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Practice Tip ' What's your elevator pitch?

31st Mar 2005
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In the era there was born a craze for the elevator pitch. This was the pr©cis of your business model that could be delivered in the time it took to ride up the elevator of the offices in which you were about to ask for £5 million or so of venture capital funds.

Well, those days are past, but I think the elevator pitch still has some relevance. It's good to be able to say in almost no time at all just what your business is all about. That's true whether you're in commerce, or accountancy practice.

Now, this might surprise some in practice. Many in practice think that you do whatever the client wants. Well, you do if you want a life of servitude, but that's not the game I think we should be playing. Which means you have to work out what it is that distinguishes you from all the rest, and summarise it succinctly.

I saw someone's advert recently that suggested they did all the usual smaller firm things, and provided 'a good cup of tea as well'. I have to say that I do think this something most clients appreciate (and I expect it wherever I go) bit it definitely fails to qualify as an elevator pitch for an accountant.

I think there there are two ways of approaching this subject. One is the USP route, which says what your unique selling points are. The other is the UPB route, which says what the unique perceived benefits of using you are. Actually, I'd suggest this is a dual carriageway, and you need both.

Your USP says what it is you offer to the market. It might be that you're a specialist in farming, or as the firm I was senior partner of until 2000 was, in providing services to the arts, design and pre-print sectors of the publishing industry. It could be that you're a capital gains tax specialist or are business advisors first and foremost. But what you can't be is all things to all people (unless you're in the Big 4, and even then they have a size filter that provides an effective cut off). So some decisions have to be made which suggest you don't do all things, but are good at some, and that's the service you want to sell. This will, hopefully, give you a competitive advantage in that specialism, and so let you charge more for it as the client will believe it is of value.

They'll do that if they believe they get an above average experience from you ' that's the UPBs. A UPB might be that you guarantee a fast turn round rate on work, or a fixed price, or access to a partner whenever the client wants it. It might just be you'll guarantee to take the client's hassle away. For most of them, that's exactly what they want. You have to decide. But again, it's something that makes you seem different.

But, with both USP and UPB driven elevator pitches there are, of course, several key elements to success:

1. the firm has to agree on them;
2. they have to tell the world what they are;
3. they have to deliver them.

If you don't do these three things no one will realise you're unique, and there will be no obvious benefit. Which means that whatever you put in your elevator pitch should also be used as part of your quality control process. So, for that firm who brags of the quality of their tea, is it English Breakfast or Earl Grey?

Richard Murphy
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AccountingWEB contributing editor Richard Murphy is a sole practitioner chartered accountant but was previously senior partner of a firm for 11 years. He has also been chairman, chief executive or finance director of 10 SMEs. In addition to accounting, writing and lecturing Richard develops and markets software tools and guides to help accountants in practice systematise their operations.


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