One of the trends I am beginning to see in the accountancy industry is one that I really like: it is that of accountants collaborating together rather than competing hardcore against each other.
There will always be healthy competition, of course, and you don’t have innovation and growth without it. But traditionally the accountancy mindset has been to hold back, tuck in the elbows, hide the work, protect the good ideas. And lately – particularly with the advent of cloud accounting and all the collaboration and idea-generating that goes along with it – there is more of a spirit of being willing to work together, to help, to share ideas.
Here are the reasons that is really, really good – and how you can make the most of it for your firm:
Collaboration means more business for everyone
One of the benefits of choosing a niche market, or one or more focus areas, is that it focuses your own marketing.
It also gets you more of the right kind of business, because as you prove your expertise, prospects make their decisions more quickly. It helps you know what to say when people ask “so, what do you do?”, and they don’t just want to know that you are an accountant. Telling them that you do accounting for dentists, or for landlords, or creative agencies, encourages them to say “Oh – I am one of those! How can you help me?”
And when it comes to collaboration, if you get to the point where you are only working with a certain market or markets, you have the opportunity to get and receive business in a way you never imagined.
One of our clients, My Accountancy Place, works exclusively with creative agencies. When they get a lead for a different type of business that they don’t tend to work with, Paul often comes to me and asks if I know of an accountant who deals in that other area. And far from giving Paul less work, he gets more because his marketing is so specific – and the other accountant gets more because they are being handed a very warm lead – and the result is that you both look good. Which brings us to my next point.
Collaboration gives you a good reputation in your field
We all know the accounting industry is a fairly inbred place. Everyone knows everyone, it seems.
When you “play well with others”, it looks good for you, and your firm, and that reputation begins to grow. You are not grasping at every opportunity, holding it close to you even if you don’t want it yourself. You are generous, willing to share, helpful, positive.
Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?
Collaboration means better marketing ideas
The more you talk and share with other accountants, the more your own marketing ideas begin to grow. One of the things I’m regularly telling accountants is that you have really good marketing ideas. You may not realise this – you may have bought in to the concept that accountants are no good at marketing, so you need someone to tell you what to do.
Granted, marketing is not your area of expertise (because accountancy is!), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have some brilliant ideas, or could come up with them if given half a chance.
This is because the best marketing does not push or sell or cajole – it simply addresses a problem that your prospect has. And solves it.
Whether they are aware of that problem or not is another matter – sometimes you need to bring it to their attention. But when you understand your clients and prospects, their needs and concerns, then you will come up with ways to help them with it – and that’s the very best kind of marketing.
When you collaborate with other accountants, it’s not about ‘stealing’ their great marketing ideas.
It’s tempting, I know, to see what someone else has already made a success of, and think “Well I could do that too.” Perhaps you could.
But the first question is not whether another accountant made a success of it. It’s whether your clients and prospects would find that idea useful, helpful, and relevant. This is why collaboration inspires such good marketing ideas: because someone else’s suggestion should spur you on to new ideas that suit your clients best. Not theirs.
I’ve never advocated trying to remake yourself or your firm in the image of another accountant. But if what they’re doing sparks an idea, or helps shape one you already have, that’s powerful. That’s true collaboration.
Collaboration makes you more profitable
Holding yourself back from sharing ideas and stories with your fellow accountants is backwards thinking. You may think you’re protecting your clients and your fees, but you’re actually restricting the flow of great marketing.
And if someone else likes your idea and borrows it, and does something similar, will that really cut into your profits? Will you really be worse off – will that accountant (who is probably halfway across the country if not the world) actually steal your clients and all that potential new work you were going to get?
First, if they can and do steal a good number of clients from you, there are service issues your firm should probably address.
Second, aren’t we always saying that “people do business with people”? You are unique. There is no other person, or indeed accountancy firm, like you or yours in the whole world. So if there are a few people who prefer to go with another firm rather than yours, let them. It’s critical to know who you are and what an ideal client is for your firm, so that you have the relief of knowing that you didn’t “lose” a prospective client – you saved yourself hassle, trouble, and a situation that would have lost you profits that you could have been making elsewhere.
Finally, back to our concept of niche marketing, the more you do business with a particular kind of business or client, the swifter and more efficient you will become. That means everything takes less time – from sales to delivery. Which, at the same prices you’re already charging, as you well know, directly affects your bottom line.
Isn’t that what you’re always telling your clients?
Collaboration makes business less stressful
It is remarkable how much effort goes into strategic planning, and marketing, and systems implementation, and team training….all of these things which are part of running your accountancy firm.
The stress factor increases if you don’t have the right people – either on your team or on your client list.
I worked with an accountant who told me about how losing one of his biggest clients was the best thing that ever happened to his firm. “Their annual fee was higher than that of at least half of our other clients,” he said, “but the stress and strain of dealing with them meant that I and my team were always exhausted, worried, and frustrated. The client actually didn’t leave – we let them go. We told them that we were going in a different direction and we suggested they find another accountant. Surprisingly, they suddenly offered to pay more, but the money didn’t matter to us anymore. After that client was gone, the entire atmosphere in the firm lightened. We were happier, more energetic, and more efficient.”
That accountant discovered what many of you have, as well: that having clients you like, and the type of work you’re good at, makes everything less stressful – and therefore more profitable.
So when you collaborate with other accountants, and even let them take the type of clients you can’t or won’t work with, everyone benefits.
Finally, remember that all this advice on collaboration doesn’t just come from me. Craig McKie of CNJ Accounting said the same thing at a Xero partner panel in Edinburgh recently. He attributed much of his success as a Xero partner to collaboration with other accountants, and sharing ideas instead of holding them close.
Who can you collaborate with today?