As the effects of coronavirus are felt by businesses in every sector, many accountants are now caught between two extremes.
On the one hand, there’s an increased workload as more business owners need their advice and reassurance. On the other, for some there’s also the threat of a drop-off in business activity, as some clients are overcome by the virus’s economic impact.
And while that might make lead generation a necessity, now certainly doesn’t feel like the right time to be aggressively selling. Instead, a better approach may be to reflect on the way your brand is positioned, and see if there’s an opportunity to focus on a niche.
With fewer leads around, and buyers being more choosy, making yourself the stand-out choice becomes vital.
At PracticeWeb, we‘ve helped a wide range of accountants find their niche, from startups at launch to established firms wanting to pivot their offering, from those seeking to expand their service to others keen to get more of the right types of clients.
Although in most cases that means identifying an industry or market sector – there are a couple of examples of that below – it could also mean something completely different, such as focusing on a price bracket or geographical location.
Or perhaps even a blend of the two, focusing on similar businesses across multiple related sectors.
Why focus on a niche in the first place?
It’s simple: finding and catering for a niche can help your business grow.
Carving out a niche market and positioning yourself as the go-to firm for a specific type of client has two main benefits.
First, it establishes your credibility over competing generalists, as someone who has a depth of specific knowledge and experience.
Secondly, it makes your business more focused, aligning your business and marketing goals around one clear target.
All of that makes it easier for the right customers to choose in your favour and say: “Yes, these are the accountants for me.”
It can also have the added benefit of attracting new talent to work at your accounting practice. In my experience, smart people enjoy working for a business with a clear purpose.
How does it help attract the right types of clients?
Choosing a niche demonstrates your commitment and gives you the opportunity to signal that you really understand the needs of clients in that category.
They’ll see themselves and their needs reflected in your website copy, in the imagery you choose, the specific services you offer and the way you deliver them. They’ll recognise their own stories in case studies and testimonials – proof that you really do have experience helping people like them.
Imagine an accountancy firm that focuses on the SME market, for example.
They offer similar services to those provided by their competitors, and generic tax and business advice through their marketing, website messaging and blog content.
Then imagine a competing firm which has chosen to focus on, say, the construction industry.
They’ve taken the time to understand the pain points and challenges SMEs in that sector face.
They know what motivates those who own and operate companies in the field and what they want to achieve in their businesses.
All their SME advice is tailored, clearly related back to those prospects, answering their challenges and mitigating the pain points.
Every case study is from a building firm and every example they offer relates to the construction.
It’s no longer generic SME advice – it’s now vital information that speaks directly to those target clients.
If you compare those firms, which do you think the head of a house-building business is going to contact about their accounts?
Niche doesn’t have to mean choosing a sector
While having a sector focus can help, most of the firms we work with cover multiple sectors.
That doesn’t mean they lack a niche, though.
Typically, niches fall into six categories:
- Price – eg luxury, moderate, discount.
- Demographics – gender, age, income level, education level.
- Quality – premium, economical, tailored.
- Psychographics – values, interests, attitudes.
- Geographics – residents of a certain country, city, or even postcode.
- Sector – professional services, farming, technology, property, and so on.
Each of those provides opportunities to stand out in the market.
Choosing to focus on a niche is about focusing on the client. It‘s a strategic business decision to serve a certain client base better than competitors who target everyone, everywhere, in every sector.
You might find your skill is in serving businesses at a certain stage in their life cycle, regardless of sector – early stage startups, for example, or those undergoing rapid growth.
Meeting their needs will most likely mean coming up with the right blend of price, service level and psychographics.
Putting this into context, here are two examples where we’ve helped accountancy firms find their niche.
A niche within a specific sector
A client we recently worked with focuses purely on property tax.
They serve UK property owners with anything from one to many properties, including expats and foreign investors.
They want to grow rapidly and wanted help from us in picking a focus for their energies.
After running research, reviewing their business model and internal capabilities, we recommended targeting new property owners.
That doesn’t mean ignoring the wider landlord market – it’s just about emphasising one subsection and really going after it with everything they’ve got.
That focus makes decisions about how to position the business easier. They’ve got clarity about how to meet the needs of this client group through price, psychographics, level of quality and demographics, and are better placed to make an emotional connection with them.
How did we arrive at this decision?
Through our research we discovered that landlords with multiple properties need more sophisticated services, have a different expectation of customer service and different information needs.
Those who were new to the landlord game, however, require more basic information and a less sophisticated set of services.
Focusing on the latter group means the whole accountancy firm can be geared around servicing this type of client – what they offer as a paid service, the customer experience online and offline, upskilling and training staff, their entire business model and, importantly, the marketing messages they put out.
Pivoting your niche
By way of comparison, we recently helped a company pivot its offering from contractors to servicing the creative sector.
This is a broad canvas, though, covering agencies, tech companies, SaaS businesses, media and so on.
But, while the sector was important, it was targeting businesses at a certain stage of development that we identified as this firm’s opportunity to find a niche.
Specifically, we identified early-stage startups and companies at the first round of funding. Our client’s role is to help them grow.
This takes into account a mix of psychographics, level of service, price and geography.
Geography was important to the client accountancy firm’s own growth as getting traction in the local creative market was important for building credibility.
Creating buyer personas
One useful tool for identifying and visualising clients within your niche is what’s known in the marketing industry as a ‘buyer persona’.
This is a profile of a hypothetical client, that sums up key details about them so that you can better focus your marketing efforts. You could think of it as describing your ideal client – someone who you want to work with, who fits in with your overall business goals.
To create your buyer persona, you can begin by asking yourself a series of questions about their sector, their job title, their goals and challenges, and their attitudes. An example can be seen below.
Everything from demographic information to their hobbies and lifestyle matters here. You want to understand each persona inside out so that you can really tailor your marketing and content towards them.
A first-time business owner would have different goals, interests and needs to a serial entrepreneur, for example, and each would respond to different types of content and a different tone of voice.
We’ve written an in-depth guide about creating buyer personas, which you can find here.
Once you have your set of buyer personas, it’s time to start using them to drive your marketing campaigns.
First, take a good look at your value proposition and question whether it needs any refinement based on the profile of your ideal clients. Does your core proposition speak to the needs of your persona? This may mean making tweaks to your messaging.
This adjusted messaging needs to come across in all communications from your firm so ensure all touch points are consistent.
For many accountancy firms a website is the hub of all marketing efforts and so refreshing the content here is perhaps the best place to begin.
This will almost certainly involve editing or rewriting text to make sure it is suitably targeted, and conveying the right messages. This is also a good chance to reconsider your use of images (add them if you haven’t already) and even the layout or format of pages.
Your new personas should also be considered in your blog posts, any downloadable assets, and social media feeds.
But it’s not just your digital activity – offline initiatives such as advertising, printed collateral and events should also reflect the intention to attract your perfect customer.
While it’s wise to revisit persona development from time to time (business objectives and the accountancy landscape can change, after all) just a single process of persona development can have a major impact on your business for years to come.
So, to wrap up…
Finding a niche is about understanding who it is you want to attract as a client and understanding their challenges, pain points and motivation.
Creating marketing messages, website copy and blog content that speaks directly to their needs will make them more likely to choose your firm over the competition.
Tools like buyer personas can help you to target that content effectively, by summing up key information about the clients you want to work with in a clear, visual format.
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