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Start Your Business Success Stories

How To Build A Thriving Payroll Practice: A Practitioner's Perspective

Tyler Winn of Cirrus Payroll
Credit: Tyler Winn

As an independent payroll provider, securing and keeping your clients is your biggest challenge when your competition is the likes of Paychex and ADP. Why would small business owners work with an independent payroll provider or accountant like you?

Those were the exact thoughts running through my mind when I started my payroll practice nearly six years ago. Today, my small team and I service nearly 200 clients, and Cirrus Payroll is growing faster than ever.

If you want to grow your existing practice, or start one from scratch, you need to implement these key strategies:

Decide up front what kind of company you are going to be. Here are the priorities that we started out with:

  • Operate as an online company, where employees can work remote, rather than congregating every day at an office.
  • Our software needs to be cloud-based, and allow both us, our clients, and accountant referral partners to access the system 24/7.
  • Be completely paperless. That means clients need to be able to print them in-house.

We landed on Payroll Relief as the software that fit our needs nearly six years ago, and it has served us very well in maintaining these priorities.

I read the book "The E-Myth" (Ballinger Publishing, 1988) right around the time my business started. It drilled into my head the importance of creating the right processes, and writing them down. This means that onboarding, payroll processing, quarterly filing, year-end tasks and even client terminations are documented step-by-step, so there's never a question of how to get the job done.

Your employees will clearly understand their job responsibilities and be able to work efficiently and effectively. There's nothing quite like a company where employees are passionate about what they do, and everyone knows their role and exactly how to get it done.

Knowing that your business is running as intended day-to-day, based on documented processes, will give you, the business owner, the peace of mind to work on (not in) your business every day: focusing on strategy, sales, marketing, and supporting your team.

Not only do processes help with internal alignment, but our clients also know exactly what to expect from us. Consistency is key, and our clients quickly learn to trust us, and trust the process.

Once you have clear processes in place, it's important that you don't let clients dictate your workflow. Of course, every client is different so slight variations are acceptable. But if you stray too far from your standard procedures, you will only create chaos and confusion for everyone involved. It's better to grow healthy, with the right clients, and not give in to every client whim.

I have turned down good-paying clients because I knew they weren't the right fit for us. Stop trying to be all things to all people. The market for payroll services in huge. If a client doesn't work out, move on to the next prospect!

Most accountants and payroll companies are terrible at marketing – bad websites, no social media presence, and zero differentiation from competitors. There are few key areas you should be focusing on:

  1. Fix your website. If it looks like every other website in your industry, something is wrong. You need to showcase how you are different, and how you come alongside your clients and help them succeed. No one is reading that long company history page, your resume or list of qualifications, or the paragraphs detailing every service you provide. Narrow down your website, and keep it relevant to what a prospective client should know.
     
  2. Get good reviews. Start by asking your best clients to write a review for you on Google and Facebook. Once you get some good reviews, request reviews as part of your new client onboarding process. And don't be afraid to ask repeatedly for reviews. People are busy and need friendly nudges.
     
  3. Stop being boring. Stop sending mundane newsletters and posting technical updates on your social media. Let me be very clear: No one is reading it. Instead, post content that is engaging and adds value for the reader.

About the author: Tyler Winn is a CPA in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who gave up his accounting practice to focus exclusively on developing a payroll practice.