Some accounting firms take the subtle route to attract new clients.
Summit CPA Group, a U.S.-based virtual CPA and 401(k) audit firm, operates a blog featuring articles on topics such as unemployment tax management and produces a monthly industry-focused public webinar series with themes including "Marketing Strategies to Grow and Scale Your Practice."
Those are a few examples of a practice called content marketing, in which companies create and distribute content — which can include any mix of blog posts, digital newsletters, social media, podcasts, white papers, infographics, and video — to showcase the expertise that a potential client needs with an underlying goal of securing their business.
The goal is to create "valuable, relevant, informative content" to attract and retain business, said Lauren Yeates, founder of Wild Strawberry, a marketing strategy company based near Denver.
For Summit, "this route has also allowed us to position ourselves as experts in our field," said Samantha Lankford, the firm's inbound marketing specialist.
Instead of unabashedly promoting the business, expertise is the subtle sales pitch. You're letting your audience know about your expertise in a less direct way than traditional advertising.
But how do you explain this to a firm leader who may be more used to approving money for more traditional marketing methods, such as a television commercial or newspaper advertisement? Explain that, in the digital world, most potential clients conduct extensive online research before selecting the business they need. By offering reliable and helpful information, those clients may turn to you if they need accounting help in the future.
Here's how to get started with content marketing:
Determine a budget. As with any project, decide if a budget is needed including staff time. The overall annual cost can be as big or as small as the budget allows, said Dominick Sorrentino, a senior marketing specialist with Brafton, a content marketing agency based in Boston. Things to consider include what platforms the firm will use, the length of the campaign, whether you'll use an outside agency or a freelancer, what type of content works best, and the resources needed. Remember that "getting the program up and running sometimes requires an upfront investment," so that should be part of the cost projection, Sorrentino said.
Identify the potential client. The next step involves identifying the target audience to figure out for whom content will be created. To decide how content can catch the potential clients' attention, firms need to map what's known as the "customer journey" and determine content needs for each stage of that journey, Yeates said. What are their pain points? What do they need? Content should be targeted to those answers.
The next step is to think about how these clients are getting information. Do clients come to the website via social media, search engines, or email? Information should be delivered that way. "Content marketing shouldn't be scattershot," Sorrentino said.
Craft the message. Once firms decide whom they're talking to, they need think about what they'll say and how. The campaign should align with company values and goals, Sorrentino said. For example, a newsletter sent to potential clients and existing clients who may need additional services could highlight guidance on how tax code changes affect small businesses. While not every reader will need that specific advice, the goal is to "make your value proposition stay top of mind with prospects, as well as existing clients," he said.
Be consistent. For content marketing to be effective, firms have to post information that will grab attention over time. A single post won't do much, but how much content is needed is unique to each campaign. The key is to make the content compelling and valuable. "I advocate for quality over quantity," Yeates said.
Once a cadence is determined, stick with it. If the firm opts for a monthly newsletter, it may take several months to catch a potential customer's attention. Don't get frustrated by a lack of results and skip a month. "To be successful, you must be publishing consistently," Yeates said.
However, firms shouldn't be afraid to tweak the strategy along the way, Lankford said. Monitor the program "to see if you're reaching your target clientele and that they're responding in kind," she said.
Remember that content marketing is generally a slow-and-steady approach, Yeates said. "Allocate time and resources and create realistic goals and you'll be more likely to see success," she said.
— Dawn Wotapka is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.