With more accounting practices to choose from and increasingly discerning customers, accounting firms must carefully consider how to win new customers, retain their existing ones and stand out with their service offering. With thousands of start-ups launching each year, firms should strategise how to get their share of this new business and maximise their earnings potential. So what are some practical steps practitioners can take to get ahead and carve their niche?
Reconsider your billing
Many accountancy firms still rely on hourly and fixed rate billing, the tried and tested method of their predecessors. Whilst it may seem like the most straightforward way of working, this approach actually harbours many disadvantages for accountants and fundamentally inhibits growth. It does this by presenting a conflict between generating profit, providing value for money, and working more efficiently.
A better approach is value pricing, which assigns the price of a product or service according to its perceived value by the customer. It doesn’t calculate prices by the hours taken to deliver the service, or existing market rates. By removing the focus in billing from timesheets to providing business value, you’ll benefit from increased revenues and deeper client relationships.
Track the right KPIs
Firms should reassess their metrics and how these might have changed in recent years; considering the following, apart from the typical financial measures, to ensure their practice is capitalising on opportunities in a timely manner:
Become a one-stop shop
Businesses can often rely on more than one accounting practice to meet all of their requirements, so practitioners should consider expanding their remit beyond core accounting and tax services to ensure customers don’t have reason to stray.
Providing firms have the appropriate authorisation, additional services they could offer include those related to probate, as well as business valuations and strategic advisory. The latter of which is becoming increasingly lucrative, as more businesses seek out the counsel of their accountants to more effectively manage risk and monitor the health of their business.
Identify your ideal customers
Not all clients were created equally, and whilst firms might be reluctant to turn down any new contract, the reality is that some customers are both easier and more profitable to work with than others. Accounting firms should consider what their ideal customer looks like in terms of size, sector and the services they require, and target customers based on these attributes.
For instance, strategic advisory work can offer high margins so customers who request these services should be prioritised - as well as ‘quick wins’ i.e. when it’s obvious at first glance how value could be driven for a prospect.
Accountancy is a service based business with human relationships at its core. A lack of rapport or too much time spent chasing payment, can often make a particular project more complex than the fees are worth. Therefore, those clients who have a flexible outlook, positive attitude and who pay on time should (in an ideal world!) be the only ones firms choose to work with.
Strengthen your marketing
A good marketing strategy is worth its weight in gold, and whilst marketing doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, firms must craft their ‘brand’, so prospects can identify what their practice offers and how it’s unique. Firms should build their following on Twitter and LinkedIn, by posting quality content and targeting businesses in the local area through sponsored campaigns and possibly advertising via Facebook Ads Manager. A well maintained company blog will do wonders for search engine optimisation (SEO), and firms can also publicise case studies here as well.
Practitioners could offer free consultations for new customers, and speak at industry events to build their profile. They could consider launching an online learning platform as a lead generation tool; posting webinars and tutorials on topical issues such as tax deductions or working in the cloud.
Save time by automating activities
Those who haven’t digitised their practice by now are missing out, and firms should make every effort to automate their workflow to drive operating efficiencies. For instance, a CRM solution such as Salesforce collects client data from telephone and email communications, helping to streamline customer engagement. Elsewhere, automated onboarding tools simplify processes such as issuing proposals and creating invoices.
One of the most effective and immediate ways accountants can put automation into practice, is through the elimination of manual data entry. AutoEntry, helps users do exactly that, by capturing and analysing scanned and photographed bank and credit card statements, bills, invoices, receipts and more, automating data entry into accounting software.
AutoEntry helps users to work smarter with its broad range of features. For instance, AutoEntry captures tax summaries by default and if requested, full line item details including description, quantity and unit price. AutoEntry also remembers how users categorise expenses, such as the relevant supplier account, nominal account and tax code without ever creating duplicate supplier accounts or posting duplicate invoices in accounting software. AutoEntry even matches invoices to purchase orders.
Partner with the right software providers
For those already using accounting software, partnering with these types of service providers can provide valuable opportunities for profit sharing and growth.
For instance, those who join the AutoEntry Partner Program can help their clients to become more productive through their use of its technology, whilst benefiting from the generous incentives offered by the scheme. The program offers a range of subscriptions, which rewards partners based on how many new customers deploy AutoEntry through their referral. Partners also receive complimentary AutoEntry credits, for use within their own practice.
Providing excellent service to clients is key, but making sure your practice thrives in a competitive environment takes strong leadership and meticulous planning. Accounting firms should continuously evaluate their performance, and reflect on client feedback in order to refine their service offering.
Within this, making the right partnerships and understanding how to implement automation in practice represents a considerable opportunity for accountants to retire outdated processes and position themselves as indispensable business advisors.
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