The Real You: How to Engage with Your Firm's Clients
What business owners want from their accountant has evolved over time. Modern business owners want someone who does more than just their accounts and tax returns. They want a long-term collaborative relationship with someone who can act as their trusted adviser – and that's easier to achieve when you present a personal, open and human face to the world.
People buy from people, after all. Being seen as the kind of person that clients want to work with is central to engaging with these clients and prospects. But what’s the key to making this work?
We’ve pinpointed 5 key elements of building a more human face for your practice.
1. Relationships require work
Building a relationship of any kind takes time. Moving from being a casual business acquaintance to a trusted adviser requires hours of effort and hard work to achieve. So it's important to present the most open and honest view of you and your team to the wider world.
85% of business success comes from having great people skills according to research by Harvard University. So working on your personal interactions, your listening skills and your individual brand is not just a ‘nice to have’ – it’s actually critical to the success of your firm.
- Connect with clients more regularly – relationships evolve through frequent contact and that won’t happen if you only see clients twice a year. Make a point of increasing those touch points and get proactive about being a more regular presence.
- Find out more about their business – listening to your client and understanding their pain points helps you to learn more about their business. By increasing your holistic knowledge of the client and their business goals, you increase the opportunities to offer practical help and advice – making it far easier to upsell your services.
- Become part of the client’s team – the more embedded you are as an adviser, the more invaluable you’ll be to your client. Becoming a part-time FD or strategic adviser is one way to add real value, while also getting to know more about your clients.
2. Drop the mask and show the real you
It’s time to up your relationship game. Instead of being a distant technical presence in your client's lives, open up and drop the formality. Build a firm culture where you can share more about yourself, interact with clients on a more personal level and see the impact it has on enhancing your relationships.
A large part of that culture is about developing a friendly and approachable ambience, where clients feel comfortable. As Paul Bulpitt, co-founder of The Wow Company, highlighted in a recent post, your people need to build customer relationships, based on the core values and vision of the firm:
“A scalable firm is all about people – so you absolutely need the right people on board. When your purpose is to have a positive impact for small businesses, your vision has to be central to your firm culture.”
Rather than providing a one-dimensional, functional service to clients, turn yourself into a rounded individual who can deliver that positive impact and experience.
To reveal more in your relationships with clients:
- Let go of the ‘professional mask’ – being aloof and detached doesn’t make you a better finance professional. In fact, it make most people feel uncomfortable. So drop the mask and let your genuine human side come to the fore.
- Don’t just talk about finance – talking clients through their figures is important, but don’t JUST talk about the numbers. Get topical, go off piste and discuss things outside of business and finance. All work and no play makes Jack/Jill a dull adviser!
- Get closer to clients on a personal level – customers love to feel special and ‘front of mind’. So remembering clients’ birthdays, enquiring about how their holiday went and knowing more about their day-to-day lives helps you bond and get talking.
3. Speed up relationship-building via social media
Social media accounts for 1 in every 3 minutes users spend on the internet. With that potential online audience out there, social provides a brilliant way to raise your personal (and brand) profile in the digital space. It's easy to follow and interact with the right people, and it's an area where you can quickly build 1-2-1 engagement.
Increasing trust with targets, prospects and existing clients is time-consuming but also a vital part of engaging properly with these audiences. Having a high profile on social media allows you to very quickly connect with people, and to then use the two-way channels of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to communicate more rapidly and regularly with your key audiences.
To make the most of your online presence:
- Embrace social media and get posting – set yourself up with personal social accounts and don’t rely on just having a firmwide presence. Make sure you post your own updates and content on a frequent basis, but also take the time to reply to followers and to share the posts that you think will be useful to your network.
- Interact don’t sell! – your social media accounts are not a sales channel – they’re a place to chat and interact, not a platform for shouting loudly about your latest discount.
- Build a network of social contacts – by being smart with your social use, you can quickly build up a ‘digital network’ of targets, peers and ex colleagues – and that network is likely to be invaluable when looking for new business and project work.
4. Share the right content with the right people
An effective way to build your personal profile is to share advice, tips and topical news that's relevant to your audiences – and that’s where the value of marketing comes to the fore.
Providing useful content and thought leadership is a vital as an adviser. Not only do you provide practical help for your target audiences, but you also position yourself, personally, as an expert in the field – and that's great for bringing clients and prospects the assurance they need.
To make your content marketing work harder:
- Write regular blog posts – and share your key thoughts, opinions and practical advice on the topics and pain points that matter most to your clients and industry niches (and make these are fresh, honest opinions, not regurgitated content).
- Share valuable content with clients – make existing clients feel valued by sharing exclusive how-to guides and thought leadership with them. Giving clients the tools to improve their business performance cements their perceived value of your working relationship – and that’s a boost to client retention.
- Promote your content through social – get busy with your social media activity and share your valuable content with your followers and online networks.
5. Measure success and refine your targets
Getting the best return on your marketing investment is important. But knowing if your marketing and PR was working – i.e. that your audience was actually getting value from it – used to be largely guess work in the pre-digital days. That’s changed in these software-driven times.
Marketing apps like BOMA now give you clear analytics and stats to measure your content and social marketing performance – and that makes it easier than ever to see where you're having an impact and getting the right engagement levels as an adviser.
Using software tools, you can send out blogs, social campaigns, emails or newsletters in one hit – with personalisation that reinforces the perception of your individual and firm brands.
To improve the impact of your content and nurture the right relationships:
- Refine your profiling and target the most valuable people – profiling your audience means you can target the ideal client types and niche industry sectors. By getting more granular, you increase the potential return on your marketing investment.
- Increase your interactions and touch points – using a tool like BOMA your campaigns are automatically re-formatted for email or social posts, allowing you to instantly reach a bigger targeted online audience, without the time-commitment that’s usually needed to nurture your prospects.
- Measure your success rates and ROI – looking back at the performance of your online campaigns is critical, giving you the chance to spot the most receptive audiences, refine your targeting and make the return (ROI) on your marketing time more effective.
What digital marketing technology allows you to do is speed up the whole process of laying the foundations of engagement, while also giving your interactions a more personal feel.
Rather than spending hours of 1-2-1 time working on new prospects and retaining clients, you can warm them up, make them feel continually valued and raise their engagement with your personal brand, and the firm's wider brand.
Show the human face of your firm
Building deeper relationships with clients is vital for your firm. The days of being a pure ‘number cruncher' as an accountant or bookkeeper are over, with relationships, customer experience and advisory now king – and that means reassessing how you connect with your customers.
By becoming a more rounded and human presence in your clients’ lives, and using marketing tech to speed up engagement times, you move away from the traditional stuffy perception of accountants and morph into a trusted and valued adviser.
We’re not going to suggest this is a straightforward and simple ‘caterpillar transforms into butterfly’ process – but by getting proactive about building better relationships you will see the results in the long-term.
By revealing the real you, you encourage a more genuine and long-lasting kind of engagement. And that’s great news for the long-term retention of clients, and the future of your firm.
About the Author: Steve Ash is a specialist in accounting, marketing, business software and fintech apps.