Free consultations are a waste of time, do this instead

Marc Howard
11 min readAug 29, 2022

--

Automate your acquisition process, 3x your closing rates, and finally enjoy the freedom you’ve been looking for

You run a small accounting practice, and it’s Monday morning.

You’re about to schedule a call with a prospect and hope it’s not one of those who asks in the first 15 seconds, “So what are your fees?”

Unfortunately, you get an email like this:

You might think that this is a good sign since they are asking about price so they are “serious”.

Because no matter what you do, or no matter how you present it, 90% of these leads always say something along the lines of “how they don’t see the value”.

These are typically the price shoppers.

The tire kickers.

The looky-loos.

You know the type.

They get on your free 45-minute consultation call and hammer you with specific questions like:

“So based on my situation should I transition to an S Corp and can you walk me through the steps”?

Or…

“I heard there’s a new R&D tax credit, am I eligible and if so can you send me some information on how I can apply?”

Or (my favorite)…

“Well I have a few more CPAs that I’m interviewing but if you can answer a few specific tax questions for me it will help me decide that you’re the one for me later.”

Or (my ABSOLUTE favorite)…

“If you can just shoot me a quick email on how I can make these adjustments myself now then if I need more help you’ll be the first accountant on my list”.

There’s an old poker saying that goes something like, if you don’t know who the patsy is at the table, it’s you.

Finally, after your initial free consultation call, you feel good that you gave them a lot of helpful information and you hope that they sign your proposal.

So you wait…

And wait…

Until you realize that you’ve been ghosted.

It doesn’t have to be like that and today you will learn how to completely take control of this situation and close more highly qualified leads like clockwork.

The Problem

Here’s the hard truth.

Most accountants would rather be liked than be effective.

Many are “pleasers”.

They want to show how much they know so they end up giving away valuable advice for free.

Fact: People don’t buy from friends, they buy from people who can solve their problems and present as experts.

This is a disease that I like to call effectophobia: the fear of being effective due to wanting to be liked.

Here are the symptoms:

  • You have more than two consultations before closing a client
  • You answer specific questions for prospects for free
  • You like to show off how much you know before they sign your retainer
  • You spend a week or two back and forth collecting tax and books info before they sign an engagement letter
  • You don’t charge in advance for tax planning strategies
  • You’re hesitant to estimate how much they can save by working with you

The root cause: Lack of proper qualification.

The Diagnosis

The good news is that this is a simple math problem.

And today I’m going to show you how you can fix this yourself–for free.

Without spending any money or hiring some expensive “consultant”.

You: But wait, didn’t you just say not to give away valuable information for free?

Marc: Yes, grasshopper, but this is actually a part of my REV strategy.

You: What’s a REV strategy?

Marc: It stands for Reciprocate, Educate, Valuate. Read on…grasshopper.

The truth is most prospects really don’t care how you solve their problem.

They care that the problem is solved.

And that problem mostly boils down to you either one of two things:

  1. Saving them money
  2. Helping them make more money (by creating more value).

Getting into the weeds, especially on the first call often just confuses prospects.

It reminds me of one of my favorite Chinese proverbs: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.”

It doesn’t matter that you know the U.S. tax code by heart, can whip up 27 tax credit opportunities within the first ten minutes, or can do a dissertation on the benefits of an S Corp election for a small business owner.

What matters is that you can solve their problem.

Maybe that problem is about revenue, or profit, or tax credits, or an audit–it doesn’t matter.

Remember this: You don’t need to tell the prospect exactly how you’re going to solve their problem, you just need to convey that you have the solution and that you are the one who is best fit to solve it for them.

So why is this a math problem?

It really all boils down to a numbers game.

If you are only speaking with one new lead per month then you’re probably trying to do everything it takes to win that prospect’s business.

Unfortunately, that neediness shows, and many prospects can hear the desperation in your voice.

On the other hand, if you have 10 or 20 or more leads a month, you are likely more discriminate.

That is to say, fewer prospects mean you hope that they choose you, and more prospects mean you get to choose your clients.

If you’re reading this article chances are you’re somewhere in this range.

The strategy that I’m about to share works best for those firms that already have at least 3–5 or more leads per month.

The solution is in how you qualify these leads.

If you’re like 98% of accountants with a website, you probably have a simple Contact Us form on your site:

You: Hey my contact form is just like that–what’s wrong with it?

Marc: You’re setting the tone that the prospect is in control, not you.

You: But won’t I learn more once we schedule the call?

Marc: Yes but why leave it to chance whether it’s a profitable company with $4M revenue or a recent college grad looking to file a 1040?

You: …

Then there are better forms that get a bit more qualification info:

And some even better:

The challenge is the longer the form the fewer completions.

Nobody likes more work.

That’s how you end up like this guy:

But something interesting starts to happen with your initial calls–they become better qualified and potentially better clients.

So the trick is to capture as much relevant qualification information as possible but to also give them a reason to do this extra work upfront.

Unless you started your accounting practice yesterday chances are you know how to save most clients money.

While I won’t get into great detail about how (that’s the reason I built Bookgel), some of these methods involve:

  • Depreciation
  • Deferrals
  • Prepayments
  • Amortization
  • Tax Credits
  • Entity restructuring
  • 1031 Exchange
  • and more…

In fact, many accountants save clients around 15–20% a year using a simple strategy to command higher fees.

Essentially you are not an H&R Block where you’re reactively cranking out tax returns at the end of the tax season.

Rather you are being proactive by leveraging some of the methods that I’ve listed above.

If you do a regression analysis with your business client data, you’ll likely find that you are actually saving clients quite a bit.

The Solution (The R.E.V. Strategy)

So the big idea is to let prospective clients know that in return for more info upfront you will see if you can save them a few grand every year.

Again, this works if you are targeting mainly business clients not if you’re a 1040 mill for individuals.

The following approach is what I call the R.E.V. strategy which stands for Reciprocate, Educate, Valuate.

R.E.V. will systematically take a lead from prospect to close.

Reciprocate: The prospect gives you their basic business info in exchange for your estimate

Educate: You will use their info to educate them on how they can improve with your help

Valuate: With their detailed info you can now provide an estimated value of how much you may be able to save them

My REV strategy was largely inspired by Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion (if you haven’t read his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, I highly recommend it).

In this case, the strategy is used to convert your plain vanilla contact form into a questionnaire that communicates and then delivers value.

Here’s what it looks like:

When you click the “Show Me How” button it takes them to your custom “value form”:

Here’s an animated gif to see the full effect:

There is nothing special about this new Value Form and it’s simple enough that you can even create it yourself for free.

In fact, I used a tool called Jotform (I have no relation nor do I get paid for this recommendation) to create this however most intelligent form builders, even Google Forms has this capability.

A quick breakdown of what the Value Form does;

  1. It lets you embed it on your existing website (no coding necessary)
  2. It gives your prospects a choice according to whether they have 5 minutes or not
  3. If they don’t “have 5 minutes” it redirects to a typical contact form
  4. If they do then it gathers a bit more information
  5. The contact info can be sent directly to your inbox or existing CRM
  6. This form is fully customized including your own logo, slogan and questions.

Ok so back to the math.

As I mentioned the longer the form the fewer completed entries.

So this works best if you’re getting at least 3–5 leads per month.

The prospects who do not complete the form or answer “No, I cannot invest 5 minutes right now” are more than likely not serious buyers.

These are the folks that are shopping around for the lowest price.

You: How do you define “serious”?

Marc: Meaning that they have the budget, authority and urgency.

You: Are you saying all my leads will be a good fit if I use this method?

Marc: No, I’m saying that all of your leads will go through a pre-qualification process.

You: What if they complete the Value Form but aren’t a good fit?

Marc: Then you’ve just saved yourself 45 min.

Again, a numbers game and simple math.

If you have 50 leads per year using the Value Form and worse case they all are not a good fit, you’ve saved 2,250 minutes.

That’s 37.5 hours — basically an entire work week.

But that’s not likely.

What is likely is that you would close at least 20 percent of those 50 leads.

If your close rate is currently 40 percent or above you are pretty much a rock star.

The Value Form basically pays for itself assuming you’re not underpricing your accounting services.

For the visually minded here is a quick chart that I made on the benefits of the Value Form versus the traditional Contact Form:

Again, this is not rocket science nor will this cost you anything to implement.

Here is what the actual process flow would look like in your accounting practice:

How to Implement This Yourself for Free (Step-by-Step)

This process will work for the sole practitioner up through a multi-partner accounting firm.

The neat thing is that once it’s in place it becomes a well-oiled machine that works around the clock for you 24/7.

The Value Form will never call in sick nor charge you more per qualified lead. :)

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Map Your Process: Think through and map out your qualification process flow
    (Recommendation: I recommend using FigJam, a free tool that I use religiously to visualize all my workflows.)
  2. Setup your value form
    (Recommendation: I recommend Jotform or Google Forms, both are free.)
  3. Add to website: Add value form to your website button
    (Recommendation: Simply grab your JotForm or Google Forms form link then set it to the “Show Me How” button or Contact Us link on your website)
    ProTip: If you don’t want to change your website yet start by using your form link in your email signature or as a QR code on your business card (here’s an awesome free QR Code Generator).
  4. Setup scheduling app: Set up a scheduling app that can set appointments based on qualified leads
    (Recommendation: I recommend Calendly–this works with the free version.)
  5. Set up CRM: Set up a CRM to track leads
    (Recommendation: Honestly you can start with a Google Sheet or Trello then move up to something fancier like Zoho CRM, Freshsales or Active Campaign.)
    ProTip: You can use Zapier, (a free-ish tool that automates your busywork) to connect to Google Sheets, Trello or any modern CRM.
  6. Send engagement: Send an engagement letter/proposal right after the call
    (Recommendation: This can be as simple as a PDF you email that they e-sign and complete their bank draft info, or you can use an app like BizPayO to do this automatically including auto-recurring payments.)
  7. Rinse and Repeat: Sit back and enjoy more revenue with better-qualified prospects.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

I won’t pretend that this will solve all your problems and make you rich.

The main missing part here is what to do once you get the meeting.

You need to ensure a few things happen in that meeting in order to convey confidence, command respect, and ensure that you can charge a premium fee.

This is why I wrote a 37-page thesis (book?!) on exactly how to grow your accounting firm by 60% in 60 days without spending a dime on new leads.

Again, you can completely do all this yourself, for free, and do not need any fancy software or academy or “consultant” to spend thousands of dollars on.

I realized a long time ago that some folks just like to have a little help or would rather have someone guide them through this journey.

Free is great but sometimes it’s worth making it happen sooner to avoid the pitfalls by doing it yourself.

I was painfully reminded of this lesson when I recently wasted a week trying to “play plumber” at home before I literally threw in the towel and called in a pro that fixed that phantom leak in less than an hour.

If you feel that you need some extra help feel free to drop a question below in the comments.

I’d also be curious if anyone else has used a similar system or have any tips on making this even better.

I hope this helps and if you found this information valuable I’d be grateful if you can share it with any other professionals who might find it useful.

--

--