AIA | News


Last updated: 21 Aug 2023 09:00 Posted in: AIA

In the latest edition of International Accountant, Carl Reader shares his experiences of how you can grow your practice and find unique ways to promote your firm.

A quick look online might show you the current trends in how firms put themselves out there – talking to each other on social media, putting down ‘bad’ accountants, and apparently ‘smashing it’. But is this a playbook that you should copy? For those who don’t know me, I have grown a small local firm from a regional client base to the point of being a leading firm in two sectors. I have tried and tested most marketing methods, and was a pioneer in the profession for both personal branding and niche marketing. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Be crystal clear about your ideal client

I know that ‘niching’ is controversial to some. I have heard practice owners worry that it limits their total market or alienates other kinds of businesses. Whilst there might be some truth in these fears, the practical reality is that a general practitioner who aims to please everyone can easily become an accountant who pleases no one. While we often refer to niching as the laser focus on a particular industry – such as the franchising and kids activity sectors that my firm focuses on – what I’d actually like you to do is to think about your ideal client avatar:

  • How old are they?
  • What gender and age are they?
  • What kind of hobbies and holidays do they enjoy?
  • What stage of life are they at?

These might seem far away from the typical questions that you would ask about clients if you view the question from a transactional perspective. Instead, though, we are talking about relationships. Which kind of clients naturally gravitate towards you? Who do you and your team (if you have one) enjoy working with?

Once you narrow this down, you will then become a lot clearer about the kinds of businesses that they run, and the mindset that they have. Plus, there will also likely be a need for certain services, or a bias towards certain sectors.

Adapt your offering to suit your ideal client

Again, this might not seem like a direct marketing tip – those come later – but this is the one thing that will help you stand out in a sea of the same.

Often, identifying your ideal client – whether they are a member of a niche industry or the user of a specialist service – is considered to be solely for marketing. I have even heard it referred to as a ‘marketing niche’! The thing is, both you and your clients deserve a bit more work going into it before you promote yourself to them.

Yes, you’ll be able to ‘speak their language’. Yes, you’ll be able to market your service ‘where they hang out’. But so can thousands of other firms. The magic comes when you can tweak what you do so that they can see a real benefit in using you.

You will be able to go deep into your understanding of the service that you will offer. You can show you are an expert in their sector and a ‘go to’ person by truly getting under the skin of your market. If you are able to present yourself as a specialist, you will find that clients are not just willing to refer you, but delighted to do so.

Also, you will be able to look in the mirror knowing you are providing a service that no other firm can in that world. You will still get the messaging benefits of your specialism – just with the satisfaction that it’s not just words on a website that is masking a general practice.

Build your personal brand: online and offline

If you have spent any time in Accountancy LinkedIn, Twitter and so on, you’ll see that there are a number of characters who have put themselves out there. Some are extremely well established, and have been ‘on the scene’ for decades; others are relatively new to the profession having just started their practice.

I’d like to share a little about my own personal branding journey, some of the things that have worked, and some that I wish I’d done better.

Back in January 2016, I decided that I was going to grow my ‘personal brand’. In fact, that wasn’t really a term that was used at the time, and the decision came largely from the fact that my firm had become dehumanised. We’d obsessed over following ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ playbook of ‘extraordinary systems’, not realising that this was a very low barrier to entry for competitors.

Within a month, I had five pieces of coverage in the national press; and soon afterwards I had a team helping to manage this – columns in the most well-known newspapers, appearances on TV, and so on. I was fortunate to be offered book deals and international keynotes, and I built a social following of around 170,000.

I share this not to impress you, but to help you understand the backdrop for my advice

The marketing web

Perhaps the most useful tip I’d heard was to treat personal branding as part of the marketing web. Being a Kim Kardashian on one social media platform is all well and good, but ultimately you need your efforts to result in a strengthening of your overall brand. By diversifying your efforts across traditional and social media, you create the spider’s web that catches your market.

Remember the reason

Next up, remember the reason. Ultimately, the aim of building a personal brand is to make it easier to open doors and win clients – but it is a very fine balance between that and confusing yourself with a Love Island contestant.

Make sure your web is in the right places and catching the right people. Take as much care at an industry networking event where your ideal clients are as you would on a curated social media feed.

Work out the measures

Finally, work out how you will measure your success. For me, in the early days, I focused solely on follower numbers. Many focus on ‘likes’ or ‘connections’ – but the reality is that a true personal brand comes from a combination of reach, relevance and resonance; online and offline. Unfortunately, the stats from an individual post will likely bear little relation to your pipeline, conversion rates and pounds in the bank – the most important metrics in this whole process.

Don’t follow the crowd

I’ve saved the best until last. This one has likely won us well over £10 million in accounting fees for the cost of a few hundred pounds, and has served us well throughout.

Don’t follow the crowd. Marketing costs and efforts are generally subject to the supply and demand rules. As soon as something works, others follow and the benefits are diluted. I have seen this with email marketing, pay-per-click marketing, search engine optimisation and social media – and I’m sure I’ll see it over and over again.

Instead, think about how you can promote yourself in less crowded areas. Think about the impact that a direct mail campaign must have had, when it was deeply unfashionable in the mid-2000s compared to email marketing. Our prospects must have been delighted to receive something in their uncluttered mailboxes!

Think about how you can find and meet your target clients that doesn’t rely upon a generic mass-mailed direct message, or using a tactic that every other firm is using. And finally, think very carefully before copying that accountant who always crops up on your social media feeds. Are you their ideal client?


Author biography

Carl Reader is an author, international keynote speaker, regular media commentator and multiple business owner.

"Perhaps the most useful tip I’d heard was to treat personal branding as part of the marketing web. Being a Kim Kardashian on one social media platform is all well and good, but ultimately you need your efforts to result in a strengthening of your overall brand. By diversifying your efforts across traditional and social media, you create the spider’s web that catches your market."

Carl Reader, Author, Keynote Speaker and Small Business Owner