By Patrick McLoughlin Run your business To attract your ideal client, put yourself in their shoes 6 Dec 2016 Little things count when you’re courting your ideal client – even your footwear – explains marketer to accountants Patrick McLoughlin. Years ago, I asked the marketing partner of a top 20 firm who his ideal client was. He answered: “Put a mirror to me.” His point was that he was already deliberately emulating his ideal client – in order to attract more of them. Believe it or not, little things, like the way you dress, do have an effect: a sole practitioner recently told me that he knew he’d lost a prospect when he was the only man in the room wearing a tie. It may not seem right to you, but these small things really matter. An accountant who specialises in the creative sector, for example, should present themselves differently to one who works with engineers. We don’t need to mimic every prospect we meet, but our language and dress should reflect those of our ideal client. How to attract the ideal client The ‘ideal client’ has been a growing focus for accountants over the past couple of years. Typically, partners will concentrate their efforts on appealing to a mirror image of their most profitable clients. That makes a lot of sense, especially if those clients pay premium fees for value-added services. But, if you’re taking a step up to higher fees, you need to understand how client expectations change. When you are competing for compliance-only work, you’re judged on competence: a binary decision. It’s hard to demonstrate added value when clients view your work as either right or wrong. You see this reflected in the claims made on many firms’ websites: ‘professional’, ‘approachable’, ‘high technical standards’ and so on. These aren’t differentiators – they’re the minimum standards that clients expect. Naturally, in a market where clients struggle to tell service providers apart, the differentiator shifts to cost. Clients searching for cheaper fees are unlikely to care about your suit or shoes. But double the fee and they start to subconsciously weigh you up. If you don’t look and feel right, you’ll fall at the first hurdle. This is the nub of the issue: potential clients don’t list the qualities they’re looking for, because they don’t know exactly what they are. Instead, they’re governed by feeling, which is much harder to define. But there are things you can do that will make a difference. Nowadays, you’re expected to have a decent website – that means no outdated content and a strong ‘About us’ page. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, or it’s half-complete, that’s likely to raise eyebrows too. Send an email from a Gmail address (or any address that doesn’t match your domain) and you’ll damage your credibility. Answerphones also ring alarm bells, especially if they don’t mention your firm’s name. Just as importantly, if you’ve defined a clear message about who you help best and how, you have to be consistent. Your message must be clear across all channels. It must be unmissable on your website and immediately clear on your LinkedIn profile, or doubt will kick in. If you use social media, make sure your content is built on the foundations of your core message – your difference. Ideal clients don’t often fall into your lap, but, if your message is focused and your benefits clear, you’ll soon notice the improved quality of prospects getting in touch – and find they convert to clients. Patrick McLoughlin is a sales and marketing consultant, and the owner of Accounting For Growth, which specialises in business development for accountants.