January is the month for holidays, for relaxing, for contemplation. For me that involves spending time at Port Stephens out on the water trying to skillfully convince a succulent fish to hop onto my line. As anyone knows such an exercise involves a great deal of patience. As I've sat in the sun replenishing my stocks of vitamin D, it occurred to me that business development for accountants is a lot like fishing.

The Accountants’ Guide to Fishing

Do you have attractive bait?

As any good fisherman knows bait is critical. I've never "got" plastic bait particularly in estuary fishing - the fish are not that stupid! Anyway, it is interesting how fickle fish seem to be. Some love pilchards, some prawns, some squid or worms. How do you know what to use?

It the same with clients and prospects. Different clients can be attracted to different service offerings. These preferences will change over time as the client's circumstances change. Unless you're wanting to attract a very narrow range of clients you need to experiment with a broad range of service offerings to see what will work. Some clients may be attracted to simple down to earth services to help them manage their cash flow more effectively. Others may be looking for more holistic services that address their business and personal financial strategies. It is critical that you experiment to determine what offerings are attractive to clients.

Have you developed the right fishing skills?

Far more important than tackle is having the right skills. You can have all the best gear in the world but if you don't know how to use it it all can be a waste. Often one can find some of the best fisherman using very basic lines, hooks and bait but they know how to use it to great effect.

It's an unfortunate fact that many practitioners have made the mistake of investing in business advisory software, without ensuring that they and their team have developed the right skills and processes to ensure that a quality service can be delivered that clients will want to buy on a regular basis. All too often early enthusiasm in building advisory services is lost when practitioners realise that there is much more involved that merely purchasing the latest software tool.

It was for this reason that we have developed our Business Advisory EnablerTM process - a 7-step process that practitioners should follow to ensure successful development of their business advisory services. Client engagement is key, software tools are important but not critical. Key elements are being able to develop strong relationships with clients and have conversations that unlock the issues the client is trying to address.

Do you have the right tackle?

Of course having the right tackle is important when fishing. Having hooks too big for the fish you're trying to catch; not using sinkers when the fish you want are on the bottom; having a line that is too light or heavy all need to be considered. The key consideration is "What type of fish am I trying to catch"?

It's the same with business development. What "type of client am I trying to catch"? Have I developed my services offerings around their needs? Are there specific industries where I can add additional value from my specific knowledge as to how those industries operate?

Sales 101 is "Know thy customer". When was the last time you strategically thought about your clients, the issues they're facing and the services that you could provide to help clients address those challenges.

Only when you've determined what you're trying to achieve should you go down to the tackle shop (the software vendors) and find tools that will equip you to provide the services that you have determined are best for your clients and your practice.

Are you fishing in the right place and at the right time?

You can have all the right gear but if you don't find the right spot and fish at the right time it can all be a fruitless exercise, except of course for the joy of quiet contemplation.

Knowing which clients to target is a critical piece of the puzzle. Not all will be interested in additional services. Consider as well when you should approach clients. What are peak times in their business when they will be too busy to consider additional ways you may be able to assist them. What life events may be occurring for your client that will trigger the need for particular additional services. Tracking these life events are positioning services that will assist clients in meeting these new challenges can be a highly business development strategy.

Are you using berley to attract the fish?

Getting more fish hovering around the boat will obviously increase one's chances of a catch. It's the same in your firm. Having more people aware of your services or using low cost add on services to compliance is a good way to build trust and show that you can do more than be a tax and accounting compliance accountant. How are you getting more people hovering about our boat. Newsletters, seminars, speaking engagements, social media and more are all critical pieces of practice berley.

SMSF can often be a good place to start in offering a low cost add-on service by offering a free review of the fund - this will lead to discussions around retirement planning, succession, estate planning etc. But starting with offering a simple low cost service you can open the door to bigger opportunities.

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David Smith Smithink