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By Liza Robbins.
Once a month, if you walk into the WeWork LaFayette offices in Paris, you’ll see a familiar sight.
You’ll be greeted by a banner featuring Kreston’s logo, as well as the logo of Exco Nexiom, one of our French firms.
And behind a glass wall, you’ll notice Djamila Bendellali, partner at Exco Nexiom, as well as one or two other directors.
They’re there to offer their free advice to local entrepreneurs working in the building – people setting up their own companies, owners of small firms with just a few employees… plus a few budding businesspeople whose rapidly-growing empires are turning over significant sums.
Many accounting firms would ignore the people in the first two categories, because they do not currently have much money to spend on our services.
Djamila has a different approach:
“Today’s entrepreneurs are tomorrow’s CEOs of a good company – so don’t look down on them!”
At our recent conference in India, she told delegates how she built trust and long-term relationships with these entrepreneurs. Her session was so valuable that I caught up with her afterwards, so I could share some of her insights with you too.
Djamila, who is in charge of start-ups at Exco Nexiom, told me that starting to build up relationships with entrepreneurs when they are very early in their journey is a strategy that has paid off.
“Many of our clients used our services or had contact with us when they were solopreneurs, and then came back to us when they had built up a much larger company,” she said.
By talking to them before any other accountancy firm takes them seriously, you bring them into your network very early – essentially bypassing the competition.
Her strategy to capture their attention – and eventually, their business – is to deliver “value in advance”.
So, each month, Exco directors offer a 2-hour “financial clinic”, where they give entrepreneurs completely free advice on taxes, payroll, how to set up a company – literally anything within their accounting expertise.
“They usually have very precise questions,” she says. “We try to understand what they’re trying to build and show them the best way to do it. They like the fact we understand that they are looking for growth.”
Locating these sessions at WeWork – the same shared office space where Kreston Intl is headquartered in London – was a strategic choice.
“When WeWork opened in France, we knew that their offices would be full of entrepreneurs and saw the opportunity to meet them there,” Djamila told me. “You have to go where the entrepreneurs are.”
No one is turned away from getting free consultancy – although often, at the end of the session, the Exco representatives tell the entrepreneurs honestly that they can’t help them… At least not yet.
No matter – because they have delivered value, they have created a bond.
In addition to meeting people 1-to-1, the sessions create a wider visibility for Exco, as they are advertised on WeWork’s app and in the building during the day.
They also hold regular “lunch and learn” sessions in the building, where they present on financial topics which will be of interest to entrepreneurs.
“We always hold these events where we’ll be seen, so people know we’re there. We have our pictures displayed prominently in the entrance, as well as Kreston and Exco’s names.
“That alone prompts conversations – people asking who we are and how we can help them.
“The challenge is to make accountancy interesting! We try to show how we deliver value rather than focusing on anything too technical, and that makes people want to work with us.”
Running these sessions is a small investment on their part, and just a tiny part of their overall marketing strategy – but there some larger lessons we can all learn from this approach.
First, building up a good sales pipeline is not something that happens overnight.
To develop a steady stream of clients, you have to think long-term – because the marketing and sales work you do today may take months, if not years, to pay off.
As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago….
…And so if you want to grow in 2020, 2022, 2025, 2030, you need to get your marketing in gear right now.
Second, we have to open our minds to seeing opportunities where others do not.
Djamila is looking at these small business owners – many of them solopreneurs – and seeing their potential 2, 5, even 10 years down the line, while many other firms ignore them.
That strategy may take a while to pay off – but when it does, it will give Exco a competitive advantage.
Lastly, there is the value of the “soft sell”. The sessions Exco provides do not promote their services very directly and aggressively. But that does not mean that they are not selling!
Showing people how you can help them – by providing “value in advance” – is a powerful sales method, because they get a taste of what you can do whilst building the relationship.
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