Take a look at how the Big Four summarise their offerings and, broadly speaking, you’ll see each deliver near-identikit promises of support for business growth and transformation.
‘Fine’ you might think, ‘I don’t compete with the Big Four’. However, go beyond them and it’s largely the same story: a crowded marketplace packed with legacy brands all saying pretty much the same thing.
The good news is that this yields big opportunities for accountancy firms that dare to be different.
The key is to carve out a more distinctive position. While this requires a little bravery, the alternative is that prospects will simply continue to default to what they perceive as the safest bet: market leaders.
Hopefully, you have a fairly good idea of who you compete against. If not, explore who else is competing for your core keywords in search by Googling a few well-chosen phrases, for example ‘small business accountants in Rochdale’ or ‘tax specialist in Derby’. You can also look at the firms people search for when they check out your practice on LinkedIn.
From here you can begin learning more about each. Start by reading competitors’ websites and content. Try to distil into a single word the ‘territory’ you think each is trying to dominate in the market.
Compare and contrast
Next, put their site through a tool such as Similarweb, a service which offers its users information on competitors' website traffic volumes and other metrics.
As long as they have a reasonable amount of traffic, this will tell you approximately how many people visit them, for how long, and from where. It will tell you the main channels driving traffic and give you insights into their paid media strategy. All for free.
Talking to your business development team will give you a richer understanding of which competitors you tend to beat or lose out to, and why. If they keep win/loss reports, they can deliver valuable insights into how clients view the market and the competition.
For gaining market insight on a small budget, invest in SEO and content marketing tools to better understand what competitors are doing and what topics are trending (eg Moz, Ahrefs, SpyFu, BuzzSumo etc).
Also, for the cost of a nice breakfast or dinner, you could also host small round-table events to learn what really matters to clients and potential clients, including what they’re really looking for from their accountant.
By looking at the competition specifically with a view to finding untrodden ground, you can open new ways of categorising what you do and the value you offer clients.
This can help shed the cloak of ‘old world’ professional services and unlock more relevant, more differentiated ways of communicating – and, for the brave, even uncover whole new ways of doing business.