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growing shoot | accountingweb | What the most successful firms are doing to win business and grow

Specialising is the way to grow


Going niche is how to win new business, says Reza Hooda. Here’s what the most successful firms are doing, plus some practical examples.

21st Aug 2023
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The number one challenge I hear from most practice owners is this: how do we win new business to grow our firm? It’s the one thing that preoccupies our minds the most, especially when we don’t have a consistent stream of leads coming in. After all, without customers we don’t have a business – we can’t plan, hire or get to our personal goals without having clients to serve.

So what’s the best way to win new business these days? Is it referrals, networking, social media, SEO, telemarketing or something else? There’s a lot of noise out there from marketers promising you “leads in your inbox” or “enquiries while you sleep” but is there a magic button that can truly deliver on the big promise? 

Well, good news is that I’ve been there. I’ve fallen foul to the charlatans and handed over lots of money to marketers for not much back in return. Having learned things the hard way, I decided the best thing would be to learn marketing for myself. So I went on a journey of consuming all the books, podcasts and courses from some of the best marketing minds on the planet. My conclusion was this quote by Lao Tzu: “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” In other words, we need to get our strategy right before we embark on the tactics that will deliver the strategy. The problem is, most marketing agencies don’t challenge you on what your business strategy is.

In the context of growing a small accounting firm, I’ve boiled the strategy down into this one line: “Get clear on who you serve.” When you get clear on that, the what, where and how to find clients you want becomes so much easier. 

Go niche

So how do we do this? We put our stake in the ground to work with a specific type of business in a specific industry, in other words, we specialise and niche down. When we do this we instantly become more attractive to the clients we’re trying to reach, we obtain focus in our marketing tactics and we get to charge a premium because we’re now the specialists.

Not only that but we generate internal efficiencies because we’re now dealing with similar affairs, similar questions and similar accounting and bookkeeping requirements. That means your team can now handle more clients before they reach capacity because they no longer have to research answers or figure out bookkeeping issues for 47 different industries! Your team develop deeper industry knowledge and tax expertise for your chosen sector, meaning you get to provide a much more valuable service than a generalist. 

“But I love the variety that comes with working with businesses in multiple industries,” I hear you say. While variety is great, it comes at a cost. The cost being more time spent by you and your team figuring out solutions for different clients in different industries, more time spent researching answers for tax questions from property investors to dentists to construction industry clients and so on. And the biggest cost of all: lack of differentiation in the market as to why a potential client should come to you instead of your competitor down the road. Because, when you try and appeal to everyone, you actually appeal to no one. Discerning and high-paying clients won’t come to you because you “offer a wide range of expertise” or “service all types of small businesses”. They come to you because you offer a specific solution for their specific problem and see that you understand people like them. 

Stand out

Increasingly clients are going online to search for a new accountant or verify that the recommendation they’ve been given is worth pursuing. If they can’t differentiate your offering and website from another accountant’s offering and website, then the only thing they’ll be comparing you on is price. And that never ends well – unless of course you set out to be the cheapest in the marketplace and want to compete on price (because there’s no strategic benefit in being the second cheapest in the market!).

So, knowing all this, what’s the best strategy to win business and grow? In five words: go narrow and go deep. The idea being that you laser focus on who you want to attract and go deep in working with people in that sector so you become more valuable. The easiest way to do this is to pick an industry to work with such as construction, property owners or dentists. The narrower your niche, the easier it will be for you to find clients and become seen as the expert that people in that niche want to work with. 

I went for years since I started my firm in 2008 to figure out a way of consistently bringing on board new clients. I tried all the tactics but it wasn’t until I got clear on the who and laser-focused my efforts on going narrow and deep by working with property owners that I started to gain real traction and attract better clients paying better fees. Niching into property resulted in us receiving high-quality enquiries and converting clients, including getting paid six-figure fees for tax planning work, a figure my old bosses at PwC would have been proud of.

Real-time experiment

To prove it wasn’t a fluke, I launched a new niche in 2021 as a marketing experiment. While running a course for members of my Profitable Accountants Community on how to build a system to win clients on auto-pilot, I said that I won’t just teach you how to do it, I’ll actually do it with you in real-time. I’ll set up a new accounting firm with a new name, new niche, new website, new everything and share everything I’m doing. We chose the niche of content creators and influencers (we only had one client in this niche at the time). The promise of the course was £0–£100k in 12 months and we got there in nine months (thankfully – otherwise there would have been serious egg on my face!).

This strategy is by no means limited to my experience. I work with dozens of accountants and the fastest-growing ones who don’t have a problem generating leads and winning business are the specialist firms. I’ve interviewed several of them, who operate in niches such as property, e-commerce, music industry and video-game development, on the Profitable Accountant Podcast. Some have seen incredible growth like getting from £0 to £1m in just three years. All because they got clear on the who.

When you get clear on the who, the what, where and how to find your ideal clients becomes so much easier. Start there and the rest will fall into place. As management guru Micheal Porter said: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Put your stake in the ground, choose who you want to work with and that’ll be the start of not having to worry about where your next client will come from again.

Replies (2)

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By Hugo Fair
21st Aug 2023 23:05

Whilst it might be obvious, I don't see it mentioned in the article ...

If rule 1 is "go narrow and go deep";
then rule 2 is "but don't put all your eggs in just the one basket".

I wholeheartedly agree with niche marketing (although I prefer the term 'sector specialist'), but I also always made sure that there was a second string to our bow - and that the 2nd string was wholly unrelated to the 1st (not just in terms of specialisms/skills, but in terms of risk factors in different economic climates - a bit like managing a share portfolio).

When you've lived (and survived through) multiple boom/bust cycles ... the value of knowing that at least one 'leg' is a banker, whilst you cope with the previously booming other 'leg', is salutary.

Thanks (3)
By adam.arca
22nd Aug 2023 12:25

Pretty much my best client (and we're talking multi millions, several pies, always looking for the next opportunity etc) came to me as a 17 year old prospective landscape gardener. Should I have "niched" him out there and then?

Thanks (2)