I get one or two emails a month from accountants who have become discouraged with their business development efforts. We discuss the poor results they’ve achieved and, almost without exception, the toll it has taken on their self-confidence. Hopefully, the suggestions I offer help them get back on track.
Most of the time the root cause of the problem is that they are pursuing their business development efforts in a manner that isn’t “them.” In other words, they’re playing a role – perhaps mirroring how they believe a top-notch business developer would go about the task – instead of simply adapting the techniques we know work to their own interpersonal style.
There are a ton of studies concluding that people who are placed in circumstances that are psychologically difficult will eventually “crack” from the effort to maintain the façade.
In practical terms, the effect of this reality is that when you are undertaking business development activities you have to be yourself or it will eventually get to you. The result is you will cease (or at least greatly curtail) the activity.
I’ve asserted many times in this blog that personal marketing is the most effective means to attract the most desirable prospective clients. It is – psychologically speaking – also the most difficult because you are directly exposing yourself to the possibility of having someone reject you. Ah, but there are ways around this, so please continue reading.
It should be mentioned at the point that personal marketing in virtually all forms is less expensive when compared to so-called “traditional” mass/indirect marketing. For example, it costs nothing to approach and talk with that ideal prospective client you meet at a local civic function, but it will cost you real money to sign up for a big Yellow Pages ad, send out 5,000 postcards or rent the billboard across the street from your office for six months. And, are the people who respond to those efforts going to be the prospects you most desire? Well, it’s hit or miss, but probably not.
Now, back to ways around the psychological burden of directly targeting an individual … how do you approach them in a comfortable manner that’s “you?”
One way is being an expert. Write articles, make speeches, appear on panel discussions, be interviewed by the media, write a blog, send out a niche market- specific newsletter to carefully selected addressees, etc. Anyone can do these.
Select a narrow topic, gather the relevant regs, code sections, decisions, BNA interpretations, online discussions, seminar notes, etc. and suddenly you know more about the subject than anyone around. Examples are endless. It can be something like Enterprise Zones, the new health care or HIRE legislation, fractional ownership of larger capital items (e.g. business jets, heavy equipment), etc. Pick something that is relevant in your market area and become The Local Expert. What’s the result? There will be some of those populating your particular area of interest who will, with no further effort on your part, contact you! What a concept.
If you are a bit more socially bold, you select activities you enjoy, e.g. vintage automobiles, hang out with others so inclined and promote yourself. How? One effective way is to again do the “expert” thing. For example, you get up at your vintage car club meeting and note that there is proposed legislation that, if passed, will change how the gain from the sale of a historic automobile will be calculated beginning in the 2011 tax year (don’t panic – I just made that up). How will this be received? Well, first of all you’re one of them; not an outsider, they know and like you, you’re being altruistic and helpful, you’re demonstrating knowledge and you are establishing yourself in their minds as an accounting professional. This is still a relatively passive approach, but with time you will probably get a nibble or two or maybe a referral.
At the end of the scale – if you are really socially bold (you’re the one who walked across the gym floor, all alone, and asked the best looking guy/gal at the high school dance to take a turn on the floor) – you form relationships with other members of the club and if you decide one of them is a good prospect you simply ask them for their business. “Fred, I’ve really enjoyed hanging out and getting to know you. We’ve talked about our work and I just want to lay it out there … I have several other medical groups as clients and it’s an area of the practice I understand well. So, here it is: If the opportunity arises, I want to compete for your business. I know I’d like to work with you as a client in addition to enjoying our friendship.”
How will Fred react to this? The vast majority of the time it will be very positive. He already likes you, you’ve (hopefully) made a few comments in the past that have demonstrated your knowledge and professionalism, you’ve flattered him by telling him you want his business and his friendship, and you mentioned that you have several other similarly situated clients, which should give him further confidence in your skills. The odds are he won’t bite now, but the bait is certainly dangling right before him and everyone knows the future always brings change.
There’s so much more that can be said about how you can adapt your interpersonal style to business development, but the primary message I want to convey in this post is that you can be effective while being yourself. Most of you have the CPA Practice Builder manual and it contains lots of examples of successful adaptation strategies.
If you don’t fake it and are yourself you will be comfortable. That comfort will greatly minimize the probability you will quit. Instead, you will give yourself the time to become adept with the techniques. With good technique, your initial, small business development successes will build upon themselves and become larger successes. Do this for a few years and your good practice will become great!