Ever had a client asked you to audit their financials, even though they haven’t written up their books for yonks? (Yonks: British slang for ‘an inordinate length of time’).
Many accountants come to me for website development or marketing before they’ve figured out who they want to work with, what makes them different, or what they can even offer to their clients that are unique. Developing your brand and website is an expensive exercise and you have to figure a few things out before you shop around for quotes.
So let’s first look at what’s happening in the accounting and advisory industry, and why you need to go deeper than ever before – before you start to throw money at marketing.
Why You Need to Reimagine Your Firm
1. Marketing Is Expensive
Previously, even if you did just a little marketing, you’d stand out. But many online marketing tactics don’t work anymore, because of the vast amount of content on the internet. You have to have a unique message, a relatable brand personality, and proprietary content – otherwise, you’ll just disappear in the sea of sameness.
And yes, I hear a lot: “but we’re all the same.” In its current form, I agree, most accounting firms are pretty much the same. But the current model is not sustainable.
2. Your Competition Is Growing
Many accountants leave the corporate world, or even just other small accounting firms they work for, to start their own firm. Why? Here are some of the reasons:
- You want to be your own boss, make your own rules, and work with whomever you want.
- It’s easy. And it’s cheap. Previously your options were to work hard and prove yourself to your bosses to get a chance to buy your way into becoming a partner in an established firm, or to fork out a lot of money to start your own. Cloud accounting has given us the chance to start our own firms with minimum capital investment. All you need is a laptop, good wifi, and a small fee for accessing the online tools you use – and you’re good to go. And, a lot of mundane tasks can be automated, so you don’t need to employ a huge team.
This is, of course, good news for you, but it’s also good news for thousands of other accountants. Hello, more competitors!
3. The Downside of Technological Advancements and Globalisation
Globalisation definitely has its advantages, but the biggest disadvantage, if you’re running a traditional firm, is that you now compete with people from around the world. Someone in Bangladesh can keep clients’ books up-to-date for way cheaper than the staff you employ in the US, or wherever you are.
At the same time, technology is great, but it also has its downsides. Because a lot of bookkeeping tasks can be automated – think supplier invoices captured by Hubdoc or bank transactions pushed through directly to the accounting program – a business model where you provide primarily bookkeeping services aren’t good enough anymore, as clients could easily keep their books up-to-date themselves.
4. Being the Top Dog Is Harder Than What You Thought
Many accountants jump head-first into following their ‘own boss’ dream, without thinking of all the other business stuff that needs to happen. There goes a lot more into running a business than just serving your clients. Sales and marketing is a big one. If you have peeps working for you, there are a bunch of HR concerns. And many small-firm accountants find that the business model they chose – the one that’s always been done – isn’t profitable. So you work a hundred-and-one-billion hours a week and still, you don’t get through everything and you’re not making enough money – all the time wondering what you’re doing wrong. Something’s gotta change, right?
In the last few years, the small business environment has changed tremendously. Here are some examples:
- Technology allows clients to do their own books, as mentioned above.
- There is an abundance of content online where business owners can learn about accounting, tax, and other business-related matters, so they mistakenly think that they don’t need you anymore.
- You have to work a lot harder to earn their trust. First, because of the vast amount of accountants they have access to, and secondly, because of the many scandals lately that accountants were involved in.
To sum up, your clients want more from you than just keeping the IRS off their doorstep. They need different services and they need some hand-holding.
6. Too Many Joy-Looting Clients
These are some of the complaints I probably hear the most:
- “My clients don’t appreciate – or even understand – what I do for them.”
- “They don’t respect my time.”
- “They don’t do their part – their documents are always late.”
- *Phone rings* “Arrgh… X again! What does he want now? He’s draining all of my energy.”
Some accountants enjoy fixing messes; some have the superpower of getting sluggish clients to do their part, on time. If you get a kick out of that, that’s great, but if you don’t, then working with those clients is going to make you old before your time.
Part of the reason why your clients may not appreciate you is that you don’t communicate your value properly. And attracting the right clients in the first place has everything to do with your brand message – which you’re probably doing wrong.
7. A Looming Recession?
Finally, there’s a lot of talk about another recession coming our way in the next couple of years. Whether that’s going to happen or not, it would be foolish not to safeguard your firm from those risks. I remember with the previous recession, the firm I was working for lost a few big clients who had to close their doors. What would happen to your firm if you were to lose one or two of your biggest clients? What would happen if you got sick and you can’t work (with or without a recession)?
Not only would you lose clients, but a recession would also change the business environment even more. Here are a few things I think would happen:
- Trust is going to become even more important for them; you’ll have to work even harder to earn that.
- The type of services they’ll need would change. Small business owners would want people who could help them navigate through difficult times.
- Businesses would close their doors. With fewer clients around, you’ll have even more competitors and you’ll have to work harder to impress the clients you want to get.
Okay, now that you know why I believe that you need to reimagine your firm’s place in the small business world, let’s look at what the answer is.
How to Reimagine Your Accounting Firm
Here are the top things I believe we need to start doing differently:
- Specialisation: You need to devote yourself to one special area of work, so you can become the go-to expert in that niche. Hello, fewer competitors!
- Different biz model: You need a business model that is scalable and doesn’t require you to work 24/7. Yup, that’s possible even for accountants.
- Build relationships: The best way to earn trust is to build relationships with your peeps. People do business with people – you can’t hide behind a corporate name anymore.
- Understand your niche: When you’re able to get into the heads of your ideal clients (in a non-creepy way), you can better solve their problems.
- Amp up your brand message: Finally, your message should be spot on. What do you stand for? What transformations can your clients expect? How is it like working with you?
- Sell your expertise, not your time: And if you really want to stand out, work less, and have more fun, then you need to start selling your expertise – not your time. A done-for-you model is not scalable. You don’t need to discard those one-on-one services completely, but you need to start adding services like consulting, coaching, courses, workshops, etc.
So, with an eye on the future, I decided to develop a roadmap to help you with your ‘re-imagination’ journey. This roadmap will help you to create the foundations of a strong accounting firm selling expertise, not just done-for-you services. When your foundations are strong, your marketing will become super-easy.
But before we jump in…
Disclaimer: This is not for everyone.
Now, before you fire all your clients and jump head-first into this new model, note that this is not for everybody. This is for accountants and advisors who want to build a firm around their lifestyle and passions, who aren’t afraid of breaking the rules, and who want to become a thought leader in their niche. It’s for people who are willing to work hard, test different ideas, and start again when their first idea fails.
- This is not for you if a traditional accounting firm makes you feel all tingly. If you’re afraid of trying something new, or if your mantra is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” then you should pass.
- It’s also not for accountants who are completely new to accounting. If you’re freshly-qualified, then I suggest you get a few years of solid experience before you try this new model.
- It’s also not for you if you just started your own firm. You shouldn’t spend too much time and money on developing your brand, frameworks and website if the ink on your biz registration document is still wet. Why? You’ll probably do it all over again in 6 months because you still have a lot of things to test and figure out. Definitely read through this email and the emails following about this topic so that you can start to familiarise yourself with what’s coming. But don’t spend too much money on a website or branding, because your vision is going to change.
This model will not make you rich overnight. It may, but it probably won’t. You’ll have to think out of the box like you never did before. But, when you’re willing to take risks and do what it takes to make this business work, the pay-off will be mind-blowing.
Okay, let’s jump in. Here’s the roadmap I created:
The first phase is all about creating a vision for your business and model it around you, your clients, and the lifestyle you want to lead.
1. Self-Inventory: So, What Do YOU Want?
You start this process by figuring out what YOU want – the type of lifestyle you want to lead, the type of clients you want to work with, and of course, what you’re really good at and what difference you want to make in the world.
2. Niche Mastery: Get Cosy with Your Niche
Next, you need to choose your niche, or your ideal clients, and then you need to get to know them better so that you can understand what their challenges are, and what they need and want from you.
3. Biz Model & Vision: Choose a Business Model Fit for a Thought Leader
Finally, you need to choose a business model and the type of services you want to offer, that would suit both you and your ideal clients. And to wrap it all up, you need to create a vision for your firm – because if you don’t know what you’re working towards, you’ll never get there.
The second phase is to put some meat around your vision. What do you need to create that’s going to make you an authority in your space? What do you need to teach your ideal clients so that they can get those results and transformations they’re after?
Online information is abundant. Just regurgitating what everybody else is saying is not going to win you any points. You need to create your own intellectual property – a portfolio of processes and frameworks shaped around one theme. That’s how you become a thought leader. That’s how you build trust and become synonymous with the thing you solve for your clients.
Once you have this figured out, you can present it in many different ways – through done-for-you work, consulting, coaching, courses, speaking engagements, writing books… The list is endless.
4. Theme: What Is the One Thing You Want to Become Known For?
This is the part where you decide what you’re going to teach – the one thing you want to become known for. When you specialise, not only would you become extremely good at what you do, but you’ll also help your clients to get transformations they never knew were possible.
5. Frameworks: Simplicity Out of Complexity
The framework’s job is to create simplicity out of complexity. It’s easier for people to, first of all, understand what you’re trying to explain, but also to remember your message later on. Frameworks are visual and people remember pictures better than words.
6. Processes: Your Methodology for Consistent Results
Your processes are the A-Z steps you take your clients through to get consistent results. When you have proprietary methodologies, people trust you more and it gives them confidence that they can also do it.
Finally, you need to communicate everything you created in the previous two parts in a cohesive and scroll-stopping message. It doesn’t matter how amazing the content you created, if you can’t explain it in a way that’s clear, catches their attention, and calls in the right people, your whole vision will fall flat.
And no, we’re not even talking about marketing yet. This is about your branding, your messaging, and your online properties where you can send people to, to showcase your stuff.
7. Brand Story: Hook Unsuspecting Future Clients Instantly
Your brand message is taking everything you’ve done in the first two parts and put it into the right words. This is where you tell people who you work with, what you do for them, the transformation they can expect when working with you, how it is like working with you (your personality), and what you stand for. When your message is clear and you use the same voice consistently, your brand message can be extremely powerful in pulling the right people in.
8. Visual Brand: Scroll… STOP. Oh, Hey, Here’s That Badass Accountant Again
Most people think they need to start with their visual brand – logo, colours, fonts, etc. But if you don’t have your brand personality and message nailed down, your visual brand can be a complete failure. Your visual brand should capture your brand message into visual elements. A strong visual brand would make you instantly recognisable, and people would take you more seriously.
9. Online Home: Your Website; Your Hub
Finally, we get to the website. The copywriting (the words you use) and the design (the layout and visual elements) should captivate and intrigue them. Your website is your marketing hub, your online home, the place where people can learn more about you, what you can do for them, how they can work with you, and also where they can become educated through your free stuff.
Okay, that’s a quick overview of the steps you need to follow to get your foundations right. The idea is to follow and complete these steps in order, but you’ll find that as you work through the steps, you sometimes may need to go back to a previous one to tweak things a bit. For instance, as you develop your frameworks, you may come up with more questions you want to ask your niche clients.
But, make sure you finalise one step first before you try to tick off a next step. You can’t choose a business model if you don’t know what YOU want out of your business yet or the type of lifestyle you want to create. You can’t develop your themes and frameworks if you haven’t dug deep into what your niche clients want, or know who they are, for that matter. And you cannot create your brand message if you don’t have something to talk about yet.
Are you ready to future-proof your firm, create the lifestyle you want, and become a thought leader in your space?
QUIZ: Do You Have a Magnetic Brand?
It has never been this crucial to get clarity on your brand personality and differentiate yourself from other accounting firms to really stand out and attract the right clients – those that you absolutely love to work with and who are willing to pay top dollars for your services. This quiz will help you to identify where your gaps are and what you need to tweak, or redo completely, to define and create a solid brand.