Ivy Lynn Defino
Six steps to bring in more clients

Find your personal business development identity and run with it.

March 10, 2014
by Ivy Lynn Defino, CPA

Networking and visibility are the keys to building any CPA firm, but there are many ways to establish yourself in the community and promote your brand. I wasn’t truly successful at business development until I found the approaches I was most comfortable with and put them to work in my own practice.

A different solution

What should CPAs do if they want to pave their own path to business development? Try these six recommendations:

  • Overcome the urge to be the worker bee. You can stick to your own path and still expand your comfort zone. In many cases, CPAs get bogged down in dealing with technical or administrative concerns and don’t spend much energy on rainmaking. Firms even reward this behavior by encouraging younger staff to keep their heads down and to focus on work in their cubicles rather than bringing them along to clients or giving them a sense of the engagement’s scope and importance to the firm. But if you ultimately want to succeed as a partner, you have to develop a client base and bring money in the door. If you plan to advance in a firm or start your own, you will not be able to achieve your ambitions by being only a worker bee. You will have to add some other skills to your arsenal to get ahead.
  • Be yourself. The good news is that there are many paths to business development success. For decades, two of the main ways to generate business were taking current and prospective clients golfing or for drinks at a club. If these traditional approaches to rainmaking aren’t your style, then determine the marketing strategies that best fit your personality. For me, the most productive key to business development has been women’s organizations and events focused on professional women. The AICPA Women’s Global Leadership Summit, hosted by the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee, is a great example of an opportunity for women to come together to share their challenges and best practices and learn from other, more experienced professionals. Women can then use the confidence they gain to tackle unfamiliar territory, including business development. In addition, my involvement in the American Woman’s Society of CPAs, the National Association of Women Business Owners and a local chamber of commerce has offered great chances to develop my marketing skills. To succeed at business development, it’s important to be able to stand in front of a group and get your message across, and local organization meetings make this possible. Depending on your involvement, you can also take advantage of leadership opportunities that further enhance your confidence or improve your public speaking skills.
  • Understand what you need to get ahead. Mentors can be a tremendous help, but it’s important to be aware of the difference between a mentor and a sponsor. A mentor may offer advice, but a sponsor will put you in situations or positions that will further your career. If your firm wants you to bring in business but doesn’t teach you how, you need a sponsor who will ensure you are introduced to clients, given leadership responsibilities, and alerted to any training you may need. If you recognize the distinction between a mentor and a sponsor, you’ll be able to seek out exactly the guidance you need to move ahead in a firm or gain the experience required to start your own. 
  • Ask for work. When I started my own firm, I began with a handful of clients that I had been working with on the side because they were too small for my employer. To grow my practice, I realized that I had to ask for work. I’ve also learned to ask my current clients if they know anyone who could use my help. No matter how much your clients or business contacts may think of you, it may not occur to them to offer referrals if you don’t ask.
  • Articulate your value. Although our CPA credentials say a lot about our skills and education, clients and referral sources still may not realize the many services we can provide them and how our skills can benefit them. If you take the opportunity to discuss all that you can do, it may pay off in added business. Make a list of added services you could provide your current clients so that you’re ready to talk about them when you have the chance. You may find yourself surprised by what you have to offer.
  • Be patient. I use some marketing approaches that don’t produce immediate results but keep my name in the public eye. They include advertising in local magazines, maintaining a website, and hiring a consultant to build a LinkedIn presence for me. I recently got a call from an attorney who googled “female CPA Plantation Florida.” My name and information came up, and by the time she called, she already knew a lot about me from my site and LinkedIn page. The visibility I had built basically did the selling for me.   

Most important, have confidence in your ability to learn. I wasn’t a born marketer, but little by little my business has grown, and I’m considering taking on extra help. It can seem like a slow process, but it has been well worth the effort to find the best business development path for me. 

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Ivy Lynn Defino, CPA, is the owner of Ivy Lynn Defino, CPA PA, in Plantation, Fla., and a member of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee.