It used to be that for accounting firms of all sizes, keeping clients was a top priority. However, the 2013 PCPS CPA Firm Top Issues Survey shows that accounting firms have moved beyond client retention to focus on bringing in new clients. Welcome to a new level of competition in the accounting world. Now, more than ever, it is imperative to ensure that your firm stands out from the crowd. In this article, we'll explore two critical steps you can take to differentiate your accounting firm.
Do Some Research
Never underestimate the power of knowledge. You may think you know all there is to know, but it is best to make sure.
Start by researching the composition of your city. Is it a start-up hot spot or an oasis for Fortune 500 corporations? Examine which industries are the most strongly represented in your area and if you can respond to their unique needs. For example, Silicon Valley is known for technology, while Houston is known for energy. Building strong expertise, including knowledge of pain points unique to these industries, can make your firm far more attractive than a competitor's.
- Visit city or metropolitan government websites for information on your area's composition and trends.
- Locate surveys or studies focused on key industries that might reveal insight—see what the U.S. Census Bureau has on your area.
- Find someone who represents your target client and use quality one-on-one time to pinpoint that person’s needs and how a firm might respond to him or her.
Next, identify and research your competition. If you are not familiar with the competition, now is the time to figure out exactly what you are up against. Who are the main players in your area or your field? What is making them successful?
- The Internet is your friend. Use a search engine to identify competitors and visit their websites and social media channels to discover what they do and how they do it. Read case studies or attend presentations or webinars they participate in. Pay particular attention to anything that speaks to their level of client service and the tools they use.
- Use this knowledge to offer your clients something your competitor cannot.
Build Your Expertise
What is the one thing other firms cannot give their clients? You. Take the time to establish and maintain your standing as an expert in your field. Speak at organizations that your prospects respect, publish educational articles, or start a blog. Pitch yourself to media as an expert resource who can address timely topics. Consider partnerships with other organizations or vendors that can support these endeavors. For example, bookkeepers can get referrals from CPA firms and vice versa. Finally, do not be afraid to evolve and move into a more specialized accounting field.
- Research ideal partner organizations or publications.
- Proactively approach potential partners to explore joint thought-leadership and speaking opportunities.
Taking the time and effort to cultivate these key areas of differentiation can create a strong sustainable advantage for your accounting firm—one that promotes growth, helps your client base grow, enhances client loyalty, and builds a thriving accounting firm. And in this competitive field, every advantage counts.
For more ideas and ways you can differentiate yourself, see our "tip sheet."
About the author:
Julie Lubetkin is an expert helping accounting professionals grow and expand their practices. She provides thought-leadership and sensible advice to help practitioners invite innovation into every aspect of their firm. Lubetkin is the vice president of strategic partners at Bill.com. She holds an MBA from Stanford University and an AB from Princeton University.