How to help your clients handle competition

With clients facing increased competition both online and in-sector, how can you help them stay ahead?


With 2022 on the horizon and the last major phases of Covid-19 business support due to end this year, business owners’ priorities are shifting – and for many, the biggest challenge is now standing out against their competitors.

PracticeWeb’s most recent research report, published in collaboration with ACCA, found that competition, both online and in-sector, was the biggest challenge facing SMEs.

Two-fifths (40%) of the 400 SME owners polled felt online competition was ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ challenging for their business, while in-sector competition came in second at 37%.

This showed a change in attitudes compared to our last survey, conducted in late 2020, in which cashflow and late payments were more significant as businesses struggled with the immediate crisis of Covid-19.

Issues like IR35 extending into the private sector had also become less problematic for respondents, after the legislation took effect in April 2021.

And where business partner conflict had previously been a significant challenge for 34% of SMEs, this dropped to 19%, possibly because tensions had decreased by the time of our recent survey.

The fact that those issues have been largely replaced by the threat of competition suggests that businesses are moving from survival mode to a more long-term strategy.

The threat of online competition might take the shape of digital multinationals with extensive resources, or it could simply be a local store with a great online presence.

Either way, this presents an opportunity for accountants looking to establish a new niche – as the eCommerce sector continues to grow, and an online presence remains essential for every business, your firm could play a part in informing businesses that are new to, or putting more focus on, operating online.

We’ve written about the benefits of nicheing in detail previously, and talked about it in the ACCA Conversations podcast, but in short, this approach allows you to build your reputation as an expert in the market, and by doing so, to stand out against your own competition.

The key to doing this successfully is to know who you’re speaking to, and to tailor your website, marketing plan and content towards those people.

The more you can show what you know about your niche and the more you can pre-empt and answer potential clients’ questions, the more authoritatively you’ll come across as a sector specialist.

You might consider producing content that advises on starting and running an online store, for example, or the tax implications of trading online as a result.

There’s also a role for accountants to play as business advisers, offering expert, specialist guidance that will give their clients the edge over others in their sector.

As part of our research, we gave respondents an open-ended question: ‘What could your accountant do differently to help you more in the next 12 months?’

Several people were looking for support and advice from their accountant. ‘Help me know how to push my business forward,’ read one response, while another asked their accountant to ‘help me get back on track like I was before the pandemic’.

Clients don’t necessarily know what specific service they need from your firm to get back on track, or which questions they should be asking – that’s why it’s up to you to give that information to them.

To find out more about the results of our research, and for practical tips on how to use it, read our new report.

Melissa Tredinnick – managing editor, PracticeWeb