“So what do you do?”
As an accountant, I used to dread that question. If I answered by simply saying “I’m an accountant,” I generally received one of two responses. The most common response was a glazed eyes stare, quickly followed by a mumbled “Oh, how interesting,” while my partner made furtive glances around the room seeking a quick escape.
The other response I got — which was especially annoying on ski lifts — was a request for free tax advice, generally based on a complicated situation or a series of hypothetical what-if scenarios. Or questions about tax brackets or how much they could make before their Social Security got taxed.
Except for the year I took the CPA exam, all those numbers — standard deduction amounts, tax rates and bracket cut-offs — just slide past my brain. Since they change every year, I can’t keep them all straight. Besides, my tax software does a fine job of tracking those numbers and calculating the tax due.
Instead of just answering with your job title, a better approach is to pull out your elevator pitch. But what I mean by an elevator pitch isn’t that memorized string of words you came up with when they brought a business coach into the office, and you crafted that perfect pitch.
Most likely, you composed a long sentence that tried to pack everything you do into a few big words. It sounded great at the meeting.
But when you try it out in an actual conversation, it falls flat. It ends up sounding like meaningless jargon. And your conversation partner still has no idea what you do.
The intention behind an elevator pitch isn’t to win a new client, but simply to start a conversation. The best elevator pitches aren’t memorized strings of words, but spontaneous responses to your conversation partner. If you can find out something about the other person first, you can tailor your response to their situation.
Your objective is to say something memorable as a first step to building a relationship with the other person. As Josh Bernoff recently wrote, the best conversation starters are open-ended with an invitation for a response.
Last October, I heard Ilise Benun describe four approaches to memorable elevator pitches for professional copywriters. Here I’ll adapt her approaches for accountants and bookkeepers.
- Emphasize their pain.
What are the pain points of your clients? What are their struggles? When you talk about their pain, and how you help, that can immediately spark interest if they have that particular pain.
I work with small business owners who hate doing their own bookkeeping and payroll.
I work with owners of closely-held businesses to help them lower their tax bills.
I help non-profit organizations with the maze of regulations they need to comply with.
- Emphasize their perceived need.
What do your clients need help with? This can be a need your clients ask you for help with, or something you’ve noticed your clients struggling with, but they haven’t asked you for help with this yet.
I help small business owners manage their cash flow.
I work with owners of closely-held businesses to find ways to pass those businesses on to the next generation.
I help non-profit organizations get audit-ready by building streamlined accounting systems.
- Emphasize the outcome or results or benefit
When clients work with you, what outcomes or results do they achieve? What benefits do your services offer?
I help small businesses make better business decisions.
I help people grow their long-term wealth.
I work with non-profit organizations to help them do more of what they’re passionate about.
- The “you know how” angle.
Here you paint a picture of what your work looks like, of the benefits to a client.
You know how stories can help you understand complicated ideas? I do that with numbers. I help people understand what the financials for their businesses mean, and how they can build on those numbers to create the business of their dreams.
Did you notice how none of those mentioned the word “accountant” or “bookkeeper”? Did you also notice how they all focused on the benefits that a client receives by working with you? And they’re all pretty simple, mainly focusing on just one thing that you do. Plus, they’re all more interesting than simply saying “I’m an accountant.”
So the next time you’re at a gathering and someone asks you what you do, try out one of these ideas out and see if you can make yourself sound interesting and helpful.
The idea is to start a conversation. That’s all your elevator pitch has to do.