A Conversation With Allan Boress: It All Boils Down To Marketing

What are the biggest problems or concerns you have with your accounting practice? Are they:

  • You’d like to make more money
  • You would want to charge higher fees
  • You would like a better grade of clients
  • Some of your clients upset your staff
  • More quality referrals would be great
  • Employee retention and motivation could be improved
  • Office needs remodeling
  • Need software and hardware upgrades
  • Would like to do more sophisticated work
  • Want to sell your practice for the most you can
  • More time off for yourself and family

I had two mentors, Sandy and Jordan Rubens (both of blessed memory). They taught me what I didn’t learn in school and what it took to create a successful, profitable, enjoyable practice.


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The Sum of All Problems

I remember going to Jordy once complaining about some moron clients who were not only driving me batty, but my staff as well. “What can I do about these clients?” I asked.

“Allan, your problem isn’t these clients…” Jordon replied. “Your problem is you aren’t doing enough marketing.”

What does one have to do with the other? “Marketing is an investment, not a cost of doing business,” he continued. “The more marketing you do, the more demand you create for your services, the more selective you can be about the clients you bring in and the ones you keep. The more you can charge.”

Jordon was right. Marketing allowed me to create the practice I wanted because it increased the demand for my services and allowed me to overcome all of the problems mentioned at the beginning of the article.

And all of your problems and concerns boil down to lack of marketing or doing the wrong things.

The Easiest Business in the World

Of course, that’s probably not the way you look at things. Let’s be clear: I have been a practicing CPA for 27 years, consulted to this profession for over 20 years and have had published five books on practice development. I am not some guy with an opinion.

Imagine being in a business where the competition did little or no effective marketing or promotion. Picture a business where your competitors weren’t battling it out in the marketplace for your customers.

Welcome to public accounting. Public accounting is the easiest business in the world because 95 percent or more of all of our peers never think about marketing, would never invest in it, and certainly aren’t going to do it themselves. That’s one reason why they became accountants.

To most of our peers, marketing is another cost to be avoided like all costs. Sadly, those few who have actually tried promoting their business usually fail because they don’t know what they are doing or are getting advice from people who don’t know our business.

What is Marketing and How Do You Do It?

Marketing is something that puts you in front of someone you would like to get business from.

Since, you probably would like additional business from your clients, any time you are with them, you are also marketing (whether you realize it or not; 93 percent of our communication is non-verbal).

Fortunately for you, that is the sum total of all of the marketing efforts that people in our business do. And many try not to do even that, especially now that they can access our client’s computers via the Internet.

Marketing is drawing attention to yourself, in a positive way. It is letting people know who you are, what you do and what you want. The problem with these definitions is that you believe you are already doing sufficient amounts and understand successful marketing. You don’t; that’s why you need to read the rest of this magazine and suck up every proven marketing concept you can.

The Three Biggest Mistakes of Marketing

I co-authored a 500-page book on this subject, sold by the AICPA (Mastering the Art of Marketing Professional Services, 2002). Therefore, it’s hard to convey all of it in a short article. What we can do is make sure you avoid the three most common and critical errors accountants make in marketing. If you can avoid these errors, your marketing effectiveness will improve dramatically, the demand for your services will increase and you can overcome all of the problems mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Mistake No. 1: Having the Wrong Expectations of Marketing

What's the purpose of marketing a tangible item like a personal computer? To get the name out? To educate the buyer? To "build a reputation?" No!

The only purpose of marketing a tangible item is to sell it immediately. Right now! They want you to march into that dealership and buy their new Turbomaster this very minute. At the highest possible price -- whether you need it or not.

And, you will buy the tangible item because of the item, itself. How many of us have had to live through that humbling experience known as purchasing an automobile? If the dealer has the car you want, at the right price, are you going to buy it even if they aren't necessarily nice, or professional, with you? The personal interaction with the seller has less to do with the purchase than the item itself.

But, that's not how people buy professional, intangible services. With an intangible professional service, there's nothing to see, hear, feel, smell or taste. We sell “Air.”

Here's proof about the different way people buy intangible services vs. tangible items: Do you get a lot of telephone calls asking for consulting services, where people want to buy right over the phone?

The only expectation you can have from marketing is setting you up for a sales interview with the prospect or referral source, not the sale itself.

What are people really buying when they purchase professional services? They're buying you. No matter what firm you work for, big name or no name, the ultimate decision to purchase is based on interaction with real human beings.

Yes, if you spend an absolute fortune on advertising and entertaining and "getting the word out," about five years from now, the community will more readily recognize who you are and what you do. That will open the door a little wider. You still will get hired, or not hired, after they meet you.

Don't ever forget this marketing axiom: People buy other people, not firms.

No matter if you work for the best known firm in town, or the oldest firm in town, or Yutz and Putz, the ultimate decision to use you for financial planning is based on human interaction.

That's good news: you don't have to invest a fortune on marketing to be effective at it. You will, however, have to get involved in the marketing effort and be willing to carry out the actions, personally.

Many accountants think if they conduct one seminar or run an ad, they're going to get business from it. Sorry -- that's not how it works.

Please don't forget this marketing axiom, either: "Marketing is a cumulative process, not an event." Each marketing effort builds on what you've done in the past. One-shot marketing events rarely produce business -- save your money and your time.

Whether you are speaking, doing seminars, actively involved in organizations, doing direct mail, advertising, sending out newsletters, it is the quantity of your marketing effort, not just the quality, that will draw attention to you (which is what you want, so you get more quality referrals, meet more client opportunities, charge more).

Mistake No. 2: Not Marketing To Their Own Clients

Most accountants miss the proverbial boat when it comes to marketing consulting services to their existing clients. Why? I find that some accountants are afraid to discuss additional services for whatever reason, some have tried and failed, some don't "have the time," and most simply don't know how, nor care to get better at it.

Yet, the Multi-Million Dollar Producers in our business generate approximately 50 percent of new, incremental business from the sales of additional services to their existing clients and from client referrals.

Most of you ignore your own backyard, and outside resources wind up selling services to the existing clients that could be provided by the firm. After interviewing thousands of clients of firms over the years, I found most don't even know what other services their you can perform
Worse, it's those outside resources that your clients use, instead of you, that infect the client relationship.

Once you have an outside resource doing work for your client, the relationship is now at risk because sharp service providers try to bring their buddies into your client relationship.

This is one more reason you should actively market Intuit Software to your existing clients!

Mistake No. 3: Searching For Too Many Referral Sources

A significant portion of your new business, 20 percent to 30 percent, needs to come from referral sources. What if your percentages differ? You may be doing something very right (e.g.: getting a lot of new work from clients) but ignoring your referral relationships.

We tend to look at referral relationships as a numbers game: "The more attorneys I know, the more people who will send me business!" Not necessarily. The Multi-Million Dollar Producers in our profession often have fewer referral sources than their less productive rivals. They invest their marketing time finding those handful of referral sources (allies) who will develop close, friendship-based relationships and then nurturing those relationships so that the referral sources actively market for them.

“Gee, Allan, I don’t have the time to do this stuff.” That attitude just proves you are a mere accountant. A real businessperson hires clerical people to do the least important work, freeing them up to build a quality practice.

Allan Boress, CPA, CFE is the published author of 11 books on marketing and selling professional services, including a best-seller, The “I-Hate-Selling” Book now in its seventh printing and published in 7 languages. He has twice been named one of the Top 100 People in the Accounting Profession. He has trained over 200,000 people in the art of selling and personal marketing worldwide. Visit www.allanboress.com for all sorts of articles and ideas. Email allan@allanboress.com

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