Creating an authentic appeal to your niche clients
So, you’ve picked a niche or at least narrowed it down to a few options, right? You have an industry type that is challenging, yet lucrative. Great! The next consideration that some advisors miss is making sure they have presented themselves as an authentic professional for that client, but what does this mean? Understanding the language and cultural norms, following trends, knowing your client goals, and creating a firm culture centered around your niche will give you that appeal you’re looking for.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to use the restaurant industry – our niche – as an example. Stepping into the world of restaurants and hospitality is like stepping on to another planet; it is completely disconnected from the world of white-collar professionals.
Anthony Bourdain once said, “Few things are more beautiful to me than a bunch of thuggish, heavily tattooed line cooks moving around each other like ballerinas on a busy Saturday night. Seeing two guys who’d just as soon cut each other’s throats in their off hours moving in unison with grace and ease can be as uplifting as any chemical stimulant or organized religion.” The industry has a different language, lifestyle, social mores, and philosophies. Understanding these social nuances can provide you insight into the mind of your client.
Those looking to bring on a new client will often try to sell their services by showing up in a suit and tie with a PowerPoint presentation. In many industries, this is a red flag or just falls flat. Again, referencing the late Anthony Bourdain, “When the paychecks started bouncing, and the vendors started to put us on COD, the owners called in the restaurant consultants. Even then, we knew what that meant: the consultants usually arrive just ahead of the repo men and the marshals. It was the death knell.”
The restaurant industry and many other industries view consultants, accountants, and advisors as “suits,” and they are not to be trusted. So, how do we, as trusted advisors, avoid this pitfall?
Understand the language and cultural norms
Many jobs have a ton of industry-specific terms and slang that are commonly used. Some industries could almost be a completely different language. Industries such as woodworking, real estate development, photography, and, of course, hospitality, have an expansive vocabulary of industry-specific terms. It’s important to understand this, as clients will throw these terms out left and right, and the moment you stop to ask them what they mean by “sous-vide” or “in the weeds” is the same moment you lose some credibility to your clients. Does it mean you don’t understand their bookkeeping or financials? Absolutely not. Does it still matter? Absolutely.
In many cases, you might even want to change your mindset: “I am an industry professional first, and an accountant second.” There are plenty of resources to help you with understanding the culture and language. For the restaurant industry, memoirs such as “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain and “Setting the Table: The Transformative Power of Hospitality in Business” by Danny Meyer are both excellent examples of tell-alls.
Follow trends, news, and more
You may understand the accounting of the industry inside and out, but do you understand what is “haute?” If your niche is graphic design or web design, is your website following the latest and greatest trends? Do you know who the prominent designers in the industry are? If not, these would-be clients will certainly be judging you if you call yourself an accountant for designers with a website and brand from 1992. In the internet era, you have some great resources for keeping up on these trends: YouTube, podcasts, blogs, and magazines, for example. The more you immerse yourself in the industry’s sub-culture, the more you pick up. These will allow you to have more in-depth conversations with your client outside of accounting.
Build your firm culture around your niche – and hire for it
So, you might be experienced in your field, but is your team? It’s an important question to ask because if they are working directly with clients, they will be put up to the same test you were: “Do they really understand my business?” So, how do you build a team around your niche?
- Make it part of your hiring process. At Prix Fixe Accounting, we look for our potential hires to have at least one year of experience in the industry for bookkeeping positions and at least three years for business advisors. Our entire staff is made up of chefs, bartenders, hosts, bussers, captains, and baristas. This hiring requirement gives us a great starting point for team building, as everything has a lifestyle choice in common.
- Make sure it is part of the firm culture. Our walls are adorned with restaurant and food-related paraphernalia, and we’re starting a wall of business cards of places we’ve been.
- Do your research. Whenever we are taking a business trip, one of the most important things is planning where we are going to eat and drink. It’s important research, I assure you.
Know your client’s long-term goal
When choosing a niche, it’s important to understand how your clients are different from the average business owner. Based on the industry, they could have a completely different set of goals than that of another industry. Many people assume that a small business owner’s number one priority is profit, but that’s not always the case. The restaurant industry, for example, has sub-niches, where profitability is priority number two or three, behind reputation or sustainability.
Understanding the primary drivers of your target client is essential. If you walk into a restaurant that is trying to win a James Beard award or a Michelin star, suggesting that they can improve their bottom line by using a vendor such as Sysco will likely get you chased out of the kitchen by a horde of angry cooks. Instead, talk to them about how to make the guest experience better with a more robust point-of-sale system, or better inventory controls. They are more apt to listen.