HFM Tax and Accounts won Accountant of the Year at the 2020 Trusted Professional awards, hosted by Unbiased. This small, London-based firm offers a full range of accounting services, along with specialist experience in helping non-domiciled clients. Ian Marlow, HFM’s founder and managing director, reveals how an Unbiased subscription has helped the firm to grow even through the challenges of the Covid pandemic.
In many ways it was a surprise. It’s an honour really to have clients who tell us that we did a good job for them. The client who nominated us was going through a stressful time with HMRC, but of course it was the sort of thing we handle every day. I have to say, I didn’t think we’d done anything particularly wonderful until he told us!
We started about 25 years ago in a back room, and we’re still a fairly small team – although we’ve had to hire three new people since we started using Unbiased. We are fairly typical accountants with all the services you’d expect, but overseas and non-dom tax have become specialist areas.
We often joke among ourselves that what we sell is peace of mind. People get threatening letters from HMRC and don’t know how to deal with it. Our job is to get them from ‘I don’t know what to do!’ to ‘This is wonderful – someone else is taking care of it.’
People want responsiveness. There is no point getting the right answer in two weeks when you need it now. Also, clients want someone that they don’t dread phoning up. Some professionals seem to talk another language and clients feel confused or belittled.
I say to our clients that we provide three things: professional competence, experience of dealing with HMRC, and an emotional cut-off. Often it’s the most standard tax letters that terrify people the most. We had one client who’d just returned from being shot at in Iraq, but all that worried him was his letter from HMRC. We take that pressure off.
What I like is that virtually every day there’s at least one new enquiry in our inbox, and often quite a lot more. Usually there’s enough information to help us decide whether to follow it up, and we convert between a third and half of those into clients. Over the years we’ve become better at converting, and now Unbiased has brought in about 85% of our new clients. I’m very happy with it. We’re busier and we’ve grown as a result.
Just being able to see all the enquiries, what stage they’re at, and how they’ve responded to us, updated every day has been really helpful. My PA will spend most days logged in to our dashboard to see where we’re at. The Welcome messages is also really helpful, as it lets us get something out quickly to the client – if you’re replying to a lot of leads you can’t really do that manually. And the conversion tools have helped us maximize the value of the leads we have. You can see it in turnover and profitability figures, so there’s a clear difference.
Give yourself time to learn how to make theOur conversion rate is now around double what it was when we started using Unbiased, as we steadily worked out which leads to go for and got better at following them up quickly. So there was a learning process, and we became a bit more selective. That’s as a result of putting time and money into working out the most effective strategy.
More generally, be responsive when clients get in touch. When people first get in touch they can be quite anxious, and a quick response can reassure them and win them over at the same time. Because you’ve listened, you’ve made them feel better, and they’ll remember you for that. It’s basic stuff, but it really works.