I was recently asked for advice on how to win new clients. But not just win new clients, but grow a £2 million-sized practice within 2 years to justify a partner business case. Whilst the title of the blog post may seem very far-fetched, there are firms who want their potential new partners to have already built a partner-sized client portfolio BEFORE making it to partner. I could debate the rights and wrongs of such an approach. After all, if you are expected to hit high billing targets it is almost impossible to build a partner-sized client portfolio without partner on your business card. However, this is a real situation faced by many professions in practice. Therefore, I will not get into this debate! This blog post contains my advice to lawyers and accountants in this position on how to create your own £2 million practice within 2 years without partner on your business card. It also answers the question “how to win new clients” regardless of what size client portfolio you need to build.
Go for the low hanging fruit
How to win new clients is a challenge faced by any lawyer, accountant or consultant who wants to make partner. However, building a practice of completely new clients is a long hard slog. There are easier ways to build your own practice. For example:
Can you convince your partners to let you run several client accounts with a view to expanding them?
You are unlikely to be given any ‘star’ clients by your partners unless you’ve made yourself the de facto account manager for the client. Typically for you to be given a ‘star’ client both the client and your firm need to recognise that you’ve become the person who leads that account. Any non-star client that you get given by a partner is likely to be dross, unlikely to grow or have a serious problem. After all, why would a partner hand over a decent client to you unless there was something wrong with it? Very often there are some rich pickings in what a partner may hand over to you. Sometimes a fresh face with a different approach may be all that is needed to turn a stagnant client into a growing account for the firm.
How far can you expand your current client portfolio?
Let’s assume you are not starting your client portfolio from ground zero. (But your challenge is still very much how to win new clients.) Selling more to your existing clients is one of the easiest ways to grow your client portfolio. Even if you can’t sell more to your existing clients can you use your relationships within your existing clients to get introductions to prospects?
Can you start a new service and sell to the firm’s existing clients?
This approach relies on two things: firstly being able to identify and deliver a brand new service which your firm’s clients will want to buy, secondly your partners being prepared to give you access to their contacts to help sell the new service. You would have thought that if there was a strong commercial argument to offer this new service to clients, partners would be up for it. After all, creating more profit for the firm overall is good for everyone. Unfortunately, that it’s always the case, particularly in the more traditional old-school law firms where partners tightly ring fence their own clients.
Can you inherit an exiting partners practice?
Strictly speaking this option isn’t normally available to professionals in want of a client portfolio. However, there are times where a partner will leave a healthy practice before retirement age. The likelihood is the majority of the exiting partner’s clients will gradually follow them to their new firm. However, there will always be a 6-12 month window, dependent on the length of gardening leave AND any non-solicitation clauses, where you have the opportunity to defend the client portfolio in order to retain them for yourself.
Be extremely targeted in the type of clients you want to win
When you have a big client target to achieve it can be tempting to diversify your focus and go after lots of different clients or sectors. The most successful marketing plans tend to be narrower in focus on the type of clients wanted than the unsuccessful marketing plans. Yes, it sounds wrong, but the more fussy you are about the type of clients you want to win and market to, the greater the likelihood that you will win clients quicker. If you are in the position where you need to build your own client portfolio in spite of what your partners are doing (this is happening to one of my clients at the moment), then looking for an unclaimed niche or neglected service offering within the firm is a great start. Ideally you need a practice focus which you can quickly call and make your own. In the 5Ps you need in order to always make time for business development I talk about the importance of having a prospect list to focus your business development effort.
Plant the seeds and then go for the big client wins
One of my clients recently picked up some lucrative M&A work which normally would only go to a partner, rather than a senior associate. However, he had spent the last 12 months growing his profile and reputation within the marketplace and had been talking with this client for the last three years. It’s likely that this client win will justify his admission to the partnership of his firm. However, it took years of relationship management to get this opportunity. Whilst it can be tempting to only focus on the big client wins, after all, you do have to quickly build a £2 million client portfolio, this can be soul destroying. Big pieces of client work tend to be given to already tested suppliers rather than taking a chance on someone. Therefore, look out for the small jobs you can do for new clients and then use these to get an opportunity to pick up the bigger jobs.
Get onto panels and preferred supplier lists
Many big organisations use panels or preferred supplier lists for the work they need support from professional advisors for. However, once you are on the panel or preferred supplier list then it becomes much easier to get work from these organisations. Understanding how to win new clients can often be as simple as finding out what you need to do to get on an organisations panel or preferred supplier list. It never hurts to ask the question! Occasionally you may get some work from a client that hasn’t been given out to their panel of suppliers. If you do a good job this is an opportunity to ask to be added to the panel for future pieces of work.
Have a marketing plan
How to win new clients becomes much easier when you have a marketing plan which you are working towards. (It’s also one of the 5Ps in 5Ps you need in order to always make time for business development) If you need to rapidly build a £2 million client portfolio you need to be incredibly focused in what you will do and what you will not do. It comes all too easy to kid ourselves that we are ‘doing’ our business development, when what we are really being is busy fools. To stop yourself being a busy fool then take the time to put together a marketing plan which will help you build your £2 million client portfolio.