Networking and visibility are key to building any CPA firm. To establish their brand in the community, CPAs must find the business development approaches that best suit their individual style. The following steps will help them pave their own business development path:
Overcome the urge to be the worker bee. CPAs sometimes get bogged down in dealing with technical or administrative concerns and don’t spend much energy on rainmaking. Firms even reward this behavior by encouraging younger staff to keep their heads down and focus on work in their cubicles rather than taking them along to client meetings. But to become a partner or start a new firm, CPAs must expand their skills, develop a client base, and bring money in the door.
Be yourself. Taking current and prospective clients golfing or out for drinks has historically been among the more popular business development techniques. If this approach isn’t your style, then determine the marketing strategies that best fit your personality. Community groups, such as chambers of commerce and professional organizations, give CPAs the opportunity to network with potential clients in different settings. Social and alumni groups provide another opportunity for CPAs to showcase their personality. In addition to networking, these organizations offer CPAs the chance to practice public speaking, a skill that’s crucial to succeeding at business development.
Understand what you need to get ahead. Mentors can be a tremendous help, but it’s important to understand the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor may offer advice, but sponsors will put the CPAs they work with in situations or positions that will further the young accountants’ careers. CPAs should find sponsors who can introduce them to clients, give them leadership responsibilities, and alert them to any training they may need. Recognizing the distinction between a mentor and a sponsor helps young CPAs seek out exactly the guidance they need to move ahead in a firm or gain the experience required to start their own firm.
Ask for work and articulate your value. No matter how much your clients or business contacts like your work, it may not occur to them to offer referrals unless you ask first. It helps to educate existing and potential clients on the value that a CPA offers. CPA credentials say a lot about your skills and education, but clients and referral sources still may not realize the many services you can provide. Make a list of added services you could provide your current clients so that you’re ready to talk about them when you have the chance. You may even surprise yourself with what you have to offer.
Be patient. Some marketing approaches may not produce immediate results, but they can keep a CPA’s name in the public eye. They include advertising in local magazines, maintaining a website, and building a presence on LinkedIn. It may take a while, but building visibility through these efforts can eventually sell a CPA’s services to prospective clients. Most importantly, have confidence in your ability to learn. Many CPAs aren’t born marketers, but following these steps can, over time, help you develop your own business development path.
Editor’s note: This checklist is adapted from the article “Six Steps to Bring in More Clients,” CPA Insider, March 10, 2014.
—By Ivy Lynn Defino (
), owner of Ivy Lynn Defino CPA PA in Plantation, Fla., and a
member of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee.