How to Identify, Connect and Get Referrals

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We’ve definitely come a long way since the days when advertising for accountants was “a violation of professional ethics,” a notion that was dissolved in roughly 1978, as I recall. And, no, I was not practicing; I was still in high school. But, my father was, and therefore, I vaguelyremember.

Generally speaking, as a profession, we’ve slowly changed our marketing strategy ever so slightly over the years. The mode prior to 1978 was “whoever walks in the door,” and largely that same style exists today. It’s time to see marketing as a core activity to help you develop the kind of firm you envision. But, before you embark on a marketing campaign to grow your practice, I think it’s wise to develop clarity on three key items:

  1. Identify the kind(s) of prospects youwant to attract. Are you looking for business or individual clients? If business, is there a specific industry you would prefer, such as professional services, or maybe even more specific, such as dentists? Do your best to clearly identify the type(s) of clients you want to serve.

  2. Articulate what you want to sell these ideal prospects. If it’s client accounting you’re after, clearly define exactly what it is you are trying to sell to those accounts. (Think technologies, processes and deliverables.) Even consider turning the service you want to sell into a product. For example, your “Concierge Accounting” product, with services bundled together to make it easy for the client to understand and purchase.

  3. Make sure your marketing support material lines up and accentuates points 1 and 2 above.  I suggest having an awesome website and a simple-but-clear, single-page fact sheet for each of your products. As for your website, does it clearly articulate the products you want to sell and to whom you want to sell them? Is it aesthetically appealing to the demographic you’re targeting? Whether it’s prospects across the country or across the street, your web platform will be their first impression of your firm.

It’s very tempting to create marketing collateral and just begin sending blast email campaigns, but before you do, I want to share a few insights from a recent survey provided by Liscio:

  • 89 percent of firms say they get the majority of their new business from referrals.

  • Only 4 percent report the majority comes from direct marketing efforts.

  • Less than 1 percent says the majority of new business comes from social media.

  • 72 percent of firms say they are “very focused” on retaining existing customers, while 53 percent reportedbeing “very focused” on obtaining new customers.

I believe this survey supports what each of us intuitively knows to be true, but isn’t top-of-mind when thinking about a growth strategy: New business comes from referrals. With that said, what are you doing to nurture referrals? Let’s take a look at Five Practical Ways to find quality prospects by nurturing your referral sources:

  1. Identify Prime Referral Sources–Bankers, insurance agents, stockbrokers and existing clients … these are all sources of high-quality referrals that have, essentially, been vetted for you. It’s important that you identify these key referral sources in your service area. Make a list of them; we’ll use it later to execute your plan.

  2. Define Your Value Proposition–Be clear about what differentiates your firm. Is it your technology? A niche service industry? The quality or qualifications of your staff? Be able to articulate why your sources should refer their valued clients to your firm

  3. Create a Menu–Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that everyone knows what you do or believes that you do everything for everyone. Your referral sources don’t necessarily know all the products you sell, nor do they know whom you want to sell them to. Create a menu and don’t be shy about sharing it.

  4. Become an Educator at Heart–There’s a ton of sizzle here. We recently doubled the size of our facility, adding an expansive, open floor plan with a full-service bar, fireplace and a seating area with a 75-inch 4K screen and whiteboard. Our strategy is to use our new facility for educational programs on modern technologies and strategies for small businesses –things such as “How to Move to the Cloud with QuickBooks®,” “Using solutions like Bill.Com,” “Digital Payroll” and even “How to Organize Your Life Digitally.” We also bring in guest speakers to talk about issues such as “Securing Your Business from Significant Digital Threats” and more programs helpful to entrepreneurs and business owners. Teach people how to move into the modern era, and you’ll win new clients.

  5. Make a Plan: Put a Staff Person in Charge–Appoint an administrative staff person to execute a plan to engage your referral sources –your list of bankers, insurance agents, stockbrokers and key clients that refer. Make a plan to connect with them on a quarterly basis, and know and acknowledge significant events in their lives. Create one-on-one time with them, and clearly articulate your value proposition and menu. Have your administrative staff person schedule regular (quarterly) educational events, and invite all those prospects that aren’t clients. Or, better yet, ask your key clients to bring a small business friend with them.

If you will take the time to create and execute on these five items, you’ll grow your firm. Remember, growth for growth’s sake is not what you’re looking for. Make sure that, as business comes your way, you are vetting those prospects against your ideal client criteria.


A practicing CPA for over 30 years, M. Darren Root, CPA.CITP, CGMA, is the CEO of Rootworks, a membership-based organization offering entrepreneurial strategy, coaching and support to the accounting profession. He is a highly regarded thought leader and speaker, as well as the publisher of his own magazine, CPA Life. Darren co-authored The E-Myth Accountant and Youtility for Accountants, and is the author of own recent title: The Intentional Accountant, a primer in applying entrepreneurial principles to privately-held accounting practices.

October , 2018

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