We’ve all been there. Busy season is behind us. We’ve taken some time off during the summer and refreshed our internal batteries. And now maybe we take the time to sit down and reflect on our business. During the next few months, we want to put a plan in place to grow next year’s top line revenue. It’s time to think about bringing in new clients or “rainmaking”. And that’s where we get stuck! Many of us in the accounting profession really hate to sell. We want clients to come to us because we are technically competent, do a great job and are professional. We don’t want to have to advertise or brag about our technical abilities or push our services on them. If we had wanted to become salespeople or rainmakers, we’d have taken more marketing classes in college!
What does “rainmaking” even mean? Let’s define it simply as generating new business for your firm. Rainmakers, then, are those who bring in such new business, often seemingly by magic because they make it look so effortless. But we all know that it’s not easy, and that it does take focus and hard work. The people who make it seem effortless have developed a plan, put it into action and it produces results. But they didn’t get there overnight.
What if we could think about practice development and rainmaking the way we think about other things in our accounting lives – a nice, linear and logical process that leads to measurable results? Then the thought of going out and generating additional revenue for the business might not seem so difficult. But certainly building a book of business is more complicated than that. Or is it? In building my state tax consulting business over the years, I have developed a roadmap consisting of a few key things that have been instrumental in keeping my lead generation pipeline flowing. It’s a process that can be applied to any business, but tends to resonate well with professionals who need to sell services – like us! Here are five proven steps to building your own pipeline and putting rainmaking into practice:
Change your mindset. A big part of being able to grow your business and bringing in new clients is about believing that you have a good service to sell to people who need it. We didn’t go to school to be marketers! So, the thought of having to market ourselves and sell our services can be daunting. As I work with professionals, they often tell me that they don’t like selling or even talking much about their services because it feels pushy to them. But so much of building a pipeline is about creating and then strengthening relationships. People want to purchase services from professionals they know, like and trust. As an accountant or tax preparer, you have a unique perspective on your clients’ financial lives, and you are in a position to assist them not only with tax returns, accounting or compilations and reviews, but also with ancillary services. It’s not about selling to them. It’s about being a trusted business partner who either has services they need or introducing them to others in your network that may be able to assist. When you change your mindset and even your verbiage from “selling” to “advising” or “partnering” it changes your attitude about the process.
Identify your target market. Who is your ideal client? Is it an individual or a business? If your practice focuses mostly on individual tax clients, do you focus mostly on high net worth individuals, small business owners, or real estate investors? It’s important to identify that target market fairly narrowly, thinking about such things as demographics (How old is your target client?), geography (Is your target client in this city, state, country?), and industry (Technology, construction, or manufacturing?) Most of us have a mix of clients, but part of the exercise in identifying your ideal client is to really focus on the types of clients you’d like more of and then to put yourself in situations where you are able to meet them and build relationships with them. Being able to paint a picture of an ideal client and to explain those characteristics to others is key in generating new client leads and building a referral base. If people can picture your ideal client then they mentally go through their client list as you’re talking to see if there are some clients of theirs who you might be able to help. Or they can say “tell me more.”
Put yourself in the room with your target market. Once you’ve identified what your ideal client looks like, you’ll want to put yourself in the room with them so you can begin to build the relationships. The “room” can be a variety of places including networking events, conferences, professional associations, and charitable boards of directors or other volunteer efforts. The room can also be virtual. Engaging in blogging and social media can help to build your presence in the marketplace and allow potential clients and referral partners to learn about you and your firm at their own leisure. I find that a good mix of all of the above is the best way to get yourself out there to build your pipeline. This is where the magic happens. So much of our world has become centered around electronic communication. But this step gets you back out there one-on-one in live communication with other people. Have some fun with it. Again, so much of this is not about selling – it’s about building relationships that may ultimately lead to an opportunity to share your services.
Establish your practice development goals. Accountants tend to be goal oriented people. We like a checklist! And we know the importance of putting those goals on paper. Research shows that people who put their goals in writing are nine times more likely to achieve them than those who don’t. So, as you embark on building your pipeline, set your goals in writing. Include measureable milestones. For instance, your 12 month goals may include any or all of the following: join a new professional association and attend 4 of the next 5 meetings; sign up for 2 networking mixers per month; take 4 clients to lunch per month; reconnect with other professionals who serve the same target market as you do (these people are often great referral sources) – like attorneys, insurance brokers, investment advisors and bankers. Set yourself up for success. Try to set goals around things that you are likely to do. If your networking goals are too aggressive, you’ll find excuses for not engaging in those activities.
Be accountable. So, if you’ve followed the steps above, you’ve changed your mindset about selling professional services, identified the perfect client that you’d like more of, you’ve figured out how to get yourself to the events that your perfect client attends, and you’ve laid out your goals for the year. Now you must put it all into action and report back. To whom? Well, generally to yourself! I recommend to my rainmaking clients that they establish a simple tracking spreadsheet and report their networking “touches” on it weekly and monthly. The only way you’ll know if your plan is working is to track your activities and successes. A tracking sheet will keep you on target, or help you get back on target if you have some weeks where it’s difficult to get out there and engage in practice development.
These upcoming months are a good time to try on some of these tips. I encourage you to take some time away from your desk (maybe on a self-retreat) and put some numbers to the revenue growth you imagine for next year. Then set some measureable goals for yourself related to building your practice. Include things such as attending networking events, joining a new group or two, and maybe strengthening your online presence. Make sure to track your plan and your activities related to those goals. You’ll likely find that you are taking some new clients with you into next year’s busy season.
About the Author
Monika Miles is President of Miles Consulting Group, Inc. - a professional service firm in San Jose, California specializing in multi-state tax solutions (sales tax and income tax) and addressing state and local tax issues such as nexus and product taxability for clients doing business across state lines. In addition to her technical tax practice, Monika also helps other professionals to grow their pipelines and enhance their practice development activities through a program called Jumpstart Your Rainmaking.