As somebody who helps small businesses with their finances, you understand the importance of networking.

Your clients reach out to the people they know in order to help them market and spread the message of their services and products. So why should it be any different for you? Whether are you run your own accounting business or work for a firm, tapping into your network and getting referrals can make a big difference for your bottom line. There are lots of different ways to get referrals and the more time and effort you put into it, the more you get out of it.

Why referrals work

You know numbers. You wouldn’t be in accounting if you didn’t. So let’s look at it this way: if you work with 100 clients and each of those clients knows 600 people then you have the possibility of reaching 60,000 new clients. Even if you had just a half of a percent success rate of converting those people into new business, that’s 300 new clients you could be working with. With that kind of the success you’d be at least tripling your revenue.

Besides the money you’ll make, referrals do amazing things for your reputation. Friends and business associates don’t recommend just anybody. Getting your clients to refer you solidifies their commitment to working with you as their accountant. They don’t want you to go out of business because they appreciate the work you do together. So getting their network to use you also ensures that they can continue to do so, too.

Who to ask

You have three types of clients: the type that get all their paperwork done early and pay on time, the type that complains about the work you do and about your billing, and the type in between. The goal of referrals is to attract more of the people in the first category because they’ll make your life and your work a whole lot easier. While it’s not a one hundred percent guaranteed that the easy-going, easy-to-work-with clients only know those same type of people, you can definitely ask them for referrals before hitting up the people who complain about your services.

You also want to look for referrals from somebody who is a connector in your community. If you specialize in accounting for small businesses, request referrals from the small business owners who work with other local small business owners. As accountants, you’re in a unique position to see where your clients money is coming from and where it’s going. When you see a local business spending money locally use that as a starting point for your conversation.

Before you work together. Referrals from clients before you’ve actually done your accounting work with them can be based on a couple of things. First, it can be based on a previous relationship with the client other than you being their accountant. For example you might be on a sports team together or you might have gone to college with the person. These types of people are willing to recommend you because they trust you as a person and believe in your business. Other people might refer you before you’ve done business together based on reviews they’ve read online or heard from friends. The referral usually goes something like, “Now, I can’t vouch for him myself but I read a great Yelp review of this accountant.”

After you work together. After you get your client’s accounting programs set up, going through their books, and helping them create a budget is a great time to ask for referrals. At this point, your client has seen the breadth of the work you do and understands the value you bring to their business. Perhaps subtly remind them of what things were like before you started with them and then ask if they might tell their friends that you’d like to do the same great work for them.

Throughout the year. Small business owners need their accountants throughout the year to help with things like quarterly taxes and business expenses. You can send out quarterly tax reminder emails a few months before they’re due and include a way for your clients to refer friends who also might need to get their quarterly taxes paid. If you include some kind of incentive in this email, such as a percentage off for your services for each person they send your way or even just putting their name into a raffle for a pair of tickets to a big college football game, you can help make regular referrals happen more naturally.

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How to ask

Here’s the simplest process for asking your clients for referrals:

  • List your top 25 clients.

    These are the ones we mentioned before, the ones who are easygoing and easy to work with. These clients might not be your biggest moneymaking clients but they are the type of people that you would love to continue to attract.

  • Send these clients an email asking for feedback.

    If possible, link the email to a calendar program like Calendly that helps you set up a quick 10-minute call. Make it easy for your client to want to give you feedback. You can also link the client to a Survey Monkey or Google Forms survey to get feedback.

  • Have the call.

    Listen to your client’s feedback and then request referrals. Be upfront about what you’re asking and be honest about feeling uncomfortable with the request. For example, you might say “I don’t usually do this and it makes me feel a little awkward to ask, but I’m hoping you could help me grow my business. You’ve been a great client and my goal is to work with more business leaders like you. I was wondering if there’s anyone in your network that you think could use my services?”

  • Send the survey.

    If you end up going with an online survey, include a place at the end for your clients to enter referral information for their business associates or friends and family.

How to make referrals simple

Because you’re asking for something from them, it’s up to you to help make it easy for your clients to make referrals. Here are a few suggestions:

1
Partner

Find other established business that work with the same type of clients that you do but are not in competition with your own accounting business. For example, lawyers, tech consultants, and even recruiters all work with small businesses. Many small business lawyers who help clients set up LLCs would be willing to refer to an accountant so that the small business is protected and financially secure.

2
Testimonials

Instead of asking your clients to make direct connections, ask if they would be willing to write a testimonial for your website. You can include this request in the feedback survey you send. A testimonial section on your website or excellent reviews on trusted sites like LinkedIn and Yelp can attract more clients. Make sure to think them in some way such as a handwritten note, a gift card for lunch, or a testimonial for their site in return.

3
Business cards

When you work with a client, give them 3 to 5 additional business cards. Let them know that you are always looking for new clients and would love to work with people in their network. Tell them you’re giving them the additional business cards to hand out if they’re talking to somebody who needs an accountant.

Referrals keeping your project pipeline healthy. A LinkedIn survey says that 84% of decisions start the buying process off with a referral. And as an accountant, once when you get a client, it’s likely that you’ll keep them. Clients don’t change accountants very often. Like their doctors and lawyers, clients stick with you as a professional who helps them be successful in business and life. Attract the right people and you’ll continue to grow your accounting business by word-of-mouth.

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