Last week, I reflected on the novelty of the concept of marketing and business development for a new accountant fresh out of school. Here, I want to address how I approach these topics in the business world and make them work for me as a forensic accountant.
I believe many accountants in the consulting business run into these same issues. Every day is a balancing act of working on the company while also working in the company. In every interaction we have to show our clients that we were the right choice. At the same time, we have to also seek out new business, convincing potential clients that we will be the right choice for them – a better fit than someone else. But how? That is the trick. There is no right or wrong answer, no tried and true formula to win and retain clients that works for everyone in every situation.
What I can tell you is that there seems to be four parts to this ever elusive formula – marketing, business development, client development and client service.
In the very simplest of terms, marketing to me is the big picture stuff. It’s what you put out publicly about your company (or yourself). I know there is a lot more to it, but, for here, I’m going to call it the public face – the advertising and sponsorships, the article writing and the giveaways. Marketing is about building general awareness of who you are.
Next comes business development. This is where the selling begins. Selling yourself is not as easy as it may seem. It requires confidence in your abilities and a genuineness or authenticity that clients can see and trust. To me, being genuine means being honest both with clients and yourself. If you are not the best fit for a project or case, let the client know. You do not want to be caught in a situation where you put someone else’s work in jeopardy because you didn’t want to admit you couldn’t do something. In short, be confident in your abilities but don’t oversell.
An equal part here is the problem of finding the right situation to be able to sell yourself. Where can you do this? Who do you target? How do you get to the right events and in front of the right people to make your efforts worthwhile? Those answers will be different for each individual, but taking the time to reflect on those questions and think creatively will pay off tenfold. In today’s market, it is as much about who you know as what you can do. It is important to put in the time to identify who will buy your services and where best to meet them. In professional services, you are selling yourself, not a product – you are selling trust, which takes a relationship, not just an ad.
So now you’ve found and won the client…what next? This is where client development and client service come in. Client service is doing the actual work. This is what being an accountant is about – crunching the numbers and providing an accurate, independent analysis.
But the authenticity cannot stop once you have the job. Be honest about the work. What do you see? What have you been doing and how is it going? Provide regular updates to your clients, so they in turn can update their bosses. That is the best thing we can do as consultants – make our clients look good to their boss. Ultimately, that is why they hired you.
Which brings us to client development. It is easier to retain a client than find a new one. So the constant effort that runs concurrent with client service is client development—how do I develop additional business from this client? If you can consistently make your clients look good and make their life easier, they will keep hiring you.
So, where do you start? What is the first step? How do you sell yourself and your professional services? Better yet, how do you sell yourself and not come across as if you think you’re better than everyone else? Find the balance of working in and on the business and you’ll find the magic formula that works best for you.