Being a part of a networking organization or a professional accounting organization such as PSTAP has many benefits for growing your accounting practice and tax-related enterprise. Think about what services your clients need that you don’t provide (and don’t intend to provide). Then start researching the best providers of these services. You don’t want to just refer people to the guy down the street. You want to develop a reciprocal relationship with that other professional, a business partnership that benefits you both.
Developing a Referral Partnership
First, define your ideal client. Do you want to work with individuals or do you prefer businesses in a specific industry? Do you want to do more of certain services, such as tax preparation, payroll, or auditing? Do you prefer working with entrepreneurs, businesses seeking to expand, or maybe those buying and selling businesses?
With your preferred clients in mind, think about the types of services they need besides the services you provide. For instance, a small business may need loans; a manufacturer may need business real estate or large specialized machinery; a wealthy person will likely have a financial advisor.
If your clients correspond to that other service provider’s clients, you can approach the service provider with a business proposition that is mutually beneficial – reciprocal referrals. But do your research first to decide which partner in that sector to choose. Remember that there must be something in it for them, but you can afford to be choosy.
Let’s use the loan provider as an example. Research some of the loan providers in the area or those your clients have used and decide which have the best reputation. Partnerships work best between individuals rather than big businesses, so look for individual bankers or loan officers within the organizations with whom you can nurture a partnership. Determine how they usually bring in new business – advertising, client referrals, specials and discounts – to determine if they would be a good fit for you and how to best frame the offer.
Set up a meeting with the loan officer to discuss a prospective partnership. If you haven’t already met the person, call and introduce yourself, telling the person that you’ve heard of his/her good work and positive reputation and that you’d like to discuss how you can help each other through a referral partnership. Offer to meet for lunch. This creates an open environment and a sign that you are willing to commit something (money!) to this person as a potential partner.
At the meeting, demonstrate your knowledge of the person’s business and ask for more clarification. Then share about your own work, and if they still seem to dovetail well and the loan officer seems open, present a solid proposal. If the loan company primarily gets more business by advertising, suggest a joint advertising campaign. If it’s referrals and word of mouth, discuss referral strategies. Brainstorm what would work best for you both.
Remember that in order for this to be beneficial to you both, it needs to be exclusive. This would be the only loan officer with his or her particular expertise to whom you would refer your clients and you would be the only accountant with your expertise to whom the loan officer would send his or her clients. That’s a critical part of the puzzle that your partner needs to agree to. This is why you want to do your research and discuss the partnership thoroughly with the partners you have chosen.
Examples of business partners
Focus your time and energy on developing a handful of high-value partners whom your clients need most often. Some suggestions:
- Legal services: tax attorney, contracts, intellectual property
- Real estate agents – business, residential, rental – depending on your clients’ needs
- Bookkeeping services (if you don’t provide them)
- Insurance agents, particularly those in niches your clients might need
- Financial advisory services
- Mortgage brokers
- Investment properties
- Loan officers and banking
- Tax professionals and auditors (if you don’t offer these services)
- Health insurance providers for small businesses and entrepreneurs
- Business coaches
- Strategic planning experts
- Property or business valuation
- Marketing and advertising
- Social media services
- Web design and IT services
The options for business partnerships are as varied as your client base’s needs. Utilize your network here at PSTAP for other accounting professionals in services you do not offer in order to start developing your business partnerships. Start with just a few partners and grow them organically as other opportunities arise. Soon you’ll have the perfect mix of partners to refer clients to and receive clients from, and your accounting practice or firm will grow almost without effort.