This article was originally published in ACCA’s in-practice e-zine.
Differentiating yourself from your peers is the challenge that every accountant faces. With today’s clients more inclined to look for a better service or deal, the pressure is on for every firm and professional to justify their fee levels and increase the value they bring to clients.
One way of curing these commercial headaches is to grow a reputation as the ‘go to expert’ within your marketplace and firm. Heather Townsend, co-author of How to make partner and still have a life gives her six top tips to achieving this status.
1. Identify your niche and commit to it
It’s common sense really, but it’s much easier to be ‘the expert’ on a small subject or niche than a large specialism. Your aim is not to piggy-back on someone else’s expertise, but to develop a niche that helps differentiate you – in your firm and the marketplace at large.
What sector or technical specialism will become important for your firm and clients in the next five years? Where are there specific gaps within your firm’s expertise? Clues could be: over-loaded partners or practice areas, rapidly expanding departments, or partners on the retirement track.
Don’t just look for clues internally: what’s happening within your market which will cause a requirement for new skills or expertise? For example, ten years ago (outside of the film and music industry) no one had heard of crowd-funding.
Your niche does not need to remain static over time – it will grow and develop as you become more successful. For example, you could decide to focus on becoming the ‘crowd-funding’ expert for your firm and then develop into the expert in raising business finance outside of the normal routes, eg banks, private equity, angel investors etc.
Many people decide to have a niche, but fail to truly commit to it. If you are not passionate about what you do, then it’s unlikely you’ll ever actually achieve ‘go to expert’ status.
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2. Identify your sound bite
If I asked you, what do you do? Or, why do clients choose to work with you? Could you articulate this in one short sentence? For example:
- ‘I help property developers get the best possible price for their business on exit’
This is your ‘sound bite’, and, ideally, it will become your suffix – what people attach to your name when they talk about you. Some other excellent sound bites used by accountants include:
- ‘I help big brands get value for money from their marketing agencies’
- ‘I help family owned groups of company grow and protect their wealth’
- ‘I advise retail companies helping them pay the lowest legal and ethical amount of tax’
A good sound bite should include who you work with and the value you bring to these clients.
3. Write about your subject
It’s often said that a book is the best business card you can ever have. However, before you sharpen your pencils, you don’t need to go the whole hog and become a published author. You can write blog posts, white papers, articles for online and printed magazines or even your own e-book. Publicly communicating your expertise in this way will help get you noticed by the right people.
Many accountants worry that they will give away their crown jewels if they write about their topic too extensively. Let me assure you that most information is already freely available. The value that you bring is your ability to demonstrate your understanding of the topic and apply it to the issues/needs of your audience – this is what clients are hiring you for. The more you write about your specialism and share this knowledge, the more interested parties will come across you and therefore associate your name with this area.
4. Use social media to build up your presence
It’s actually your clients, introducers and prospects who award you the crown of ‘go to expert’. To get that crown, you need to build up an online footprint that oozes credibility and compels others to want to engage with you. Using LinkedIn, Twitter and your blog, or the firm’s blog, is an excellent way of building up your online footprint, sharing your content, connecting with influential people and building your target audience’s awareness of what you do. For example, use Twitter to share articles your niche would benefit from reading and join a LinkedIn group frequented by your clients and peers.
5. Speak about your subject
While social media may be the ‘new-fangled’ route to becoming the ‘go to expert’, speaking and presenting about your subject is still a tried and trusted way to gaining acknowledgement as an expert. Therefore, dust off your public speaking skills and offer your services to speak at events, conferences or tele-seminars where you know existing and potential clients might be.
6. Build strategic alliances
One of the best ways to create word-of-mouth recognition is to build strategic alliances. Actively look for people who either have a complementary skill to you, or work in the same niche. Getting referred to clients by a small, close-knit circle of introducers can help you extend your own reach significantly. To increase your commitment to building strategic alliances, give yourself a target for the amount of new business you want to win via this process.
Download our free guide to building your personal networking strategy to help you find the right people to form strategic alliances with. (email required)
In summary, becoming the ‘go to expert’ will take hard work – you won’t get there overnight. However, stick at it – the rewards are well and truly worth waiting for.
Written by Heather Townsend. I help professionals become the ‘Go To Expert’. I am the co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life‘ and the author of the award-winning and bestselling book on Networking, ‘The FT Guide To Business Networking‘.
To find out whether I can help you, have a look at “our services”