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By June Walker


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Moving your business from one location to another can be done smoothly if you have a good sense of client relations. It means spending time with your clients and keeping them informed every step of the way. That's what I found a number of years ago when I moved my financial-services business from New Jersey to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a distance of 2,000 miles.

My clients are a special group of about 200 self-employed people, and most of them are in the arts. They're not savvy business people. My practice is not a production-line walk-in place that churns out W-2 returns, and I choose my clients as much as they choose me. I've been in business since 1979, and many of my clients have been with me for a long time. It was important for me to assure them that although I was moving I'd still be doing for them exactly what I had done before.

My clients are all over the United States, and Europe too. Almost all of them had met me at my New York or New Jersey offices at some point, but they are the kind of people who move around: opera singers find work in Germany, and actors go to Hollywood. Nevertheless, they each had a mental picture of my business in a location that they knew, and that made them feel secure.

Now, I'd seen clients become greatly disturbed when their stock broker left a brokerage house with no advance notice and, after being unreachable for a week, turned up at another brokerage house expecting to continue on as if nothing had changed. And I had a number of psychologists as clients, who have told me that when they go on vacation they must inform their patients well ahead of time so the patients don't feel abandoned. I consider my business a form of financial therapy, and so I thought hard about how best to get my clients through my move.

Luckily, I had time. My husband and I bought our new house and rented it back to the previous owners for ten months while they built their new home. I had ten months, and I meant to make the most of it. My clients would not be surprised by a sudden move. I began informing them immediately, keeping a checklist to make sure that I had contacted each and every one. And I noted on my list which clients sounded as if they would need more reassurance.

I told them that I was moving to an exciting place, and let each one know that I really wanted to keep him or her as a client. To further assuage any concerns about my new location, I also told my clients I could recommend a colleague who was nearby and I'd help make the transition to any new tax professional as easy as possible.

Much of my work with my clients was already being done without one-on-one meetings -- via phone, fax, and worksheets of my own design -- so the important point was to reassure them that things wouldn't change. When I spoke to them I gave them my new address and promised that they'd get my new phone numbers as soon as they were available. I did it all in an upbeat way.

Every January I send out my worksheet packet to all my clients, and with that year's packet I again addressed the question of moving. I also gave them an early deadline to get their tax-preparation materials to me, and let them know far ahead of time that if I didn't receive it by a certain date that they'd go on extension. Those who were uncomfortable about an extension got their stuff to me on time. Some of the others, believing the old husbands' tale that an extension is a red flag and that the IRS will come after you if you go on extension, had to be reassured. I told them not to worry.

I also said that I wouldn't be doing any work for at least the first month when I got to my new office, although they could call me with questions.

Finally, two weeks before the move, I had the telephones installed in New Mexico. I learned that the phone company won't tell you your phone number until it's actually hooked up, so I paid to hook it up and have my calls forwarded back to New Jersey. It cost me, but it made for great client relations. I was able to give clients my new phone numbers in advance. Also, I had business cards printed with the new address and telephone numbers and had "We've moved" cards printed and shipped to my new address (to be mailed as soon as we arrived).

Once I moved I added more services for my clients' convenience. I advised them that they could leave messages for me in Santa Fe via an 800 number. (Through MCI there was no cost for the line and, at the time, a call was only twenty-one cents per minute.) One of my answering machines takes all the 800 calls and a client may leave up to a five-minute message. At a minimal cost to me, my clients can call me free this way, any hour day or night, wherever they are.

To give my clients a sense of caring and a sense of security I began to rely more heavily on courier services than I had before the move. (I have accounts with both FedEx and UPS.) Also, anything larger than a one- or two-ounce letter is sent Priority Mail -- it says, at a certain level, that the client has priority with me.

I had lived in the same place for 20 years, so it was a shock to move, and took a lot of adjustment, but getting the business to run smoothly came first -- before getting our home in order. We put up with inconveniences at home so that the office could move into operation quickly.

I didn't take any new clients in New Mexico, not at first anyway. I gave my old clients even more service than they received before I moved. I made sure to spend a little extra chat time with them on the phone, to give them a bit more attention, so that they knew I was around.

As the result of my efforts, my clients stayed with me. In addition to the attention and services I gave them, they stayed because of their unique situations, my knowledge of the field, and my understanding of their personal histories. The move changed my relationship with my clients. The extra care I had given them developed an even stronger bond than what we had in the years before I moved. It reinforced our connection. I lost, if you want to use the word, roughly five percent -- fewer than ten clients -- and they tended to be the people with the simplest financial situations.

And to give the story an even happier ending: Santa Fe is a land abounding with self-employed people and people in the arts. Which is to say, I've moved to a place swarming with potential clients -- assuming that I can handle them all.


January 15, 2001
Primary Editor: Ken Gordon
Illustrator: James Stringer
Production: Fletcher Moore

A featured favorite from the June Walker files -- © 1997, June Walker. All rights reserved.

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June Walker is a freelance writer who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you like, we'd be happy to put you in touch with her.


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