Building Trust and Relationships as a Key Growth Strategy
Trust is a funny thing. It’s often considered a prerequisite for building fruitful relationships, but how does one begin to manufacture trust – especially in business?
It takes some effort, but the benefits that come from establishing trust with your clients are undeniable. You’ll be able to hold onto them longer, keep them engaged, explore more upsell opportunities, increase the chance referrals and develop a more positive reputation. Having a network of loyal clients who see you as a trusted advisor is vital to the growth of your practice.
Trust is built and upheld through the actions you take over time. It’s also something that’s rooted in character. So, what are some tactical ways to build trust and nurture your client relationships?
Communicate Honestly and Often
Without good communication, relationships will not grow. What does your current communication strategy with clients look like? If you answered with a shrug, we’ve got some work to do. Start by putting a system in place where you can directly connect with clients one on one. Have an initial check-in to review your clients’ financials and explain what you’re looking over. Remember, communication is not just about relaying information; it’s also about listening. What are your clients’ concerns and frustrations? What can you clarify for them? The more they feel like you honestly care about the health of their business, the more they’ll look to you for guidance. After you complete your first check-in, be proactive and schedule the next. Your clients will appreciate your take-charge attitude and feel more secure. Be sure to have extended quarterly check-ins to review any business changes, and explore upsell or cross-sell opportunities as well.
Email newsletters are also an effective way to communicate. Not only are you able to inform clients of important service updates, but you can also use email to send thoughtful holiday e-cards and timely reminders for a business tune-up. Sending emails regularly can keep you top of mind with clients, but be careful. The last thing you want to do is fall into the trap of sending newsletters too frequently just because you think you should. If you can’t immediately identify the value of each email or newsletter you send, it’s not worth sending. And, if your emails are simply one sales pitch after another, they can easily get ignored. Be informative, be helpful and educate your clients on how to maintain financial health.
An up-to-date client database is essential. Make sure you’re collecting contact information from new and existing clients and getting them to opt in to receive emails. If you can routinely communicate how you’re adding value, your clients won’t think twice when paying for your services. And, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. How can you improve your offerings? What else do your clients need or want? The communication you foster can shed a ton of light on how to enhance your own accounting practice.
Be Social – Online and Offline
Social media is an open resource. It should be one of your key strategies for growing your practice. The ubiquity of these platforms makes it easy to see what’s going on with your clients so that you can anticipate their needs. Take a look at which social media platforms your clients are most active on – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram, for example – and build a presence there.
You can explore your clients’ pages and see what they might be sharing about business accomplishments or challenges. Perhaps, your clients also post about personal matters. Did they just get married, have a baby or buy a new house? The more you know about your clients, the better equipped you are to provide recommendations around financial decisions. If selling additional services comes as a result, that’s just icing on the cake.
You can also use social media to reveal the human side of your own practice. Shine a light on who your team is and what they look like. Your clients will likely be more trusting if they can recognize the people behind the business. Don’t be afraid to show some personality, but always remain professional. Social media tends to spark conversations. If clients share feedback on your social pages, respond quickly and be thorough. Invite them to have an in-person conversation with you and explore more opportunities that way.
New to social media, or uncomfortable with the platforms? At the very least, take a look at their social activity before you meet with them to get a better idea of what’s going on with them personally and professionally. You’ll be surprised to see how much people are willing to share online.
Let’s Get Personal
A personal touch goes a long way. Even a simple “thank you” can be incredibly powerful, especially if the person you’re thanking is not expecting to hear it. Holiday wishes and congratulatory messages, especially handwritten ones, show real appreciation and respect. They will not go unnoticed. If you run any annual events just before tax season, make sure invites are personalized and handwritten. Think outside the box when it comes to events, too. Try something like a client appreciation BBQ or a fun outing. Even if clients don’t show up, they’ll recognize the effort and appreciate you for it.
The amount of energy that goes into crafting a genuine message, or sending a gift of appreciation, is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. The sheer amount you incur in fees from clients, and what you earn over the lifetime value of having happy clients, transcends your efforts.
Never Stop Training
Every chance you get to chat with a client, an opportunity is presented to highlight your expertise. When your clients understand what goes on behind the scenes, it contextualizes the scope of work that is required to do what you do. Training clients works to your advantage because your clients will have more clarity on financial discussions and decisions. You’ll be surprised that they’ll actually value your services more and want less to do with it.
If you empower your clients to grasp the work you do, you’ll be able to have more meaningful conversations with them about their business. The more they comprehend, the more they’ll be able to trust your judgment. The key here is being transparent. Get your clients to understand financial terms, compliance laws and nuanced processes. Whether you use the time during one-on-one meetings or inform them through newsletters, teach your clients something new and relevant so that they feel more connected, confident and appreciative of the work it takes to move their business forward.
Prioritize Customer Service
At the end of the day, you’re running a business and the single most important factor is ensuring client satisfaction. Your clients are the lifeblood of your accounting practice. How appreciative are you of their business? It does wonders to go the extra mile and really show that gratitude. If your clients have questions, be available and responsive. Genuinely show that you have the best interest of their business in mind.
World-class customer service goes beyond just your interactions with clients. Your entire team needs to have a sense of what goes into treating clients with not just the utmost respect, but also care and appreciation.
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Like every other relationship, the one you cultivate with your clients requires work. When you build a positive rapport with clients, opportunities can open up in ways you didn’t know existed.
Your reputation can be tarnished from one quick slip. But, if your relationship is built on trust, your clients will likely treat that misstep like an isolated incident and not attach that experience to your name or firm. Building trust is not only critical for your growth strategy, but it’s also necessary for retention. Your clients can become your biggest growth enablers. Clients who are generally happy and fond of the relationship you’ve built together are more apt to tell their friends and family about you.
It’s been said that when mistrust comes in, love goes out. Playing the trusted advisory role requires follow through. Perception is important, but being able to deliver on everything you say can either define or dissolve the trust you’ve worked so hard to build.