Voices

Winning new business: How to market yourself as an expert

Developing new business is tough enough for professional services firms, but when those services happen to be accounting, things can get even tougher. Why? Because basic accounting services are something every retail, commercial and industrial business needs. That creates lots of opportunities, which generates lots of competition.

To make matters even more challenging, many industries face regulatory compliance issues that force businesses to grudgingly pay for specific accounting services they might not voluntarily choose, creating cost and pricing resistance. Clients don’t want to pay a penny more than absolutely necessary.

So how do you set your accounting firm apart from the competition, generate more new business and get that new business to willingly pay for your services? Become a specialist with expertise that prospects know they need.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone

Since many general accounting services are needed by a wide range of industries and organizations, it’s tempting to pursue every lead in an attempt to win new business. This is a mistake. By trying to appeal to every prospect, you end up appealing to none. Your offering is so general and plain-vanilla, it’s virtually impossible to distinguish your firm from all the other accounting firms pursuing the same prospects.

Instead, focus on a specific industry. Learn everything you can about the various business and marketplace challenges they face. Not just the accounting and financial services side of things, but the non-accounting issues as well — manufacturing, distribution, customer service and market trends. Then you can have meaningful conversations with prospects far beyond what a non-specialized CPA firm can talk about. As your expertise becomes apparent, you’re able to command higher billing rates, generate more leads and close sales more easily.

If industry specialization won’t work for your firm, there are other forms of specialization you can take advantage of:

• Service type

• Region

• Specific organizational roles

• Serving specific types of accounting problems

Become a Visible Expert

Becoming a specialist is only half the battle — you also have to become visible to your target audience. This requires developing superior expertise on a specific topic or issue of importance to your prospects.

The Visible Expert in your firm doesn’t have to be you. It can be anyone with the industry knowledge, communication skills and ability to positively represent your firm. The presence of this individual will not only raise the profile of your firm in the marketplace, it will also improve the reputation of the whole firm. By writing articles, developing speaking engagements, and giving presentations, a Visible Expert builds awareness in the marketplace and value to prospects. After all, who doesn’t want to work with the recognized leader in a particular area?

A Visible Expert is different from a traditional, partner-level “rainmaker” who brings in business through personnel connections. A Visible Expert generates high-quality leads through widely recognized knowledge and expertise. But it’s not just about technical competence — it’s also about communication skills and value. A Visible Expert is capable of explaining complicated topics clearly and providing valuable insights and perspective. These are attributes for which clients are willing to pay top dollar.

Publish research on a topic of importance to your target audience

Nothing generates more interest than new research on a topic or issue important to your target audience. A groundbreaking study relevant to a specific industry or market you’re targeting adds both credibility and visibility to your firm, especially if you partner with a trade association or industry organization that can help distribute it and increase your reach.

There are other benefits associated with releasing a study — it provides a foundation for publishing a wide range of other useful content that can increase and sustain your firm’s visibility. Break your report into a series of blog posts, excerpt it in industry publications, and cross-promote it in appropriate third-party websites and blogs. This kind of omnichannel distribution raises your visibility exponentially.

And don’t be afraid to give out informational freebies. Share your knowledge, insights, and wisdom. Today’s buyers expect to receive valuable free information and reward those offering it with their trust, business, and loyalty.

Get serious about social

In case you haven’t noticed, social media is no longer the realm of idle gossip and cute kitten photos. Social media has come of age and is now an indispensable promotional medium and the preferred informational source for a significant portion of consumer and professional demographics. If you don’t have a strong presence on social media, you’re missing an important communication channel to your potential clients.

In fact, about 60 percent of your accounting services buyers are checking you out on social media before purchasing. Social media has big benefits for accounting firms, including:

• increasing the visibility of your firm and its expert(s)

• expanding the reach of your content marketing

• promoting your content

• enabling your firm to stand out

• building trust and credibility

Supercharge your search engine ranking

A recent study of 500 professional services firms found that search engine optimization (SEO) was the single most effective tool for generating online leads. It is also one of the single most cost-effective approaches for generating high-quality accounting leads.

SEO works best when used with valuable content that has been optimized with relevant keywords and shared on social media. Strategically, SEO consists of two main components:

• On-site SEO: targeted keywords or keyword phrases that identify the content on your website and its relevance to what searchers are looking for.

• Off-site SEO: authoritative and relevant links to your website from appropriate and important third-party websites, blogs and other online sources.

The powerhouse combination of expertise, content and searchability provides a sum total benefit that is far greater than those three parts individually. In fact, the greatest impact on your lead quality and quantity will come from combining all of these techniques and strategies into a unified, ongoing campaign that enables you to establish and promote your firm’s expertise for the long term.

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm for professional services. Hinge conducts research into high-growth firms and offers services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.