Sometimes, all a business has to do is look in its own backyard to figure out how to increase referrals, add clients and even retain its current client base. That’s Sandra McIlvain’s philosophy and it seems to work out quite well for her and McIlvain & Associates, an all-female firm in Colleyville, Texas.
Said another way, how do years of hands-on experience working with accounting and tax clients help shape a practice’s philosophy? You gain the know-how to provide the kind of service that McIlvain says can’t be defined on paper – something she thinks many accounting firms miss or simply take for granted.
“Sure, accountants tend to be numbers-oriented and clients want accuracy with their accounting and taxes, but clients also want to feel that their accounting firm really cares about them,” says Sandy. “We treat people with the same respect that we would want to be treated.”
Service boils down to some really simple steps that can make or break the relationship.
“Clients want a lower tax liability and seamless accounting processes, but what they really want is the assurance that you are working with them as a true business partner instead of just another advisor paid by the hour,” she says. “Clients expect answers and phone calls returned promptly, but our relationships are based on a healthy dialog and exchange of ideas. That’s what sets us apart from others.”
Frequent and Necessary Contact
Service may be one thing, but there is a huge helping of girl power in McIlvain & Associates as well, a strategy that grew very organically over the years rather than a focused plan to have only women on staff. Like many other local practices, Sandy and her staff of 12 offer traditional tax services for individuals and companies, and accounting services in financial, bookkeeping and payroll tax preparation.
Her firm also specializes in QuickBooks® and QuickBooks Point of Sale consulting. She says the ProAdvisor® certification and the ProAdvisor listing on the QuickBooks website provide a great way to make a good first impression. Yet, it is the “service” that wins the business.
“It is easy to win over new clients when you have been able to help them set up their software and answer their accounting questions,” she says. “However, because we offer QuickBooks training, accounting, and taxes, they stick around for years of additional services!”
Another one of the firm’s hallmarks is the decisive effort to keep in touch with clients on a regular basis rather than just once a year.
“Let’s face it: If you only wanted an accountant to do your taxes, you could very easily go to the big-name guys in the storefront down the street,” she says. “That’s not us. We really enjoy being able to help our clients with their accounting and taxes, but it is easier to do that if we talk to clients monthly or quarterly. We would rather have them call with questions and let us help with their decision making throughout the year.”
This frequency also helps serve as a constant reminder that McIlvain & Associates actively seeks referrals, made possible through a conversation, its newsletter and the firm’s website. She says one of the most important points is that the firm makes sure they thank clients in writing whenever they refer business. In fact, the firm thanks its clients in writing for continued business as well.
“More than anything else, our ideal clients listen to our advice and refer other clients to us,” says Sandy. “I can’t imagine any accounting firm that would turn down that kind of relationship, but you definitely have to make yourself visible and work hard at helping your clients understand the kind of business you want.”
Local Efforts Bring Success
Service… check. Frequency of contact… check. What’s left? Local community activities and relationships with other professionals. Here is Sandy’s five-point strategy checklist that has brought additional business to the firm:
In the social media world, Sandy participates in Facebook®, LinkedIn®, and Twitter™, but also puts an emphasis on her website to update it continually with new content, while changing the face of it for what she calls “a fresh look.” The site also includes a welcome video. In the future, she plans to link the website to social media for additional details on accounting and current tax laws.
“We also maintain a tradition with our staff photo by always having one taken in front of or on some kind of transportation,” says Sandy, whose current team photo is in front of a local train. “Many years ago, we created the tagline, ‘Our team is ready to drive your accounting problems away.’ Over the years, clients are excited to see what kind of photo we’ll take the next time we update the site.”
For more than 20 years, Scott H. Cytron, ABC, has worked with CPAs and accountants, providing public relations, marketing and communications services. He is a frequent contributor to industry publications covering professional services industries, including accounting, healthcare, legal, financial planning, collections and debt, and high-tech. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog, AbsoluteCytron.
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