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Create a Focus so Your Firm Can Differentiate Itself

Peter Freuler, Jr.When Peter Freuler, Jr. took over his father's CPA practice in Orlando, Fla., he didn't set out to create a firm that specialized in dental and medical accounting. Yet, that's just what happened.

"It started with one medical practice client," says Freuler. "Their two-person office was going through an internal process of determining whether to offer partnerships to other doctors and to expand to offer more specialties. I was pulled in as the CPA advisor, and through that process, I learned a lot about the business side of medicine."

Now, when Freuler meets a prospective medical client, he asks specific questions that establish his expertise. "For example, one of my medical clients made a large deposit, so I called the office to ask what was going on. It turns out that if you use electronic medical records, you get ‘incentive' pay. I can now pass this information on to other medical clients so it becomes a win-win for everyone."

His industry knowledge is paying off."Our closing percentage is much higher with medical industry clients and I know within five minutes of talking to a prospective client whether I am going to get that business," he says.

Finding and Marketing Your Niche
How do you select an area to focus on for your niche? We encourage accountants to look at their existing client base to see if they have a pattern of clients which they enjoy working with, or yield a higher hourly fee realization. We also ask them to look at the concentration of businesses in their local market to see if there is a concentration locally like technology companies in Silicon Valley or defense contractors in Washington DC or hospitality in a certain vacation areas. Some examples of niches are listed below:

Service-specific Niches              Industry-specific Niches
IRS Problem Resolution                 Oil and Gas
International Tax                               Nonprofits
QuickBooks                                     Restaurants/Hotels
Outsourced Controller                    AgriBusiness/Farms/Wineries
Forensic/Business Valuation        Construction/Real Estate

The key is to differentiate your accounting practice from your competitors, so once you have a niche, your practice becomes the "go to" place for that type of service and word of mouth spreads. The quickest and easiest way to do that is by developing a separate website for your niche services.

Freuler has a "generalist" accounting firm website based on his regular services. This website is search engine optimized and attracts business owners searching on the internet for a CPA in the Orlando and Kissimmee area. His medical prospects and clients find him via a niche website focusing on doctors, dentists and medical practices. Medical prospects can find this site by using search terms such as "Orlando CPA for doctors," and "Orlando CPA firm for dentists".

"It was hard to attract medical and dental clients on our primary storefront website because our messaging was so generic," he says. "We found having a second website allows us to attract a specific group of individuals like medical practices and the conversion ratio from prospects that visit our healthcare website is dramatically higher than our "generalist" website.

And the strategy is working. Dental and medical practices are finding Freuler's firm through the niche website instead. His marketing efforts for the medical industry clientele include having well-though-out Google AdWords to drive traffic to the website as well as direct mail, something many practitioners may find surprising in today's always-on marketplace.

"We find that direct mail only works when it crosses the desk at the right time," says Freuler. "The clients coming from the web are more motivated buyers. About 70 percent of our new business comes from the web and 30 percent from direct mail." Referrals are also an important strategy. Freuler uses a soft-sales approach, sending letters when he gets a new client by indicating that he is looking to work with more businesses like the client's.

"All marketing takes time," said Freuler. "Our medical niche is self-perpetuating because doctors talk to each other."

Social Media Tactics
Freuler's firm has a presence on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, but it is not specific to his niche because social media is not a strong marketing tactic for him. Instead, he uses social media to stay in touch with current clients without being obtrusive. Your firm should ensure it is listed in the appropriate places on the web and that you are monitoring those listings. Here's a sampling of other online resources you should consider being involved with:

• LinkedIn. All types of accounting firms should have an active individual LinkedIn profile for every employee with connections to business contacts, clients and colleagues. Ask for recommendations so that people searching for you can get a sense of the level of service you offer and actively promote your activities and pay attention to the new LinkedIn skill "Endorsements."
• Yelp. Yelp is an online directory to help individuals connect with local businesses. Whether you know it, you probably have a listing on Yelp. Make sure it is up to date.
• YouTube. Did you know YouTube generates more searches than Yahoo and Bing? People search YouTube for free information on how to solve a problem or to seek necessary advice on how to make more informed decisions;- all without having to "read." Having videos available on questions your clients frequently ask can really help build your reputation and business.
• Through a zip code search engine, this subscription-based website connects local bookkeepers and tax practitioners with prospective clients.

Growing Your Business
Developing a niche helps establish and showcase a depth of knowledge. It also helps you focus your marketing efforts to a smaller target audience and provide them with compelling reasons to hire you.

"Not a lot of accountants have a concept of marketing," says Freuler. "They are concerned with getting the work, getting the return done and going on their way. The general public wants more; a niche helps you provide that!"

Hugh Duffy MBA

Hugh Duffy is co-founder and chief marketing officer for Build Your Firm, a leading practice development firm dedicated to the accounting industry.  Based in Madison, Conn., Build Your Firm works with small accounting firms providing accounting marketing, practice management and Web site development services

Prior to co-founding Build Your Firm in 2003, Hugh was a Vice President of Internet Marketing for Business & Legal Reports (BLR), a business-to-business publisher for small and medium sized businesses.  Prior to BLR, Hugh was a Director with a publicly traded global internet media company, 24/7 Real Media responsible for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships.  The foundation of Hugh’s marketing background is fourteen years of consumer packaged goods marketing with Schick, Nabisco, Clorox and Coca-Cola. 

Hugh has 25 years of marketing experience, an MBA degree in marketing from the University of Rochester and a B.S. in finance from the University of Maryland.  While at Maryland, Hugh was on a golf scholarship and his coach was Fred Funk, PGA Tour player.  Today, Hugh’s golf game suffers and he is content watching his two kids play college lacrosse.

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