How to Establish Your Value in a Competitive Environment
In theory, you shouldn’t need to sell yourself.
Accounting is a noble profession, often categorized alongside doctors and lawyers. Besides, with a profit margin around 18.3 percent, accounting is the most profitable industry. You shouldn’t need to look for clients.
On the flip side, as of May 2015, there were 1,226,910 people employed as accountants or auditors, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you own your own practice, you are likely competing for business in a crowded marketplace. Even worse, mass-market tax-preparation services are pushing prices down. How do you establish your value when many others provide similar services?
It’s worthwhile to position what you do (and what others do, too) in a way that makes your service sound unique or of greater value. Here are six examples:
1. Experience. People understand no one person knows everything. They know newer graduates are more comfortable with technology, while established practitioners are familiar with the tax code from experience. This can work to your advantage.
Scenario: Your small firm consists of four professionals. Two senior partners have each been in the business for 25 years. One associate has seven years of experience, and a recent hire has three years of experience.
Positioning statement: Our team of accounting professionals has a combined 60 years of experience helping clients.
2. Longevity. According to Bloomberg, eight out of 10 entrepreneurs starting a business fail within the first 18 months. Salaried individuals know that. (It’s why they haven’t started businesses.) Business owners know that. Time in business is often equated with success. Clients wouldn’t stay if you weren’t any good.
Scenario: You joined the family business. Your great-grandfather started the firm in 1916. (FYI: The 16th Amendment was ratified by Congress in 1913.) Your grandparents and parents followed. Now it’s your turn.
Positioning statement: Our firm has been continuously in business under the same ownership for over 100 years. Four generations of our family have been helping people with their taxes.
3. Local presence. Your business is under attack from different directions. Online tax-preparation software enables people to file directly. Mass-market firms advertise heavily and push prices down. Here’s the good news: Local business owners are often boosters for their community. They want to see dollars they spend recycled back into other neighborhood businesses.
Scenario: Your storefront office has been on Main Street in Generic Hills for 15 years. You sponsor a Little League team and other charities.
Positioning statement: Our firm has been part of the Generic Hills community for 15 years. We believe in face-to-face relationships with members of the community where we all live.
4. Consulting services. Business can be tough if all you do is prepare individual tax returns. You are facing pressure from mass-market firms and online tax-filing software. More than 50 million taxpayers filed their returns online in 2014. People with money have problems. Expanding your practice into consulting within the financial planning arena may make sense.
Scenario: You’ve taken additional training and hold a CFP or similar designation.
Positioning statement: We also offer independent financial planning advice that doesn’t involve buying investment products from our firm.
5. Specialist resources. Money brings problems (see above). Clients are concerned with refinancing mortgages, buying or leasing their next car, minimizing estate taxes, and investing consistent with their personal risk tolerance. You don’t have all the answers, but you know people who can help.
Scenario: Over the years, you have met several professionals at other accounting firms certified in specialist areas. You also know several people in the fields of law, insurance, investments, and banking who you perceive are trustworthy. You recommend several names in a category, letting the client interview and choose.
Positioning statement: We know a large range of local specialists ready to assist our clients in most areas of law, investments, insurance, and banking. We offer a selection. You choose the ones right for you.
6. Implementation. The above strategy has a drawback. Although you might develop a financial plan with your client, taking the next step is dropped in their lap. They often don’t follow through. You were paid for your time developing the plan, but their problem hasn’t been solved. However, you are in an ideal position to provide follow-up.
Scenario: You provide financial planning through your firm. You offer a selection of practitioners in specialty areas outside your area of expertise. You are in contact with your client periodically, helping them systematically implement segments of the financial plan.
Positioning statement: Some areas of financial planning involve specialties outside the field of accounting. I’m glad to work with your attorney and financial advisor, but if you prefer, we can recommend a selection of professionals in these fields. You and I will keep in touch throughout the implementation process.
You might look at the above list and say, “I do most of this stuff already.” Do people know that? Simply letting potential new clients know how you can help them differentiates yourself from your competitors.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.