A long time ago, as a fledgling staff accountant, I was introduced to the concept of the “Famous Person” as the most effective way to not only fast track my career, but also as a way to build a sustainable practice for the firm. Simply stated, if you are known as one of the top three most knowledgeable people in any specific area by that niche’s client base, you will be given the opportunity to propose on potential new work in the majority of situations. Taking it a step further, if you develop a reputation as the top “go to” person in any industry segment you will be exposed to the more complex, higher level problems leading to consulting opportunities that further differentiate you. Sharing your knowledge further elevates your reputation to the point where you become a class of your own, distancing you from any possible competition. So how do you become the expert in a niche? Below are opportunities and resources that can set you on the path to being your own “Famous Person.”
Pick The Segment: Having expertise in an area that you are sincerely interested in and hopefully is already in demand and profitable, is one of the first steps to becoming the Famous Person. If you are not sure of what segment to focus on, you can start by looking into your existing client base and analyzing production reports from your practice management (PM) system. Today’s PM systems can produce information on not only the number of clients you have sorted by industry segment, but also the profitability of those clients, and the revenue and work code changes from one year to the next, to help you identify industry trends and niche service opportunities. For example, Famous Person niche targets can be by industry (automotive dealerships, nuts and bolts manufacturers), professional groups (medical and dental practices), departmental services (International Tax, IFRS Reporting), and even franchisees (McDonalds restaurants). CPA firms can develop a known industry brand in each of these areas.
Know the Community: Every client segment has a community group or association where clients congregate either physically (meetings, conferences) or virtually (chat groups, webcasts, LinkedIn). Joining the community/association as a member will expose you to those meeting places so you are privy to observe discussion topics and member problems where you may be able to develop expertise. If you have already solved an accounting or business problem for existing clients, you can share your expertise with others so you become known as a helpful resource and make “soft connections” to potential clients.
Acquire Expertise: While you may have tax or audit clients in a specific niche, you may not currently have enough client experience to be seen as a consultative accountant. This can be acquired by proactively asking your existing clients what business problems you can help them with and pursuing solutions, which you can hopefully leverage in the future. Attaining expertise can also come from sharing content in different formats as outlined below, and by explaining trends that clients should be aware of. In addition to reading community blogs and Q&A sections, there are services such as Google Alerts and Curata that can be configured to target articles and trending content for the chosen niche to be delivered to you automatically, so you are always aware of current topics.
Hire the Famous Person: Some firms don’t have a person internally that strives to be the niche expert, and other firms have built a niche with a designated expert only to find themselves in a position without a successor when that Famous Person is no longer with the firm. In this case, the firm should look to hire that expertise. In every segment, there are up and coming superstars whose careers may be capped in their current firm. Bob Bunting, the previous Managing Partner of Moss Adams, made it a practice to identify these CPA experts and hire them with the express intent of being the Famous Person to build and protect the segments where the firm was known and had an opportunity to grow.
Expand Your Knowledge: One of the most effective means of expanding Famous Person knowledge is to be the person that interprets industry trends and analytical data, particularly surveys done within the niche community. While firms can purchase very comprehensive industry analytical data from companies such as First Research, RMA and ProfitCents, these services may not effectively present analytical financial data specific to the local/community trends in which the firm operates. For more concise analytics, firms can sponsor their own financial/industry surveys, volunteer to develop and interpret existing surveys for the target segment, and to write and present the findings from a business perspective. If the niche organization does not already conduct member surveys, the firm can offer to “independently” oversee the process using a free tool such as SurveyMonkey and then analyze trends with Excel or one of the data extraction tools utilized by the audit team.
Share Your Knowledge: Transitioning beyond a service provider to becoming the Famous Person is accelerated by proactively sharing your knowledge and experience in an ongoing, consistent means that leverages and builds knowledge. Most people identify the Famous Person when they are seen by the community as the top expert, which can be capped in the most extreme case by them being the person that writes THE book on that industry. While writing “the book” for a niche may be totally off the radar or at best a far reaching dream, developing a structured process with that end in mine, helps the Famous Person chart their course towards developing the expert body of knowledge required for that target. Creating a table of contents helps organize the knowledge to be acquired and reviewing topics from discussion groups and consulting with clients can help create a prioritized list. CPAs can become the Famous Person initially by sharing knowledge and responding to questions, then transition to creating blog posts, which can be combined to create articles and be the basis of a chapter. They may never write a book but they will increasingly become the expert in their niche body of knowledge. Another path for CPAs to become the Famous Person is through serving on boards and panels which allow them to talk directly to segment members at association conferences. Recording this on video also allows the firm to cut out video snippets to add to the firm website or to be used for training the rest of the staff on that segment. The full version of these videos can then be hosted on services such as Vimeo or YouTube to help share the Famous Person’s expertise.
As business people, we should already know that trying to do and be good at everything guarantees you will never be the best at any one thing and will always be at a competitive disadvantage with CPAs that are the experts in individual segments. Looking at your practice through the lens of being the Famous Person allows you to focus on the higher value consultative work that industry segments provide and build a more profitable practice.
Roman H. Kepczyk, CPA.CITP, CGMA, LSS BB is the Director of Consulting for Xcentric, LLC and works exclusively with CPA firms to implement today’s leading best practices and technologies incorporating Lean Six Sigma methodologies to optimize firm production workflows. Roman is also the author of the 2016 Edition of “Quantum of Paperless: A Partner’s Guide to Accounting Firm Optimization” which is available to PCPS members.