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Two mistakes that keep accountants poor

10th May 2011
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While your competition continues to make marketing mistakes, learn how to avoid them like the plague, reveals Matrix's Wayne Morris.

Everything you’ve ever learned about marketing and growing an accountancy practice... is wrong. That’s right, wrong! And if it’s not wrong it’s probably out of date.

Let’s get straight to the point. There’s one single marketing mistake that’s killing the success of more accountants than even the global crisis and UK recession combined.

And really it’s quite simple: accountants tend to never learn how to successfully market themselves. While universities are great at teaching you how to be accountants they don’t teach you how to market your services. So of course when you get out of university and you’re first getting started, you aren’t sure what to do, so you look around and copy what all the other accountants are doing. That’s only natural, right? But it’s absolutely deadly.

The biggest mistake accountants make

Take a moment to really consider the following points and make sure you’re not making this mistake. If you are, you’re going to learn how to fix it.

Here it is. When you go to market... you market yourself as an accountant.

Hang on a minute, “I am an accountant” I hear you protest, you’re right! But here’s the bad news. You’re marketing yourself as an accountant, and the majority of your prospects don’t want an accountant... they want the very best solution possible to their problem, a solution that they can only get from using an accountant.

You focus on being an accountant, your prospects focus on what they need from having an accountant.

As much as it might be hard to accept, most business owners look at things in three ways: how much it will make me, save me, or is it a necessity. Accountants generally fall into the later. People generally don’t want an accountant, what they want is what an accountant can do.

If you can understand this point then you will quickly see that an opportunity exists. If you are going to continue to sell yourself as an accountant, churning out accounting documents day-to-day you will continue in this rat race that you are currently finding yourself in.

No wonder so many accountants present themselves as a “me too” accountant, struggling to get new clients, and when they do it’s by trading time for money. The moment you can position yourself as an expert, a creditable “go to” solution provider then you can truly break through the glass ceiling of trading time for money and find that clients will engage you because you truly offer a market leading service.

Let’s do a quick test right now. I want you to pull out your last marketing letter. Does it offer accounting, bookkeeping, payroll services etc.? Do you have a website listing these services and an offer “contact us for further information?” If so, you’re in real trouble and leaving yourself open to competing on price. You’re not setting yourself apart from the competition or using two of the most powerful ways to attract clients, positioning and range of services.

The second biggest mistake

And there’s even worse news. What’s the second biggest mistake accountants make? Calling your prospects before they call you. I’ve come across too many accountants that have solely relied upon telemarketing to attempt to generate enquiries. The most important question in marketing is: “who calls who first?”

Let me explain. Imagine for a moment that you’re not an accountant. Imagine you run a busy restaurant. Its lunchtime and it’s extremely hectic with the lunch time rush. Drama is going on in the kitchen, customers are demanding great service, orders are flying all over the place. It’s literally a madhouse!

And in the middle of all that craziness, in the busiest time of your day, the phone rings. You pick it up and say, “Hello?”

I’m on the other end. I say, “Hi, I’m with XYZ Accountants. We’re a local firm of accountants and I’d like to arrange to come and see you about our service. Do you have a minute?”

Let’s stop right there. What’s going through your head?

“Do you have a minute?” Of course you don’t.

What kind of person am I? I’m a salesperson.

What have I just done? I’ve interrupted your busy day. I’m a pest.

What do you want to do? You want to hang up, tell me to go away, and get back to your work as quickly as you possibly can.

Even if I’m the best accountant in the world, even if my motives are good, even if my intentions are pure, it’s over at “Hello.”

Why? Because I called you first.

Be a doctor, not a salesperson.

On the flip side, have you ever been home, enjoying dinner with your family, and the phone rings? You pick it up; it’s your doctor. He says, “Hey, it’s Dr. Jones. We’ve got a special on flu vaccinations.
Is anyone in your home sick?”

Has that ever happened to you? Of course not! That never, ever happens. Doctors don’t work that way.

Here’s how doctors work. You get sick, you go to the doctor. They listen, they diagnose, they give you their advice and they tell you what to do. And what happens? You listen. You respect what they have to say. And nine times out of 10, you do what they tell you to.

One approach gets you treated like a pest. The other gets you treated with respect. And what’s the only difference? The only difference is you called them first. If a doctor ever did cold-call you, you’d flip them off like all the other cold callers calling you. But you go to the doctor, and you treat them with respect.

That’s what you want for your practice. You want to get the prospects to call you. Because if they call you, they’re at least twice as likely to hire you as their accountant.

Here’s the big lesson: you want to be less like the sales person and more like the doctor. You want to get prospects to call you. It’s time to stop prospecting and start positioning.

Wayne Morris is the author of Best Practice, a leading marketing and sales programme for accountants available for trial. He is also the creator of MMP, the revolutionary marketing system that turns any existing accountant into a “go to” firm.

Replies (19)

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By memyself-eye
10th May 2011 13:17

If the government paid me

as much as doctors earn (and I didn't have to go and get PAID BY the patien....errr client), I'd be happy as larry.

But there's the rub, isn't it - doctor's remuneration comes via a third party, either the NHS or an insurance company so they have no need to 'sell' anything, they have a captive audience. Moreover one which has been conditioned over 70 years to revere our wonderful health service, (almost) without question. If only accountants were on so high a pedestal.

How about turning the situation around and making doctors compete and charge the patient direct for (all) their services. Bet the phone would be ringing then.


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By Steve McQueen
10th May 2011 13:40

Here, here

I'm completely with you memyself-eye!!

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By waynemorris
10th May 2011 17:23

Doctor or Salesman

But from a point of view of engaging more clients, wouldn't it be great to be like a doctor though? ... More and more clients coming to us, without us having to use pushy sales tactics or having to be like a salesman!

The trouble is how?


Using positioning a firm can quickly develop its niche or niches, demonstrate expertise and attract more clients. Once the firm is positioned correctly it can work towards achieving the status of first choice for new clients and enjoy new clients seeking them out as opposed to having to seek out the clients.

Positioning helps a firm, separate themselves from the crowd and standout as a GO TO Firm rather than being a ME TOO Firm, i.e. just like everyone else!

Don’t get me wrong it’s not easy, if it was then everyone would be doing it. However, irrespective of size of practice it is more than just a possibility.  

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By aneitlich
10th May 2011 18:57

Two mistakes accountants make in marketing

Great article, Wayne! 

Accountants absolutely need to thing about value first, vs. the feature of being an accountant. Also, it is much more powerful to have people come to you based on your ability to educate the market and have them come to you.

This should be a big wakeup call to professionals in this industry -- groundbreaking article.

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By Steve McQueen
10th May 2011 19:24


Wayne, what you are talking about is branding.

Creating a nieche is no more than creating a brand, be it "I am the guru of tax investigations" or "I make the sexiest t-shirts"

Brands do exist in accountancy (KPMG, PWC etc through to Taxassist Accountants). They all have one common theme - size. The creation of a brand is dependent on the size of the enterprise to fund the brand development and drive the customers to it by making it the first port of call... and on the whole, accountancy practices - be they one man bands, or small partnerships - do not have the size or financial resources to create brands, which is why direct marketing WORKS for accountants and brand development does not.

And Wayne, I am not talking from theory; I have been a Director in a regional practice that grew from nothing and sold to a consolidator, I have built a £500k GRF practice from nothing and sold it to a regional firm, I have been a partner in a regional firm and I have been involved in several businesses from PLC's down to one man consultancies.


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By maxxy
11th May 2011 11:12

Huh? Am I missing something? You offer telemarketing services do

What a shame to ruin a perfectly good article with unreliable views of telemarketing for accountants. 

Nobody in their right mind who does this for a living would be calling restaurants or other industries during peak times as you suggest with the expectations of setting appointments from a cold call. 

Telemarketing particularly for accountants has various styles and approaches. On your own website you offer "follow up calls" so what is that if it isn't telemarketing? Are you saying that one of the services you offer is the second biggest marketing mistake for accountants?

Telemarketing is about listening, meaningful conversations, matching opportunities with solutions, all the things you mention with the doctor analogy but just done by phone in a targeted, predictable, and proven way.

Telemarketing offers a good ROI compared with other marketing activity. It's why we have no shortage of work. 

You may think we are a pest but our statistics indicate that less than 5% of people agree with you from the people we call. Perhaps the behaviour of consumers responding to cold calling is being muddled with professional B2B telemarketing. 

If approaches are well thought out then brand development and lead generation can happen in tandem. Seldom do we get "flipped off".

I would suggest that if this article is aimed at the average firm of accountants then perhaps mistake number two should be substituted for "If you build it they will come".

There is no one size fits all, or magic wand. Marketing approaches usually vary depending on who the target audience is and what needs to be achieved from a campaign. Methods will vary from telemarketing, direct mail, sms, fax, social media, adverts, internet marketing, radio, pay per click, networking, delegate events, webinars etc. 

It would be refreshing if business coaches, marketing gurus and the like gave advice that reflected this.

Actually maybe mistake number two should be "Don't listen to marketing experts who claim to have the perfect marketing method for you without listening to what you want to achieve."




-- Twitter:@maxinemaxxy

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By mwaccountants.
11th May 2011 11:51

I hate calling prospective clients

I agree!


As accountants we should NEVER call prospective clients. If they want to change their accountants they will call you.

We get 10% of our turnover in new clients every year, mostly passing trade and introductions by excisting clients.(sadly we loose 7% of clients each year, fees too high, not happy with our service, gone bust, now have inhouse accountant, moved away)

75% of new clients are new set ups and 25% not happy with their present accountant.

As we know when a client wants to change accountants they first ask a friend then they go it alone.

So although I agree that we should not phone prospective clients I DO agree with some one else doing the phoning! A company that knows how to talk to prospective clients and do not feel that they have egg on their face when someone tells them to go away.

I would use such a firm to get more clients, but I don't like the way they charge. I only want to pay when they introduce a client, but they want a large fee to start the process if they get me new client s or not.



West London

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By nkwayne
11th May 2011 12:23

Its never black or white

Interesting discussion.  I have a sole trade 10 years old built from quite literally nothing a couple of people working for me full time, enough clients to be called a success albeit not massive. I have used telemarketing on several occasions.  It has invariably given me a good return on investment, payback usually measured in just a few months.  Advertising has also worked - and failed - as has everything else.

Referrals and calls from unsolicited prospects are always the easiest to convert to clients.  As Wayne says, if they come to you they are, without fail, more likely to be a success.

I'm not a marketing guru, but it seems to me that everyone is right so far in this discussion because there is never a single solution which answers all our marketing needs, but where I fundamentally agree with Wayne is that the point that always scores a direct hit when I talk to prospects is the benefits that I can give them in terms of experience and service levels, not the fact that I am an accountant or the range of services that I can supply, since they're all available from at least 4 competitors within about 300 yards of my offices.  No one has ever asked me if I am chartered or certified, (or even if I am qualified, come to think of it) but they all want to know how I can relieve them of some burden or other.

So the thing I take from Wayne's article is that when I next decide to do marketing, be it telesales or direct advertising, mail-shots or leaflet drops, I will be subtly changing the emphasis of what I offer from services to ... not sure yet, but somehow implying that I am giving them succour and relief.  Might even re-name my firm to Dr Digital and get the health analogy. 

Cheers Wayne, definite food for thought.

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By paulmontgomery
11th May 2011 14:34

This man seems to ignore one of the important principles of mark

...which is: Know Your Client.

He gives this away in his third paragraph.


In the USA, from where I presume he (or his product) emanate , accountants tend to be university trained.

This is manifestly not the case in the UK where most of us have trained outside the university sector.

One wonders if he has bothered to do his research properly & must question if this product is suitable for the UK.

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By FirstTab
11th May 2011 14:56

Another AW article...

telling me how poor I am at one thing or another. Just skimmed this.


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By SiKelly
11th May 2011 15:25


Great article and some good comments – especially from nkwayne re marketing and ‘doing it’.

The trouble with marketing is that it’s all about opinions – and everyone has a different one. Experience proves that some techniques work better than others, but you won’t know what works best for you until you try it. There are no right and wrong answers; if there were we’d all be doing the same things. How boring would that be?

All businesses embrace marketing, even if they don’t think they do – it encompasses every part of your business, from the way you answer the phone; the sign on your door; the invoices you send out, to the fact that you respond to comments like these on this forum. Marketing is about you, what you want from your business and where you want your business to go – once you’re aware of this, use some of the techniques available, and above all, be different!

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By Bob Harper
12th May 2011 08:21

Wayne is right

I don’t know Wayne’s background (if he comes from the USA or not) but his thoughts are consistent with nine leading consultants, advisers and thought leaders in the profession. I know this because I asked a few people to contribute to report called GRF is killing the profession.

In the report the following people (including yours truely) give their own take on what is going on and what the options are for firms.

Ron Baker of the VerSage InstituteDennis Howlett of AccmanPro.comMark Lee of Lloydbottom from MarkLlodbottom.comMichael McKerlie of RanOneFinola McManus of Perfect PracticeSteve Pipe of AVNPaul Shrimpling of Remarkable Practice

If you would like to know what they think email me [email protected] and I'll send you a copy of the report.

My take is that marketing starts with positioning and I really like Wayne’s take that if you get this right you can turn yourself from a “me too” to a “go to” firm.

What I would say to anyone seriously interested in practice development is that marketing a professional service firm is not about mail shots and telemarketing, they are promotional tactics. Instead, firms can get ahead by taking one step back and focusing on higher level strategies like positioning.

Good luck

Bob Harper

Portfolio | Marketing for Accountants 

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By waynemorris
12th May 2011 11:05

In answer to your comments...

Firstly thanks to everyone for their feed back!

Brands or niches

I agree with Steve that most firms do not have the resources to develop a brand such as KPMG etc, but niches are not brands, niches are target markets and all practices big and small can develop themselves by focusing on a niche, it’s one of the most powerful strategies a professional can deploy.

It not only helps to set you apart and gives you and edge it can also help you reduce your marketing costs and drive up business for the following reasons:

1) Stops business development efforts from being scattered and expensive.
2) Stops you from having to potentially reinvent the wheel.
3) Strengthens your position in the market.
4) It is easier to spread your reputation to your target market.
5) You understand your prospect better then a Me To firm.

For instance my niche is accountants, my team work with sole practitioners and large multi-office practices alike. Many accountants use us, our content, and tools to help them.


In reply to Maxxy, yes we do offer a telemarketing service and I agree one size does not fit all. I consider marketing needs to be just like any other area of a business - it needs to be deployed from a point of strategy first tactics later. For most developing the strategy is the hardest part, but it’s the blueprint. Following on from strategy marketing tactic need to be considered and can be classified in 1 of 8 marketing subsets/styles.

Where I believe telemarketing fits into this is as a support role, to follow up with prospects, but not to cold call them.

I’ve met so many Accountants who believe that overall marketing is a black hole which absorbs money and we normally find that’s because their marketing efforts have no solid strategic foundation, and is more reactive than proactive. All marketing, weather you agree with me or not must be definable, measurable, tested, evolvable and aligned with the firms overall business strategy and goals, easy said, hard to do without the right tools.  

Where am I?

In following on from Paul Montgomery comments, I’m British and live in the UK, I work only with UK firms. But I’m not afraid to admit I look to all 4 corners of the world to see what ideas are worth investigating and look at how these ideas could work here in the UK.

I appreciate that not all accountants go to Uni, and can be trained via different routes, but the point in the article is more to outline that after being trained as an accountant, most simply follow what the others have done to grow their firms.

There’s a little guide I put together called the 10x10 Practice Sales and Marketing Guide, which outlines Strategy first, then tactics, please feel free to get a copy, you can download it by going to and dropping your name and email into the box.

Many thanks



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By Bob Harper
12th May 2011 11:44

Wayne is wrong

I agree 100% with everything except that telemarketing can be used to cold call, especially when you are niche.

Whether a firm uses the phone in this way will depend on where you are, where you want to be and how fast you want to get there and the success of the Inbound Marketing effort. Sometimes a little push is needed even if is just to speed up getting rid of crap clients.

Bob Harper

Portfolio Marketing for Accountants

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By waynemorris
12th May 2011 12:50

Right or wrong?

I don't disagree with Bob..... But....

Telemarketing is a very direct approach to marketing and can get appointments quickly and of course it is one of the most direct ways to potentially speak to the market.

And as I mentioned “Where I believe telemarketing fits into this is as a support role, to follow up with prospects, but not to cold call them.”

I deem cold calling to be where you have no previous interaction with the prospect and you are looking to book appointments - in this instance I 100% standby what I said for these reasons:

1)    People do not want to make mistakes or lose money, so a prospect does not know you, they will not be convinced that you are their ideal accountant; they don’t know you from Adam or Eve!
2)    Why change to you? Why out of their busy day should they give you 30 minutes, even more so nowadays business owners are working harder to survive, they don’t (I do not mean this personally to anyone) know if you are just going to waste their time by talking to you.
3)    At this point it is a push tactic, you are pushing yourself on to them which can lead to price i.e. can you do it cheaper than their existing accountants?

Now let’s focus on Pull Tactics, these are the sort of tactics needed to position your firm, there are a whole host of these you can do, which quickly, cheaply positions your firm, which pulls the prospect to you.

Once you have pulled them to you and have them interacting, this could be as simple as request for info, guides, etc and demonstrated you know your area of expertise you can use telemarketing to give that little push that’s needed, but with much greater results than cold calling. The hardest part is developing the Pull tactics, thats what we do.

Whatever you do with marketing you want the best ROI - Pull Tactics are more viral, they work long after they are implemented, where as Push Tactics, have a shelf life, so stop actively applying them and the results dry up.

My quick tip: If you need to get some clients fast then use push tactics, treat it as a numbers game, and trade on price if you have to. If you want to align your firm with your strategy and pull clients to you then using positioning can give you the edge to continually get more and more clients. Irrespective of size and fortune Pull tactics can work as fast as Push.

Also on another comment earlier about knowing your client. Although I don’t have space to go into detail Knowing your client is paramount to success, MMP was developed to instantly give any size firm the capacity to automatically know their prospects inside out, back to front, and it takes care of deploying the right pull tactic.

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By justsotax
12th May 2011 13:28

A number of people have touched on it....

everybody (client/accountant) is different and will be looking for different things.  I have come to the conclusion that the best marketing professionals will devise a strategy that sits comfortably with the client and his potential customers, and not just apply the same strategy he has used for every other business he has worked with.  I am not suggesting anybody here has but speaking to some marketing professionals (and 'performance' coaches) I get the distinct feeling the marketing strategy they suggest is the same they have used for the various businesses they have previously advised.

This is not to say things such as telemarketing don't work....and whilst I am not a fan of telemarketing I have seen it used to good success, my issue in this particular case is that if you can persuade a potential client to meet (and therefore change accountant) - then presumably the next time they are contacted by a telemarketing firm who can put across an effective reason to meet someone this 'client' will.....

Of course we hope in this time a level of loyalty can be built up, but I think this may be the problem with 'pushing' potential clients to move.  On the otherhand if they have decided to move and have merely chosen you because of your effective marketing campaign (they know who you are, where you are, what you do good etc etc) then retaining them in the face of other marketing campaigns will arguably be easier....i think?!





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By SimonP
17th May 2011 17:17

Sorry but I have to contradict you, Wayne.

"Has that ever happened to you? Of course not! That never, ever happens. Doctors don’t work that way."

Ah! Well! Actually, the doctor does call me, or should I say, one of his staff does.

Each year I get a letter and a call asking if I want a flu jab.

Just thought I'd share that. :-)

Incidentally, some 25 years ago, Mark Lloydbottom told me that clients do not hire accountants, they buy solutions to problems. Wise words and so true.

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By waynemorris
17th May 2011 22:36

Thanks Simon :-)

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By Tom 7000
05th Jan 2012 09:56

stop telling people how to do it properly you are increasing my competition :o(

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