The 4 Skills Every CPA Should Master to Build Business

by Debra Andrews | March 5, 2013

If you’re a CPA, you are most likely plugging away during tax season, and gaining new clients and prospects might be the furthest thing from your mind. Likely, your immediate focus is on handling your current workload. After all, filling your time with the most billable hours is key to success and career growth, right?  Not exactly. While billable time certainly “pays the bills,” it doesn’t necessarily grow the business. In order to keep the business healthy in the long term (and build your career), it’s important to be a “finder” of new business.  

Non-billable marketing and business development time is not wasted time, but an investment in both the future of the firm and your career. That explains the importance of marketing and business development, but you have a degree in accounting, not a marketing or sales. So, what are the most important tips and skills to develop?  How can you be a superstar at building business? Here are four not-so-difficult skills to develop to help you get started:

Skill 1: Defining your desired target prospect.

To be effective in these precious non-billable hours, it’s important to be efficient. Hone in on the most desirable and qualified leads. One way to get started making connections with possible new business leads is to get out there and join professional associations and attend networking events. Before you jump in, discuss the firm’s overall strategy and target with a partner or mentor and align your efforts with this profile. What is the demographic of your target lead? Is it within a certain industry, size, and location?  Be sure to define these first in order to target the professional associations where members will likely fit this profile. Being focused helps you hone in on clients who are a better fit for your firm, will likely yield a higher profit margin, and will make the best use of your time.   

Skill 2: Generating referrals.

Let’s face it — “selling” can be awkward for the non-salesperson. A softer approach to developing business is to identify and build relationships with referral sources. Now that you have your target prospects defined, think about what other key services they use and need. It might be an attorney, financial advisor or other service provider. Find ways, such as networking groups, a lunch, or an organized happy hour event, to meet and develop mutually beneficial, give-and-take relationships with referral sources. Set a goal to get together once per month to touch base and share information. 

Skill 3: Cross-selling current clients. 

It’s a simple concept — the easiest client to sell to is the one you already have. This person or firm likely already feels satisfied and comfortable with your services, and would love if you could solve another problem area for them. Your job is to find out what their pain or problem is. One way to do this is develop a checklist of questions. When you meet with a current client about a matter ask some questions to delve into other needs. This is super efficient, as you are actually using time that you already have scheduled with a client. The last thing you want is for a client to say, “I had no idea your firm offered [blah blah] services.” Think of it as your duty to find out how to further improve your clients’ lives or businesses with your services.

Skill 4: Developing effective presentations.

Presentations on accounting and financial topics can be dry (okay, boring). Think of enhancing your presentation skills as an opportunity to stand out from competitors. An effective presenter is invaluable to a firm’s growth. One way to spice up a presentation is to use case studies and present like you’re telling a story or having a conversation, rather than reading bullet points from slides. Another way to add interest is to use bold images throughout a presentation that create a visual analogy and drive the point home to an audience. The final tip for enhancing presentation skills is simple, but key — practice, practice, practice! I’m personally not a fan of speaking in front of an audience, but if I know my subject and my speaking points inside and out, I’m focused on my message more than anything else, and it actually becomes pretty painless. 

We realize that delving into sales and marketing may initially seem daunting.  In my opinion, it’s more the label of “selling” that is scary.  When it comes down to it, it’s connecting with people and understanding their needs and solving their problems.