John Bowen

The 30-Day Growth Plan for CPAs

Take these easy steps to jump-start your business.

June 2, 2008
by John Bowen, Jr.

As a CPA financial adviser (or aspiring financial adviser) you’ve probably noticed advertisements and presentations for a dizzying array of services and products promising to help you grow your business. It would be easy to get the impression that all you need to be more successful is the latest software, a new marketing system, a new investment solution or a different broker-dealer.

The bad news is that there are no silver bullets. The good news is that you can significantly grow your revenue just by taking a handful of deliberate steps. Each step revolves around your clients — who they are, how you communicate with them and how you work with them to generate more business. And each step can be accomplished in the next 30 days.

Know Who You Want

There's an old saying: “If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else.” The same is true when it comes to clients — if you don't know who you want as a client, you'll probably end up with someone less than an ideal client.

Many CPAs are inclined to work with any prospect who walks in their door, without thinking much about whether or not they can serve them well or profitably. These advisors may end up with satisfied clients who generate sufficient revenue — or they may not. Since they haven't defined who their ideal clients are, they are following a haphazard route to success.

In contrast, once you take the time to define your ideal client, you'll look at those prospects walking in the door differently. You'll begin to understand that in order to be more successful, you'll need to turn some of them away.

There's no doubt that narrowing your target client focus and saying “no” to inappropriate clients can be scary at first. But ultimately, it will lead to having fewer (yet more profitable) clients whom you can serve better.

Describe your ideal client in terms of each of the following characteristics:

Market niche. A niche is any defined market that is particularly suited to your skills and interests. To narrow down your many choices, think first in terms of market segments and then specific niches. For example, self-employed professionals are a segment. Within that segment, there are many niches, such as cardiologists, trial lawyers or high-end architects.

Investable assets. Nearly everyone wants to move up-market, but you need to figure out what your next level should be. To do so, take the top 20 percent of your clients and estimate their average investable assets. Multiply that by five. The result will be a target to shoot for.

Minimum fee. If we assume for simplicity's sake that your fee is one percent of assets under management, then the minimum annual management fee for a $1 million client would be $10,000. Should you decide to take clients with less than $1 million, they would still be subject to that same $10,000 fee.

Minimum and maximum age. Is there any age range you should specifically target within your chosen niche?

Financial challenge to solve. What type of challenge do members of your niche group have that you could best address? Is it a problem that they are willing and able to pay you well for solving?

Access to influential group. Look for clients who can act as centers of influence and introduce you to prospects within your niche.

Personalities. Many advisors find they work better with one particular personality type. Determine which personality types you should focus on working with and which to avoid. Action Item One for this month: Spend 30 minutes documenting your ideal client. As you meet new prospects, give serious consideration to working only with those who match this profile.

Get in Touch

Research has proved repeatedly that clients are looking for more than investment expertise from their financial advisors. They want an advisor who knows what they really want out of life, understands their worries and is even there to do some handholding.

Clients also want a personal relationship. While they aren't looking for another friend, they do want advisors with whom they have a personal rapport so they can be assured their advisors are in synch with them on their financial goals and plans.

There is only one way to build trusted, personal relationships with your clients: spend time with them. It's only by being in close touch — face-to-face meetings, phone calls and even e-mail contact — that you'll have an opportunity to forge authentic relationships.

Don't think that you need to wait until you have an investment matter to discuss to pick up the phone. Clients want to be contacted about more than just their money. In fact, research shows that the most loyal clients are each contacted an average of 24.1 times a year by their advisors on non-investment matters. In contrast, just satisfied clients are contacted about twice a year on non-investment matters, while only moderately satisfied clients are contacted about non-investment matters an average of 0.6 times each.

Action Item Two for this month: Call your 10 best clients. Briefly discuss a non-investment matter — a family issue, sports team or current event — and then explain that, moving forward, you'd like to schedule regular progress meetings with each of your valued clients. Then agree on a date and time for your first meeting.

Build on Your Relationships

Client referrals are a highly effective way of obtaining qualified prospects but they won't simply happen. While a highly satisfied client may give you a referral from time to time without being prompted, you can't count on this avenue for any kind of steady stream of referrals.

Instead, incorporate a systematic referral request process that ensures that you meet and properly follow up with all the qualified investors your clients know. Consider this 12-step process:

  1. Set the stage to ask. Set expectations with clients from the beginning. Explain why it's in their own interest to provide referrals — because doing so frees you up from marketing to devote your full attention to solving their financial challenges.
  2. Ask for the referral. Simply state the type of client you are looking for and ask the client if they know anyone like that.
  3. Ask for another referral. Once you've received a name, ask for another. Ask the client who else comes to mind and keep asking until no more names come up.
  4. Gather contact information. Ask for the background, contact information and best way to approach each referral.
  5. Ask for a personal introduction. If appropriate, ask clients to give you a personal introduction to each person they referred. A personal introduction is especially important if the prospect is affluent.
  6. Commit to follow up. Tell clients you are committed to following up with the prospects they have provided.
  7. Wrap up the meeting. Express your appreciation and reiterate how important referrals are to helping you fully focus on your clients' financial challenges.
  8. Thank your clients. Send a handwritten thank-you note, ideally the same day. This has become a lost art and is greatly appreciated.
  9. Call each prospect. Contact each prospect and arrange a time to meet.
  10. Send a confirmation to the prospect. Send a letter that confirms the time and place of the meeting and lists any financial documents he or she should bring.
  11. Let clients know the results. Your referral sources will be curious about how things worked out, so be sure to inform them about what happened (keeping in mind client confidentiality, of course).
  12. Thank your clients — again. Encourage referral sources to make additional referrals by acknowledging how much you appreciate their assistance.

Action Item for this month: Use this 12-step process at each client meeting. If you're really interested in substantially growing your business through high-quality referrals, you must ask.

There you have it: concrete steps you can take over the next 30 days. Taken together, they will lead to more profitable clients who are happier and willing to give you referrals for more clients just like them.

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John J. Bowen, Jr. is the Founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, LLC, a leading research, publishing and consulting firm serving independent financial advisors, CPAs, insurance representatives and registered investment advisors. Download the latest research from CEG Worldwide or learn more about our coaching programs for financial advisors.