It can seem virtually impossible to run an effective marketing program for a small CPA or tax practice, and more so for solo practitioners. It’s not just that marketing requires a specialized skill set and some experience. There are four other – and equally daunting – reasons why a typical marketing program for tax and accounting operations may not be viable:
- Marketing requires resources that are often not available to small firms. A healthy chunk of the budget, a dedicated person to manage the program, management time and attention, and the creation of a marketing strategy consistent with the firm’s goals.
- Economies of scale are diminished. The small firm will pay more for ad space, printing, and other commodities because of the smaller quantities needed.
- Mistakes are costlier. Investing $5,000 in a marketing program that fizzles rather than sizzles is not an issue in a million-dollar marketing budget. That same level of mistake in a $10,000 budget could set the firm back for years.
- Calculating the return on a marketing investment can be very difficult. Don’t expect to see high levels of quantitative returns on low levels of activity. This is where planning and goals come in – a small firm marketing program is only worth doing if it brings in new clients or retains current ones. At the end of the year, having more clients than at the end of the previous year means something is working.
This last point is worth restating. Large firms have the luxury to build marketing plans across several goals and dimensions: finding a client need and filling it or simply balancing products, pricing, promotion, and location. Small firms don’t have as much flexibility in this regard. These firms must generally focus on a single dimension – a healthy client base, consistent with the strategic plans of the firm.
With these points as prelude, here are 10 marketing programs that tend to serve small CPA and tax firms well:
- Create an identity. Marketing teams can produce a clean, consistent look for your firm that includes a logo, fonts, a tagline explaining your firm in 10 words or less, and a short history of the firm. Once an identity kit is finished, it should define a consistent style across your print and digital media: from preferred color pallet to the language describing your brand. When looking at any major marketing element, you should be able to say, “Yes, that’s our firm.” Prices can vary for these kits, so shop around.
- Create a website. A website is the foundation of your firm’s communication – a sort of third-generation business card that presents who you are, what you can do, the kind of clients you serve, and information on how to locate and contact the firm. Remember to build the website on the identity created in the first program.
- Expand into social media. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In are the logical extension of both your identity and your web site. Whether or not you elect to have a personal Facebook page, you should have one for the firm. Post news and other items of interest to your clients and maintain a blog to encourage your clients to participate in a discussion with you. Relevant news and blog posts should also be sent to a select group of clients and prospects via Twitter. Finally, make use of LinkedIn to present your credentials and capabilities, share insights, and connect with other professionals.
- Publish a newsletter. In times past, this was a laborious task that required skills in writing, layout, publishing, and distribution. Those days are gone. Today, there is free newsletter content available online or from your software and hardware vendors, and the newsletter can be easily published in Microsoft Word or other word processors. Be sure to send it weekly: email it to clients and prospects and post it to social media sites.
- Work with community newspapers. The media markets today are highly segmented, and it is not difficult to identify those serving where your clients are. Offer to produce a short article on tax matters to these publications on a regular basis – though expect some competition from other firms in your market area. More so than with larger publications, these community newspapers rely on advertising revenue from small businesses to keep going, so it’s a good idea to occasionally place advertisements in those publications.
- Get media and speaker’s training. Most PR firms offer low-cost training sessions in creating effective presentations, showing you how to effectively communicate your points to the media. Local community colleges are another option if you’re having trouble finding this type of training.
- Speak to professional associations. State societies, national associations, and similar professional groups are constantly looking for fresh topics for their conferences. Tailor the presentation to 45 minutes plus time for a few questions. Remember to submit your idea for a seminar session early in the year, before the agenda is filled.
- Speak to your home town. Likewise, many civic organizations – Rotary, Eagles, and Chamber of Commerce – welcome presentations to acquaint their members with your services. Tame down the marketing messages and introduce your firm in a positive light.
- Provide incentives for employees and clients to help pitch the firm. The reward should be tangible, but does not need to be extravagant. The program can be operated monthly, with an annual “grand prize” given to all participants at the end of each calendar year.
- Become a media resource. Radio and television stations are forever seeking someone to comment on breaking news – even in tax and accounting. Contact the news director for each station serving your marketing area and offer to send a resume for both yourself and your firm. Remember to get media training first, lest your television debut also becomes your swan song.
With a little bit of thought and a minimum of resources, it is possible for even small firms and solo practitioners to build an effective marketing program. The keys to such a program are to stay focused, keep a tight eye on the budget and measure success by how well the program supports the firm.