CPAs Should Count on Selling
By Dwight L. Hill
There are 1,762,000 accountants in the United States according to the 2010 US Census. That is 1.2 accountants for every 100 workers in America. How do you break out of the pack and become more than another number?
As an accountant you solve problems for people and companies by plunging into numbers, calculating taxes, balancing the books, and making sense of things. You endured rigorous training and credentialing so people can entrust you with their books and records or to investigate, analyze and synthesize patterns of transactions.
But, in all your formal schooling, were you ever taught how to sell your services, or yourself in the market place? Like many professionals, accountants are often not taught to sell and do not make it a primary focus. That can be a drawback. Expertise is vital, but it is not enough to bring business through the door and grow your practice. Unless the marketplace knows of your particular skills, you run the risk of being just one more CPA. Selling and marketing yourself and your expertise is critical to building your future. Here are five steps that can help you thrive when it comes to selling.
First, determine, from your client’s point of view, where you can add value. With so many accountants in the market and advanced bookkeeping solutions on our computers, many clients may think of their accountants as a commodity. By taking time to carefully think of what your talents are and how they bring value to the client you can separate yourself from the crowd. Your focus should be, not on what you cost, but instead on how your client can benefit from the value your services bring.
Second, don’t try to go it alone. Create a cadre of support around you by developing your own board of directors. Napoleon Hill wrote about the productive ingenuity of focused teams in what he called “the Master Mind” nearly 100 years ago, and his advice still rings true. Bringing together a group of smart, insightful friends and mentors from different walks of life will give you a broader base from which to work. The people you bring together can advise, guide, teach, and hold you accountable to reach your goals. They can and will become some of your biggest advocates and supporters; they will open doors for you and help you develop opportunities. Insist on blunt honesty, accountability and trust. Schedule regular meetings with agendas, goals and benchmarks. And, while you are at it, why not act as a ‘board member” for others who could use your help and support?
Third, become a subject matter expert. Research a subject you have an interest in; make it one that is important and impactful to your existing or potential clients. Read everything you can on the subject. Interview other experts and attend conferences on the issue. Put your own mark on the topic, and become an expert on not only the topic, but its impact on your clients. With this knowledge and expertise, put it to use for you and your clients. Write articles, give presentations and reach out to the local media as a resource for them on the topic. By choosing the right topic, and the right preparation, you will find people seeking you out for your knowledge. If you do not have good verbal presentation skills -- and many of us naturally do not -- get them. Join Toastmasters or a similar group to hone your speaking skills.
Fourth, ask your existing clients for referrals. Your clients are with you because you provide them valuable service and advice; they all have friends and business associates that would benefit from your services. You may be hesitant to ask your clients for a referral thinking you are asking for a favor. In fact, just the opposite is true, you are giving your clients a gift, by giving them the chance to help you and their friends and associates by bringing the two of you together. They are creating value for both parties involved.
Fifth, be organized and disciplined in your efforts. All of your thinking and planning will not result in success without strong execution of your plans. No outside force will impose deadlines on you. It is up to you to do it for yourself. In this digital age, a good client relationship management program (CRM) can make the process a snap. If you don’t have a CRM program, get one. Good programs are out there, such as cloud-based Salesforce, the current leader in the field. If you already have one, use it! Get comfortable with it, embrace it and learn to make it part of your daily routine. Your clients will appreciate your attention and follow-up. It is human nature to trust our minds to retain and remember things. As we get older and our brain grows more cluttered -- and I speak from personal experience -- memory slips and it becomes harder to keep it all top of mind. A CRM system and disciplined use of it, will keep you on top of all the follow up details you have to remember to keep yourself moving and your business growing.
Make selling and marketing a vital part of your business day and you will be on your way to differentiating yourself from the masses.
Dwight L. Hill is executive vice president, Sabadell United Bank in Miami. Hill provides financial advice and assistance to South Florida attorneys , CPAs and their respective firms. Hill works with startup firms, merging firms and growing firms that need support with their transactions, working capital and longer-term financing. Hill earned his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Florida in 1978, and has been with Sabadell United Bank, N. A. (formerly Mellon United National Bank) since 1984. He is responsible for business development, strategic planning, and implementation of new services in the South Florida market. Hill currently serves as chairman of the American Red Cross Greater Miami & The Key. Hill is also a board member of CarrFour Supportive Housing, and Florida Bankers Association, as well as a member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s audit committee.
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