Louis Armstrong once crooned, “We have all the time in the world”. But unfortunately, for most accounting and bookkeeping firms, this doesn’t ring true. Time is precious and often in short supply. To make the most of our time, we must use it wisely.
This is where higher-value clients fit in. These clients are traditionally those who generate a good revenue per hour. They contribute a high proportion of your annual income without draining excessive resources: they are your ideal client.
The definition of what makes a client ‘high-value’ may differ from firm to firm. Fees are a central factor, yet a client’s value may relate to a non-monetary quality, such as their strong reputation within an industry or ability to generate new referrals.
Prioritising higher-value clients prevents your team from sinking hours into a client account for little gain. Replacing lower-value clients with higher-value ones can earn your business more money while creating a fulfilling work environment as you’ll be working with the type of client you want.
You may already have a few excellent high-value clients on your books, or you may have resorted to pitching low fees to generate a client base when starting up. Either way, building up a strong portfolio of higher-value clients within your core services could work wonders for your income statement, team member working hours, and reputation as a big name in your field.
Prepare your firm to take on higher-value clients
Get clear on what services your firm wants to focus on providing
Core services are those that sit at the heart of your practice. They align with the purpose of your business and set you apart from other accounting and bookkeeping firms. In a competitive market, having solid core services that provide unique solutions can be game-changing, so it’s vital to fully understand what it is you want to offer your prospects.
Your core services could revolve around a specific area; do you have a strong track record advising on the efficient use of tax reliefs or creating financial reports with actionable insight for business owners? Or a particular sector — legal practices, for example. Evaluate your firm’s existing strengths and consider how to use these to consolidate your core services.
Economic turbulence can tempt firms into diversifying to boost income. But misplaced investment in new services can deflect focus from the core services that define your practice, which ultimately impacts your ability to attract or retain clients.
Nurturing your core services (those that achieve tangible results and position you as an expert in your field) is the first step to attracting high-value clients. The type of client you want to work with will know high fees are worth the investment in exchange for excellent results.
Define what a ‘higher-value’ client means to your firm
A ‘higher-value’ client means different things to different firms, and can include those that:
- Generate higher revenue per hour
- Offer loyalty and repeated use of services
- Have a strong industry presence
- Provide enjoyment working together
Fees are an obvious starting point. Every firm hopes to receive fair payment for its services, yet many resort to dropping fees to secure new clients. Once a low-paying client is on the books, it can be hard to increase their rate for fear of losing out to a competitor.
Low-paying clients receive the same high-quality services as higher-paying clients but without the remuneration to match. The result is more hours worked with little return and fewer free hours to take on new projects. By replacing those low-paying clients with higher, or at least fairer, paying clients, you’ll release time and resources for use on other engagements.
Loyalty is another attractive characteristic of a high-value client. Clients who pay for services and return for more have a higher lifetime value than one who uses your services once. Acquiring new clients costs five times as much as retaining them, placing a premium on your returning customers.
Some clients are high-value by way of their established presence within an industry. Association with them could work wonders for the reputation of your firm. These clients have the potential to generate further work or even new referrals from rivals hoping to mirror their success.
Finally, simply enjoying working with a client could be what confers the most value to you and your team. Life is too short to spend working with clients you don’t connect with.
How to identify higher-value clients
Look for clients whose budgets match your price range
One way to ensure prospective clients can pay your fees is to be upfront about your prices. Give them a price list covering a variety of service options. Some won’t accept your fees, which is fine if flagged early in the process; you can focus your energy on those who are able (or willing) to pay.
Your prices reflect the quality of your work. Underselling your firm undermines your team’s ability by giving the impression your input isn’t worth the going rate. Most clients are prepared to pay more for superior services.
That’s not to say if a client can’t pay, you should immediately turn them away. There may be streamlined versions of services you can offer instead. Building bridges at this stage could pay dividends in the future, so long as you aren’t undercharging for your work.
Look for clients with a clearly defined, and complex, problem
Taking the time to understand your client’s problem is essential to offering them the perfect solution. Every client has a need, and the bigger and more complex it is, the more likely they will agree to pay substantial sums to fix it.
Ideally, their problem aligns with your core services. Your existing expertise is an excellent leverage point and should increase the chances of a mutually-beneficial collaboration.
Some might not even realise they have a problem. See this as an opportunity to impress by outlining their predicament and following up with how hiring you to solve it is the best idea they’ve ever had.
Look for clients with a good cultural fit
As mentioned, a high-value client is one that offers more than deep pockets. Company culture and values are becoming increasingly important, and any clients you take on should fit well with yours.
For example, if you’ve built up strong sustainability initiatives, accepting a client with ungreen practices could damage your firm’s image. The ensuing cost of reputational damage could far outweigh the fees they pay you.
Scoping out clients before accepting their work is crucial to discovering those that align best with your firm and will work harmoniously with your team.
Pixie spoke to Ger Forley, Partner at Comerford Foley, a general practice in Ireland, about his approach to finding clients who align with his values. By meeting with prospective clients, Ger and his team judge early on whether the two parties are a good match. Those who don’t gel don’t make it onto their books. The result? A happy team.
“The whole team has more energy. The whole team has a better mindset.” said Ger during his interview, “The knock-on impact is just general positivity within the business, which is more productivity, better energy.”
How to attract higher-value clients
Many accounting and bookkeeping firms rely on inbound traffic to generate work. However, this won’t necessarily attract the higher-value clients you need.
Our advice is to be proactive. Once you’ve decided to focus on higher-value clients, go out and get them.
Understand high-value clients’ expectations — and meet them.
Meeting — or even better, surpassing — your clients’ expectations is an excellent starting point for winning and retaining their business. Research the level of service delivery your target high-value clients are accustomed to and assess your firm’s ability to deliver it. If it falls short, realign it. You’ll have a better chance of winning coveted work as well as rationalising your firm’s processes.
The most important thing you’ll need to deliver is quality work. And this needs to be delivered on time. Pull out the stops for high-value clients and offer faster turnaround times than usual. Reply to their queries promptly, and ensure responses are from a dedicated team member allocated to their account, not a general customer care team member.
High-value customers need to know their data is safe. Show you appreciate the importance of their information by including your risk management processes in your service level agreement. Review your performance regularly, and promptly address any shortcomings.
Improve your communications
Once you understand your client (and their problems), you can initiate customised marketing strategies. The more bespoke these are, the more likely they’ll grab your prospect’s attention.
Even better, reach out directly and arrange a one-on-one conversation. In this initial message, you should lay out exactly how working with your firm will make their life easier.
Presenting testimonials from previous clients can be an excellent way to create trust in your services. A client with faith in your abilities is more likely to take you on and at a good rate.
Be fantastic to work with
Your clients invest in you, as well as your services. If they don't like you, they’ll look for solutions elsewhere. Higher-value clients are in high demand. If they don’t get along with your firm, most if not all of your competitors will be waiting in line to snap them up.
Good working relationships will naturally develop into long-lasting partnerships. Happy clients will stay with you and may even recommend you to their connections. A win-win for everyone!
Say ‘no’ to clients that aren’t the right fit and free up space on your books for ‘higher-value’ clients
It can feel unnatural to turn paid work away. That’s why keeping a long-term perspective is crucial. This will help you focus on only accepting clients that bring value to your firm.
Low-paying high-intensity clients drain your time and resources. By avoiding them, you free up time to focus on higher-value clients. Ultimately, you’ll boost your income, reduce your workload, and create a positive work environment for your team. And you know what we said about being a pleasure to work with…
When faced with a client you no longer want to work with, approach them professionally. Be honest about the situation. While we don’t advise telling them they aren’t paying enough point blank, it’s important to be transparent about why you’re increasing your fees. Alternatively, the discussion could centre around the fact that your new ways of working no longer align with their business goals. You never know, they might surprise you and offer to pay more in order to retain your services.
In the case that they’re disappointed, keep in mind that your business is your priority and they’ll be able to find similar services elsewhere.
Let Pixie help
A few high-value clients are worth many low-value ones, but it can be a challenge to figure out which client fits into which category. One way to decipher this riddle is by monitoring ongoing conversations with potential clients.
That’s where Pixie comes in. Pixie’s practice management software is the perfect platform to record all your client communications, offering CRM and onboarding support so you can keep a record of everything you discuss from the first touch to contract signing. Our software tracks your conversations with prospective clients in one place, helping you identify which could turn into long-term, high-value clients.