The Destruction of the Jack of All Trades

jack of all tradesBeing an accountant who is all things to all people does not work if you want to have a profitable practice.  The “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” principle applies to you as an accountant, just as it does to anyone else, service professional or tradesman.

Naturally, most of you feel that you know this, and you have already addressed it in your accounting firm.  You don’t pretend to be an expert in international tax, so you don’t do this kind of work.  Perhaps you even know an accountant who is an expert in this, and you refer them some work from time to time.

But I am talking much more than simply knowing you are not a Jack of all trades, yourself.  More than being willing to refer work to someone who is far outside your geographical area (and therefore safe, because they won’t come swooping in and stealing all your clients).

The Huge Opportunity, Jack

There is a huge opportunity that many accountancy firms are missing because of a fear of client theft.  Accountants (I know this for a fact) hold their clients very, very close to their hearts.  Their business hearts, anyway.  Sometimes to the extent that you don’t even like it when other accountancy partners – within your own practice – are talking to your client.

Granted, one of the reasons accountants are so profitable is that you build a client relationship and it lasts for life.  Business life, or human life, or both, or longer.  The average lifetime value of an accountancy firm client is 17 years. Average! That means that many of you have clients who have been with you for 30 years. Or 40. Or longer.  Perhaps your father owned the accountancy practice you now run, and his clients are now passing their businesses to their children (who are your clients).  This is a wonderful thing. It means once you get new business, you really don’t have to fear losing it if you keep the relationship.

And this is where the fear comes in. I almost find it funny that you might not bother too much about losing your client until someone else wants to talk to them.  You may not have had more than a two minute conversation with your client in a few months (or a year), but if the new marketing manager sits down with him for an hour, you suddenly are up in arms.  That’s within your own firm.  If another accountant offers to help your clients in some way, you brace yourself for war.

I want to open your eyes to the great opportunities that are available if you first realise that being a Jack of all trades is not profitable for you – and secondly, apply this by being willing to consider strategic partnerships with other accountants – even ones who aren’t that far away.

What?? You cry. Let some other accountant in the next town over have access to my client? Talk to him regularly? Help him grow his business in some way that I am not an expert in?  NEVER!

If I haven’t lost you already, read on to consider the opportunities that may come your way if you make strategic connections with other accountants who are very, very good at something you are not.

I don’t simply mean an accountant who has done a few more tax returns than you have, or who has three veterinarian clients when you only have one.  I am encouraging you to find accountants who are specialists, experts – something they are so good at, and have been doing for so long, that it is ridiculous for you to consider trying to become an expert in it yourself.  If another accountant has 30+ years experience working with the dental industry, the answer is not to rush out and get more dental practices because this other accountant has made so much money doing that.  By the time you get your 30 years experience, he will have 60 years’ experience, and will still be getting more work than you.

Try This, Jack

Here are my tips as you consider this:

Investigate.  Don’t just resist out of pride or habit.  Really look into this – first by knowing your own areas of expertise (read on), and then by being willing to connect with others. I am pretty passionate about niche marketing, because it makes your life so much easier.  Instead of grasping at every prospective client that comes you way, things are much more clear cut.  If they are not within your target market, spend very little time on the prospective process.

Know your strengths. If you do not know where you are excellent, and where you are not so experienced, you can’t figure out who to connect with.  One of the ways we help accountants do this is via our Content Marketing Plan process – you fill in a questionnaire, and we talk for a while about what you have been working on, clients you like, work you have done more of, and what you’re making money on.  Every single accountant with whom we have done this process, who started it thinking they had no niche areas, came out the other end surprised to discover that they were really, really good at something very few other accountants are.  For example, one of our accountancy firms really doesn’t have any particular niche areas when it comes to clients…but my goodness is he excellent at maintaining relationships with bank managers.  They get at least 70% of their referrals from banks and bank managers, and these are good referrals, most of which result in excellent clients, the kind who take many different services and never leave.  That is a powerful niche, and you can bet we are going to make the most of that in his marketing.

Talk to other accountants with this in mind. Most accountants i know talk to other accountants quite a lot.  At conferences, exhibitions, in networking groups, workshops, conference calls.  But much of it is “talking shop” (the latest excitement about RTI, perhaps), or else swapping war stories (“can you believe what he thought my fee should be??”), or boasting about success stories (“I saved them over a million in taxes, and they have now set up a new branch in Indonesia”). Sometimes you might even talk marketing, and the new things you have tried, what worked and what didn’t.   But if you already know your strengths, you can ask the right questions of those you talk to.  What do they do a lot of? Where have they had massive successes for clients? Do they even know?  (You might find yourself quickly becoming a consultant to the accounting profession, if you ask the right questions!)

Work with those you like.  No matter if the accountant you run into at the next event knows more about Australian tax than you could ever hope to know in three lifetimes, if you don’t get on with him.  If you are going to consider some kind of connection, and sharing work, you have to have the same business philosophy and way of working.

Have a very clear-cut referral relationship.  Keep it simple.  If you are referring prospective clients (they do not work with you, and will not if you pass them on), then you are referring work that you are not even going to attempt, anyway.  If you get an enquiry from a medical practice, and you know that your firm down the road with his 30+ years experience working with medical practices will by far be the best choice for them, send them on. Track every referral you send, keeping a clear list, and check in with this prospect to make sure they are happy and all is going well.  If it is, make sure you get your fee. If you are referring existing clients, and you are keeping the client relationship, make it clear what the other accountant is working with them on, and stay in the loop. Don’t just hand it off and presume it will go well – especially with the first two or three. Get it absolutely right at the beginning, and once a good level of work and trust has been established, you can relax a little.

Review your own client relationships.  Sometimes accountants hesitate to consider bringing other accountants in, in any way, because you know deep down that your relationship is a little shaky with that particular client, and you don’t know what to do about it. If that is the case, sort that out first before you do anything else.  Talk to the other partners at your own firm.  Talk to your client and ask them how you can help them more.  Impress them with something new you can provide or offer, and then when the relationship is stronger than ever, you can bring in anyone you like.

At the Profitable Firm, we work with accountants all over the globe, and many of them are experts in areas you are not.  If you are looking for a particular area of expertise, just ask. We might be able to connect you.