Get Your Niche On or Get Left Behind

Firm Marketing

Most public accounting firm leaders have come to realize that firms today exist in an environment of differentiation and specialization. It is no longer effective to send a message to the market that “we provide quality tax, audit, and assurance services.” This generic message simply does not resonate with potential clients because every firm can make that claim. It is not a winning statement that leads to a valuable client relationship.

The firms winning the market share battle are those that have embraced a specialized industry or services offering, developed a team with a corresponding specialized expertise, and documented an ideal client profile. Many firms call this the “niche” approach. (Just to be clear, the word is pronounced “neesh” not “nitch!”)

Let’s drill down on the attributes and methodology of a successful niche services offering. A niche can be centered around a particular industry, for example healthcare, construction, or nonprofit organizations. A niche can also be focused on a services offering across industries, such as retirement plan audits, business valuations, or forensic accounting services.

Whether your niche is focused on a specialized industry or service, the same methodology should be utilized. Let’s use a healthcare industry niche as an example. Here are the steps to getting your niche planning started:

  1. Identify your ideal client profile by organizational profile. Are you planning to serve large acute care facilities, assisted living facilities, surgery centers, or physician-owned primary care clinics? It’s not sufficient to simply describe the healthcare sector, it’s too broad. You must narrow it down to a client that you can visualize, describe, and understand. Some attributes to include in your ideal client profile are the size of the company, the ownership structure, the management group profile, the various team roles, and common organizational pain points or challenges.
  2. Segment your ideal client profile further. What do they do? Why do they do it? For whom? What is their mission? What do they value? What are their challenges, and what do they need and want? (Though they may not be able to articulate their needs, they are waiting for you to tell them in a way that resonates with their experience).
  3. Where are the gaps in their business? What are they missing? What are the common challenges, what are they not especially good at doing? What gets left behind
  4. Map your services to their needs. If they are large enough to have a solid finance team in place, i.e. CFO, Controller, Accounting, and Bookkeeping roles, then that may eliminate some of the services that you can offer. In that scenario, you may be limited to a compliance services offering. If they do not have all of the financial management roles in place, your services may be designed to fill in the gap with more elements of an advisory services engagement. The bottom line is that you start by assessing their profile, and then you can decide where you are able to add the most value.
  5. Productize the services offering. In other words, build a program or product for this client profile, rather than treating every client with a one-off services engagement. Go into the discovery meeting leading with “let me tell you about our program.” The more you can productize (rather than customize) your services offering, the more efficient and consistent your services execution will be. This model allows your services team to be able to understand their roles and execute repeatable processes and deliverables that will allow an element of scale to grow your business.

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