Are you looking to grow and diversify your accounting business? Hoping to become a trusted advisor to small businesses in areas other than tax planning and preparation?
There are plenty of opportunities for accounting firms to expand their client base – especially among small businesses. A survey by Clutch found that less than half (45 percent) of small businesses employ neither an accountant or bookkeeper. This oversight could damage their finances or waste valuable time that could be invested in other areas of their business.
Yet, some firms face an uphill struggle to earn the trust of the business community. Accounting Today reports that many small businesses that don’t work with an accountant have a “low affinity” for the profession and were less likely to use their services in the coming year.
How can you overcome these preconceptions and take your accounting firm to the next level? Here are seven strategies and tactics for growth that can help.
1. Understand what’s made you successful—and what’s holding you back
Many CPAs say are so busy providing services or too bogged down in compliance stuff like auditing and filing that they don’t have time to market and grow their business.
Accounting is a stable industry, so it can be tempting to sit on your laurels. However, if you want to grow your business and broaden the value you bring to your small business clients, staying the course isn’t going to cut it, it’s time to adopt a growth mindset.
“Take a look at your firm as if it is brand new. Determine what has made you successful (a culture of client service, or technical talent, for example.) Determine what is holding you back (disorganization around growth, lack of processes, training, technology, or talent, for example.) Make a decision to continue to focus on and strengthen the areas of strength and to work on and strengthen the areas of weakness. Put good people in charge of these initiatives. Seek experts. Stay the path. Set the tone. Go after it.”
2. Learn from your competitors
Who is your competition and how do you measure up? Where are the gaps in the market for your niche services?
A SWOT analysis will help you understand how you measure up to the competition, identify opportunities for your firm, and what it will take to get there. For tips, read: Keeping Tabs on the Competition: 6 Ways It Can Help Your Business Grow.
You can even use this exercise to learn directly from the competition. If another firm is doing what you want to do, find a way to network with them and learn from their experiences. Of course, you don’t want to target your direct competitors, instead, look beyond your zip code or use your LinkedIn or association memberships to meet and greet other firms in your space.
3. Become invaluable
The accounting world is based on the premise of selling time or services. If you’re to succeed as a trusted small business advisor and change your paradigm, you’ll need to focus on selling your true value-add for those businesses – your knowledge and experience.
The most important quality or feature that small businesses look for in an accountant, according to Accounting Today, is that they are “a trusted advisor to me” (78 percent). Accountants, arguably, provide the best source of advice on what businesses should be doing to grow. But don’t try to be all things to all people. Find your niche – whether it’s one or two high-demand areas – and focus on marketing those.
4. Market your knowledge fiercely
Don’t underestimate the importance of developing a marketing plan to help you reposition your business and what you have to offer. The good news is, there are many free tools you can draw on to help you get started.
The AICPA, for example, offers a free marketing toolkit that can help you attract new clients and improve relations with existing ones, show you’re a trusted advisor, and educate your prospects and the business community about CPA services.
Look for opportunities to pitch your expertise to the media, whether through interviews, byline articles, or blogs. Hold customer seminars on topical small business themes at your office or a local low-cost venue. Blogging is also a great way to show your expertise and drive traffic to your website. Here are a few articles that can help you in these areas:
- Does Your Business Need a Marketing Makeover?
- 8 Ways to Generate PR on a Budget
- DIY Public Relations for Small Business Owners
- Lots of Tips About Blogging (you’ll find multiple articles in this link)
- 10 Public Speaking Tips and Tricks for Small Business Owners
- And more marketing tips.
5. Make your client’s challenges your priority
As you start to step outside your “commoditized” role and seek to expand your relationships with your clients, be sure to involve them. Instead of appearing at tax time, make your clients business your priority. Set up meetings or take them to lunch to discuss not just their accounting needs, but their growth plans and their pain points.
Again, research from Accounting Today reveals that the perennial problems faced by small businesses in the last 12 months include:
- Cash flow problems – 32 percent
- Low profitability – 31 percent
- Loss of a major client – 22 percent
- Need for capital – 21 percent
- Too much debt – 11 percent
Cash flow and profitability represent a big opportunity for accounting firms to act as trusted advisors. Cash flow is also a big obstacle to success (37 percent).
Other ways to add value include identifying gaps in your client’s knowledge and offering free or discounted training sessions to help bring them up to speed. Bookkeeping is a weakness of small business (47 percent turn to their accountants for help with this) and a great starting point. These sessions will not only be helpful for your client but the more face time you get, the more chance you’ll stand of driving home your added value.
Check out this article, What an Accountant Can Do for Your Business, and What They Can’t, that outlines just some of the things a proactive accountant can do for a small business.
6. Invest in people and yourself
Be sure to develop a plan in place for your anticipated business growth. If you’re going to be more hands on with your clients, you’ll need a helping hand. This may involve hiring junior accountants or outsourcing some of your business functions to a virtual assistant. As you plan for growth, you may also need to consider hiring staff into non-accounting roles such as business development, sales, and day-to-day business management.
What about your own skill set? Whether you’d benefit from a refresher in acquisition planning or you need to come up to speed on how new tax law impact your clients, establish a self-development plan.
The American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) is a good resource for webcasts, self-study, and group training as is the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
Technology is also changing fast. As new cloud-based accounting tools and AI-solutions emerge, audit your business capabilities, educate yourself on the latest innovations, and train accordingly.
7. Find a mentor
Being mentored by a peer is one option for expanding your knowledge base, but there are many other mentoring options. AICPA, for example, can connect you with a mentor through state CPA societies. Member volunteers can help based on interest area, experience, and your individual needs.
If you’re looking for help with general business planning or growth, consider SCORE. Sponsored by the SBA, SCORE pairs entrepreneurs and small business owners with a mentor (typically business leaders with experience across many functions and industries) for free.