Do you sleep well at night knowing your clients are raving fans, or do you toss and turn wondering if you’ll lose the big fish to your competitors?
I had plenty of sleepless nights running a traditional tax practice for half a decade. In fact, I wasn’t sleeping at all during busy season. There was no time to focus on client retention, let alone be creative! Fortunately, passion and purpose aligned for Meyer Tax Consulting over the past few years when I converted to value pricing on tax strategies and kept less than 100 clients, all of whom I adored. At that point, it became fun to go the extra mile.
Using the Acronym FOREVER, here are the lessons I’ve learned:
Fit. One size does not fit all in tax and accounting, and everybody is not for everybody. You have to serve the right kind of client. This will constantly evolve, but choose a lane before you get taken out. That client is a high-net-worth executive for me, but it may be farmers for your firm.
Evaluate your client list annually to look at the top clients that provide the most value, but also identify the bottom ones that are not profitable or the right fit. Identify the ones you love working with and why you like working with them, and make sure your best practices revolve around what you want. This is what I did in 2016 when I converted my firm from hourly to value pricing, and the results were incredibly positive.
Now, take this exercise a step further, so instead of just defining your ideal client, define their ideal persona. Just like I interview a new staff member to be hungry, humble and smart, I interview a potential client to be respectful, kind and tech savvy. It doesn’t have quite the same ring, but these have become nonnegotiable traits.
Outstanding. Identify your competitive advantages as a firm; my business coach, Chuck Bauer, helped me realize how to differentiate myself from other firms. For example, we offer 24/7 emergency access, tax strategies, and video and recorded communication. We also help manage our clients’ entire estate and financial teams, use an urgency system to prioritize work turnaround, and offer a pickup/scanning/delivery service. Make a list of what makes you different and unique – even the small things add up. If you aren’t sure, ask your clients what they appreciate about you. Get feedback and adapt to it.
Resource. Be accountable to your clients. Have someone at your firm assigned and dedicated to their needs. As president and founder, I had to let go of being the client manager for every relationship. Now, each of my tax staff, who are called “project managers,” has their assigned clients for day-to-day interaction. Set a standard turnaround time your staff is expected to acknowledge calls or emails from a client, and make it a key performance indicator to measure.
Empathetic. Taxes are scary, y’all! As tax accountants, we become immune from that hair-on-fire feeling when an IRS letter arrives, but the clients may not be trained to, yet. Put yourself in their shoes and support them through every season of life. Celebrate their new baby, send sorrowful condolences when a parent dies, work through their fears by training them to understand there are not many true emergencies in tax and accounting, mail them handwritten notes, and say happy birthday.
Valuable. Can you show your client their return on investment in you and your firm? The concept of value pricing has become so convoluted in our profession that we need to take a step back and refocus on the numbers. When developing tax strategies, outsourced CFO work or any consultative service, you can easily estimate a cash value for that service. Meyer Tax won’t even work with a client if we can’t find at least 200 percent ROI in our cost. We show that ROI up front, point it out during work and review it year to year. It’s too costly to waste each other’s time.
Engaging. For heaven’s sake, be someone the client wants to be around. There’s a time for feelings, including frustration, but it’s not in a client meeting. I am an extreme introvert, but I have an innate passion for tax strategies and coaching, so I can turn on the passion in just a moment. I add joyfulness on top of that. Figure out a way to connect positively with your clients and staff. When you come across an article that’s helpful, whether it’s about airplanes, rock climbing or coffee, send it to your clients with no expectations in return. Send their new puppy a note and bone, congratulating them on a wonderful choice of parents.
Revolutionary. Michael McQueen said it well at QuickBooks Connect 2019: “Think revolution, not evolution. There’s a place for that, but it ain’t gonna cut it.” I’ve noticed that key changes in firms tend to happen every three years. We go through cycles of growth, change and loss. Unfortunately, most small firms don’t have support during these times and end up winging it or even throwing in the towel. Having a business coach and mentor changed my life so much that I became one! A coach forces you to constantly reevaluate your processes and holds you accountable for positive change.
If you think I’m insane for proposing you have the time to do any FOREVER item, then it’s time to take a good hard look at your firm, health and life, sit down with a coach or mentor, and start the revolution.
Editor’s note: National Thank You Note Day is Dec. 26. How do you thank your clients, employees and associates? Leave us a comment below!