Three Steps to Enhancing Your Competitive Advantage 

by Carl Peterson, CPA 
Published June 10, 2015

Are advertising budgets or marketing managers the key to giving yourself a competitive advantage in the market? I’m sure small practitioners would tell you that their firms themselves make up their competitive advantage, as embodied by the quality of the services they provide and the personal attention that characterizes their client relationships. While those factors may be a given in your firm, there are other steps you can take to strengthen your greatest asset and enhance its perceived value to clients and prospects.

Step Back and Assess

This is an excellent time of year to take on one task that can augment your competitive advantage: Reviewing your processes during busy season to determine what worked and what didn’t. Were their unnecessary bottlenecks in the process? Could some time- or energy-consuming steps be eliminated? The answers to these questions will help your firm become more efficient, which will lead to greater productivity. That should give all firm members more time to spend with clients, deepening your personal relationships and making it easier to identify and address their financial issues. Many firms struggle with process, but this sort of review can help you spot areas for improvement. You’ll end up with more satisfied clients and in a better position to attract new ones. 

Put People First

Our human capital—the people whose expertise and commitment to client service help set a firm apart—are an important competitive advantage. As part of your post-busy-season process assessment, consider how you might challenge staff members to improve workflow or other critical office procedures. You may get some valuable feedback from the people on the firm’s front lines. On another front, look at your client base and service mix in relation to your team. Do team members have the expertise that suits your clients’ needs? Would it be worth investing in further training for talented staff members so that you’re better equipped to take on new engagements? If people are our most important asset, it’s worth making the most of all they have to offer and making an investment to develop their talents.

In addition, as you’re reviewing process, you may find that some problems occur because work isn’t properly delegated to staff members who might be able to capably move it forward faster than someone senior to them. Tackling this problem can kill two birds with one stone: It will streamline your system and make it easier to retain talented professionals because they appreciate the autonomy and responsibility they’re given.

Promote Your Own Value

According to the PCPS Proposal Meeting Prep List, before an engagement begins there are several steps you can follow to ensure you are communicating the value of what you have to offer and that you’re poised to deliver the quality the client deserves. That begins with quantifying what’s needed and articulating your value by:

  • Discussing the steps necessary to complete the engagement. That includes working with the client to verify that you understand their expectations about the overall engagement and its steps and timing. 
  • Illustrating the value of the engagement. Quantify what’s necessary to satisfy the client’s needs, including the requirements of third parties, such as banks and lenders, potential investors or potential purchasers. Make sure the client knows the value you provide beyond compliance by explaining the insights and ideas that a financial statement or tax return can provide company management to help them better manage their business.
  • Articulating your unique value, process and prior success. Talk to your client about your firm’s approach to quality and the benefits for the client of working with a firm that has your level of experience and qualifications on similar engagements or with related industries. Emphasize your team’s unique knowledge and experience and your firm’s commitment to professional training. Gather all this information in an executive summary of the team and their qualifications, experience and personal traits that you can present to the client.

Keep in mind that pricing and timing also contribute to the client’s sense of value. As part of your efforts, it’s important to determine and prepare to discuss an appropriate pricing structure and to ensure that the firm and client agree about the nature and scope as well as the timing of the engagement.

Don’t Miss These Resources

It’s clear that quality is something that touches every aspect of our practice—and that can provide a critical strategic advantage. If you’re seeking practical tools that can help you pump up your market success and enhance quality, I hope you’ll turn to PCPS resources. The PCPS Human Capital Center, for example, contains a range of tools practitioners can use to make the most of their talent. From a marketing standpoint, resources in the PCPS Practice Growth and Client Service Center include the Small Firm Client Recruiting Brochure, which you can share with clients or prospects, and which makes a strong case for the many benefits that local practices can offer. In addition, the PCPS YOU Are the Value Workshop helps CPAs define and articulate their own worth to clients. Now that busy season has ended, put a new focus on your firm so that your clients and prospects can clearly see its value.


Carl Peterson, CPA, is the AICPA’s Vice President of Small Firm Interests.  Have questions for Carl? Contact him directly at or 651-252-4618.


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