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The big opportunity to 10x your fees

Author: Reza Hooda FCA CTA

Published: 30 Jun 2022

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Something subtle but profound happened during the pandemic that represents a huge opportunity for us accountants. Many savvy accountants have already cottoned onto this and are thriving.

With every cloud there is a silver lining. No doubt the pandemic was an awful thing to happen but as a result of this once in a generation event, huge societal shifts have taken place. Change that would have ordinarily taken years – possibly decades - to see through has happened in the space of 24 months.

What I’m talking about is two things:

  1. Clients have become comfortable with talking to you on Zoom
  2. Clients are fine sending you things electronically

Clients being comfortable with video calls

Who hasn’t attended a zoom call in the last 24 months? Very few people – even our Queen has embraced this new normal!. This shift in behaviour happened as a direct result of the pandemic where we were unable to meet in person. But what it has helped to do is make people comfortable with the idea that they can speak to their accountant from the comfort of their own home or office and achieve the same result.

This represents a huge opportunity for us. The opportunity that if you get your positioning and messaging right, you can attract clients from anywhere in the country. It no longer matters that you are local to your client. This is a huge shift to the norm where most small accountancy practices would have a client base that was situated within a certain mile radius of their office. That’s no longer the case. Clients are not concerned where you are based anymore – only that you are the right solution for them and can solve their problem.

Clients are fine sending you things electronically

When our offices were closed clients somehow managed to figure out how to use those receipt capture apps or scan and email information to us because there was no other alternative. This was a blessing in disguise for many of us that had transitioned to the cloud due to MTD but still found that clients ended up being the bottleneck for actually getting information into the system electronically. Given that they’ve been forced to do it during the pandemic means they can do continue to do it going forward making our lives so much easier.

So where is the opportunity?

One of the biggest challenges I hear from practice owners is that it’s so hard to find the right clients. Well, now the catchment area has been widely extended you have a larger pool to find your ideal clients. Granted, just because we are now comfortable with having zoom conversation doesn’t mean you will suddenly get enquiries from clients in all corners of the country.

Get clear on WHO you serve

To do that you need to crystal clear on WHO you want serve. What I mean by that is knowing exactly what type of client you can add the most value to and create the most value for. And that isn’t every SME in the country! There’s one thing I’ve learned about marketing that has stuck with me and that I repeat to accountants I work with which is: “when you try and appeal to everyone, you actually appeal to no-one”.

It's a noisy world out there

Getting people’s attention is now harder than ever with the bombardment of sales messages we get every day – from the emails we receive, the social media posts we consume, the banner ads on the websites we browse, the notifications we get through our phones – it’s constant – and it’s no different for your clients and prospects.

Differentiate yourself

When you look and sound like every other accountant, you will get lost in the sea of sameness. The key is to differentiate yourself. To stand out from the crowd. To swim in the blue ocean where there is little competition rather than the bloody red ocean where everyone else is fighting over the same fish!

When you do that and are seen as a specialist for a certain type of client the perceived value of working with you will go up. When that happens, you’ll attract the discerning clients who want to work with a specialist – because they’ll feel that you understand them better. When you’re a specialist you can charge more – think brain surgeon versus GP. People will seek you out and want to work with you rather than you having to chase prospects who can’t tell you apart from the accountant down the road.

Get your online presence right

And now that the whole country is your oyster, you don’t need to worry about not being able to attract clients within your specialism from just your local area. Get your online presence right and you can attract the right type of clients from anywhere – and be able to serve them no matter where they are.

It doesn’t mean you have to say ‘no’ to businesses that aren’t in your specialism. You are free to take on who you choose – although arguably learning to say no is a key part of getting your strategy right – but your marketing becomes so much easier when you are clear on who you do – and don’t – want as clients.

Be clear on the 'who'

I spent years in practice being all things to all people. The result was clients coming and going when they found someone cheaper. It also meant we couldn’t really increase our prices much because clients couldn’t see value. That all changed when we created our first specialism of targeting property investors. We got clear on our audience – the ‘who’. We started to work with them on a deeper level. We understood their biggest problems and challenges and created content around it. We started getting known as a specialist in the sector and that attracted prospects to us. We were able to charge handsomely for initial consultations (that most accountants do for free) because we’d positioning ourselves as an expert in that area and created valuable content that was given out for free. It became much easier to grow and scale our practice because we got clear on the ‘WHO’.

Then last year at the start of 2021 we decided to specialise in another niche – for content creators and social media influencers. I was about to start a 7 month course for accountants in my mentoring programme to teach how to attract clients on auto pilot and said that as well as teaching you I will do it with you in real time (eat my own dog food as it were). We developed a new name, logo, website, messaging, lead magnet and lead generation strategy – everything that I was teaching – and within 9m generated new business of £100,000 from that new found niche. The heavy lifting was then done and it continues to be the fastest growing side of our practice today with average fees of over £10,000 from clients whose average turnover is just £200,000. Get clear on the WHO and the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ to find them will become much easier.

The VFO model

Rather than seeing MTD as a curse, consider it a blessing. It has forced many accountants to accelerate the speed at which they’ve made the transition to cloud software. But don’t just treat MTD like another compliance requirement and not tap into the benefits that working in the cloud with your client can have for your practice.

The once-a-year accounting model is dying. If that’s still all you’re doing for clients, then soon you’ll be under severe price pressure as technology moves on. Before long the year-end accounts will fall out of the cloud bookkeeping software meaning there will be online accountants who will drive the price of doing accounts right down (it’s already happening as you know). When that happens the service will become commoditised. When that happens your clients will not be able to see you as any different (read: valuable) as the online accountants who can do it for half the price.

Instead, think how you can become more integrated and valuable to your clients. The answer lies in doing something that you may have thought was beneath you – that’s right – bookkeeping! Before we had access to the technology we have today, bookkeeping was a time consuming, laborious process. But that’s all changed. Using technology we can make bookkeeping highly efficient. We can get our juniors to do the work. And we can make it highly profitable if we position it in the right way.

Because we’re not ‘just’ doing bookkeeping. We’re actually implementing an ‘accounting system’. We’re actually managing the ‘finance function’ of the business. That is so much more valuable. And when you position it like that to the client and communicate the value of your offering then you can charge a higher price. What you can now do is what the client would have to employ in house staff to do. You have the know how, experience and team to take on the finance function of small businesses and deliver it much more cost effectively than they could do themselves by recruiting in house. When that happens, you’re no longer compared to their last accountants when you pitch your fee – the comparison is now against how much it would cost them to hire in house – big difference – and that’s how you drive up your value to be able to drive up the price you charge.

The Virtual Finance Office

Accountants that are doing this are regularly getting fees of between £15,000 - £60,000 for this type of work (we even had one small sole practitioner in our Mastermind group get a whopping fee of £180,000 from one client!). I call it the VFO model or The Virtual Finance Office – because that’s what we are for clients. We can do anything from bookkeeper to FD and anything in between. And that’s a much more valuable service for clients – because they become reliant on you managing the finance side of the business and you become integrated with their operations. When that happens they become stickier and will stay with you for longer because you are actually giving them value – rather than just being a necessity for completing year end accounts. There is no advisory without a proper foundation – take charge of getting that foundation in place for your clients then you can build an advisory service off the back of it for those clients that want it.

This is the new normal. We actually resigned as auditors back in 2018 to concentrate more on providing this service to clients and haven’t looked back. As auditors you are a necessary evil. When you provide a VFO service you are a valuable necessity. I know which one I’d rather be – do you?

Reza Hooda FCA CTA

Reza is a practice owner, coach and mentor to accountants worldwide. To find out more about how he helps accountants get better paying clients, make more money and free up time you can connect with him on Linkedin or find him via his website (www.rezahooda.com). For more on the VFO model you can watch his Accountex talk at https://www.rezahooda.com/how-to-double