General practitioners can capitalise on the trend towards sector specialism, but planning is required.
The accountancy sector, like other professional service sectors, has witnessed an increased focus on sector specialisation to bolster general practice activities over the last decade. This trend is largely driven by clients who want their advisers to be experts not just in technical accounting issues, but also in the issues that impact a particular industry or client type.
Niche services can be very profitable provided you choose the right niche. However, it is vital to ensure that the demand for your services will be sufficient for your firm to develop a sustainable and profitable business model – and that is where research comes in.
Research the opportunity
Once you have identified your target market, the next step is to define your service offering by focusing on your clients’ needs; the aspects of your services that meet those needs; and, importantly, the skills and talents that differentiate you from your competitors.
Take time to get to know your target market and bear in mind that this is not a once-off exercise. Businesses evolve and client needs will change over time. It is therefore vital that small- and medium-sized practices (SMPs) are proactive and agile enough to anticipate trends and respond appropriately.
The aim is to build a business model that is efficient and easy to replicate for the full spectrum of clients in your chosen sector. If your chosen niche is freelance IT business owners, for example, and you successfully develop a service offering that saves clients time and money while providing value-adding insights that ultimately help their businesses develop and grow, it is likely that your clients will refer other potential customers to you.
Communicate your offering
Having identified your target niche and refined your service offering, the next challenge is to let people know about it.
There are various ways to reach your target market. Your website is important – not from an SEO point of view, although that can sometimes be useful, but because it will likely be the first port of call for prospective clients when they hear about your firm. Your website should be intuitive and easy to navigate. It should provide details of your expertise in plain English so potential clients can easily understand what services you have to offer, and it should provide your contact details. It is important that someone in the firm is responsible for monitoring website queries and responding promptly. Failure to get these basics right can result in lost opportunities.
Utilise your website
Your website can also act as a platform for your firm’s thought leadership activities – an increasingly popular way for businesses to share their expertise and showcase their abilities. Make it easy for potential clients to read your blogs, insights, press releases and news. If you are active on social media, provide links on your website to make it easy for potential clients to follow and connect with you.
Surveys are very useful in generating insights that add value for clients. They can also provide excellent material for press releases, web and social media content. Similarly, attending, speaking at and hosting events for your target market is a great way to build your firm’s brand and profile in the marketplace. To maximise the value of these opportunities, it is essential to invest time in pre-event and post-event activity. Lastly, subject matter experts within your firm should be prepared and willing to accept media invitations for interview. Many accountants are apprehensive about speaking on air and therefore miss out on opportunities to showcase their professional expertise. Media training will help you develop the skills necessary for this valuable activity.
Risk versus reward
A limited budget doesn’t have to be an obstacle to effective marketing. The key thing is to know your target market and ensure that your message is relevant. Money spent educating yourself about your target market’s sector will deliver more long-term value than vying for attention in a crowded marketplace where your competitors might have deeper pockets.
All of the top 10 accountancy firms in Ireland have clearly identified industry sectors in which they specialise. In my experience, if firms spread themselves thinly as generalists, they preclude the opportunity to build the deep, meaningful expertise necessary to reach beyond geographic or traditional markets. While focusing on a narrow market may feel risky as it ultimately means excluding other sectors, a practice that focuses on a small number of specialist areas has well-defined audiences to communicate with. As a result, its message is more likely to be heard.
I was recently chatting about this concept with an astute PR consultant who asked me why a firm would “take the risk” to focus on a narrow industry. But given the opportunity to develop a profitable, sustainable portfolio and win referrals, why wouldn’t they?
Mary Cloonan is a freelance marketing professional and founder of Marketing Clever.