‘Nicheing’ is a particularly ugly example of verbing a noun, but it’s become a buzzword because it encapsulates an effective business strategy: pick a target market and prioritise spend and energy in its direction.
There are an awful lot of accountancy practices that, to paraphrase, offer a wide range of tax and financial services, with a friendly, professional, proactive approach, to individuals and businesses across all sectors - both locally and nationally.
That’s understandable. In a hypercompetitive market, it can feel risky to do or say anything that might exclude even a single potential client.
By failing to focus, though, you could be excluding everyone who values specialist knowledge which, our research suggests, could be a lot of people.
It can also have the added benefit of drawing talent to your firm – sharp people tend to enjoy working for a business with a clear purpose, especially when it aligns with their personal interests or professional background.
The recent State of Startups report found that employees care more about making an impact (55%), the problems they’d be solving (42%), the mission (40%), the team (39%) and the culture (30%) than compensation.
We practice what we preach in this regard. As a marketing agency, tempting as it might have been to broaden our client base at times, we’ve stuck to our guns and focused on accountants for more than 20 years.
That single-minded focus gives our clients clarity around our offer and confidence in our expertise.
General vs. specific
Imagine a Casterbridge dairy farmer in search of an accountant. She doesn’t have any word-of-mouth recommendations and is reliant on online research to draw up a shortlist.
One local firm, Generica Accountancy, claims to do everything for everyone, UK-wide.
Another, Henchard’s, says it specialises in tourism, agriculture and construction industry tax and every third item on the corporate blog is about farming. It has a single partner who specialises in agricultural accounting.
A third, Wessex Farm Accountants, does nothing but agricultural accounting; it has a complete guide to tax for farmers available to download; a blog full of tax advice for farmers; and the partners’ CVs reflect a personal interest in farming.
Not only is the latter more likely to surface in search results when people search ‘accountants for farmers’ or related terms, but it’s also more likely to resonate with the potential client in question.
Of course this approach won’t work for every firm and many, like the second imaginary firm above, will want to identify a few complementary niches rather than focusing on just one.
You don’t have to limit yourself to industry sectors when thinking about niches, either – it could be about targeting a particular spending bracket, businesses at a certain stage of their development, or something more complex based on market research and insight.
Buyer personas, AKA user or customer personas, can be one way to crack this. A persona is a portrait of an ideal client, often named, sometimes with a visual representation. The concept was originally conceived in the 1970s to help software developers focus on end-users but has found a new lease of life in modern marketing.
Is this campaign aimed at Zoe, the CEO of an 80-person catering business that’s about to go national, or Tom, a photographer operating as a sole trader with no ambition to grow?
Each needs to hear a different message, possibly in a different voice, through different channels.
We’ve worked with clients who, when given the chance to reflect in a facilitated workshop, have concluded they need to ditch the Toms and get more Zoes. The process can really transform your thinking.
One quick win is to think about which type of client you’d like fewer of on the books – a sort of anti-persona, if you like – and then reflect on what you might do to gently discourage them from getting in touch.
Next, consider undertaking a buyer persona exercise, ideally with a skilled facilitator.
When you know what your ideal client looks like, review your SEO strategy, marketing plan and content calendar so that your activity in the next six to 12 months is clearly focused on winning that business.