How to find clients when starting a business

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Starting your own business can be daunting, with finding clients the first major obstacle. AAT member in practice, Psyche Coderre MAAT, says the solution to the conundrum may be closer to home than you think.

One of Hollywood’s most famous accountants, to the chagrin of the rest of us, is Rick Moranis’s nerdy Louis Tully from the 1980s classic Ghostbusters. In one famous scene, Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) is surprised to pass Louis’s flat and hear the sounds of a lively party. The punchline is that Louis isn’t actually more popular than he appears – all the party guests are his clients, and he’s entertaining them at his expense.

But what if it’s the other way around, and your clients are your friends? When you start as a member in practice (MIP), you need to find clients somewhere. Old-fashioned advertising, or listing in the Yellow Pages, generally isn’t fruitful. People want an accountant they trust, and for many, no one fits that bill better than an accountant they know.

I moved to London in 2002, and received my MAAT qualification in 2009. In the interim, I settled firmly into the goth scene, having been a part of this subculture since the age of 17. My scene involvement included DJing, promoting club nights and the occasional live gig – in addition to clubbing at weekends and frequenting goth-friendly pubs. Over the years, I met hundreds of alternative people from every walk of life.

Out of these hundreds of people, a sizeable number were in a position to need an accountant. These included independent contractors, self-employed artisans, ex-pats with foreign income issues, and the people who ran the pubs and clubs I frequented. As I gained my AAT Accounting Qualification, it seemed obvious that they might prefer someone like-minded to do their accounts, so I’d have a good shot at a ready-made market for my services.

I was used to marketing to goths, having spent hour upon hour handing out flyers for my gigs and club nights. Could handing out business cards be so different?

Fortunately, I did find several friends who were keen to keep their accountancy budget in the goth community, and a small core of loyal customers emerged. Then they began recommending me to their friends. I built a website and made a Facebook page for Death and Taxes (what goth could resist an accountant whose logo involves the Grim Reaper and whose slogan is ‘Keeping you in the black’?), but it was mainly personal recommendations – as most MIPs discover – that helped build my practice.

Working with friends has its strong points. As I was starting, my first clients – and oldest friends – became guinea pigs. For example, my first company formation was for an IT consultant I’d met at London club night Slimelight in 2002. It failed the first time and I had to resubmit. Thankfully, as a friend he was far more forgiving of my inexperience. Of course, he was also receiving mates’ rates. Another upside of working mainly in a particular community is that I’ve become well-known as ‘the goth accountant’.

Someone in the scene might not need an accountant now, but if they find themselves in receipt of an unwelcome letter from HMRC, or decide to quit their job and become self-employed, they know I’m here.

And, of course, people who struggle to combine an alternative appearance with a professional career can easily connect with me and my purple hair. They know I wouldn’t negatively judge a self-employed lighting engineer with dreadlocks and multiple facial piercings, a tattooed burlesque dancer or a fetish-themed club night. Or a shorthaired, suited City IT consultant whose colleagues know nothing of his favoured weekend hangouts…

Confidentiality can be an issue when your clients come from the same social group. I have to be careful using examples of what other – unnamed, of course – clients have experienced in case the person I’m speaking to recognises who I’m talking about.

And an unfortunate side effect is that I’m often unable to leave work at home when it’s social time. It’s rare that I go to an event or party without a couple of my clients in attendance. I’ll be dolled up for a night of partying and get sucked into a conversation about someone’s VAT return. But I can’t complain because it’s just as likely I’ll get an introduction to a new client.

I like to think that if I had a party and invited all my clients, most of them would already know each other – and it wouldn’t be very different from any other goth gathering in London.

Psyche Coderre MAAT

Psyche Coderre MAAT

Psyche has a degree in political science from the University of North Carolina and worked as a journalist before moving to the UK. In 2002 she moved to London and began work as a housing finance officer. She set up her own business, Death and Taxes, in 2008 – just two months after completing the AAT Accounting Qualification.

This article first appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Accounting Technician magazine, the membership magazine of AAT. AAT members can access exclusive magazine content online.

Psyche Coderre MAAT, is the owner of London-based Accountancy firm Death and Taxes.

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