The UK has less than 1% of the world’s population, but more than 13% of the world’s accountants1. “Just look around,” says Alex Friede, Chartered Accountant, of Philip Friede & Co. “Every business, every self-employed company, every landlord, needs an accountant. As a result, there are just tons and tons of accountants.” In this highly saturated market, how do accountants go about winning new business?
“Referral has been the bedrock of accountancy firms,” confirms Alex Friede. But, as the accountancy landscape changes, the longevity of the referral method is called into question. “Lots of accountants are reliant on referrals, but don’t want to be.”And, the statistics would appear to agree,with 80.9%2 of accountants admitting they still rely on referrals for lead generation.
In order to break away from the stale referral method, firms are looking to branch out into other way to reach prospects, to generate leads and win new clients. Digital marketing has enjoyed a seemingly unstoppable rise as one of the most effective ways to grow a business’s profile and build celebrity for a brand.
The accountancy industry has been slowly waking up to the importance of digital marketing, and at a time when most accountants have yet to perfect their marketing, now is the time to set yourself apart. “It’s very easy to make your name known if you differentiate yourself,” points out Alex Friede.
WINDS OF CHANGE
“Everything’s changing quickly at the moment,” says Peter Collinson of FMS Sevenoaks LLP. “You’ve got to be open to change and at some stage the business will have to evolve.” It’s clear that, for this industry, times have changed dramatically. Alex Friede’s father, Philip, began his accountancy career in 1976.
He explains: “In my early days the Institute of Chartered Accountants did not allow any form of advertising by its members. Growth then was by way of acquisition or referral. I worked out that the easiest way to grow was to develop strategies and procedures that would encourage clients to refer me to their contacts.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that many accountants are finding it challenging to adapt to a new dawn of digital marketing.
ABOVE AND BEYOND
With so many competitors all offering the same services, what’s expected of an accountant now goes far beyond the standard offering. What’s more, software has been developed in such a way to enable people to bypass an accountant in the first place. “We’re going to have to keep rising up the value chain, because a lot of what we used to do is done by a machine or a programme,” warns Alex Friede. “Xero is effectively putting bookkeepers out of a massive part of their job, and that software’s getting better and better, so accountants are feeling the squeeze for compliance work.”
So, what is the answer? “The way we grow is by becoming more advisory,” explains Alex Friede. “Compliance work is becoming less important than providing something above and beyond just producing a set of accounts and a tax return, whether that’s differentiating yourself on the standard of service, or being in a niche where you can add a bit of value. Accountants are very conscientious by nature and are desperate to improve their practices. We’re on a constant challenge to keep doing better.”
By providing advice and sharing your knowledge, you market yourself as someone your clients should listen to, positioning yourself as a reliable expert in your field. Alex Friede continues: “Accountants are going to have to get better at talking about things that aren’t just accounts, tax and financial management – we should be seeing ourselves as consultants. Our accountants have an amazing amount of experience and expertise, but have always been focused on providing the compliance work. Clients ask for our opinion on things, and we are trying over time to provide that opinion without being prompted.”
This could mean sending out regular email updates to your clients with useful tips and advice, writing a blog for your website, or upping your social media offering. The value of producing content showcasing your knowledge is that it helps you to build up a pipeline of potential clients, all of whom know that you’re experts in your industry and may well be better placed than your competitors to help them.
BECOME A MARKETING BUSINESS
While the benefits of marketing are undeniable, firms will find that this is not always a quick-fix approach, but rather, a long-term process that requires time and dedication to yield results. Alex Friede explains: “I don’t think that people are going to read a blog post by me and snap their fingers and say, ‘I’m going to go and switch accountants’, but it’s about building up your brand and awareness.
“It’s unlikely that somebody has a fight with their accountant and then clicks on an article there and then. It’s got to be something that’s bubbling up for a while, building up a brand of yourself as somebody who’s trusted in that niche.
“Ultimately, people change accountants because they don’t feel that they’re getting a good service, and it’s about being known to them when that happens.”
FACE YOUR FEARS
“Many accountants are a bit stuck in their ways,” admits Alex Friede. “No one could have seen this coming, because the pace of change is exponential.” In an industry that has stayed the same for many years, making the switch can feel overwhelming. He continues: “It’s very easy to keep on doing what you’ve always been doing. It’s scary – it’s like if I were to put you in a room and say, ‘do your own tax return’. I think a lot of accountants want to get better at marketing but don’t know how.”
In the past, accountants traditionally charged for every minute of their time, so there’s a reluctance in the industry to give anything away for free. As Alex Friede puts it: “It’s hard, because you think, ‘well, I’m already charging X, do I really feel comfortable offering a new service?’.” Times have changed, and now you have to add value in order to let people sample your unique selling point – your expertise.
SEIZE THE DAY
In any crowded market, resting on your laurels will only end in lost opportunities, lost business, and ultimately, lost revenue. Now that accountants are not only competing with hundreds of thousands of others, but also with new technologies that are shaking up the entire profession, now is the time to take control of your marketing and reap the benefits. “Those that sit back and do nothing will diminish,” warns Philip Friede. “Those that take positive and relevant steps to publicise themselves will be able to compete.”