Referrals are a key to building an accounting practice. Research conducted by marketing consultants Hinge found that 87% of clients turn to referrals first when looking for an accountant and that 76% of clients are “very likely” to recommend their accounting firm to others. Here’s how to get satisfied clients to become active referrers.
Promote your best clients. Hinge found that 25% of accounting clients had never made a referral, and of those, 43% hadn’t even been asked for one by a friend or colleague. Accounting firms need to put top clients into a position where they will be asked about the firm. They can do this by creating a portfolio of previous client work or interviewing top clients for a case study that is highlighted on the firm’s website. Don’t forget to simply ask top clients to be a reference.
Don’t forget your ethical obligations. The AICPA Code of Professional Conduct says firms can reveal names of clients without permission, but if that disclosure would allow a third party to ascertain confidential facts, it would require the client’s permission. Members should check with their state board of accountancy to ensure that its rules are not more restrictive, in which case the member would need to comply with the more restrictive standard.
Invite clients to participate in a conference, panel, or webinar. These activities expand your relationship, often leading to new business opportunities with the client. Putting a top client in the spotlight also increases the chances that prospects will ask them about your services.
Communicate your specializations. Specialization
increases the chances that your prospects and current clients are
aware of your service offerings. Resist the urge to try to be
everything to everyone—clients are often reluctant to make referrals
for firms that feel too general. Rather, focus on what makes your firm
different, such as an industry specialization. This helps you stand
out and drives specialization-based referrals.
Share your client list. Doing that in compliance with ethics rules is a good way to communicate your specialization and promote top clients. Many accountants keep their client lists under lock and key because they are worried that other firms will poach them. But this is a roadblock to business growth. Publishing a list of star clients on your website lets the marketplace see what you do and what kind of client is the best fit for you.
Make it easy for nonclients to make referrals. Nonclients can include those influencers who frequently work with your industry but who are not actually in it. These influencers include professionals such as bankers and attorneys who have worked with you on past deals. These types of influencers already are familiar with how you conduct business.
Make it easy for others to make referrals. There is a large, but little-known, group of people who are happy to recommend a firm based on reputation alone, even if they have never worked with it before. This group can consist of prospective clients, influencers who know of your firm, and other accounting firms with a different specialty. You can encourage reputation-based referrals through content marketing, which is the practice of consistently sharing free, valuable information with a target audience. This can be done through blog posts, webinars, videos, and guides.
Editor’s note: This checklist is adapted from the article, “ How to Boost Business Through Referrals ,” CPA Insider, Nov. 4, 2013.
—By Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D. (
), managing partner at Hinge, a Virginia-based marketing firm that
serves professional services firms.