How to Mine Accounting Clients for Referrals

In our business, client growth comes from the almighty referral. When we pulse firms and ask about marketing activities, accountants overwhelmingly tells us that more than 80% of their new clients come as a result of referrals from existing clients. Likewise, there is common agreement that traditional marketing activities, such as advertising  and direct marketing, have a relatively low ROI for accountants.

However, when we ask accountants what they actively do to encourage referrals, that’s where things get a little hazy. Non-committal statements like, “Well, my clients just know they can refer .…” are mumbled. If your firm is experiencing unaided client growth, the potential growth with an active referral program is certainly higher.

First, let’s dispel the myth that asking for referrals is pushy or wrong. Clients are clients because they value your services and expertise. Asking for referrals is simply sharing that great experience with other people they know. Satisfied clients are happy to recommend your services.

Second, let’s frame the request. The conversation can be as simple as, “If you know people who may be disappointed with their financial or tax situation and could benefit from our guidance, please give them our name.”

Third, let’s address the ever-present objection that you are too busy. Tax season is the intersection of opportunity; you are actively meeting with clients, and actively having conversations about taxes and finances. Interestingly, people talk more about their finances more in challenging times than when things are going well. Perhaps misery loves company! Keep in mind recessions are the fertile grounds from which new business startups grow – all of which bodes well for your referral season if you are prepared.

Check your process against these simple rules to maximize your referral activity:

  1. Give first. Talk with your business clients about using referrals to keep their business growing in this tough economy. Share referrals from your network and client list. Give first and you’ll be surprised what comes back.
  2. Ask. Leading firms make a practice of regularly asking for referrals (at least from good clients; the last thing we want is more dog clients). Make sure all your client facing personnel are comfortable asking for referrals, and, if necessary, role play conversations to give them practice.
  3. Reinforce referrals. Email signatures, invoice footers, client instruction letters and other client facing materials are good places to remind clients that “We always appreciate your referrals.”
  4. Get a website. Guess what people do when they receive a referral to use you? Research shows that 65% of them immediately Google you. That’s a word that didn’t even exist when most of us passed the CPA exam, but it is the first test your firm has to pass if you hope to close that referral. And with a website, every email you send becomes a simple marketing tool for clients to forward to friends being referred.