CPA Practice Advisor

OCT 2011

Today's Technology for Tomorrow's Firm.

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Page 19 of 35

MARKETING & BRANDING 5 Steps for Marketing Your Firm Many tax and accounting profes- sionals struggle to fi nd the best way to leverage limited marketing resources to eff ectively position their fi rm in the marketplace. And the advent of social media, online networking and other digital strategies has further expanded the fi eld of marketing activities for fi rms. For many fi rms, this adds to the confusion about the best way to invest already limited marketing resources. In many cases, firm partners and managers are not experienced mar- keters and are unsure how to best develop, implement, monitor and improve fi rm-wide marketing eff orts. Recognize Your Marketing Responsibility Most small accounting fi rms do not have dedicated marketing professionals. T is means that all marketing activities from strategy to collateral and copy development are the responsibility of partners or a marketing-minded staff professional. Michael Tepast e, a partner at Wilber & Townshend, a 12-professional CPA fi rm located in Jenison, Mich., is all too familiar with this scenario. "Given our size, we do not have any dedicated staff for marketing," he said. "Responsibility for marketing begins with each partner and is carried out by the entire team." Limited by time, resources and skill set, many firms look outside their offi ces for help. "Our fi rm outsources the marketing function," said Marty McCutchen, CPA and partner at CPA Service Group, a three-professional fi rm located in Dallas, Texas. "T e partners assume responsibility for managing the outsourced marketing function and ensure our eff orts are producing results over the long term." Establish an Effective Strategy Regardless of whether marketing services are delivered in-house or from an outsourced provider, an eff ective marketing program begins with establishing a strategy that allows a fi rm to meet its defi ned objectives. Once a strategy has been developed and agreed upon, it is essential to stick with it, or make a decision as a group to shift based on trends or other observations about opportunities in the marketplace. A common mistake many fi rms make is to take the "shotgun approach." T is is characterized by a quick decision to initiate a marketing program with little thought about expense, the drain on internal resources, or what is expected to come from the program. Unfortunately, with inade- quate oversight and involvement from management, the results may be less than optimal. "Marketing initiatives are led by the partners based on the strategic plan with input from observations of change in the market and networking partners," said Tepast e. "Partners and profes- sionals do the work of planning, research and defi ning ROI for each initiative. Support staff is involved with creating the fi nal product whether it is an internal eff ort or working with a network partner." CPA Service Group takes a diff erent, but no less eff ective approach. "We do not have a formal writ en approach per se," said McCutchen. "However, I do plan out in advance what programs we want to implement and have a clearly defi ned understanding of what the fi rm expects to accomplish in terms of ROI and other metrics prior to launch." Set a Reason- able Budget Equally as important to a well-defi ned strategy is an adequate budget. A fi rm needs to set a marketing budget that will allow marketing goals to be accomplished. While every fi rm has a diff erent formula for determining a budget amount, the general rule is 20 October 2011 • 2% to 4% of projected fi rm revenues. It is important to note that this fi gure should not include internal labor costs allocated to marketing. Most fi rms use the marketing budget to cover the cost of activities or tactics designed to market the practice. Some examples include sponsorships, association dues, advertising expenses (traditional and digital), website development, col- lateral development and newslet ers. T e key to developing a strong and consistent marketing program is to not only have a strategic plan, but also a budget that will allow you to accomplish defi ned objectives. Take a Consis- tent Approach Marketing an accounting practice is not an easy task. Strong eff orts must be made to ensure the fi rm is get ing the proper exposure to prospects, clients and referral partners, not to mention juggling this with the client service responsibilities each professional must maintain. A key mistake many firms make is to be inconsistent in their marketing activities. It is very common for small practices to stop marketing during tax season and other busy times. Why? Because it is very easy to lose track of marketing activities when there are paying clients waiting for deliverables. Unfortunately, inconsistency in marketing can oſt en reduce eff ective- ness and adversely impact ROI. "Your marketing plan must be consistent and monitored on an ongoing basis," said McCutchen. Although it is tempting, especially during the busy season, it is important By Brian Swanson Mr. Swanson is a Principal with Flashpoint Marketing, a marketing and lead generation company focused on serving the accounting profession. He is certifi ed by the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization in Internet Marketing and as an Advanced SEO Specialist. His fi rm focuses on providing traditional and digital media marketing and lead generation services exclusively for the accounting profession. Brian can be contacted at 888-428-6524 or via email at bswanson@fl not to turn your marketing eff orts on and off . You will not get the results you want and may end up feeling frustrated by the outcome." Tepast e agrees: "It is diffi cult to be successful in marketing if you are inconsistent with your approach. While our fi rm may be busy that does not mean marketing should be put on hold. Yes, it can be challenging to maintain client service responsibilities and conduct marketing during the busy times, but ultimately having a consistent approach will lead to much more desirable results in the long run." Keep Things in Perspective In creating and executing your marketing program, it is important to remember that every accounting fi rm is diff erent. Sales and marketing skills vary from partner to partner, and from manager to manager. One fi rm may have a key rainmaker that provides work for others in the practice, while another fi rm may have several marketing-minded professionals that drive marketing eff orts. Regard- less, you need to administer your marketing activities by the specifi c time, place and circumstance of your practice and the market you serve. Marketing is not "one size fi ts all," so trust your instincts and take advantage of the best practices outlined here.

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