Secrets of Practice Excellence 2: Digital marketing

Digital marketing
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John Stokdyk
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AccountingWEB.co.uk
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In preparation for Practice Excellence Week in October, ACCA and AccountingWEB have collaborated on three videos highlighting the factors driving the evolution of forward-looking accounting firms. The second episode in the series covers digital market.

Word of mouth referrals remain the most common way to find new clients, but when all aspects of practice are viewed in the round, the area that has seen the most new activity in the past four years is digital marketing.

ACCA head of advisory Glenn Collins sees a lot of scepticism within the wider profession about digital marketing. Is it really compulsory for practitioners to adopt these new marketing platforms and become digital evangelists? Isn’t it enough to provide a superior service and let word of mouth do the promotional work?

And finally, if firms decide they want to expand their marketing into the digital realm, where should they start?

The second ACCA/AccountingWEB “Secrets of Practice Excellence” video sets out to answer some of these questions, by looking at what many Practice Excellence Award entrants and nominees are doing in this area.

Watch the 10min discussion for simple, practical ideas that any firm can put into practice:

Why are we seeing so much digital marketing?

The behavioural trends of Practice Excellence Awards entries show that back in 2014, firms tended to prioritise personal referrals over their website. But every year since then, the proportion of firms investing in websites, search engine optimisation (SEO), content marketing, blogging and social media.

The big message here is that Practice Excellence firms don’t just focus on face-to-face networking or digital. When done properly, the two should connect and support each other. And given the healthy fee growth rates being quoted by these firms, this combination appears to work.

The various digital platforms are channels to different audiences and interest groups. When putting together a marketing strategy, the first step is to consider every appropriate available option to see if it is an appropriate way to promote your frim.

The digital marketing formula

[The online marketing community talks about the “pirate” formula represented by the acronym AAARRR (Attraction, retention, registration, etc….)] In the more prosaic world of accountancy practice, this engagement chain can be expressed in terms of the different digital components that firms are deploying:

  • Websites and SEO - this is one of the dominant areas of activity within the Practice Excellence community. Firms are investing a lot to ensure they create “sticky” websites that cater for the interests of their prospective clients and answer the questions they may have about business and tax regulations, growth advice or the firm’s services and rates.
  • Content - To be effective, however, a website can’t just sit there. The firm needs to feed it with fresh infusions of topical information and insights. Regular blog posts are the simplest way to meet this need, but many practices go further than that, publishing ebooks and PDF guides that visitors can download simply by leaving their email address.
  • Social media - So you’ve got a website that shows up well in search results and makes a good impression on visitors when they reach it. Then doesn’t it make sense to tell other prospects about it? Blogs, papers and news snippets can all be used to prompt wider conversations on social media and act as lures to get prospects to investigate further.

But the doubters are right on one point. How does anyone know how effective this activity is? Just 29% of last year’s Practice Excellence Award entrants cited figures that showed they knew where their new business enquiries were coming from. Without suitable systems and measures in place, practices expending time and money on digital marketing will struggle to assess the results their efforts are delivering. But this isn’t just a digital shortcoming; much could be said about those  concentrating on personal referrals.

How to get started?

Good marketing starts from a strong base. The firms shortlisted for Practice Excellence Awards often go through a sequence to build a marketing framework around the following steps:

  • Branding: Successful firms think a lot about their values and the kinds of clients they want to serve. They then refine these basic ideas into a distinctive brand. In new and smaller firms this can often be embodied by the practice owner.
  • Staff and systems: Effective firms put the infrastructure in place - including people, systems and training - to deliver that strategy.
  • Promotion: When the formula starts to work, they ramp up their outreach activities. The key thing to remember here is that the successful firms start define their target clients very clearly and think hard about how best to reach them. At Gerrard Financial Consulting, for example, charity specialist Jen Gerrard says that her digital marketing efforts are dedicated to “building the personality of the firm” within her target market. She also tracks and measures the traffic and enquiries that come in as a result of her efforts.

Marketing is a process, so systemise it. Set yourselves objectives and targets and measure how well you’re attaining them. The use of practice management and CRM software to monitor marketing processes may be low now, but Making Tax Digital is going to change the situation by increasing the need for practices to communicate in a co-ordinated way with clients.

Digital marketing remains a key ingredient in for any accountancy firm with ambitions to grow. It will be the central theme at the Practice Excellence Conference in London on 19 October, and Practice Excellence Live webcasts the following day.

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