2018 Billing Rate Survey: Best Sources to Find New Clients

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Intuit ProAdvisors, Michelle Long, CPA, and Heather Satterley, EA, surveyed more than 1,000 accounting and tax professionals and promoted via social channels. They analyzed results independently to provide an in-depth look at several areas of business, featuring rates and technology adoption. 

What are your best sources to find new clients? Do you have a strategy, or is it done by pure guesswork?

Our two previous articles about the results of the 2018 Billing Rate Survey onBilling Rates and Value Pricing, and results by region, credential and certification, provided a lot of very useful background information, but when we boil down the information to help you grow you practice, we came up with a very key takeaway: determining the best sources for new clients can help you focus your marketing efforts for greater, long-lasting results.

As we look at the 2018 survey results and compare the results from 2016 to 2018, please keep in mind the surveys are for informational purposes only. The survey respondents from the different years are not identical, so the results are not exactly comparable. However, it is interesting to compare them, searching for insights and information.

Source of New Clients 

First, let’s take a look at the source of new clients, an ongoing struggle for even the most established, mature practice. We should always be looking for new, quality clients. It is a good idea to evaluate your clients every year to determine if they should remain a client, and as your firm grows and reaches capacity, you can, and should, prune the bottom C- or D-level clients to focus on better A- or B-level clients.

In the following chart, you’ll see the source of new clients based on survey results. You’ll notice that referrals from existing clients, peers, others, the Find-A-ProAdvisor® website and other websites continue to remain the primary sources. For many, many years, referrals alone were the primary source of new clients for accounting professionals.

What’s interesting is the increase in new clients from the Find-a-ProAdvisor website (38 percent to 45 percent), and especially from social media (22 percent to 47 percent). We’ll examine these in more detail later in this article.

It was also interesting to see a decline in clients from local networking and meetings, such as chambers of commerce. Could this be due to more clients coming to you from social media? It’s not clear, but we’ll focus on clients from social media below.

Also included in the question were direct mail, radio ads and print ads. However, none of those were more than over 7 percent, so they were omitted from the chart for display purposes because they were too small to read.

#1 Most Effective Source of New Clients

Delving a little deeper, the survey asked accounting professionals about their #1 most effective source of new clients. Not surprisingly, referrals from existing clients was clearly the most effective. What was interesting is there was a slight decrease from 2016 to 2018 (53 percent to 50 percent), and a slight increase in referrals from peers (13 percent to 15 percent) and in referrals from the Find-a-ProAdvisor website (10 percent to 12 percent).

Three key points to remember include the following:

  1. Existing clients are a great source of referrals. Make sure your clients are aware of all the services you offer. Also, make sure to ask clients for referrals! You may consider updating your email signature with something like, “Referrals are always welcome and appreciated,” or whatever makes you comfortable. Plus, you may have some referral incentives for existing clients as well, including gift cards, an amount off their future services for each new client they refer to you and similar tactics.
  2. Your peers can be a great source of referrals. The accounting profession is so complex that it is difficult to be proficient with all the latest apps, technologies and industries. As you specialize in various niches, it is helpful to network with your peers to exchange referrals. You can network at local events or meetings; conferences such as QuickBooks® Connect, Scaling New Heights or numerous others; and online via social media or virtual conference, such as QuickBooks’ vCons or the Ultimate Accounting vCon, which I co-host with Sandi Smith Leyva.
  3. Referrals from the Find-a-ProAdvisor website. Getting certified, especially Advanced Certified, helps develop your QuickBooks knowledge and expertise.

Source of New Clients Based on ProAdvisor Status

Specifically looking at ProAdvisors, it is interesting to look at their #1 most effective source of new clients: referrals. Getting certified allows you to be listed on the Find-a-ProAdvisor website. Plus, certification helps with new client referrals, increases your knowledge and expertise, and billing rates as well. Best of all, it’s free to join the ProAdvisor Program for QuickBooks Online – including the software, training, certification and support. There are paid options available for QuickBooks Desktop as well.

Earning Advanced Certification helps improve your ranking on the Find-a-ProAdvisor website, resulting in more new clients, as shown in the survey results.

Note: survey results for desktop certifications were not included in the chart since they were very similar to the QuickBooks Online certification results.

Clients from Social Media

There are some interesting results about clients obtained from social media:

Facebook was first followed by LinkedIn. This was somewhat surprising, since LinkedIn is primarily a B2B platform with higher educated, higher income and primarily business professionals compared to Facebook. However, Facebook friends and connections may be more personal.

I expected Twitter to be a much lower number compared to Facebook and LinkedIn, so that wasn’t a surprise. As for YouTube, I would anticipate that continuing to increase in the future based on the increase in people viewing videos.

It was surprising to me to see the high number of N/A (no clients from social media) and the fact that it increased from 53 percent in 2016 to 62 percent in 2018. It seems that social media is way more prevalent and widespread now vs. 2016, so I anticipated more accounting professionals obtaining clients from social media.

However, in fall 2016, when I was on the QuickBooks training tour, I informally polled attendees about social media – did they use it? If not, why not? Was it due to thinking you can’t get clients from it, you don’t know how to use it, you don’t have time for it or you don’t know what to post? A large number of attendees reported that they weren’t using it; however, they did think you could get clients from social media. They were not using social media because they didn’t know how to use it, didn’t think they had time for it or didn’t know what to post.

This seems to indicate to me that many accounting professionals need more training on using social media. Join me for an upcoming QB Power Hour webinar (or check it out in the archives) and I’ll help you with this! There are tips and tools to help you manage social media.

Note: The 2016 survey did not include YouTube, Google+ or Yelp as options. The 2018 survey did not include Other as an option.


Michelle Long, CPA, is the owner of Long for Success, LLC . She is an international speaker for Intuit, co-host of QB Power Hour and Ultimate Accounting vCon, and author of five books, including How to Start a Home-Based Bookkeeping Business & QuickBooks Practice Set. . She has been recognized as one of the Most Powerful Women in Public Accounting, Top 10 QuickBooks ProAdvisors (Top QuickBooks Trainer/Writer and Social Media Leader) and more.

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