Are you a bog-standard accountant?
Most accountants with established practices have a mish-mash (sorry, a good spread) of clients built up over a number of years, explains Mark Lee.
Typically the build-up of this range of clients has not been part of any strategic plan. It’s just happened. If the practice owner is happy with their lot, that’s fine.
Many accountants complain about the amount of time they spend working and the range of regulatory, accounting and tax rules they need to keep on top of. They also want more clients (profitable ones preferably) and have tried networking, Google ad-words, SEO, telemarketing, direct mail, social networks, advertising etc and are disappointed by the results.
It all seems like a lot of work for little relative reward.
Regular readers will recall I have previously advocated the need to have a clear story. To be able to distinguish yourself from the other accountants and to focus on a specific niche or focus. Last October I looked at this from the perspective of client needs: What kind of clients do you want at this time of year?
This time let’s look at the topic from a more conventional perspective. As I explained in the context of new practice start-ups:
“You will secure more clients faster if you are perceived as having a special focus on a specific niche – be that clients in a specific business type (e.g. shop owners, hospital consultants or dentists); those with specific issues (e.g. overseas property, divorce, large family, business start-up) or those willing to use your preferred bookkeeping and accounting software. Most accountants start up with no such focus and simply try to be all things to all people. You will be more successful faster if you have a clear focus.”
It is astonishing how many accountants claim to specialise in a wide range of client sectors and types.
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The website list of their specialisms however is typically simply a list of all those client sectors and types that they have within their client base. Sometimes this will be because the firm has a number of partners each of whom does indeed specialise in different things.
In the case of smaller firms though the list is often meaningless. It would be more honest to say, as some do, that: “We have a wide range of clients across the following sectors….”
Evidencing your specialisms
Those accountants who are serious about wanting to target particular audiences have specific targeted pages on their website. And their adverts, adword campaigns and marketing materials link to the relevant pages.
So if an ad targets solicitors the link goes to a page that references solicitors, the services they require and the firm’s expertise in providing those services. If someone is recommended to the accountant because they are known to have a specialism in local tradespeople, there is a clear link to a page that evidences that specialism. If the accountant talks at a networking event about the tax refunds they have been securing for people with multiple employments this is supported by a page on their website that reinforces the same message. You get the picture, I hope.
What might you put on these separate pages of your website?
- Evidence: Evidence that you really do have a focus on helping a specific target audience. Evidence that you have the expertise and experience to help them. Evidence that you understand their issues, challenges and any specific accounting or tax issues they face. Evidence that they will be pleased they came to you (e.g.: relevant client testimonials).
- Contact details: How can they contact you? Who should they ask for? How easy will it be for them to get your advice or for you to take over their affairs?
You may be reading this and agreeing that it makes sense in theory but you still have one big concern. That is, that once you start focusing on a clear niche you will alienate those clients that do not fit.
This is a common and understandable concern but it’s largely groundless. Firstly very few of your existing clients visit your website. Why should they? But even if they do, you simply need to be careful with the wording you use. Until and unless all of your clients fall within your niche, you can note that you provide all of the services that would be expected from a quality accounting practice. And that you have a wide range of clients. However you also have a number of specialisms….
Wide or narrow?
When I was headhunted as a partner in the London office of BDO in 1997 the firm’s strapline was: “Expert advisers to growing businesses”. That was a pretty wide specialism; after all, how many prospects were not growing in one way or another? Despite this focus the firm continued to build its private client practice – albeit that an increasing proportion of such clients were business owners or investors. (Interestingly BDO still dominates Google search results for that strapline even though it ceased to be used in 2003).
A common concern is that by identifying a tight niche you will alienate all those prospects that do not fit. The corollary is that a tight genuine niche will make you more attractive to more of the prospects who fit that niche. It also makes you more memorable as compared to all of the other accountants who are attempting to be all things to all people. And if you are more memorable you are more likely to be referred to when your contacts encounter people who need your services.
Let me finish with an example drawn from the financial services industry. I hope it will prove my point regarding the benefits of identifying a tight niche.
It dates back a few years to when I first ran one of my training courses that help professionals improve the results of their networking. At the start I asked each person to stand up and to give their ’40 second pitch’.
A number of financial advisers were present and most of their pitches were unmemorable. They all seemed to do much the same thing for the same sort of people. One lady IFA however stood out and I remember her pitch to this day. She explained that she helped divorced women over the age of 50 who were worried about their financial future.
I can assure you that every person in the room immediately and involuntarily thought about whether they knew anyone who fitted that profile. You may have done too. And yet none of us would have spent a moment thinking about whether we knew someone who needed introducing to a bog standard financial adviser. It’s the same with accountants. By the way the lady in question told us that she had a wide range of clients but that she had developed this little specialism. I still think it was a brilliant approach.
It isn’t always easy to determine a specific niche or to be able to sum it up in a few words. It can be worthwhile though. And it can reap rewards for you in many ways.
Anyone care to share their niches?
Mark Lee is consultant practice editor of AccountingWEB and writes the BookMarkLee blog to help accountants build more successful practices more enjoyably. He is also chairman of the Tax Advice Network of independent tax consultants.
These days Mark Lee focuses his business actiities on two key activities:
1 - He loves being engaged to speak on stage to audiences of accountants in all size of firms. His latest keynopte talk is: The rise of Robo-Accountants - and how to beat them. He is an accountancy focused speaker, futurist and influencer with a positive reputation...