As we talk to accountants from firms throughout the country, we hear a familiar lament: the profession is more competitive than ever. As firms move towards advisory services, they must compete in new ways with new talent. In the face of such fierce competition, how can firms differentiate their practice?
Identify your (sustainable) niches
First things first: look at the niche you’re working in today. You’ll likely find that certain accounting niches – whether they be healthcare, construction, government, technology or other industries – are bubbling to the top and already making money. But are they sustainable?
For example, automobile dealerships may be a profitable niche right now, but many industry insiders predict self-driving cars, vehicles that need less maintenance and a trend toward rideshare apps and public transportation over car buying could disrupt the automotive industry in a major way over the next 10 to 15 years. Is that a niche you want to build a practice around?
On the other hand, what niches are you already in that are predicted to experience growth over the next decade or two?
Narrow your focus
Once you’ve identified a handful of niches, it’s time to narrow your focus. For example, you may already have a profitable healthcare niche, but consider narrowing your focus to dentists offices, urgent care clinics, skilled nursing facilities, physical therapists, or another sector of the healthcare industry.
The narrower your niche, the better positioned you’ll be to address a need for a product or service that is not being met by other firms and the more you can differentiate yourself from the competition.
Appoint a champion
Every niche you want to go after needs a champion within the firm. Find someone who is passionate about this industry and give them time to learn. Invest in training and make sure they share what they’ve learned with the rest of the team. Give them the resources to become thought leaders within the niche through personal branding and expanding professional connections.
Provide deeper services
Now that you’ve narrowed your niche, it’s time to provide deeper services to those clients. You’re likely already offering client accounting services, tax compliance, and assurance services to that niche, but what else do those clients need and want? Retirement plan administration? Human resources? Technology consulting? Strategic planning?
You don’t have to figure that out on your own! They key is to have conversations with your clients. This is where the ability to ask good questions comes into play.
Ask your clients:
- What are you worried about?
- What is holding you back?
- What’s changed in your business owner the last year?
- Do you have any regulatory challenges?
- How do you think we can add value to your company?
Ask these questions (and more like them!), and you’ll have a better idea of where and how to expand your service offerings.
Avoid saying your firm has niche specialties in too many areas. This spreads resources too thin, and your firm won’t be able to sustain them. Remember, a niche is an area in which your firm has deep expertise and more than just a concentration of clients. Carefully select and nurture your true niche areas, and you’ll be on track to achieving your goals while also helping your clients realize theirs.