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.