law comes into being, make sure your client hears from you about it, even if it’s all over the news. It will let them know you are up to date and thinking of them. Even if nothing is going on, it’s fine to just say hi. November and into December is actually a great time to reach out to clients with a reminder that tax season is approaching and to perhaps remind them to take those old clothes to Goodwill and save the receipt. This is just one example; I’m sure you have many more.

Idea Two: Meet with bigger clients once a quarter. We have many business clients we only see annually because they keep their own books during the year. However, recently, I began meeting with these clients over lunch once a quarter. This way, I can stay abreast of any changes in their businesses, but more importantly, they get to see that I still care. Think of it like “date night” that married couples with kids make sure to have.

Idea Three: Once a year, have a party and invite your clients. This may seem like a lot of trouble but it’s fun and can yield amazing results. Don’t do it in your offices. Have it in a home. I suggest having it during the holiday season when people are more likely to come to a party.

A party will not only allow you to spend more time with your clients out of a business setting, but it also allows them to network with each other and fosters a community of sorts centered around your firm. People like to be a part of a group – provided it’s a fun group. To this end, be sure to invite some of your more outgoing friends, have music, food, libations (of course), and if you can swing it, try to have something going on that people can pay attention too besides each other, such as live music, a karaoke machine or a fortune teller.

This will help the less social client feel more at ease. An even better idea is make the party a benefit for charity and request the attendees bring a donation for whatever amount they desire. This makes people feel good and shows that your firm cares about the community.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea! Getting a client is all about putting yourself out there and making potential clients feel special. Keeping a client is all about, giving them helpful service and continuing to spend time with them.

In short, a successful accountant continues to make even their longest held clients feel special – just like that very first meeting.