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The risk of niche: What if the work becomes boring?

Feb 28, 2019

One of the most common statements made to me by accountants is that they really enjoy the fact that most of their clients are different.

“We don’t have a niche,” they tell me. “We work with dentists and architects, landlords and marketing agencies, breweries and electricians, carpenters and consultants. And we love the variety.”

They don’t fall into any particular category, other than that they have in common the business issues of cash flow, hiring and team, profitability, tax planning, and the like.

So, what if you pick a niche, and doing the same work over and over again gets really boring?

Isn’t it more interesting to have variety? And more than that, isn’t it better for prospective clients to know that we have the ability to work with different kinds of businesses – that we’re not restricted to only one type?

Say you pick a niche. And it’s profitable. And you get high quality leads, the very best kind of clients who are willing to pay high fees and trust you with their business, but….after a while it all feels the same?

Even if the niche proves to be profitable, that might not be enough, you think. You’re smart enough to know that it’s not purely about money: you’re in this to be energised and interested by what you do, and who you work with.

It’s important to know you’re absolutely right about enjoying the work you do. You have to like your niche. I’d go so far as to say you have to love them.

I really, truly love working with accountants. The more I’ve gotten to know many different accountants over the years, the more impressed I am with the characteristics and qualities that make you really good at what you do.

For the most part (at least the accountants who I work with), you’re loyal. Family orientated. Interesting. Easy to talk to. Fun. Good at what you do.

You have hobbies. Fascinating stories of how you got into this in the first place. Adventures and travels you’ve taken.

And you really, really care about your clients.

This is the trait that stands out head and shoulders above the rest.

One of our clients was telling us about how much they enjoy actually learning about their clients’ businesses. He met with a new client at their premises, and the first thing he said to them was, “Show me.” Show me the warehouse. Show me the furniture you’re building. Show me where it sits and who works there and how you do what you do.

He was first interested because it’s simply fascinating to see what other businesses are doing: but second because he knows that this is what the accounting they’re doing for this client is really all about.

You know their finances aren’t simply numbers on a page for a furniture business.

They’re stacks of wood standing in a corner. A table, half-finished and being worked on late at night to get the order done on time. Employees who care about doing beautiful work. And customers who sit round the table with their family, having dinner and a glass of wine and a good time together.

That’s how you feel about your clients. You’re interested in how their business works, because you’re a business owner yourself. You’re fascinated with how others create something and share it and sell it and make the world just a little bit better in a way you’ve never done before.

You’re curious. You’re creative. You’re entrepreneurial.

So few of these terms are what the world associates with accountants, but who cares? You know and I know that the term accountant – and the job you do – has changed so dramatically from when you were in university or getting your qualification, that it’s an entirely different profession now.

You take an interest in your clients’ businesses, and you don’t want to face a time in life when your accounting business is dull and boring. Everything the same. Every warehouse, every set of offices, every set of accounts, exactly like the previous one.

That would indeed be really boring, and I wouldn’t want that for you either.

But in my experience – and that of the accountants who niche – is that far from being boring, it’s just as interesting as you could ever hope.

There’s always variety, even in a niche.

You’re dealing with humans. With personalities. With geographical locations. With preferences and life goals and experiences.

When Paul Barnes started MAP Accountants, he naturally gained a high proportion of digital creative agency clients. In those very early days the of business, he told me he enjoyed working with them, and expected many came to him because he was doing accounting differently than what they expected. He had already committed himself to crafting a niche before he set up the firm and quickly realised that digital creative agencies was the way to go.

They weren’t ready then to make it an exclusive niche. “We only market to agencies but it’s not stopped other businesses approaching us and if we like the business and we can deliver value to them profitably then we’ll take them on”.

That was in 2013. Now Paul’s firm is 23 employees strong, exclusively serving digital creative agencies in Manchester. They turn down everything else. He and his business partner created a proposal tool to help them quote better, and they’ve turned that into a thriving tech business called GoProposal, which helps other accountants price and sell better.

Paul found his variety, even within an exclusive niche.

Even more importantly than the variety, though, is the way you can help that niche.

The biggest downside of serving all people, being a Jack of all trades and master of none, is that you’re thinking of yourself.

What do you like? What do you prefer? What makes things better for you?

You definitely need a business that serves you in the sense that it delivers the life that you’ve wanted to build.

But it will only do that when you have built a business that exists to solve specific problems for specific people.

Think of it from their perspective.

They’re looking for an accountant. There are hundreds, thousands of accountants they could choose from. Perhaps they ask friends or colleagues for a recommendation, perhaps they pay attention to what they’re seeing on social or watching on video or what’s happening in their local area. Perhaps all of these things.

How do you think you’ll stand out, if you serve everyone?

How will you make it easier for them to decide? Make the buying cycle faster, so the difference is crystal clear?

You show them that instead of serving any and all kinds of businesses, theirs is the one you know best.

You talk about the problems they – and only they – are facing.

Most of all, you share stories. People just like them who started a business or merged a business or bought out a business partner or hired more employees or went bankrupt….and you helped them. You knew exactly how to help them because your expertise applies directly to the problems they’re facing.

And every story is different, because every human is different. Their situations, their locations, their motivations.

Their stories and businesses change, too. The startup tech business (in your niche area) which twelve years ago was three people working on laptops in spare bedrooms – is a massive, growing, four-floor offices in London now.

If that isn’t variety, I don’t know what is.