By Sarah Casey (Content Manager, Sage Accountants’ Division).
Establishing contacts with prospective clients is one of the best ways for bookkeepers to start up and promote their bookkeeping services.
There are different ways of doing this. Fostering personal relationships with key individuals and groups is certainly a major area to build the client base. Businesses requiring accounting and bookkeeping services have a strong tendency to remain with their existing service providers, so targeting new start-ups is a prime area for finding new work.
Contacting Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which replaced the Business Link initiative in March 2012, may open a few doors. A LEP is a voluntary partnership between local authorities and businesses and operates in England. They were introduced in 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to help determine local economic priorities and lead financial growth and job creation within its local area.
The National Enterprise Network (NEN) website is also a great place to find local enterprise agencies and professional business advisers who can help in your area too, which is why we, Sage One, have become Corporate Sponsors (see here).
Meet-ups and mingling
Services offered can be discussed with an agency advisor, and you could also obtain details of all enterprise groups and organisations within the desired business area vicinity. There may be opportunities to join local business groups. Many members of start-up groups have little or no experience of bookkeeping, so offers an ideal opportunity.
Find out about locally held business conferences. Contact HMRC to see what seminars there are on relevant subjects such as self-employment, tax and payroll. This is important as it not only establishes contact with brand new businesses, but it will also improve knowledge and keep you up to date with the industry.
Reciprocation with professional accounting firms and fellow bookkeepers works best when the relationship is personal. Unsolicited introduction letters and emails tend to be ignored, but a friendly phone call to arrange a meeting can often yield better results. These meetings generally discuss your qualifications and experience, and also the possibility of providing the accounting firm with additional business. You can do this by offering them new clients for advanced accounting, tax and technical issues from your own pool of existing customers.
Receiving referrals from existing clients is another useful strategy. This area for potential new business can be further exploited by carrying out services at the client premises, particularly when that work involves contact with the client’s own suppliers and customers.
Warming up new clients by cold calling
Sending out mail shots, leaflet drops and handing out business cards might produce some response, but only at a very low level unless supported by personal contact. Initial communication rarely produces immediate results. The main aim is to establish personal contact and attempt to ascertain if there are any potential bookkeeping requirements. This is where you would also mention real benefits that can be provided, and leave the contact with a means to get in touch and hopefully arrange a meeting.
Follow-up all enquiries with an email or phone call within a few days. Conversation needs to be specific to each client and focused on the advantages of using bookkeeping services. Push the benefits of potentially saving time and money by outsourcing to your company.
Cold calling can be hard work, but a successful approach would be to offer the potential client something for nothing. For example, if records for VAT or payroll are behind, bringing them up to date free of charge would be a good incentive. Alternatively, suggest a complimentary review of past records on the basis that the tax liability might be reduced.
Offering a range of bookkeeping services
The range of services offered is fundamental to building a successful bookkeeping business. Providing a diverse range of facilities including bookkeeping, stocktaking, final year end accounts, tax returns and payroll is more beneficial than focusing on a narrow range.
Specialist services can also establish prominence in niche markets and win new customers. One example may be to offer a cafe a stocktaking appraisal. Having established the introduction, services can often be expanded to include bookkeeping and payroll services.
Taxation is a prime area where professional accountants and bookkeepers can use technical expertise and knowledge to give guidance to the client. By using an online bookkeeping tool like Sage One Accountant Edition (which is for bookkeepers too), you can offer your clients a truly online service which will cut down on administration time and costly travel.
Stop snoozing – get schmoozing!
The right kind of networking can be an extremely valuable asset for growing a client base. Connecting to professionals and business owners in corresponding industries can create useful network groups where every member can refer without overlapping.
By experimenting with business networking, bookkeepers can tap into a wealth of resources and connections. These opportunities allow you to practise and perfect your business pitch, as well as meet others who can help move your business forward to a brighter future.
Do you have any networking tips of your own to add? If so, please add them in the comments box below.