On whether ‘good’ and ‘cheap’ go together.

good and cheap accountingThis week on Facebook I saw an update from a networking group I’m part of, where someone was asking, “Does anyone know of a good/cheap [type of business]?”  I’m not even going to mention the type of business, because I honestly can’t remember what they were asking about.  Could have been an accountant, or a photographer, or a lawyer, or a website designer.  What stuck out to me was that odd combination of “good/cheap”.

Most of us know by now that when it comes to screening prospects, the “good/cheap” comment is a real red flag.  It often means that the person:

–       Doesn’t value the work they’re asking about

–       Does not understand the level of work required, or the skills needed to accomplish the end goal

–       Is confused about what the end goal actually is

–       Has little or no money to spend

–       Has not identified a budget

–       Will, even if they sign up, question every fee and ask for discounts constantly

–       Will recommend others who are also the wrong kind of clients

–       And finally, is hoping that someone desperate for work (but somehow incredibly talented) will offer to do amazing work at no charge.

Naturally, we’ve all learned to steer clear of these enquiries.  Sometimes we respond with a minimum fee and we never hear from them again.  Other times, if we’re honest, we don’t even bother to respond.

But this is where online marketing can come in and save the day (again).

Because online marketing has an incredible ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, the hot from the cold – and even the ‘good’ from the ‘cheap’.

Here are a few ways you can adapt your marketing to ensure that it is the best, the hottest, the most ideal prospects that you spend your time talking to:

Get a clear picture in your mind of the time wasters.  What are they like? What questions do they ask?  How do they usually get in touch? Where do they come from?  Spend a few minutes jotting down notes from memory of past prospects who have really made things difficult for you.

Use questionnaires, diagnostics, checklists.  These are incredibly valuable.  It’s an odd truth that if someone is going to be the kind of client who wastes your time, they don’t like wasting their own.  If they want a quick quote and don’t really care what kind of accountant they are working with, they’re not going to take a few extra minutes to complete a more detailed questionnaire that will give you valuable information and help the whole proposal process.  And if they do take the time to fill it in, you can know that their interest level is fairly high.

Offer free resources.  If they’re looking for free stuff, by all means give them some.  (Re-read my marketing tip on giving away free things.)  For professional service firms, online marketing does a brilliant job at finding out whether people are interested in getting started in working with you, or just looking around.  Think of it like someone coming into a shop at an airport.  Some people are literally “just browsing”.  They pick up a wallet, try on a pair of sunglasses, shake a snow globe, consider makeup colours.  There’s no intention to buy, and if the shop is handing out free samples or discount vouchers, they’ll happily take one and maybe another for a friend, and then wander along into another shop.  But there are others.  People who have been looking for a brown leather wallet for the last several weeks and when they drop in, it’s very likely they will end up purchasing it.  And that free gift or voucher could be what draws them in to buy it from your shop instead of someone else’s.

Listen to the words that are used.  If someone emails the firm and asks, “What’s the cheapest tax return you do?”, alarm bells can start ringing in your head.  If they ask for a price before they ask anything else.  If they tell you that their current accountant only charges them a certain amount.  If they want speed over accuracy.  Be alert.

Identify a simple, direct response to initial enquiries.   You can have an automated system that ensures prospects get some level of response quickly, and then you can add a personal touch.  If someone goes to the effort of engaging with your website and downloading free resources and filling in a questionnaire and perhaps even ringing the office, take action.

Do not respond to all enquiries yourself.  Filter, filter, filter.  Your system can do some of this for you, but it’s very likely you can filter queries through a marketing manager, an admin assistant, or even an intern.  And having an understanding of who the time wasters are and then responding quickly with basic information, can not only save you a great deal of time, but also bring to your attention only those genuinely interested in taking things forward.

Compile ‘frequently asked questions’.  Many accountants have twenty, thirty, forty years’ of experience answering the same questions over and over – and over.  Start writing them down, or else you will be answering them in the same way, using the same words, for the rest of your business life.  If I get the same question even twice, it goes in my FAQ list.   Then once you have an FAQ’s list, put it on your website.  Create a PDF.  Make sure it is easily accessible, and share it with those who enquire.  More time saved, and your filtering system is working better all the time.

Do your research.  Most accountancy firms have access to a massive amount of information via Companies House or similar.  If you’re not sure, do a quick check online, or a credit check, and get a sense of what you’re dealing with.  It doesn’t mean you write them off entirely, but it can help you to be more cautious.

No, most of the time (for professional services and especially for accountancy services), ‘good’ and ‘cheap’ do not and should not go together.  But you can find out which one your prospects are primarily looking for, and save a great deal of frustration – for you and for them.