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Keeping Your Firm Competitive

Posted on 03-04-2011
Keeping Your Firm Competitive

By Karen Love

As you are looking for ways to gain and keep your firm’s competitive advantage, be strategic and get everyone in the practice rowing in the same direction.

To differentiate your firm in a marketplace of any size, start by asking two questions: “What do we do better than our competitors?” and “Who needs to know about us?” Then intentionally put yourself and key members of your practice in situations that align the two.

Match expertise to local needs 
For example, maybe you have built a reputation for helping small companies grow. So you would want to seek out the events and activities that draw small business owners. If this kind of forum doesn’t exist in your market, create it. Host small business educational seminars or partner with a local college to offer workshops. This allows your company to set itself apart in a way that is consistent with your strengths. It lets your partners and employees interact with prospective clients in a non-selling environment.

At PKF Texas, we have special expertise in serving high-tech startups. So we partner with Rice University as the official scoring firm for its international business plan competition. (Think of it as the Academy Awards for entrepreneurs.) The result? We get prominent positioning as the scoring team. We meet contest entrants and watch their business plan presentations. We work side by side with prominent CEOs, venture capitalists and other leaders. Our partners are at the podium when the winners are announced. This allows us to build our center of influence in a way our competitors can’t touch. And when the entrepreneurs launch their businesses and need an accounting firm, they already know us.

Engage and develop young leaders 
Another way to gain competitive advantage is to truly engage your younger employees. Encourage them to use their energy and their contacts to participate in projects beyond their cubicles. Work with them to find community organizations and professional associations in the local marketplace that will allow them to try out some new skills, and have fun at the same time. This puts a fresh face on your practice in front of new audiences, builds your firm’s reputation as a good place to work, and can even help you retain the best and brightest in your firm.

The young professionals at PKF Texas have shown us how this can work. When they noticed that few young adults were engaged in the region’s largest economic development organization, they were instrumental in launching a subset group for 21- to 40-year old professionals, and now serve on its steering committee. Our firm gets a high degree of visibility as a founding sponsor. Through their active leadership, our employees have built relationships and landed new clients.

Focus on helpful relationships, not selling
Competitive advantage happens when you are intentional about building beneficial relationships. Be strategic about it. Allocate budget for it. Include it in job goals. Find the niches where you’re needed. Then position your partners and employees in roles where they can help people and groups connect with resources. The image your firm projects will attract clients who won’t need to be “sold,” because they already understand the unique value you can provide.

Karen Love is director of practice growth for PKF Texas in Houston, Texas. She is co-author, with Raissa Evans, of a chapter on Community Engagement for AICPA’s “Bull's-Eye! The Ultimate How-To Marketing & Sales Guide for CPAs” (2010)