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How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Does your practice suffer from a shortage of top talent? Are new leads turning to your competitors first? Is your firm increasingly competing on price? For many accounting firms, maintaining steady, upward growth is a constant challenge. And it’s remarkably easy to slip into the doldrums and stop growing entirely.

In this post, I’ll cover seven strategies to revive your firm’s growth and build momentum over time. I’ll also share some key insights from recent research that sheds light on how high-growth accounting firms are using firm-wide, high-visibility expertise to keep their businesses moving forward.

7 Strategies To Revive Your Firm’s Growth And Build Momentum

1. Create a Culture of Learning and Change

Knowledge is power and, in this case, so is expertise.  Professional services firms meet client needs by delivering expertise, so firms that focus on developing their subject matter experts and areas of specialty are one step ahead of the pack. Fostering an environment that values teaching — and cultivating a team of subject matter experts, writers and speakers to impart their knowledge, are key to implementing a thought leadership program and increasing visibility in the marketplace. 

Figure 1. Subject matter expert business development skills by growth category

2. Use Research-Based Marketplace Insights

In our research on high-growth firms, we discovered that organizations that conduct frequent research on their target client groups grow faster and more profitable — up to 11X faster growth and 2X more profitable. 

Figure 2. Impact of Research on Growth

Here are seven areas to focus in your research:

  1. Why do your best clients choose your firm?
  2. Who are your true competitors?
  3. How do potential clients see their greatest challenges?
  4. What packages can you offer to address them?
  5. What is the real benefit your firm provides?
  6. What is the most effective way to attract your best target clients?
  7. How do your current clients really feel about your firm?

When equipped with answers, your firm can have a tangible edge over competitors who rely on anecdotal evidence alone.

3. Develop a niche-focused strategy

While increasing a firm’s visible expertise is a powerful growth strategy, so is narrowing the focus of its expertise. In fact, specialization is the most common and successful competitive strategy used by accounting firms today. 

Our research tells us that firms that specialize often grow faster than their non-differentiated counterparts. Furthermore, when a firm develops a reputation as a leading expert in a specialized area of knowledge or industry, it has a significant and sustainable competitive advantage.

Figure 3. Degree of firm specialization by growth category

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

4. Make your Expertise Visible and Easy to Find

Interestingly enough, Visible Expertise — a firm’s ability to turn individual professionals into high-visibility industry experts — was the number one factor increasing the probability of referrals for accounting firms, ranking above professional relationships, social networks, reciprocity and networking events. What’s more, our research tells us that buyers of professional services will spend up to $1,400 an hour for a top Visible Expert. And just by being associated with these stars, their firms are often able to charge higher fees, as well. That should be a huge incentive to increase the profile of your firm’s experts.

Figure 4. Which factors increase the probability of referrals?

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Figure 5. How do they learn about your expertise?

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Figure 6. Hourly rates people will pay for Visible Experts

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

5. Be Where Your Prospects Are Looking

Did you know that 89.7% of buyers rule out an accounting firm before they’ve even talked to them? That means you’ve got to be building a strong reputation in the background.

Today’s buyers use a variety of techniques to find and vet new accounting firms. That’s why it’s important you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, embrace a mix of online and traditional techniques to reach your audience. If you have relied on traditional marketing in the past, try to determine which techniques have worked best and keep those in the mix. But be ruthless and cut out the fat. You will need room to invest heavily in content marketing so you can expand your reach and build a powerful, expertise-based reputation.

Figure 7. Probability buyers will use each channel type to research a business challenge

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Figure 8. Probability buyers will use each channel type to evaluate service providers

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

6. Invest in Marketing

Here’s the inconvenient but unsurprising truth: high-growth firms invest more in marketing than low- and no-growth firms. 

Figure 9. High growth requires an investment

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

But that’s not the end of the story. They use much of that money to invest in the skills — whether internal or outsourced — it takes to deliver their strategy with efficiency.

Here are the major skill sets you are likely to need to carry out a modern marketing program.

Figure 10. What skills are needed for success

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

No one ever said marketing was a one-person job. In fact, it’s no longer the sole domain of the marketing department. Leverage the talents of those in business development, leadership and technical positions to write strategic content pieces, help share them and speak on various issues and topics. The more involved and engaged your team, the more powerful your content-based strategy will be. And the faster it will take off.

Figure 10. Marketing as a team sport

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

7. Become a Magnet for Top Talent

Sometimes getting past a stage of stalled growth is as easy as adding new faces, talent and expertise to your firm. Reprioritize your recruiting efforts to focus on what candidates really care about. Are there generational differences? If so, make sure you speak to both audiences and fine-tune messaging for your target segments. Are they looking for avenues to advance their careers? Clearly describe the opportunities and pathways that lie ahead. And consider investing in your employer brand — build a messaging platform exclusively for recruits designed to get them excited about your firm, its values and its promise.

As you retool your recruiting strategy, use the data below to guide your messaging and which marketing channels you choose to promote your firm to candidates. Most prospective employees want to work for a firm with headroom for professional growth, plenty of flexibility and top pay. But keep in mind that there are significant differences in what motivates the different generations. Also, be aware of where these individuals get their information so that you invest fruitfully.

Figure 11. What do candidates really care about?

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Figure 12. Are there generational differences among candidates?

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Figure 13. What channels are used to connect firms with talent?

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough

Now Is Time To Make Your Move….

If your firm is mired in the mudflats of middling performance, it may be time to take a hard look at your marketing strategy. In this article, I’ve identified a few key areas where high-growth accounting firms focus their attention — and how they invest their time and treasure. 

Pull out your marketing plan (if you have one) and compare it to the seven strategies I describe above. Chances are, your current marketing approach is very different from that practiced by high-performing firms. That’s not a bad thing. It just means you have plenty of potential to mine in the months and years ahead as you transform your business from a purveyor of commodity services to an in-demand source of expertise.

How to Get Going When the Growing Gets Tough
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July 8, 2019
Lee W. Frederiksen
Lee W. Frederiksen, Ph.D., is Managing Partner at Hinge, the leading branding and marketing firm for the professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.