Our friends at Practice Web have shared SME research with ACCA which shows how 78% of SMEs look for an accountant who is qualified.
This is what they say:
PracticeWeb is an agency that specialises in digital marketing for accountants and this year we’ve been focusing on one important question: what can accountancy firms do to stand out in a crowded market?
To gain insight into what small and medium-sized businesses really value in an accountant, we interviewed a select number of operators and owners of SMEs and surveyed a hundred more.
It turns out that some things accountants might take for granted really are important to clients and so worth shouting about.
For example, when we put a list of desirable characteristics in front of our survey group and asked subjects to choose which mattered most, 52% said professionalism was either important or very important.
Of course everybody thinks they’re professional, even unprofessional people, but this is about proving it.
Or, to flip that, it means making sure nothing you do or say signals that you might be unprofessional – stock imagery of babies in business suits on your homepage, for example, or inappropriate jokes on your Facebook account.
The second most important was honesty at 47% – a surprisingly low number given the nature of the work, perhaps.
Again, responding to this might be as much about demonstrating honesty as making sure there’s nothing about your business that suggests the opposite.
In terms of digital marketing, that means avoiding pages designed to lure traffic from web searches but which don’t actually deliver on their promise. If you have a page titled ‘Accountants for opticians’, for example, the content shouldn’t be a generic blurb about your firm, or users will feel hoodwinked and click away in anger.
Displaying customer reviews and testimonials can go a long way to convincing potential clients of both your professionalism and honesty, with the added weight that comes with third-party endorsement.
That need for an external stamp of approval perhaps also explains the value placed on membership of professional accounting bodies: 78% of respondents said this was important to some degree, with 50% saying it was very important.
One person we spoke to in the interview phase of the research project expressed the reasoning pithily: ‘There are a lot of cowboys out there.’
Membership, proudly declared and displayed front and centre, gets you through the initial sift with anyone looking for a new accountant and eager to narrow the field.
Another important quality is knowledge of specific industries: 71% of respondents told us it is important or very important that their accountant knows their sector.
The takeaway here might be that, tempting as it can be to pitch your firm as an all-rounder for fear of losing out on business, there is a risk of coming across as ‘master of none’ and losing out on even more.
Whichever sectors you decide to target, and however many, it’s vital to make sure you can back up your claims to expertise when a potential client bites and starts to interrogate you in that initial phone call or meeting.
Your website should also feature meaningful, substantial content, proving your experience and knowledge rather than merely declaring it.
Something many will be relieved to hear is that there’s a relatively low expectation of accountants to demonstrate dynamism or forward-thinking. Only 5% and 9% of respondents respectively selected those as important qualities.
New entrants to the market have carved out a niche by embodying these values but it’s not what every client wants and won’t work for every firm.
One interesting detail emerges if we dig a little deeper, though: those who were seeking dynamism tended to have higher turnovers, above £1m per year. That’s worth thinking about if you’re after those big fish.
Finally, it’s remarkable just how loyal clients tend to be. More than 60% of respondents had been with their current accountant for more than five years and a full 40% had stuck with the same firm for more than nine.
In other words, if you can get their attention, explain why your firm is better than the next and get them signed up, the potential lifetime value of each client is enormous.
You can read the full report, with information on attitudes to price, customer service, cloud software and more, at AccountingWeb and PracticeWeb