There is no doubt in my mind. The more focused you can be as regards your ideal clients the more chance there is that they will recognise you as an accountant they should approach. And, if you have a clear focus, the easier it will be for other people you know to recognise when they can recommend and refer you to people who need your services. But having a niche or specialist area is not the only route to success.
Having said that though, you are not alone if you find the idea of focusing on a single niche or target audience too limiting.
Perhaps you feel it would be premature or that your existing client base is too varied to fixate on just one type of future client? Or maybe you don’t want to be restricted to one target audience? You might also be concerned about alienating existing clients who do not fit that niche? You’re certainly not alone if that’s your perception.
I have seen how referencing a niche or specialism can be a successful strategy for many firms and many accountants I know. But I also accept that not every accountant is comfortable with the idea.
Many accountants seem to find the concept of narrowing down to a single niche too confining. Perhaps you have a diverse client base and don’t want to limit your future opportunities. You might even worry about alienating existing clients who don’t fit into that niche.
In this blog post I debunk a number of factors regarding niches and also suggest that there are more ways you could focus your marketing than you might previously have considered. And, in so doing, I hope to show that it is easier and more likely to succeed than continuing to promote yourself in the same way as every other accountant who is offering to do the same things, and the same services for anyone and everyone.
There are many reasons for resisting the advice of those who would have you be more focused than feels comfortable. Not all such reasons stand up to scrutiny but many do so in my experience. The issues can be different if you already have an established practice and now want to attract more clients, to those that are relevant when your practice is much newer and you have yet to decide where to focus.
For now though let me just remind you of eight practical ways to focus your marketing messages:
- Industry sector: This is the most common form of niche and the most difficult to choose if your clients operate in a wide range of sectors. It’s where you announce your expertise and experience in serving clients who operate in specific business sector. For example, hairdressers, doctors, solicitors, dog groomers, restauranteurs, construction, contractors, property investors and so on.
- Client Size: This can be especially helpful if, for example, you want to focus on businesses that operate below the VAT threshold or that meet a larger turnover threshold – eg: already generating revenues of more than £1m, £5m or £10m for example. Maybe start-ups are of special interest – or perhaps you do NOT want start-ups approaching you?
- Business structure: Perhaps you only want to deal with sole traders? Or limited companies with no more than 2 employees? Family owned companies or franchise holders? Or maybe you have expertise in advising and supporting larger companies with multiple and perhaps complex shareholdings?
- Geographic focus: Unless you have a focus on a specific industry sector or offer distinct specialist expertise, you are more likely to win new clients within your locality than from across the UK. It can pay to highlight your geographic focus even if you do much of your work online and on zoom/teams. It is still the case that more people seek out and appoint ‘local’ accountants than those who appoint someone who is based hundreds of miles away.
- Specialist services: Consider highlighting your tax expertise, your FD style financial support or even your audit expertise.
- Financial goals: A prospective client with specific financial goals will be attracted to accountants who speak the same language and are focused on helping clients to achieve or exceed such goals. For example those related to turnover targets, business growth or even debt reduction.
- Ethical or sustainable accounting: Prospective clients with a higher than average interest in ethical and sustainable business practices will be more attracted to work with an accountant who evidently shares such views than with one who doesn’t.
- Retirement and succession: Typically older prospective clients may be attracted to work with an accountant who can evidently support and advise on financial and business issues related to retirement planning, business succession, pension planning and exit strategies.
I would stress that a niche doesn’t have to be for life. Once you have captured the attention of your target audience there is nothing stopping you from diversifying at a later point. In fact, this will probably happen naturally.
My advice is to reduce the stress of choosing a niche by simply thinking about this as your current focus. It might last a year, 5 years, or it may be that you do so well it is forever. The thing to remember is that this is your business, and you can change if you want to.
The key is to focus your marketing efforts on a specific audience, as this will always make it easier to attract and retain the type of clients you want, rather than if you continue marketing to ‘anyone and everyone’.
However, I have also worked with plenty of successful accountants who run practices or businesses that have a pretty generalised approach. Others appear to have a focus that is, in reality, very non-specific*.
It is clear to me that some accountants and firms don’t want to limit themselves to a niche or specialism. Even if they understand the logic and potential benefits of doing so, they are reluctant to do so. This is typically a mistake but it’s a common one and, in some cases, it is possible to compensate for this by choosing to STAND OUT from the pack in other ways. That can be a topic for another post, another day.
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*A point of clarification:
Many accountants and firms pay lip-service to the concept of focusing on a niche or having a specialism. This is especially true, for example, when anyone claims to specialise in serving SMEs (which stands for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises).
SME is not another way to reference either family run businesses or OMBs (Owner Managed Businesses) which are also unhelpfully broad ‘specialisms’ but do at least make clear that the firm is focused more on such businesses than the much bigger ones that are also covered by the SME abbreviation.
An SME is any organisation that has up to 250 employees and a turnover of up to €50 million or a balance sheet total of up to €43 million. This definition includes over 99% of all businesses in the UK.
So the claim to be specialising in SMEs is best avoided as it may even be counter-productive when an accountant or firm evidences they are confused as to what the abbreviation ‘SME’ stands for.