Richard Hattersley finds out how firms are increasing brand awareness and gathering a number of new prospects through marketing events.
The inundation of events and trade shows is increasingly causing strain on the practitioner's already well-thumbed diary.
While the incumbent of the scene is May’s annual Accountex event, big software vendors have also got in on the act. Sage, Xero, Quickbooks and others have muscled in on the scene as they attempt to outdo each other with lavish conferences, product demos, releases, and a buffet of workshops and seminars.
Not ones to miss a good opportunity, a number of firms have also emulated the success of vendor events and trade shows. This trend is reflected in the surge of Practice Excellence entrants last year who attributed their success to their events, up from 26% to 42%.
Accountant turned software developer James Byrne is the latest entrant to this scene, showcasing his practice management software, AccountancyManager.
Byrne, although relatively fresh to the software game, knows from his previous life as an accountant how effective these events can be at engaging prospects.
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"Interacting with people face to face enables us to build a stronger, more personal relationship,” he said. “Generating leads from an event are usually more credible as the attendees have already invested their time to come and see you.”
Yet some practitioners may be apprehensive to make the leap into events, concerned by the risk of it becoming a money-losing venture or whether anybody will actually show up.
To understand how practitioners can sidestep this, AccountingWEB caught up with three different sized Practice Excellence award winners – Tayabali Tomlin, SRK Accounting and Raffingers – to find out how they organised three very different events.
Tayabali Tomlin: The TT Big event
Aynsley Damery, CEO of multi-award winning firm Tayabali Tomlin, likes to think big. As a result, Damery was so inspired by XeroCon that he thought Tayabali Tomlin could do something similar.
“I've been to all the other events and tried to take the best from everything and created our own event two years ago and re-ran it again this year,” said Damery.
That event is called the ‘TT big event’. The firm previously joined up with entrepreneurial organisations and business organisations to run workshops and connect with their membership.
“We had non-clients coming to the event because they're interested in Tayabali Tomlin. So it makes it a much easier discussion to have after the event and gives them a taste of what we're about,” Damery commented.
The event is formatted like a vendor conference: the keynote speakers take to the stage in the morning, and the afternoon breaks up into three streams, with 40-minute workshops dissecting each area in more detail.
This year the topics focussed around business development, helping the attendees master business and financial modelling and introducing key performance indicators into the delegate’s businesses.
SRK Accounting: Lunch and learns
From the perspective of last year’s Practice Excellence Small Firm of the Year, events provided a great opportunity to get prospects in and add value to their current client list. Yasser Khan from SRK Accounting explained the motivation behind making the events a base for client education and adding value.
“The more we can add value, the more they're happy with our offering, and the more they’ll refer us, and then it's a whole chain of events that leads to more prospects coming in,” said Khan. “It's not something that we're pushing as a sales pitch.”
As a result, the firm runs regular lunch events within the shared WeWork office complex. The idea of these ‘lunch and learns’ is simple: attendees enjoy a free lunch and network before an educational talk. SRK has covered topics ranging from ‘how to understand cashflow’ to the common mistakes businesses make.
Leveraging Wework and the network available, SRK is able to reach the captive audience of startups under their co-working office roof.
“We can hire out the meeting rooms or conference room in the WeWork space, and use the WeWork internal attendees [to advertise the events],” said Khan.
Raffingers: Estate agents partnership
Last year Raffingers, the 2016 Practice Excellence Medium Firm of the Year, partnered with local estate agents Winkworths to hold four events in response to a number of changes within property tax.
In addition to attracting new prospects, the other goal of the event, said Raffingers' marketing executive Miranda Miresh, was to update clients on the legislative changes.
“It's easy to do that through holding an event, as opposed to sending them an email which they may miss or a letter which they may never open,” she said.
The firm collaborated with the estate agent on selecting the topics they wanted to discuss, what both of their clients needed to know and what they wanted to achieve. The firm’s senior tax manager and partner Lee Manning drew up the format of the event and the property changes that needed to be highlighted.
Promoting the event, Miresh explained how the firm targeted the property prospects flagged in its database. Likewise, Winkworth’s sent out emails to their database. While this collaborative approach spread the word, Raffingers' drove further interest through a pre-event webinar. Attendees of this were teased with a less in-depth overview of the property tax changes and were given the chance to ask questions.
As an added promotion, Raffingers offered those attendees the chance to either email or visit the firm for a consultation.
But, of course, the one factor that may put firms off such events is the cost and organisation involved. None of the firms highlighted above have found this to be a hurdle. For Damery the amount of brand awareness and new business generated, not to mention the opportunity to connect with existing clients, far offsets any cost.
Khan admitted that hosting an event can be stressful and time-consuming, but the payoff has been worth it. “While there were costs with the event, and time costs organising it, the revenue we can potentially build out from the leads that turned up to the event should outweigh that by a long way.”
By nature, some accountants are risk averse and so may need more assurance. That’s where one trait accountants are known for can act as an assurance for those tempted to dip into maverick marketing: measuring what matters.
“Numbers attending is a critical one,” Damery advised, “so set out the benchmarks for the kind of numbers that you're looking for.”
“You need to have an idea of the number of people you're looking for at the event. We also set certain targets internally. We wanted to introduce a new service line and we wanted to see what level that generated and so we set a target for the leads that the new service line would generate and the income we wanted to drive the event. That was key for us.”
SRK, on the other hand, looked at a different metric: quality. “Its success in terms of engagement and how useful people find and how interactive they are - that's a good success barometer,” said Khan.
“We ask all of the attendees to fill out feedback forms at the end - they give really honest and candid feedback, which helps us in terms of improving our presentation or our locations.”
Have you dabbled in similar events? What’s been your approach? How successful have you found the events in converting and gathering prospects?
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's practice correspondent. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.