If the day-to-day job of marketing a CPA firm already feels overwhelming, then content marketing — producing and publishing high-quality, branded content like blog posts, webinars, and podcasts — may seem insurmountably difficult.
But that's exactly what some CPAs are finding works for them. By producing content that promotes their expertise and focusing on a specific client industry, they are building a strong reputation for their firm and growing their client base — without feeling overworked.
Increasingly, consumers are looking to brands and businesses not just as service providers, but also as content producers that will inspire, inform, and educate, according to the 2017 Havas Group "Meaningful Brands" study. This applies to CPA firms as well.
So what is content marketing, exactly? Lee Frederiksen, managing partner of Hinge Marketing, a Reston, Va.-based branding and marketing company that works exclusively with professional services including CPA firms, defines it as, "using content to convey your areas of expertise to your target client."
There are tangible benefits to expanding into this type of marketing. "Content marketing techniques," Frederiksen said, "are less costly in terms of marketing expense and they are more effective in closing a higher percentage of prospects."
Hinge recently released its 2018 High Growth Study, which concluded that professional services firms with 20% or greater revenue growth over the last three years were more actively engaged in content marketing activities. A different Hinge study found that 80% of firms that used content marketing got referrals from people they hadn't worked with, simply because strong branding kept them front-of-mind.
So how does a CPA firm get started in content marketing?
Be a subject matter expert. Start by focusing on a single area of expertise, and provide useful content for that niche. It may seem counterintuitive, but a sharp focus on a single client industry can be the key to growing your firm.
Produce focused content. Choose a medium that appeals to you. If you like to write, blog. If you prefer speaking, try webinars or podcasts. Once you pick a client industry to focus on, publish content that speaks to the unique business needs of that client. "Make what's invisible — your expertise — tangible, so a person can understand how you can help them," Frederiksen said. If your target client is a real estate investor, for example, you might produce a webinar on depreciation.
Appear in content produced by others. Producing original content is hard work, but you can maximize your reach without too much extra effort by appearing as a guest expert, both at live events and in recorded content where the audience is made up of your ideal client base. According to Hinge's High Growth Study, speaking at targeted conferences and events brought accounting and financial services firms the highest return on effort (calculated as the difference between impact received from a particular technique and effort involved) of any marketing activity. To secure bookings on podcasts and at conferences, start by making a list of content producers and events in your niche and engaging in some simple email outreach.
Let your content do the work for you. Keep content on your website so potential clients can always access it. By using basic search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, you can assure your expert answer will be visible to potential clients researching a topic or business issue on Google. "Content marketing is something that someone can access 24/7," Frederiksen said. "It can do the marketing when you're working with a client, or asleep, or on vacation. It really leverages limited time." The best topics for written content are those that are highly relevant to a niche audience but do not quickly go out-of-date, so you don't have to update posts. For example, a review of popular accounting software options used by your target client could rank high in Google for software comparisons and remain relevant as long as the software versions you review are current.
Turn your content into a lead-generating machine. Use your website to generate leads by keeping some content "gated," meaning potential clients have to provide an email address in order to access it. Visitors to your website will be more likely to submit their contact information to access content that solves a problem in detail, such as a template or blueprint for performing a specific task, or content they might otherwise pay for, such as industry data or an in-depth guide.
Keep your bottom line in mind. Frederiksen recommended tracking not just leads generated, but the increase in exposure. "Measure your progress in things that show your visibility," he said. "For example: increasing web traffic, increasing downloads of your educational content, increasing traffic to certain specialized areas of your website. Those can all be indications that can help you measure whether you're moving in the right direction."
Katherine Raz is a freelance writer based in Chicago. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, associate director – content development, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.