Nicola Draper of brokers Draper Hinks explains why younger clients are vital and offers advice on how to appeal to them.
Every practice must consider where it’s going and how it will get there. Attracting new – and younger – clients is crucial to the future success of your business. A younger client base will bring in new fee income, add longevity to your practice and add value to your business if you sell. It doesn’t matter if you are getting on a bit – in fact, age can work in your favour as you can appear wiser. However, your overall image, attitude, language and service are all important. Below I will outline my top tips for attracting new (and younger) clients.
Perfect your image
Make sure your office looks professional, but not old-fashioned. First impressions count, so a smart front door with good signage, a welcoming reception desk and clutter-free desks can help. A lick of paint, a decent carpet and good lighting goes a long way. It’s easy to get used to things, so perhaps get a critical eye from an outside. Having said that, I know some younger people who have never been to their accountant’s office – it’s all done by email and phone, or the accountant goes to them.
Don’t forget your own image (and that of visible staff). It doesn’t mean dressing in jeans but change those clothes and shoes that might have seen better days! Take an objective look at your letterhead, business cards etc., as they can look old-fashioned very quickly. Success attracts success, so don’t be afraid of showing how well you have done without flaunting it. However, you don’t want to look so successful that prospective clients think you’re ‘too expensive’, unless you only target high net worth clients.
Show a ‘can do’ attitude
A positive attitude is vital. I know several young people who have left their accountants as they found them too negative, viewing everything as a major problem. Clients want you to solve problems for them. A ‘no problem, we can sort it’, attitude is far preferable. Put simply, don’t act the pedant.
Speak their language
Speak to clients in plain English. Accountancy jargon is a turn-off and I know people who have left their accountants because of it.
Focus on good service
When I asked a few entrepreneurs in their 20s why they chose their accountant, they hardly mentioned tax savings or compliance. Their replies included ‘he speaks my language’; ‘he’s as excited as me as to the possibilities’; ‘their advice goes beyond what I’d expected’; ‘he helped with our business plan which was brilliant, so much so that of course we stayed with him’; ‘they are proactive, making unsolicited suggestions all the time, which is really useful’; ‘she gets back to me immediately when I text her’. Exceed their expectations and try to anticipate what they want.
Be upfront about fees
This is always an issue, especially in these recessionary times. No client wants a ‘how long is a piece of string’ approach, and young clients in particular tend to be keen bargain hunters. They are used to shopping around and comparing rates at the click of a mouse. The more transparent you are about fees, the better.
Make it clear from the outset what is included in the price, and what other services will cost. Younger clients seem to dislike the hourly charge-out method as in their own industries they are likely to charge fixed prices. They also tend to lean, at least initially, towards monthly payments rather than annual fees, so there is no big bill to meet all in one go. It helps with your cashflow too. You could offer a first year discount for start-ups and new clients and/or a small discount if paid by direct debit. Extra services, such as help with business plans, fundraising, bookkeeping, payroll and VAT, are especially valued by start-ups and SMEs, which are often run by younger people.
Get computerised now
I am amazed at how many companies, especially small practices, are still in the paper and ledger era. Younger clients have grown up with computers and will expect computerised files, contact by email and mobile and for most things to be done online. I doubt anyone under 30 would go to an accountant who doesn’t use them.
By understanding new technology, you are also better placed to attract companies that produce hardware, software, animation, websites, applications, mobiles, chips, etc. – the list could go on and on. The accounting principles may not change much, and you don’t need to be a geek, but if you can talk with some knowledge of new technologies, both users and the companies which work in new media will feel more confident in you.
In an age of instant everything, speed has also become an issue. The younger age group expect you to deal with things now, not next week, so make sure your systems can cope.
Get a website and work on getting the right search engine keywords to get you on the first pages of search engines. Get listed in Touch Local, LinkedIn and other web directories. The web is now the first choice of younger people (and many older ones) for finding goods, services and information. (My teenage son doesn’t even know what the Yellow Pages are!).
Consider writing a blog. Spending half an hour per week or fortnight on this can reap huge rewards if the blog is interesting and pertinent – plus it will help with those all-important search engine rankings.
Get a business mobile
While most people have them, there are still some who resist but you can’t put this off any longer.
Embrace social networking
You might think of this as something your children do, but millions of people (and not just teenagers in their bedrooms) belong to social networking sites, so do investigate their marketing opportunities. Viral marketing is the modern equivalent of word of mouth.
Many clients have children, and kids do grow up. Ask after them and let your clients know if you offer some work experience. You might also consider hosting or sponsoring a small exhibition, event etc., in which younger people are involved. Many of them and their mates will need an accountant one day. Goodwill and a bit of cash still works.
I know lawyers already offer a free half hour of advice to start-ups through Business Link but do accountants? Consider offering to talk at your local Business Link and other networking groups and to meet to entrepreneurs for free, giving not only accountancy advice but acting as a sounding board. You could even offer to talk to sixth formers and college students on money management, starting a business, how to work out costings, etc.
Younger people may want to talk Dragons’ Den-style about an idea that seems plain barmy and you think will never take off, but don’t close your mind – who’d have thought school-age kids could become millionaires from selling pixel space or writing simple applications for iPhones?
Article written by Nicola Draper from Draper Hinks.
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