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Why Your Friends Don’t Want to Be Your Clients

You are an accounting professional. Unlike your friends with the title “vice president,” you actually earned your designation when you became certified. Your skills are portable. You can hang your shingle in any state, subject to your credentials being accepted.

The term “accountant” covers many aspects of the profession.  Most newly minted CPAs work at a large public accounting firm. Others join small firms, especially if they are not in a major metro area. In either case, anyone who wants a long career in the profession needs to know how to land new business. Your extended circle of successful friends seems like a good place to start. 

Ok, so you’ve got friends. Some are entrepreneurs. Others chose the med school route. Maybe even a lawyer or two. All these friends make money. As an investment firm ad once said: “Making money and keeping money are two different skills.” They need your help. So why won’t they ask for it? There are lots of reasons. Many fit into one of three categories:

I Don’t Need or Want Your Help

They may be a professional. They may own a successful business. That doesn’t automatically make them smart:

  • They Think Their Book and/or Taxes Are Simple – 80% of America’s 29 million small business owners us QuickBooks. H&R Block filed 24.2 million tax returns in 2014. They don’t understand how you may be able to help them, save them money or plan for the future.
    • Concern: They don’t know why they need you.
    • Approach: This can be addressed by learning a bit about what each other actually does for a living. Here’s the rationale: Once they understand what you do, they may know someone you might be able to help. In reality, it might be them.
  • My Brother-in-Law Does my Books/Taxes -– Yes, I know he was arrested, but he was never charged. He used to have a license to practice once, but we don’t talk about that. He has been doing my taxes for free.
    • Concern: I already have an accountant.
    • Approach: Seriously, if their CPA isn’t under indictment or about to enter witness protection, they may actually have a good accountant. That need is met. You might mention the additional services you provide. Ask if their person is doing that too.

You Are Too Expensive

Your friends in the corporate world look at numbers that have “in thousands” or “in millions” as column headers. They know contracts for professional services carry big price tags. They assume you do too.

  • They Know Your Lifestyle – They know you must have student debt like everyone else. How you got that great apartment or house is a mystery. The person you date is obviously high maintenance. The only way you can afford it all is to charge high fees to clients who won’t notice.
    • Concern: They can’t afford you.
    • Approach: Describe a client profile similar to theirs. Explain your pricing. They may know someone in a similar situation…
  • Am I Too Small? – Everyone thinks size matters but most people don’t walk around the gym locker room naked. Industry buzzwords like “High Net Worth” sound like “More money than you have got.” Your friends think you only work with bigger, wealthier corporate executives.
    • Concern:  Hearing: “You must be joking. Come back when you have serious money.”
    • Approach: Thresholds are exclusive. You are either in or out. Describe your practice in terms of a range of services, wealth and income. Ranges are inclusive. They see where they might fit.

You Are Inexperienced

They graduated from school and hit the ground running. Other friends got that big idea, capitalized on it and formed a company that quickly grew. They consider themselves smart, while considering you inexperienced.

  • What Could You Possibly Know? – They were your college roommate. They think you coasted through your undergrad years. They seem to remember you needed to attend summer school too. Now you want my business? I would like an “A” student please!
    • Concern: You don’t know as much as other people in your profession.
    • Approach: If you work for a large firm or as a member of the team, sell their reputation and expertise. You bring this expertise with you.
  • Still green – Yes, you are licensed, blah, blah, blah. How can I be sure if you know what you are doing? I would be much more comfortable if you practiced on other people for a couple of years and learned from your mistakes. Then we can talk.
    • Concern: Your newbie mistakes will get me in trouble.
    • Approach: You are tempted to make the same argument about them, since they are associates at a law firm or hospital residents. Resist the urge. Take the high road instead. The example above explained how to learn on the firm’s reputation and resources.
  • You Never Could Keep a Secret – They love playing poker with you because your tells are obvious. You and your friends all travel in the same circle. They know you like to gossip. You call it being wired in.
    • Concern: They think you talk about your clients.
    • Approach: History has value. If you know the same people, it’s likely some are also clients. You’ve never mentioned a client’s name in the five years we have known each other. Give me some credit here, please!

The Reason You Cannot Overcome

  • I Never Really Liked You –- I should have chosen acting as my career. You are the sister of my husband, so you come as part of the package. We will be civil to each other, but I would never lend you money. Furthermore, I’m not even letting you look at mine.
    • Concern: They really don’t like you.
    • Approach: There’s very limited upside and unlimited downside in taking them on as clients. Avoid them. You make it a rule not to do business with former lovers and people who never returned the $ 100.00 they borrowed in sophomore year.

Some clients can become great friends. The process can work in the other direction too. Sometimes their hesitation to do business is based on misperception. Once you recognize their concern, you can address it.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides High Net Worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book Captivating the Wealthy Investor is available on Amazon.