Starting out as a bookkeeper and retaining your clients in a competitive environment can sometimes seem like a hard slog.
But there are some easy tips to promoting your skills and services without having to resort to aggressive marketing strategies, say professionals who have already worked out what techniques work best for them.
Making use of technology
Antonio Scamardella, who runs AJ Bookkeeping in Hemel Hempstead, specialising in small organisations, contractors, tradespeople, clubs and charities, revealed that one of his key strategies is to simply make his clients feel like they are being looked after properly by adjusting to their needs.
“What is essential to me is the way that I reach out to clients, because back in the day, there were just phones and emails, but I use any tools that are available,” he said.
“I use Facebook messenger and WhatsApp. So they feel like they are looked after, because if they have a question then they have a quick response,” he explained.
“I use Skype for conference calls for clients that are non-UK residents. I have a lot of clients who incorporate their business and then they live in other countries. So I have clients that are French, Swiss, Romanian, Italian residents and the key is to respond to the messages that clients send.”
Accountants or bookkeepers who appeared unavailable risked losing business, he suggested. “You can’t leave the client in the dark,” he said. “When there are problems, it’s very important to listen to them.”
Educate your clients
As well as communicating effectively, Scamardella also tries to go the extra mile for his customers.
“I know we run a business and have costs, but at the same time you need to look at the long term. When a client has a problem, is it really necessary to charge him for that letter to HMRC or can we absorb it and hopefully we push ourselves forward?” he said.
“So you need to make a client feel like they are looked after, not that you are just there to provide a service and that’s the end of it. That’s the key. That’s what can save your practice,” he argued.
A crucial current aspect of taking care of clients is to inform them about the new HMRC plans to make tax digital, Scamardella pointed out.
“A key part is for us as agents to educate clients that technology is the way forward and the old way to register everything on paper will disappear,” he said.
Expanding your client base
Scamardella, who speaks Italian and Romanian, has also placed an emphasis on the multilingual services offered by his business, finding a unique place in the bookkeeping landscape. He has recently expanded into the Polish market.
“I don’t think there is any secret. You just have to learn as you go along. I never market myself. You need to ask yourself where the gaps are in the market. Sometimes it comes with a bit of luck,” he said.
“When I decided to go on my own I didn’t know there was interest in other language speaking clients…then everything came along. You just learn, use the tools that are available today,” he added.
“Today technology is really advanced, a lot cheaper, and then if you are good then you get free marketing because it spreads with the word of mouth.”
Alessandra Parsons started her AKay Bookkeeping firm just under a year ago, with the motto to “help creative businesses tame unruly numbers so you can understand and use them to grow your business.”
Her informal marketing technique is to make herself as approachable as possible, shaking off the age-old stereotypes of accountants speaking in off-putting jargon.
“I’ve found that what is working for me is that I’m very personable. I speak to them in plain English, and I tell them what they want to know in the language they want it packed in. They don’t understand technical jargon so there is no point speaking to them in technical jargon,” she said.
Parsons’ easy manner helps her to build strong professional relationships with her clients, which goes beyond just putting their accounts in order.
“Sometimes in my communications they might mention that they haven’t done something because they’ve not been well, so I respond to that as well as to the technical information. It’s still professional but more friendly,” she said.
Utilising social media
She has also learned to use social media to her advantage, particularly by marketing her services on Instagram, the social media choice of her target clients.
By interacting on social media and getting to know people online, Parsons has found that it then encourages them to seek you out as a client.
She has made a conscious effort to learn the art of using social media for business purposes.
“You need to research what hashtags your target audience are using, and then use them on your posts. If they are using them they will be looking at them as well. And then they’ll see your post, and find you that way,” she said.
“Instagram isn’t all about how many followers you’ve got, it’s about how many people are actually engaging with each of the things that you post,” she added.
Providing valuable information.
“The other advice that I took on board is that you should have a mixture of posts about you and your product, and posts about other people’s products or services, linking to other useful things,” said Parsons.
“So I often link to things that HMRC post about and various other blogposts that I think are useful and then a mix of things that are not related to business,” she continued.
In Parsons’ case she adds a personal touch by posting about her knitting hobby, and what she is making that weekend.
“So you keep that personal bit, so that you’re not just a stranger, you’re a bit more of a person behind the business,” she said.
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.