Marketing is instrumental to your success whether you want to do it or not. Think about it, you are not compensated for marketing. You don’t get to bill your marketing time to anyone. Yet, your compensation is based on the results of your marketing. If you don’t market, you won’t be able to improve all those metrics that impact your income.
Marketing is so much more than attending a networking event, taking a client to lunch or putting an ad in a community program. COVID-19 taught us that lesson the hard way. Suddenly client marketing became paramount as firms scrambled to reach out to people in new ways and try new things for the first time.
Now, marketing strategy is being applied to recruiting and retention to help with the biggest issue most firms face today. As the profession continues to change, accountants need to keep the marketing momentum going.
Let’s explore 10 key elements of marketing that accountants should know, but likely don’t or don’t understand the significance to their practice.
This one is listed first for a reason—it’s the foundation on which all things are built. This is much more than a logo, colors and fonts; although they matter too. Your brand communicates who you are today with a hint of where you want to go tomorrow. Think of it as a springboard for all your future marketing. It’s the distinctive way that you communicate your promise to the marketplace in a way that builds value and helps create trust.
In addition to your firm brand, your people also have individual brands, whether they actively create them or not. When their name comes up in online searches, what appears about them demonstrates who they are. The same holds true for how they appear in the community and with clients. Their brands, by proxy, show what your business represents. As a result, you may want to help them build their brands to ensure they complement your own.
It’s so easy to get caught in flashy car syndrome, where you see something being done by another firm or company and want to do it yourself. However, those are simply tactics, and strategy will trump tactics every time. It’s great you want to grow by 10% this year, but how you get there is the strategy. It gets into your approach to the market and what you will deploy to have the greatest outcomes. With strategy, it’s about the outcomes and solutions and not the tasks.
It’s impossible to be all things to all people. By narrowing down your focus on a niche market(s), you can more easily find buyers and they can more easily find you. You will have a deeper understanding of your client’s pains and problems. You can ensure your messages resonate and don’t get lost. Some accountants do fear that specialization is cutting off potential customers. What it actually does is opens up more opportunities for your firm. You’ll want to narrow, narrow and then narrow your focus more to see how vertical specialization allows you to add more value and grow your revenue.
Marketing channels put you in front of many buyers at once. Where can you go or what can you do to be seen by many potential clients that you can bring into the sales funnel and nurture over time? The key to any solid marketing strategy is knowing what to sell to whom through what channel of distribution. Channels are an important part of a strategy.
Now, channels aren’t meant to replace referral sources who connect you to prospects one at a time. The two do work in tandem.
5. Client Experience
A newer term to the marketing lexicon, client experience comes down to the impression a client has when engaging with you. The good news is that you can carefully craft those experiences. From prospecting to onboarding to offboarding, there are various touch points throughout your client’s journey where you can take specific, repeatable actions to differentiate your firm and ensure those you interact with have positive feelings about you. This leads to more loyal clients who aren’t going anywhere.
Someone recently shared that his approach to marketing comes down to the MDSA model – what is the Measurable Difference (in what you are talking about or offering) and the Specific Advantage (to your prospect or their business, family, fears or problems)? In conversation, proposals or any written communications, you want to make sure everything passes the MSDA test. It’s a great way to force everything to be about the prospect and not you. Remember, people you talk to dial into Wii-FM – “what’s in it for me” is what matters to them.
There are firms today that get all their new business online. In others, online leads are a big source of new business. Digital marketing can no longer be ignored as a lead generation tool. It starts with a strong website built to be found by search engines. It also includes optimizing for those search engines, email marketing, social media, apps and all things digital. In addition to organic ways of bringing potential clients to you, some firms look at digital advertising as a way to reach prospects they don’t currently know. Combine, these tools are producing substantial results. Digital marketing is also a great way to provide timely information to your clients.
In order for you to have a digital strategy, you need to have content. This could be as easy as a thought-provoking, timely or relevant article or blog post added to your website and then pushed out through the gamut of digital options. Other forms of content include ebooks, webinars, infographics, case studies, checklists and more. The key is for content to be well written, valuable and written for the web and search engines. Content is what marketing is all about today, but it has to be useful (remember MSDA) for your firm to see the benefits.
A lot of content today is video because it allows companies to connect to people in an emotional way. It can be used to illustrate your brand, recruit new employees or talk about a new service. Basically, anything you can communicate in writing can be done via video, too. Video can also be streamed live or it can be conversational and recorded and marketed as a podcast. The different types of videos sure add up, and that’s how people end up watching 100+ minutes each day.
Not all video has to be high production either. It could be a short video you record personalized for a specific person and then sent via email or direct social media outreach like LinkedIn messaging. It’s quite powerful when sent in conjunction with the written word. Deliver a short message with a tax return or highlight something in monthly financials. Send it with a proposal. Use it to invite people to an event you’re having. Informal videos are a low-cost, minimal-effort, underutilized marketing tool.
Accounting firms are very much in a sea of sameness. If someone took your logo off any of your material and inserted their logo instead, would it work for them? If so, you aren’t differentiated. You need deeper thinking and strategy. Most importantly, you need to be a bit brave to stand out from the crowd. Being different from other accountants doesn’t take away from your professionalism. When done right, it builds it.
Marketing is a Mindset
Marketing is a discipline, a profession, a mindset. It’s not magic and you can’t wave a wand and make it happen. But you can figure it out. Start with what you want to achieve and use the right tools to get you there. If you need help, find it, even if it’s a marketing-savvy client you brainstorm with over lunch.
It’s foolish to not take your business promotion seriously. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but you have to spend on the right things. It does have to be consistent. And it does have to be different.
When you’re short on time, it’s easy to put marketing on the back burner or turn to it only when you have time. Don’t let that happen. Build a marketing mindset and invest in marketing regularly. After all, your income is determined by how well you do it.
Katie Tolin is president of CPA Growth Guides where she helps firms and other businesses in the accounting industry connect the dots between strategy and action to ensure they receive a positive ROI for their growth efforts.READ MORE BY Katie
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