I seem to write a lot on this blog about accounting, which is ironic because I don't like the subject much. What's really amazing though, is that after going through a lot of different agencies (and the really laborious processes that comes with moving between them), they have all sucked. So with a lot of inspiration from Matt Mullenweg, here's how I'd do it.
Accounting is boring. I'm sick of new companies that try to make it "cool and edgy" (pretty colours don't make accounting any less boring) and I'm tired of old companies who have such a mind-bogglingly low level of creativity that when naming a company, they simply combine the surnames of all the founders into a long, meaningless string. It's amazing(ly stupid) that almost no accounting companies in existence actually use the word "accounting" in their branding.
On that basis, I'd name my company something like "Hate Accounting!" but I'd refer to it lovingly as "HA!"
Hate Accounting. We do it, so you don't have to.
Year one would be focused mostly on client acquisition. We wouldn't need seed capital to develop fancy software because we would have already teamed up with FreeAgent to take care of all that for us. We wouldn't need to spend money on anything really, because our selling point would be really good service.
We would do everything online. Our first order of business would be to establish a deal with HMRC and EchoSign so that we'd not only be incredibly environmentally friendly, but we'd save clients from stacks of boring paperwork too. We would give the forms descriptive names like "Accountant Authorisation Form" instead of something like "2354-1a". We would never bore clients with jargon.
If we did ever have to send you something by mail if would come in a bright pea-green glossy envelope with big typography saying "You'll hate this." on the front, and then much smaller in the corner: "HA!". Inside you would find a marked form to sign and a postage paid, pre-addressed envelope for wherever we want you to send it. We would make it a company policy to send you these things absolutely no more than once a month, preferably less.
In short, year one would be all about doing things differently for our customers to make things easiest for them, not for us. As a result we'd hope to get people talking about how good our service is.
Unlike every other accounting website in the world, our site would be functional. It wouldn't be a meaningless marketing website, and it wouldn't try and build a damn community around accounting (no one cares).
It would basically be a very simple web app, we'd let your log in to your own customer area. You'd be able to see your latest finance notifications and options (through the FreeAgent API), you'd be able to see notes from our team on what work had been completed each month, you'd be able to leave messages for them and vica-versa.
You don't want to be spending a lot of time on our website cause you don't want to have to deal with your accounting headaches, you hate accounting - so we're doing it for you. We would build our website with the sole intention of having the highest bounce-rate possible, we'd want you to visit our site, find what you need, and then leave again. All in under 20 seconds.
Our first marketing strategy would be to go after niches. We'd probably start with the web design industry, seeing as that's one I know pretty well and it's full of potential business. We'd be involved in social media, but only to support existing customers or help out potential new customers. Not to spam people whilst going on about how "cutting edge" we are.
Our biggest marketing strategy of all would be word of mouth recommendations, so we'd do things that would really get our existing customers talking about us. Who are you more likely to listen to? Your friend James? or some random advertisement? On that basis we'd have an agent give you a ring each month (or whatever time interval you'd prefer) to give you a run down of your finances, in plain English. They wouldn't ask you for a single thing, they'd just relay information back to you and then tell you about ways in which you could save money. Eg. "If you purchase X piece of equipment for your company before X date, we can actually write off 50% of that on your tax bill." Simple.
We would make sure that everyone in the company cared about our customers, not just their balance sheets. Our accounting agency would be about making your company money, not just filing your tax returns.
The business model for this would be the simplest of all. We'd be completely honest with you, we'd know that when we set you up with a FreeAgent account, their software is doing 90% of the accounting work for you. You would be using us for peace of mind and customer service, so that's what we'd charge you for. £30 a month - no setup fees, no cancellation fees, no hidden charges for corporate or personal tax returns, no hidden VAT that we sneakily add on the end. Just £30 each month. That's about half the price of even the cheapest other accounting companies.
We'd also take another leaf out of FreeAgent's book and say that for every customer you refer to us, you get 10% off forever. Refer 10 customers to us, and you'll get our accounting services free of charge. Refer more than 10 customers to us, and we'll actually start paying you to allow us do your accounts.
Everything about our business would be about designing an experience for the customer. A pleasurable one.
Once we'd gotten to around 1,400 customers we'd be turning over half a million pounds each year with a pretty decent profit margin. At this point we'd start looking very attractive for an acquisition by a larger company. We'd only have one real barrier here: we'd refuse to sell to any existing accounting companies with their delusional old-fashioned business models.
Of course ideally, seeing as we'd be cuddled up with FreeAgent anyway, they'd make us an offer we couldn't refuse, and proceed directly on to world domination with their new accounting division to support their already-fantastic software.
Accountants take note: your customers are the ones paying your bills, and your customers think your current way of doing business pretty much sucks. The first company to step up in this regard is going to make it, and make it big.