I’ve always had a problem with boxes. Those that I was expected to fit into, in any way (I do like a box that contains fancy Belgian chocolates or melt-in-the-mouth shortbread).
But somehow, when I decided to start my own firm, I immediately defaulted to what I was familiar with and what was expected of me: the type of firm where you do all the things – accounting, bookkeeping, taxes, payroll, financial statements, and management statements with some business advice.
From the start, I knew that I didn’t have a passion for what I’ve set out to do, but since I had to put food on the table, I kinda just went with it. But pretty soon I realised that continuing on this path is going to suck the life right out of me. Instead of considering other business models that I could pursue within the industry, I decided to go into a completely different field – marketing.
If I knew what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have chosen the marketing route. Don’t get me wrong; I’m really grateful for all the skills and knowledge I’ve gained these past 3.5 years. Those skills are exactly what I needed to learn to bridge the gap between my business knowledge as an accountant (the backend stuff) and knowing how to get the right message in front of the right people (without which your business won’t succeed).
If the thought of having an I-do-everything-for-you type of accounting firm gives you the heebie-jeebies, then I want you to know that you don’t need to go that route. You also don’t need to start a new career as I did. Instead, there are many other options you can choose from, that fits in very nicely with the skills and expertise you already have. So in this blog, I want to share a few alternatives with you, and after reading this, if you decide to keep with the traditional accounting firm model, then that’s great too.
But first, a little background.
The Machines Are Closing In
For years we’ve heard that machines are going to take our jobs: “In x years, bookkeepers and accountants will be redundant.” So they tell us that we have to adapt or die. And adapting, according to those in the know, means switching to ‘advisory services’.
I happen to agree with the ‘adapt’ portion, but here’s my problem with the how: The term ‘advisory services’ can be very confusing. It’s a catchall phrase that includes everything and anything that aren’t tax or compliance related. First of all, our clients have no idea what we’re on about when we’re trying to pitch them advisory services, and often times we’re a bit freaked out by the term ourselves. We’re back to “I do everything and anything”, but now it falls under the advisory services umbrella, which is somehow better.
But what if you’re not really good at or have a passion for everything that falls under that umbrella? Maybe you’re really good at helping clients with business plans and budgeting, but you’re a little unsure about how to help them with implementing business processes. Or you’re great at doing business valuations, but you don’t want to touch M&As if you could help it.
If that’s you but you push forward and add advisory services to your repertoire, you either feel like a fraud or you don’t really sell it to your clients. You kinda tack it on at the end, not too loudly in case someone hears you and actually takes you up on the offer.
They’re Just Not That Into It
I also often hear “our clients don’t want advisory services” or “the market is not ready for it yet.” And yes, that may be true to some extent, but often the real reason why they’re not interested is that we don’t articulate our offer properly. We don’t use words they understand or explain to them what’s in it for them. (How you fix this is a longer conversation that I’ll leave for another time.)
So let’s put the term ‘advisory services’ aside, and let’s look at more tangible ways of how you can structure your services in a way that is not ‘done-for-you’.
What follows is not a blueprint of what you should do, but instead, it’s a few ideas to get you thinking about how you can stray from that beaten path and carve your own path that fits your skills and passions like a glove.
Alternatives to the ‘Typical’ Accounting Firm
The key here is to start thinking about how to sell your expertise, your knowledge, and your experience, as opposed to doing the thing. Here are a few ideas of different business models and types of services that you can adopt:
- Digital and physical products, like books/ebooks and online courses
- 1-to-1 consulting services, like private consulting or coaching
- 1-to-many coaching services, like masterminds or group coaching
- Community-based services, like a monthly membership
- Event-based services, like workshops, boot camps, and other live events
- Speaking Gigs
Okay, let’s put some meat around these ideas with a few examples.
Let’s say you work with creative agencies, and you help them to streamline their accounting and admin processes. Selling your expertise may take any of these forms:
- A course where you teach creative agencies which accounting and other programs to choose, how to set up their SOPs, and how to automate and integrate their processes
- A 5-day workshop-type event where you guide a small group of people through the stuff mentioned in the previous point
- A monthly membership with similar content as the course, but then you also add a group chat option like a Facebook group, and an ‘ask me anything’ monthly group coaching call
Let’s take another one.
This time we look at a tax advisor specialising in helping high-net-worth individuals with tax planning. Selling your expertise may take these forms:
- 1-on-1 consulting where you work with high-net-worth peeps to help them restructure stuff and reduce their tax bill
- Regular speaking gigs where you talk about tax planning strategies at events where high-net-worth individuals hang out
Okay, one more.
Let’s look at a business advisor who helps tech startups to scale. Selling your expertise may look like this:
- A course to teach startups how to raise capital, from the data and documents they’ll need to gather, to where to find and how to pitch investors
- A 2-week 1-on-1 consulting package where you walk them personally through everything they need to get ready, plus helping them to perfect their pitch, and introducing them to possible investors
- You can also write a book on how startups can raise capital
Is this making you think? Do you have a bunch of ideas swirling around in your head? If so, I’d like to hear about it!
The Riches Are in the Niches
As you’ll notice from these examples, I get pretty specific about the niche (whom you work with) and the type of expertise you sell, and that is on purpose. No-one becomes an expert on talking about accounting to everybody and anybody. In order to make a selling-your-expertise type of business work, you need to get super specific on what you offer and to whom.
When you do that, it becomes easy to stand out and get noticed. People will value you more for your expertise, which means that you can essentially earn more money for the hours you spend working. It also means that you won’t need to build a huge team (fewer HR hassles) and you won’t need to work as hard as when you try to do all the things while charging a measly fee for it.
How to Make the Transition
Disclaimer: you’re not going to make tons of money overnight. A business like this takes some planning and hard work before you can start to sell, especially if you opt for something like creating a course or writing a book.
The easiest way to transition from what you have now to a selling-your-expertise business model is to start with only one thing as an add-on to your current services. For instance, let’s say you start with 1-on-1 consulting. You can open up one or two spots (this can even be for free to refine your process and give you some confidence that you can do it) and then get on an hour-long call once a week for four weeks to walk your new client through your process. This will feel less threatening than building out a complete course in advance, and you can test your program and get feedback before you spend all those hours building out something that maybe no-one wants.
So, can you start to see other possibilities for yourself?
Are you choosing to be a beaten-path-groupie or a maverick?
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.