Choosing Your Clients

“Who will I work with?”: A CPA’s story on client acquisition

When I started my company The Green Abacus last January, I was faced with the question, “Who will I work with?” As part of a bigger question, “What is my story?” It’s a question I revisit and refresh often.

MY STORY

I started off in public accounting and knew nothing about customer prequalification and on-boarding. When I first became a CPA in 2010, I was given a stack of business cards and told, “We want you to start building your own customer list.” Okay… how do I do that?

I started attending weekly networking events, but I never received any clarification on who I should be quoting to. To me, the ideal customer was whoever needed their taxes prepared. Do you have a pulse? Do you have to file taxes? Can you pay us? (The first two are mandatory, the third is a bonus).

THE REALIZATION

A few years ago, I met Jason Blumer and came under the influence of the THRIVEal+CPA Network. They taught me that there was another world of clients out there. A world where customers:

  • value my service
  • aren’t nickel-and-diming me or questioning questioninghow I spent my time
  • actually refer their friends and new customers went on wait lists to be on-boarded into the company

It was a world I could actually envision myself living in for life.

THE TURNING POINT Unfortunately it was not a world I could sell to my bosses, or even my co-workers. Call it seasoned skepticism, cranky realism or retirement-in-sight absenteeism, this nirvana would not happening at my current employer.

So I started my own company where I can pick my own clients. I myself am a bit of a rebel, a project-starter, an independent in politics and music, and a touch hyperactive. I decided my ideal client would be somewhat like that. I call us the Innovative Underground – the small companies changing the world and their professions from their coffee tables and garages. Not waiting for permission, and too awe-inspiring to ever need forgiveness.

HOW IT’S WORKING OUT I’m supposed to say now that “Everyone lived happily ever after,” as I write this blog post from my cabin in Lake Tahoe, but that would be a load of crap. Here’s the truth:

  • I’ve not always stuck to my guns on client selection: Bad customer on-boarding this past May resulted in a client I had to fire the following month. I even wrote a proposal for a dentist’s office a few weeks ago simply because of the referral source.
  • Sometimes I find a great client, but they want something different: I had a media consultancy in Southern California go with someone different, while a performing arts studio in NYC opted to stick with QuickBooks.
  • Sometimes great clients find ME: A theatre troupe through a local meetup, an international social justice charity through a fellow Thrivealist, an IT consultancy that loved my website, or a hotel design consultant that found me through a mutual acquaintance. One time it was a healthy-living consultant that googled me looking for coaching– nothing even accounting related!
  • I am not looking to work with every one. I am looking to work with the right one. It is easy to build a company that is profitable 3 months from now. But I am building a company I can wake up to 3 years from now. That is hard. That is worth the run.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? The road of self-employment isn’t for everyone, but I believe the road of quality over quantity is non-negotiable for a sustainable career. As CPAs, we work hard for our customers. And without discrimination, we will find ourselves sliding down the path toward commoditization. Customers don’t appreciate commodities. They look for the cheapest that satisfies needs. You already know you can’t keep at that for 40 years.

So what is it about accounting that makes you tick? What gets you up on Monday morning? Where can you add value to your customers, and start hearing “thank you” more frequently?

Choose a path to run worthy of your effort.

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