The accountant’s guide to marketing
There are many ways to market your firm but how do you know which method will be most effective for your practice? Philip Fisher outlines how firms can make the most of the available options.
It is important to distinguish between sales and marketing. I have seen business development partners in relatively large practices who never quite got the difference, believing that selling was all that mattered.
On the other hand, some firms seem to get so tied up in marketing theory that they never actually generate any material that the outside world notices.
Clearly, it is necessary to allocate sufficient time and resources to both of these areas of business generation. In particular, you must regard marketing as an investment. Therefore, while it would be easy to cut the budget or reduce the effort in difficult times, this is practically an admission that your business has no future. Either that or your practice has the kind of success, which means that you are literally turning work away.
For the purpose of this series, marketing is regarded as a means of promoting either your whole practice or certain streams with the intention of making potential clients realise that you have services which they wish to purchase. This is not the same as cold calling everybody that you know (or don’t) and telling them to buy your product.
The first step is to determine what you have to offer, ideally something that can be marketed as being unique to your practice. As previously stated, this could be as simple as a geographical differentiation such as being one of only two or three practices in the local area.
It could be a niche offering, possibly some kind of clever tax planning say connected to research and development or it might be your own personal reputation as an upstanding member of the community or an expert in your field.
Having identified what you want the world to know about, the next issue is how you can get your message across.
One possibility might be to write the definitive book on a particular subject area. I have tried this and it represents a ludicrous amount of work, although in the very long term it did pay off.
However, this route can get far too close to a nervous breakdown and it may be simpler to write a series of articles in highly regarded publications that either get in front of your prospective client base or, more realistically, you can send to them.
These days, it is very hard to know what, if anything, recipients will look at or listen to. Most people are more than capable of deleting marketing e-mails, unless you can find something to catch the eye instantly.
Similarly, literature on paper, whether it is a letter, some kind of brochure, a magazine or even a small book, is likely to find its way into the recycling, possibly before it even passes across the desk of the person to whom it is addressed.
Advertising can be effective although it may prove to be very expensive. If you can afford a 30 minute ad in the middle of the FA Cup final, that is likely to be seen by millions, although most of them may not be the kind of people you actually want to work with or want to work with you.
A box ad in the local paper, if it still exists, could be more manageable pricewise and better directed. Similarly, something in the accountancy/tax press might hit your target market.
Invitations to events have become far less common as practices have reined in costs in recent years. However, this can be a very effective way of attacking a small number of significant prospects. If you happen to have tickets for the opera or a rugby international and someone is desperate to see one or the other, at the very least you will have their company and attention for a couple of hours.
Then there are online options such as websites and social media, but they're the subject of a separate article.
The key here is to accept that all of the money that you spend on marketing could go down the drain. But if you're targeted in your approach and design a marketing programme that generates and nurtures leads you will make the most of this opportunity.
Otherwise, you will probably never know unless someone happens to turn up on your doorstep and announce that they saw the advert in the middle of the FA Cup final or at the station and rushed straight around to offer you their audit and ensuing company sale.