No client = no work. While that may be obvious, how to source new clients and business isn’t always as straightforward.
I had the opportunity to sit down with two experts in two different industries to get their advice on this common issue seen in the professional services industry — How do you find new clients?
Before we dive in, let me introduce you to our two pros:
Tanya Neitzert, Partner at Boreala Management
Tanya has over 20 years of experience leading the HR function within a wide industry sector including technology, sales, education, and manufacturing in organizations of all sizes. She is a driver of innovative, strategic, and practical HR solutions that lead to organizational performance.
Lori Richards, Partner at Cooper Richards
Lori has more than 20 years of accounting experience, serving clients throughout Colorado. Before Cooper-Richards she worked at a Big 4 firm managing multiple engagements focusing on information technology controls and internal audit functions.
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
When first starting out, how did you attract new clients?
TN: The way that the firm grew its business initially was absolutely through word of mouth. We didn’t start with a marketing campaign, that's been a much more recent thing. In the early years, as a young and developing professional services firm with only a few employees, it really was about getting one client and having them recommend and introduce us to new potential clients.
LR: What we've done to grow and what has worked for us as a firm is, when we get a new client, we just work diligently to be very high quality in all areas. And then, just by natural turnover and word of mouth — either somebody telling someone else or somebody in management leaving to go to another company. Often times if someone leaves, they will contact us to help in their new role if needed. Most of our engagements have been by word of mouth and continuing our relationships with those that have left our current clients. We work to keep all relationships alive, either through LinkedIn or different groups like the ISACA or IIA.
Is networking an important part of finding new clients?
LR: Networking is a lot of what we do. We network through professional organizations like ISACA, IIA, and keeping in touch with our current and past client contacts. I also had the opportunity to work with a previous client that is now a professor at Mesa State University. I participated in an IT Audit Video where she interviewed me and another client contact to help her class understand IT Audit careers and opportunities.
TN: Yes, networking is one of the fundamental things we do. Of course, COVID changed the way in which we approach it but we do participate in conferences and forums that are centered around our clients. So sometimes it’s not necessarily about our core business, but rather attending networking events that are more interesting or important to our clients so we can get to know them better. It also gives them a chance to get to know us better. What we do isn’t always obvious. Sometimes people assume we do one thing when we actually do a hundred different things. Getting that face-to-face time helps everyone to understand us a bit more and we can begin to grow new relationships.
We often rely on positive reviews when deciding on a product or service. How do you encourage clients to leave reviews?
TN: We’re always actively trying to get feedback from clients but our client base isn’t always keen on it. Because we have a lot of government clients, that comes with more rules and necessary approvals. With that being said, we do a couple of different things — when we close a project, we’ll specifically ask for a testimonial rather than a review, and we also send out client feedback surveys that help us to gauge their experience. One tip for those efforts is to keep everything short and to the point so people are more likely to participate.
How do you stand out against competitors?
LR: The staff we hire really helps us stand out because they’re highly qualified and experienced individuals. We very much scrutinize in the hiring process to have individuals who are self-starters and who are going to come in and really own and love what they're doing. This then reflects in our overall deliverables to our clients. We are also able to offer more of a partnership with our clients, rather than just testing. We work with them to identify something that could potentially be an issue, then work together to find the resolution. I also think it’s really about taking good care of your clients. That's honestly the number one way to build your business is to do a good job for who you're already working for, not always looking for that next one and ignoring who you already have.
When first starting out, can you afford to be picky with the clients you bring on?
LR: I would say yes, in the essence of, I would never take on a client that I don't feel we could do a good job for. Maybe it's something we kind of do, but it's not really our expertise, we will let them know that we aren’t the right fit and try to help them find someone that will be.
TN: I think it depends on what your business model is. So, yes you can be picky. For example, if you're an environmental leader and you’re looking to bring on a client who is destroying the environment, that would be fundamentally wrong. In the long run, staying true to your values gives you different benefits than a healthy bottom line. Of course, it could hurt your bottom line to turn down business, but you'll do a better job hiring people and do a better job delivering a quality product. The challenge I personally find is not the black and white, it's that gray in between. Where do you draw the line?
Thank you so much to Tanya and Lori for sharing amazing words of wisdom with us! Looking for some more advice?
Listen to Tanya’s episode of The BigTime Podcast where she explains how fostering communication and keeping employees engaged has been a major strategy that has helped the company to grow.
Listen to Lori’s episodes of The BigTime Podcast where she discusses the challenges in building a new consulting firm including recruiting partners, and staying competitive.
About Boreala Management
Boreala Management supports organizations in building capacity through its people. They offer a suite of human resources and organizational effectiveness services that are designed to enhance performance and improve efficiency. Their solutions are scalable to exact needs, be it a large organization looking for additional resources to complement a team, or a small organization looking to outsource all or parts of an HR function.
About Cooper Richards
The Cooper Richards’ partners are former engagement leaders at a Big 4 accounting firm. They founded Cooper-Richards to provide expert support at a local level. Today their staff consists of experienced professionals with expertise in IT and SOX compliance, corporate accounting, operational and technology risk management, and business process and documentation. Since its inception, they’ve expanded to include clients outside of Colorado but continue to provide the same level of quality driven by their founding principles.
This article is part of our new guest contributor series. We’re on a mission to chat with as many experts in the professional service industry as we can to help answer common questions firms are faced with. Are you a pro that’s interested in sharing your advice? Reach out to me here.
About the Author
Content Marketing SpecialistSee more by Leanna Michniuk