Referrals and affirmative word-of-mouth are the most effective ways to build a small tax accounting office. While you can’t directly control how referrals are made, you can create an environment that fosters your referral pipeline.
While the Internet and reviews are changing the way consumers choose new service providers, developing referral sources is still the first building block to your success.
Start out by creating a framework where it is easy for referrals to be made in the first place. Rule #1 is to be patient. It takes time to build trust and a reputation that will optimize your referral pipeline.
Here are twelve ways to make your CPA, enrolled agent or tax preparation practice more magnetic to referrals.
1) Just Ask – Many tax accountants pass up this logical opportunity because they are shy or feel uncomfortable asking. Make it a habit, at the conclusion of an engagement or meeting, to suggest that clients pass along your name to others. Be sure your clients know that the experience of working with them was one you’d like to repeat, and that you’d like more clients just like them!
2) Join local Meetup and Chamber of Commerce groups – This accomplishes two things: it allows you to build up your network and to showcase your expertise. Many of your clients have used this strategy to kick-start their client base in the early going.
3) Refer clients to other professionals; they will reciprocate – Identify related professionals, such as bankers, insurance agents, mortgage brokers, realtors, attorneys, wealth managers and estate planners. There is always an opportunity to share services amongst this group.
4) Focus on verticals – Some of our most successful clients have built huge followings by focusing on verticals. Whether it is fair or not, consumers start to trust specialists. We have seen this repeated in many niches, whether agriculture, entertainment, same-sex couples, police/fire or airline pilots—they talk amongst themselves.
5) Identify your best ambassadors/influencers – A small percentage of your clients will provide most of your referrals. Create a special procedure on how you handle referrals, from acknowledging the influencer to your responsiveness in follow up. It takes just a small army to drive big results.
6) Be responsive to client needs – The number one complaint we see on client Yelp reviews is lack of responsiveness. Rarely do consumers complain about your expertise or errors. However, not calling someone back or making clients feel like they are bothering you is the kiss of death.
7) Thank your referral sources – This speaks for itself. But have a policy in place, whether it is a simple thank you note or a gift certificate. Acknowledge your referral sources, and they will keep on sending more.
8) Have a strong brand appearance – We can call this the Apple effect. But having a very strong online presence will stimulate more referrals and conversion. The most important element of this starts with your website and your reviews. Make your site mobile friendly by using responsive design. Make prospects feel at ease that they are making the right choice by displaying your client reviews from both Yelp and TaxBuzz.com.
9) Sponsor local events, keep a high profile – If your business is local in nature, or niche focused, sponsoring events is the easiest way to get your brand name out there quickly. It adds to your credibility and makes it easier to get referrals from attendees who aren’t even clients.
10) Use technology to increase engagement – Tools like your email newsletter, online appointment setting, appointment reminders and client alerts are keys to staying top of mind with your audience. People like to share their opinion with others when asked. Staying in touch more frequently will increase the odds of getting more referrals. Increasing engagement is the oldest trick in the book.
11) Schedule referral lunches or golf outings – This works best with larger-ticket prospects. Everyone likes freebies, and the more casual setting helps people loosen up.
12) Provide referrals yourself – This helps build your own credibility and connections. It is also likely to generate additional referrals from those colleagues and associates for whom you have generated new business.
Creating habits out of the above 12 tips will start the ball rolling. Sticking to a new habit isn’t easy (especially with 12 of them)—but, if you set up your habit change process wisely, you can make them stick and see significant results.