Most of us spend our marketing efforts trying to get prospective clients to come.
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But as an accountant sharing your expertise with your prospective clients, one of the most powerful things you can do in marketing is to craft marketing messages that will turn people away.
The wrong sort of people.
The type of businesses you do not want to work with.
There are some sorts of businesses none of us want to deal with – the late payers, the cheapskates, the arrogant ones who know more about everything than anyone, the time wasters.
But depending on your niche and target market there are others you may want to send away that another accountant wants to draw in. An example of this is:
- Startup businesses
- Retired individuals
- International clients
- SAGE desktop users
Some accountants I talk to wouldn’t touch a startup business or a freelancer with a ten foot pole. They want to work with businesses that have a turnover of at least £250k per year. Or £500k. Or £1m.
Others have a specialty in contractors and freelancers, and they’ll take as many of those as you’d like to pass on to them.
[Side note: We are compiling a list of trusted accountants who have a true niche that they serve so that if you don’t work with a particular type of client you can pass those leads to someone who does. This is only for those who are proven experts in this field, having a minimum of 20 clients in that niche, are known at least locally for their expertise, and who we know personally and trust. If you’re a Profitable Firm client and you’d like to collaborate with other accountants in this way, let me know.]
So, how do you frame your marketing to send these sorts of potential clients far away from you, rather than drawing them in?
Here are a few tips:
Offer free resources.
The tyre kickers, the time wasters and the cheapskates will simply download free things forever, and never do business with you. No harm done – the resources are there regardless, and it’s wasted none of your time. (Conversely, the right kind of clients will eventually get in touch because of what you offer.)
Ask prospects to complete a diagnostic or questionnaire.
This has a double impact: first, if they can’t take five minutes to answer a few questions online, they’re either not your type of client, or they don’t use the internet. (In our case, if the latter, you’re definitely not our type of client.) Second, it gives you some information that is helpful for your next step: the client interview.
Be clear about the type of clients you want.
Knowing your niche and your target audience is a first step – but go beyond that. Know whether it’s important that they’re young or old, located in the UK or somewhere else in the world, extremely wealthy or not so much, the type who question everything or accept advice easily, and so on. Those kinds of characteristics will help you decide whether this prospect is worth spending time on, or not.
Be clear about the type of clients you do NOT want.
Once you know who or what you want, that will help you come up with a list of the red flags – or even the ‘pink flags’. (Pink flags are those that aren’t exactly worrying, but it could go either way. My business partner Shaun says that pink flags can very quickly turn into blazing red flags, and to stay away from both.) This could include things like “asks about prices in the first email”, or “constantly mentioning famous people they’ve met” or “is in debt for more than £5,000”. Your red flags (and pink flags) will not be the same as everyone else’s – you need to come up with your own.
Hold an online ‘interview’ with prospective clients.
I like the word interview because it infers that not everybody gets in. Not every prospect will become a client automatically simply because they’re ready to present a credit card. Be structured about your interview. Ask key questions. Present the solution in a way that is a fit for your firm and that is clear for the prospect.
Make it harder, not easier.
I particularly like the application process that Jason Blumer uses for his Thriveal Incubator programme. He states right up front that it won’t save while you’re filling it in (so you need to keep your answers separately or you might lose them), and there’s a nonrefundable $250 fee for even trying (presuming you make it through the process). I had a Skype chat with Jason a few weeks ago and I said, “It’s almost as if you’re trying with all your might to prevent them from applying – I love it!” And the reason I love it (and I presume he does too) is because it’s a fit with what he’s selling. This is an incubator programme for the keen, the energetic, the creative, the entrepreneurial accountant. If those things characterise you, you’ll be challenged by the process and will be determined to make it work. If these are not your characteristics, you’ll get frustrated and give up – and those kind of accountants aren’t a fit for the programme.
Offer a low-cost introductory item.
If you can, offer some kind of item that is paid for, but is not a huge fee. Perhaps a product, an online training workshop, a strategy session, a pre-funding application. When you’re in professional services, providing a small service that is paid-for allows prospective clients to explore what it’s like working with you – but you’re not providing a charitable service. If they’re happy to pay the fee, then they are learning to value your work (and you’re showing that you value your own work and time). If they can’t or won’t pay a small fee – say £50, or £250, or $500 – then it’s likely they’re not your kind of client.
Increase your prices.
As you build your expertise in a particular area (we’ve talked about niche marketing many times in the past, and the power of being a visible expert), you have the right to command higher fees. The Hinge Visible Expert study (which you can download here) indicates that your fees can be up to 14 times higher when you’re perceived as an expert in a particular area. So, increasing your prices not only turns away the tyre kickers and the cheapskates, but it also increases your appeal. One of my clients pointed out the recent VW advertisement that proclaimed they were “reassuringly expensive”. It costs a lot because its value is high. I bought a pair of Tiffany sunglasses a few weeks ago. They were, I assure you, reassuringly expensive. And as soon as I put them on I knew why. I’ve never had a pair of sunglasses work that well (and look that good while doing it). Do remember though that it’s not simply about increasing fees – if your prices are high, your service needs to be very, very good. If I had bought the sunglasses and discovered that I actually preferred the cheap knock-off Gucci’s I bought in Bali, that would have been a disappointment.
When you’ve developed a process that weeds out the unwanted prospects, stick with it. Be strong. Don’t give in because this person has a lot of money they want to throw around, or that prospect says they have always wanted to work with you. You can be flexible while you’re still working out what the lines are, but once you have confirmed them, don’t give in. Know your boundaries, write them down, share them with the team, and hold to them. You’ll be glad you did.