Stop talking about your USP – it’s the same as other accountants

Mar 31, 2023 | Marketing and promotion, Sole practitioners, STANDING OUT

I’m often struck by the difficulty many accountants have when trying to identify what’s special about their firm or practice.

Many assume that they do nothing different to any other accountant. Others have been persuaded they need to claim to have a USP. But, when asked, most accountants make the same hackneyed claims as each other. Either they are unaware that what they say is the same as everyone else or they don’t think it matters.

Common assertions
Here are some of the most common phrases that show up on accountants’ websites in the context of what they claim makes them special and different.

  • We provide a partner-led service
  • We don’t just prepare your accounts and tax returns
  • We aim to be your long-term business partner
  • We avoid surprise fees
  • We are family run
  • We hold your hand
  • We’re much more than just accountants
  • We’re not just good with numbers
  • We keep in touch with you throughout the year
  • We have a special affinity with entrepreneurs who lead their own businesses
  • We understand local issues, because they affect us too
  • We deliver the highest levels of service
  • We focus on servicing SMEs (that’s the acronym used to describe 99.8% of all UK businesses)
  • We tailor our services to your exact requirements and budget
  • We offer competitive rates and unrivalled customer care
  • Your success is our priority

These are all positive attributes and that list could go on and on. But what’s special about you and your firm? And how do your clients benefit from this? Why should a prospective client, who is comparing you and your firm with another accountant, choose you?

If you haven’t thought about this you should do – IF you want to win more of the clients you really enjoy working with.

Your USP?
Your ‘Unique Selling Proposition’ (USP) is clearly NOT UNIQUE if it’s the same as the USPs claimed by other accountants. Indeed the more prospective clients hear the same claims by different accountants the more boring and samey they think you all are.

As my list above shows, the answer to the question “What’s special or ‘Unique’ about your practice?” too often seems to be “Not a lot“.

And yet, I can tell you, without any hesitation, that this is incorrect. Every accountant I have ever met is different and distinct. They have different backgrounds, approaches, styles, clients and often even different fee levels.

Too many accountants make the mistake of assuming that because much of the work they produce is the same as other accountants, that they can’t highlight any truly special and different elements of their firm or of their service.

Another reason so many firms appear almost indistinguishable from each other is the availability of ‘off the peg’ marketing support materials. For example website templates, brochure templates and even profile templates.

The originators of these templates produce them because so many of their clients wouldn’t otherwise know where to start. But the templates are only intended to inspire accountants to adapt and personalise them. Sadly, many accountants use these templates without making much in the way of tweaks. And so there are multiple websites, brochures and profiles based on these templates and perpetuating the idea that accountants are all the same.

Any decent marketing expert will tell you there is little point in trying to be all things to everyone. Doing so makes you seem indistinguishable from your competitors. And that makes you a less likely choice when another accountant stands out in a positive way.

If you seem the same as the others you are almost forcing prospective clients to focus on the only evidence they have as to what might really be different. The fees you charge.

And yet I have proved many times to accountants that there is no fixed rate for their services. Your style, approach, service and speed are different to each other so your fees vary too.  But, in the absence of any other evidence you are prompting prospective clients to choose the cheapest service and, almost inevitably then, to resist future fee increases.

The view from a branding expert
My friend Philippa Haynes tells me that accountants are becoming more aware that they need to distinguish themselves if they want to win more of the business they really seek.

I know that accountants often approach her with the desire to grow and to build their marketing presence but don’t really know where to start and how to create marketing that effectively distinguishes them.

Philippa, who provides an accountancy focused branding support service, echos my views that generic assertions of the type I have listed above are all but pointless. Especially in a sector like ours which is becoming increasingly dynamic and competitive.

The good news is that there is a way through. Like me, Philippa believes that the individuals and teams behind a firm are unique; they all have a distinct culture and a team approach that can be explained so as to highlight unique benefits to their clients. In her work, she aims to find out what that is and then starts to create a narrative that successfully showcases these strengths and differences. Fundamentally this is what she believes a strong brand and brand-led marketing is all about.

Incidentally, if you plan on trying to deal with this yourself I recommend that you focus on finding a UPB rather than a USP. UPB stands for Unique Perceived Benefit. It requires you to identify a key benefit that your clients recognise and are aware (perceive) they get from you and your firm. It focuses your attention on your clients more than thinking about what you’re trying to sell to them.


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