COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the trend towards remote working and online collaboration with clients. What might have normally taken five years has been achieved in as many months. While this has brought about significant business challenges, accountants have been able to adapt their services and offer them to clients in new territories.
If this reflects what’s happening in your practice, it’s time to take advantage of the new opportunities facing you. This includes how you collaborate with existing clients and how you attract new business in new geographical territories, when traditional methods of building relationships are no longer practical.
Distance is no longer a barrier to winning new clients
In the past, regular face-to-face meetings and frequent visits to clients’ business premises were required to create a strong accountant-client relationship. Now, during lockdown, clients have become comfortable with communicating online with their accountant, using tools such as client portals, online accounting software and receipt scanner apps. They have come to expect this form of communication, given the working-from-home situation and, in fact, hard-pressed business owners and managers now often prefer this way of collaborating as a more efficient use of their time.
Clients must, of course, be ready to embrace the technology that makes electronic collaboration a success. But these are precisely the kind of client that any forward-looking accountant will seek to attract, as their compliance work can be processed more efficiently.
Cast your net more widely
Equipping your client with tools for online collaboration and communication means you're ready to take on business from across the UK, as well as overseas clients needing to comply with the UK regulatory framework. You can now cast your net very widely indeed.
Here are some tips on how to extend your reach beyond your local area.
- Word-of-mouth recommendation. This remains a powerful way of growing your practice organically. Don’t be shy - let clients know through your regular newsletters and briefings that you would be happy to have an exploratory chat with businesses needing an accountant (or auditor or virtual FD), wherever they are located.
- Networking. Encourage your team to mine their networks and spread the word. Do they know any entrepreneurs based around the country? There may be untapped potential in who your employees know, and they could form your next group of clients.
- Edit your website. Make it clear on your website that you are willing to serve clients the length and breadth of the country. Ask satisfied remote clients for a short testimonial to feature on your website. Post articles about how you support long-distance clients effectively. Consider downplaying your bricks-and-mortar location/s if national coverage becomes a major strategic goal.
Most potential clients that contact you will visit your website first, with many dismissing the practice if the website is poorly designed or hard to navigate. Stating clearly how your practice can help a prospective client is paramount. Suitable call-to-action buttons will help guide the prospect into making the decision to sign up with your practice. What’s more, in many cases the prospect might not be ready to sign on, so it's important to guide them to blogs, case studies or service pages to help them make that decision.
- Search engine optimisation. Consider investing in SEO consultancy to move your practice up the search rankings and make it more visible to businesses seeking a new accountant. Again, make it clear that you are not limited by geography and outline the measures you take to build close partnerships with remote clients. Beyond just searching for clients further afield, a non-secure or non-optimised website will suffer in terms of performance and will not rank as highly in searches, making your practice less discoverable.
- Social media. Engaging in networks such as LinkedIn and online business forums is a great way to get your name in front of prospects. Posting articles and commenting on other people’s content can take time (and time is money), but will reinforce your reputation as a thought leader. Social media tools like LinkedIn are the new networking tools in the modern remote accounting. Other than being a new way of connecting with potential clients, social media (and blog content) are excellent ways to drive more traffic to your website and increase your number of potential clients.
Having everything in place to serve clients hundreds of miles away creates exciting opportunities. It’s a radical shift away from the traditional business model of the high-street accountant.
In reaching out to clients in other parts of the UK, you can apply everything you've learnt in recent months. You and your team will be working in the same way you're doing right now, but on a broader canvas.For advice on the skills your team will need for successful remote working with clients, see our article on upskilling your practice.