There’s no doubt that the accounting industry is changing. Cloud accounting software is automating a lot of the basic bookkeeping, financial housekeeping and admin jobs, plus delivering efficiency. But this change presents a huge opportunity for accountants to do what they do best…. build trusted advisory relationships by delivering actionable insight and valuable advice to clients.
In a recent article, Peter Vial, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand's country head said “There's still compliance work to be done. There's still numbers that have to be reported on. But they are doing more analysis, what do the numbers mean, what do they mean for the future. There's more of a future focus”. An accounting firms' success is increasingly due to their people skills, rather than their ability to crunch the numbers.
We look at how accounting firms can stay relevant and set themselves apart from others through:
- Finding your advisory niche – core specialisms and areas of expertise
- Establishing your accounting firm as a thought leader – sharing commentary, insight and strategic advice
- Focussing on your people skills – relationships and trust are key
Finding Your Advisory Niche
Building your reputation for leadership in your area of expertise takes time. But you may not need to start from scratch. If you can already identify specific talents and skills in your firm, it’s simply a matter of telling people about this and sharing your expertise, opinion and advice. Like any relationship, it can take a while to build trust. If your clients and prospects consistently see the value you add, you’ll see the flow on effect of more enquiry and work.
1. Look at your practice
Where do you currently hold expertise? If you are a team, look at your partners, each will have their own expertise. If they offer expertise across a number of areas, finding alignment, such as ‘the small business specialists’ will amplify your message. Make sure you also look at the junior members of the team also. What can they bring in terms of understanding and advice and how can you can help them develop through mentoring and coaching?.
2. Look at your clients
Can you segment the clients you currently work with into industry or find a common thread?. It might be the industry they are in, the business processes they use or the problems they have that must be solved. You specialisms could be across industry or be industry specific:
Vertical niche – such as an industry sector. For example, you may already have a number of construction clients and decide you are going to invest time in understanding the specific financial drivers or KPIs for that impact them.
Horizontal niche – an area of accountancy advisory that relates to a wide variety of businesses across a range of industries. For example, you are good at family dynamics and have worked with a number of clients on succession planning.
3. Find something that you enjoy
Professional development is a constant these days. As you build on your experience to develop your specialisms, it is important to choose an area that truly interests you, whether that is developing business plans, cash-flow improvement strategies or advisory services for agricultural businesses. If is something you enjoy, you will be better at it.
Expertise stands you apart. When you gain a reputation for your services, people will seek you out. When you have identified the area or areas you can offer specialist advice, your next step is to tell people.
So how build awareness of your expertise ‘beyond the numbers’ amongst clients and prospects? BOMA talked to Viv Brownrigg at The Gap, about finding your niche and establishing yourself as a thought leader for that specialism. The Gap provide accountants with the systems to deliver business development services that their clients will love and they can monetise.
Viv gave us 4 reasons why it’s important for accountants to establish a position as a thought leader:
- Expertise promotes credibility – this stands you apart and people will seek you out.
- Leadership inspires trust – clients trust you when you offer good information that improves their business.
- Trust is the first buying filter – businesses come to you to solve a problem and place trust in your expert advisory.
- Thought leadership dramatically improves your marketing efficiency – when you have started to build your reputation in an area you’ll start to see your referrals business grow.
‘Establishing yourself and your practice as a thought leader takes time, it’s about building a reputation by proving your worth to others and providing new insights.
The Key Steps to Establishing Yourself as a Thought Leader
- Build your personal brand – what’s your purpose, values, vision and how do you want to help business clients?
- Develop your voice – demonstrate the areas of specialty for your firm.
- Start writing – start a blog and share insights, useful information and opinion pieces. You can also share articles written by others and add your personal commentary.
- Build and work with influence partners – find complementary partners to offer your clients something of value, e.g. collaborate on a seminar with a bank, or offer to speak as a guest at an industry event.
- Grow your network – share your articles and blogs on social media to grow fans followers and connections
- Get out there – go beyond your own blog. Offer your firm for speaking spots at events, respond online with commentary on topical issues, write guest blogs for sites that hold authority in your field.
- Be different – be prepared to put some new ideas out there, offer an opinion, and challenge the status quo.
With ‘complex problem solving’ highlighted as the number one occupational skill by 2020, it’s time to let software do the computing so you and your team can do what you do best – coming up with human solutions to your clients’ financial issues.
When you become the ‘go-to’ person for a specific area, you’ll find people will start saying ‘this guy knows what he’s talking about. People will seek you out’