What should we focus on?I got asked the question this month “What do you think we should focus on?”

Of course the answer to this depends on what your goals are!  You’ll all remember the famous scene from Alice in Wonderland,

 

 

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.
“Which road to I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” was his response.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”

Here are a few goals my clients are working toward and the roads we’re on to get them there:

Increase profitability and capacity:

Firing clients – This one is first because I could not have been more excited to hear about this project.  I have said time and time again that some people just aren’t worth working with at any price.  There are a few ways to determine which clients should go – realization rates, timelines of payments, high risk, slow/non-payers, etc.  Determine your overall goal, and do some spring cleaning!

Drastically increasing fees for non-profitable clients – Of course it’s better to match your fees to the scope of the work each year, likely leading to increased fees over time.  But, whether because of scope creep, the clients of a merged-in firm with lower billing rates, a “legacy” client you haven’t increased your rates for in a long time, or any other reason, sometimes you need to take action to finally get paid what your service is worth.  Yes, you will lose some clients, but you’ll gain capacity for other, better, clients.  When taking this route, be sure to give clients plenty of time to find a new service provider before the next renewal/deadline.  Depending on the relationship, you may have to do this in person, on the phone, or by letter.

Seeking off-season work – Evening out your workload not only helps with revenue and cash flow, it also is beneficial for staff satisfaction and retention.  If there is a service you’re good at that you can do in the “slower time,” this is a great way to increase the top line without adding any additional staff (which should increase the bottom line).   I’m helping a client do a targeted mail campaign to solicit off-season work.  Just one new client would results in positive ROI.

A niche marketing campaign – Online, offline, direct, and advertising efforts are all part of this marketing plan to target clients in an industry in which the firm has 100s of clients in MA.  We’re aiming to be the “default” player in this space.

A strategic new service line:  Compliance services keep the lights on, but we can all do better than compete on fees and complain about compressed work schedules.  One client has created TWO new strategic servic offerings.  Both involved acquiring new credentials so the barriers to entry decrease the competition allowing for more flexibility in service delivery and pricing.  Offering a value added and forward thinking service line to the mix separates you from your competition, makes you more memorable for your referral sources, gives you an opportunity to cross-sell to current clients, and helps keep your mind fresh!

Events:  With a focus on client appreciation and education, some clients are hosting events (or co-hosting to share expenses) from golf tournaments to keynote speakers to panels.   The idea is here to try to get clients to bring their colleagues and friends – presumably these “plus one” guests will have similar, attractive, characteristics to your current clients and would appreciate learning about your services over time.   Focus on a niche so that even if a client can’t attend the event, the invite is good a good reminder of your specialty.

Educating clients:  When there’s a regulation or law change, clients need to know not only what happened, but how it affects them and what they need to do as a result.  One client is rolling out articles, webinars, and internal review services to help clients manage a recent regulatory change that will impact millions of businesses.  Luckily, beyond the short burst of activity, it will also drive higher revenue services to help client track and report their compliance to the regulatory agencies.

Recruiting:

Career Branding:  It may not be enough to have just a careers page on your website anymore.  Two clients are working on their career branding.  Consider including videos, pictures, testimonials, job descriptions, social sharing, and more to a section of your website dedicated to attracting new employees.  Depending on how competitive your field is, I’ve started hearing about referral fees and even signing bonuses.

LinkedIn recruiter:  LinkedIn is now selling an amped-up version of its tools to aid in recruiting.  From limitless connections to year-round job posts to a careers page to pair with the company page, LinkedIn knows its the #1 site for professionals and that you want access to those passive candidates (the ones who are “happy enough” in their job).   Let me know if you want to hear more about this… it’s pricey, but less expensive than a recruiter if you have someone who can dedicate the time to seeking out and communicating with prospective employees.

Interns and New Hires:  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of growing your own talent since, in my mind, it is much easier than finding high quality lateral hires.   Start with interns and/or entry level staff.   Believe it or not, July is when CPA firms need to sign-up for on campus interview dates in September.  Accounting majors will have jobs by the middle of October…. 9/15 and 10/15 be damned.  (excuse my language)

Personal Branding and Networking:

LinkedIn Profiles:  Don’t forget about this!  Two people I met at a networking event emailed me today saying they looked at my LI profile before reaching out.   Additionally, if you Google yourself, LinkedIn is very likely one of the top search results.  Let me know if you want a review of your profile.

Guest articles:  All of my clients know I make them write for their firm’s blog.  Recently however, it seems that there is an uptick in the opportunities to write for external sites.  This is great exposure to new audiences in a way that showcases your expertise.

Entry Level Training:  I’m presenting on personal branding and networking to a group of new hires in June.  It’s important to feel confident when you are introducing yourself.  It’s also important that the listener understands and remembers what you do.  (See my previous blog post on When the obvious isn’t so obvious – to others)

Using your networking time wisely:  I’ll be presenting at the LeClairRyan half day seminar for CPAs on June 23 on networking.  Networking and one-on-one meetings are essential, but can be time consuming and variable in their results. Learn proven strategies and walk away with an action plan that will guarantee ROI from your networking for you and your “next generation” partners.  Non-CPAs, this topic applies to you as well.  I’m happy to discuss my ideas with you.

Online Presence:

Looking good online, feeling good offline:  I’m very excited that one client is about to have an AMAZING new website.  And two prospects are discussing new brand images and/or new websites.   According to HATCH 93% of business buyers use search to begin the buying process.  For them, a visit your website is your first impression. That’s why it’s so important to feel confident in the way that you are represented online.

SEO (aka – Google Love):  Referrals still dominate new client sourcing, but online sources can only go up.  I just provided an SEO study to a company which identified a few errors in the current set-up of their website in addition to some low hanging fruit and some more sophisticated methods for increasing their inbound marketing.

 

As you can tell, business is good – for you and for me!   I hope that these ideas inspire you to talk with me about a new road I can help you travel.  Let me know how I can help!

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Alison has more than ten years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA from Boston College. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees. Visit Alison on Google+.