100% of my clients come from a significant shared social connection. Why is this interesting or important? In any business we must closely look at who is utilizing our products and services. This is key to growing your top line and liberating your time. Savvy business clients often ask: “How do you find your clients?” I know they are genuinely interested in my story, but perhaps they are curious how that translates into their own business. The answer to this question will dictate how your time and money is spent growing. Most importantly, the effectiveness of your efforts hinges on this. Let’s explore what does work: trusted communities. And let’s talk about what does not work: business cards, networking events, and strangers.
In no particular order, my clients come from: referrals, TechShop, and Bay Bucks. All trusted communities. Referrals are the best source of business, because you are not only recommended, but people tend to refer like-minded people. Successful business people refer other successful business people. The benefit is win, win: I get a similar client and the person or company gets a new CPA without having to spend the time vetting other possibilities. This referral grows into what a mentor of mine refers to as “The Client Tree.” Birds of the same business feather tend to flock together, so choose wisely who you work with. Thankfully Gillingham CPA is full of creative, nice, and successful people that are a pleasure to work with. This is the product of good people referring other good people. Don’t be ashamed to ask others for referrals, it is a win win.
TechShop is a San Francisco maker space where software, hardware, and other entrepreneurs can prototype products. While I generally make tax returns, an odd TechShop product, I am still members of the community. So when I am approached about my services I am already a part of their shared experience. In all likelihood we have similar reasons for being there and at minimum, plenty to talk about. Having a significant amount of creatives as clients also provides terrific synergy if I can make a meaningful client to client introduction. Join a real community and be active in it.
Bay Bucks is a site designed for Bay Area business owners who perform work for each other using “Bay Bucks” or really, another form of trade. This has been a tremendous way to connect with business owners who are receptive to remote working. In every case, Bay Bucks members are tremendously resourceful, provide referrals outside of Bay Bucks, and are in exciting businesses. Find a community niche that really exemplifies your values and you will attract similar people.
And what does not work? Well… Anything with “Networking” in the title frightens me on every level. Interestingly it also seems like my business card is laced with some kind of anti-client venom. My conclusion is that no matter how great the service or product, we need to have a strong pre-existing and genuine connection before take a plunge. Increasingly web services such as Yelp and Amazon reviews provide online credibility, further enabling consumers to purchase with more trust. With all the trusted sources of business connections why would a consumer deal with a cold sale?
What about advertising? Advertising does not gain clients, but tells your network that you are open for business. Heck, it tells Google you are open for business! Perhaps it is a change encounter from a professional event, then a blog post, and then that person sees you around TechShop working late. Six months later when that person has a need that you service, they will know who to go to first. Advertisement is awareness. Advertising in 2015 is providing value first and asking for business once it has found you.
I am exciting to see what has worked for me in the New Year and to keep building a practice with awesome Bay Area and the occasionally NYC client (only the best places). Doing great work, being responsive, and upfront will continue to naturally attract positive working relationships via referral. No more networking nothing unless there is a significant mutual value in the event. With the new growth I am quickly coming to the other side of the table where I need to wonder if a stranger outside of my natural spaces will be a good fit. I am wishing you all the best in your 2015 business building endeavors. I invite you to coffee or lunch off the clock to discuss business stuff after outside of accounting and tax so I can learn more about your success in this area. Of course, let’s do coffee after April 15th. But until then, I am still open for business.
Other resources from John Gillingham:
Learn Accounting: http://accountingplay.com/
My Innovative Accounting Books: Amazon Kindle