Is it really about the competition or is it about you?

I recently offered some help by way of comments in response to an accountant’s query in an online forum. Most of my observations and advice are of more general application so I am sharing them here too.

The questioner has been in practice for 3 years and is struggling to build up his client base. He has already lost a number of those he picked up in year one. His question was headed: How do I compete? He has identified 127 other accountants within a 5 mile radius of his home and wants to know if he can ever expect to get onto page one of Google.

Here’s my reply:

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Reading your original post and your comments I suggest there are a number of issues to address:

Prospects vs suspects

You think you are good with clients but you seem to struggle with converting prospects into clients. I wonder if they are all even prospects. Some may be simply ‘suspects’ – for example those who you say are not ready with their business model. Is the service such people require different to what you’re offering? Maybe they need help building their business model?

Can you distinguish suspects from prospects? The latter are not just people who want an accountant but people you have found out enough about to know that you could provide what they want/need and that you can provide those services.

Online promotion

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is about ensuring your website appears high up the search results when people search for the services you are offering. You’re right. It will be hard to compete with 127 other local accountants all offering the same thing to the same people.

There are typically two types of people who search online for an accountant:

A) Those who just want an accountant (be it their first one or to switch from a bad one)

B) Those who want an accountant who specialises in helping people just like them

It sounds like you’re hoping to be found in (A) regardless of who is looking. While there will be fewer people searching for a specialist accountant, more of them are likely to be pay good fees and you will face less competition.

‘Closing’

Do you have the confidence and skills to ‘close’ a prospect – ie: to help them to want to engage you as their accountant? This demands both conversational skills and the right paperwork at the right time.

Local competition

Ah yes, this is what you suggest may be the biggest issue. You may be right. But equally if you can distinguish yourself, your service and your approach from the others you can build a sustainable and profitable practice.

Again, there are 2 issues:

a) Are there enough prospective clients in the area? (Almost certainly ‘yes’ – tho you may need to wait for their current accountant to mess up before they will move to someone new – you!)

b) Can you position yourself as the accountant enough of them should aspire to be serviced by? Having a half decent website (or better) and high ranking on Google is only part of the story and not a crucial one either.

Referrals

This is always referenced as the ‘best’ source of new clients for accountants. I am aware however, that many who claim this are not looking to build up their practice quickly. They are happy winning a few new clients each year to replace the few they lose each year.

Establishing a sustainable referrals strategy is absolutely worthwhile. Again though it’s easist if your clients, friends and associates can say something distinct, when referring you. Something more than simply that you’re an accountant (just like all the others).

Happy to discuss this further. I love helping accountants who want to STAND OUT and become more successful without spending a fortune on marketing and branding. By all means book a call here: www.calendly.com/bookmarklee/phone

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What do clients pay you for?

Are you one of those accountants in practice, who still charges fees by reference to the time you spend working on a client’s affairs?

Even if you have moved to fixed pricing, menu pricing or value pricing you may still complete timesheets to show how much of your day has been devoted to each different client.

Thinking back to when I was in practice it was many years before I realised that a timesheet may have uses as a management tool but that it did not ‘prove’ how much time had been spent doing anything. It was a guide, nothing more.

After I left practice in 2006 I continued running training courses (very different to the talks I give now) and I asked accountants what they would bill in a variety of situations. The varied answers proved that the timesheet was simply a guide and that the ‘time costs’ that it reveals are rarely the same as the fees billed (or that could be billed).

A quick search online reveals that many accountants websites still assert that “Accountants sell time”. What nonsense. This is a sad misconception. It’s based on a misunderstanding and it’s misleading. Some accountants may try to determine SOME OF their fees by reference to time. They may try to charge fees by reference to their time records but TIME is not generally what accountants sell. If it were then the corollary would be that TIME is what people who want an accountant set out to buy. And they don’t.

In my view accountants sell (or should focus on selling) Trust, Confidence and Peace of Mind. These are 3 of the key qualities, if not THE 3 key qualities, that clients seek when they want to appoint an accountant. If prospective clients do not quickly trust you, have confidence that you will do the necessary, and gain peace of mind that they can rely on you, you will not keep them as clients; indeed they may not appoint you in the first place.

Yes they may have more specific needs – such as to prepare accounts, complete tax returns or resolve issues with HMRC. They don’t really care how long it takes you to provide your services. They just want things done. What do you think clients pay you for?

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What do you enjoy doing?

Just stop for a moment and consider how you would answer if someone asked you: “What do you enjoy doing?”

Now think how much better that reply sounds than what you normally say when someone asks you: “What do you do?”

In formal business networking situations your reply to that ubiquitous question may be one of your prepared and rehearsed ‘elevator pitches’. You would choose the one that will resonate best with the person asking the question. (It helps to find out about them first!)

In more social situations the same question can be answered very differently. The question is often being used as a variation on the ‘how are you?’ question everyone asks without expecting a reply containing any form of detailed medical information.

You will STAND OUT, positively, if your reply to standard questions like this is more interesting and distinct from everyone else. One easy way to do this is to imagine a slightly different question has been asked.  eg: “What do you enjoy doing?”

You can also ensure you STAND OUT by asking more interesting and distinct questions to other people – even in social situations. Instead of asking “what do you do?” when you meet a stranger, consider instead asking them “So what do you enjoy doing?”  If they enjoy their job they may choose to talk about that, and, if not, you have invited them to talk about something else they find more fun and worth talking about. Answers to this question can also lead to more interesting conversations.

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