Rick Telberg

Niches to Riches: CPAs Get Focused

Practitioners find success in specialties. What are the top niches? Join the study; get the answers.

December 10, 2007
by Rick Telberg/At Large

CPA firms, especially local ones, have long sought survival in niches where they could make the best use of limited resources. So we’re taking a peek into a few of the corners where accountants have set up camp. We’ve issued a survey asking what services you’re offering and what you’ve been doing to strengthen your special capabilities.

So far, most of the niche services offering fall into predictable categories — about two-thirds of the CPA respondents offer individual and business tax services, while almost as many cater to small businesses. Some six in 10 are into traditional accounting and bookkeeping. Only about one in five is into auditing. And about a quarter of you are offering payroll services. What we didn’t expect, was the large number of “other” responses.

Those who specified their “other” niches indicate such things as personal property, state and local governments, the entertainment industry, small public companies, Microsoft Office development, peer review, mediation, business valuation, training, eldercare, international financial reporting standards and rent-a-CFO services.

What Are the Top Niches?

Join the survey. Get the answers.

(Free. Confidential.)

An International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) specialist was working on an uncommon set of skills — fluency in French, Spanish and German. Kathy McCleery, a Ventura, Calif., CPA who specializes in QuickBooks, says she’s been seeking skills by volunteering in the not-for-profit sector, studying new audit risk standards and by switching to a better audit software.

“I love my job, especially when I am working on jobs that fit my niche, jobs that fit my mission,” she told us. “Focusing on one primary industry sure makes it easier to choose which jobs to accept. It sure makes work more fun because I get to do what I’m passionate about. I’m more effective this way.”

Passion. I never thought of it as a way of strengthening capabilities, but I can see how it would work.

Dave Nelson, a CPA in Tacoma, Wash., says his IRS problems resolution business is so busy he’s had to stop taking on new cases. He belongs to three organizations that offer special classes and conferences.

Caroline Boudreaux, a managing partner in New Iberia, La., specializes in performance management. She has been certified in that area and, like accountants in all kinds of niches, she keeps up through continuing professional education.

Barbara Riggs, senior staff with a firm in Malibu, Calif., has a niche within a niche. Her firm specializes in business management for the film and TV industry, but her specialty is real estate.

Craig Lofgren, of Northbrook, Ill., has identified “family offices” as an emerging niche. He helps individuals and families of high net worth manage wealth, finances, estates, taxes and, he says, “life.” To keep up with this new industry, he attends seminars, does a lot of networking and, presumably, keeps his eye on life.

Ted R. Sharp, a managing partner of a consulting firm in Nampa, Idaho, offers CFO services and consultation on SOX compliance.

“When I was a CFO of a public company, I found it impossible to get experienced executive assistance at a reasonable price, and when I did, I had to spend more time training than doing it myself,” he wrote. “So my firm’s niche is providing executive project professionals at the controller and CFO levels.”

To beef up his capability, he keeps adding professionals, directing them to appropriate CPE and networking to keep up with business.

CPE and conferences were clearly the most common kind of capability enhancement, and networking was right up there. Other, less common ideas include switching among a lot of clients to learn different areas; reading trade literature and books; training in internal audit, information technology and fraud; researching constantly; and teaching.

Melissa Hawkes in Malvern, Penn., teaches small business classes. Jacob Friedberg in Brooklyn, N.Y., is writing a book. Frank J. Pavlica in Palatine, Ill., gets rid of bad clients. Peter Frank in Dumfries, Va., produces videos so he doesn’t have to keep explaining things. Vincent Augustino in Arusha, Tanzania, employs competent personnel.

J. Montes in Mexico City surveys his customers and looks for new tools for sales control. Sam Hodges in Troy, Mich., says the hardest part of being a niche firm is “getting the word out there to let all of the CPA firms know you are available and are not a threat to their firms.”

To me, the hardest part of being a niche firm is all of the above. You need to be smart and get smarter, hire smart people and make them smarter. Pick an up-and-coming industry and get smart in that business. And there you go. You’re in a niche.

WHAT ARE THE TOP NICHES? Join the survey. Get the answers.

COMMENTS: Questions, rants or raves? Write Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2007 Bay Street Group LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.