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Does my firm need a separate entity for our cloud accounting offering?

Jan 13, 2018

Several years ago, there was a spate of advice given to accountants – particularly some of the medium and larger firms – to set up a separate entity for your ‘cloud accounting offering’.

The idea was that if you had a larger firm, or one that was more traditional or with higher fees, you could set up a separate entity with a completely different name and use that to rake in the new fees for ‘cloud accounting work’.

You’d have an entirely separate website, company name, and brand. It might even be its own limited company, but everything else would be the same – you would use staff and offices and invoicing and registration addresses from your existing firm.

Here’s the update: It doesn’t really work.

Here’s why, and then we’ll talk about what to do about it.

 

Cloud accounting doesn’t stand alone anymore.

It works best when it’s fully integrated into your accounting services, rather than a service on its own. The cloud accounting software companies have done such a good job on their own marketing – from content to social to video to website and more – that your prospective buyers are figuring out on their own that they need and want to use it.

They’re educating themselves, and many are only choosing an accountant when they really need to step things up when it comes to getting serious high growth advice.

 

It doubles the marketing work.

You’re essentially running two companies, with two brands and two target markets and two sets of social media platforms and two of everything. It’s twice as much work.

Unfortunately many of the firms aren’t investing in double of everything (or even a single of anything, in some cases) and so the results are low or nil. Even if it worked for a while at the start, it peters out.

 

Your prospects suffer from brand identity confusion

It sounds simple to run one company out of another’s offices, but what message are you giving to new prospects? When they go to the About page, why is no one listed there? If they are listed, why does their LinkedIn profile give another company name altogether? When they visit your offices, why is another firm name all over the signage and in the car park? When they reply to an email, is the domain name different? What number do they have in their mobile, and how is it answered when they ring?

If everything doesn’t match exactly, it plants a little seed of distrust in their mind and makes them wonder what this company is really all about. Or they simply work with one of the companies because of the person who was recommended to them…which brings us right back to old school referral marketing, in which case it doesn’t really matter what the firm is called. They’re working with a person, not a company.

So, what do you do about it?

If the separate company already exists:

 

1. Split the branding and double your marketing investment.

You’ll want to evaluate whether this separate offering is actually profitable and is continuing to grow at a serious rate, but if so, go all in.

Make it two separate businesses with two separate target audiences, focus areas, content marketing, social media, video, websites, events, and every other element of good marketing. Maybe even two separate offices and two separate teams of people and two separate car parks.

Otherwise you’re merely playing around with it and you’d be better off including everything under one roof.

 

2. Conduct a branding review to determine which brand on which you want to focus all your marketing efforts.

You may be surprised to discover that the ‘smaller’ firm is the one that has the best and most modern brand, the cleaner website, the more focused target audience, the niche.

It could be possible that focusing all your marketing efforts in this area will pay off in the biggest way. (The larger firm will, most likely, tick along fine based on personal recommendation and the hundred or so years of experience it has.)

You can book an online branding workshop with us here.

 

3. Pick a niche area for your “cloud accounting only” firm.

The reason your smaller entity has had any success so far could be because it’s riding on the reputation, name, referrals, and support of the bigger firm.

But if it stands on its own, what is that separate entity really all about? What are its values, its personality, its culture? Who works for this other company and what are they like?

If someone is looking at your Cloud Accounting Firm Of The Future website and comparing it to another small to medium sized firm nearby (or even far away), which one will appeal to them? Are you all things to all people, or can you pick something that helps you stand out instantly?

Choosing a niche is the number one way to set your firm apart swiftly and clearly. Not everyone can choose an industry niche, but there are many ways to niche. Every firm can find some focused area that makes you stand out from the crowd. So when that type of person comes across your firm – that perfect, targeted, specific audience you’ve directed your attention to – they will be far more likely to get in touch faster.

Watch Karen’s videos on niche marketing here.

 

4. Consider linking the two businesses rather than separating them so cleanly.

If the more established firm is the one with all the reputation, the expertise, the case studies, the high fees – why not use that?

Trade on the fact that people know who that firm is, and think very highly of it.

Go through a proper branding strategy to determine what the name of your cloud accounting offering or package or division can be called. Or simply create a smaller offering under your same brand.

Integrate it so well that the smaller businesses who love cloud accounting will be drawn to that side of the business, and the larger ones or those with more complex issues will be drawn to the other side.

You can do content marketing and social media so cleverly these days that you can target the exact audience you want for the exact website pages you wish to share. Those who randomly find you (it’s rare anyway) will be impressed with the firm’s reputation, and those who are referred won’t care.

Meanwhile, the perfect target audience you’ve identified will come to the right website, the right page, and take the right action.

Regardless of which of these steps you take, you can see the themes here. Strategy. Brand. Focus.

Your audience is absolutely overwhelmed with marketing messages. Don’t confuse them with more options from the same place: simplify.