Does your Accounting Firm rely heavily on referrals to find new clients?

Accountants are notoriously poor at marketing themselves. Instead, many rely on word-of-mouth referrals and networking to win more business. But in the connected era when potential clients will check your credibility in a moment and when a poor online review can be a killer, is that enough?

There’s no doubt that referral marketing can be a winning strategy, and there are some great networks out there working hard to build referrals for their members. After all, it is still true that you are more likely to win the business if a friend or colleague recommends you.

But if your pipeline is solely reliant on recommendation, you’re doing yourself a disservice, and there are other issues with relying on referrals.

Referrals Are Not Enough. Accountants Need Brands Too.

The wrong clients

You probably have an excellent idea about who your ideal client is, the size of the business it needs to be, the industry it operates in and how much it will be worth to you. For example with a referral from a current client, you don’t get to do that qualifying; you may feel compelled to take them on even when they are a poor fit for your business. The chances are that neither you nor the client will be happy.

Timing

When do you get your referrals? Mostly it’s when people have a problem they need solving which tends to occur around tax return time. So, you end up getting a large influx of new business, need to build new relationships, and you end up doing extra work at the exact time you are at your busiest with your existing clients. So, is that doing either of you good service?

Shrinking pipeline

The referral pipeline offers a diminishing return. If you’re relying on people in your network, eventually, everyone will run out of friends or people they can influence. So even within the best networking groups, you find yourself working harder and harder to receive fewer referrals. Is that a good use of valuable time?

Small clients 

It’s a fact of life that referral clients tend to be smaller businesses. The type of business asking if anyone knows an accountant is not the sort of business that has a finance team. They are primarily businesses of ten employees or less who possibly retain a bookkeeper using Xero or Quickbooks to keep on top of things. So, are they the clients you want?

Client expectations

I’ve been in business long enough to remember when all I wanted was someone to do my company books, help me with VAT and file my tax return. Now alongside most other businesses, I demand more from my accountant. Back then, I chose my accountant on whether they were good at the basics and if we had a reasonable relationship, but If we’re honest about it, they were all much the same.

In the connected world, an accountant needs to be a Business Partner offering cloud-based solutions, instant updates, business insights and sound advice that helps your business grow.

If you’re an accountant providing a traditional service of tax returns and end of year accounts, your referral pipeline is in danger of withering away.

Online credibility

If I receive a referral now, I first check the business’s credentials online. Website, LinkedIn, Facebook, online reviews. What do their customers say about them? I know potential clients do the same to me, which is why I keep my online presence honest and up to date. I want clients to know and trust me before they’ve picked up the phone or sent the email.

However, many accountancy practices lose this battle before being contacted because their online presence and credibility are poor.

Losing the fight before you know you’re in it

Recently I worked with a medium-sized telecoms business, and they provide comprehensive solutions for offices and events venues—the M.D. Chris is a friend, and as it was that time of year, we started to talk about filing our tax returns. He’d recently changed his business accountant, moving from a small traditional firm to a company he’d found online.

Chris told me he’d received several referrals for ‘good’ accountants from people he knew but hadn’t liked when he checked them out. These are a few of the issues he discovered:

  • Out of date websites
  • Brand didn’t stand out and didn’t match the claims made in the copy
  • Old blog posts – often over two years out of date
  • No LinkedIn, Facebook or Google My Business page
  • A small number of ambivalent and out of date online reviews
  • Lack of clarity about specialisms

It’s not to say that any of the accountants are poor at what they do. It’s just that they’re not going to get anyone calling them, even if they come recommended. In short, they’ve lost a fight they didn’t even know they were fighting.

Does your brand stand out or standstill?

What this tells me as a branding consultant is that accountants who don’t look after their online brand will struggle to win new business.

It never hurts to say it:

Your brand helps to differentiate you as a business, no matter what business you are in.

And you reinforce that brand with the actions you take. So in the case of accountants wanting to appeal to medium-sized and larger organisations, such as Chris’s, it means reinforcing the brand with the correct marketing actions.

Chris was therefore left to find his accountant, and the shortlist he made was of businesses demonstrating their credibility online who had a specialism in his business sector.

Use your marketing to influence the decision-makers.

Thanks to Chris, I have some great insight into the branding and marketing factors that influenced him:

Up to date and relevant website

A poor website is inexcusable, yet so many businesses let themselves down at the first hurdle. Ask yourself:

  • Does your website look good?
  • Does it say what you need it to say and what your clients need to hear? • Does it reflect the insights you provide?
  • Does it reflect the niches in which you specialise?
  • When was the last time you looked at or updated it?
  • Does it represent your business and your brand?
Blog Posts

There are many good reasons to post blogs on your website. The first is that they are great for SEO, the second is that they give you credibility, the third is that they provide valuable insights to potential clients.

When doing his research, Chris read many blogs. The practices that went on his shortlist offered valuable insights into his niche in their blog posts.

Videos

Increasingly short videos on YouTube embedded in your site can demonstrate the insights you offer. They’re also brilliant at introducing your team to potential clients.

LinkedIn

It’s a must to have a business LinkedIn presence, and it’s where Chris started his hunt for accountants who were relevant to his niche. It’s also a great way of engaging with existing and potential clients, a place to post blogs and videos and, to gather helpful feedback.

Facebook

Facebook can perform a different function to LinkedIn and your website. For example, Chris discovered one of the accountancy practices he’d shortlisted put details of their charity work on Facebook. He found that it humanised their brand, gave him a positive feeling and meant that they were one of the first companies he contacted to arrange a Zoom call.

Downloads and ebooks

No business like giving away their trade secrets, but in a competitive market, offering some wisdom that helps to set you apart from your competition is a smart move. So Chris downloaded an ebook “Simplifying tax arrangements for Comms companies”. The download also prompted an email offering Chris a free 30-minute consultation.

Seminars, Webinars & Workshops

Offering business insight either online or with in-person meetings is a valuable tool. I know of accountants who provide finance-related webinars or seminars and marketing, IT, and business strategy. These workshops build brand loyalty and provide credibility for new clients.

Testimonials & Case Studies

One of the things that reassured Chris was seeing reviews on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and the accountant’s websites. That reassured him that the business he would contact was the type of business he wanted to work with. In some cases, longer form testimonials in the form of case studies provided additional insights into his niche.

Branding wins business

Chris found his new accountant because he respected their brand before he’d even spoken to them. Their online branding and supporting marketing reassured him that they understood his marketplace and knew their own very clearly.

They provided solid online evidence that they would offer the insights to help him grow his business, while their existing customers seemed happy with the service they received.

Once he’d appointed his new accountant, Chris asked them about their online presence and how important it was to them to have a proactive branding and marketing strategy. Their response was that it had been transformative.

The major lesson to learn, therefore, is:

Every potential customer does their online homework now, even if they are a referral.

A compelling brand identity presents clients with an immediately recognisable, distinctive, professional image that they can trust and positions you for success.

Don’t be left wondering why you’re not winning business. Instead, embrace your branding and marketing to support referrals, get discovered online and win the clients you want.

Take a look at the brand Breathe created for Lansdell & Rose, an accountant based in London. If you would like a Free Brand Review then please call 01491 699845 or email geoff@breathe4u.com to arrange, we would be delighted to help.