What accounting firms are truly my competition? How do I compare against them?

Showcasing your differences as an accountancy firm so you win the business you want to means understanding your competition so you can make sure you’re different from them, right?

But who is your competition, really? Is it only other accountants? Which ones? Is it limited geographically, or does it extend beyond that?

Have the right attitude towards competition

As you consider these things, I encourage you to be careful about your attitude towards “competition”. We are in an age of opportunity, and having a negative or even angry view towards other accountants will not help your firm and your brand.

Competition is not an opportunity to proclaim that you are great, and others are not.

Competition is an opportunity for you to look, and learn, and push yourself to be better.

If you are coming to the competition question with defensiveness and frustration, your competition now has an edge over you. Because as an accountant, your marketing process involves building trust. You’re dealing with the finest and most personal details that people have in their lives – cash, loans, bank accounts, business partners, family, fear, growth.

They need to know you are confident in who you are. That you’re focused simply on serving them in the best way you know how to do – and then they can make the comparison themselves.

Really, competition is the buyer’s call. Not yours.

Your buyer is comparing you to every other business they deal with

Who are they comparing you to? Perhaps other accountants. But they’re also comparing you to every other business they come in contact with.

Their buying experience is happening every single day. When they buy coffee, order a book from their phone, step into a shop, respond to an email, visit a brewery, stay at a hotel.

Yes, it’s true that they’re not comparing you to those businesses in the sense that they are trying to decide whether to buy a coffee or get an accountant. They will end up buying both coffee and accounting services.

But what if their experience with you as an accountant was so good it reminded them of the contented and positive feeling they got at the coffee shop?

What if you served coffee that was so amazing they would rather pop into your offices than to the local coffee shop? (Shameless plug here for Ashton McGill, who served me the best cup of coffee I have had since that incredible cappuccino in Rome about ten years ago.)

James Ashford says, “It took me less than ten seconds this morning to book my train ticket on my phone, while I was in the cab on the way to the train station. That’s the speed I expect to be able to move at these days, and it’s the speed which your clients and customers expect to move at as well. So if you’re taking weeks to produce monthly management accounts, if you’re taking months and months to produce year end accounts, if you’re taking days to produce a proposal or a fee review for a client, it’s far too long. They’re not judging you against other accountants. They’re not comparing you to other accountants anymore. They’re comparing you to the likes of The Trainline, to Amazon. Your competition isn’t other accountants anymore. Your competition is anyone I choose to compare you to.”

You can’t tell them how you’re different: you have to be different.

The days of saying “We’re different because…” are gone. (If that’s on your website, get rid of it.)

You have to BE different.

If there was one thing I could encourage accountants to do more than anything else when it comes to marketing, it would be to get your brand absolutely right.

It would be to encourage you – and everyone in your firm – to know who you are as a firm in every way. Style, tone of voice, words you use and don’t use, colours, fonts, imagery, people, offices (or not), tech, coffee, everything.

There are “competitors” that you don’t have to worry about because there’s simply no comparison. You niche in dentists, and this other firm doesn’t. You have international connections, or a big team of accountants, or a small team, or no team, or whatever.

When you know who you are, and have confidence in it, your buyer can make the distinction, and the decision, on their own.

With that in mind, think about who your competition might be.

  1. Your competition does include other accountants.

It’s the height of folly to act as if you’re not competing at all with other accountants. You are. When your buyer is considering changing accountants – or even if they are not – they are comparing you to other firms.

There’s no need for this to cause you stress or worry (remember to be yourself), but think about how you can be the best accountant you know how to be.

  1. Your competition is not only local or geographical.

Today’s buyer is far more open to working with a firm who is further away in distance, if they are the right firm. Not every buyer will feel that way – some would rather have an accountant they can pop in and see anytime – but you definitely need to accept the opportunities available to you far beyond your front door, and perhaps even beyond your country.

  1. You may be competing with coaches or consultants

Claire Urwin says, “I think even if people are not accountants if they are wanting money from the same pot of cash as you then they need to be considered as your competitors,

even if they are offering a different service. If we want to be seen as trusted advisors, our competitors are business coaches, marketing companies, event companies, anyone who helps a business… if we are there to help them make more profit, and help them see opportunities within their business then we need to consider these people as competitors.”

There’s definitely a point here. The best accountants are those to whom their clients go for any type of business advice (even life advice at times too). Of course this doesn’t mean that if someone has a business coach or a life coach or a marketing company, they don’t need you (or vice versa). Each person and company is so different: some are going to need lots of advisors, and others only need one.

The key is to ensure that if you offer a service, and your client needs it, that they 1) know you offer it, 2) know how much it costs and value it, and 3) know they have the freedom to add it whenever they are ready.

Barb Brady says: “In the last year I have seen more “life coaches” and didn’t take it too seriously because many who were saying they were coaches did not have a background of sales, marketing, business, or accounting. Many were not trained coaches. But it seemed some were jumping on the band wagon of saying they were a coach and then talked inspiration, relaxing with essential oils, having a business-yoga retreat, doing rituals to “let go of stress”, “feel good” meetings, and not much more. But I am thinking they are a competitor because I have seen businesses be panicked about accounting and then

think even $500 was too much . . . but then spend thousands on a coach for a weekend retreat who promised them that they would be inspired and be able to run their business because of inspiration.”

Simply do great work.

Regardless of the level of competition you see – or don’t see – simply continue to do great work.

“It’s really good to be thinking about your “competition’,” says Chris Marr of The Content Marketing Academy. “I put that in quotes because the word has such a negative connotation – it’s bad to have competitors, they take my business. The key here is to make sure we are all thinking about competitors in a healthy, positive light. In terms of those who do what we do, or similar, ask yourself….

  1. Who are the ones who are awesome?
  2. How are they awesome, and how can that inspire me/us?
  3. What problems and issues do our clients and buyers have that we can solve? How can we be awesome in our own way?

There’s no point spending any time on the ones who aren’t awesome – all they will do is encourage us to either feel over-great about ourselves without a challenge, or we’ll give a bad impression by choosing to put others down.”