It has been a strange week. On Monday I went to see a client to collect his tax papers, only to find that they were in a locked cabinet to which only his wife had the key, and she was out. It was a short meeting as a result, and I did wonder why my client had not telephoned to save me the journey.
Two less eventful days ensued, and I went to my monthly local meeting of tax practitioners on Thursday. “Tell me, everyone” I said, “what do you guys do in the way of marketing?” Six faces looked back at me blankly. “Marketing? We don’t do marketing. We don’t need to because we always have enough to do.”
I was amazed, and actually even felt a little foolish for a moment. After all, I spend quite a lot of time marketing. I have one local targeted ad, and apart from that I work on my website, my blogs, the social networking sites, Twitter and face-to-face networking. All this results in work coming in, which compensates for the occasional client of mine who finds it necessary to dispense with my services. There is always some attrition. When people leave me it never seems to be because they have gone off my firm or its service. People move and like someone local to look after their tax affairs, or they sell up everything and move abroad.
How do my colleagues not have net losses of clients? It can only be because they are longer established than me (a mere seven years) and get plenty of referrals without looking for work, or they are good at client stickiness and find it easy to keep their revenue from each increasing year on year. I admire that, and am even envious though I worry about their complacency. Apparently any sort of networking is alien to their natures. I enjoy it and it gets me out, gives me a chance to feel useful in connecting people, gets me work and avoids the loneliness of some small business owners.
I went back to the office to puzzle over an email from a client’s wife. “I haven’t time to send you my husband’s papers so that you can do his tax return as we are going on holiday for the whole of August and we need his refund by September”. Now, hang on, she lives a long way from my office and I cannot easily take the ferry to do my customary house visit, but we have broadband and live in an electronic age; hence the email. Said lady then goes on to ask me how to fill in the Return by requesting a technical calculation for last year. I answered her question of course, and wish her the best of British with the Foreign and Non-resident pages which are hardly logical even to us professionals (we always seem to have to do work-arounds to get them to make sense). I have not had a response to my somewhat injured one, but am not holding my breath. Needless to say I advised her that if she sent me the information she could have emailed copies of the Return and accounts for approval easily by the end of July. It would be inconvenient but I will always try to be flexible to meet my clients’ needs. I am not holding my breath, though.
Late on Thursday, I saw another new client for the first time. It turned out his previous adviser had died, and no one seemed to be running the practice now. I think the accountant was unqualified but nevertheless may have been very good at what he did. The client had obviously found his service good. In these tragic circumstances it is a reminder that we should always allow for someone to take over the reins of our business if we become sick or die suddenly as this guy did as a result of an accident. We owe it to our clients and also to our families as it is better to have a saleable business as a going concern than a business which is as dead as the owner.
If not lessons, I feel I have had some useful reminders. I must check that my nominated successor is still happy to run my practice in the event of my incapacity as I have directed. I will call her to check.