Fine-Tune Your Marketing Know-How

Both professionals and firms must forge an identity. As the CPA, you are the brand and you have to put that brand in front of your intended audience. You accomplish this by getting the word out about your firm’s services. Prospective clients need to associate you and your practice with a particular niche, a financial service or a product. Here are some tips to get them to do just that.
Define your brand. Ask yourself a series of questions: “What do I want my clients or prospects to identify me by? Is it quality products, fast service or low cost?” “Do I target or serve a particular market segment such as doctors, owners of privately held businesses or high-net-worth executives?” “Do I belong to any professional or networking organizations, and do these memberships benefit my firm?”

Now, look at your answers. Do you like what you see, or do you want to make some changes? Figure out your best attributes and develop and market them to prospects. The stronger your brand, the more likely it is people will think of you and the services you can provide them in your areas of expertise. Then, reinforce your brand identity through constant repetition at your firm in its literature, human resources materials and day-to-day correspondence and in the marketplace in ads, in phone and e-mail communications and how you conduct yourself with established and prospective clients.

Decide on your firm’s marketing mission statement. Write down everything you want to accomplish within your business. Then, determine which items are doable and which ones aren’t. Keep plans for the future in mind when crafting your statement—which should be simple enough to fit on a matchbook cover. If you can’t explain it to people, how will you be able to carry it out? Here’s a sample statement: Provide auditing services to clients in the legal profession. Obtain such clients through a campaign comprising direct mail, newsletters and speaking at industry events. Set aside a day just to think about how you will accomplish your mission. You have to understand exactly what you do and what to charge for your services so prospects can determine whether you’re a good fit for them.

Don’t obsess about the competition, but be aware of what others are doing so you can decide what you’re good at and concentrate on it. Streamline your processes and systematize them so anyone in your office can do the work. This will free you to get on with the business of promoting your skills. Worrying too much about others or having too many administrative tasks to do diverts energy and will have you playing either catch-up or defense. There is plenty of business to go around, and as long as you keep your focus, you will do well. Learn as much as you can about your target and ideal audience and choose the appropriate distribution channels to reach it. Use the radio, Internet banner ads, direct mail, newsletters and trade shows to distinguish yourself from competitors.

Learn from past mistakes, and don’t be afraid to make them. Each time you make one, post it on the wall. Your collection will serve as a reminder of the things you tried that did not work. This motivates you to try new approaches and teaches you to not repeat the same error. Every encounter your firm has—even negative ones—will make it stronger in the future. Do a quick marketing analysis by answering these questions to determine whether your strategies are working: “What clients am I trying to serve?” “How am I doing (excellent, good, fair, poor)?” “How do I rate my clients (fully satisfied, somewhat satisfied or not at all satisfied)?”

Develop a system for detecting patterns in your marketing efforts before embarking on any new promotional activity. Sometimes you can gauge the success of a marketing move by its timing. You glean this sort of data after you try the same activity at different points during the same fiscal year. If radio ads or promotional events work better in a certain month of the year, for example, use them only at that time.

Revisit your strategy often. What good does it do you to labor over your marketing plan if you drop it in six months? In order to know whether the money you spend promotes your firm’s growth, hold yourself accountable for the results. Design the plan (it might be easier to explain it to your staff if you create a flowchart) before the year begins, monitor the progress during the year and then analyze the outcome. Determine what you need to correct by examining factors such as promotional methods used, cost of services provided and caliber of clients attracted. Accept in advance that alterations will be necessary; all businesses have to constantly refine their marketing budgets. If things didn’t go the way you wanted, change the budget midway through the year rather than at year end. If you try to distinguish what works from what doesn’t and continually refine the core strategy behind your actions, you eventually will get the right mix. Most of all, trust your own instincts, but don’t dismiss the input of your peers and clients in creating an appropriate marketing game plan.

Source: Adapted from Rattiner’s Financial Planners Bible: The Advisor’s Advisor, by Jeffrey H. Rattiner, CPA, CFP, MBA, John Wiley & Sons Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, , 2002.

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