Don’t neglect the ‘old-fashioned’ way to market your accountancy business

The digital marketing revolution has opened up powerful cost-effective and previously undreamt-of ways to promote your brand. But in this five-minute read, Mark Lloydbottom highlights 17 ‘non-digital’ marketing ideas that also work.

  1. Have a personal marketing plan: Who are your referrals? Who are your prospects? Identify a list of the clients you would die to act for. Make sure this includes the client’s name – not just the company. If you do not have a name – you don’t have a prospect. What are your targets? What are your cross-serving goals? 
  2. Identify what you can be ‘famous for’ in your marketplace: What are your strengths? What expertise can you acquire? Make stand above the crowd and you will win more business and be able to charge a higher rate for your services. Can you gain speaking engagements? Author articles? Write for a local newspaper? Be interviewed on radio or TV?
  3. Prioritise collecting over handing out business cards: When you give your card out, you have no idea if the recipient will ever make contact. However, if you ask a prospect for their card, that confirms your interest in them, and it puts you in control. 
  4. Keep marketing to existing clients: In my opinion, we should spend at least at much time marketing to existing clients as to prospects. Ask clients: “How else can we help you?” or use a survey to uncover unidentified needs. In reception, include a tip board with ideas for tax saving, profit improvement, firm events and so on.
  5. Ask great questions: What are the ‘killer’ questions that will penetrate your client/prospects mind? For example, “Do you know how much money you will need to live on in retirement? Do you know what your competitors are doing? If you could change one thing about your business what would it be?”
  6. Take a risk and recommend your partners: It is surprising how many firm owners do not recommend partners who have specialisms. If that is true in your firm, why not gather round the table with your client lists and openly discuss where you could introduce another owner to one of the firm’s clients?
  7. Ask for referrals: Why not ask your clients if they know anyone else who needs a good (or great – depending on your client relationship and your confidence!) accountant?  Remember, it’s not unprofessional to ask; it’s just good business practice. Most clients are happy to pass on a recommendation but are rarely asked. 
  8. Woo back lost clients: If there are lost clients you’d like to win back, retain them on your marketing database. After they have experienced their new accountant’s service, they may well be interested in returning as a client. Their new accountant may not be giving them the advice or service promised.
  9. Keep growing your database:  My rule of thumb (and it is mine – not one that is borne out by extensive research) is that you should have 50 prospects for the firm and 50 for every owner. So, if you have a three-owner firm, then you should seek a quality and relevant database of 200 prospects. Properly managed, that database should yield one new client per owner every year. When collecting personal data for marketing or any other purpose, however, be sure to be mindful of the new The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).
  10. Invest in relevant mailshots: After years of ever-increasing email, some clients may like to receive a good quality newsletter or tax planning brochure that can be read at leisure. No one believes they send junk mail; but, somehow, we all receive it. Make sure your mailings are personal and relevant by sending a letter that is personally signed. You could also include a handwritten P.S.; write a margin note or highlight a section that you consider relevant to the recipient. 
  11. Give away a meeting: Review your time management to see if you could allow 50 hours a year for free meetings with clients. This meeting will allow you to relax, get to know your client and ask questions. In my opinion, it is impossible to spend an hour with a client and not identify areas where they need help. You can then use this (free) meeting to set up another (fee-paying) meeting.
  12. Remember a problem handled well can lead to new business:Sometimes something happens that shouldn’t. However, I have found that if you handle these situations well, it can lead to a strengthened relationship and additional business. The key is to make sure you don’t become defensive. Here are the big three rules: say 1) We’re sorry (empathy), 2) We’re responsible (even if not at fault), and 3) We’ll fix it (action).
  13. Include staff in the marketing effort: Lead them – by example. Explain why marketing is important to the firm’s future and what help you are looking for. Encourage/require them to attend marketing seminars. Fill them in on the details of the next quarter’s marketing activities. Include them in new client meetings. Make sure they all have a business card – everyone knows someone who would make a good client – and give them the financial resources to take people out to lunch. 
  14. Hold monthly staff marketing meetings: Let staff know how important this is by holding this in firm time, or at least if you decide to hold meetings during the lunch hour, ensure lunch is provided by the firm.
  15. Reward staff: People will do what they are rewarded for Make sure your schemes are written, clarifying the time-period, who can qualify and at what level. Tell staff how they can meet their goals and how they will be measured. One favourite incentive is the 10 per cent of fee award. Another increasingly popular option is the marketing miles award scheme. Keep it simple and achievable and be aware that praise and personal gestures can sometimes be more effective than monetary rewards.
  16. Extension services: What extension services do you have that staff are best placed to identify? Maybe payroll, VAT, computerised accounting? Have your staff complete a review at the end of every job noting down those services from which the client might benefit.

Finally, be prepared to invest: If are looking to grow your firm, stay ahead of inflation and replace clients lost through attrition, you will need to have a new client fee target of up to and possibly more than 10 per cent of your existing fees. That will need some resourcing – financial and human. Our benchmark for year-on-year growth is three per cent of gross fees and 200 hours for each owner.