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The Gap | Fishing with the right bait (to attract high-value clients)

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

I used to think a high-value client were for larger firms. And small firms would get small business clients, and maybe have a few high-value clients, that bring the necessary big fees that keep things ticking over. But again and again, small innovator accountancy businesses and solopreneurs are winning high-value clients. Even when they need to outgun a larger firm.

But how do you attract high-value clients in the first place?

As a seasoned kayak fisherman (and a Chartered Accountant who owned his own firm in New Zealand for 17 years before forming The Gap) Mark Jenkins has a few ideas about how to attract high-value clients.

Fishing with the right bait (to attract high-value clients)

First up, a disclosure of interest – I love kayak fishing; there’s nothing quite so satisfying as paddling a mile or so out to sea, dropping your anchor and fishing line over the side, and waiting for the big one to bite.  Then the fun begins; you have to land it between your legs, get it into your fishing bag and then paddle back through the waves, all without taking a swim and losing your entire catch.

Image courtesy of Mark Jenkins – a 5am summer outing off Ohope Beach, Whakatane, New Zealand

The best way to plan your fishing trip for high-value new clients is to follow these steps:

  1. Choose your boat.

  2. Select your equipment.

  3. Find out where your target species (clients) hang out in the greatest numbers.

  4. Choose your bait.

  5. Put your boat in the water and get out there.

Choosing your boat

Are you a kayak (a lot of hard paddling and pretty slow – don’t be one of those!), a speed boat (able to change direction and get up to speed quickly), or a battleship (hard to stop once your direction has been set and everyone is working together)?  Don’t try to be something you’re not; if you’re a speed boat then act like one – nimble, dynamic, quick decision-making, personal and relevant.  Send clear messages to your clients and prospects about what your boat looks like and how it performs – things like your Core Values and Core Purpose, what you promise to your clients, and how you deliver.

I recently surveyed my highest performing clients about what had attracted large clients to their firms.

The sorts of responses I got were:

“Our proactive style, the fact that we were not just putting Business Advisory in our title but actually doing this work in a practical, structured manner.”

“The clients came to us because we are offering GAP products, the banks referred us this client specifically for business planning and coaching.”

“They came to us because of the reputation we have for educating and developing our clients’ businesses.  We have learned to do this through the education, training and templates provided by The GAP.”

Selecting your equipment

It’s no use heading out on a kayak fishing expedition with a surf-casting rod (they’re so long that by the time you’ve reeled in your fish you won’t be able to reach it – that’s if you don’t snap your rod in the surf getting out there).

If your Core Purpose includes something about helping your client (which I hope it does), then be sure you have suitable equipment to deliver this help.  First, you need to find out what your clients actually want, which is likely to be one or more of The Three Freedoms.  Then, you need to work out what specific outcomes you can deliver, e.g. if your client wants mind freedom, then one of the likely outcomes they need from you is minimising their taxes.  Your service offering to deliver that outcome is an annual tax review.

Interestingly, in my survey of clients, some of their new clients came just for the Advisory and Coaching services and were happy to leave their compliance work with their existing accountant.  However, as with the second quote below, it’s often the case that the compliance work follows:

“Only the coaching. They were comfortable with their existing compliance accountant (£15k per annum fee).”

“Interestingly enough, they staged their entry – Business Development initially, Business Plan, Values workshop & coaching, then the compliance followed (£8-£10k per annum fee).”

Finding out where your target species hangs out

When kayak fishing, you clearly can’t target deep sea fish.  You need to know where the fish you are targeting spend most of their time.  It’s the same when you’re targeting large clients; find out where they hang out in the largest numbers and create opportunities to be there.

Create in-bound interest via social media, blogs or podcasts, and look for speaking opportunities at industry events for your target market.  Provide free educational content on your website and encourage leads to sign up to your regular updates.

Ask your existing clients for feedback on the service you’ve delivered to them.  If they’re happy, ask for a testimonial or if you can do a case study on them.  And, of course, ask for and reward referrals.

Choosing your bait

If you’re fishing for snapper (my favourite – the pink ones above) you can’t use last night’s lamb roast left overs. Believe me, I tried it and it didn’t work (and my whole family missed out on fish AND shepherd’s pie for dinner).  They like squid or pilchards.  Likewise, you need to think about what ‘bait’ you’ll use to attract your target clients.

Never forget the power of The Three Freedoms.  The bigger the client, the bigger the problems can be with financial, time and mind freedom.  Link the services you offer to these three freedoms.

Create either small or large-scale events that you can market to your referral partners (and invite them to as well).  Relevant topics could be ‘The 7 Ways to Grow Your Business’, ‘Cashflow Freedom’, or ‘20 Ways to Pay less Tax’.  These free events are a soft sell for potential clients who get the opportunity to see what you’re like before they join.

Off the back of the events offer a Complimentary Client Review meeting.

Here’s what my clients said:

“Teach your community about the work you do – including centres of influence so they understand the business development work you do.”

“Accountants who can understand a strategic target market quickly and communicate the likely cash returns for those target clients are the most valuable advisors to small business.  Too often we see SMEs fail to calculate shareholder returns from their business and get bogged down in day to day operational problems, rather than looking at big picture.” (£7,000 per annuum client fee).

“What I’m finding is that successful clients are willing to invest more in themselves rather than less and that I need to ask the same questions of them as I do with the clients I think need the help…  these clients made decisions based on the ROI rather than raw cost and as they received the services gained confidence and wanted to work more with us.”

Getting your boat in the water

You may have the right boat, all the right equipment, you know where to go fishing, and you have the bait.  But it’s pretty hard to roll out of bed at 5am and go kayak fishing.  It’s the same with offering value-added services to your clients.  You can have all the gear and the best laid plans, but you have to start.

All of the clients I have surveyed have a coach to hold them accountable and ensure they get things done.  After all, if you try to sell something to your clients that you don’t do yourself, you’ll come across as a fake.

My favourite principle here is ‘Aim for success not perfection’.

Here’s a direct quote from one of the firms I surveyed that sums up what I’ve covered above:

“The Gap has provided the foundation to broaden our service offering.  We are no longer the standard retrospective accounting firm simply offering compliance and giving lip service to Business Advisory.  Our fully leveraged Business Development and Business Education packages built from The Gap content highlights our point of difference in the market, underpins our growth, and results in a marked increase in average fee.  The change in our strategy has been a journey, with a key learning; ‘when you get your culture right the outcomes look after themselves’.  As not only are we attracting new clients that are engaged and value what we do, we are also attracting amazing candidates as we grow our team.” – Tim Le Compte, Director of PKF Christchurch, New Zealand

If you want to find out how to use The Gap to bring you high-value clients check out their website.

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