Let’s face facts, the majority of accounting firms in this country are either flatlining or in decline. Firms are struggling to grow and they are now characterized by an aging client base. Their brand is stale, they have no real point of difference, and they have been reduced to what I describe as “compliance sweatshops.”
No doubt, the commoditization of compliance work through the automation of data entry and outsourcing finds these firms under pressure. The profession is being disrupted in so many ways and firms that follow the “SALY” (same as last year) model with a total focus on compliance work are going to pay the price.
As we all know, in business, the definition of insanity is to keep doing things the same way and expect different results. The internet and cloud technology have changed the profession forever and marketing for professional service firms has also changed.
If you’re still relying on traditional offline marketing methods to grow your firm, be warned. Flyers, local newspaper ads, and Yellow Pages might have served you well in the past but they don’t deliver anymore.
Old habits die hard but these tactics have lost their marketing mojo. Digital marketing is part of the “new rules” of business and the marketing magnets for accounting firms are all online tactics – Google searches, content marketing, email campaigns, and social media.
Research from Hinge Marketing tells us that a professional services firm generating 60 percent or more of their leads from digital sources are likely to be twice as profitable as firms that generate less than 20 percent of their leads online (source). There’s no doubt, adopting new technology and tactics can certainly present a challenge because most people prefer the “old way” because it’s easy and doesn’t require a change of habits. While I’m certainly not advocating you abandon all those tried-and-true methods, you need to know that online marketing techniques are significantly cheaper and provide a greater return on investment.
Reignite your referral engines
Historically, accountants haven’t invested heavily in marketing. They have relied on satisfied clients referring them to family, friends, and business colleagues. This has been very successful but there has been a shift. Firms with an aging client base have seen their referrals dry up in recent years because an aging client base full of 55- to 60-year-olds don’t refer like a client base full of 35-year-olds. The baby boomer generation are in wind-down mode and they’re not buying businesses or investment properties.
They’re also not the generation setting up self-managed super funds. These services and referrals have fuelled the growth in small firms for years but it’s now time to turn your attention to millennials.
These millennials range in age from 16 to 36 and have grown up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially networked world. In the United States, millennials have surpassed the baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. The demographics in this country are similar and the millennials are the business owners of today and tomorrow. They have been raised under the mantra of “follow your dreams” and on average start a business eight years earlier than their parents’ generation (source). They plan to work smarter than their baby boomer parents and you simply can’t afford to ignore them.
Unlike previous generations, they don’t rely on word-of-mouth referrals. Instead, they put their faith in commentary on social media channels and online reviews. When they get a referral to an accountant, their reflex is to check out the firm’s website. Unfortunately, this is where so many accounting firms let themselves down. In many cases they are finding an accountant’s website that is just an “electronic brochure” that lists the who, what, and where of the firm. It’s not the first impression that most firms are proud of, so if your website isn’t generating a constant stream of new clients, then it’s time for a makeover.
Brand or bland?
Don’t underestimate the value and importance of your brand. Millennials expect a modern, fresh, and creative look, and they will pass judgement on your firm in a split second based on your online presence. Get it right and you will enjoy the spoils because online marketing is relatively inexpensive and works 24/7/365.
The search engines like Google crave quality, relevant content. If you deliver, they reward you with high search engine page rankings. In turn, these online search results coupled with a lead generation website provide you with a steady stream of leads, prospects, and new clients.
Doom, gloom or boom?
Unfortunately, a large number of accountants got complacent and fell asleep at the marketing wheel. In the blink of an eye, they now find their brand is tired and their aging client base is leaking with clients retiring, selling their businesses, and falling off their perches. To maximize the value of your practice, you need to attract the next generation of clients and reignite your referral engines.
Here’s the big wake up call. A study of online marketing for professional services firms found that firms that generate at least 40 percent of their leads online grew four times faster than firms that did not generate online leads (source). They were also two times more profitable.
It’s time to shift your marketing focus online and your website is your most important business development tool. It’s your silent marketing account executive working 24/7/365 to generate leads and new business. You need to stop thinking of your website as a cost; it’s an investment and you need to measure your return on investment.
Of course, marketing is a lot more than just a website and you need a marketing plan. It serves as your roadmap, and if you persist with those old offline strategies, you’ll find it’s like running your business looking in the rear-view mirror. A collision is just around the corner.