I’ve recently finished reviewing the entries for the ‘New Firm of the Year’ for the AccountingWeb awards this year. As a judge, one of the things I’m asked to consider every year is which entries stand out. Showcase themselves well. Make a case for actually being different (not merely saying ‘we are different’).
We did shortlist five firms, and chose a winning firm as well. (We will all, including me, find out what the firm is in a few weeks’ time – they’re announced on 18 August.)
This year, it struck me that of the 13 entries I judged, at least half of them didn’t stand out at all. Although they sounded like they could be decent firms, not one thing within the awards entry leaped out and caught my attention.
Now, it could very well be that some of those firms actually are different. That if I met them and had a coffee (or beer) with them and heard them share their passion about their new firm, I’d be amazed and excited and enthusiastic.
But here’s the thing: if that doesn’t come across in your awards entry, you may want to revisit it.
Here are my tips for writing an awards entry for your firm:
One of my favourite entries said that client care was a priority, which in itself doesn’t stand out. If you don’t care about your clients you won’t succeed in any business, accounting or otherwise. But this firm said they have a designated “beer fund” which started at £20k and was projected to increase to up to £50k within three years.
Now, we all know it’s unlikely they’ll spend £20k solely on beer: but they found a way to catch my attention. It surprised me and made me laugh, too, which is critical in any marketing content.
Cloud accounting does NOT differentiate you.
Cloud accounting is merely the price of entry for new firms these days.
I lost track of the number of firms who tried to say they were different because they use cloud accounting, Xero, Free Agent, whatever.
Accountants, you must get it into your heads that this is not a differentiator – especially in awards entries. The accounting industry is increasingly becoming more and more about tech.
The question is, how are you using this tech in a unique way? What’s your spin? (This also applies to being friendly, professional, caring for your clients, delivering good accounting services, providing fixed fee packages, delivering monthly management accounts, helping your clients look at the big picture, etc., etc. None of those surprise me: as a matter of fact it would surprise me immensely if you managed to have a successful firm without those things.) Oh, and this also applies to Making Tax Digital.
Write like a human being.
I’m constantly advising firms to do this in their prospect-facing marketing, but the same applies for any content you write: website pages, blogs, award entries, social media posts, even emails.
When you say that you want to do things differently to other accountants, and your aim is to provide clients with accounting that allows them to operate efficiently, and your online solution is fully compliant, none of that appeals to me as a human. Use the kind of words you’d use in a text to a family member or a mate. Write like you speak. Let the reader feel like they’re getting to know you as a person, not as a corporate animal.
This is also the reason you don’t need a ‘why’ page on your website. If you have to tell people your why, then it isn’t integral to who you are yet.
Let your passion shine through.
This presumes that you are wholeheartedly passionate about the business you’re running: which is one of the traits of the best entrepreneurs out there.
They are enthusiastic about what they sell, and they want the whole world to know about it – whether it’s building furniture, or shooting wedding photographs, or running a creative agency.
I know that the world thinks accountants are boring and accounting is something you have to have at the cheapest cost possible: but we all know that’s not true. Let the world see why it’s not true.
Share the numbers.
Most firms were quite happy to share turnover, number of clients, profits and profit percentages. This helps a lot when I’m comparing firms, because it means I can compare like with like.
But – just as you would advise your clients when reviewing their own numbers – what doesn’t help is if those numbers are vague in any way. “We’ve doubled our sales and increased profits by x%” can sound really good, but when you don’t say what your total sales are, I don’t know whether you’ve doubled from 2k to 4K, or 200k to 400k, or 2m to 4m. I’ll guess that if you don’t want to share the actual numbers, it means that those numbers are small and you’re trying to make them look bigger. That may not be the case, but that’s the impression it can give.
Track client care numbers.
One of the firms said they want to be like Amazon and John Lewis – and then explained that they have a help desk for clients, and shared their response rate of responding to client queries via this help desk within 4 hours. If you want to deliver great service, track it so you and your team know if you’re actually doing it or not.
The more compliance services become automated and digital and simpler for business owners to understand (or even do themselves), the more critical it is for you to know that you are not in the numbers business: you’re in the people business, and the tech business.
Write primarily about what you’ve done, not only what you hope to do.
Goals and future plans are excellent: and I salute them. I’ve got goals of my own that I think about every day of my business life.
But when it comes to an awards entry, you’ve got to show what you’ve already done. Even if it’s the smallest step towards that goal, the award is being given to you because of what you have achieved: not on the hope of future achievement.
The entries that impressed me the most were those that detailed future plans and big dreams, and then pointed out the small things they were doing daily to work towards those goals. Many people say they want to write a book, but not everyone starts blogging or writing daily to achieve it. Some people would love to run a marathon one day, but if you haven’t even done a 5k yet, it’s unlikely you’ll get there.
Starting small is extremely powerful: do the small things, and show how they tie into the bigger ones. It may not seem like much, but the consistency and commitment will shine through.
Think like a business owner, not an accountant.
This is a theme running through everything we advise you from PF. If you want to be an amazing accounting firm, look at businesses that aren’t accountants for your ideas.
You want your awards entry to be so impressive that you would win the award if you were entering in a general business competition. Are you doing the things that great businesses are doing these days, like being on all the social media platforms and figuring out new ways to use Instagram? Is your brand on point with a great logo and consistent brand colours and fonts in all your marketing? Are you hiring the best employees or working with the best freelancers you can find?
These awards from AccountingWeb are great. I love seeing accountants apply for them and win them. And I’d also love to see more accountants applying for non-accounting awards – and winning them, too.