How do you answer the question for your firm: “Are you a commodity or an expert?” Most
CPA firms are commodities. Building a micro-niche boutique within your firm and
capitalizing on the expertise of your partners and staff can change your answer. Now answer the same question about yourself: “Are you a commodity or an expert?” Chances are very good that you are a commodity, as well. How do your clients think of you – commodity or expert? Developing a micro-niche boutique within your firm, capitalizing on your expertise, will change your answer, too.

Being a commodity is not fun. Yet many CPAs reject the idea of building a micro-niche
because they fear missing opportunities by narrowing their focus. Their
approach to getting new clients is to go anywhere and to accept everyone who
walks through their door. You must recognize that no firm can or should be an
expert in everything.

I hear CPA firms talk about fee pressure every day. I also hear them talk about the
frustration and the time spent preparing and answering a large number of RFPs.
This is the price of being a commodity. CPAs tell me their clients do not deal
with them in ways that make them feel respected as professionals. They believe
they are constantly hassled about price and the risk of their clients leaving
for another firm hangs over them constantly. They also commonly tell me they do
not feel their marketing is effective.

My response to these complaints can only be, “Stop being a commodity!” The only
way to move your firm away from commodity status is to become an expert with a
well-defined micro-niche. When you are a commodity, clients will switch to
another firm over small price differences. As a commodity, you will receive few
referrals. Clients and potential clients will not be willing to wait for an
appointment and they will not be loyal to you. Commodity CPAs are always
negotiating price and spend a great deal of time responding to RFPs.

When you become an expert with a micro-niche business, you can target your marketing
and get more clients by focusing on the right prospects. You will spend less time at “cattle call” networking events and focus your time and attention building strong centers of influence. You will stop responding to RFPs and build your book of business with people who seek you out and referrals (from centers of influence). As an expert, you will be able
to differentiate yourself (or your firm) based on your micro-niche business
rather than on price, location or a host of other characteristics.

If you want to stop being a commodity and command the respect you deserve, you must:

  • Analyze your client base for areas in which you excel
  • Analyze your competition for areas in which you can stand apart
  • Analyze your team for unrecognized areas of experience or expertise
  • Focus your marketing
  • Sharpen your focus on targeted prospects
  • Invest in cultivating needed expertise within your staff
  • Think smaller in order to grow larger

Here are some of the most important steps in creating expert recognition:

  1. Use industry jargon freely. Even if you think it will sound strange to some people,
    it will position you as an industry insider.
  2. Seek out and accept as many speaking opportunities as possible. If you are extremely uncomfortable speaking in public, you might need to focus your time on writing and publishing.
  3. Join all of the appropriate associations. Display their logos on your web site,
    particularly in the “about us” section and your home page.
  4. Write and publish. Write articles for publication and distribution on your web site, in your newsletter, by subscription, and through appropriate article directories.
  5. Write special reports, white papers and other resources designed to be helpful to
    your ideal client.

There are, of course, many other things you can do but these are some examples.

You will know you have moved from commodity to expert status when your referral
sources (clients, colleagues, centers of influence, other contacts) stop looking
at you as a quid-pro-quo. In a commodity relationship, you can expect a limited number of referrals because you can only make a limited number of referrals to your sources. When you achieve expert status, the same sources will look at you and give you referrals because they know you can truly solve the client’s problem.

Are you a commodity or an expert? Which would you rather be?

One comment

  1. Great article with some very practical advice. I particularly like, “Analyze your client base for areas in which you excel,” and I think this is key in understanding why your clients keep choosing you.

    Just wanted to let you know I wrote a piece on a similar topic ( and included a link to this piece.


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