When is a niche, a niche?
Committing to a niche is a worrying time for any small accountancy firm owner. There are so many questions to answer: Will I pick the right one? What will happen to my existing clients if they don’t fit the niche? How niche do I really need to go? And so much that could go wrong if you don’t pick the right niche.
What do we really mean by a niche?
Look around on AccountingWEB and LinkedIn, and you will see lots of discussions about a niche, and also lots of preconceptions about what it is or isn’t. For example, read Mark Telford’s article on how he wished he had identified his ideal client earlier, but how this isn’t niching.
It doesn’t matter whether you pronounce it N-itch or Neeech, or even if you call it a niche, the power of a niche is taking the time to truly identify who your ideal client is. And then tailor the services and your marketing assets and messages to these ideal clients. So, for the rest of this article, if you see ‘niche’ as a word which comes with preconceived notions or lots of emotional baggage, just substitute in the words ‘ideal client’.
We often fall into the trap of believing that a niche has to be sector-led. Being very blunt, it doesn't. This is just one choice out of many. Your niche could be based around one or more of these variables:
- Turnover or number of employees
- Business or ownership structure
- Software choices
- Lifecycle stage of the business, eg start-up, looking to exit in five years
- Attitude or characteristics of the business owner
For example, within the club we have members who have these niches:
- Businesses who make and move stuff in the North West
- Local business owners who are looking to exit within the next five years
- Self-made ‘people’ who have built up a reasonable level of personal wealth
- Investor-backed businesses who have a turnover of £1m to £100m
You may be wondering how niche do you really need to go? It’s a real truism that the narrower you define who your ideal client is, the scarier it seems, but the bigger impact it will have on your firm’s marketing effectiveness. We always advise our club members to pick an ideal client who has at least two variables from the list of possible types of niche.
But what isn’t a niche?
When firms talk about vague statements such as:
- Clients that pay their bill on time (we all want these)
- Clients that don’t quibble on price (that’s more to do with your marketing impact and service levels)
- Clients who trust us (that’s about how well we service them)
- Clients we enjoy working with (everyone wants this, but what is it which makes them enjoyable to work with?)
Jack of all trades is a master of none
In times of economic uncertainty such as where we are right now, business owners look to work with a trusted source. An accountant who is more credible than their peers. Who are they going to pick? A firm which uses vanilla marketing messages such as ‘we save you tax’ or messages which really resonate with what they are personally trying to achieve. Of course, it’s going to be the latter.
Just think about who you have reached out to since lockdown. A ‘have a go generalist’ or an expert who you trust has the right skill set? By way of example, our business recently spent £500 for an hour’s consultation with a VAT expert recently. And it was money really well spent.
What stops us from focusing on a niche?
I had two conversations with accountants yesterday where both had decided to be brave and put on LinkedIn that their niche was the construction industry. One of them was our outsourced accounts department, and they were very nervous to go public in case it offended their existing clients who are not construction professionals. To be honest, I didn’t care what their niche was or wasn’t, I was just wanting a good service from them. But this is a massive and real fear.
What if I put off prospects who could be good clients for us? Or what if we alienate our existing client base? To eliminate this fear once and for all, your current clients don’t care about your marketing messages, just the service level they receive. And by narrowing your focus on who you actually want as a client you will attract more of who you want.
Think of it as fishing in a barrel with lots of fish vs fishing in an ocean with just a rod and line. What’s the most productive way of catching a fish? The barrel, of course. And it’s the same with your marketing. Narrowing your focus on who you want to attract is the quickest way to increase the effectiveness of your marketing activities.
Let’s put this a different way. If you are not deciding to go public about your niche and who your ideal clients are, then perhaps it is you who is being brave? (Or maybe foolhardy?)
The power of a niche is not just about making your marketing more effective. Knowing who your firm serves (and who it doesn't serve) gives you confidence when networking and collaborating with other accountants.
But, what if I get bored?
I hear this regularly. But what if I get bored with only dealing with one type of client? It’s a real fear which almost always never actually transpires in practice. When we really focus on the needs of our ideal clients what happens is there is always room and space to go deeper into their needs. This normally produces the much-needed variety many small accountancy firm owners crave.
How about if I choose a niche which disappears overnight?
Many sectors have disappeared or severely diminished due to Covid-19. But one of the tasks of any accountancy firm owner is to always look forward. To see what’s coming and make adjustments to the course of their business if needed. It’s the same with you and your accountancy practice. If you see trouble ahead, then it’s time to adjust the focus of your niche.
For example, if you had a retail niche, how about focusing more on the needs of ecommerce, delivery direct to your home retailers and/or food retailers? (The three current real growth areas for the retail industry.)
Too often we blame our choice of niche for being the issue. When in reality it’s not our choice of niche that is the problem, but our leadership abilities - ie regularly taking the actions required to keep our small accountancy firm thriving going forward.
If you want to make it much easier to win your ideal client, it’s time to identify WHO is your ideal client. Then WHAT attributes cause them to be your ideal client? And you’ve now found your niche for your accountancy firm.
In Heather’s second episode of Refocus, Replan, Rebuild, at 13:00 on wed 15 July, she will be talking with Paul Donno, about how they used digital marketing to significantly increase their lead generation by being more focused on the needs of their niche. Sign up here.
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Heather Townsend is Founder and Author of ‘The Accountants Millionaires’ Club’. In 2015 the ICAEW decided she was the number one online influencer for the accountancy profession. She is the author of 5 books, including The Go-To...