In our profession, the word “practice” typically conveys a fairly narrow meaning, as in “the practice of accounting.” But successful niche development, which I consider an essential tool for growth, requires a different type of practice — practicing to perfect a new niche or service line.
The most successful practice vehicle I know is an early adopter program. This is a way to introduce a new service, or to introduce services to a new buyer group, on a trial basis. You can observe how the service is received and make alterations based on feedback before you offer it widely. Your client gets to sample a new offering that addresses a specific need.
SEEK THE HEAT
Developing a sustainable offering starts with identifying buyer needs or “market hot spots.” This is accomplished through research calls, one-on-one discussions with thought leaders, providers, potential buyers, competitors or anyone else who swims in the waters you’re entering.
Once you identify an unmet buyer need, you have some choices. You can pass it by based on the fact that the service is not currently in your wheelhouse. You can refer the opportunity to another firm. Or you can partner with one that does the type of work in question.
IT'S NOT LANDSCAPE GARDENING
Imagine, for example, that you’ve identified a market need for cash management services in the dental industry. While it might be tempting to dismiss the opportunity because you’ve never done this type of work and you don’t have a client to practice on, diving in may not be as hard as you imagine.
After all, you’re not talking about landscape gardening — you’re talking about a service closely aligned with finance and accounting. A thoughtful, incremental approach to testing this offering could yield an innovation resulting in significant revenue.
Once you and your firm decide to embrace an early adopter program, the first step is to identify the client or clients you’re going to practice on.
Your early adopter clients will likely emerge from your research calls. If you’ve been drilling down into the world of dentistry, your meetings probably put you in contact with a dentist or dental practice in need of cash management services.
If not, go back to individuals who you interviewed and ask if they know someone who might be the right candidate for your program.
The best early adopter can be, but does not have to be, a current client. As well, you want an individual or organization that trusts you, and is therefore willing to take a chance with you.
NUTS, BOLTS AND TIPS
As you hunt for your early adopter, you need to be acquiring the technical skills required for your new offering. Here, too, your research calls will yield valuable resources, such as another CPA firm that does what you want to do.
There’s no precise formula for how this relationship is structured or remunerated. The firm could do the work for you, while you ride shotgun and observe. Or you might divide up the duties, with the experienced firm taking the lead.
Although your client will know that they are in an early adopter program (because you tell them!), precisely how the pieces fit together behind the scenes is up to you.
To ensure the success of your early adopter program, here are some additional recommendations:
- Try out your offering on different early adopters, i.e., a sole dental practice, a dental clinic and a large group practice. This way, you’re also evaluating the best buyer group.
- Encourage emotional investment in the process. Take steps to make the early adopter feel part of something new and valuable. The stronger that connection, the more likely the early adopter will lead you to your strategy and great quantities of leads.
- Choose an early adopter that’s well connected in the industry, not a business or organization on the fringes.
- Look to your research calls to identify the elements you need — strategic partners, early adopter clients and know-how.
- Finally, don’t mistake an early adopter program for a money-making initiative. Your objective at this point is a successful program, not optimized revenue and profits. While these may come if your offering goes mainstream, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you before that happens!