How the Little Accounting Practice Can Beat the Big Boys

Small accounting firms compete directly with the big boys and succeed.

This is often done by changing the rules of the game and competing selectively.  The irony is that in due course, the small accounting practice also becomes one of the big guys and then more often than not they forget about their rags to riches story.

At one time Nike was a start-up operation that was started by a University of Oregon college track coach, Bill Bowerman and his former middle distance runner.  The middle distance runner was an accountant with a degree from the University of Oregon, named Phil Knight.  Both men invested $500 each to form a partnership in 1964 and today Nike is a global athletic manufacturer worth over $14billion in sales. 

So, the questions is - is it possible for a small start-up operation, with limited funds, to compete against Nike and other global operators like Reebok and Adidas, etc? 


To compete well, however, the firm needs to have an edge or a USP (unique selling proposition).

Sometimes it is not recommended that new accountancy firms compete directly with the larger CPA firms because it is always better to walk before you run. 

Any new accountancy firms should try and fly underneath the radar of the more established CPA practices.  They should try to provide a unique selling proposition that resonates with small business owners and try and play to the strength of their sole accounting practice.

Here are a few suggestions of how the small practitioner can win:

  • Start a radio programme.
    In small markets, radio can be a good way to demonstrate your expertise and create awareness of your accounting practice. For many years financial planners have been hosting retirement call-in shows on the radio, so why not become an accountant who talks about small business accounting and tax issues?  If you don’t want to commit yourself to hosting a call-in radio show what about working together with a DJ?
  • Write a newspaper column.
    Most local papers are struggling financially as the Internet starts to cut holes into their advertising revenue.  As a result the editorial departments in most local newspapers are literally starving for good sound accurate content from specialists with expertise.  This presents a unique opportunity for a good accountant specialising in a particular area such finance, tax, trusts, start up businesses etc to get their name known in their local area.
  • Get productive.
    If you are to compete with other firms as far as fees are concerned, you will need to consider systemising your production process so you can be more efficient and have a faster turnaround.  Many medium and large sized accountancy firms have fixed overhead costs that preclude them from working with small businesses because the fees they charge become too high for most small operators.  This affords the small practitioner a great opportunity to do well by targeting those businesses that are small enough to be of little interest to the larger CPA firms.
  • Target small businesses.
    Most established large accountancy firms prefer to work with the medium and large businesses.  They are geared up to provide good service to the larger clients and often it is only the bigger clients that can afford their large fees.  There are many smaller businesses that use accounting software such as QuickBooks or MYOB, etc and they should be the ones targeted by the smaller entrepreneurial accounting firm.
  • Own the niche. 
    As a small accounting practitioner you must differentiate your practice and highlight the types of clients you want.  Look at whether you are able to develop a niche.  Do you know about a particular industry, or do you have special expertise in a particular area or trade?  Once you have a niche you can broaden your geographic radius because you virtually become an industry expert.  If the larger accountancy firms can develop niches into auto-dealerships, there is no reason why you can’t develop a niche within a particular industry or profession that is under your own radar screen. Try and develop a niche so you can “own the space” as the IT people would say it.
  • Network with associations. 
    It’s always a good idea to establish a leadership position within the local business or trade associations.  These contacts can work wonders because they will allow you to promote the niche your firm has and create new clients.  Work to create a unique or compelling point of difference from the larger accountancy practices at every opportunity.  If you can do this the results will amaze you.

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