It is the one thing that could put you on the fast track to the top. A-list actors, international rock bands, name-brand athletes, successful business people and the uber-wealthy are the kinds of clients that turn your business into something special. Selling an actor’s home, consulting with the wealthiest people in the world and business planning with an athlete automatically changes the nature of your business. You are now working with the elite and that takes a proper mindset.
Having a name on your client list from the zeitgeist gives you instant credibility. People will want to do business with you when they know you work for a famous individual. Better still, once you manage to add one superstar to your client list it has a habit of growing into a larger list of famous names.
And the income isn’t bad either. Someone pulling $28 million a year needs more tax and accounting advice (using the author as an example in this post) and they pay more for it because much more issues are involved. In a way, having famous people on your client list makes you famous, at least in a small group comprised mostly of other superstars.
There are two levels to the process of adding well-known names to your client list. In the last twenty years my tax practice has added names from the NFL and other professional sports, rock bands even non-listeners would recognize, actors on the big and small screen and high net worth clients. Prior to that I had few rock bands and wealthy business people and professionals visiting me. Then something changed and my business was never the same.
The first level to dealing with superstars involves expectations, sort of like a list of do’s and don’t’s. Knowing this before you attempt to attract household names increases your chances of building a relationship with these uber-achievers and keeping the relationship for more than a month.
The second level is the behaviors necessary to acquire the desired client. Once you serve one household name it becomes easier, but only modestly so. These people work together and share information. They are looking for qualified professionals to handle their needs, same as you. It is hard to understand A-list actors struggling to find competent tax professionals, but they frequently do. And when they find a keeper they whisper among themselves. If you are game you will have an entire client list of wealthy, famous and successful people.
What Celebrity Clients are Looking For
Anybody can find a house for you or sell your home. Most tax professionals can pound out a tax return for an athlete. The basic service is a given no matter who the potential client is. Celebrities have needs well beyond these basics. In most professional services these clients spend more time consulting than in the actual process of the actual work. In short, I consult over 10 hours with a celebrity for every one hour I spend preparing their tax return. Sometimes more.
Some celebrity clients speak with me monthly; some once year at tax time. Celebrities are normal people just like you and me. Some want very detailed help while others want something straight to the point. The only difference is they are well-known due to their profession. Most of my celebrity clients speak with me 3-5 times per year outside tax season. The conversation lasts from a few minutes to several hours, depending on what is happening in the celebrities life.
Before you start your celebrity search (we’ll discuss that in a bit) you need to understand the unique characteristics of working with celebrities.
1. Confidentiality is of Vital Importance
Confidentiality should be common sense (and frequently the law) for professionals. This is also a two-way street. As an example: I had a famous family mention I was their accountant. Instantly my phone (I have a store front in my business so it isn’t hard to find my business number) and email exploded. People who could not contact this family through the normal channels hoped they could use me to get them a message. First, it is distracting as all get-out when someone does this (and unprofessional). And second, playing telephone between celebrity and the endless spam requests is a sure way to get fired.
Non-disclosure agreements are sometimes (always) necessary. I started using a special engagement letter with celebrities where I require the celebrity to not reveal publicly I am their tax professional. They can discuss the engagement with family and other professionals, of course. But stating on public television my position is a recipe for massive disruption in my office and so it is forbidden.
Having celebrity clients does not allow you to use their name to promote (or brag about) your business! This isn’t about your ego; this is about serving a client with unique needs and with unique challenges. Don’t worry about missing out on new superstar clients. If you prove reliable and know how to keep your mouth shut and perform professionally you will find more referrals than you can serve.
Confidentiality also includes keeping a row of your client’s movies off the back shelf of your office if other clients can see them. Your home shelf is sufficient. A Realtor® listing the home of a famous person should consider asking the client to remove identifiers when the home is shown: family pictures, awards and other personal items that would reveal the current owner of the home. Realtors also want to consider an NDA and vetting buyers.
2. Celebrities are Normal People
Celebrities love when adoring fans acknowledge their work. Usually. The pressure of standing in the limelight can become tiring. And like all professionals, celebrities like to loosen the tie, sit back and test a cold one.
Just because a lot of people know who you are and witness your work doesn’t mean you put your pants on any different than the next guy. (Okay, there is a story about this and it involves putting on pants a bit different than normal, but confidentiality forbids I discuss the details.)
They talk normally; celebrities that is. They are interesting and interested in things. Believe it or not, they many times want to know more about you! How weird is that? But yes, famous people also like to work with people they like. Their public or stage persona is not what they are like behind the curtain in some instances; sometimes they are. Regardless, they are always genuine people with feelings, desires, fears and dreams.
The worst thing you can do is act star-eyed. As said, celebrities love recognition. They don’t always like the endless demands of fame. As they say back at the farm, it’s all fun and games until somebody pokes an eye out. Well, the eye poke is turning a professional relationship into ogling. Respect your client! Treat them with dignity. You can admire their work and act professionally at the same time. And yes, they are a lot smarter than you think.
3. High Maintenance
Several years ago at a continuing education conference a tax professional said he hated working for doctors. He felt doctors were too high maintenance, always demanding things on the spot and flighty. I looked around the table as my peers broke bread. The entire group was nodding in agreement, except me.
I kept my mouth shut and kept eating. I love doctors as clients and have many on my client list. Sure, doctors have greater demands at times. They are under a lot of pressure and earn a large income in many cases. They need a tax professional who can be a powerful team member for them.
Doctors are a lot like celebrities. Both earn a high income and are under constant stress. I would say celebrities earn more but that isn’t always true. I have more than one doctor cashing a seven figure income.
Take this example: A famous client asked me to lunch and I accepted. I was in town so he picked the establishment. We never got a moment to discuss any business or even small talk during that meal as the interruptions were incessant. We conducted business in private afterwards. Imagine that kind of pressure in your life!
High maintenance is not a bad term in this instance. High net worth people, business people and entertainers, have more needs and a lot more to talk about. They like to get out, but need private time for mental health and to clear their mind. They relay heavily on their team of professionals to give their life a moment of sanity.
Taxes, money, investments and professional decisions take more time with celebrities. The numbers are bigger and the considerations more involved. Whereas, your friendly accountant typing this can live normally in the backwoods of NE Wisconsin, many famous people would have serious issues doing the same. Scam artists find the wealth of these people irresistible. Often times I am called to determine the correct course when something doesn’t feel right. Other than their attorney or fellow celebrities, I might be the only disinterested third-party they can count on to give an honest answer. And since I tell you exactly what I think, my advice is highly valued.
4. Know Your Client
This goes without saying for any professional. In this case it goes much deeper.
Knowing your client when they are famous takes more time and effort than for other clients. Don’t assume they are what you see in entertainment outlets. Also, there are more celebrities than you can possibly have knowledge of. I have had several bestselling authors who I never heard of prior to them contacting me. In one case I still haven’t blocked out a week to digest even one of her tomes.
I watch no TV. None. Actors who contact me need to know I have no idea who they are unless they are Brad Pitt, and truth be told, could not pick Mister Pitt out of a crowd. I’m not much of a stargazer which helps if you want several celebrities on your client list. When it comes to music I listen to Chumbawamba, a rock band long since disbanded. But it is great music to work to. . . for me. Every other rock star will have to accept I have no idea who they are (unless they were big around 1980).
This means I must dig deep, hard and long to know my client at the level required to do an extraordinary job. It requires time and several meetings before a full picture develops. And lots of questions, even some that seem really dumb (So that is a science fiction movie? No? Rom com? Ooooooo. I see.)
Knowing your client also includes expectations. I tend to check in with celebrity clients periodically to make sure they are okay. Normally they contact me more than typical clients. It is common for a celebrity to ask me to “just” prepare their tax return and before the first consultation is over they have 15 more things they would love me to help them with.
Knowing your client means speaking with them and asking engaging questions. Taking an active interest is the best way to serve your client best. Example: Once a celebrity is a client I watch them online, checking to see if there is anything they forget to tell me that would help them. I once got a big non-cash tax deduction for a celebrity for a trip he didn’t keep receipts for. When you are my client I take an active interest in serving at the highest level possible.
5. Part of the Team
Always know you are part of a team of very successful professionals. As an accountant I have worked with hedge funds (was hired to advise a very large one, too), investment advisors, attorneys, and yes, even other tax professionals.
If a celebrity is on your client list know that you are not a one-horse show. There are other players and you need to work with the team. Also, the high needs of celebrities means they frequently need a referral. Recommending an investment house, attorney or doctor is not unusual.
Celebrities can have very tight schedules. While some want more face time, many work remotely, communicating via email and social media messaging. For some celebrities it is a quick answer before they have to run. Don’t worry about it; it is nothing personal.
Always be clear and think out your answers. Your client depends on it. Celebrities can do strange things sometimes, but that is the world they live in. I have listened to tears and celebrated successes with household names. Every one of them is driven. That is how they became successful. They built a team that you are now a part of. Carry out your role at the highest level of professionalism and you will have a great client relationship.
How to Find Celebrity Clients
Now that we have a basic understanding of what celebrities need and want we can turn to the activity of adding these wonderful people to your client list.
1. Meet the Team
Cold calling is a brutal business at the best of times, but with celebrities you will starve before you land the account. Celebrities have people trying to contact them non-stop. I have a celebrity on my client list who decided to mention I handled her work and instantly my email and phone exploded with people wanting me to give the celebrity a message. That is not the way to do it. The gatekeepers are brutal (or fired).
Depending on the service you provide determines how you approach the celebrity. Using my practice (tax, accounting, business and personal planning) as an example, the direct approach rarely works, especially if the celebrity is very popular.
Sometime you can get face time with an acquaintance of the celebrity as a way to meet, but again, this is usually the wrong approach.
I find if you want to get a celebrity to take your call you need to work with the people they already trust and work with. This means they (the celebrity’s team of professionals) are the contact, not the actual celebrity. If you are interested in working with a specific celebrity you can attend an event they have informed the public they are attending. When the crowd crushes in to get an autograph or a few words, you stand back. Around the edges will be the team members supporting the celebrity. They are usually easy to spot. They stand just far enough back to be outside the crowd, but close enough to lend assistance if necessary and they are always watching closely. Your job is to strike up a conversation with one of these fine people because if you are hired by the celebrity you will need to work with them so you may as well start early. It is these professionals already working with the celebrity that can get you an audience with the celebrity.
2. Speaking Engagement
This idea appeals to me the most and works for the type of client I most enjoy working with: business owners.
But how do you get even a few seconds with some of the top business executives in your community? What I have successfully done many times is find a listing of where these high performing executives in the community meet. If the social event allows I will give a presentation.
The nice part about this strategy is that the celebrity comes to you. Imagine you know several executives of a local business with nearly $1 billion in annual sales will be attending a community event. I will prepare something very social and community oriented for one of the sessions and speak with the organizers to get a slot. It doesn’t work every time and it does take work. If you are persistent you will eventually get the chance to give a 15-30 minute presentation. Bring your A-game! You can approach the high net worth executives, but it is always much nicer when they come to you after your presentation. They are already finding value in working with you before you even shake hands. It’s the easiest close ever!
The same works for entertainment celebrities. Large social events are difficult, but the community and non-profit events are different. These venues frequently love the extra help. If you can provide a powerful presentation for improving the community you have a better chance of getting a face-to-face with the entertainment celebrity. Professional sports players, popular music groups and A-list actors attend these events on a regular basis. It is part of their program to build their reputation and meet people to help them with their career. Be part of that and they will need you on their team. Which means you increased your chance of adding the celebrity to your client list.
3. Political Events
Back in the 1990s I wanted to take my practice in a different direction. I wanted fewer, but bigger, clients. A letter came across my desk that informed me of a political event in Green Bay, a 40 minute drive from my home. The Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, would be there. So would several starters for the Green Bay Packers and business leaders of the community.
This strategy did require an investment. The event was free. However, for $2,000 I would get a private meeting the Speaker of the House and several other leading political leaders of the republican party. In the same meeting were about a dozen people, including two Green Bay Packers starters, Mark Green (running for Wisconsin governor — he lost) and top business leaders of NE Wisconsin. I still have the picture in my office of Mrs. Accountant and me standing with Newt Gingrich and Mark Green (see image above).
I still have a celebrity client to this day from that event.
4. Small Events
The small event is the best of all worlds as it allows for more opportunity to speak with the celebrity. These can include religious or civic retreats. Many times these are several day getaways where you get the chance to work closely with the celebrity.
It is never a good idea to run up to a celebrity screaming how much you love them and then unload a business proposition. Remember, you might know who they are, but they have no clue who you are. Think how you would act if a complete stranger attending a social or civic event did that to you. Yeah, you would be just as freaked out.
Take your time. Treat the celebrity like a human being. They enjoy that. Celebrities are being sold at every turn. Acting professional and learning about who the celebrity really is instead of their public persona will work much better than the bull approach. A celebrity rarely hires you right out of the gate. It is a process. If they feel comfortable with you, that there is a fit, they will ask you if they can be a client. That is always preferable. I hate selling. If I can prove my value by providing it even before hired, everyone involved is happier.
This blog has brought in its fair share of celebrities. Speaking on podcasts has done the same.
I’m not recommending you go out and start a blog, podcast or start planning an appearance on a podcast. That takes a lot of work and time. Without the commitment of a regular writing schedule a blog requires, you can write something for a social or civic event celebrities will attend.
It’s always about visibility! The group you want to serve needs to see you. Be present where your desired clients gather. Celebrities are normal people like you and me, only with bigger issues to solve. They buy and sell bigger homes. Their tax returns have bigger numbers. But the issues are still the same. Celebrities are just as in need of good tax advice as the guy working at the mill. I hear this stuff all the time from household names. It blows my mind. How can these people struggle to find good tax, legal, or financial advice? But they do. And if you can provide the service in a professional manner you will be a lifelong friend and confidant.
Yes, you heard that right. Celebrities are unique in that they want someone they can trust because they meet so many questionable people. They want long-term relationships. Forget what you read in the tabloids. When the curtain is pulled they just want to let down their guard and know somebody has their back.
Celebrities are a unique challenge. They are also some of the best people I have ever worked for. With rare exception, I have found celebrities are the highest quality people you will ever meet. They are hardworking and smart. They are NOT an easy big commission check or fee.
As we wrap this up, there are a few more things I want to share. Once you have a celebrity client or three you will get new celebrity clients by default just from their referrals. Celebrity clients are a lot of work because of the issues at stake. Don’t take on a new client just because they are a celebrity. It is your job as the professional to know if it is a good fit.
My client list includes NFL starters, a world top 10 ranked tennis player, rock bands, New York Times bestselling authors, actors and more. Every one of them is different in a good way. They are challenging clients due to their unique status. I am not a star-struck person. Most celebrities I work with I never heard of before they contacted or approached me. I watch almost no TV and only a few movies. I don’t listen to recent music releases or watch sports. My celebrity clients enjoy my business approach to their account without the fan behavior. My job is to protect and help these people when the world is always trying to crash their party. That is my goal, my job. To make a difference in the lives of the people who are forming the world we all live in. And if you want one of the few jobs in the arena you will need to follow the advice above.
I look forward to working with you serving our clients
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