Accountants usually aren’t blessed with sales and marketing skills. They have to learn them. That’s what Amanda C. Watts does. She gives accounting firms the superpowers they need to reach the next level, and she is our guest on this week’s Grow Your Firm podcast. She’s a speaker, entrepreneur, Amazon best-seller and the author of The Pioneering Practice. Since 2009 she’s helped over 500 companies launch or grow through her agency, TwentyTwo Agency, her work with Richard Branson’s Virgin Start-Up, and training and mentoring. This interview is a bit longer than our usual interviews, so you’ll definitely want to listen in and take notes!
Amanda’s firm does not do marketing for firms. They teach firms how to get higher-value clients through training and mentoring. The core of this training is the term VITAL, which stands for:
Be recognized for your VALUE
Make an IMPACT on the world
Build relationships of TRUST
Adopt an AGILE approach to innovation
Develop LUCRATIVE businesses
Amanda’s book, which you can get for free in the Resources section above, goes into detail on the entire strategy, but we are going to cover the highlights she mentioned in her interview here.
One of the major problems with firms, in Amanda’s opinion, is that they offer transactional services rather than transformational services. The goal is to position yourself as a vital asset to a business. Imagine going in and saying you can do XYZ for a company and within three years they’ll recoup all their costs they spent on your firm and then some. Instead of giving a list of services, your service is transforming your client’s businesses into becoming more profitable. However, to promote that value you have to do work before you meet the client. 70% of a buyer’s decision is made before they reach out to an accountant thanks to the internet. Therefore, you need to get your firm out there so your clients can encounter it. This is done through creating videos, articles, podcasts, books, and the like, as well as increasing your exposure to Google through creating websites, LinkedIn profiles, and social media accounts. Along with that exposure, you need to have something to say. One of the best ways to show value is to create a model of your business that people can look at and understand at a glance. If you can do this and tie it up into a picture, you’ll turn your list of services into a “product” that your audience will be able to grasp more easily. Even better, during your sales pitch, if you can get your audience to draw out the model themselves while you explain it, it’ll make it even more impactful. Amanda has a great example of this around the 15 minute mark in the interview. In short, if you can turn your methods and workflows into a model that you can explain, you’ll have more success because it will turn a lot of abstract accounting services into a product your audience can understand. A book that Amanda recommended about this is The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam, which we’ve linked up in the Resources section. Another way to show value is to talk about five of your best case studies about how you improved a business. Talk about the results you achieved and, importantly, how you did them. It’s quite likely that if you follow the same steps with your other clients, you’ll get great results with them as well. Jetpack Workflow can really help you set those steps in stone so your whole team can follow them.
Most accountants like to be invisible workers behind the scenes. Amanda says that you, as a firm owner, need to reverse that trend and talk about the things that are really important to you. In addition to helping firms, she also is active in helping with ocean cleanup efforts. Adding a socially-conscious component to your firm’s charitable efforts is extremely attractive to Millennial and Gen-Z members who need accounting services. She says that 50% of Millennials are more likely to buy from you if you are environmentally conscious. Pick a cause to volunteer for or to donate a percentage of your profits toward, then tell others about it. You might be surprised at the results. If you don’t have a cause dear to your heart, check out www.globalgoals.org.
Most trust is generated through referrals. Not too long ago, this was one of the few ways to build trust. Unfortunately, many of the referrals that firms get are poor-quality clients. Poor-quality clients tend to give poor-quality referrals. So, how do you get higher-quality clients to trust you? First, share your case studies, your big wins, so that they can see what you do. Then, provide proof of these wins. Amanda even recommends making a hard-copy brochure of these to hand out during your meetings and through snail mail. Also, the more that you appear online when people search, the more trustworthy you’ll appear. Building trust takes time, so it’s important to understand that people don’t buy immediately when they see you. It may take over a dozen contacts before they’ll trust you enough to contact you.
The agility component of VITAL is quite simple. It is the willingness to recognize that the usual way of doing business as an accountant has changed. You must be willing to try new things and keep an open mind about new products, systems, and applications. Figure out how you can embrace changes and incorporate them into your business rather than keeping a fixed mindset.
All firms want to make money. The best way to make money is to help other people make money. If you can help your clients save money or make money, you will have a more lucrative business. Plus, if you can do this, then you will have no problems with charging more because you’ve proven your value. Use the language of transformation and talk about how your firm will help your clients save or make money. The last piece of advice she gives in the interview is to take it slow. Her clients usually take about eight weeks to digest her full course and discipline themselves enough to stretch outside of the accountant comfort zone.