Philip Fisher reviews some of the tried and trusted methods accountants use when building and maintaining a winning marketing strategy.
If you are running the marketing department at EY or Grant Thornton, then this series is probably not for you. More realistically, many readers will be involved with relatively small practices that are seeking to find cost-effective ways to generate additional business, ideally without taking up too much of partners’ highly valuable and limited time.
While clever advertising programs or social media strategies are likely to be fashionable and will find favour with those attempting to sell them, in many cases you can achieve your goals at almost zero cost by using tried and trusted methods that would have been popular with your fathers and grandfathers (or even mothers and grandmothers).
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Build a reputation
If you can build and maintain a reputation as the firm to choose for the services at which your practice excels, this is potentially worth far more than anything else that has been included in this series.
It can take years to achieve but if you are known as the best practice in the area, the most innovative business advisers in a particular industry or just a really nice lady who gets the job done with a smile, who doesn’t make a fuss and charges reasonable prices, then you could be made.
What’s your USP?
Often, it is necessary to identify what makes your practice unique for one or more classes of clients. This could be based on an understanding of the individuals and common interests. That could mean having a hotline to the local taxman in an hour of need but could as easily derive from meeting in church every Sunday morning, speaking Latvian fluently or supporting Arsenal.
Having identified what those in the industry might refer to as touch points, it is then necessary to publicise them to those who are looking for your particular specialism. To start with, this should require no more than going about your daily life and making those that you meet aware of your services and skill sets. Given time, many will become disenchanted with their existing accountants and pop along to say hello.
You’ve built your reputation, now what?
In the longer term, as your reputation builds, clients should be recommending your services to friends and family without prompting. Once you get to this stage, you should be made. Alternatively, that could be the opportunity to expand.
An alternative to this might be to enter into an informal agreement with someone providing complementary services. If you are a tax specialist then there might be an opportunity to team up with an auditor to mutual benefit. The same could be applied to getting friendly with a local solicitor or bank manager, where there can be opportunities for exchanges of business.
ABC - Always Be Closing
Having built up a good practice it is still important to consolidate your position and remind people of your existence on a regular basis. It might sound stupid but frequently when I ring clients to discuss fees we end up expanding the conversation and commissioning additional services.
The message that comes through loud and clear is that if make it a policy to fix regular meetings with key clients or call them on a frequent basis, work will come flooding in. They will also keep you in their mind when others mention dissatisfaction with their existing accountants or are setting up a new business that will require your services.
The same applies to prospects. The selling partners whom I have admired most over the years are those whose persistence means that they keep in contact with those that they regard as potential suppliers of work for month after month and year after year until an opportunity finally arises and, given this kind of effort, it generally does.
The next step
Having created the winning brand, you can then build a marketing strategy around it. This could involve presence on social media, adverts in the local papers or merely being seen in the mosque or sponsoring the local kids’ football jerseys and getting your firm’s name publicised in this way.
None of this is rocket science but it is low cost, highly effective and can also be enjoyable, which very few people would say about cold calling or working rooms packed with those desperate to avoid your eye or sell you their own tacky products and services.