Shane Lukas, managing director of AVN, explores why how you position your practice is crucial
Sorry if the title of this article sounds a bit confrontational, but it’s a genuine question. And if your plan for 2022 is to boost the advisory side of your business, you need to be able to answer it.
If a business owner is going to trust you with their hard-earned money, they have to believe you’re the right person to help them. So if you look exactly the same as every other accountancy firm, why would they?
Moving from a compliance-led practice to advisory led is not just about upskilling yourself and your team. You can do all the training, have all the tech and all the knowledge to deliver advisory services, but if your clients and prospects don’t see you in that way, they simply won’t buy. (This goes back to one of the first articles I wrote for In Practice: Do your clients see you as ‘just’ an accountant?)
This is why the way you position yourself and your firm – from first impressions through to how you deliver your meetings and everything in between – is so important.
Before a business owner chooses a new accountant, they’ll usually talk to three other ones. Unless what you’re offering is significantly different, that means the only comparison available to them is price and – if we’re simply talking bookkeeping to fulfill their legal requirement to submit accounts – the cheapest will invariably win.
As long as you differentiate yourself sufficiently, value rather than price will become the differentiator. The right clients will see that your value outweighs your fee and be happy to pay it. And that enables you to deliver great services at a premium price.
So how do you change the perception of you as compliance-only?
What does your brand say about you? We tend to think of big companies like Disney or Marks & Spencer as having a strong brand image, but smaller businesses like yours have a brand just the same. Your brand is a reflection of you, your reputation and every interaction people have – and have had – with you. That’s why it can never be purely about a name, a colour scheme or a logo.
What’s your brand saying to your clients and prospective clients right now? What kind of impact is it having: is it positive? Negative? Or is it not having any kind of impact at all because there’s nothing to differentiate you from any other accountancy firm?
Your brand stands for your principles, your reputation, your vision and purpose, as well as the value you offer and who you offer it to. The only way to ensure that your brand has the impact you’d like is to be consistent in the way you act and communicate, and to make sure you’re different from your competitors. And I do understand how hard it is to do that when essentially you’re delivering the same services.
One powerful way is to focus on what makes you unique. When I look at most accountant’s websites I see the same tired old phrases over and over again:
And then, on the same page:
How exactly does that demonstrate that you’re different or proactive?
Instead of these stock messages, focus on what makes you unique. I run regular workshops where we help delegates to identify their ‘why’ (the purpose behind their business) and their values (among many other aspects). At one of these, a delegate called Martin told me he’d had a huge lightbulb moment.
When he was a child, his parents had owned a hotel and were quite wealthy as a result. They had a huge garden he could play in and he pretty much got everything he wanted. Apart, that is, from what he most wanted: to spend time with them. His parents were so busy running the hotel that they never had time to spend with him. And, he now realised, his ‘why’ was to help business owners work fewer hours so they could be there for their children.
Martin’s ‘why’ – that message and that story – is powerful, and that’s why it should be on his homepage. Remember, your website is often a prospective client’s first impression of you.
Martin’s ‘why’ sets him apart and will inspire business owners who are in that situation to want to work with him.
Of course, some business owners might be put off by Martin’s ‘why’. They might not have children, or already feel that they’re doing more than enough for them. But do these sound like Martin’s ideal clients to you? No, they don’t to me, either. Not only will their values be different but they’re likely to be less receptive to the type of advisory services he can provide.
Your purpose and the story behind it should always be included in your communications – from a short strapline to the full background – so that people are reminded of them, inspired by them, and continue to associate them with your brand.
Your values are not just a core part of your business; they’re a key part of your brand, too. People will form an idea of your values from what they see on your website, your emails etc – even if you haven’t explicitly stated them. If you look like a bargain-basement kind of business, for example, they will attach certain values to that.
In addition to your purpose and your ‘why,’ your values and beliefs also make you unique. By communicating them, you’ll attract clients whose values and beliefs align with your own and deter those whose values and beliefs don’t – which can only be a good thing.
Once you’ve established your purpose, values and beliefs, make sure you capture them in all your communications: on your website, in your marketing emails, in your letters and in your proposals or agreements. It’s crucial to express such an incredibly important aspect of yourself.
These are the values that we hold at AVN:
And these are our beliefs (which are equally important):
We’re proud of these values and beliefs, and the accountants we work with understand exactly what we’re about.
Are you sending out a clear message?
For more on making change happen in your accountancy practice, download your copy of Putting Excellence Into Practice.