How to market your accountancy firm part 1: Strategiseby
When it comes to marketing your accounting firm, don’t dive in at the deep end or rush to execution – strategise first.
As accountants, you’re always advising your clients to take the time to think and plan. That’s because it’s more efficient, delivers better results and puts them in control. The same applies to marketing, at least when it’s done properly.
Why aren’t accountants doing this already? Well, to be frank, the smart ones are. That’s why they appear at the top of search rankings, get invited to speak at events and are all over your LinkedIn content feed.
As for those who aren’t, I get the impression from the conversations I have that it’s because they don’t understand what marketing is, or how powerful it can be. They think it’s a sprinkle of glitter for cosmetic purposes when, in fact, it’s a tool for generating leads and making more money.
With that in mind, every bit of marketing activity you undertake should have a clear purpose. The purpose of your marketing strategy is to make sure your investment is properly targeted and delivers the results you need.
Start with market research
When we talk to accountants about market research, there’s sometimes a moment of panic because it sounds like something intense and expensive.
Obviously, the more you can invest in it the better but, in practice, even a relatively small exercise can have huge benefits. That might mean conducting, say, 20 short interviews, backed up with desk research.
It’s about testing your assumptions and understanding of (a) who your clients are and (b) what they really want.
For one PracticeWeb client, we conducted research on property owners and landlords. With a mix of one-to-one interviews and statistics from Government bodies, we came up with some game-changing insights. They not only shaped the marketing strategy but also the fundamentals of the firm’s business strategy.
Define your ideal clients
One conversation I always love to have is about what we in marketing call ‘buyer personas’ but which, in plain English, you can just call ideal clients.
“We’ve got too many Daves and want more Angelas,” is a fairly typical statement you might hear at the end of a buyer persona exercise.
Dave doesn’t spend much but demands a lot of time and attention. He’s sometimes bad-tempered. And the work you do for him is just a bit boring.
Angela, on the other hand, has a growing business in a sector you personally find interesting, and lots of exciting ideas. She wants bookkeeping and her tax return done, sure, but she also wants business advice and is happy to pay for it. You look forward to meetings with her.
Once you’ve decided to focus on clients like Angela, you can start to think about their ‘pain points’ – what worries or frustrates them? – and the decision-making process they go through when choosing your accountant.
All the content you produce and the marketing activity you undertake should help you connect with Angela. And if Dave doesn’t like it… Well, that’s fine, isn’t it? He can find a different accountant.
Set your vision and goals
What do you want to achieve? That’s the big question that should drive your marketing strategy and keep your eyes on the prize.
The vision is about where you want to be in three, five or however many years’ time. You’ve probably worked through this kind of thing with your own clients when helping them put together long-term business plans.
It should be something you can express quite clearly in a few words. Here’s an example based on something a PracticeWeb client arrived at after going through our strategy process:
Achieve growth in our client base with profitable clients we actually like – trust and chemistry.
That’s honest, concrete and, I think, quite inspiring. They’ll be able to come back to that constantly and ask:
- Does this marketing activity get us closer to where we want to be?
- Are we being disciplined about working with clients we like?
- Are our profits increasing?
Specific, measurable goals support the vision. Thinking of the example above, by what percentage do you want to increase your client base? What are the milestones along the way, in year one, two and beyond?
Again, this doesn’t have to be guesswork. You can run the calculations back from the endpoint, to end up with goals such as:
- Bring in a hundred new leads per month.
- Get 50 new clients per year.
- Increase revenue per client by 20% by 2024.
Your goals and vision might also be more personal: “I want to pay off my mortgage by 35 which means I need to double the number of clients my firm has in two years.”
Find a market niche
I run a marketing agency that only works with accountants and accountancy tech vendors so, yes, I believe strongly in the power of picking a niche.
“We’ll work with anyone, anywhere in the country, in any sector, with any size of business, at any stage of growth” isn’t a strategy – it’s trawling. It works for some firms but it’s hard going because you’re competing for attention with thousands of other generalists.
Pick a niche, on the other hand, and the competition instantly narrows. Your content can be more specific and targeted. And you stand more chance of winning top search rankings for less competitive keywords.
But which niche? How do you choose? The stages above, especially the buyer persona exercise, usually provide the answer.
If you get a buzz from working with startups and advising on R&D tax relief, focus on new technology businesses.
If you’ve already got a reputation for your knowledge of the construction industry and it’s bringing in work, double down on that.
Or maybe you want to focus on delivering a single service really well, such as bookkeeping for tradesmen or tax returns for creative freelancers.
There’s plenty of room for all sorts of specialists left in the market.
Build a brand
This article is about strategy and in that context, brand doesn’t mean logos and colour palettes. It’s about the underlying meaning that people attach to your firm – what people think and feel about you.
Once you’ve been through the steps above, you’ll probably find a brand emerging almost on its own accord.
It might be about quality, depth of analysis and sophisticated thinking. It could be informality, good humour and dynamism. Or maybe it’s clarity, good value and simplicity.
Defining a brand, documenting all of those values and ideas, is another anchor for your marketing activity. If it contradicts your brand, don’t do it. If it strengthens, on the other hand, that’s where your energy and investment should go.
The second piece in this series will move us a step along into planning. What needs to happen, when, to make the strategy a reality?
Mike Crook is managing director of PracticeWeb, a specialist marketing agency for accountants. In this series, he sets out how your firm can market itself more effectively, from strategy to execution. You can read more of Mike’s advice in his new book, The Digital Marketing Manual for Accountants.
Mike will be speaking at AccountingWEB Live Expo on 1-2 December 2021 alongside such guests as Rebecca Benneyworth, Peter Rayney, Paul Aplin, Anita Monteith, Carl Reader, Steve Collings, Reza Hooda plus representatives from HMRC. PracticeWeb will also be exhibiting at stand G15.
AccountingWEB Live Expo takes place on 1-2 December 2021 at Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry. Registration is now open. The full content programme is now available enabling you to register for specific sessions. Please visit the AccountingWEB Live Expo website for full details and to sign up for our newsletter.
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Mike Crook lives and breathes digital marketing for accountants.
He's the Managing Director of the award-winning marketing agency PracticeWeb, which has worked exclusively with accounting firms for more than 20 years. Under Mike's leadership, PracticeWeb has repositioned itself in the market and gone from strength to strength, entering...