By Shane Lukas, AVN Managing Director
It’s a recurring question for accountants. Should you focus on a niche – a specific type of client? Or is it better to work with many different sectors, sizes of business, or geographic areas?
Our recommendation is to specialise – but with one important caveat.
Why accountants should focus on a niche
Many accountants take on clients of any size, from any industry and from any area. We need the business, they say, and it doesn’t matter where the fees come from as long as they pay.
Which is fine unless you want to a) appeal to your ideal clients and b) provide the added value services that generate higher fees.
If that’s what you want, positioning yourself as a specialist becomes important.
Think of other professions – lawyers, dentists or even tattooists. People will pay more to see a specialist, knowing that they have specific expertise to meet their needs. If you want to buy a house, you look for a lawyer who specialises in conveyancing. You don’t choose someone who does a bit of conveyancing, maybe a divorce or two and the odd unfair dismissal claim.
A specialist is perceived as having far greater authority – and clients will pay you for that.
When you work within a specific niche you can get a much deeper understanding of your clients, the challenges they face and, importantly, the language and terminology they use. It makes it so much easier to show the value you bring.
Working with a particular industry is an obvious way to do this. For example, Rob Walsh of Clear Vision in Wiltshire, has been specialising in the dentistry business for many years. As a result, his current clients refer other dentists to him and he’s recognised as an expert accountant and business growth advisor within the sector.
Case study – focusing on dentists
Rob explains how they started:
“The first thing we did was to work with an existing dentist client very intensively to understand the language, to put in all the necessary systems, to have monthly Board meetings and to do the management accounts. This was very grounding as it gave us the knowledge that we needed and helped us to understand how the sector works.”
“We then decided what to offer in our package. This includes a vision day, a team day, a project plan and all the financials required to run the business from bookkeeping and management accounts through to benchmarking and upside-down forecasting (where we look at the personal goals first and then work out the turnover at the bottom). We packaged these into three different areas.”
“Once we’d built up trust in Board meetings, it was actually very easy to cross-sell into accountancy because clients could see the work we were doing on consultancy, so there was no problem at all in obtaining the above work.”
Rob and his team then developed a marketing strategy to get their name known in the dentistry sector and to build credibility with potential clients. He spoke at events, wrote articles for the trade press and even produced a book. Called ‘The Business of Dentistry – How You Run a Successful and Profitable Dental Business Not a Dental Practice’ he gave it away to spread the word as far as possible. He also used a network of introducers to get the Clear Vision name known in the sector.
The strategy has been an outstanding success for the firm.
“If it wasn’t for our niche, we wouldn’t be where we are now.” Rob says. “I believe it’s key to the success of your business, but first you need to make sure you get the language right and gain an in-depth understanding of how the industry works. The benefits of doing so are huge as you’ll gain credibility, referrals and good margins, plus it’s easier to cross-sell and to convert.”
The vital caveat
It’s important to note that rather than going all in, Rob Walsh limits his sector exclusivity to 40%. This ensures his practice is still exposed to other industries and allows cross-fertilisation of ideas and concepts. In fact, he has now developed another niche in the veterinary sector as the problems were similar to dentistry and it was easy to transfer knowledge.
Limiting your niche clients in this way also means you aren’t vulnerable if that sector suddenly becomes unviable, as, for example, hospitality did when the pandemic hit.
Other types of niche
Remember, a niche doesn’t have to be a particular industry. You could focus on start-ups, for example, who face the same challenges no matter what sector they’re in. Or businesses with a specific turnover who want to grow to a higher specific turnover. Or businesses with a certain number of employees.
Once you know who you want to work with, talk to your existing clients who fit the profile. Dig deep to understand their challenges, their aspirations and the way they perceive and talk about their business. Find out what they really value about the services you provide – what are the problems that you solve for them? This is vital knowledge if you want to attract similar clients.
Develop your marketing strategy. Using the insights you’ve gained, could you create resources that address their specific problems? Could you write a book like Rob? Make sure your website talks directly to your niche. Demonstrate that you understand who they are and what they want. Testimonials are a really effective way to show how you’ve helped similar businesses overcome the challenges they face.
And remember to ask for referrals from your existing ideal clients – they’re likely to know others in that same niche.
We share more strategies like this in the weekly Accountants Helping Accountants webinar. Every Thursday lunchtime, experts from the world of accountancy and beyond bring you fresh ideas that help you to create the accountancy practice you’ve always wanted. Find out more.