Brand new you
Compliance work in accounting is becoming commoditised. How can firms find their secret sauce to attract the right clients and employees?
Success in business has always been about far more than what you do. It is also about how you do it differently, better than your competitors, and let others know about it. For accounting firms, differentiating your business from others is getting trickier. Parts of audit, bookkeeping and other types of compliance work are becoming commoditised. Most practitioners offer almost identical services, for similar prices, as technology automates the core.
How can you attract new clients by raising the profile of your services and employees? We spoke to experts on marketing and branding, alongside accounting firms that have found a way to stand out from the crowd.
1. Do your research
Spend a day or two researching your competitors. What marketing, including social media, are they doing? Copy and paste the information into a Word document. If you struggle to work out who your competitors are, that may be a sign that your firm is an all-rounder, which will make it more tricky for your firm to stand out.
“If you just think your competitors are all local firms, there could be a firm 200 miles away which is scooping up your customers,” says Amanda Watts, a sales and marketing coach who advises accountants on getting ‘high value’ advisory and consulting clients.
2 Be specific
Differentiating and branding your business isn’t easy. It involves answering tough questions about your practice and drilling down into what exactly you do differently to other firms.
“If you say that [your firm] is friendly you need to quantify it,” says Karen Reyburn, owner and managing director at PF, which advises accounting firms on marketing. A more specific explanation of this quality, according to Reyburn, “could be ‘we are personable. We care about [our clients’] family. … Occasionally we hang out with [clients] outside work’.”
3 Find a specialism
Poonam Mawani is managing director of Azuki Accounts, which provides accounting and financial services for recruitment businesses. Mawani has always worked in the recruitment industry, including running the finance function of a portfolio of companies, chaired by James Caan, the entrepreneur and former panellist on television programme Dragon’s Den.
“99.9% of my new clients are from referrals,” she says. She advises accounting firms to “stick to one sector and do it well”.
Mike Almandras undertook his accountancy training with KPMG, and then held senior finance roles for media and marketing companies. In 2019 he founded Empowered Finance, an accounting firm for creative and digital businesses.
Its ‘virtual finance director’ service includes business and strategic planning, budgeting and forecasting, cash flow optimisation and finance team mentoring. Advisory services are where the firm can “really add value” to clients, says Almandras.
It can be hard to differentiate your business based on its audit or other compliance services. “Compliance is compliance. You want your bookkeeping to be done in the most efficient and accurate way possible,” Almandras explains. Specialising in an industry can give a business credibility, he adds. “[Your specialism provides] … industry insight that you can apply in the opening conversation with the client and ask the right questions to the client.”
4 Embrace your inner geek and don’t try to appeal to everyone
Avoid being bland in your marketing and branding. You can’t appeal to everyone. It’s fine to have opinions about business and accounting when posting on social media and talk about your interests outside work.
“For accountants, their clients want to feel safe and trust people,” says Amanda Watts. “The icing on the cake is when your personality comes out. One of my clients is a bit geeky. For example, he is a Star Wars fan, likes anime [a style of Japanese film and television animation] and is really knowledgeable about technology. This comes across in social media and how he articulates [which helps attract clients].”
After your firm has reviewed its marketing and branding it should refresh its website to emphasise its specific appeals. Post regularly on social media. Build your connections on LinkedIn. If you connect with ten new people on LinkedIn daily, five days per week, by the end of the year you could have nearly 2,500 new connections in your audience to market to.
“It might sound cheesy but be who you are and show who you are,” says Karen Reyburn.
5 Finding your unique selling point(s) can take time
What if after looking for your firm’s distinctive qualities or services you realise that you don’t have any? Is it OK to settle for being a competent all-rounder?
Reyburn says she has met very few firms who are content to be the same as other fi rms. If your business is unsure what differentiates it, ask your customers what they love about your business, says Reyburn.
Client testimonials (‘Honestly, I don’t think we would have a business today if it wasn’t for your accounting firm’) are “marketing gold-dust”, she says.
Nick Huber is a freelance journalist