After years of working with accountants, I am beginning to feel their pain when it comes to companies who simply want to flog accountants for what they can get from them.
It’s a sad fact that there are so many people, and businesses, who look at accountants and think “Hey, this is a great market. These accountants have high levels of recurring fees, a captive audience, and great relationships with hundreds if not thousands of clients. How can we get in on this, and make money from them?”
It’s really backwards thinking. If there’s anything I’ve been harping on about for years, it’s the fact that in order to serve a market (whether by having an exclusive niche, or as one of the audiences you serve) you’ve got to have these things:
- Expertise in that market: You know them, you understand them, you’re qualified to help them
- Likeability: You like these people, and more importantly, they like you. This likeability means that you actually enjoy spending time with them. Talk their language. Would love to join them for a pint. It doesn’t mean you like their clients and the money they represent.
- Profitability: This has to go both ways. You’ve got to have a product or service that is genuinely helpful for this market, and a way to deliver it profitably. It needs to result in profit for them, too.
Sadly, there are so many businesses out there who simply want to “monetise” accountants.
I really hate that word, “monetise”.
I realise that you need to make a profit. (See my third point above.) But the concept of monetisation lately has a connotation with “flogging someone for as much as you can get from them”.
That may work for some people (though I’m not quite sure who, exactly).
But when it comes to working with accountants, I can assure you that the accountants themselves are extremely wise to the tricks.
I’ve had to apologise to more than one accountant that they were treated so badly by another company, a consultant, an “advisor”, a strategist, whatever.
I wish it wasn’t the case.
I wish more companies truly, genuinely wanted to help their target audience – whether accountants or someone else.
Sadly, though, there are some businesses who can say the right words (“Yes, yes, we really want to help accountants”), and yet their actions and their products say otherwise (“We really want to make a lot of money and accountants will help us do that”).
We could start a whole debate on how important it is to make money. I really don’t want to do that. I’ve had so many conversations on this topic and have gone round and round in circles because I’m not asking everyone to be a charitable organisation. My own company’s name includes the word “profitable”, and we strive for that ourselves as well as encouraging and helping our accountant clients to do the same.
You absolutely, always, have to get paid. My friend Chris Marr has some very strong words about always getting paid.
What I want to do is encourage anyone – a person, a business, a huge organisation – who wants to work with accountants, that there are a few things to make sure you think about before you start adding up the potential gold mine in your head:
1. Think first about what accountants really struggle with.
Everyone seems to want to market things to accountants because they see them as a good target market – they have money, they have lots of clients they could share it with, their business model has lasted.
I’d encourage you to really think seriously about whether you are building something that will genuinely help accountants (or their clients), or if you’re primarily seeing them as a way to make lots of money.
If the latter, the accountants will see through it in a second and be annoyed.
2. Review what’s already out there already to help them.
I’ve lost track of the number of companies who have come to me with a brilliant new idea for accountants, and I’ve sent them links to two or three or seventeen different solutions that already exist.
Thinking of a great new app for accountants? Check out all the other app companies first. Want to build a great community? Join a few others and see what they’re doing before you start. Got an idea of how accountants can better provide advisory services, not only compliance? Yeah…give up on that one. It’s well covered.
Ask yourself what your app or product or website or service does that would be better than the existing ones.
3. Ask for advice from those who know the accounting industry well.
I’m hugely honoured when someone comes to me and says, “Karen, I’m thinking of this product for accountants” or “This company hired me to consult with them on this solution for accountancy firms”, and wants to know what I think.
Whilst I’m not the only person you can ask, I do have over twenty years of experience working with this industry and may have a few insights to share.
Best of all, because I work so closely with accountants on a global scale, I can also direct you to other great organisations and people who do an amazing job of helping accountants, and you can get their input too. People like Thriveal and Xero and Futrli and so many others.
4. Test it first, and listen.
This is simply good business advice, of course. Any business idea needs to be tested.
In your testing to accountants, please really listen to what they’re saying. If everyone is resistant or not sure or wondering how it can help, you might not have a product which will genuinely help them…which takes you back to point one. Make sure your desire to have a profitable business or product is not blinding you to the feedback you’re getting.
Of course, that being said, accountants do have a habit of being fairly critical and sometimes even cynical.
They admit this to me all the time, and realise that it’s connected to their professional scepticism and a lifelong habit of questioning facts rather than accepting them instantly.
It’s a trait that is a strength and a weakness (and they know it) so bear that in mind in case you’re feeling a little too discouraged. You might not have a bad business idea: it may simply need more edits than you realised.
5. Check whether you really love working with accountants.
If you’re going to help them, sell to them, work with them, present to them…you’ve got to really love them.
At the Profitable Firm, we unashamedly love working with accountants. We genuinely do.
The ones who come to us are hard working, funny, interesting, talented, family-focused, people of integrity. (There are a few exceptions of course, as in any industry, but they don’t tend to want to work with us, so that works out grand.)
If you’ve gone through all the steps above and you’ve got a great product that will truly help accountants and their clients, and it’s profitable for you and for them, and everyone agrees and it’s been well tested….ask yourself how you feel about all the conversations you’re going to have over the next few years. Because if you are annoyed by accountants or they drive you insane or frustrate you constantly, they’re going to feel that. And it won’t end up being profitable at all.
If you’ve got a brilliant idea for accountants, don’t hesitate to ask me. I’m always happy to help: because I welcome any great idea which will truly help my accountants and their clients. Let’s find out if it will.