Accountants need to distinguish themselves from the herd

@Bookmarklee posted a very interesting item on his excellent Blog site, “No long term future for “Halfway house” firms of accountants. His points, as usual, were well made but I am prompted to add a few further comments.

Most mid-size accounting practices have very little to offer that distinguishes them from eachother. They will all boast excellent service, pro-active rather than re-active advice, value added input to their clients. I have used these selling points myself during my years in practice and I knew, even as I was repeating them that should the prospective clients visit half a dozen other firms, they would hear the same attributes being spouted by rote.

Looking back over my years in practice, I am convinced that the following are the key to a firm distinguishing themselves from the herd:

1. The overriding factor in any successful practice is the relationship between the Client and the relationship partner and staff. The brand of the firm is, in the long run, irrelevant. This point has been heavily highlighted in the events following the Vantis demise. In the long run clients were less interested in the collapse of the brand than they were in the welfare and continuing relationship of their partner and staff contacts. As a rule, Clients will follow the Partner they deal with (assuming they had received attentive and responsive service) and not the brand.

2. Practices need to distinguish themselves from their peers and offer a unique selling point, a “usp”. I am constantly amazed how content firms are to role out the same old Sage line as if that alone was the key to their success. In making presentations on online accounting I try and push home the point that if every firm in the area is offering the same thing, why should a client choose you. I have had many successes in winning “pitches” for new work because I was able to offer an online accounting solution which distinguished us from the competition. Apart from it being a more efficient way of looking after the client’s needs, it showed that I represented a practice which was innovative in its approach and prepared to use technology to the benefit of its clients.

3. Fees – at the end of the day price will play a major part in retaining and satisfying a client. Whilst most clients are willing to pay a fair price for a professional service well delivered, they are not prepared to be taken advantage of. Time sheets should not be the be all and end all of the charging process but merely a guide to the efficiency or otherwise of the service delivery. Charge a fair price for the work done – irrespective of what finally ends up on the time sheet – and the results will speak for themselves.

Many will take issue with what I have just written – and that of course is correct. But in the long run it is those firms that distinguish themselves from the rest that will benefit in this highly competitive world.