I can do all the things.
But … should I?
When I started my business, I wanted to learn everything that there is to know about marketing. I wanted to offer all the services. I wanted to work with anybody and everybody.
I frantically tried to learn everything about anything that fit under the marketing umbrella. I went from one webinar to the other. I subscribed to hundreds of newsletters that were supposed to teach me everything I needed to know.
I constantly felt overwhelmed with all the new things that I was learning, and even more overwhelmed when I realised there was so much that I did not yet know.
At one point, I realised that I could not continue as I had. Instead of feeling empowered by all the new knowledge that I had gained, I felt paralysed because I didn’t know where to start and what to implement next. I am one person. I cannot know everything. And I cannot do everything. It was time to take a step back to reassess.
The Paradox of Choice
In 2004, psychologist Barry Schwartz published a book called The Paradox of Choice. His 2015 TED Talk is eye-opening (watch the video).
As humans, we love choice. We want options to choose from for products or services. We want options for our business or career path. I love options too. I don’t want to be like everybody else, or do what everybody else does.
But, having too many choices has a drawback. This excerpt from Schwartz’ talk explains:
“All this choice has two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all. The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.”
I’ve experienced this in my own life – especially in my business. Having too many options, or trying to offer too many services, meant that I became overwhelmed with everything that I had to do and still had to learn. Paralysis set in. I didn’t know whether to watch another webinar or read another blog post, and if so, on which topic. And if I did spend more time on learning new stuff, where was I going to find the time to implement what I had learned?
What ended up happening was that I ‘wasted’ so much time on learning that I wasn’t able to take on new clients, because I didn’t have the capacity for them and I always felt that what I did wasn’t good enough. And to be honest, it wasn’t. I was a generalist, offering a bunch of services without being an expert at any of them.
I was never satisfied with the work I did for my clients. I always felt that there was something more that I should learn. Something else I didn’t consider.
It was time for a different approach.
How to Navigate Choices and Hone in on Your Strengths
So, how do you change your approach without losing out?
There’s no magic-bullet answer to this question. Try different approaches (I know, more choices), choose one or two that works best for you, and then make sure you become great in those areas.
Here’s what I did:
- First, I decided to develop a niche by working with clients from one industry only – accounting professionals. This means that I can discover which marketing tactics work best for this industry and master the skills needed to help accounting professionals.
- Next, I decreased the number of services that I offer. For instance, instead of trying to become an expert in all things SEO, I just offer basic SEO services complementary to content marketing. If a client needs more technical or in-depth SEO services, they’ll need to find someone else to help them with this, and I’ll work together with that service provider. This does not mean that I will never add any more services. As my business grows I’ll be able to hire people who are experts in areas that I think will complement the business, or, once I’ve mastered the skills that I’m learning now, I’ll be able to fit something new into my repertoire.
- Lastly, I’m working with a bunch of freelancers who all specialise in different areas – a graphic designer, an editor, copywriters, a web designer. This means I can still offer services that I don’t have the skills for, but that I think is important to have right now. Everybody that I work with is good at what they do, which means together we’re so much stronger than if I’ve tried to do everything myself.
My advice to you is to make a list of all the different services that you can offer. Then, figure out which ones you’re really good at and which ones you love doing. Only focus on those areas. For instance, you may be able to perform annual audits, do weekly bookkeeping, help businesses with implementing better controls, do personal taxation, perform secretarial duties, give advice on long-term investments, and perform valuations. But, it doesn’t mean that you should do all of these things. Define your niche and focus on only a few services.
Secondly, choose an industry or two that you want to specialise in. The kind of work you do for a law firm, manufacturing entity, tech startup, or local family-owned businesses are all different. The struggles these people face are different. Yes, you may have experience in all of those industries, but why don’t you rather become the go-to accountant for just one or two industries instead. When you work with clients from the same industry every day, you’ll become so much better at what you do and you’ll be able to give better advice to your clients.
Lastly, consider partnering with other finance professionals to whom you can refer your clients when they need a service that you don’t offer. Traditionally, accounting firms didn’t play well with others, but this is starting to change as more accountants and bookkeepers break away from large firms to start their own smaller accounting or bookkeeping firms. Where the big firms have talent in-house to cover all the different areas, smaller firms need to tap into their connections to fill those gaps.
How Are You Decreasing Choice in Your Firm?
When I suggest decreasing choices in your service offerings, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t try to find creative ways to solve your clients’ problems. On the contrary. We should be selective about where we spend our time. When we decrease what we offer and to whom we offer it, we become experts in a select few things, which enables us to think more creatively about problems. We start to find innovative ways to solve the problems that our clients face. If we try to do all things, we’ll just reuse the recipes that are already available. If we focus on just a few services, we become the leaders and the innovators in those industries.
It’s easier said than done, though. I still struggle with this every day. When a client asks me if we could help with x or y, I immediately start to think how we could help. I get new ideas for things we could offer every day. Every time this happens, I need to take a step back and critically analyse the new brainwave or the service my client wants. How much time is it going to take us to master this new skill? Do we already have the skills in-house, but we just need to package it a bit differently? Can we make money with this, and if so, how much, and is it worth the effort we need to put in to bring it to fruition? What is the opportunity cost? The time we’re going to spend pursuing this new idea needs to come from somewhere. Which of the things we do now is going to suffer, and is it worth it? And finally, how is this going to help our clients?
What changes are you making in your firm today to reduce choice and avoid paralysis?
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