First Steps to a Structured Approach

Recently a managing partner at a local CPA firm approached me for some advice on moving her firm to the 'next level' in terms of increasing growth and status in its community. As we began to discuss the steps she needed to take, I thought it might be useful to share some of the ideas with you.

There are many CPA firms that do not have a formalized approach to both building name recognition and increasing the pipeline of new opportunities. This is not uncommon at all, especially with small to mid-size firms. These firms have survived and thrived, as perhaps yours has, for years without a marketing process in place and so they are somewhat unprepared for the "new normal."

Today's clients are more sophisticated, with higher expectations from their trusted advisors. Accounting students are also looking for firms that have a commitment to growth and success - in short, they want to become a part of a firm that has a bright and dynamic future.

The role of marketing, too, has changed. A field more crowded and competitive now than ever before, mergers and mega-mergers, and clients demanding niche knowledge from their CPAs have all contributed to this changing emphasis on marketing.

So what are you going to do? As I told the managing partner who asked me how to get started, I suggested that the partners sit down together and address some key issues. I suggested that they:

1. Identify where business is currently coming from. Run a time and billing report and sort it from the highest revenue generating clients on down. Ten use the report to determine if these are the most profitable clients, that is, are they "A" clients. Do you spend hours over budget only to collect a fixed fee that doesn't come close to capturing the real time invested? Do they send referrals? Are you able to cross-sell additional services? Are they loyal? Do they push you hard regarding their invoice and demand write-offs?

2. Reviewing this list again, identify the various industries that define your current client base. Put each client into a 'bucket' such as retail, construction, manufacturing, wholesale distribution, professional services, medical, nonprofit, etc. Once you see where you have the greatest areas of concentration of existing clients, you make some decisions about where to seek new clients. Think, too, about emerging markets where you have not been involved up until now. Is this a sector you need to get into? Is it sustainable? Are the industries you currently focus on robust or declining?

3. Discuss the people you know in your community. Where are your strongest sources for referrals? Which bankers, attorneys, financial planners or consultants regularly send leads to your firm? Are these the same people you refer prospects to when you have the opportunity? (When going through this exercise, sometimes firms realize that they are referring out to different Centers of Influence (COIs)than are referring back to them!)

4. Make a list of the tools you are currently using - even if haphazardly or inconsistently - that help attract new clients as well as raise retention among existing clients. Include your web site, newsletters, any events you may host or co-sponsor, email alerts and any other tactic that you have tried.

5. Identify those people within the firm who have already assumed responsibility for creating a presence for the firm through their own networking, public speaking, writing articles, or attendance at industry or business groups. These people will help continue to drive you forward while encouraging others to join them.

6. Then - take all the information you have gathered and develop a plan. You know who your best clients are, you know what industries are most successful for your firm, you know the marketing leaders within your firm, you know the influencers outside of the firm who you can help and who will, in return, help you, and you know what marketing efforts you already have some familiarity with.

From this data you can create an individual plan for each of the partners who want to be involved in a more structured approach to consistent brand building, and you can identify where and how you can strengthen your outreach in the business community. You can then create a marketing plan for each niche and for the entire firm. In this way each level, from personal plan at the grassroots to niche plan to enterprise-wide plan, will build on the success of each other.

7. Your next decision will be if you can manage this process by yourself or if you need to hire a marketing consultant or perhaps a full time or part time marketing director who will provide the direction, resources, guidance and data you need to succeed.

8. Accountability is the last, and perhaps most important, step for getting started. Without rules and consequences, no plan will be executed no matter how comprehensive or thoughtful it may be. Decide what will the firm's response will be towards those who do not follow the plan and contribute to building the firm's forward momentum.

This blog

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, will lead a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.

More from this blog

Bloggers crew

Steve Knowles has spent 25 years in business and practice in the UK, but he also worked in the states and the years haven't dulled his way of seeing an alternative view to everyone else, and every day is a new adventure.

42573

Joel M. Ungar, CPA is a lifelong resident of the Detroit area and a graduate of The University of Michigan. He is a principal with Silberstein Ungar, PLLC, a Top 15 auditor of SEC public reporting companies.

74839

Allan Boress, CPA, with over 25 years as a practitioner and consultant to the accounting profession. Mr. Boress is the author of 12 published books in 6 different languages, including a best-seller, The "I-Hate-Selling" Book.

47543

Larry Perry, CPA, CPA Firm Support Services, LLC, is the author of accounting and auditing manuals, author and presenter of live staff training seminars, and author of webcast and self-study CPE programs. He blogs about small audits, reviews, and compilations.

87359
Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder, is ranked by Accounting Today as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Accounting as a result of her prominent role as an industry expert on HR and training as well as influence as a management and planning consultant. She is also a founding member of The CPA Consultant's Alliance. Sandra is a certified Kolbe™ trainer who advises firms on building balanced teams, managing employee conflict and hiring staff.
19995

Maria Calabrese, CIR, Human Resources manager for Fazio, Mannuzza, Roche, Tankel, LaPilusa, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, Maria's topics revolve around the world of: Mentoring, Performance management, and The "Y Generation," a.k.a. "The whY generation".

54670

William Brighenti is a CPA, Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, and Certified [Business] Valuation Analyst, operating an accounting, tax, and QuickBooks consulting firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Accountants CPA Hartford.

79379

Ken Garen, CPA, is the co-founder and President of Universal Business Computing Company (www.ubcc.com), a software development firm of high-volume, high-productivity accounting and payroll technology.

24571

Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com, and author of the weekly syndicated Ask TaxMama column. She provides answers to tax questions from taxpayers and tax professionals worldwide.

63088

Amy Vetter, CPA, CITP is the CPA Programs Leader for Intacct Corporation responsible for leading the CPA/BPO Partners nationally.

33957
Brian Strahle is the owner of LEVERAGE SALT, LLC where he provides state and local tax technical services to accounting firms, law firms and tax research organizations across the United States. He also writes a weekly column in Tax Analysts State tax Notes entitled, "The SALT Effect." For more info, visit his website: www.leveragestateandlocaltax.com
101177
Scott H. Cytron, ABC, is president of Cytron and Company, known for helping companies and organizations improve their bottom line through a hybrid of strategic public relations, communications, marketing programs and top-notch client service. An accredited consultant, Scott works with companies, organizations and individuals in professional services (accounting, finance, medical, legal, engineering), high-tech and B2B/B2C product/service sales.
25264

Rita Keller is a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, author, mentor and blogger. She has over 30 years hands-on experience in CPA firm management, marketing, technology and administrative operations.

51539
Stacy Kildal is the mom of two fantastic kids, an Advanced Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, Certified Enterprise Solutions ProAdvisor, Sleeter Group Certified Consultant, a nationally recognized member of the Intuit Trainer and Writer Network, and co-host of RadioFree QuickBooks.
27106
Michael Alter's blog specializes in providing practical advice to those who seek greater profitability and practice management tactics that enhance deeper client relationships.
31398

Sally Glick, CMO, Principal, Marketer of the Year in 2003 and AAM Hall of Famer in 2007, leads a lively discussion of the constantly expanding roles of marketing and the professional marketers that drive this initiative in accounting firms of all sizes.

98654

The IMA Young Professionals Blog features the insights of IMA’s Young Professionals Committee. Committee members share advice and experiences on careers, continuing education, work/life balance, and other issues affecting young accounting and finance professionals.

32589

FEI Financial Reporting Blog provides highlights from SEC, PCAOB, FASB, IASB, and other regulatory news, including reporting under Sarbanes-Oxley Sect 404. It is written by Edith Orenstein, Director of Technical Policy Analysis at FEI.

109523

Sue Anderson has 30 years of experience in continuing education for accountants. Currently she is the program director for online CPE provider CPE Link.

59840

Jim Fahey is COO of Apple Growth Partners, a regional CPA firm in Ohio. His focus is on the effective and efficient use of technology within the firm by all team members.

38616
Caleb Newquist is the Editor-in-Chief of Sift Media US, overseeing content for both AccountingWEB and Going Concern.
65577

Leita Hart-Fanta, CPA, CGFM, and CGAP is the author of "The Yellow Book Interpreted" and owner of Yellowbook-CPE.com a website devoted to training for governmental auditors.

91448

AccountingWEB is more than just a U.S. team of journalists and financial and technology experts - we have an international side, too! Members of our British team who publish AccountingWEB.co.uk share their ideas, insights, and perspectives from across the pond.

52541