Can the Sole Accountant Compete against Goliath??

Each and every day, small businesses compete directly against the big guy and succeed.  This is done by changing the rules of the game and competing selectively.  Overtime, the small entrepreneurial firm becomes one of the big guys and we forget about their rags to riches story.

At one time, Nike was a start-up operation started by a University of Oregon college track coach Bill Bowerman and his former middle-distance runner.  That middle-distance runner was a degreed accountant from the University of Oregon named Phil Knight.  Both invested $500 to form a partnership in 1964 and today, Nike is a global athletic manufacturer with $20 billion in sales.  At the time, Nike sneakers were totally different from Converse, Keds and traditional sneakers on the market.  $20 billion of growth in four decades is pretty impressive and now they are THE global juggernaut in athletic footwear, apparel and sporting goods.

So can a small start-up operation with limited funds compete against Nike and other global operators like Adidas, Reebok, and Russell Athletic?  Of course.  However, the mouse trap must be unique and compelling.

In 1996, a former University of Maryland football player named Kevin Plank was convinced that a moisture wicking fabric could help regulate the body temperature of athletes better than cotton t-shirts.  With $20,000 of his own money and $290,000 in loans, he started his own athletic apparel company from his grandmother’s basement in Washington D.C.  With the prototypes that were developed, his first sale was to Georgia Tech and fifteen years later, Kevin’s business does at least $1.4 billion in sales under the name of Under Armour.  While I presume that someone like Nike may ultimately acquire Under Armour, Kevin has managed to create an attractive niche in a highly competitive industry.

Other examples that come to mind are Samuel Adams, Whole Foods, and Cirque du Soleil.  In each of these cases, these start-ups have figured out ways to create a niche in the market without relying upon discounting their price.  In each example, they command an attractive premium and compete with larger competitors with very deep pockets.

With this orientation, you can probably tell that I would NOT recommend that a new accounting firm compete directly with larger, more established accounting firms by targeting medium and large-sized businesses.  Here are some examples of how the sole accounting practitioner can win:

  • Hire a website development provider that knows how to develop a “branded” website which puts your best foot forward so you can compete with more established accounting firms.  Many established accounting firms have websites that suck.  The internet is an easy way for small accounting firms to compete effectively.  Also, this website must be search engine optimized so it is towards the top of search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing.
  • Blog on your website.  The blog should be integrated into your website (same domain name).  The major search engines will reward you by elevating your firm in the search engines.
  • Write a newspaper column – Most local newspapers are struggling financially as the internet has cut holes into their business model.  As a result, the editorial departments in most local newspapers are starving for reliable content from someone with your expertise.
  • Start a radio program – In smaller markets, radio can be a way demonstrate your expertise and create awareness for your accounting practice.  For years, financial planners have been hosting retirement planning call-in shows on the radio.  Why not start a small business accounting and tax issue radio program?  If Dave Ramsey can talk about getting rid of debt, you have many topics to consider talking about.  If you don’t want to commit yourself to hosting a call-in radio show, how about a cooperative approach with a DJ?  In one market, we have a client that has created Tax Tuesdays where he is available for one hour each week to answer call-in tax questions or call his office during regular business hours.

If you are willing to create a unique and compelling point of difference like Phil Knight did with Nike, and Kevin Plank did with Under Amour, you too can create a foothold into the market.  Be strategic about how you market your practice and then, Just Do It!