Editor's note: This article is one in a series about starting or buying a firm. The first article dealt with entrepreneurial skills firm owners need for success, and the second with financial aspects of firm ownership.
The marketing landscape for CPA firms has changed dramatically over the past few years. Many new CPA firm owners now place as much emphasis on digital marketing as they do on traditional methods such as networking and getting referrals.
Given the plethora of online platforms, though, it can be difficult to know where to start — especially if you're starting your own firm from scratch. Three entrepreneurial CPAs offer the following tips for succeeding with digital and marketing techniques:
Create a website. Your newly launched firm needs a website, and it must look professional. "If you put up a clunky website that doesn't look good, you may as well not have a website as you're actually hurting yourself," said Matt Norris, CPA, owner of Matt The CPA, a small firm in Daytona Beach, Fla.
If money is tight, consider creating a business Facebook page, or using inexpensive website- building platforms such as WordPress, Wix.com, or Squarespace to help create and design your site. "Find a theme that you like and get some cheap hosting, and for $200 or maybe even less, you've got a website for a year," said Micah Fraim, CPA, owner of Micah Fraim, CPA, a small practice in Roanoke, Va.
Initially, Fraim also paid for Google AdWords, until his website ranking made it to Google's first page after about six months. ("This may not be possible in more competitive markets," he noted about raising one's ranking in Google searches.)
Research SEO. Take some time to study search engine optimization, the practice of increasing traffic to your website by having it appear in a high position in viewers' search engine results. This is important because many prospective clients find firms via Google. Fraim estimates that one-third of his clients find him through Google and his website.
Use social media. Social media can be a low- or no-cost way to market your services. Norris uses Instagram (his handle is @MattTheCPA) to attract new clients. Evan Hutcheson, CPA, founder of Evan Hutcheson, CPA, LLC, a small Nashville firm, launched his own YouTube channel, which now has more than 1,500 followers.
Fraim's commercial, titled "Micah Makes Me Money," also appears on YouTube, and he pays only pennies for each video view, making it an inexpensive platform to network his business. "Right now we spend $10 and we're getting 1,000 views," he said of YouTube. "That's hard to beat."
In 2018, Fraim did a local TV commercial during tax season. He wrote the script and once it aired, the station gave him digital copies of the ad. "We just used that for the YouTube ad," he noted. He also advocates hiring a local videographer to shoot a video for a relatively low cost.
Hire a marketing, design, and social media expert. Once your marketing budget grows, hire someone who can upgrade your website and manage it along with your social media content and SEO. Norris pays $1,150 monthly for marketing, and his outsourced contractor handles his social media content and website, he said.
Fraim also outsources his digital efforts, including SEO, now his marketing avenue of choice. "Once we got enough revenue rolling in, we did everything we could to reinvest right back into marketing, which yielded positive results," he noted.
Get creative with content marketing. You can also gain exposure by showcasing your expertise via content marketing, writing and posting online in blogs and other outlets. "A blog is a powerful way to communicate ideas," Norris said. "If you can get somebody's attention, enough to read your 500 to 1,000 words, that's a huge opportunity."
Hutcheson, Norris, and Fraim all write blogs, feature them on their respective websites, and then share them on various social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Instagram. Topics include things like firing clients, millennials, and tax strategies for small businesses. Fraim sends links to his blog to business contacts, clients, prospective clients, and others. He also wrote two short business books, available on Amazon.
"Content marketing can be a huge help in driving new business," he said. "That content will also help your site's domain authority and eventually increase your search engine rankings."
And, he noted, it strengthens and clarifies your own understanding of the subject and helps establish you as an expert in what you are writing about. "Writing the blog and copying it and sending it out in email blasts was a massive part of how I drummed up business," he said.
Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this story, email senior editor Courtney Vien.