Reprinted with permission from IPA Best Practices
It’s hard to believe that this frigid winter will ever end, but in some parts of the country crocuses will soon be emerging from the snow. I’m similarly encouraged by the gentle thaw in the economy and the resilience of our profession to grow and thrive despite a few tough years.
Sometimes it’s hard to see, but if you’ve taken the right steps your efforts will eventually be rewarded with solid new growth.
OK, Which Steps Are Those?
The single best practice I recommend to growth-minded accounting firms can be summed up in three words – niche, niche, niche. The days of the generalist are over. By remaining in that space you risk being out-niched by a firm that can demonstrate it has an inside track on the industry you’re trying to penetrate.
As for specific specialties, I especially like the international field and forensics/litigation support. Beyond those, the smart money is on any niche in which you become strong and nimble. Open your mind to extended geography. Artificial local borders (i.e. we are a Peoria firm with Peoria clients) will be melting away over the next several years.
One of the best ways to identify a high-potential specialty is to evaluate the market from the outside in. That is, look not at your existing capabilities but, instead, at what the market needs and will buy. Firms frequently refuse to consider a potential specialty because they have never done so and lack the talent. That’s backward thinking.
So, for example, if your firm lacks expertise in construction or health care, but can see the potential there, it’s time to get to work, not retreat from the goal. Start by getting on the ground in the market and find out what prospects want. Don’t shy away from new services. If the market wants something, then go find a way to give it to them.
Sometimes the best niche is so close we can’t see it. Case in point is a firm located in a city that’s an international gateway to Asia. I learned they were interested in the nonprofit sector because of the availability of personnel in the summer. The firm had been pursuing this direction for some time but hadn’t won any business in a year.
I suggested they look out their door and consider an Asia-based specialty, starting with developing an IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) and international tax strategy. The firm had selected a niche based on capacity rather than on market potential – they were thinking inside out rather than outside in.
Ahead of the Curve
How can firms outsmart the market and the competition to stay ahead of the curve? My two-word answer? Social media. There’s simply never been a better opportunity to hone your brand, find new buyers, and establish your thought leadership.
I compare social media today to the early days of radio and the scramble for airwave dominance. With a limited number of frequencies available, the early adopters guaranteed themselves a position in what would be a brave new world of communication. If you don’t communicate this way with clients and prospects, they’ll end up getting their news and updates from your competitor.
This is true for LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter and other tools. Now is the time to grab your frequency and establish your presence atop the heap. LinkedIn’s potential is not just to multiply your contacts, but to lead you through existing relationships to strategic new ones. It’s the single most powerful tool out there to help you with opportunity development.
Among communication strategies I consider especially valuable is the use of the webinar – an opportunity to communicate directly and intimately with those likely to buy your offering.
Other growth-related recommendations for the near term include:
- Consider a focused telesales program using an outsourced professional service. Because fast moving regulations and standards are opening up windows of opportunity, telesales enables you to find targeted groups of buyers quickly and pick up low hanging fruit. Successful campaigns I’ve witnessed lately include 403B, broker/dealer, and PCI (credit card data security) – all areas which created new potential buyers due to regulatory/standards changes.
- Develop IFRS capability. Link your international tax and IFRS strategies so they are leveraging off each other. By the way, the world isn’t your oyster. Start thinking a specific geography (country), industry and service line. Example – transfer pricing and IFRS conversions for Italian manufacturing companies and their U.S. operations.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Absent a crystal ball, I am confident in a positive period of meaningful growth for our profession. Your strategy is key to getting your piece of the pie. It’s up to you to specialize, look outside in, and use cutting edge tools to build brand strength, thought leadership, and more competitive opportunity pursuit.