Looking for proven marketing tactics to grow your firm? Here are five that will work in any business situation.
With the proliferation of social media and content marketing strategies such as e-newsletters, relying on word-of-mouth to attract new clients may no longer be enough.
Not only are prospective clients time-poor, they are being inundated with information about accounting services from rival firms and invitations to take their business elsewhere. As a result, practices of all sizes should not see marketing as yet another expense, but an essential tool for growth and a way to boost the bottom line.
The key, however, is to achieve cut-through in an increasingly cluttered, highly competitive market.
1. Build your brand
“You need a point of difference and a brand that is known for something, not just finance,” says Brent Szalay FCPA, founder and managing director of Melbourne-based SEIVA Accountants. “It’s critical to know what you stand for in a crowded environment, and it’s a long-term play.”
Accordingly, competitive analysis is an integral part of any marketing plan.
“Pick specialist areas and then build reputation and values around them,” Szalay suggests. “A lot of people in the accounting profession overlook brand building.”
But what constitutes a brand?
Meg Yeates, manager brand and integrated marketing at CPA Australia, says a brand should reflect how you want your business to be perceived and appeal to customers.
“Importantly, it must be applied consistently at every [client] touchpoint,” she adds – of which there are many.
Even in a digital world, business cards and letterheads are still required, but brand consistency also extends to how enquiries and phone calls are handled, personal presentation, office location and set up. Topping Yeates’ list is a professionally designed website.
“In 2018, it’s not a nice-to-have but a must-have,” she says, emphasising that web design is not a job for beginners.
“First impressions count more in an era when people have very short attention spans,” Yeates explains. “People do their homework via Google. They need to be able to glean background, the services provided and trustworthiness of business partners from a site.”
And don’t forget 24/7 online enquiry forwarding, as “a phone number that rings out or goes to message afterhours won’t cut it.”
2. Become a high profile industry leader
Being seen and heard is a sure-fire way to build credibility with a specialist audience and becoming a recognised leader in the field. Author blog articles, appear in vlogs, run webinars, write as an expert for industry-related websites, make speeches or give presentations at events.
“It’s worth investing a lot of time in becoming a leader because that way people find you, rather than you having to find them,” says Szalay, who in addition to managing SEIVA, is a former chair of the Victorian Public Practice Committee and a representative councillor for CPA Australia.
He says that although taking on such roles helps to build trust and credibility with clients and peers, in developing a professional profile or personal brand it is also important to play to your strengths.
“I don’t mind being centre stage, so I use that to advantage,” he says. “But if you do video or write well, use it.”
3. Form strategic partnerships
One of the quickest ways to grow a business is through strategic partnerships or alliances. Szalay particularly likes the so-called 1:100 rule.
“In the time it takes to have one conversation with a customer you could have one with a partnership that has 100 prospects,” he says. “Partnering with organisations that share your values and audience can have a huge impact on a business. It might be an accountant teaming with a financial planner, property adviser or lawyer.”
4. Create a potent mix
Understanding customers is Marketing 101. Knowing who they are, their life stages, wants and needs underlies every effective strategy.
“You should be able to segment your customer base to provide content that will lead them to taking the next step with you as a business,” Yeates says. It’s also crucial to know their preferred communication mediums.
“It’s not as simple as getting on Facebook, sending out a generic email newsletter or buying advertising space,” she warns. “People are quick to filter out irrelevant information.”
Meanwhile, running workshops that engage existing clients face-to-face can be a good way to drill down into how the firm might be able to add further value through services that meet previously unspecified client needs.
And when it comes to attracting new business, remember there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“No one way of marketing works outright,” Szalay states. “You have to build up lots of avenues so you’re getting new clients from many different places, rather than having one focus.”
5. Put time on your side
Write a marketing plan with multiple touchpoints that runs to New Year 2019. Include key times in the financial year that are important to everyone, and pinpoint specific action periods for different segments of your existing and targeted client base.
“Planning over a 12-month period allows practitioners to identify when they need to step back from working in the business to put effort into growing the business,” Yeates says.
Szalay advises a trial-and-error approach; making the plan adaptable but always purposeful, “so it doesn’t get lost”.
“Set goals for growth, even incrementally,” Yeates adds. “Remember, it’s not just about what you can achieve by yourself. There are many ways to deliver services to customers these days, so consider bringing in outside expertise.”