Boost Business Referrals


CPAs understand the benefits of having clients refer friends, family and colleagues, but some haven’t built a program for actively seeking referrals into their everyday operations. Here are strategies to increase a firm’s business through word of mouth.

Develop a system. Standard practice should include asking for and following up on referrals. Have a letter on hand to drop in the mail to thank a client for a referral or to send to someone who has been referred. With such procedures in place, you’ll always have a response ready.

Find a niche and build on it. Answer the question, “What kind of specialist am I?” After reviewing where your strength lies, promote that expertise by

Becoming active and visible in business associations.

Writing articles on the specialty for the best professional publications.

Giving seminars and “lunch and learn” workshops on topics related to your specialty. (Be innovative.)

Letting local media know you’re available to be quoted.

Using testimonials and success stories to share what’s unique about your firm; include the information in press releases, newsletters and talks.

Keep in touch. Use your database. Contact clients on a regular basis and keep them in the loop. Help clients solve a problem before it gets out of hand. Encourage them to tell you if they’re not satisfied with your services. Start a “keeping in touch” program, which could mean sending a monthly newsletter or setting aside an afternoon to phone clients or drop them a note.

Become a “list lord.” Gain access to lists for a particular association, industry, company or club to open the door to referrals. For example, if you’re talking to someone who’s a member of a club, pull out a brochure and say, “I was wondering if you know anyone in the club who might be interested in the services I offer?” In general, people want to show they have influence in the groups they belong to.

Make your office an “RR crossing.” Put a big sign in your office that says “RR” (“Remember referrals”) to remind colleagues and staff people to do just that. If clients ask, explain that referrals are the heart of your business and you would appreciate their help. Use an agenda for each client meeting so you won’t forget this critical task.

Establish a referral-rewards “club” to persuade clients to do even more. Acknowledge clients who have brought you other business: Invite them to a referral appreciation dinner; partner with a local business, such as a florist, so that a club member gets 10% off any purchase; send members a special mailing or newsletter. Be sure the activity enhances your firm’s image and promotes ongoing dialogue with your client.

Say thank you. Acknowledge helpful clients in simple little ways. Write a letter or find other thoughtful ways to say thank you: Offer to sponsor a child’s Little League team or give

A donation to the client’s favorite charity.

A book on a subject the client is interested in.

Tickets to a sporting event, the theater or the movies.

Flowers or a gift basket.

A coupon for a free car wash.

Just do it—and do it every day. Make asking for referrals part of your business dialogue. Ask clients, “What have you liked about the work we’ve done?” and then say, “If there is anyone else who may need these services, please send them my way.” If you simply can’t bring yourself to say these words—many CPAs are more comfortable asking for referrals in writing than in person—send a referral-request package to all your clients. It should include a cover letter, a form on which they can list the names of friends and business associates and a stamped reply envelope.

Source: Adapted from A Playbook for Winning All the Business You Want, by Maribeth Kuzmeski, president, Red Zone Marketing (scheduled for summer 2002), www.redzonemarketing.com .

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