Transforming Challenges into Opportunities: Attracting New Clients

Attracting New Clients
Attracting new clients is the top global challenge facing SMPs, and is one of the top two challenges for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia regions.
A number of strategies can be implemented to acquire new clients but real success comes when multiple strategies are used simultaneously. This harnesses the momentum of marketing efforts and is more likely to bring attention to your practice. In addition, since most businesses already have an accountant, growing your practice usually means enticing clients away from other firms. To achieve this, a compelling reason to change must be part of your pitch.
External growth strategies include:
  • advertising;
  • seminars;
  • networking;
  • referrals;
  • building a brand;
  • social media marketing; and
  • joining a network, association, or alliance.
Each approach needs to be considered in relation to jurisdictional laws and/ or professional regulations.
Advertising is one of the most powerful ways of getting your firm’s name and message out in the market. Helpful tips to get the best value from advertising spending include:
  • identifying a target audience or market segment for your advertising;
  • making it clear how the service will benefit clients;
  • creating messages that are credible, sincere, and avoid exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims;
  • using a headline that captures the readers’ attention; and
  • including a “call to action” where the reader is told to call or visit the website.
In addition, search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing (SEM) can bring your firm website to the top of search results when specific words or phrases are searched (this usually includes a charge when a user clicks on an ad and goes to your website; many different vendors can help identify key words to target).
Seminars can be an effective form of marketing. A number of formats can be used.
  • Organize a seminar with senior firm representatives deliver presentations. This provides a reason to advertise, promote your practice, and establish brand and name recognition for your firm as a recognized expert. Existing clients can be invited and encouraged to bring non-client business associates.
  • Speak at seminars hosted by others, such as financial institutions or business associations, which may hold breakfast meetings and can often be free of charge. This could include a specific session that requires technical knowledge.
Seminars also offer an opportunity to follow up with an article for your website or local media on key points.
“Word of mouth” is often one of the best forms of marketing and is effectively achieved through networking. Networking is not about trying to make a “sale” to each person at an event; instead, your objective is met people who can refer others to your practice.
Creating a networking plan and measure success in relation to time invested is useful. Encouraging firm representatives to attend events and not feel that they have to impress people through charm or technical knowledge is important. As in most things, you and your representatives should be yourselves to build connections with people. This takes the pressure off and you can just relax and chat normally. It also gives people a greater chance to get to know staff and feel comfortable. If they are, they are more likely to refer others to your practice.
The best time to ask a client for a referral is when your firm has just successfully completed an engagement or project as it’s easier to say, “If you know of anyone else who may appreciate our work, we’re always happy to take on referrals.” This lets your client know that your firms is open for referrals, and looking for new clients.
Another option is to work through a structured program of meetings with potential referrers. Often referred to as “people of influence,” these contacts include bank managers, lawyers, and others in complementary businesses, such as financial planning or finance broking. Firms that successfully follow a structured, formal approach set aside a regular time to meet with potential referrers. For example, they arrange lunch meetings with a different bank manager every Wednesday in a month. The next month they may meet with a different lawyer each Wednesday. The following month it might be financial planners or finance brokers. Then the cycle starts all over again with the bank managers. This allows for a systematic approach to working through a contact list and also allows relationships to be built from which referrals will come.
Existing and past staff can also be a source of new clients. Encourage staff to connect with their own networks and consider offering incentives for recruiting new clients. An “alumni” network of past employees could be created to keep them in contact with your practice. Past employees may progress into management positions and can be a valuable source of contacts. Consider staying in touch though newsletters or emails, seminar invitations, or an annual gathering—all of which ensure regular contact.
Building a Brand
Branding is an important area of marketing. To make marketing as effective as possible, your brand needs to send out clear messages that encompass your firm’s brand. Marketing messages should not only build on your brand but leverage it as well. Done well, branding can:
  • lower the cost of acquiring new clients;
  • create business opportunities based on market perceptions;
  • reinforce confidence and comfort levels of existing clients; and
  • build the value of your practice’s goodwill.
Your brand is the message your firm wants to convey to the market. It pervades all areas of your firm, and goes beyond the logo and letterhead. It covers the services offered, the way it deals with clients, and the image of your firm it wants to present. It becomes the banner that your firm markets and sits over all the services offered. Specifically, it means the way the website looks, graphic design, and logos used in the communications and presentations. It also includes the way your firm interacts with clients and staff, even down to the words used.
By building and promoting a brand, your practice establishes expectations at a high level in the market. When the actual service is delivered—for instance, the financial statements or tax returns—the accuracy, presentation, and look and feel of the material needs to be consistent with the expectations that have been set.
Social Media Marketing
Successful practices are embracing social media and using it to engage with clients, attract new clients, promote their services, and attract staff. Social media is about building a community. Successful social media strategies reinforce that people like to deal with people, rather than businesses, to create relationships. While successful strategies are often built around the individuals, it is the business that reaps the benefits. Engaging partners and staff in social media is a great starting point.
Firms can use LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to invite their clients to receive updates, participate in discussions, share case studies and experiences, post testimonials, establish discussion group, and allow clients to connect with each other. Blogging is another way of sharing timely updates with clients; it can also drive new clients to your website. All social media should include links back to your firm’s website to drive traffic to your business.
Social media should complement, but not totally replace, traditional marketing techniques. Remember, before new clients contact your firm, they typically check out social media sites or search for your practice online.
Networks, Associations, and Alliances
The 2015 Global SMP Survey found that attracting new clients was the top benefit of joining a network, association, or alliance, followed by broadening your client experience and branding and marketing. Only 28% of respondents reported their SMP belonged to a network (11%), association (10%), or alliance (7%), but 24% indicated that their practice was considering joining one. Joining provides your firm the opportunity for referrals from non-competitor firms, as well as broadens the range of services offered without the fear of losing them to national or international firms.
Additional information is available in the Guide to Practice Management for Small- and Medium-Sized Practices, which includes the section “Building and Growing Your Firm” on identifying target clients and new service opportunities, building a brand, marketing and developing a social media strategy.
The Global Knowledge Gateway includes a number of articles, videos, and resources on the topics addressed in this article.
Networks, Associations, and Alliances

When Corruption Becomes a Way of Life, and What to Do about It

Levels of corruption in Africa are symptomatic of the levels of moral decay that have engulfed African society. African society is drowning in a “have all, possess all” mentality that has become an endless orgy of spend and gain. Position and power have become keys to accessing resources meant for the general good and converting them for private good. We will be forgiven in concluding that the scrambles we see for power on our continent is no longer driven by a desire to serve but by waiting turns to loot. We have seen changes in ruling parties in various countries that have not resulted in a fall in levels of corruption.
This situation is compounded by the messaging by those who seek to fight corruption. The anti-corruption message is made very complicated by a multiplicity of terms and definitions—fraud, misappropriation, money laundering, illicit financial flows, and so on and so forth! These have left average citizens wondering what this is all about. Should we not just use as simple term like theft?
Another challenge is that the various development partners have continued to focus on strengthening oversight institutions in the accountability supply chain, instead of adopting a more all-encompassing approach. The supreme audit institutions’ anti-corruption agencies generally receive a lot of capacity building support, while the accountants and other professionals who actually “see things as they happen” are generally given the leftovers. Should we not be strengthening the whole supply chain?
The failure of political governance has made corruption endemic in Africa, and is a shared fundamental root cause. Most African governments come to power through corrupt and weak institutions, such as electoral commissions and the judiciary. It is too much to expect a government that comes to power through a corrupt electoral system to then turn round and fight corruption. Unfortunately, the international elections observer will, at the end of the day, tell the world “the elections were generally free and fair.” How can professionals no matter their determination be expected to be work with integrity under such a government?
Added to this is a media that has generally taken sides instead of being independent arbiters. The media generally has adopted the philosophy of “my friend’s corruption is alright, but that of my enemy is really bad.”
I believe the first point of call to ensuring integrity of public procurement is to have a mental transformation in the whole accountability supply chain. The private sector must accept that bribery is wrong, and that demanding bribes is wrong. Authorities must accept that using their position other than for the purpose for which it was intended is wrong. Surely, procurement professionals, accountants, bankers, lawyers, and people from all walks of life must know that taking part corrupt activities is wrong and abetting corruption is wrong. Society must be sensitized to abhor the corrupt and not celebrate them. The international community must openly reject all governments that fail to run elections in a free and fair manner and not allow diplomatic etiquette and trade interests to blind them.
As French economist and author Frederic Bastiat said, “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
We need to simplify the message about corruption so that every citizen regardless of their level of education can understand it and its negative impact on their own lives.
IFAC actively supports the fight against corruption with many interventions, including the recent The Accountancy Profession—Playing a Positive Role in Tackling Corruption on the important role the profession plays in decreasing corruption. In addition, its International Framework: Good Governance in the Public Sector, developed with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, promotes the development of robust public sector governance by establishing a benchmark for good governance. Accountability. Now. promotes high-quality financial accounting and reporting by governments to improve transparency and help strengthen public sector financial management and accountability. Together, IFAC and its partners challenge and support governments to improve the quality and transparency of their financial management.
In order to promote integrity and defeat corruption, all of society needs to work together. Citizens in African countries must hold those charged with the responsibility of managing resources, whether in the public or private sector, to account for the use of these resources. Internationally, no country should allow itself to be a haven for corrupt proceeds from Africa.
Corruption must be elevated to the level of criminality that it is—a crime against humanity. Let’s stop arguing against corruption, as there has been enough of that; let us take up a fight against corruption.

Exploring the Demand for Agreed-Upon Procedures Engagements and Other Services, and the Implications for the IAASB’s International Standards

Agreed-upon procedures (AUP) engagements are widely undertaken in many jurisdictions and frequently used by regulators, funding bodies, not-for-profit organizations, creditors, and other users.
In 2015, the International Auditing and Assurance Standards Board (IAASB) formed a Working Group to help the board understand AUP engagements use, national developments in relation to standards addressing AUP engagements, and broader market needs. This information will support any possible revisions of International Standard on Related Services (ISRS) 4400, Engagements to Perform Agreed-Upon Procedures Regarding Financial Information, which was developed over 20 years ago (for additional background, see our previous article on some of the issues the Working Group planned to explore).
  • highlights the key features of AUP engagements performed in accordance with ISRS 4400;
  • highlights the results of research and outreach by the Working Group; and
  • seeks stakeholder views on the issues to help inform the development of a standard-setting project proposal to revise ISRS 4400 and any other activities that may be necessary.
Specifically, the paper explores:
  • current demands for AUP engagements, implications for IAASB standard setting, and, in particular, the extent to which users and practitioners find existing requirements and guidance helpful in undertaking an AUP engagement and producing an AUP report that is valued by users; and
  • the demand for engagements that combine reasonable assurance engagements, limited assurance engagements, and non-assurance engagements, such as AUP engagements, to meet emerging needs.
The IAASB and the Working Group would like input from investors, preparers, those in governance roles, standard setters, practitioners, internal auditors, regulators, academics, and other stakeholders. This input will help determine what is needed to meet stakeholder’s needs, including standard setting and other possible actions.

The future of the audit industry: From masses of data, to meaning

 THE HISTORY of the audit profession there have been shifts in how audit is executed, because of the transformations in the environment in which companies operate. The audit industry is now facing significant changes in this financial crisis and as the purpose of audits change, we implement the learnings.
An auditor was once trusted to provide an accurate and detailed account of company data without the need or requirement to offer meaning or purpose to that data, but now auditors are increasingly in need of different skills to adapt to new user needs.
The key driver of this change has undoubtedly come from the users of audit data who are demanding an increasingly diverse array of data sources, those that do not traditionally fall within financial accounting. As a result, we are seeing more requests for data related to governance and corporate social responsibilities.
For example, data might be collected on the carbon footprint of company movements or information related to employees. This data is then open to users that would not traditionally have use for audit data, such as company employees and partners.


Technological change is also occurring at a rapid pace, ushering in the capability to capture and share data, on an unprecedented scale and almost instantaneously. This has resulted in an increasing focus on data, whether structured or unstructured, and whether generated internally or externally to the entity.
This new demand for data has led to the most critical aspect of this change to the audit industry. Auditors increasingly need to adapt to the changing needs of users and therefore provide meaningful interpretations of data. While many traditional investors would have pored through the financials to make long-term decisions, a newer breed of investors is more likely to invest in companies that offer a holistic view.
This view would be on how they treat their employees, manage their carbon footprint and anything that indicates the company is moral and upstanding. Auditing is no longer a transactional reporting exercise and the auditors have a key role in contributing to the credibility of the financial statements as well as obtaining assurance.
We auditors are now being called upon to provide a final step in the audit process – data illumination, requiring a two-fold development. Firstly, the auditors of the future will need to embrace technology and the ever expanding array of tools and techniques that advanced data analysis affords them. Secondly, they will need to be experts in data interpretation and synthesise meaning from the empirical evidence.
When I think of our newest RSM trainees, their experience will differ radically to my experience. Our newest RSM recruits are as comfortable discussing machine learning as they are forensic accounting, and we must cultivate these new skills if we are to continue to remain relevant.

Going further

Companies are increasingly driven and defined by their purpose, and we are seeing this at all levels of business activity both regionally and globally. Auditors must go further to make sure they are at the heart of these changes by continually engaging with all stakeholders and moving towards a new reality where they can lend credibility and confidence over a continuous stream of meaningful information.
Consumers of client information are no longer focused solely on the one time audit of the year. Now we must embrace the audit of the future

By Bob Dohrer who is global leader of quality and risk at RSM