Marketing plays a larger role in accounting firms today than ever before. The role of marketing has expanded to include building awareness, filling the top of the funnel, nurturing leads, educating prospects and clients, positioning the firm as a knowledge leader, expanding client opportunities, and supporting the recruitment and retention of top talent. Marketing plays a critical role in turning prospects into clients, and clients into advocates.
While most CPA firms excel at providing accounting expertise, their marketing efforts tend to be an afterthought, particularly with small to mid-sized firms. Marketing your firm is no longer a “nice-to-have”, it has become a “must-have” for firms that want to thrive, or in some cases to simply survive. Here are the four most common marketing mistakes to avoid that will set your firm on a path to success.
While assurance, tax, or advisory services are your CPA firm’s bread and butter, the ability to provide those services hinges on having a robust client base to serve. Marketing is the key to filling your funnel with solid, profitable opportunities. While marketing may seem secondary to serving clients, the two are inextricably interlinked. As such, marketing must be more than an ad hoc effort. It should be an integral part of your firm’s comprehensive business strategy. However, one of the most common mistakes firm’s make is the lack of a marketing plan.
A solid marketing plan answers key questions about your firm’s positioning, target audience, core mission, messaging, goals, and tactics. A well-thought-out plan serves as the blueprint for achieving the growth goals set forth. In short, a marketing plan is the foundational guide to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time and through the right channels. Remember the old saying – you can’t get to where you are going without a road map. OK, today it is technically GPS route guidance, but you get the idea!
A brand establishes the identity of an organization and is a culmination of the people, quality, facilities, services, communications, and experience of your firm. It encompasses the emotional and psychological relationship with clients, the community, internal and external stakeholders, influencers, and employees, as well as with prospective clients and their employees. While many correlate a brand to a logo, a living brand goes way beyond a symbolic representation. Your brand is your promise to clients: What benefits are you offering, and how will you offer this value to them? Conveying this information begins with defining your brand and brand message and continues with the consistent delivery of this message across your cohesive marketing efforts. Today’s more sophisticated, knowledgeable clients are not looking for a catchy sales pitch, but rather, they are looking for value-added solutions to the issues and challenges they are faced with.
Our natural tendency as human beings is to form impressions based on outside influences (what we see, hear, or read), as well as our own personal experiences. That means how your clients experience your firm and the services they buy from you influences their definition of your firm. What people say about your firm based on their interpretation of messages received, comments from others (online or off), sets the tone for your brand. Inconsistent brand representation, messages, and experiences manifest confusion – and this “noise” prohibits the marketplace from understanding and valuing your expertise.
Begin by clearly defining your target audience. Know who you are addressing and why they should listen. Then, examine all the messages and brand representations across channels. Look for inconsistencies and weed out the clutter. Finally, look at your competitors. What are they saying about themselves? How does their message compare with yours? Hint: If you are using the exact (or very similar) messages – your firm is not properly differentiated.
“If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?” is one of the great philosophical unknowns. But one thing is for sure when it comes to CPA firm marketing: If you’re not marketing to the right audience, you’re not making a sound.
Accounting firms tend to underestimate the power of the various marketing channels available. For example, examining the social media channels of firms often reveals a ‘copy and paste’ approach (i.e., same message, same information across all channels). This may be due to the belief that social media marketing has no immediate return on investment (ROI). This could not be further from the truth. Granted, no tweet or post alone is going to generate an immediate purchasing action from a prospect, but that’s not the power or purpose of social media. Social media can help your CPA firm foster relationships, build credibility, establish thought leadership, reinforce niche specialties, maintain high visibility, enhance your search engine rankings, and support your inbound marketing efforts. Social media can also be a critical channel in attracting new talent.
Your website is the “face” of your CPA firm. It is often the very first place a prospective client or prospective employee visits in determining that individual’s next step. Your website presence speaks volumes. Does it represent who you really are as a firm? What you truly represent? Is your current website the face you want to put forward? If not, it's time for a facelift. Look deep in your closet and find you favorite tie, shirt, blouse, jacket, etc. from ten years ago. Would you wear it today? Of course not!
In addition to looking professional and polished while encapsulating your brand and brand message with a clear call to action, your website should be responsive and interactive -- especially when you consider that according to a study by HubSpot, the first five seconds of page-load time have the most significant impact on conversion rates. Your website should also be mobile-optimized as mobile devices account for more than half of all website traffic, according to Statista. It is also imperative to showcase knowledge leadership, provided you do so consistently.
Look at your website through the eyes of a prospect. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve ever clicked on it. If it’s outdated stylistically, start with a refresh. Delete or update outdated content (no, blogs do not need to live on your website for years on end). Diagram the visitor’s journey. Why do they visit your website? Is the information they are seeking easy to find? Then, define a path or next step (e.g., after they read this article, then I’d like the visitor to take this action).
Even if your CPA firm is making one or more of these four common marketing mistakes, there are plenty of other firms in the same boat and you do not have to stay there. Changing up your marketing approach has tremendous potential to build your brand and attract new business. The best route out of your current position is just one step away.