Jan 2nd 2013
By Hugh Duffy
Richard Buller isn't afraid of taking risks. After all, when he started his accounting career at the German offices of KPMG, he didn't even know what a public accounting firm did.
Eventually, of course, he learned the ropes, and when he returned to the United States in 2007, he left the security of a corporate job and purchased an accounting firm in his father's hometown of Jennings, Louisiana. He soon decided to start a second firm serving a different clientele and invested in marketing his business to accelerate his growth.
"One thing I learned is that I don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but I need to know who that is and what that person does," said Buller. "My engineering background led me to understand that everything is a 'process.' Clients may differ, but how you deliver the service is the same."
The process for marketing an accounting firm includes establishing a niche – industry expertise that differentiates you from other accountants – and marketing your niche in a variety of ways, including a having a specific website for each niche.
"By creating a specialized industry website, it says to people in the industry, 'I am here for you, I know your issues, I understand your pressure points, and I can help you,'" said Buller. "Clearly defining a business model makes the path to the second and third website easier, because you'll know what kind of industry you want to focus on for your firm. Identify what you're good at, what you enjoy, and what you want to do that will help move your business in that direction."
Buller currently has three websites to reach three target audiences. Buller CPA Services, LLC targets small business owners located in the New Orleans community. Nicknamed the "Bavarian Cowboy" due to his German and Texas roots, Buller also elected to develop a niche in equine accounting. This second website appealing to the horse industry went live in fall 2012.
"People are ignoring the equine industry, but I'm aware of the tax issues facing horse owners and their accounting issues," he said. "I know how to avoid being audited by the IRS and what to have in place if you're audited."
Within two weeks of the equine website going live, Buller got his first equine accounting client from an Internet lead. Based on the quick response to the equine accounting website, he immediately started brainstorming for his next specialty area. His third website, BP Oil Spill Claims Professional, launched in November 2012 to offer a specialty in helping business owners settle claims resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
According to Buller, leads that come from a niche website are not difficult to close. "Closing a lead that comes from the equine website is like shooting fish in a barrel. The person is passionate about horses and looking for a boutique CPA firm. You find the client's pain points. You convince folks you're reliable and that you can help them. It's not about selling what you do; it's about addressing their needs."
Finding and Marketing Your Niche
How do you select an area to focus on for your niche? Accountants should look at their existing client base to see if they have a pattern of clients they enjoy working with or that might yield a higher hourly fee realization. They also must look at the concentration of businesses in their local market to see if there's an opportunity locally, such as wineries in Napa/Sonoma, oil and gas in Houston, dairy farmers in Wisconsin, and restaurants in tourism markets. Here are some examples of niches:
- IRS problem resolution
- International tax
- Outsourced controller
- Forensic and business valuation
- Oil and gas
- Restaurants and hotels
- Agribusinesses, farms, and wineries
- Construction and real estate
The key is to differentiate your accounting practice from those of your competitors and to raise awareness in your local market amongst that target audience. Once you have a niche, your practice becomes the "go to" place for that type of service, and word of mouth spreads.
Developing a separate website for your niche services helps prospects find you when they're searching for a specialized accounting service.
Other Marketing Tactics
To penetrate your target audience beyond having a niche website, following are some additional tactics you should incorporate:
- Blog. Your website should include a blog (using the same domain name) so you can establish yourself as an industry expert. Post blogs that are of interest to your specialty area.
- Direct mail. This is an excellent way to target your message to prospective businesses.
- Trade associations. Becoming a member of local trade associations and speaking at trade events are excellent ways to reinforce your message and raise awareness.
Developing a niche is an excellent way to improve the quality of your clientele and increase hourly fee realization. Get started today!
About the author:
Hugh Duffy is cofounder and chief marketing officer of Build Your Firm, an accounting website development and outsourced marketing firm for accountants. Duffy also has a LinkedIn Discussion Group called Modern Marketing Methods for Accountants. He can be reached at (888) 999-9800 ext. 151.