Spin e-Mail Into Gold

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The Internet is one of the best tools your firm has to target new prospects and keep existing clients happy. But before you begin reaping the benefits of e-marketing, you have to collect a database of e-mail addresses.

The Internet is an essential tool in the management of a progressive CPA practice. Whether your firm is communicating with clients, filing tax returns online, creating an "Intranet," or launching an e-marketing campaign, one thing is clear: You must collect and manage a list of e-mail addresses.

At first glance, this seems like an easy task. But it can become overwhelming if it's not handled correctly. First, you have to collect the addresses of all your clients, prospects, referral sources and alumni. After your firm enters all the addresses into your computer system, you find that the list doesn't stay current for very long. Many people change their e-mail addresses by switching from one service provider to another. So when you send a message to their old addresses, it comes right back to you. Handling these bounced e-mails is time-consuming and tedious.

How are CPA firms doing at the e-mail gathering game? Not very well, based on my experience with BizActions, a customized advisory and messaging service that CPAs send to their clients via e-mail. Since our launch in February 2001, we've found that most CPAs are at the beginning stages of obtaining e-mail addresses. Even worse, most accounting firms have no formal system to harvest names and keep them current.

These CPAs are missing out on a tremendous opportunity. Every e-mail address is a type of currency that has the potential to increase business and reduce expenses. You can certainly e-mail cheaper and faster than you can put a letter in the mail or buy a newsletter to send clients.

The chance of getting new business is high if you create an effective, consistent, updated program like BizActions. You can see a complete overview of the service or send yourself a sample e-mail by visiting Bizactions.

But in order to communicate with clients or launch an e-marketing plan, you need to elevate the status of the e-mail collection process. Here are 10 tips:

  1. Centralize the task. Assign a specific person in your office to procure e-mail addresses and maintain the database.
  2. Set a goal. Based on the number of current clients and prospects, establish the number of addresses you'd like to obtain.
  3. Search inside your firm first. Send a memo to your staff seeking ideas on the best way to build a list. Have your e-mail manager get as many addresses as possible from partners, owners and staff. Ask them to cull their own e-mail programs, as well as business cards and letterheads.
  4. Expand the search outside the office. Send a letter to clients, prospects and referral sources. Advise them that you are starting new programs and need their online addresses. Include a self-addressed envelope and a form that can either mail or fax back. And of course, give them the option of e-mailing addresses. In addition, include a response card on all mailings, seminars and newsletters requesting e-mail addresses and any other pertinent information.
  5. Put out the call for missing links. During slow periods, telephone any contacts that you still don't have an address for. Have a simple script for the call and try to obtain many addresses from one company at a time. Remember, there's no additional cost for sending more e-mails. Get as much traction as possible by sending to all employees.
  6. Turn to the pros. Consider hiring an outside telemarketing company to gather addresses. One example is American Business Information (800-555-5335 or www.infousa.com). They claim an accuracy rate of 90 percent and collect addresses from individuals and businesses. One drawback, however, are they have a minimum order of 5,000 names.
  7. Surf the Internet. Research Web sites to obtain addresses -- especially from referral sources. Consider purchasing extraction software that automatically searches Web site pages for e-mail addresses.
  8. Add new office procedures. Require partners and staff members to routinely obtain e-mail addresses from prospects and new clients. Immediately add them to the system. On client visits, ask staff members to bring e-mail addresses back to the office. Even better: Try and obtain a directory of all employee e-mail addresses.
  9. Add links on your own site. If your firm operates a Web site, include a collection system for gathering e-mails and sending newsletters and announcements.
  10. Head off trouble. Consider a piece of software that checks addresses before you send mass mailings. This is important since you don't want your ISP thinking you are sending Spam when a lot of e-mails start bouncing. One product is Advanced E-mail Verifier (www.glocksoft.com), which claims to detect 90 percent of incorrect addresses.

These are just some ideas to get your firm started. If you have additional suggestions, send them to me at [email protected] and I will e-mail you a revised list from all sources.

Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships, The Future of Professional Services, by Ross Dawson

Over 50 case studies of excellent and innovative practice from leading firms such as, Ernst & Young, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, McKinsey & Co., J.P. Morgan's Riskmetrics Group, and DDB Worldwide Communications Group. In this groundbreaking book, Dawson uses professional service firms in industries such as consulting, investment banking, law, and advertising as a model for all knowledge organizations to develop intimate and profitable knowledge-based realationships with their clients. A wealth of case studies of leading practice are used to illustrate detailed advice on implementation of these principles.

Article provided by Barry J. Friedman, CPA, BizActions.

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