Thirty-Five No-Cost or Low-Cost Marketing Ideas

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By Michael Platt, Upstream Midwest

CPA firms and businesses of all sizes are always looking for new ways to market their services and improve customer loyalty without spending all of their hard-earned money to do so. With this in mind, AccountingWEB offers 35 no-cost or low-cost ways to impress your clients and prospects and differentiate your organization so they will think of you the next time they have a need that you can address.

  1. Thank your clients for prompt payment.

A simple idea, yet no one does it. Tell your clients you appreciate their prompt payment and recognize them for respecting your business practices.

  1. Ask a client for referrals.

Most CPAs say they do this on a regular basis, but most business leaders say they have never been asked for referrals. Ask clients for names, numbers and an introduction, and do it regularly.

  1. Give away some knowledge.

Knowledge workers sell knowledge, and giving away “free samples” is a good way
to show your capability. Amazingly, the more you give away,
the more you establish your expertise and the more people
will want to hire you.

  1. Send a card to invite your client in for a semiannual checkup.

Consider your response when you get a check-up reminder from your dentist - you pick up the phone, find out when it is convenient for him to deliver services to you, and schedule an appointment. Why not do this with your business clients?

  1. Include promotions on your fax cover sheet.

It's free advertising, it's unobtrusive, and it's packaged with information that your client knows he needs, so it is viewed with more authority and credibility than a separate mailer might be.

  1. Add a hyperlink at the bottom of your e-mail to your Web page or to an event.

Again, this is free advertising and could yield big results for no cost.

  1. If a prospect says no, send a letter and thank them for the opportunity.

Being courteous to clients and prospects is just the right thing to do. A polite letter thanking them for the chance to bid on a job will make you stand out and will elevate your chances of getting on the next bidder's list.

  1. E-mail a client an article on how to increase sales/motivate staff something non-financial related.

Clients want to know that you understand their business, care about their success, and are a knowledgeable advisor in all aspects of their business. Give them some information that is not financially related and they will see you in a broader context, and be more willing to bring you in on different kinds of projects.

  1. Take a client to lunch—don't eat lunch behind your desk!

I have not met a single professional yet who is unable to sit down one-on-one with a client or prospect for a solid hour - off the clock - and NOT come back with some kind of lead for additional services that can be delivered to that client.

  1. Invite a staff person on your next client sales call.

Staff are hungry for mentors, and for the opportunity just to watch someone else conduct business. Bring someone along on your next call and not only will they be educated, but will be motivated and more confident in their own abilities to market the firm's services.

  1. Perfect your “elevator speech.”

You've got one chance at making a first impression, and about 15 seconds to do so. Quick, how do you answer the question, “What do you do for a living?” A clever and well-crafted response is designed to open the door to more conversation. “I'm an accountant” rarely rises to that level of continuation.

  1. Learn to scan for clues in a client's office.

People connect with others who are like them or who can talk about things they like to talk about. Look for pictures on a desk, certificates on a wall, or artwork that you can talk to a client or prospect about. These “accessories” are there because the client is proud of them or makes them feel good - feed that emotion to connect with them.

  1. Be able to answer the question, “How are you different from XYZ firm?”

Clients expect their professionals to be qualified, to provide quality service, and, well, to be “professional.” Beyond that “price of admission,” what's the reason that you are better for them than your competitor across the street, who presumably also meets the minimum standards of quality, qualification and professionalism.

  1. Define and describe clearly the type of client with whom you want to work.

Opportunities exist everywhere. But if you take the time to clearly picture the kinds of clients and the kinds of businesses you want to work with, your efforts to find those opportunities will be auto-focused, and you will be happier, more productive and more profitable in your career.

  1. Call a client and ask how things are going.

Again, clients want to know that you care. If you call them - off the clock - and just check in and see how things are going, not only will they be surprised and delighted, but will also likely tell you about an issue that's bothering them that you may be able to assist with.

  1. Schedule an hour of “marketing time” in your calendar for next week.

We're all busy chasing the urgent, putting out fires, and responding to external distractions. Just by physically scheduling time in your calendar to focus on marketing, you will greatly increase the likelihood that you will spend this time on important marketing tasks.

  1. Write an article for a trade magazine.

You know this is the right thing to do, yet not many professionals find the time to do it. At least start by outlining an article in an area that you feel you can helppeople with. Then go back and fill in some of the details. Writing is a habit, but is one that can be learned no matter when you start.

  1. Ask your spouse or neighbor to enter your office and offer their opinion of the first impression.

Nothing opens your eyes to how others see you more than asking someone you respect to see things with a fresh perspective. Is your office warm and inviting? Does it look cluttered? Does it inspire confidence in you as a professional to handle details of a client? Your colleagues may not tell you, but you spouse might.

  1. Make a list of prospects “to die for.”

Who is on your short list of companies or individuals that you really want to work with? Who's on the even shorter list of companies or individuals “to die for?” Write them down, keep them with you, and look at this list often. You'll find ways to get in front of them and they may someday become your client.

  1. Make an extra prospecting call before 8:30 am or after 5:00 pm.

It just takes an extra moment, but the impression you'll leave with your client or prospect is that you are on the job, are hard working, and are interested in their business. Most small business owners work outside regular hours, and you will gain extra credibility for matching their work ethic. (Side benefit: often receptionists or gatekeepers are gone and you can get through to the decision maker easier.)

  1. Send a card to your top clients on the anniversary of their being with your firm.

Thank them for the opportunity to work with them, and recognize their loyalty to your firm. It may require a few hours of database work, a trip to the card store and a postage stamp, but the benefits are great. (Better idea: have cards pre-printed with your firm's name and logo so the message is consistent. But be sure to include a handwritten note specific to the client.)

  1. Offer to sit in on a board meeting of one of your clients at no charge.

You can quietly sit in the corner and soak up all of the internal discussions of your client business. Not only will you gain vital information about the issues your client is wrestling with, but as the outside advisor they will turn to you for your professional advice or opinion on an issue, thus raising your credibility among the group and solidifying your position as the individual who can help them resolve some of their issues.

  1. Update your business cards.

Be sure you offer your clients every way to contact you - office number, direct dial number, cell phone number, e-mail address and Web site. Include your picture or your company's mission statement or home phone number if appropriate.

  1. E-mail your staff with the name of each new client and who was responsible for bringing them in.

Recognition among peers is a great motivator, and the act of communicating that recognition is a motivator in itself. Share the good news with everyone through a quick e-mail to all your staff and they may just work a little harder to get their name mentioned in the next e-mail that goes out.

  1. Put up a “reserved for Mr. XXX” sign in the parking lot for a client meeting.

If parking is at a premium, arrange to reserve a space for that special client. They will appreciate your attention to the small details and feel that you really go the extra mile to treat them right.

  1. Send clients a copy of a published article about your firm.

People want to do business with people that are successful. If you get some positive publicity, let your clients know about it. Not only will you raise your profile with them, but also - more importantly - you will reinforce in their minds the wisdom of their decision to work with your firm.

  1. Print directions to and from your office.

Help clients get to your office by offering to send them printed directions from their location. Really impress your clients when they leave with printed reverse directions to get them back.

  1. Set up an old computer in the reception area and create a screensaver or PowerPoint presentation that highlights firm services in bullet points.

If clients have to wait in the reception area, then why not offer them something visual to watch - it takes a few seconds and can highlight new services, awards, promotions or firm news that might be of interest.

  1. Call a client who left you last year and see how things are going.

As soon as you lose a client, they will go out of their way to justify their decision to leave you and go elsewhere, so your chances of getting them back immediately are slim. But give them a year, let them get some distance from their decision, and maybe they will see that you were pretty good after all. If nothing else, it makes the client feel good to know that you are still thinking about them and would like to work with them again.

  1. Contact reporters at your local paper, offer them lunch, and offer your services.

Establishing a relationship with the media is always a good thing. Reporters are constantly looking for sources, ideas, information or expertise, and you are in a perfect position to offer that. Will reporters meet with you? Have you ever met one that has turned down a free lunch?

  1. Create an e-mail newsletter on your area of expertise and invite clients, prospects and referral
    sources to subscribe.

A great way to establish your expertise is to periodically deliver current news and updates in your area to those who can benefit from the information. Gathering names and addresses feeds your prospect database and pre-screens those who have already expressed interest in your services.

  1. Take an inventory of your current marketing activities—you'll be surprised.

Most professionals don't like to market and don't think that they are good at it. Write down everything you have done recently to solidify a client relationship, introduce your firm to others, or solve a client problem. You'll be amazed at how large the list is once you get past having to identify only sales efforts.

  1. Identify two services that you should be offering your top five clients.

Your best clients are the best prospects for additional services. Choose your top five, and take an objective view of the services your firm currently offers. Which two services would your top five clients most benefit from? Write them down and pursue those opportunities.

  1. Refer a customer to a client.

You want them to refer business to you, so why not take the first step and refer business to them. They will appreciate the lead and will recognize that you see them as much more than just a way to generate income for your firm.

About the author

Michael Platt is the founder of AccountingWEB, Inc. and is a practice management and marketing consultant to the CPA profession. Michael is also a certified Blueprint Guide for Upstream Midwest.

Michael may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected] or at 317-616-2446.

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