Learn what works and what doesn't, from bookkeepers and accountants who have been there.
If you want to go full-time with your business, you’ll need clients. Typically, you’ll need 20 to 30, depending on your income goals and the packages you offer. So, how do you market your services to find clients?
If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. Many accountants and bookkeepers struggle with generating leads and finding more clients. Fortunately, it’s a skill you can learn and one that will pay dividends for the life of your business.
We’ve asked some of our FreshBooks Accounting Partners to share which tactics they’ve used successfully to find the most clients for their own bookkeeping businesses or accounting firms.
Many of the methods they have used successfully not only attract new clients but also pre-qualify them, so you get connected with prospective clients who are the best possible fit. In other words, you end up with better clients and a better experience running your business.
- 1. Invest in Thought Leadership
- How to Do Thought Leadership Right
- Thought Leadership Mediums to Try
- 2. Get Certified and/or Join a Partner Program
- 3. Offer Advisory Accounting and Bookkeeping Services
- 4. Find a Niche
- 5. Network (the Right Way)
- What Not to Do
- Rely on Traditional Marketing
- Get Too Narrow
- Stick With Something That Feels Wrong
- Take It One Step at a Time
1. Invest in Thought Leadership
Sharing your knowledge can be a great way to build your credibility and your brand. And the way people consume information on the web today makes it easier than ever to establish yourself as a thought leader.
How to Do Thought Leadership Right
Accounting professionals who have found success as thought leaders stress the importance of sharing knowledge freely. This isn’t about promoting your brand or services. It’s about a genuine desire to be of service.
“I have established a brand that is genuine and shows my passion for the mightiness of cloud technology to improve business owners’ lives,” says Kellie Parks, CPB, Cloud Accounting Aficionado at Calmwaters Cloud Accounting.
Communicating in this way is a win-win. It not only shows your prospects what you know, but it also helps to build a brand identity that showcases who you are and brings you clients who are a good fit for your practice.
The great thing about blogs and social media is that while it takes time and consistency, it’s absolutely free and in your control.
Thought Leadership Mediums to Try
A blog, a Facebook Group, and/or a social media business page can all be great places to share accounting and bookkeeping knowledge and tips for potential clients, says Sal Rezai, CPB, and Expert Cloud Bookkeeper at Accounting By Sal. New clients have sought Sal out based on social media and Google My Business posts. Why? “Most importantly, I have engaged with group members and showcased my knowledge by answering their questions.”
The great thing about blogs and social media is that while it takes time and consistency, it’s absolutely free and in your control. You don’t need to get a publisher’s attention or have anyone’s permission to become a thought leader.
Here are some of the many avenues for thought leadership content:
- posts on your own blog
- guest blog posts
- social media posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter
- YouTube videos
- podcast interviews
- live or virtual speaking engagements
- helpful (not promotional) answers to questions on social media or discussion boards
2. Get Certified and/or Join a Partner Program
As an accountant or bookkeeper, you’ve got plenty of competition. For bookkeeping, in particular, the barrier for entry is low. Because you don’t need a specific degree or background to become a bookkeeper, it can be harder for you to set yourself apart from others in the eyes of your prospects.
A great way to do this is to become certified with your accounting software and join a partner program. Most accounting software tools offer training and certification, which can give your clients confidence that you know your stuff.
Some programs, like the FreshBooks Accounting Partner Program, also provide free tools to help you get new clients. FreshBooks Accounting Partners have the opportunity to be included in a directory where business owners can find or be matched with FreshBooks-certified accounting professionals. Partners also have access to an online community, where likeminded professionals share tips and leads, incentivized by referral bonuses.
3. Offer Advisory Accounting and Bookkeeping Services
Adding advisory accounting services to your menu can be a great long-term play. Past clients who consider you a trusted financial advisor can be a good referral source. Plus, advisory clients provide higher monthly fees, reducing the number of total clients you need to be profitable.
[Advisory] clients are often very enthusiastic about the type of work we do and therefore make awesome referrals!
“Clients often think they want something simple like ‘bookkeeping,’ but are coming to us after a bad experience or overpaying with another service provider,” says Shea Keats, Founder/Advisor at Breakaway Bookkeeping & Advising.
“Being able to support our clients by looking at the health of their whole business and offering advisory services means that they can feel confident in their decisions. These clients also are often very enthusiastic about the type of work we do and therefore make awesome referrals! They also tend to increase their scope of work very quickly, once they realize what we can offer.”
A trusted advisor becomes an integral part of the client’s business, often leading to referrals and long-term client relationships. So, how do you start? Choose one advisory service to offer and build from there.
4. Find a Niche
Are you serving anyone and everyone who comes through the door, or do you have a specialized niche? Choosing a niche for your bookkeeping or accounting services may feel like a luxury when you’re trying to grow your business, but it’s actually a powerful positioning tool to reach your target market.
Whether you choose to niche down to a specific industry like restaurants or a specific service like payroll, you’ll make your firm a better fit for your ideal clients. Although generalists have more “fish in the sea” to choose from, none of them have a reason to see you as the right accountant or bookkeeper for them. When you focus on a niche, you become the go-to expert for a specific type of client and that can make a huge difference.
Working within a niche makes you more visible and easier to find online, as you can pinpoint who you serve with the keywords and phrases you use and even the name of your firm if you’re committed to the niche.
Developing a niche also allows you to charge premium fees as a specialist who understands the needs of a certain type of client. Premium fees mean more profit in your pocket and they also mean you need fewer clients to reach your goals, making your marketing task easier.
5. Network (the Right Way)
If the word “networking” makes you shudder, don’t worry. There’s a right and wrong way to network. It’s not about passing out business cards, giving your elevator sales pitch, or connecting with dozens of people on LinkedIn with no real connection. Instead, it’s about finding common ground and mutual benefit.
“I like to develop relationships with people that lead to work,” says Melanie Schroeder, CPA, CGA, RPC at Out of The Box CPA. That means not only networking with potential clients but with other accounting professionals to refer work or receive referrals. “I also focus on providing the best care I can to current clients so they become a great source of referrals as well!”
To maximize your results, you need a networking strategy. For instance, if you’re a bookkeeper who doesn’t do tax work, try to connect with a tax practitioner who is sick of dealing with messy client books.
There are plenty of CPAs, coaches, and advisors out there whose services complement yours. And don’t overlook other accountants or bookkeepers who may work with a different type of client. You can share referrals with one another when a good client comes along who just isn’t a fit. Remember, to get the best results, make sure your referral partners benefit from connecting with you as well.
What Not to Do
We’ve shared some powerful strategies to get new clients for your bookkeeping business, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It all depends on who you’re serving and where they’re looking. Focus on the strategies that work best for you. Here are some tactics for finding prospective clients that haven’t worked as well for the accounting pros we polled.
Rely on Traditional Marketing
Using paid advertising to find new clients may seem like the obvious place to start, but many accountants and bookkeepers have found it to be a poor fit. “Traditional” here includes everything from online marketing and advertising using Google Ads, Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, and ads on other social media platforms to email marketing to old-school, paper-based advertising methods like business card marketing and direct mail.
Why should you tread carefully with paid ads? It can take a huge budget to build enough awareness with prospective clients to really get a return on your investment. “I advertised few times on Facebook and got no results,” says Sal Rezai. While there are many reasons a Facebook ad might not perform well, you can quickly blow your budget attempting to optimize your ads.
Get Too Narrow
You don’t have to use every method out there, but be sure you’re not relying too heavily on a single marketing tactic, either. “Putting all your marketing eggs in one basket never works!” says Shea Keats. “By using multiple marketing streams, success comes much sooner.”
Stick With Something That Feels Wrong
Melanie Schroeder didn’t like online marketing using Google ads and Facebook ads because “it didn’t fit my personality and the way I like to do business.”
Shea Keats says, “Many of our advisors at Breakaway think that in order to get clients, they have to do social media, even though they aren’t excited by the idea or consistent on those platforms. When they’re not consistent, they don’t see results.” Likewise, some types of networking may not align with your personality or values.
Don’t use initial discomfort to avoid trying something new or a little bit daunting, like public speaking or networking (two things that require practice for many of us). But do remain true to who you are and what your business is about.
Take It One Step at a Time
With these strategies in your toolbox, it will be much easier to get new clients for your bookkeeping business. It can be overwhelming at first. Remember, you don’t need to do all these things at once, and you probably shouldn’t even try.
Choose the method that you’re most comfortable with and that fits your goals (quick wins vs. long-term brand building etc.) and start there. Once you have that strategy working, you can decide if it’s time to add another or double down on what’s already working.
It takes time to build your dream bookkeeping business, but one thing’s for sure…you can do this! All it takes is consistency and commitment, so choose your favorite method and take the first small step today.
This post was updated in February 2022.
about the author
Josh Richards is a freelance writer and former accountant. He's bilingual in words and numbers and helps accountants communicate with other humans. When he's not writing about bookkeeping, accounting, and fintech, he can be found birdwatching, running, and hiking the Appalachians with his family.