Many accountants don’t want to be marketers. One of the major appeals of joining the professional classes is that business is supposed comes to you.
It’s believed general advertising first appeared in the Kilburn Times in 1870, but for years, accountants didn’t advertise – in fact, in 1881 the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England began a movement to eliminate accountants ‘touting’ for business.
The advent of advertising on commercial radio, television and now the internet has now irrevocably changed the business landscape, but a sizable minority of firms continue to build their clientele without active marking. Are they right to do so, or are they missing out on a golden opportunity?
The case for building a clientele without marketing
Today, for an accountant seeking to build a clientele without asking for business or referrals is difficult, but not impossible. Here are seven ideas to consider:
- Develop a niche market: Find a specialised area. Join the right professional organisations. Establish yourself as an expert. Your clientele grows by word of mouth.
- Be part of an ethical referral system: Certain service providers are not qualified to offer advice; they need people providing accounting services in areas where they don’t compete.
- Give clients updates: You don’t want to ask for referrals. However, it should be ethical to mention anonymous clients who recently moved or accepted overseas postings. Mentioning other anonymous clients who also joined allows clients to know that your practice is growing.
- Become the neighbourhood accountant: This can be ideal for small towns. Britain has 7,727 of them. In 2015 it was estimated the UK has over 342,000 accountants across seven accountancy bodies. Become visible, build a reputation.
- Buy into an active practice: Find an accountant looking for an exit strategy. Buy in. Work together; get to know their clients as the existing accountant gradually retires.
- Join an active practice: Find an accounting firm with a steady flow of business. Join as an associate, become junior partner, work your way up.
- Inherit a practice: Even better. Eliminate the middleman. Follow in the family business. This approach is admittedly limited to those with relatives running accounting practices.
The case for building a clientele and including marketing
Marketing can take many forms. Social media, for example, may be acceptable because you aren’t approaching people face to face. Its downside is the national and international aspects. Will people want to work with you at a distance? Consider these seven ideas:
- Google search: If a person enters “accountant” and their city name in Google, thousands of search results are shown. Is your website on the first page? You can pay for preferred placement. It’s been said the #1 position in Google gets 33% of search traffic.
- Social Media (local): 100 million Facebook users are members of meaningful communities. If your local neighbourhood has one, this is an opportunity to join and raise your professional visibility. 53% of Facebook’s revenue comes from small to medium-sized businesses.
- Social media (professional): LinkedIn has about 1.5 million groups. These are an ideal platform to either post links or write articles. Establish yourself as a subject matter expert. Engage with fellow group members in conversations.
- Win awards: Many local newspapers poll readers and/or produce awards” for best in category, including professional services. Proud winners display banners. Learn which local publications produce lists and when. Get into the running. A PR firm might be able to help.
- Crowd-sourced reviews: Angie’s List is one of several US examples. The company is considering expanding into the UK. The US version has a category for CPAs. Clients can enter feedback. Firms can join themselves.
- Do your clients know what you do? Referrals are powerful. Prospects respect opinions from current clients who volunteer them when asked. Your clients may be unaware of all the work you do in the background to make their lives easier. Increase their awareness.
- Learn how millennials think: According to Thomson Reuters, accounting firms seeing to cultivate the millennial market should embrace technology, establish value and build relationships. Notice embracing technology was listed first.
Marketing has moved beyond traditional channels. Millennials rely on social media and crowd-sourced reviews more than their parents. Are you ready to step into this aspect of marketing?
About Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania.