Over the past 25 years I have worked with and networked with many accountants and accounting firms. My team and I have secured media coverage and built personal brands for professionals. We have developed websites with firms as well as LinkedIn and other online strategies for individuals.
The field of accounting is more competitive than ever. Most accountants generate new business via referrals. Although accountants possess special expertise in what they do and are able to build trusting relationships with clients, they struggle with marketing effectively for new sources of business. For many accountants projecting their expertise and their unique value is challenging. A few years ago I gave a presentation on personal marketing to a group of 100 accountants on Long Island. When I asked who in the room has a personal marketing plan, only five raised their hands, and when I asked if their firm has a marketing plan, only about 15 raised their hands.
This response rate is slightly below the average that I see when speaking with small business owners or managers.
Accountants are in a unique position to market themselves and their firms because of the special relationships they have with clients and other professionals. Based on the work that my team at Corbett Public Relations has done with accountants, we wanted to share some strategies that work and will make your firm stand out. While these recommendations are geared toward accountants, they can also be applied by other professionals and businesses.
Create a video about the firm discussing not only what the firm does, but specialties, giving examples of how the firm has assisted clients to be more successful or overcome challenges. Videos should feature the firm’s accountants relating who they are, why they do what they do and how they help clients. Stay away from listing services and explaining in details about accounting practices. People will not remember descriptions of services but they will remember stories and examples. Tell stories which will resonate with prospects, clients and referral sources.
Accountants, like all businesspeople, must be completely prepared and comfortable before going on camera. Practice and, if necessary, contact a firm like Corbett Public Relations to secure the training and professional advice needed to project a powerful message. Accountants who want to have the competitive advantage will have to invest the time and some money on training. Production is important, but how you appear on camera and your message is much more important.
Why video? Savvy business owners, young business executives and growth focused referral sources are looking for partners who they can build relationships with. They want to watch videos and they want to work with professionals who understand how to market effectively online and on mobile devices today.
Firms and individuals will struggle to get the attention of startups, growth focused companies, tech companies and businesses that have been passed to younger family members if they don’t understand how to use video to market.
Personal Marketing Plan
Every accountant and/or partner needs to have their own personal marketing plan. The marketing plan will establish goals, clarity marketing messages and identify what online sites or tools will be used, such as LinkedIn. Additionally, every accountant must have a fully completed LinkedIn profile. This includes having a quality image/headshot, videos, a profile written in the first person and messaging telling people who you are and why you do what you do.
A personal or firm marketing plan is the road map for success. It will establish a process for communicating with prospects. The development of the plan also allows the firm to create ideal client profiles. Gathering this information is essential for marketing. With this information in hand materials can be created and the process of communicating with prospects and referral sources can begin. Without a plan and process there is no way to track success. We know that accountants are ROI focused and want to use their time efficiently and effectively. This is why there must be a mechanism for judging success.
The unique relationships that accountants have with clients create wonderful opportunities to gather stories about the challenges business owners face. Every challenge and solution is an opportunity for an accountant to tell a story and highlight a success. While the names of clients can’t be revealed the discussion of the types of issues and problems can be the foundation for blog posts or long form posts on social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Accountants should not be fooled to think that social media will not help them. Success stories and stories of interesting challenges will attract attention and demonstrate capabilities and knowledge. Since most accountants are not taking advantage of this approach those who do will stand out. Combined with video, the firm will attract attention when they are active online.
Accountants can also provide a wide variety of helpful information for business growth and management and this expertise can be leveraged to get media coverage through PR. Accountants can then use media coverage to build the firm’s brand and their individual reputations as experts and advocates for clients and businesses.
Every marketing plan must have a budget and schedule. Marketing requires resources and energy. This means spending money and putting in time. With a marketing schedule, calendar and goals a program can be implemented. The elements of the program and its goals will dictate how much time will be needed and how much money will need to be spent. Funds spent on marketing should be looked at as an investment and not as an expense.
The growth in the number of young professionals, advances in technology and new marketing strategies will make it much more challenging for small accounting firms with older partners to survive and compete. To compete and keep current clients individuals and firms must adopt proactive marketing approaches and embrace digital media and video as part of their marketing plans.
Accountants must have a system for approaching networking events and for following up with the people they meet. Accountants, particularly solo practitioners and those from small firms network but do not do it effectively or efficiently. This is a challenge that accountants and most businesspeople face.
A good system starts with creating a process for following up with people that are encountered at events. Without this there is no reason to go to a networking event in the first place. Determine the criteria to use to classifying contacts and how you will follow up with them. For example, after you get their business card mark on it P–Prospect, R–Referral Source, M–Marketing prospect or N–not sure. Add these people to the database. Based on the person’s classification, a follow up procedure should be established.
There are plenty of places to go to network. Every networking event should be viewed as “work.” Set goals and remember the purpose of networking, which is to meet people and build relationships. Networking groups are costly, not in terms of the membership fees but in time spent. Determine how much you need to benefit financially each year as a member of a networking group and focus on achieving your goal. If this goal is not met at the end of the second year, then you may not be in the right group or your approach is not working. After assessing your activities either re-commit or move on. It may be wise to stop networking and look to other forms of marketing. Remember, networking and relationships building must include one-on-one meetings which occur after or between events.
Accountants are in the unique position of having the trust of clients and this is the reason why other professionals and businesses want to build relationships with them. It is also why it is easier for accountants to get meetings or introductions. Leverage your knowledge, contacts and skills to market and build relationships. Keep in mind what it is that prospects need and expect. Today, they expect accountants and firms to have video content, quality websites and a social media presence. Accountants must use their skills knowledge and status of the most trusted advisor to market and attract the attention of prospects and referral sources.
By Bill Corbett