How to get new accounting clients

Accountant & Bookkeeper Guides

5 min read

A fifth of small businesses don’t have an accountant. As they grow, they’ll eventually want to get one. So how do you welcome those fresh young businesses into your practice?

Paul Bulpitt – Co-founder, The Wow Company

Paul owns a thriving UK firm and works as head of accounting at Xero. He shares his tips on winning new business.

The Wow Company recently attended a London event for small businesses who didn’t have an accountant. We spoke to twelve business owners there, and eventually signed three as new clients.

We’ve always pitched ourselves as a firm that’s good for young businesses. We want to work for them and we know how to appeal to them. But Wow is 13 years old now. We’re an established business, which means we have to continually ensure we relate well to younger organizations. This was a great reminder of how to win their hearts and minds.

Understanding the new-business headspace

When thinking about how to get new accounting clients, it pays to try and understand their mindset. Most businesses struggle into life as a small one or two person operation. Their setup is simple and uncluttered, but there’s no budget for hiring help, so the owners do everything – including bookkeeping. It’s a do-it-yourself culture.  

As the business grows, the owners come under pressure. There are more transactions happening and more records to keep. Money flows in and out of the business faster, and they often lose track of it. You can expect them to be feeling overworked, tired, and anxious.  

Owners will be feeling some pain

As their workload grows and they slip behind on their bookkeeping, business owners worry that:

  • they’re not meeting their tax and compliance obligations

  • they don’t really know how much money they’re making

  • they’re making decisions about things they don’t fully understand (like debt)

And they’ll feel pressure to:

  • work faster to meet growing demand for their goods and services

  • catch up on business admin on their weekends

  • try and fix their work-life balance

This is the state of mind of your newest accounting client. Be ready to support them through this time.

Make an emotional connection

Small business owners can start to feel very lonely during the growing pains. As a result, owners often feel isolated. The best thing you can do when meeting them for the first time is show some empathy. Don’t focus on the debits and credits of accounting. Try instead to give them a sense of comfort and understanding.

Being human isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. It’s also a competitive advantage. Business owners don’t expect it from an accountant, so it’ll set you apart. At The Wow Company, we start by asking new accounting clients what keeps them up at night, or what they wish for their business. They’re business questions, but they’re framed in an emotional context.

Business owners in these early stages aren’t looking for sophisticated services. If you can address their short-term anxieties, they’ll be interested in talking some more.

What do they want from an accountant?

Someone who doesn’t have an accountant probably doesn’t know what an accountant can do. You’re not going to educate them overnight so don’t try to. It’ll just overwhelm them.

Business owners in these early stages aren’t looking for sophisticated services. If you can address their short-term anxieties, they’ll be interested in talking some more. Focus on these three things:

  1. Figuring out how the business is doing
    As businesses grow and speed up, owners generally lose track of their financial situation. They may not know if they’re profitable, or how much they can reinvest in the business. Tell them how you’ll put that information at their fingertips.
  2. Taking away hassle
    No one gets into business to do accounting. Build systems that reduce the business owner’s bookkeeping commitments. For business owners who are scrambling to do a thousand things at once, there’s no greater gift you can give them than time.
  3. Being their go-to person
    Small business owners have a lot of questions. They probably worry some of them are naive or stupid. Be the person they feel comfortable asking. As you find out what they do and don’t know, you’ll be able to educate them. That will make them more confident in themselves, their business, and in you.

Give them back their life

It's the sheer volume of work that will often compel a business owner to find an accountant. They’ll be sick of recording and reconciling transactions – or worrying about their finances. Help them imagine a life where they don’t spend late nights or weekends:

  • punching data into a spreadsheet

  • preparing and sending invoices

  • wondering if they can afford new equipment, extra staff, or more inventory

Services that will hook small businesses

Explain how you’ll take away the pain. Most new accounting clients won’t understand that modern accounting tools can automate their:

  • record keeping

  • invoicing

  • cash flow tracking

These three services alone will relieve their work burden, give them certainty in their financial situation, and help them understand their business. If you can promise to fix up these areas of their business in the first couple of months, you’ll be in a strong position to pick them up as new accounting clients.

Caring for your clients isn’t just a marketing trick

Once you have a new accounting client onboard, you need to keep working on the personal relationship. Empathy is not just a show you put on to win the business.

It helps to have compassionate people on staff, but there’s more to it than personalities. You need to make relationship-building part of everyone’s workday. Keep a customer relationship management system, and ensure everyone on staff buys into it. Use it to record personal information about your clients, like:

  • why they got into business

  • what they want from the business

  • who their family is

  • what their interests are outside of work

This will ensure you never lose sight of the personal connection that defined your relationship at the outset.

Young businesses make great new accounting clients

Young businesses can be excellent clients because:

  • they’re often entering a growth curve when they become a client

  • you can set up their accounting systems the way you like

  • you can score quick wins by introducing modern accounting tools and disciplines

It makes sense to go after these new businesses. Just make sure you understand where they’re coming from, what they need from you, and how to appeal to them.