But what are the practical strategies that accountants can use to position themselves more effectively in the market and become bolder in their search for clients?
Here are four of my favourites:
Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to be known for?’
At its heart, a successful marketing strategy relies on the ability to find and communicate your unique point of difference. It’s marketing 101.
Specialising in a niche area of business – say, an accountant working primarily with hospitality clients – has long been one such route to uniqueness, but historically, the services have been limited to providing expert knowledge as subject matter experts. The limitation was that, pre-cloud, the provision of services in the IT space, both hardware and software, was left to IT professionals.
Now, though, the once-limiting approach has been blown open. Today’s accountants don’t just provide knowledge, they build their learnings into ecosystems of tools and practical applications that move and grow as they do. An accountant that chooses to specialise in retail, for example, can connect Xero to Vend, then learn and leverage the combined insights to help clients make data-driven decisions. These days, your strengths can take you further.
Establishing yourself as an expert with a unique ecosystem of tools is a strategic marketing move in its own right. It helps define your USP, audience, challenges and opportunities – and provides the focus you need to reach the people who matter the most to your business.
Respect the experience
According to a recent global study from Xero, referrals from family and colleagues remain the most trusted method to find an accountant or bookkeeper – with close to one in two Aussie respondents (45%) relying on word of mouth.
Knowing this, the clever accountant will use technology to enhance personal experiences, not eliminate them – and drive referrals sky high. In my firm, we use CrunchBoards to advise us when our clients reach important milestones, so we can get in touch to congratulate them. It’s a simple thing, but it’s an example of one way we use technology to facilitate a deep personal engagement with our customers.
Everyone’s human, and a systematic understanding of that will go a long way to drive repeat business.
Build it into your business if you really want to be bold. I recently engaged LiveCA, a Xero partner of the year in North America, to look after the Canadian accounting and tax affairs for a client. One of their key performance metrics is the number of referrals they earn off one initial referral. And it shows. Their onboarding process was personal and detailed, and their action plans were clear.
I was blown away and I instantly referred them. That’s a powerful form of marketing.
Become a savvy storyteller
Put your hand up if you Google a business before you engage them. Your clients are no different. Make the most of your online real estate – your website, your blog, your LinkedIn pages and your social pages and communities. Give clear and concise information, then don’t be afraid to tell your story. No one else is going to do it for you.
Don’t tell a glowing tale about yourself simply because it makes you look shiny and faultless. Tell a story about how you have collaborated with your clients and worked together to overcome a sticky problem. By identifying some of the issues your peers or customers face every day, people will find it easier to see how you might help them achieve success.
Share your knowledge widely and answer questions freely. Put yourself out there first, before you expect anything in return. Your community is not just outside your front door any more, it’s digital – and those digital environments can be your key to a scaleable business.
Think of engagement like a ferris wheel
My final piece of advice is to establish a system of continuous engagement with your clients. Think of it like a ferris wheel – a smooth, ongoing cycle of conversation that is always spinning. It’s not about engaging in a constant hard sell, it’s about building a framework where you are trusted to apply your knowledge to different stages of their business, developing your client and your value to them at the same time.
I’m an accountant but I’m also a licensed financial planner, and that enables my firm to offer a range of value-added services for our customers. By offering complementary advice and products across intersecting aspects of our clients’ lives, we strengthen our relationships. In turn, our clients become ‘stickier’ and are more likely to refer us to others.
The decision to diversify won’t be for every accountant. There are costs and licensing to consider – and it may not fall under a strategy geared around specialisation.
But here’s the thing: you don’t have to do it yourself. Instead, build up a strong referral network of people who do. That way, you’re ready to establish a cycle of growth, a network of relationships and a level of trust that puts your name on the lips of others.
James Solomons, head of accounting, Xero.
James Solomons is head of accounting at small business software provider Xero. He is a director and co-founder of Aptus Accounting & Advisory, a connected and progressive accounting business and with over 15 years’ experience in Public Practice, his industry knowledge makes certain that Xero understands the needs of its accounting partners and direction of the accounting industry.