By Sandi Leyva
In 2011, there were 28.2 million businesses in the United States. Almost all of these businesses are small businesses, and more than 75 percent of them are solopreneurs. More than half a million new businesses are born each year.
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The great thing about being in the accounting industry is that every single one of these businesses needs one or more accountants to help them keep their books. What’s even more recession-proof is the requirement that all business owners must file all sorts of taxes and reports each year, requiring by law the type of recordkeeping that accountants are great at.
Going After “Everyone”
A common mistake that many new entrepreneurs make is to go after “everyone.” When you market to everyone, it makes it much, much harder to get clients, because no client thinks they are special. To you, they’re just anyone, they think.
This chapter is especially important because we need to narrow down who our best client is. When we have a clear idea of who we’re going after in our marketing, then we can target our messages so that the prospect thinks we’re speaking directly and personally to them.
Let’s now discover who your ideal client is. You’ll learn to do a “persona,” plus we’ll go even deeper than most marketers were trained to do. Tara Hunt in her book The Whuffie Factor explains that marketers first learned how to identify the demographics of their clients. We’ll do that first. Then, about 20 years ago, we discovered that psychographics mattered – the why of the buying decision – so we’ll take a look at motivation second.
Today we can go much further than simple demographics and psychographics. With social media, Tara has defined the next evolution, “socialgraphics,” where you begin to get to know the likes and characteristics of your clients and followers and create a way to interact powerfully with them. We’ll explore that third.
Fourth, every individual has a different sense of how they value and approach time. Adrian C. Ott has provided insights into how we can modify our services to create new marketing opportunities in her award-winning book, The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy. We’ll introduce you to timeographics.
Finally, we’ll add what we as accountants want in an ideal client, and we’ll put it all together.
Identifying Your Potential Clients
Let’s start with taking an inventory of characteristics of your existing accounting clients. If you don’t have any clients, play along as best you can, listing the type of person you best get along with. We’ll have some more tips for brand new entrepreneurs at the end of this section.
The goal of this section is to discover exactly what type of client you have the most of. For example, a CPA may discover she has a predominance of married women in their 40s who are executive coaches.
Obtain a list of your current accounting clients and put their names in a spreadsheet. If you have over 200, you may want to take the top 80 percent of revenues or create your own selection process to simplify the work you need to do in this step. If you have many services, do this one service at a time. Add several columns to the spreadsheet, such as the ones listed below. Your columns could vary depending on whether you serve businesses or individuals. However, even if you offer your services to companies, focus in on your buyer: the person who authorizes the payment of your invoices.
- Approximate age
- Socioeconomic category
- Ethnic background
- Own or rent their home
- Business size (solo, small, medium, Fortune 1000)
- Title of contact
- What role they see you play in their company
Add columns that are important to your business. For example, an accounting firm needs to know type of entity (partnership, corporation, nonprofit, etc.). A QuickBooks consultant might need to know which version and flavor of QuickBooks the client is running.
Create a Persona
Do you see any patterns emerging? Some questions to ask include:
- Are your accounting clients mostly male or female?
- Is there a median age?
- What is the size of the business?
- Is there a predominance of one industry?
- How many employees are there?
- Do you work with a particular department?
- What other patterns of commonality can you see emerging?
Here’s an example: married males in their 40s who have their own insurance agency with one employee. They have a family and own their own home. Their employee does the basic bookkeeping, but they need an occasional expert on QuickBooks to clean it up for the CPA.
The above is what marketers call a persona, a composite of several clients that makes up a fictional person to whom you can pretend to be speaking as you market. Many companies market to personas that they have created to reflect their ideal customers. Let’s call our 40-year-old male Handsome Harry.
Create a persona for your company. You will likely have more than one. For example, you may also cater to 20-year-old guys starting a high-tech company who need help finding angel investors.
What if you still don’t see a clear pattern? Try breaking your services down by type, focus on the highest revenue accounts, or get creative with how you slice and dice the data. You may need to add more columns that are specific to your client base to find the common ground.
Now we have gotten to know the demographics of our persona. Let’s add a motive.
Motivation – Psychographics
Your accounting product or service solves one or more problems for your clients. The next step is to determine what the most important problems are that your service addresses. This needs to be done on both extrinsic and intrinsic levels.
The first step is to determine, from the client’s point of view, what problem they are coming to you for. This is their perception of the problem (not yours): what they think they need. Here are some examples:
- I need my taxes done.
- I need to get my QuickBooks file cleaned up.
- I need a loan package done for me.
- I need tax representation.
- I need someone to process my 1099s.
The second step is to determine what benefit the client receives when the problem is solved.
- I stay out of trouble with the IRS (taxes).
- I know my cash balance.
- I stay in compliance with recordkeeping requirements.
To make the persona even more complete, let’s take a look at how Handsome Harry does business with you. Harry is really busy and does not know a thing about accounting. He does watch his costs though, and what he likes about you is you save him money by reducing the work the CPA has to do. He also likes that you are keeping an eye on his employee when it comes to accounting accuracy.
On the contrary, your high-tech guy is only interested in getting funding. So he is not interested at all in the bookkeeping aspect; he’s only interested in your relationships with bankers and how you can help him with his projected financial statements.
If you are not sure why the client comes to you, ask them. Going through this exercise is crucial so that we can know what service to market to whom and understand the why. When we understand the why, we can shortcut the whole marketing process and become extremely efficient. We can tailor our marketing message so that it sounds to the prospect like we can mind-read. When the buyer feels like you are talking their language, it’s an easy sell.
Of course, real life might not be that clean-cut. But go ahead and give it a try, because when you get it right, it’s gold. Develop your personas from your list as best as you can.
If you have no clients yet, then you have quite a bit of leeway. Imagine what your ideal client looks like by deciding how you want to help the client (which must intersect with a demand in the market) and repeat the process outlined in this section for the ideal persona you create.
Your clients may have some social characteristics in common. It might be that you attract parents of small children, Methodists or people who have a bank account at Bank of America.
Socialgraphics takes marketing to an advanced level, even for experienced marketers. When we’re connected to our clients on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, we can mine their profiles for information and look for what they may all have in common. Then you can tailor your message even more, allowing your client to feel even more special. You can share common personal experiences that dovetail with your clients’ interests as well.
For example, pets seem to pull heartstrings like crazy. If you find that your clients are cat people, then you can share stories about your cats on Facebook. You might be surprised at the clients who make comments about this. You will have created new connections with these clients, which deepens the relationship you have. Next time you visit with your client, you can ask about Fluffy!
Look for the following to search for commonalities:
- Sports teams
- Habits, such as Starbucks or other favorite restaurants
- Memberships, such as the Chamber of Commerce, etc.
- What they’re reading
- What meetings they are going to
- Kids and related activities such as the PTA
- Vacations and travel
You can post status comments about these topics and see what accounting clients chime in. When you hit a chord, you know you have something that you might want to work into a newsletter, website or even flyer.
Some mundane examples might be:
- If you have a lot of parents, have a back-to-school special after the first week of school.
- If your sports team just won, name your seasonal service after your sports team.
- If you have a lot of Chamber clients, offer an exclusive referral program to them.
- Partner with a pet store that specializes in cats and host a special for Fluffy.
Try it. You will be shocked at the results you get when you start showing a more personal side of yourself to clients.
As your client becomes more and more time-squeezed, their buying behavior and interaction with you changes. Time-sensitive clients will make a buying decision not just based on the old formula of perceived value versus your price. Adrian Ott, in her book, The 24-Hour Customer, offers a new formula and states that customers consider price plus the time it will take them to use your product.
Value = Price + Customer Time Investment
The more time it takes your customer to work with you, the higher perceived value you need to create for your service.
As you are creating your persona, ask yourself if your clients use your services out of:
- Value (low cost)
Each activity results in a different level of time and attention from the client, which affects the perceived value of your services and products.
Value and Convenience
All other things being equal, the accountant who is easiest and fastest to work with wins clients who have a high regard for value and convenience. How can you streamline all of your interactions with a client to take the least amount of time and trouble for them? From intake to payment collection, every interaction you have with the client should be streamlined, simple, and as effortless as possible.
The type of clients that are focused on value and convenience will be the ones who spend the least amount of time and attention on your service.
When you can create regular and routine interaction with your client as a habit, you will benefit from increased attention from the client. How can you move your services into a monthly or weekly routine where you meet regularly with the client?
The type of clients that are focused on habit will spend more time, but less attention on your service.
The most valued timeographic is motivation. This is the quadrant where you get the most time and attention from a client. Business growth consulting falls into this category. If you can work with the client to improve their situation, they will be motivated to give you more time, more attention, and more money for the result you provide them.
The type of clients that are focused on motivation will spend the most amount of time and attention on your service.
Add some notes about how socialgraphics and timeographics affect the type of client you will be going after.
As your business grows, you will no doubt begin to turn down clients you know are not a good fit. One of my friends says a business is defined more by the prospects they turn down than the prospects they accept.
If you could pick any characteristic you want in your future clients, what characteristics would they have?
- Do they pay their bills quickly?
- Do they provide challenging work?
- Are they fun to work with?
- Do they keep promises?
- Are they on time to appointments?
List some more questions that you would use to identify your ideal client.
Now, let’s put it all together. Add your demographics, the motivation, and your preferences to create your persona.
Here is Handsome Harry: Handsome Harry is a married male in his 40s who has his own insurance agency with one employee. He has a family and owns his own home. His employee does the basic bookkeeping, but Harry needs an occasional expert on QuickBooks to clean it up for the CPA. Harry is really busy and does not know a thing about accounting. He does watch his costs though, and what he likes about you is you save him money by reducing the work the CPA has to do. He also likes that you are keeping an eye on his employee when it comes to accounting accuracy. He pays on time and you love doing the troubleshooting because it’s challenging compared to straight data entry.
And Fluffy’s owner Freda: Freda Finkelstein is a widow in her 70s. She never learned how to do the books and needs someone to do everything: tax compliance, bookkeeping and planning. Her husband left her well off. She is nice, a little goofy and crazy about cats. She is smart, but not detail-oriented, and it won’t do any good to teach her books or finances. She’ll need to hire all of it out forever. Her kids will get involved sporadically to double-check how things are going. She will be with you forever.
Paula Printer: Paula is in her 30s and runs a printing company. She has inventory, production runs and custom jobs. Her accounting is complicated, plus she has stores in three states, so she needs extra help with sales tax. She has a staff of 15 and occasionally has payroll issues. She’s pretty sharp when it comes to her books and profits, but she could use some tax planning and business advisory services on a periodic basis. She’s highly educated, has an MBA and is a great communicator. She is forward-thinking and will also be looking for new business venture ideas as printing services decline due to paperless trends.
Charlie Carpenter: Charlie Carpenter is a general contractor. His wife does the books, and he has tons of workers, many barely legal immigrants, who do much of the hard work on his sites. He also subcontracts out the technical jobs like plumbing and HVAC. He can’t stand paperwork and has cash flow challenges constantly. His wife does the transaction posting, but needs supervision. She is not too computer-literate and hates them, so she often needs computer consulting at the same time. Charlie needs a bunch of help with job costing and maximizing billings so he can make payroll and keep his contractors off his back.
List your clients’ full persona(s). You will use it during your marketing plan and especially your materials development.
Now that you know who you’re going after and how many clients you need, you’re ready to get started on creating your marketing plan.