There’s no question that marketing for accounting can be tricky. Services that are essentially intellectual activities are hard to promote in tangible terms. And yet, promote them you must.
A marketing plan helps you assess your market, determine your target audience and select appropriate vehicles for promoting your company. A good plan not only charts a course of action for promoting your business, but it also helps you track and analyze which marketing approaches result in increased business and revenues.
If you don’t have a marketing plan in place, you don’t have a formal system for assessing where your leads and clients come from. You could be wasting money on marketing efforts that don’t work for your firm while under-utilizing methods that could be effective new business producers.
Most accounting and financial services firms have some kind of marketing plan in place, even if it’s in name only. In most cases, it falls under one of the four general categories we have observed in our research:
1. Ad Hoc
Also known as “seat-of-the-pants marketing.” Many firms take this approach and do little, if any, advanced planning. After all (for those of you have may have forgotten their high school Latin), “ad hoc” means “when necessary or needed.”
The marketing tactics these firms choose are tied to their immediate needs (such as “We need more business NOW!”) or random opportunities, such as being approached to sponsor a charity event or take advantage of an advertising deal too good to pass up. This kind of spotty approach to marketing generally produces spotty results.
2. Legacy Budget Planning
This is the marketing version of Newton’s First Law of Motion: “A body at rest remains at rest unless operated upon by a force.” In other words, firms that subscribe to legacy budget planning continue to use the same plan, year after year, unless there is some overwhelming reason to make changes. A typical response from stakeholders might sound like: “This is the way we’ve always done it, so let’s make a few minor adjustments and do the same thing next year.” Or, “We always exhibit at this conference, so we’ll do it again.” Little analysis is done of past results or changes in the competitive environment. Inertia has set in.
3. Consensus Budget Planning
In many partnerships, the owner group will “brainstorm” marketing ideas and build a budget and plan based on a wide variety of input from various stakeholders. Often everyone involved gets something, but the plan lacks cohesiveness, focus and effectiveness. A marketing plan with a little of everything generally produces a lot of nothing.
4. Strategic Marketing Planning
In this approach, a firm develops a systematic plan based on its strategic business goals and an informed understanding of its relevant target client groups. The firm allocates its budget in a way that maximizes the probability of success and harnesses efficiencies. Over the course of the year, the firm tracks results and uses them to adjust the plan going forward. This, of course, is the proper way to develop a marketing plan.
If your accounting practice is already established, you may have identified your firm’s existing marketing plan in one of the four above. If it’s not #4, you may want to consider making some changes. If you’re looking to develop your very first marketing plan, you may want to head straight to #4.
It’s been said that in every purposeful endeavor, planning precedes activity, and that holds true for marketing. A properly constructed strategic marketing plan will help your firm position itself in the marketplace, define its target audience, address business goals, identify market opportunities and generate revenue.
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to...