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March 21, 2014 | Accounting How-To | Posted by Craig Baldwin Craig Baldwin

How to Find the First 50 Clients for Your New Accounting Firm

So you’ve left your day job and want to start your own accounting firm from total scratch.

 

Congrats, you’re starting your own business! But you probably need clients, and fast. How do you do it?
 

I’ll teach you how and on the cheap (like less than $600 cheap). Our goal here is 50 clients in one year, a tall task but we can do it!
 

Thinking right about now why should you listen to me? Well, because I’ve already done it.

 

Step 1: Starting from Scratch. $99

 

Before you actually go out and acquire your first customer, you need to nail down a few of the branding basics – like creating a name, designing a logo, and developing a web presence. This may seem overwhelming or difficult, but it’s not – here’s how to start.

 

Name. (Free)

 

The best way I’ve found to come up with business names quickly is to invite a group of friends over and ask them to brainstorm with you. Write down every word that comes to mind when you think about your dream firm. For example, “Cloud” “Simple” “Straight-Forward” “Advisor.” Keep it going until your board is full.
 

Then use the words as a springboard for the perfect name. Combine words, think of new ones. Keep adding to a separate board until you’ve given it everything you got. Then refine. Keep refining and questioning before you land on the perfect one.
 

Choosing a good name is one of those “just don’t mess up” things. A new accounting firm called “Craig Baldwin CPAs, LLP” will instantly sound out of touch. Later we’ll be talking digital strategies and like it or not, these benefit from more modern sounding names.
 

Some of my favorite names are Advisor, Double Rule, & Basis 365.

 

Logo. ($99)

 

Step two of creating your brand is the logo. Take your name and concept to a site like 99 designs. While you can definitely spend some time and money seeking out a professional designer, I’d encourage you to keep costs low in the beginning. There’s no harm in a re-design later on. Our first logo was free, not great but it did the job.

 

Step 2: Offering, Website, and Email. $242

 

Great, you have a name and logo. Congrats on your new brand, now it’s time to blow it out with an entire website. I like combining “website” with “offering” because the website makes you put pen to paper on your values as a business owner, your target market, and the services you plan on offering. It’s the best time to learn about yourself and your business, and more importantly, how to communicate that message to the world.

 

Don’t stress if you know little about “websites” or “code.” For us, we knew 99% of CPA sites looked like it’s still 1995. The bar is low, you’re going to jump over with plenty of room to spare.

 

Offering. (Free)

 

Two questions that you’ll have to do some soul searching on:

 

1) What does your perfect client look like?

2) What type of service are you most excited about providing?

 

Early on at Upsourced Accounting we decided that our ideal business was a solopreneur or freelancer and our ideal service was basic bookkeeping at approximately $99. Was that a terrible idea in retrospect? You betcha. But we made a decision and went with it. Clearly defining our perfect client made marketing those services much easier.

 

(Note: It wasn’t until 6 months in that we offered services to larger businesses, switched from just bookkeeping to CFO style, and even did some tax work.)

 

Once you determine your service offering you’ll have to decide on pricing, which is something that will always be an experiment. Jason Blumer has some great thoughts on providing value. Save yourself some future pain and follow his keys to beginning client relationships.

 

Website. ($192 – 1 yr with Squarespace)

 

The first platform I’d highly suggest is Squarespace, it’s an all in one solution that will handle hosting. They have several beautiful templates to choose from and building your new site will require no code.

 

If you feel like you’re ready for more customization you could always purchase a HTML template (and pick up some coding skills to boot) or a wordpress template. Both are more involved, but will result in some basic web skills that will last a lifetime. If you plan on blogging a lot, I’d definitely use a wordpress or squarespace site.

 

Remember, the goal here is to keep costs low. We’re not hiring a firm to help, we’re doing this work ourselves. Once you feel like you have the income, feel free to re-design with a professional.

 

Website Copy. (Free)

 

The goal with copy should always be clear and simple. Try to avoid the mistakes most CPAs websites make by talking too much about yourself, sounding too stuffy, or too old. Make your language approachable and interesting, and remember that it’s about the client, not you.

 

Don’t sweat SEO at first, it’s a longer term activity, and our goal here is to get cash in the bank quickly. After adding some personality to your copy don’t forget to cover these main points:

 

1) Target market

2) Your services

3) Pricing of those services (optional)

4) A little about you

5) Why on earth these people should trust you with their business activities.

6) Last but not least, a way to contact you.

 

Want a great example of brilliantly simple copy? Check out Alexis Kimbrough’s site at Growth Group:

 

growth-group-site

 

Did she meet the criteria?

 

1) Target market – “Musicians, Artists, Designers, Creatives, Startups”

2) Services – “Help recording artists and musicians with the financial side” and “What We Do” in the top right, one click away.

3) Pricing of those services (optional) – Alexis doesn’t have pricing info, but that’s a strategic decision.

4) A little about Alexis – “Personable, approachable, qualified, creative, here to help.” And a picture of her – doesn’t she look trustworthy??

5) Why on earth people should trust her with their finances –  Aforementioned values and “Xero certified silver partner” – she has some experience under her belt, awesome!

6) A way to contact Alexis – Top right, “Contact” one click away.

 

Alexis and Growth Group have clearly displayed all the important “need-to-knows” as soon as you hit her page or just one click away.
 

Try to avoid using cheesy stock photography, focus on modern images and icons. (Another great job by Alexis).

 

If you have some social media accounts (we’ll cover this in greater detail later) link to those, and if you have a blog, write in it no less than every 2 weeks otherwise people will think you’re out of touch with your site. Cover topics you think are important to your target market and frequently share posts with prospective clients.

 

Also, set up Google Analytics. It’s very easy to do and vital if you want to figure out what’s working and what’s not.

 

E-mail Address. Just use Google Apps ($50 / year and easily connects to Squarespace)

 

Step 3: Get to work. $260 (All the coffees you’re going to buy)

 

Local (52 weeks x 2 coffees ($5), the good stuff. = $260)

 

The pieces are in place, now it’s time to hustle. Split your marketing efforts into local and digital. This doesn’t mean the two don’t benefit from one another, but for now, the approach is different.

 

Create a spreadsheet and list 25 local businesses you’d love to have as a client (even if they have an existing accountant, doesn’t matter). Now do some research and find out what they have in common. Do they use the same banker? Did they hang out at the same bar on Tuesdays? Do they go to the same meetups?
 

Profile these businesses by size, vertical, potential issues or challenges (remember, solutions to these are great blog topics), and social media accounts. Connect with all 25 business owners, email the owners and ask them to coffee.
 

Find the overlapping points and relationships of these businesses and seek out those people / events,  and take them out for coffee as well.
 

The point here is to maximize the fulcrums so our job as the lever is much easier.
 

For Upsourced Accounting this meant small business incubators and people with large social media followings in Columbus. It didn’t hurt that once we got to know these influencers, we genuinely loved talking and working with them.
 

In fact make sure to have one coffee meeting with a new person in your city every week and always buy. Don’t sell your services, but make sure they at least know what you’re in business for. 
 

Have a conversation and be interested. Post-work beers are also admissible but we’re going to need to increase the budget for that. The main goal here is to become friends with these individuals, not “sell” per se.
 

If you can’t make a good impression with over 75% of these businesses, you might want to re-think your target market. You’re a business owner now, marketing and strategic selling is a requisite.

 

Client #1

 

Leverage your personal relationships for client #1, friends, family, whatever it takes. Find a business owner that will trust you for no other reason than the friends you share, and offer them a discounted service rate.

 

Once they’re engaged, deliver the best service they’ve ever had in their life. Congrats on finding client #1, and more importantly, your first evangelist.

 

5 clients in the first two months. That’s the goal, you can totally do it through sheer effort alone.

 

For your next 4 clients, do the same thing. Slightly raise your price to a more normalized rate each time. Again, focus on amazing service (for the record, always focus on amazing service).

 

Once you’re 2 months into the relationship, ask all 5 of these clients for a testimonial and put it on your website. Picture, business, quote about why you’re the best. Testimonials do wonders for website conversions, especially when the leads know the testimonial personally (local and digital coming together).

 

Digital

 

Congrats on your site, but you have to find traffic. You probably read that social media is perfect for every small business, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Pick one social media outlet to use, Facebook or Twitter and become a master. How to pick? Figure out where your target market is more active by researching their webpages and social outlets. (Remember that list of 25?)

 

Going back to Upsourced Accounting, freelancers and soloproneurs were our target. Twitter is very popular in our hometown of Columbus and our target market spent most of their social time there. We made the mistake of spreading thin across platforms. I’m urging you to not make that same mistake. Pick one, perfect it, grow your community.

 

Once you have more resources you can expand to other platforms.

 

The goal from a digital perspective is to have one referral source that works, and works well. Once you’ve found it (be patient, it will take a couple months), hit the gas pedal.
 

On the 8th month into our mission (approximately 20 clients) our traffic looked like this:

 

upsourced-ga-1

 

The direct traffic & organic traffic (largely people searching “upsourced accounting”) told me the local conversations were paying off. People were finding our site after chatting with friends and coming to us directly – perfect.

 

But our goal was to have one great, purely digital source. Facebook was great, but none of our leads came from there, it was a vanity metric (most of our Facebook fans were friends and family). The interesting source here was Xero.

 

Fast forward to month 9 and it looked like this:

 

upsourced-ga-2

 

Month 9 we added 8 clients from Xero alone. Boom, we found our killer digital source.

 

People were finding us directly on Xero’s partner list, objective #1 became to move further up that list.

 

Our client growth increased month over month for the next several months.
 

The partner list is a dirty little secret among Xero accountants, yet the reality is, Xero and the accountants benefit proportionately from the relationship.
 

If you’re just now beginning, moving up the list will be tough, but it may be a material source of traffic for you eventually.
 

By month 10, we were just over 40 clients and receiving leads by the bushel. Whether they were from Xero, other digital sources, or local contacts, the marketing machine had started and could not be stopped.

 

If you’ve been working your butt off by month 12 you should be close to 50 clients. And guess what? You only spent $551 to do it. Want to gripe about how your time is money? Hogwash. The only time worth money is when you’re spending it on providing value to others.

 

Why most new accounting firms fail at this?

 

Effort & Understanding.

 

First of all, getting the marketing ball rolling is grueling. You’re constantly meeting with new people, trying new tactics, and saying to yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes you shouldn’t be, and sometimes you should be. But allow yourself at least several months for each activity to determine if it’s useful or not. Many of the local contacts we made took 3-4 months to pay off, but when they did, the results were amazing.

 

After getting those first 5 clients in the first two months, the goal should be to do 4.5 clients a month thereafter. The reality is your client acquisition will most likely be backloaded (we saw huge gains in month 9,10,11, and 12). Don’t let early shortfalls set you back, double down and evaluate your efforts every 2-3 months. You’re a business owner now, making mistakes are a welcomed privilege.

 

The next misunderstanding I see is lack of emotion. Marketing is not a “check the box” activity. Just because someone goes to lunch with you doesn’t mean they’ll fork over referrals afterwards. This business owner has taken time out of their day to meet with a total stranger. Don’t just show up and talk about the weather the entire time, make a human connection, make them your friend. You have 1 hour to impress the hell out of that person with your personal character and intelligence, so do it.
 

Take that same understanding and effort to the internet. From the tweets you reply to, to the blog posts you write, to the publications you ask to get involved with. If you’re creating useful content you’ll never be shy about sharing.

 

My advice to you is market with purpose, serve with passion.

 

Good luck on your journey, and if you’re having trouble, stuck in a rut, or want some advice, email me directly and I’ll be happy to share more insight and personal experience. Upsourced Accounting made a lot of mistakes along the way, we’d be thrilled if no other firm had to make those same mistakes.

Buffer
  • growthgroup

    Great info Craig! When I first started, my website just had my logo (created from 99designs) and I focused on blogging to encourage SEO.

    After I had enough cash to bring in a professional qweb designer, I sought out someone who specialized in my targeted industry (music), not accounting professionals sites because I wanted it to be appealing to my customers.

    I love the tips you’ve given and the open-door to Upsourced Accounting’s stumbles along the way!

  • Christina Moss

    This is an awesome post! Thank you for sharing. It will be a part of my “bible”

  • Jill Shouler Baird

    Great ideas! I had started my own accounting business and kept it going for three years…..but had to go back to work in the corporate world because I wasn’t generating enough income for me to live! I LOVED working for myself and I LOVED my clients. I may try to start again but go about it more slowly….I’m not a salesperson, so it was hard for me to go out and initiate the meeting of new people. Also, it was hard for me to split my day of selling and doing the actual accounting work, which took most of my day and nights especially during tax season. I may think about starting my own business again…but will do a couple of things differently!

    • WG Ooi

      hi Jil, just a bit of introduction of myself, I’m Malaysian and graduated from New Zealand and currently hold a New Zealand Chartered Accountant. I am the certified Xero advisor. I’m now proposed if we can work something out where if you don’t have time to do accounting work for your clients. I can help on that. My email address is wgooi2332@yahoo.com
      my name is Ooi

  • Kirsten Barrie

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    • GetSqrl

      Absolutely @kirstenbarrie:disqus, we love being helpful to any of those out there starting their own firm!

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  • http://lifestyleaccountant.com/ Lifestyle Accountant

    This is a great resource, thank you! I’m formulating a plan to start a firm soon and will keep all these things in mind. I’m a CPA but was wondering if it’s better to call it ‘accounting services’ vs. ‘bookkeeping’ or possibly use both? Just wondering since your business name is Upsourced Accounting, but you started off providing bookkeeping services.

    • WG Ooi

      hi, just a bit of introduction of myself, I’m Malaysian and
      graduated from New Zealand and currently hold a New Zealand Chartered
      Accountant. I am the certified Xero advisor. I’m looking for collaboration with overseas accounting firm. Do drop me an email if I can help your firm to do accounting and reduce your staff cost. My email address is
      wgooi2332@yahoo.com
      my name is Ooi

  • Adria Jordan Kitchens

    This is great information as I am creating my new accounting business.

    • WG Ooi

      hi, just a bit of introduction of myself, I’m Malaysian and
      graduated from New Zealand and currently hold a New Zealand Chartered
      Accountant. I am the certified Xero advisor. I’m now proposed if we
      can work something out where if you don’t have time to do accounting
      work for your clients. I can help on that. My email address is
      wgooi2332@yahoo.com
      my name is Ooi

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  • Teclah Azziz

    Thanks for the pieces of advice, this is what I have been looking for

  • Pepper Martin

    There are a lot of accounting firms in auckland . Because of this, it is hard to choose the best one that you can trust. Thank you for sharing this article!

    • WG Ooi

      hi Pepper Martin, just a bit of introduction of myself, I’m Malaysian and
      graduated from New Zealand and currently hold a New Zealand Chartered
      Accountant. I am the certified Xero advisor. I’m now proposed if we
      can work something out where if you don’t have time to do accounting
      works. I can help on that. My email address is
      wgooi2332@yahoo.com
      my name is Ooi

  • Dom Reidman

    this is good strategy if you want to scale the shit out of it. But remember this isn’t the only way to go about it. I keep 15 clients that I enjoy working with and have zero incentive to add more clients. I also started manufacturing company (before I started accounting firm) and it gives me huge competitive advantage because I speak their language…I know their pain points because I am also business owner. My advice is to travel slowly and really focus on getting the right clients. “Who do you want to deal with” should be plastered on everything you look at before deciding on: business name, social media, website, marketing. etc.

  • https://andreaoffices.com/ Laura Stoves

    I definitely feel like this post is going to help Andrea Offices become what I have envisioned. Getting advice on starting a business compared to advice on starting an accountancy business from scratch are two different things, this has gave me a step by step guide on what I should be doing, so thank you. I’m glad someone decided to share how they achieved success.