E-Marketing for CPA Firms
June 27, 2001
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E-marketing is changing the way professional service providers market their services. It is being embraced because e-marketing provides firms with measurable results and creates more business opportunities.
BizActions provides a new e-marketing and communications approach that has been developed by CPAs for CPA firms.
BizActions is an electronic alternative to newsletters that delivers articles to your clients and others which they choose, based on their interests and needs. Using the internet, it can help your firm increase revenues, decrease costs and strengthen client relationships.
You can read the complete transcript of the workshop.
Topics covered in the workshop included:
- E-marketing and BizActions can help your firm and your clients
- BizActions System description
June 27 Session Sponsored by BizActions
Session Moderator: Thank you all for joining us today. Today's workshop is: E-Marketing for CPA Firms, Presented by David Ross of BizActions, LLC.
David Ross is a member of BizActions, LLC, headquartered in Rockville, MD. Based in Los Angeles, California, David has been providing marketing, communications and management consulting services to CPA firms nationally for over 16 years. E-marketing is changing the way professional service providers market their services. It is being embraced because E-marketing provides firms with measurable results and creates more business opportunities.
BizActions provides a new E-marketing and communications approach that has been developed by CPAs for CPA firms. BizActions is an electronic alternative to newsletters that delivers articles to your clients and others which they choose, based on their interests and needs. Using the internet, it can help your firm increase revenues, decrease costs and strengthen client relationships.
Topics to be covered include:
- E-marketing and BizActions can help your firm and your clients
- BizActions System description
Welcome David, the floor is yours.
David Ross: Thank you...it is a pleasure to be here today
BizActions is a new way of communicating with your marketplace. Just think about the many ways the internet has impacted your life.
If you are like most firms you probably have a website. You probably send and receive email on a regular basis, you may find yourself using the fax machine and post office less frequently as well. One area that the Internet is having incredible impact is marketing and communications. There is a new term used to describe marketing on the internet called E-marketing. A term you probably all familiar with.
E-marketing has already had incredible impact in the world of business and it's just beginning to gain recognition in the CPA profession. While it can be said to be in its infancy now, we think it will reach adolescence quite quickly.
As we prepared to create our new service we conducted research to see just how widely accepted email and the internet is. What we found was quite surprising.
One study showed that 45% of US consumers and 75% of US business, use email to communicate on a regular basis. Numbers far higher than we expected to see. Of course, given how we are conversing today...I guess we should have somewhat expected that.
What does this mean for you?
Well, if you are like most firms and your clients and target market are the "middle market," it could mean they are ready for e-marketing. BizActions is an e-marketing and communications tool that was created by CPAs for CPA firms.
I'll describe the service for you today...using words that will hopefully paint an adequate picture. And I'll be sure to leave plenty of time for your questions.
To start, we first took a look at the traditional marketing tools. You know the list: direct mail, brochures, newsletters, seminars, web sites, etc. We examined them for their strengths and weaknesses. Many of those tools are now transitioning themselves to take advantage of the new medium of e-marketing. For example, newsletters are frequently posted on web sites.
After that, we came up with five goals, or challenges which we wanted to meet in building our new service. The first came from questions marketers don't like to hear:
Questions like, "How do we know our marketing materials are being read?"
How do we know they are leading to new opportunities?
How can we get measurable results from our marketing?
So our first goal was create something that was effective... and measurable. Next, with all the new services which firms have developed over the years comes the need to communicate with clients and prospects on a more consistent basis. The purpose would be to educate them on all of the services you can provide.
So, cross-selling became our second goal. Next, we wanted to reduce, or in some cases eliminate the time it takes to administer our new service. We also wanted to reduce the reading time on the part of your clients and others.
Next was cost...to reduce it to a level as to make the decision a non-financial one.
And finally, we know that a lot of new business, and often times the best new business, comes from happy clients referring others. There is a concept on the Internet called viral marketing. I know that sounds nasty, but it's very useful. It means creating more awareness of the firm by readers , in this case, sharing the service, with others, creating more referrals. So that was our last goal in creating our new service.
So you are probably wondering...What Is BizActions?
BizActions is an electronic service that allows your clients, prospects, and others to receive information from you on a very consistent basis. The reader is in control of their content because they can choose the areas they wish to receive information in. The service is based on a concept called permission-based marketing. This means that everyone that gets the service first receives an invitation to receive it. In this way we are (to borrow an analogy from baseball) at least on first base in knowing if our materials are being read. At least we know they want to be receiving the service.
BizActions is an ASP or application service provider. To save time, we do everything for our clients. We manage the sending and receiving of information. The broadband issues, the server...etc. When someone first receives the service, they read the introductory letter. The letter invites them to try the service. If they do not wish to get it, they simply click Unsubscribe. If they do, they are pointed to the button marked "Interests". When clicked, they are taken to a page that is customized from you firm (Like every page) that has a list of 15 or so categories. These cover a wide range of tax, financial and business topics. Personal tax, business tax, sales, marketing, human resources, technology, customer retention, etc. The reader simply chooses which topics they would like to receive information in. And they are done.
The next week they receive their first. Should they choose, they can also add other employees to also receive their own version, personalized. As a matter-of-fact, each company, or domain, can receive up to 500 different, personalized versions, every week, customized from your firm, at no extra charge. Each reader can also refer the service to others…their attorney, banker, realtor, insurance person, family, friends, whomever. This accomplishes the viral marketing goal we were after. So as time progresses, your User List will be larger than the list of names initially introduced.
Our content makes it easy for the reader as well. We found in our research that people are only willing to read so much information at one time online. So, to keep their attention, we organized the content to make it easy for the reader to determine what is and what is not of interest each week. Each category is clearly specified. Under each, is a new title for that weeks new idea under the specific category. If they are not interested, they read down to the next category. If they are, there is a 2-3 sentence summary describing that article. Under each summary, in every category are five buttons. The first is "Full Article". When pressed, the reader is taken to a page, customized from your firm that contains the full article. The articles are about 300 words or so...more like the Kiplinger Report than a newsletter article. The purpose of our articles is provide the reader with a steady stream of new ideas in areas that are of interest to them. The ideas will hopefully help them be more productive and profitable in the business and personal financial lives.
Our authors are CPAs, financial advisors, business consultants, and professional writers. All of the content is written for the Bizactions service, and not pulled from archives.
So...Lets say a person read an article and they like it. They can create a task or project right from within the service. The second button under each article is labeled "Tasks." By pressing it, the reader is taken to a form, where they can create steps or notes. These can be shared with others in their organization or outside of it. The Team, if you will, can then work on implementing the project which came from an article they read. On the date they specify, they will receive a business reminder in the BizActions service. So it's like a mini-Lotus Notes if you will. In the future, we hope to tie these into Outlook and handheld devices.
The next button is labled "Contact Me" Here the reader is taken to a page, again customized for you, and they can add their comments or questions. You pre-determine who will receive these emails. It can be the client's partner, the head of a practice area, et cetera. When they receive the email, it will contain the readers comments/questions, and the Full Article they read, and the author's name. This way, they won't have to chase down the article.
The next button is labeled Resources. The resources page links, by keyword the services you offer to the article they are reading. So we accomplish the goal of cross-selling but on the readers terms based on their interests and needs at the time.
The last button is Books. We figured if the reader is so motivated that they want to read a book on the topic, you should be the resource or link. So we provide a link to Amazon. The link is by keyword and simply lists the books on that topic. But it opens a separate window so we don't lose them. So...we have their permission, they choose the topics, and everything is client driven at this point.
We needed a place for you to say what you want when you want, so we created Custom Messages. These are in the form of Announcements. We provide our clients with 12 custom messages per year, but you can buy more.
Stefon Mafusalov: Can you create them yourself?
David Ross: Yes, you write them.
Let's say you have a newsletter online, you can announce the latest issue. Under summary you can say what newsletter it is, then have the reader click a button called More Information. They are taken to a page with a list of the articles, and a link back to your website. Each custom message can have 4 hyperlinks.
Let's say you are putting on a seminar, more info can have the agenda and link to your site for on-line registration, you can also link to Mapblast for directions, and they can schedule the seminar under Tasks, or if they have questions, click Contact Me. All of these buttons are in each Custom Message. The Custom Message is the first bit of content the reader will see each week that you actually create them. So everyone gets what they want. The reader is in control of most of their content, and your firm can say what you want, when you want.
At the top of the BizActions "email" is your firm's logo. It is clickable to your website. Under that logo are five buttons. You can customize those buttons however you wish. These would link to specific pages on your site. For example, let's say you are interested in more estate work. You can create a tap "Estate Planning" which links to your website but on the exact page describing those services. You can change these whenever you wish.
Many firms we work with told us that they were somewhat disappointed by the number of qualified visitors they had in the past to their web site. Since we have virtual marketing taking place with the BizActions service, many of these new readers may not know who you are. They are more "qualified" visitors, so we wanted to make it easy for them to learn more about you.
Okay, we wanted to add the element of measurable results.
Michael Horrocks: how is middle market defined?
David Ross: $2 m and up
We created a series of reports which are available 24/7. These can give you information for any time period you wish. The last week, quarter, etc. You can also specify for regions, offices...The reports will show you how many domains received the communication. It will also show how many users at each received it. You can see how many people read articles by clicking on the Full Article button. You can break that down by clients, prospects, etc. These can be used to create new business opportunities, as well as spot trends within Your marketplace as they develop.
Any questions yet?
Jared Sanders: How can this apply to smaller firms?
David Ross: Good question Jared. The service is not specific for any particular size of firm.
Paula Cole: And in smaller towns?
David Ross: Our clients include sole practitioners, up to firms with several hundred professionals. From very small towns, to the largest cities.
Michael Horrocks: What is to stop people abusing the system and putting in names of people who would not be interested in the service?
David Ross: I don't know what you mean by abusing the system. If someone isn't interested, they will not get the service.
Michael Horrocks: someone could put in 500 names of just anybody.
David Ross: We price the service based on domains...meaning firstname.lastname@example.org with abcco.com being the domain. You can enter up to the number of domains you want, and if you want to go over that you can. Remember, each domain can have up to 500 individuals, all with the same domain, receiving the service, and count as just one domain for pricing purposes. From a prospecting perspective, we think the Bizactions, service is great. Imagine...each week the prospect is receiving information they can use from you. And you'll know their interests.
Michael Horrocks: What would happen if your clients put in extra domains and you go over the limit specified?
David Ross: For the year, counts as one. Next year, those will have to be evaluated by you to determine if you want to keep them in the system.
Jared Sanders: How difficult is the set-up of a custom message? Do you need someone with internet content experience?
David Ross: How difficult on the custom messages? Pretty easy. We have help available. The email is in an HTML format, there are about 10 codes, they would need to enter behind text...you know, the letter in a bracket. It's pretty easy really.
Greg Alley: It sounds like you are providing our clients with articles that you write about topics they want to hear about. How do we come in the picture?
David Ross: Yes, we supply the content. You write the custom messages, which can also contain articles. And if you wish, you can also write articles which we'll include in our categories.
Any other questions?
Michael Horrocks: Cost?
David Ross: Costs...sure...Depends on the number of domains. There's an annual fee...starts around $1500 for sole practitioners, with up to 100 domains...up to 250 domains is $3000 for the year. Set up is $500.
We wanted to reduce, or eliminate the amount of time you have to spend in implementing the system. So, no matter how busy you are, week in and week out, the readers get their information.
Jared Sanders: If we write articles to include in your category, does that count as a custom message?
David Ross: No it doesn't. And you'll get listed as the author too!
BizActions is delivered via e-mail every week. In case you are wondering about the frequency, we looked at that issue, very closely. We found that monthly, and even twice each month, wasn't enough, just as long as it wasn't time consuming in terms of reading. We also found that daily, or even three times each week, is too much. We seem to have hit the nail on the head as the response to weekly has been great. Matter-of-fact, our retention rate is over 95%.
Paula Cole: Earlier you started to mention where we can actually see the service for ourselves. Where might that be?
David Ross: Yes..sorry...You can visit our website at www.bizactions.com
To see a live sample, choose, Sample E-Mail. Everything is clickable.
Colleen McCloskey: Can the timing for sending the email change? For example, maybe every other week?
David Ross: Not at this time.
David Ross: With the Tasks Function, any less than weekly would make that less than useful.
David Ross: Any other questions...?
Greg Alley: how much time would I spend on this
David Ross: Do you mean in terms of setting it up?
Michael Horrocks: Do you have a free trial for say a month for 1 domain?
David Ross: If you call us we can discuss a trial period. If you want, you can reach me at 800-890-7866.
Michael Horrocks: Thank You
David Ross: You are welcome!
Session Moderator: David - thank you so much for explaining your services. And for being with us today and sharing your time
And thank you all for joining us today!
Paula Cole: Thank you!
David Ross: Thank you all for your time and interest.
David Ross: You're welcome.
David Ross is a member of BizActions, LLC, headquartered in Rockville, MD. Based in Los Angeles, California, David has been providing marketing, communications and management consulting services to CPA firms nationally for over 16 years.
Prior to joining BizActions, Mr. Ross worked with Practice Development Institute. While at PDI he served as the Director of the Institute of Profit Advisors, an international association of CPA firms that provide profit enhancement consulting services to middle market businesses. He was the recipient of the Practice Development Award of the Year in 1994 at Friedman, Eisenstein, Raemer & Schwartz, CPAs, Chicago, IL.
Mr. Ross was on the steering committee of the California Society of CPA’s State Marketing Committee. He also served on the planning committee for the Strategic Alliances conference sponsored by the California CPA Education Foundation. Mr. Ross has written numerous articles on marketing CPA services, and also has had extensive experience in the music, entertainment, technology, and publishing industries.
BizActions is based in Rockville MD, with additional offices in Chicago and Los Angeles. Founders are Barry Friedman, formerly of Friedman & Fuller, Barry Schimel and Gary Kravitz of The Profit Advisors, a consulting firm and authors of four books on business consulting for CPA firms, Mike LeMaster in Chicago, David Ross in Los Angeles, and Bill Redeen, CPA of Knowledge Media, a technology firm with an extensive resume, including experience creating on-line training systems for the Federal Government.