Referrals are key to growing a tax and accounting firm

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When you launched your tax and accounting practice, did you think that all you had to do was hang out your shingle and the clients would pour in? I didn’t either, but I wasn’t sure where I could find my first client, let alone how to grow my practice.

Clients are the lifeblood of our practice; without them, our practices won’t grow, our businesses won’t stay afloat, and we won’t have the resources to solve problems and find the solutions our clients need. Without them, we can’t take on the role of the trusted advisor. With all the demands we place on ourselves to run a successful practice, who has time to find clients? You do!

With so many different ways to build your practice, where do you focus your time and what brings the most bang for your buck?

One of the best ways to grow your business is through building a referral network – a powerful and crucial strategy you need to grow. A referral network is a group of professional colleagues who send you clients, market your skills, and actively help you grow your business. When someone from your referral group tells a prospect that you are the “go-to” person for a certain issue, your credibility with the prospect goes up, and closing the sale is almost a sure thing. Nothing is more powerful than getting others to refer and send business.

Again, this is easy, right? Not by a long shot. It takes work, time, and discipline to find, build, and grow your referral network. If you don’t make the time, you won’t have a pipeline of clients, and ultimately, you won’t have a business. You need to devote at least 20 percent of your time each week to building and growing your referral network. However, if you stick with it and are disciplined about your approach, you will see many powerful benefits, including more revenue.

Here are some ways to build your referral network.

Create your ideal client profile

Who is your ideal client? What type of client do you serve best? What are their pain points? What are their goals? What problems do they need your help solving? Is it a gig worker? A high-net worth client? Is it a small business in a specific industry, such as manufacturing or advertising? Be as specific as possible. As you start to build your referral network, a well-defined client profile makes all the difference.

Here is an example:

An ideal client is in her 40-50s. She runs a highly successful middle-market business with annual revenue of $10M, has a 50% net profit margin, and a 10-person team of employees. Her firm has a strong social media presence, and she has worked hard to build her highly successful brand. She has had little-to-no employee turnover because she provides a great working environment, compensation, and benefits. She knows her employees are the backbone of her success. She wants to focus on growing her revenue to $15M in three years and retire in 10 years. Her biggest joys are telling puns and her schnauzer “Peanuts.”

Is this profile too specific? Maybe. Do your referral partners know someone who meets these exact details? Probably not. However, they may know someone who is close to this ideal client profile and fits in most of the details. The more details you provide your referral partners, the better the referrals will be.

Build your power team

It’s time to build your power team to help market your practice. Your power team should be comprised of six to eight people who offer services complementary to yours, but don’t compete with you. The reason to keep this team small is so everyone can focus and strategize providing referrals for each other.

Questions to ask your potential power team members could include:  

  • What differentiates you from your competitors?
  • How do you serve your clients/customers?
  • What advice would you give someone just starting out in your industry?
  • What are the recent trends in your industry?
  • How do you promote your business? 
  • How do you learn about your industry and the marketplace?

Keeping the group small is also a good way to hold each other accountable. Keep in mind that you have an obligation to help the other members of your team. Pay it forward.

Finding your power team

CPAs and tax advisors work with business clients in tax and accounting, but what other services would a business owner need that you can help your clients find? Attorneys, estate planners, insurance agents, information technology providers, financial planners, and payroll providers would be a great place to start. But, don’t dismiss your accounting colleagues; they may know people you could better serve. Regardless of who is on your Power Team, you need to be selective and pick people who regularly come into contact with your ideal client. Marketing professional Porter Gale said, “Your network is your net worth.” It’s so true.

Where to find referrals

Now it’s time to go to work. First, hold yourself accountable and meet with your network regularly – even weekly – to strategize, cross promote, and learn more about how you can help each other. Next, figure out all the places you can find referrals. Here are two key sources.

#1: Find a networking group and networking events to attend. This group is a larger group of professionals – not your Power Team – who you can meet with on a regular basis (weekly or monthly). BNI and TEAM are two well-known examples, but there may be some groups that are unique to your geographic area.

The networking group will expand your circle of influence and help you grow your business. In these large groups and events, remind yourself your goal is to build relationships and establish connections. The goal isn’t to meet as many people as possible; it’s to build relationships and find others who can be good referral partners. Always make sure to follow up to anchor your relationships and build familiarity. Handwritten notes are a great way to remind your connections who you are and how you can help serve their clients or customers. 

#2: Tap your current and past clients. This one seems obvious and daunting, but remember that your clients will probably be your best source of referrals. Happy clients are the most important advocate for you and your business. They can speak to how you are their trusted advisor, how you helped them solve their problem, kept them in compliance, and developed solutions for their tax and accounting needs.

Most of us don’t consider clients as referral sources because we may be worried about seeming like we’re a nuisance or bother when we do ask, and worry they will say no. Summon up your courage and know that your clients want to help. Remind yourself that if most of your new business comes from referrals and you’re not doing everything you can to get more, you shouldn’t be more afraid about all the business you’re losing by not asking.

If you are worried about asking your clients directly, you have a few options:

  • Contact your clients regularly to see how they are doing and how you can help them. During the call, you can work in a request for referrals.
  • Send your clients a handwritten note thanking them for their business. Always ask them if they know anyone who can benefit from your services.
  • Update your email signature with a note, “Know someone who could benefit from our services?” Include a link to a special page on your website to collect referrals.
  • If you send out email blasts or newsletters regularly, ask your readers to share the info with others through their social media channels.
  • Ask your client to complete an online review on Google or Yelp. 

Stay aware and you’ll achieve success

Referrals don’t happen overnight. You need to stay focused and disciplined in your approach. Remind yourself that the more you ask, the more you’ll grow.

In closing … “Do you know anyone who can benefit from my services? I would appreciate any referrals you can provide.”

Happy networking!

Alison Reiff-Martin, CPA

Alison Reiff-Martin is the CEO/founder of Reiff Martin CPA & Business Advisory Services. She and her team partner with business owners and individuals, providing a full range of tax and accounting services. Alison has more than 30 years of accounting experience, from staff accountant to CFO, CPA, and entrepreneur. She has a passion for helping business owners tell their business' story through numbers to help them achieve their financial goals and business objectives. Alison has a bachelor of science degree in management from Indiana University and a master's degree in accounting and information systems from the University of Kansas. More from Alison Reiff-Martin, CPA

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