20 years ago, moving from one accounting firm to another was something few people thought about doing—let alone actually did. However, times have changed, and these days many people treat their accountant firm the same way they treat any other major purchase: they shop around. Whether it’s comparing price, or looking for a firm that’s a little more tech-savvy, today’s customers are happy to switch things up if they find a better fit.
For accounting firms, this new age of greater choice—and greater access to choice for that matter—means that accounting firms can no longer sit back and bank on clients sticking around for decades. While this sounds like bad news, the situation actually presents a great opportunity for nimble, proactive accounting firms to win new clients—all you need is some savvy marketing. So to help you make the leap from unknown firm to industry leader, we’ve put together a handy little guide with everything you need to know about marketing for accounting firms.
First Things First, Research
Once you’ve decided to make marketing a priority, it can be tempting to simply jump straight to execution. But while brainstorming a slogan for your new print ad is certainly fun, you can’t begin marketing to your audience until you know who your audience actually is. That’s precisely why you need to start your marketing plan with some in-depth research into your clientele and their needs. Of course, it’s not to say that you need to earn an MD in order to understand the needs of physicians. But rather, having a solid understanding of your ideal customer and knowing how to speak their language will undoubtedly give you an edge over other firms.
Nonetheless, it can be tempting to simply say that anyone and everyone can be a potential client for your firm. However, in order to be successful, you have to move past the FOMO (fear of missing out) and recognize that you can’t do everything. Consequently, it can be valuable to focus your efforts on a niche audience like property developers, software startups, or female business owners. While this does mean that you may have to narrow down the kinds of clients you take on, having a hyper-specific target audience will allow you to better focus your marketing efforts.
A Goal Without A Plan Is Just A Dream
With a solid body of research behind you, now it’s time to put ideas to paper and create a marketing plan. But before you dive in, take some time to think about your larger business goals. One mistake many accounting firms make is separating marketing efforts from the business, and instead operating the two independent of one another. In reality, the marketing plan should always support your business goals and targets. To make sure that the stars—or in this case, goals—align, your marketing plan should include the following key points:
You know your niche and what you can offer, so now it’s time to think about that ideal client. Go beyond simply honing in on a specific industry and think about other characteristics such as location, demographics, company size, and more. Even considering what your audience values and the challenges they face will help you to better understand who you’re speaking to.
Your value proposition
There are a lot of other accounting firms out there, so in order to set yourself apart, you’ll need to figure out your unique selling point. When considering what makes your firm unique, think back to the niche audience that you’re targeting and consider what you can offer them that no one else can.
Services to be marketed
Getting down to the nitty-gritty, think about the specific services you can offer your clients. In addition to your most profitable service, also consider what service will appeal most to your target audience.
Goals and time frames
Whether you’re looking to promote a new service, or bring on a certain number of clients, you need to specify your goals and the time needed in order to achieve those goals. Along with these goals should be quantitative information, such as the percentage of revenue increase or the number of new referrals. These metrics are just as important as the goals themselves because they allow you to actually track and measure your success.
As fun as it would be to have an unlimited marketing budget, it’s not realistic for the vast majority of firms. So in order to make sure that your marketing efforts don’t cost more than the amount of new revenue you’re bringing in, be sure to set aside a specific amount of money for marketing. More importantly, keep track of this spending and don’t be afraid to readjust the numbers based on the returns that you’re seeing.
With your budgets in mind, it’s time to think about the specific actions you can take to achieve your goals. Whether it’s implementing a monthly newsletter, creating print ads, or setting up a referral program, you need to clearly define each action item, and the time and resources needed to make it happen.
Enough Talk, Time For Action
You’ve put in the research, you’ve poured over your market plan, now it’s time to get to the fun stuff. Though the tactics will vary from firm to firm, there are several different channels you can take advantage of when it comes to marketing your firm:
1. Client referrals
While this may sound like an old-school way to establish yourself as a modern accounting firm, don’t underestimate the power of client referrals. As Xero’s Head of Government Relationships and former firm owner explains, you can generally expect that “20 percent of clients are going to provide about 80 percent of your referrals.” Indeed, personal recommendations will always be more powerful than a billboard or a Facebook ad, so be sure to tap your network and ask your clients to refer their professional associates to you.
2. Your website
Word-of-mouth is great, but in order to appeal to today’s tech-savvy clientele, you’ll also need to have a great online presence to match those rave reviews. This is where your website comes in. Make sure that your website not only has interesting, relevant, and up-to-date content, but that it also has an eye-catching visual presence that stands out from competitors. It may help to think of your firm as a brand and consider what you want that brand identity to look and feel like.
3. Social media
For a lot of accounting firms, the world of social media can seem intimidating and maybe even a bit frivolous. But the reality is, you don’t need to be an Instagram influencer or a Twitter celeb in order to use social media to your advantage. Your clients are likely already using platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, so it makes sense for your firm to be where they are. Of course, if the world of hashtags and tweets seems a bit too overwhelming, you can always hire a social media consultant or agency to get you up to speed.
4. Email newsletters
While having a website and even using social media may be obvious channels to take advantage of, one avenue that is often overlooked by accounting firms is email newsletters. In fact, a 2016 survey found that email is still the preferred medium for communication, with 72% respondents choosing it over other channels. If that weren’t enough to convince you, another study found that when it comes to marketing, email outperforms every other channel, with a $44 return on investment for every $1 spent. Of course, when we say email newsletters, we don’t just mean that once-a-year update you send around the holidays, but consistent newsletters that provide potential clients with something of value. Whether it’s news about the firm, or blog posts about new tax legislation, a newsletter can be a great way to nurture leads and to build relationships with both your existing clients and potential clients.
5. Radio, television, and print
Though it’s easy to put all your eggs in the online marketing basket, keep in mind that just because something is newer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most effective avenue for your audience. For instance, if you specialize in the construction industry, radio might actually be a great way to reach your audience. The same can be said for television and print.
Put A Face To A Firm
Remember when we said that client referrals are still one of the most effective forms of marketing? Well, that’s because a personal touch can go a long way when it comes to attracting new clients. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that your potential clients see the faces behind the firm as much as possible. Conferences, professional groups, networking events, and even online forums are all great ways to add a personal touch to your business, so avoid the temptation to speed home right after a day of work.
Of course, attending events should never feel like just another thing on your to-do list. Have fun with it and remember that you’re not simply there to broadcast your business. Like everyone else, you’re there to engage with others, so open up the dialogue and focus on building connections with those you meet, rather than spending your night pitching them.
However, if networking really isn’t your style, the notion of putting a face to a name can also extend to community involvement. If it’s a good fit for your firm, consider sponsoring local initiatives, or even getting your employees involved in charitable work. Not only does working with local organizations help to raise the profile of your firm, but it also gives you a chance to actively improve the community that you live and work in.
Your Clients Are Your Best Asset
When dealing with networking events, radio ads, and building a website, it can be easy to forget that you already have an incredible asset on hand: your clients. If you’re doing great work, you’ll likely have some enthusiastic clients singing your praises, so why not tap into them as a resource. Hone in on the clients who value the work you do, who respect your process, and who use your most profitable services. Once you have a list of all-star clients, begin nurturing those relationships by making sure they’re fully informed about your services and your firm. In turn, these clients can become evangelists and help to spread the word about the work that your firm is doing. You can even ask your clients for testimonials, which can then be used to create other marketing materials.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to marketing for accounting firms, it’s clear that today’s firms need to keep marketing top of mind in order to stay ahead of competitors and meet the changing expectations of their clientele. Of course, don’t think of marketing as something that you can just stop doing once you’ve reached a certain level of success. Instead, marketing should be an ongoing investment that helps to support the long-term success of your firm. Simply put, great marketing is the key to great business.
By Katherine Pendrill on Nov 13, 2018