There is no shortage of advice about how to build a marketing program. There are books, articles, consultants, seminars. If you really want to do it, there’s something or somebody around to tell you how. Even if you cut away some of the nonsense about marketing an accounting firm, there’s still a lot of good information available.
The trouble with it is that for many firms, most of it is unrealistic. There’s too much. It’s overwhelming. Too often, the accountant is exhorted to build a full scale marketing program, regardless of the firm’s size or resources. To be urged to do what you can’t afford to do is a significant source of frustration about marketing. To actually do it, using all the tools of marketing because you are urged to do it, can be disastrous, if the program isn’t realistically related to the size, the resources, and the needs of the firm.
Every good marketer knows the tools available to market an accounting firm. There really isn’t much that’s new or different, except perhaps for the Internet. There are articles and seminars, and newsletters and web sites and direct mail and selling. These and more are all good means of marketing your services.
But it comes down, of course, not to the marketing devices themselves, but to the way each is used. More is not necessarily better. Doing a few things right is better – and cheaper. And more effective.
Realize, also, that every one of your competitors has the same access to the same marketing tools that you do. How, then, can you compete, especially without an expensive staff or a high priced outside consultant? This vast array of marketing programs can be overwhelming.
That is, until you realize that the difference between any firm and the one right behind it is the smallest increment of activity. It’s the firm that gives one more seminar, or writes one more article, or has a slightly better mailing list. It’s the firm that does one or two things better, rather than more things not very well.
Within any category of size, it’s not the firm that spends the most, or builds the bigger marketing program. The winner is the firm that gives an inch more than it’s competitors. Not a foot or a yard – an inch. It’s the firm that’s more focused, and doesn’t run off in all directions at once.
How does it work? Start by realizing that much like King Croesus, you can be frozen by an embarrassment of riches. You can demand too much of marketing and its tools.
At the same time, you have to realize that an effective and efficient marketing program begins not with the tools, but with the objectives. Figure out what you want to accomplish, be sure it’s realistic, and then plan on getting there by increments – a little bit at a time.
What size do you want to be? What kind of firm do you want to have? What kind of clients and practice do you want? If you can’t answer these questions, in the simplest and most realistic terms, be prepared to spin a lot of wheels and get nowhere.
Look at the tools for a moment. Obviously, you can’t use all of them, unless you’re prepared to spend a great deal of money and a great deal of time. Here’s a plan…
Understand that no marketing device will likely get you a client. Only you can do that. All that these devices can do is lead you to the point of contact between you and your prospect.
Understand the difference between name recognition and reputation. You can spend a fortune getting name recognition, but without coupling that to a reputation for something of value to prospects, then you’re just a name whistled in the wind. A reputation for expertise in a particular competency, for integrity, for service – all carry with it name recognition with a real value.
Focus on just one thing at a time, and concentrate your efforts on that. For example, if you want building your practice to include computerized accounting, you might choose just that expertise on which to focus your efforts, even though your practice includes other expertise. But start with one.
Direct your program to just that audience. An article or two to the appropriate publication. Building a mailing list of prospects for just that service. Reprints of the article to that mailing list. A program of periodic mailings of pertinent clippings, and other information to that list, with a simple note that says, "I thought you might be interested in seeing this.” (Don't try to sell -- just the simple note and attachment will allow you to do two key things -- demonstrate your expertise, and build your reputation. It will also build name recognition -- but within the context of reputation.)
After a few such mailings, you can start to follow up with phone calls. You might say, "I've been sending you material about us for a few months now, and I hope you find it useful. Now you know a great deal about us, but we don't know much about you. Can we get together next Tuesday and chat?" You should get anywhere from ten to fifty percent of your calls resulting in a meeting. Now you can sell.
The point is that instead of doing everything at once, you're doing one thing well. Your practice will grow at a pace you can sustain. It will be the kind of practice you want, because it will be the clients you go after. It takes a little time, but it will work. It always does.
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