Patrick McLoughlin explains how you can differentiate your accountancy firm from the competition
Here’s a challenge for you. Pull up your website and then open a couple of new tabs and pull up the websites of two of your competitors.
Now take a moment to imagine you are your perfect client on the search for a new accountant. Once you have their perspective, and you’re looking out of their eyes, turn to your website and then your rivals.
Here’s the challenge: if we swopped the logos and practice names, would you be able to tell your firm from the others? More importantly, would your perfect client see the difference?
Perhaps you’re the exception and your appeal is clear and focused. Or perhaps you can look at the league table of common claims made on firms’ websites and tick the full list off?
Funnily enough, the most common claim made by accountants is that they’re different! The best example I’ve seen is “most accountants say they are different, but we really are”.
Most of the other claims fall into the minimum standards clients expect: friendly, high technical standards, etc, or the self-indulgent and unsubstantiated: unique, leading, passionate about, etc.
But is it worth the time and effort involved in discovering how you’re different and to whom? I’d say so, because differentiating yourself is the key to higher fees. If you can’t differentiate yourself, you leave it to clients and the only criteria they’ll find is price.
Imagine you have a dispute with a supplier. You’ve tried everything to resolve it but they’re being unreasonable – you need a lawyer.
Because this is important to you, you speak to three law firms. They all seem alright, but you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between them. They look the same, say the same things, seem decent enough people. So who do you go with? Unless one is drastically cheaper than the others (doesn’t that ring alarm bells) most of us choose the lowest-priced option.
So how can you break the mould and explain the benefits you bring?
The mistake many firms make is turning to the design company or worse still the branding workshop! Incorporating yellow in your logo because “it evokes pleasant, cheerful feelings” will not differentiate your practice. No more than polishing the leaves of a tree will help it grow.
Instead, you can start by shifting the spotlight off you, your firm, your pride and passion and demonstrate the difference you make from your clients’ perspectives. You provide the service, you don’t experience it, so you are in no position to understand or articulate that difference.
But all clients are not equal, so focus on the experiences of your best clients, the clients you’d love to clone.
You don’t want everyone for a client. Everyone includes the moaners, the late payers, the clients that drain your energy and leave you working harder for less.
You know who they are, when you hear their voice on the phone you feel it in the pit of your stomach.
So identify your diamond clients and have them explain how they value you. Ask them to be specific about the numbers; have them compare you to their previous adviser or their expectations. Use their words, get their emotion across and have them explain the impact of your work.
Sometimes that means saving a marriage or buying the house of their dreams. We are often so busy doing the work that we don’t stop to understand its impact!
Get this right. Have your perfect clients in the star roles and you can prosper to the extent you become the only logical choice for the clients you can help best.
You become a beacon, shining brightly to those you can best serve. Those that truly value the outcomes you can help them achieve.
Suddenly the competition melts away. No more beauty parades, no more competing on fees.
• Patrick McLoughlin, Accounting for Growth Limited. See www.a4g.co.uk
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