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How to build a client community for your accounting firm (and keep it going)



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Having your own client community helps you to build trust, relationships, friendships and gives you an opportunity to show your value, encourage conversation and help your clients get inspired by each other and your team. Although your firm will be what connects your community, the focus needs to be on your clients and showing them how your community will help them in the best way possible.

Encouragement, support, advice, inspiration. They all sit at the heart of a client community. A space for your clients to connect with each other, and stay connected with you (and your team). Communities can be powerful, rewarding and very challenging. Even those clients who love you the most and would be willing to do anything to support you, are busy. They have other commitments and their own clients to take care of. It’s your responsibility to show them why they need to be a part of your community and how it will help their business to be a part of it.

I’d love to share some ideas and suggestions of how you can do both: build a community and keep it going. This isn’t something we have absolutely nailed at PF. Inviting people into the PF community, encouraging them to engage with others and get involved in the conversations has been challenging at times. Explaining exactly what happens in the community, and how it will help accountants has supported us in growing our community. We have various client communities: a free Facebook PF Marketing Community (we’d love to see you in there!), Slack communities for our Accelerator and PF Lab members. There are accountants and bookkeepers in each one who are connecting with each other, sharing ideas and experiences and asking for help. Each one of them requires nurturing and involvement from both those in the community and our team. More recently, we’re considering the possibility of combining our Accelerator and Lab communities so after you’ve been coached on the 12 elements of content marketing, you continue to get learning support and accountability from the Lab community. Watch this space!

Building a client community helps both your clients and your firm to build trust and relationship with each other

Building a client community isn’t easy, and it isn’t quick either. It can take years to build up a community which people are loyal to, and are emotionally invested in. As with lots of things in your marketing, it takes time. You’ll need to put in a lot of effort to get people into your community and to keep them interested and engaged enough to stay. When you have a client community which is full of buzz and life and personality, it’s an extremely helpful place for your clients (and prospects) to share questions, wonderings, thoughts, ideas, and encouragement for one another. The more engaged your clients are, the faster you’ll be able to build trust and relationship with them. They will feel and appreciate the extra support you’re giving them and this will help speed up their buying decisions.

How will it help my clients?

People buy from people. And relationships are often formed from shared values and similarities people have. Whether your accounting firm specialises in a niche, or a type of person, or an industry, there will be similarities between your audience. That’s why they’re your ideal audience. While you’re working on building up trust with your clients, it helps for your clients to also be connected to each other. They’ll share experiences they’ve had working with you and will make recommendations to each other of services you offer.

An example of this is one of our clients Max kindly shared his Foundations workshop experience in the PF Marketing Community on Facebook. Hearing another accountant share what Foundations actually feels like, and the impact it’s had on his firm, and life, encourages others to think about how Foundations could transform their firm in the same way.

This is particularly beneficial to new clients who are still building up relationship and trust with you. When they join your community, they’ll feel safer (not that we can tell them they feel safer, but you can share that’s your intention). They’ll be in a community with “their people” and they’ll have the support of not only their accountant and your team, but also other people who are like them. They’ll be encouraged and helped (fast) by a group of people who get it, who have been through it before and who have their own stories to share. Whether it’s in the same stage of business as them, or in the same niche, they’ll have a shared interest they’ll be able to connect over. If it’s not an industry niche you have, your clients may start to recommend each other and some of them will even end up doing business together.

This isn’t just about the early days of your client being a client, your community needs to be a support system throughout their client lifetime. It’s not as simple as you win a new client, you build a relationship with them, and everything is grand. There will be times where you have clients who are connected with you, they love and value you, you talk to them often…and yet they still might find it hard committing to paying for services with you. Not because they don’t think you’re valuable or the right fit for them, but because they’re unsure of what’s right for them and their business. It’s your responsibility to show them why it’s right for them, and what that looks like. This is what’s at the heart of a client community.

How will it help my firm?

Your firm sits at the centre of all this engagement and collaboration and community. Even if you’re not the loudest voice in the community (and I’d encourage you not to be), you’re still the one responsible for bringing this group of people together. You’re creating space for people to create relationships and are helping people connect with others who are like them. Your clients will feel the extra support you’re giving them and will appreciate seeing how you’ve helped other people like them.

It’s a beautiful thing for your firm when your clients connect with each other and mutually share how great you and your firm are. This is what helps you attract more clients, as you’ll be able to share content about your community in your marketing.

Here are some of the other great things building a community will help your firm do:

  • Use your community in your marketing i.e. sharing stories and experiences from those in it (with their permission)
  • Be more human: it shows there are real people behind your brand and you firm
  • Upserve better: a community gives you the opportunity to test out new services with a trusted group of people

Before building your community, you need to consider its purpose: who it’s for and which platform you’ll be using

One positive thing which has come out of the difficult pandemic we’re still all living through, is the new connections we’ve made and those we’ve made more of an effort with. Although times have been tough, and exhausting, and you weren’t (or still aren’t) able to socialise for long periods of time, many of our clients shared with us how much their clients came together in a community. Marketing became less about telling your clients about your latest service, or your new team member. You focused solely on giving your clients as much help as you could, keeping them updated on all the new guidelines and regulations. This is REAL marketing. Not the fake, salesy, pushy, advertising marketing which probably, as an accountant, you find pretty horrifying at times. One of our clients, Sharon Pocock (owner of Kinder Pocock) together with her team, sends out monthly emails to all her clients. In the early days of the pandemic, Sharon was emailing 2-3 times a week. Clients loved it and found it helpful and supportive (not annoying or fake) because they got the help they needed, urgently. Use your discernment and knowledge of your clients to respond to what people need, when they need it and how frequently they’ll want you to get in touch.

For some of you, this extra support will have been in an already existing community, or it’ll have been the trigger for starting one.

A place to share useful and up-to-date information may have been your purpose during the height of the pandemic, but let’s explore what else you need to consider before starting to build your community:

  • Why are you building it?
    • How does it fit with both your firm and personal goals?
      • It may be one of your goals is to increase monthly spend per client. A client-only community would support this goal, as clients would have a space to share their experiences of working with you, and upserve your services on your behalf. (I’ll talk later about the different kinds of communities you could build).
    •  What’s the purpose? Here are some suggestions of why you want to build a community:
      • To create a space for your clients to connect, have conversations, share learnings and inspire one another
      • To give you the opportunity to educate your clients by running online and in-person training and coaching sessions for your community members
      • To help your clients not just talk about the things they want to do in their businesses, but to help them put things into action
  • How does it fit into your marketing strategy?
    • If you’re considering building a community because you’ve tried a few other things and they haven’t worked in the first 3 months of trying so you’ve decided you need to try something else, then you need to take a step back and revisit your marketing plan and your goals. Before going full steam ahead, you need to make sure this is the right next step for you and your firm and you’re not just trying a new shiny thing because you saw someone else doing it and having loads of “success” with it.
  • Who is your community for?

This will mostly depend on your purpose for building the community in the first place. A few options you can consider:

  • Clients only: the good thing about a clients only community is it’s full of people you’ve built relationships and trust with. They know you, they (hopefully) value you and they’ll more than likely share positive feelings and stories about their experience with you.
  • Prospects too: having prospects in the same community helps them to get to know you better, faster. They’ll be seeing interaction between existing clients and will build trust and relationship with you quicker. It’ll help them feel a part of something before they’ve been signed up with you and gives them an opportunity to see the human side of your firm.

A caution on including prospects as well is you need to let them move at their own pace. If you rush a prospect into your community before they’re ready, you risk damaging your relationship with them. The other challenge you have with including prospects is they don’t necessarily trust you or possibly even know you that well yet so you’d want to make sure they’re the right type of client to be in the community before involving them. You may consider a ‘prospects only’ community: a space for people who’re interested in getting to know you and your firm, but aren’t quite ready to commit yet. This would be a even more challenging community to build as you don’t have the foundational support of clients to help you grow it and if a prospect isn’t feeling ready to commit yet (they’re in the awareness phase of the progression model (you can download our guide to read more), they may not feel comfortable joining a community led by you and your team.

Whoever you decide can be a part of your community, you need to be very clear on the boundaries of the group. You need to be clear about and share who the community is for, what’s allowed and what’s not i.e. selling of services, inappropriate language. It helps people to feel safer when they’re considering joining the community if they know what they can (and can’t expect). 

We don’t allow anyone who sells to accountants into our Facebook Marketing Community. In fact, there are very few non-accountants or bookkeepers in there, only a small few people who we know and trust, and have agreed to never actively sell in our group. 

GoProposal set their boundaries very clearly of what is acceptable in their community, and what isn’t:

  • What do people want from your community?
    • Like with all your marketing, your community isn’t for you or your team. It’s for your clients. What do they want from a community? What would encourage them to be a part of it and be active in it? During the depths of covid, your clients needed extra support and as much information as you could give them. They were looking for guidance and connection with other people while we were all stuck at home and so looked for other ways to keep in touch with people. As we keep moving through this pandemic, this may well be what they still want. It may also have changed and so here’s some ideas on how you can focus your community on what your clients actually want:
      • Ask your best clients what they’d want from a community: as people who trust and like you, they’ll be honest with you. This could include asking them what platform they’d use the most; what content they’d want; who they’d appreciate having in there (i.e. clients only)
      • Ask a client (one you know and trust) to join their client community so you can experience one. You can make the boundaries clear and reassure them you won’t be selling to their audience, you’ll just be present and get a feel for how they do things
      • You want your community to address any issues your clients experience and give them a space to learn and help each other. Run a session with your clients where you ask them questions like:
        • Where do you feel lonely as a business owner (in your niche/in your area)?
        • What are you missing?
        • What do you wish you could talk to other people about?

The content you gather from this session will be so valuable in helping you to launch and market your community. You’ll show your clients you understand them, you’re listening to their problems and you want to be able to help them through the community.

  • You need to try things, and be okay with failing. You won’t always get things right the first time and a community is an opportunity for you to try things, learn things and then keep trying. We created Lab for more connection points, more training and so accountants have a space to get inspiration, your questions answered, and feedback on the marketing you’re doing. For most of the first year (2020), we experimented with what worked, and what didn’t and are using our learnings to keep building the best community for our clients.

We used to have a monthly coaching call on a Friday afternoon whereby anyone could show up and share something they’re working on in their marketing, or something they’re finding difficult. The first few months were busy and then people started to trickle away and we had less people coming each month. We soon realised the lack of structure of the session meant people weren’t sure 1. What it was 2. What they’d learn from it 3. What, if anything, they needed to bring to it. It was using too many brain calories even thinking about it and so people just didn’t show up. We’ve now stopped running the monthly coaching call, and instead we’re running live coaching sessions on specific topics so our members are clear about what to expect from every session. You can also book a Momentum call with our team at any time, to get advice and perspective on any issue.

Your clients don’t expect you to nail it perfectly every time and you’re showing them you’re willing to try things, fail and try something different in order to make sure your community is the best it can be, for them.

  • What size of group do you want?

This will mostly depend on who’ll be a part of your community (more on that further up this article). You may also have more than one community, with one larger than the other. For example, our PF Marketing Community on Facebook has 675 members, and our paid Lab community has 60. The two communities have different purposes and are hosted on different platforms. As your community grows, you may decide to break it up into smaller groups.

  • Will it be an unpaid or paid community?

Again, this will depend on who’s in your community. If it’s for clients only, it makes sense to start with including access to the community with what they’re already paying for. It’ll give your clients the opportunity to experience the community and help you build it to what it needs to be, before you decide to charge additional fees for it (and determine what those would be based on).

You may be thinking you’d like a free community to require less time and effort from you. If you aren’t being paid for it, how much time are you really able to give? But communities don’t grow overnight and even free ones are going to require an investment of your time and efforts. It’s also not the case “you aren’t being paid for it”, as you’re including it in the services you provide as their accountant. Once your community is up and running, you may even revise your pricing to reflect the community clients will become a part of and show them the value they’ll get from it. You mustn’t rush this: there needs to be value from the community before you start charging people for it.

If you’re going to invite prospects into your community, keeping it free would definitely be the best option. It’ll be hard for you to encourage a prospect to join your community when they don’t know you or trust them yet. You can use the community space to show them who you are, how you help people and it will help move them along the buyer progression model.

You could go down the route of a paid client community and if you do, you’ll need to justify what they’re paying for. A paid community could include:

  • Specific training sessions
  • Coaching on specific niche/size of business
  • Small group meet ups
  • Workbooks
  • Tutorial videos

This is exactly what’s included in the PF Lab. It’s a paid community where you get additional learning, coaching and all the sessions are focused on what our members tell us they need help with in their marketing. It’s a place for us to listen to what you need, and then craft the sessions to support our members. It’s also completely free for those who are monthly clients (and some others who are starting their relationship with us, made on a per-client basis). We do that because the closer the relationship with our monthly clients, the better the marketing we create for and with them. It’s part of us serving them well.

  • What platform do you use?

There are lots of options out there for you to host your community – Facebook, Slack, Teams, WhatsApp… and in one sense the actual platform doesn’t really matter. It matters if you choose a platform none of your clients like and engage with; but you could spend years trying to decide on a perfect platform and then discover during the process another one is better. It’s more important that you initially choose a platform based on where your clients connect and engage with each other, and then be open to change if something better comes along.

  • Where are your clients interacting with each other?
    • Whether your firm specialises in a niche, a size of business or a certain area, your audience will have something in common with each other (that’s why they’re ideal clients). Wherever they are most likely to interact with each other, this is where your community needs to be (and this is something you can research in the testing phrase we talked about earlier).
    • For example, you’d mostly find tech companies using Slack as their software to communicate quickly and easily with their team.
  • How accessible do you want to be to clients?
    • Some platforms will make you more accessible than others so you need to consider how easy you want to make it for clients to contact you. This will depend on your values, your needs and how you run your firm. A community will help you set communication expectations for clients so don’t set false expectations by choosing a space you reply very quickly on (i.e. WhatsApp), when ordinarily you’d take a few hours to get back to them (i.e. email)

Here are some options of platforms you could explore:

  • Facebook group: nowadays people tend to use Facebook for groups so it’s a good option for your community. It’s very non-committal and it’s easy and comfortable for people to join. Because it’s used so much for groups, you will need to work hard at helping your community stand out amongst all the other groups
  • Slack community: Slack is often used as an email replacement for teams to communicate faster and in a more organised way. For a community, it gives the feeling of “hanging out”. It’s a comfortable place for people to chat, share thoughts and give advice to one another. It would an especially good option if your clients use Slack for their own team communication as they’d be able to simply add your community as an additional one
  • WhatsApp group: Many of us use WhatsApp groups for staying in touch with friends and family, and many of us mute notifications on these groups (me included!). With us all being on our phones so much these days, notifications can get irritating and you won’t be able to control how much people are posting/talking. It may put people off if their phone is constantly pinging, and then if they mute the conversation, they miss out on the point of the community.
  • Discord, Mighty Networks and Vibely: I’m not are not as familiar with these (as we use what suits us as a creative agency best, Slack), but they’re all community networks which some of our team have used in the past. I’m sure they’re are more too, but it’s more about making sure your community is valuable and helping people to show up because they want to and need to.

You could also have a think about any communities you’re in which you make an effort to be an active member of:

  • What do you love about the community?
  • Who’s in the community?
  • Why did you join it in the first place? (Most likely because it was relevant to something you were working on, thinking about, planning on doing)
  • Where is it? I.e. online or offline or a hybrid
  • How do you interact with the other members?
  • How do the community leaders encourage collaboration?
  • How does it make you feel?

Now you’re ready to start building your client community

Once you’ve nailed down why you’re building a community, what platform you’re going to use and who’s going to be in it, it’s time to start building. Start creating a buzz around the community before you launch it to help your clients get excited and prepare them for it coming. Here’s some ideas for this:

  • Share posts on social media with fun and punchy headlines
  • Write and publish a blog about your experience of building one: share why you’re building one and and how it’s going to help your clients
  • Record an intro video sharing details about the community, what members can expect and how it’ll help them

Now it’s time to get people into your new community. Start by inviting your clients in and get the conversation started:

  • Invite people to introduce themselves: ask everyone in the group to share a little about themselves and their firm, where they are in the world, and a random fact about them as a human. This will help with people’s confidence and address any fears they have about speaking up in a group. They may be wondering “Do people really want to hear from me here? Do I have something useful to say” so sharing something about themselves feels safe and comfortable.
  • Organise and run an in-person ‘Meet and greet’: you could set these up by location, or by industry with the purpose being finding something people have in common and bringing them together. The PF 100 days video challenge is a good example of this – it’s for a group of accountants and bookkeepers who all want to get better at doing video. Throughout the challenge, members comment on each other’s videos giving feedback and encouragement and inspiring each other to keep going.

  • Encourage posting from clients: get you and your team in the habit of asking clients to post any questions they ask you in the community. Answer their question when they ask it, and then say “would you be willing to post this in the community group too?”. You ideally want their questions to come from them as it helps other members see things are happening and encourages engagement.
  • Wish people a Happy Birthday! One of our clients, Cheryl, gave me this great idea in a Lab session we ran about building a client community. It’s a small message which can make a big impact. Show your clients you care about them and are thinking about them by sending a quick note on their birthday.
  • Run a coaching session with a client: invite one of your clients who has specifically worked through an issue you’re running a session on and help them feel connected and show them how it will help them i.e. if your clients are in the same industry, for example, craft beer, you could run a session with one of them who’s used their forecasted numbers to take action in their business and seen an improvement in sales because of it.

Once you’ve got your community up and running for a few months, you can start to show other clients/prospects what it’s like to be in your community. If you’ve been running educational sessions, or client only get-togethers, then share the recordings in your monthly newsletter and short clips on your social media platforms. This helps your clients get a sense of what it’ll be like to be in your community, and helps them to understand how it’ll benefit them and their business.

Your community might start to flag and you’ll need to make an effort to revive it

Once your community has been going a little while, you may notice the interaction starts to die down and fade away… this is to be expected so try not to get discouraged by it. There’s so many things taking our attention, and your clients are being pulled in lots of different directions. Once your community stops being the shiny new toy, it’s easy for people to unintentionally pull away from the group. It’s not personal and it’s not because they don’t see the value in your community. It is however you and your team’s responsibility to pay attention to these times and work together to keep building your community. You can try some (or all!) of these ideas to inject a boost in interaction and connection:

  • Keep the focus on them: Run a session in your community and ask your clients what THEY specifically need support with in running their firms. Ask them: “What’s weighing most on your mind at the moment? What area of your business do you need the most support with right now?” From the clients who contribute to the session, you’ll likely see patterns in the types of things your clients need help with. This will help guide you in any training/coaching you offer, and will help make sure your community stays focused on your clients.
  • Monthly educational sessions: run 30 minute sessions on Zoom and “Go Live” to your Facebook community (or post the recording in your Slack community later) and choose topics based on common questions and issues your clients share with you. Encourage people to ask questions both in the live session and when they’re watching the recordings.
  • Post your blogs in the community: every time you write and post a new blog, share it in the community and tag anyone who has specifically asked you about the topic which the blog addresses.
  • Reach out to your best clients and ask for help: Those clients who know you, like you and care about you, want to help you. You might feel like you’re bothering them by asking them to post in the community. You can remind them everything they share, and other people share, all helps them. It’s all for them. If they want advice on something related to their business, who better to ask than people who’re in a similar position than them? This is the message you need to communicate when asking clients for help.
  • Keep wishing people Happy Birthday!
  • Ask silly questions: I saw a great LinkedIn poll by one of our clients the other day. The question was “Where do you keep your chocolate?” As an avid chocolate fan (it’s one of 5 PF pillars), I needed to immediately answer the question. (My vote: the fridge). Jonathan then posted it was one of his most interacted posts ever on LinkedIn. Ever. People feel safe answering silly questions. Tea or coffee? What’s your favourite pizza topping? What’s your pet called?
  • Share weekly client victories: celebrate your client’s wins! This will help inspire and motivate the others in the group, and encourage those who are struggling with their own goals to reach out and ask for help.
  • Keep reminding people there is a community: in your blogs, videos, emails, social media posts.
  • Add new clients to the group: you can create content during the prospect process about your community so when they sign up to be a client, they know a community is part of their monthly package. Set the expectation of what it is and how it will help them so they feel safer and more comfortable joining the community when the time comes.

Clients will come and go from your community and that’s ok. The most successful communities are those spaces where people feel safe to do so. You wouldn’t want people in there who feel obliged to stay, there’s no benefit to either them or you.

Don’t take offence if even your greatest clients don’t want to be there. Even if they love you, and understand and recognise the value you bring them and their firm, it doesn’t mean they want to be part of your community and you need to respect that. It doesn’t make them any less of a great client, and they’ll have their own personal reasons for not wanting to be a part of it. A successful community has people who want to be there and who get value from it.

It’s called a client community because it’s led by them: your clients. You and your team will need to invest a lot of time and effort in it, but you want the focus to be on them. If you need support in starting and building your own community, join the PF Lab one and you’ll get support and coaching in creating a space in which your clients can connect and grow together. (If you’re already an existing PF client, get in touch with us however you usually do and we’ll get you set up in the Lab community).