At the 2019 Scaling New Heights conference in Salt Lake City, UT, all of the sessions were given under one larger thematic umbrella: the Transformative Advisor. In addition to discussing tax compliance, many of the speakers addressed a question accounting professionals commonly ask: How can I grow my business?
The answer was simple: Specialize.
Talks given by industry experts Mariette Martinez and Donna Leyens addressed two ways to do this: become a small business tax advisor or find a niche offering, respectively.
Martinez’s discussion took place on the third afternoon of the conference in a small room with a few attendees, most of them bookkeepers. She started by addressing a simple truth: If you work alone, you’re also doing your own bookkeeping. It’s crucial to make connections, and you can do this by building partnerships with others, all without giving up the desire for independence that led you to start your own business in the first place.
Here’s how she envisions growth for bookkeepers: You’ll transition from working alone to being a part of a collaborative team, from struggling to get last-minute tax papers from clients to proactively tax planning, and from being an expense to your client to becoming an advisor they rely on. And she bases all of this on a simple philosophy. “When you stop growing, you are dying.”
A small business advisor is a highly skilled and knowledgeable professional who is technology forward, offers proactive, bundled services and collaborates year round with their clients. You’re never going to know how to do everything, so instead of telling customers, “I don’t do that” and sending them away, she recommends partnering with others in your industry so you can lead your clients to someone they can also trust.
As a bookkeeper, you are perfectly positioned to specialize in the tax field and start also advising small business clients. According to Martinez, you’ll need three elements to achieve this goal: the right education, the right talent and powerful partners who know and appreciate your worth.
Start by setting an intention for mindful business growth. Who do you want to be? What’s your purpose? How will you achieve it?
Then, set about gaining financial literacy. In addition to taking courses that will increase your tax knowledge, find partners who can help you. Perhaps you work with a CPA part time on tax prep, or maybe you volunteer with the IRS during the busy season. Both will give you the experience you need and broaden your network at the same time.
Then, design and deliver new service packages based on your clients’ needs. Start by scheduling a 15-minute discovery call with each new client. Find out what the issue is, and decide if you want to work with them. Finally, quantify the ROI clients gain from this advice, and adjust your prices accordingly.
Through these steps, you’ll bridge the gap between bookkeeping and taxes and grow your business.
Then there’s the method offered by Donna Leyens, which can be applied to any accounting professional: Create a niche for yourself. In other words, become an industry expert.
Taking this route allows you to identify and solve the common problems shared by individuals working in one specific industry. It will help you create an effective service offering based on their needs and gain reputation for getting results, which will help you attract even more clients. It will also let you build a system that can be replicated, meaning you’ll be able to hire additional talent who can do what you do and handle the larger client load. All of this will lead to greater business success.
Leyens also noted that while for many accounting professionals, this sounds exactly like they want to do, many wonder how to find their niche in the first place.
Fortunately, it might be simpler than you think.
Start by looking at your current client list and searching for congregation points. Maybe you work with a lot of people in the same commercial industry, like e-commerce, or perhaps you serve mostly retirees, wine lovers or medical professionals. What jumps out at you? Who do you enjoy working with the most?
Once you’ve found these congregation points, do a client assessment to figure out who your top customers are. What do they have in common? Are there certain customers you dread? Who pays the most or gives you documents on time? Do any of them frequently refer you?
Leyens recommends grading each client based on these factors and more and comparing the results. The ones who get all or mostly A’s are your top customers.
Next, narrow down your options. Choose two or three industries or other groups and research the size of the market opportunity, searching for those with low to medium competition. Decide if there’s any necessary educational steps you need to take, and start focusing more of your efforts on those clients. Collaborate with them to find out how you can solve their unique problems, and start turning down customers who don’t fit into these categories.
While both end goals are slightly different, Leyens and Martinez alike spelled out specific paths necessary to transform your accounting business and benefit both your clients and yourself in the future.