Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

The First Rule of Fishing for New Clients

You could be wasting a lot of time, money and effort on the wrong career and business-building strategies. Take a minute now to learn how to do it right with these simple steps. It could pay off big.

April 26, 2010
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Are you getting all the referral business you deserve? Probably not.

And I may know why — and how to fix it.

As every owner of a tax-and-accounting business understands, your best source of new business is usually referrals. And referrals come through networking. Many CPAs are energetic networkers. They join local civic clubs, participate in their communities, get active in their professional associations and spend a lot of time at the clubs (golf, tennis, etc.). Many are now going online with Facebook and LinkedIn too.

But how many hours and how much in dues, meals, drinks and raffle tickets will it take for many CPAs to admit that they don't have much to show for it?

Business Development Advisor Nancy Fox, who has worked with a number of New York-area law and accounting firms, suggests you may be doing all the right things — but in the wrong places and with the wrong people.

"So many professionals," she says, citing accountants and lawyers alike, "are just a little bit shy about networking upwards." Professionals, like most people, are simply more comfortable meeting people, talking to people — networking — with people like themselves, people with the same level of income, education or achievement. "But if you want to build your practice, those are not necessarily the people who are going to take you to the next level."

She urges accountants to fish where the big fish are. It takes desire, strategy, planning and implementing in a diligent, disciplined step-by-step process every bit as systematic as approaching a tax return or audit engagement.

Fox tells the story of a friend named Sophie. She was reaching out to all of her contacts and going to as many networking events as possible. She collected hundreds of business cards, went to events at least three times a week, met with people for coffee and lunch. After about six months, Fox says, "she had lots of contacts, was 10 pounds heavier, exhausted and didn’t have any new business to show for her effort."

One day, Sophie woke up and said, “Something has got to change.” When she reached out to Fox, Fox ran her through a little exercise: On a piece of paper, Sophie created three columns: Ideal Client, Ideal Referral Sources and Ideal Networking Events.

You can do it too. Start by writing every characteristic of your ideal client and referral sources and then research the events, associations and conferences where those clients and referral sources might congregate. For the next six months, concentrate on meeting only those ideal potential contacts and attending the events they attend — fundraisers, committees, associations, professional seminars, even PTA meetings.

Six months from now, you may be surprised. You just might have collected several hundred business cards of targeted, ideal referral sources and potential clients. It worked for Sophie.

As Curt Mingle, the legendary managing partner of Clifton Gunderson once taught me: "You have to fish where the fish are." And as Nancy Fox might add, "… where the big fish are."

WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND? Comment on this article or anything else for that matter by sending your thoughts to Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2010 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.