How to Actually Stand Out in the (Boring) Accounting Industry

Lawyers, financial advisors, and CPAs are notorious for being boring. One firm, MGO, even embraces this descriptor, actively spinning it into a positive one—they’re “proud to be boring accountants.”

So, boring can be good, if it means you’re so boring that you do your job well. But you’ll notice that the “boring” folks over at MGO have a website that’s anything but.  Instead, it’s thoughtful, clever,  and so bright it looks like a children’s book.

That’s a great website, right? You might even be tempted to call it a branding bullseye.

But you’d be wrong.

Under the hood, MGO is just like every other accounting firm: full service, with toes they’ve dipped into almost every industry. What is their specialty? What is their true differentiation, other than a prettier-than-usual website and some cute language?

The truth is the modern marketplace is up to its neck in large, full service, firms.  But many of these firms are too scared to position and differentiate for real or for some of the big firms it’s just not possible at this time.  Here are five strategies to help you cheat your way to differentiation and start standing out in a real way.

Focus your messaging

What is the #1 purpose of the words on your website? To capture attention, with valiant promises and startling proclamations? To entertain, with quirky headlines and punny humor? To describe your services?

No, no, and not even that. The primary goal of your website copy is to differentiate you from the other guys.

Think about how the modern client finds your firm. He types something into Google, opens the first five results, and then goes about comparing them. Assuming they all appear to be relatively competent, what is he going to do when they also all sound exactly the same? He’ll be forced to pick based on some inconsequential detail—more or less, a random selection.

What if, instead, you did his work for him by being bold and upfront about what makes you different? Not by stomping on the competition (“We work faster! We get results!”) but by separating yourself from them entirely. Pick a service out of your ample list—one that’s most weakly represented in the market, that you also happen to do really well—and put that service front and center.

Then, just own the hell out of it.

Everyone knows you cannot be awesome at everything. But you can be awesome at one thing—and in the marketing world, just saying you are awesome at that one thing makes you already better at it than the other guys.

In today’s market, specialization is dominance. Those who “do it all” are about to become obsolete.

Define your reverse target audience

Most firms are entirely too focused on convincing prospects to hire them. They fear losing business so much that their target audience becomes “anyone who will pay us.”

Not only does this approach reek of desperation and poor business sense, but it doesn’t make for the most inspiring work environment—and it doesn’t do the client any favors either. Clients who are seen as paychecks often end up being treated as such, and they can feel the difference.

A better approach: take the time to figure out who is not in your target audience—your “reverse target audience”—and then actively exclude those people. Weave it into the messaging on your website. Be bold, open, and honest about it.

Excluding potential clients does several things:

  • It allows you to focus on your specialization.
  • It shows integrity – you care who you work with and have pride in your work.
  • It shows that you’re not just following dollar signs.
  • It shows that you’re able to recognize your firm’s strengths and weaknesses.

Exclusivity does something very powerful: it suggests that those who are included are special. In the business world, these are the people you are best equipped to serve.

In reality, every business has people they should be excluding. If you have a target audience, then you have a reverse target audience.

Anyone who refuses or fails to exclude is essentially lying to themselves—and, by extension, lying to their customers.

Start an experimental entity

Large firms are notorious for dragging their feet on big decisions. Instead of trying to get the buy-in necessary to change the entire direction of your firm, try experimenting first.

Have the firm start up a small, separate entity, commit a very small portion of the marketing budget to it, and use it as an experimentation playground.

Want to test out a new market category? Build a niche website that speaks directly to that audience, and see how it does.

Have a crazy business model that’s completely new to the industry? Try it out with your new entity and see if it gains any traction in the marketplace.

We’ve helped several large firms start up smaller firms just to experiment, and it’s always been a useful exercise.

When it comes to small-scale experimentation, failure won’t change anything, but success could change everything.

Rename your offerings and categories

Instead of just listing your services, rename your offerings based on outcomes and solutions. Think about what comes after the accounting, bookkeeping, tax prep, or auditing services you give. What’s the outcome of a financial statement with your firm? What’s the outcome of an IT audit?

What would happen if you tried offering clients what they were really after?

As for industry categories, don’t just list them out like every other firm does. Try something different, and perhaps even more meaningful.

Travis Wolff has done an excellent job of reshaping their categories from industries to groups, serving emerging companies, established companies, private equity investors, and successful individuals. While they are still technically full service, they are reshaping how they approach industries in a way that resonates with prospects.

List your pricing

Want to do something extremely bold? List your pricing on your website.

I know—that’s just not done. You’d be one of only a handful of advisory firms in the world who list pricing on their website.

But it’s astounding that so many firms still insists on withholding this information, given that it’s probably the most important piece of information website visitors want to see. Not only does listing your pricing make you look confident, competent, and admirably transparent, but it also helps to automatically filter out prospects who wouldn’t be willing/able to pay your fees anyway (which translates to time saved for you).

Still too scared to do it? Check out this post for more on what refusing to list pricing on your website says about your firm.

Start NOW

Despite the reputation of the industry, firms need to stop being boring and find the courage to start standing out already.  While the only meaningful differentiation is a deep expertise within a vertical or horizontal, a lot are just not ready to make the jump.  If you want to feel what it’s like to try and differentiate in other ways this list will help get you started.

Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.

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