Winning and keeping lifelong client friendships
Customer loyalty is critical to most small businesses. We all know it’s far more costly to attract new clients than to hold onto an existing one. But did you also know that you only have to increase your retention rates by 5% to boost your profits by 95%?
Accredited Reckon partner and business owner, Sylvia Robb, says securing unwavering customers comes down to staying at the forefront of technology and fostering true friendships.
Scores of Sylvia’s clients have relied on her bookkeeping services for more than 25 years. Despite moving from the Gold Coast to Cairns, and now Ripley near Ipswich, many have been with her from the start of the GST, through the pandemic, and onto the cloud.
An avid Reckon partner since the 90s, Sylvia’s clients include shop owners, cafes, restaurants, real estate agents, tradespeople, a doctor’s surgery, and a basketball association. Here, she shares the story of her long-lived business and how she managed to retain her clients for so many years
How did you first get into bookkeeping?
The year was 1997. I’d just finished a business course in Surfers Paradise. I met an accountant on the Gold Coast. He said, “if you ever need a job look me up”.
He gave me a job and I subcontracted to the 4 accountants working in his office. When working with accountants, you learn they don’t think alike, and all want things done in different ways. Being a bookkeeper, I’m like the meat in the sandwich—I liaise with both the client and the accountant.
When one of the accountants left the firm, I went along with him. He was very sociable and used to send me out to put his clients on to Reckon (he still adores Reckon). He and I did our BAS exams together and he was also teaching at the TAFE. After the lesson, his students would stay back and ask questions and I talked to them as well—to understand small businesses, basically!
Before long, I was helping 25 clients get on to software programs, mainly Reckon…and I was going out to see them regularly. In those days, you had to go to a client’s place, sit at their computer and log in to their program—nothing like it is now.
At what point did you start your business ‘Sylvia’s mobile bookkeeping’?
In the year 2000, when the GST started, I left the Gold Coast and moved to Cairns (because I got married for the second time!) In those days, there wasn’t cloud accounting of course, so I had to leave all my clients and start again from scratch.
I got a job in Cairns with another accountant (who I still have clients with today) and I started working in the office. Then I met a business owner with 3 photographic stores who needed a bookkeeper. They used Reckon.
One day, their accountant came into the store to see me, and we sat together and worked a few things out. He liked the way that my brain thought. Then he started giving me all his clients.
He started ringing me up going: “I need you to go and help this person set up Reckon, I need you to go and help that person…”
So, I left the photographic store. Then my own business just went ahead. It started by helping this accountant’s clients get on to Reckon.
How did things unfold for you and your business from then till now?
Over 20 years in Cairns I established a fantastic clientele—different types of businesses from every walk of life—lovely people who are like family and friends to me, not clients.
Then my children grew up and left Cairns to move to Brisbane. Because my 2 daughters were getting married, I decided to move closer to them. I moved to Ripley in March 2019.
One of my dear clients cried. Normally I spend one day a month all day in Trinity Beach, Cairns, with her. We’ll do one file, then we’ll have a morning tea, and a bit of a chat.
When you’re mobile, and you go to people’s homes, you get to know the family and the pets. She has a great-granddaughter. I was there when she was born, and now she’s 16…
Moving away, I was afraid of losing my clients, but before I left, I made sure that the ones that were not on the cloud, could use TeamViewer, so we could collaborate remotely.
Now I’m always on the phone with my clients from Cairns or on TeamViewer doing their bookkeeping on a regular basis, so it’s like I’m there. The only difference is we’re not having a coffee together.
Another client from Cairns is a removalist. Initially, after moving away, it was very hard for me to do his files because he had to be home to log me in. But after a long time, I convinced him to go onto Reckon cloud accounting.
Now I can go in and do his bookkeeping night or morning, or the weekend, and keep everything up to date for him.
What are your top tips for other small business owners looking to build loyalty with clients?
I’m always bubbly and happy. You need to build a rapport with a client, then you need to be like: “look at this report, look at the program, look how fantastic this is!”
For clients to stick with you, they have to like you as a person. You’re seeing their bank accounts, so they have to feel confident with you, and feel reassured by you.
I don’t just treat them as customers. I treat them like family or friends, and they’ve been so good to me.
Even though I work from home, on the cloud, I hop in my car and see them as regularly as I can. When I see them in person, we have a coffee and we talk about things—how can we improve things, and make our bottom line better.
Someone might ring day or night or on the weekends and I’m always there for them. If they need something done on a Sunday and I’m not far from the computer, I’ll do it for them.