Many freshly-minted CPAs emerge from their licensure with lofty expectations. Eager to jump into the deep end of the pool, they can’t wait to crack open a business’ books and start balancing those inflows and outflows. If only it were that easy!
In today’s world, every accountant is a business owner, responsible for his or her own skills, growth, reputation and brand. That means accountants need to place as much emphasis on client acquisition and retention as they do on staying up to date with the latest GAAP rules and regulations.
Unfortunately, self-promotion isn’t in most accountants’ DNA. But without this vital capability, your business simply won’t grow, regardless of how skilled and talented you are.
With that in mind, I’ve put together 4 client acquisition strategies every accountant should implement in order to effectively promote themselves and secure long-term, high-value clients:
One challenge accountants face is that typical accounting services – taxes, bookkeeping, auditing – are highly-commoditized, meaning the outputs are similar, regardless of who delivers them. In a commoditized industry, it can be difficult to stand out.
The trick is to stop talking about the services you provide, and start talking about the specific benefits you can provide to business owners.
Most accountants make the mistake of selling themselves on their service offerings. This is natural, of course – when meeting a prospective client, you’re going to want to highlight all of the skills you’ve spent so many years acquiring.
But think about it: if you are highlighting those skills, so are the half-a-dozen other accountants the business owner is meeting! All accountants acquire the same skill sets (commoditized industry), hence there is no point of differentiation on the services you – or any of your competitors – offer.
As a result of this lack of differentiation, business owners end up placing downward pressure on pricing. That’s what happens in every single commoditized industry – prices fall, for the simple reason that it’s a buyer’s market. The business owner can choose from any number of accountants, all with similar service offerings, so they’re going to go with the one who gives them the best rate.
That’s how accountants end up working for very little money – less than they are worth – as they desperately accept any client who is willing to take them on.
To avoid this vicious cycle, you must de-commoditize yourself. Stop focusing on your services, as most accountant do, and instead focus on the unique value you can provide to the business owner. This can be your industry expertise (you should specialize in a certain industry – more on that below), your ability to advise business owners on managing their finances, or your extensive network of industry contacts.
In short, you should be highlighting your uniqueness, and emphasizing the benefits the business owner will receive by selecting you as their accountant. De-commoditizing yourself elevates your brand and relieves you of the downward pricing pressure facing most accountants.
Now that you have the proper mindset of de-commoditizing yourself and focusing on your point of differentiation, it’s time to go a step further and develop your elevator pitch. ‘Elevator pitches’ are so called because they’re meant to be delivered in the time it takes to ride an elevator with someone – or around 10-15 seconds.
While it might seem daunting to compress your entire business into a 10 second sales pitch, it’s absolutely essential for two very practical reasons. First, you might only have 10 seconds to pitch someone. Who knows, you may actually find yourself in an elevator – or another time-sensitive location – with a prospective client. You want to be ready if that situation ever presents itself.
And second, developing an elevator pitch forces you to be concise. In 10-15 seconds, you don’t have any time for any BS. In fact, you don’t even have time for some of the important things you’d like to say. 10 seconds leaves just enough time for only the most essential information – the key point of differentiation that elevates your brand above the competition.
Developing a solid elevator pitch takes time. Don’t expect it to come instantaneously, just because it’s 10 seconds long. It’s going to take plenty of tweaking and trial and error. Think of yourself as a stand-up comedian honing that perfect set. Comics work for months to whittle down their material into a 5-minute deliverable. Do the same with your elevator pitch (except whittle yours down to 10 seconds).
And repeat your pitch like a mantra, until you have it pitch-perfect. That means no stammering. No ill-timed ‘likes’ or ‘ums.’
Be clear, concise and direct. The more professional you sound, the more likely you are to pique a business owner’s interest.
And look on the bright side – at least you don’t have to find the nearest open mic to practice!
Unlike many service industries, accounting carries with it an unspoken relationship: that of a trusted confidant. Accountants are privy to sensitive materials, such as a business’ budget, finances and debts.
As a result, it is essential for business owners to trust their accountants.
Because of this need to develop and nurture a trusting relationship with each and every prospective client, accountants must specialize in a given industry, as opposed to being generalists.
At this point you may be wondering: specialization and trust – how are those two concepts aligned?
It may not seem like it, but one of the quickest and most reliable ways to build a trusting relationship with a client is to specialize in a given industry. When you specialize, you accrue a wealth of knowledge about a particular field of interest.
You become an expert in that space. And when it comes time to discuss the ins and outs of your industry, you can provide thoughtful, additive feedback that goes beyond mere numbers.
Say you’re a business owner interviewing half-a-dozen accountants. Five of them are generalists who take on a range of clients across industries. They can speak intelligently – albeit only at a high level – about many different industries.
One of the accountants interviewing for the position is a specialist. She has deep sector knowledge coupled with a wealth of experience, and can speak at both a bird’s eye and microscopic level of that one industry – the same industry our business owner is in.
Now you tell me, who’s going to get the job?
Even if the specialist’s rates are higher, she is likely to be the one selected, because our business owner trusts her. She knows her stuff, and is not only less likely to make mistakes, but is more likely to add value by virtue of her subject matter expertise.
The lesson here is simple: don’t diversify. Accountants who diversify into multiple industries never achieve the depth of knowledge necessary to impress business owners in any one industry. If you want to build trust, become an expert and soak up all available industry knowledge.
That will allow you to speak confidently and intelligently about the key issues facing business owners, which will in turn engender that all important sense of trust.
Here’s a little (not-so) secret: the future of accounting is in the cloud.
In fact, that’s true of most businesses. According to a recent study by LogicMonitor, 83% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud by 2020.
Alas, the good ole’ days of accountants regularly showing up on a monthly rotation to dust off a business’ books, pry them open and begin pouring over receipts and payment stubs are long gone.
The Accountants of Tomorrow won’t be showing up to a business at all. The Accountants of Tomorrow will be in the cloud.
That’s why it’s so essential for accountants to become fully-automated when it comes to client acquisition. If your workload will live in the cloud, then your sales and marketing needs to live there as well.
Traditional marketing only goes so far, and reaches fewer prospects than digital marketing (not to mention the heavy upfront costs). Becoming cloud-proficient allows you to scale your business at a much faster rate, and translates into a more efficient sales funnel, from lead generation all the way through to conversion and client retention efforts.
And the best part is, you don’t need to be an IT specialist or coding expert to get cloud-enabled. You simply need to partner with the right industry consultant who can guide you through the startup process.
If you’re interested in learning more getting fully-automated and building an organic cloud traction machine, schedule a time for a Free consultation.