Small Firms Can Capitalize on Their Size to Compete with Big Regionals

Thursday, December 22, 2011 Print Email

With polls showing that Americans prefer smaller companies to big corporations, small accounting firms can use their size to their advantage when marketing their services.

The Public Affairs Pulse survey, conducted by the Public Affairs Council last month, shows that Americans believe small business owners are more ethical than CEOs of major companies. It also shows that 90 percent of the 1,753 adults surveyed have a somewhat or very favorable view of small businesses, versus 61 percent who feel the same way about major companies.

In its summary of the survey, the Public Affairs Council wrote, "Many think CEOs are paid too much, while regular workers and lower-level managers are paid less than they deserve. And three-quarters (77 percent) feel there is too much power in the hands of a few large companies."

In 2005, Shayna Chapman-Burris left her eleventh-floor office at a regional accounting firm of about sixty people to take over a firm with just three CPAs. To attract and keep clients, she says owners of small accounting firms can take advantage of their connection with the community, their accessibility, and their personal service.

Chapman-Burris, CPA, of Chapman & Burris CPAs LLC in Gallipolis, Ohio, now works in a first-floor office building on a corner. She finds her clients aren't shy. "People just want to stop in and say hi," she said. While some of her business owner clients may go to a large regional firm for their business taxes, they come to her for their personal tax return preparation. She said her approach is to be friendly: "I might bake cookies on Sunday and put them out front. It's a whole different concept."

In addition to friendly service and accessibility, Chapman-Burris has several suggestions for how small accounting firms can compete. Firm owners can emphasize:

Years of service. While some clients of bigger firms may think the managing partner is working on their return, what's actually happening is someone fresh out of college is working on it.

Continuity. Small accounting firms tend to experience less turnover.

Control. An accountant at a small accounting firm is generally a jack-of-all-trades but can seek out specialized expertise if needed. While a larger firm might have various members of a group working on a project, in a small firm, one accountant will oversee all aspects of a project.

Flexibility. A smaller firm is more nimble. Changes can be made more quickly in processes and procedures through technology. "I think small firms tend to be more progressive because you can make changes faster," Chapman-Burris said.

Prices. Small firms can compete with lower fees.

Personal service, Chapman-Burris said, is No. 1. Some professionals like the prestige of working with a large, well-known firm, but Chapman-Burris overcomes that by focusing on service. "I sit down with them and say, 'First of all, you're going to see my face in this town every day. I'm going to feel personally responsible for you.'"

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