Something that many business owners struggle with is saying NO to work. We all need to pay the bills right?
In this week’s guest post, our CMA Member Karen Reyburn shares her own story. One in which she’s carved out a niche in a very competitive market and refuses to work with those who aren’t in that niche. You may think it’s risky but well, I’ll leave Karen to persuade you that it’s not the case (and I agree with her!).
The PF Team
My creative agency works exclusively and only with accountants.
Not everyone does this. And for your content marketing to be successful, it’s not imperative that you have a niche or that you serve it exclusively.
But it is important that your content marketing be targeted to the right audience. And as you consider your targeting, think on the power of a niche. It is efficient, it is powerful, and ultimately it is more profitable.
Remember that a niche does not have to be an industry. Some of my accountant clients create content marketing targeted to bankers, or women in business, or retail businesses that use Xero, or freelancers. So if you’re considering a niche, be open to a variety of options.
There are several levels of niche marketing. Starting with the most basic, and moving to the highest level, these are:
- Focus some of your content on a particular niche or area: This means you get better engagement, and it’s more likely your content will be picked up, consumed, and ultimately responded to. At this level, you’ll work with a variety of businesses, or people, or serve a whole range of products. And you may have multiple niche areas that your content talks to.
- Focus an entire campaign on a niche: This takes you a step further: you’re still working with varying audiences, but for this one campaign, every piece of content you create is targeted directly and only to a particular audience – say dentists, or people in Aberdeen, or coffee lovers, or businesses with 10-20 employees. This is an excellent way to ‘test’ a niche if you’re not sure about its success. Bear in mind, of course, that the apparent success or lack thereof within one campaign is not a reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. You might have gotten one element of the campaign wrong, or sent it at a time when their attention was elsewhere. The best content marketing is consistent and occurs on a drip feed over time.
- Focus exclusively and only on a niche: This is where we are at The Profitable Firm. Everything in our content marketing – from blog posts to webinars to website copy to the design of our social media images – is crafted to appeal to our target audience of accountants. (We also will happily work with those who provide services or products to accountants.)
- Ultra-niche within a niche: This is the highest level possible. This means that you drill down further and further within your chosen niche, so your target audience gets smaller and smaller all the time: but also so much more efficient and more profitable. For example, if you built websites, you could target those websites to startup business owners; or startup business owners who sell products online; and on it goes. Usually, the only way to get to this level is to make a success of level 3, first.
If you do choose a niche, you absolutely must be an expert in this area
The key to success in serving a niche is to understand them completely. How do they think? What do they care about (or not care about)? What bothers them, worries them, excites them, is all they can think about?
You’ve also got to have a track record. Stories of clients and businesses and people in this niche whom you have helped, worked with, supported, pointed towards success.
This is particularly difficult at the start.
When I set up The Profitable Firm, we didn’t have any PF stories: but I’d been working with accountants for over ten years in other roles and other organisations, so my first few clients knew about those previous success stories. As my new business grew, so did the number of stories I had to tell, and the examples of work we had done for accountants.
Websites are a particularly good example of this. We’ve been building websites for accountants since day one – but you won’t find screenshots of the ones we built back in 2012 on our client showcase. That’s because things have moved on when it comes to marketing, and also our work has improved over time. Now, our ‘Customer Journey’ websites are often the ones that bring us new clients, because a prospect sees what we did for another accountancy firm, and is impressed by it.
Speaking engagements are an extremely powerful way to build expertise as well. They allow your audience to get everything in one place: authority, personality, style, tone of voice, personal connection. And the follow up to the event is content marketing at its best: emails, landing pages, blog posts, videos, helpful information, guides, logins, freebies, social media. Bring it all together and learn from every experience.
Back in the day I used to take any and every speaking engagement, paid or unpaid. I did it to get practice, to be seen in the industry, and to get more exposure. Now that we’ve got leads trickling in daily with what appears to be no effort at all, I give it careful thought before I agree. The opportunities that will put me before my ideal target audience, or which are put on by an organisation highly respected in the industry, move higher on the list. It’s all about choice. The further you get into a niche, the more choice you have, and the more freedom.
If you’re considering a niche, or just starting out, make it your goal to showcase that expertise, get that track record, and become known for that area. Do whatever it takes at the start, and then you can have the freedom to choose later.
Because you will get some advice that tells you to charge loads, never take a speaking engagement that isn’t paid, say no often, and other such concepts.
Those are all brilliant and spot on once you’ve established authority: but until then, go above and beyond. Cover the travel expenses yourself, if it’s a worthwhile speaking engagement. Take on that client at a little lower profit than normal, when you know you can build a story that will seriously impress your target world.
Sometimes you’ll get it right and some wrong, but you won’t regret it when your prospects see what you’ve achieved.
Focusing on a niche enhances profit
There is absolutely no doubt that your business will be far more profitable when you focus exclusively on a niche. This is because…
- Competition is reduced. At The Profitable Firm, I’ve often said that we have no real competition. In one sense that’s never true: there are always other agencies, other businesses that our prospects could choose to work with. But there is no business quite like ours, with our personality and style and attitude and focus and way of doing business. It’s also part of why I started the business in the first place: everyone was telling accountants what to do and how to do it, but no one was actually, practically, monthly helping them do it. Or doing it for them in an outsourced way.
- You can charge higher fees. Because we have less competition, and because we’re exclusive to our audience, the decision for a firm to work with us is often not about the money. I’ve had prospects tell me that they got a proposal from a local marketing agency that is half the cost of ours, but that they’ve chosen us because we ‘get’ them. We know their language. They don’t have to explain about things like Xero or HMRC or Making Tax Digital or auto-enrolment or any of the hundred things our accountants deal with day to day – which we are familiar with.
- You can build systems that make you extremely efficient. We’re currently building exclusive customised systems that will automate almost every step of our creative projects – exclusively for accountants. It’s a big project and will take its time to be completed, but it’s almost easy to produce such a system because we’ve done it hundreds of times before. We know the questions they will ask. We know the roadblocks and the hurdles and we can put in place steps to prevent that. And we know what will make a project a success so we can focus on those things so we complete projects most efficiently.
Build roadblocks to qualify in, and qualify out
When I set up the Profitable Firm, we would work with any accountant who wanted to work with us. That was still being niche focused, and it worked at that time.
But as time has moved on, we’ve discovered the types of accountants who will get the best results from working with us, and also those who won’t.
For us, it has nothing to do with size, or turnover, or number of employees or clients. It doesn’t even depend on how much money someone is prepared to spend. One of our biggest failures was taking on a firm who was ready and willing to spend quite a lot of money; but who ended up cancelling the entire project – in part because they didn’t like what they perceived as a certain tone of voice in the emails they received.
We’ve got one-man bands who have spent thousands and tens of thousands with us on their marketing; and very large firms who have balked at a proposal for something that costs a few hundred pounds. They key for us is that it’s all about mindset: and that’s hard to determine from the beginning.
We don’t always get it right, but now we have put some “roadblocks” in place to help qualify in the kind of accountants who will enjoy working with us – and to qualify out those who, for whatever reason, won’t.
This is not a situation of “right” and “wrong” prospects or clients, as if some accountants are good to work with and some are bad. Some firms who went elsewhere are very forward thinking and will go on and succeed in a big way: but we were not the best placed to help them for whatever reason. As an example, we had one firm who worked with us for a time and then explained that they really preferred in-person meetings. We’re 100% virtual and remote, so in-person meetings are not only challenging to arrange, but also very costly (we charge travel expenses for anyone coming to the meeting). We explain specifically in our Partnership Success Agreement that this is how we work, and you need to love it and appreciate it, or else we may not be a fit for you.
The challenge for many accountants – and for many businesses – is that they don’t know what they need. You as the expert have the opportunity to direct them to what will be the most useful and helpful for them: even if that’s not you!
After all, most people are used to feeling a bit of pressure when it comes to buying. It could be the most refreshing thing they’ve ever heard for you to say, “Actually, I don’t think we’re best placed to help you for this reason. Here’s someone who is better! Do let me know how you get on.” I’ve done that before, many times, and there can be quite a moment of shock for the potential buyer that we are not desperate for their business. We are fine without it. The decision is entirely theirs – and it must be right.
My Accountancy Place
The more ruthless you are, the more profitable you are
We are never distracted in our mission to help accountants.
No matter how much we like someone or would love to help them, we won’t work with a business that is not an accountant, accountancy firm, bookkeeper, or a provider of services to one of these.
If we get a referral or an enquiry from someone out with these categories, we cheerfully send them on to someone else we know and trust – preferably, someone who themselves have a niche. So if a dentist comes to us, we’ll send them to a marketing agency who works with dentists, if we can. The key is to solve their problem without having to be the ones who do the solving. When a client of ours says “my client who is not an accountant saw the website you created for us, and they want to know if you can build theirs”, we say, “We’re so sorry we can’t, but here’s someone who can.”
We are disciplined to the point of ruthlessness: but this is far from unkind.
You cannot help all the people.
You cannot work with all of the businesses.
So why not focus your energy, time, and efforts on those you can help: and do it well? Won’t everyone be happier – and ultimately, more profitable?
Yes, they will. You will.
About Karen Reyburn
Karen Reyburn is the owner and managing director of The Profitable Firm, a creative agency that works exclusively with accountants. The agency is completely virtual, with the team working all over the world to deliver services to accountancy firms globally.
She has created the Content Marketer and Social Marketer programmes to help accountants learn and apply content marketing principles within their firms.
Connecting with Karen: