Yesterday, Keith and I hosted our regular Wednesday Marketing and Management call for a group of about 80 members. It was a larger-than-usual call, with a big group of brand-new members on their very first call. (Welcome to the TaxCoach community!)
As usual, the call featured a lively discussion of both marketing and management topics. Several members had questions about handling problem clients. These included a real estate agent just now getting around to filing three years of taxes, who can benefit from an S corporation, but might not be disciplined enough to manage the paperwork properly. We also discussed a client who insists on bickering over fees after agreeing to pay a member a higher fee than they had paid their last tax professional.
It occurred to me that the solution to managing those sorts of “squeaky wheel” problem clients is the same as growing a practice in the first place. That solution is marketing, and if you want to take advantage of its magic powers, it’s important to develop a “marketing first” mindset for your business.
I realize the term “marketing” has many different definitions. For our purposes here, I’m referring to the process of creating demand for your service. Obviously, the more demand you create, the more prospective clients will be interested in working with you. Create enough demand, and you’ll fill your calendar (and your staff’s calendars) with all the work you can handle.
As intimidating as building a practice may seem, it’s an easy enough problem to solve that we’ve seen plenty of TaxCoach members turn marketing problems (specifically, not enough clients) into practice management problems (specifically, not enough capacity to do the work), in short order.
So, how does strong marketing solve practice management problems?
It’s important to realize that most client relationships function smoothly, with no friction or stress to you or your systems. (If not, you’ve got a different problem – your marketing needs to be strong enough to replace everyone.) It should only be a minority of clients that cause problems. Yet, if you look at where you and your staff spend your time, you may find this small minority taking a hugely disproportionate share of your time or energy. (The client who insists on negotiating every fee may not take more time, per se, but still saps your energy and your satisfaction with your business!)
Here’s the key: if your marketing is strong enough, you’ll have the luxury of being able to fire those problem clients as soon as those problems arise. You’ll have the confidence of knowing that when one door closes (and hopefully doesn’t hit the problem client’s backside as he exits your office), another door opens.
Does that mean you should fire your problem clients immediately? Not necessarily. It’s up to you to decide if a relationship is worth the hassle, or if perhaps a pain-in-the-ass premium will solve the problem and justify keeping them
But strong marketing will at least give you the option to get rid of them. Your option, not theirs. There’s nothing worse than recognizing you’re on the wrong end of an abusive relationship and feeling stuck and unable to leave. Strong marketing really is your “get out of jail free” card.
That’s why a “marketing first” mindset is so important. If you view yourself primarily as a technician, who goes out and “markets” only when necessary to fill your calendar, you’ll be at the psychological mercy of those clients currently occupying that calendar. But if you view yourself as a marketer, with a steady stream of prospects to pick and choose from, you’ll enjoy a broader horizon of opportunities. That, in turn, will give you the confidence to manage those clients when necessary.
Strong marketing might not actually solve all your problems. It won’t help your kids get better grades in school, or get your neighbor to take better care of his lawn. But strong marketing really is the “tip of the spear” when it comes to solving business problems. If you don’t already have a “marketing first” mindset, start thinking about ways you can make it a more important part of everything you do. You’ll find the rewards well worth it!