Should Your Accounting Firm Use Professional Marketing Services?
Most accounting firms – especially those described as smaller – don’t utilize the services of professional marketers. I always ask new clients about how they are marketing and those that haven’t gone this route typically explain that it’s too expensive. When questioned further, it almost invariably turns out they made this decision without a real understanding of the cost vs. benefit equation.
I think you owe it to yourself to learn more about these services (and there are some very good ones available) so when you decide to consider what advantages they may offer your practice/firm you can make an informed decision.
The core of what follows is the first of a two part adaptation of an interview that I conducted with Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, owner of bbr marketing in Atlanta, GA. Bonnie has been on both sides of the fence because she was a successful in-house marketer for a mid-size regional accounting firm before she started bbr marketing. I have also included my personal observations and conclusions acquired in the 14 years I’ve been helping accountants and their firms improve their business development effectiveness.
Q: What can marketing professionals do for me that I can’t do myself?
A: Let’s answer this with another question. Why shouldn’t professional marketers prepare their own taxes? Sure, they could learn, but wouldn’t that take them away from what they do best? And, would they ever be especially competent at it?
The converse is true as well. Why should you struggle to create and execute a passable marketing plan when an experienced professional can do it faster and much more effectively? And, by passing the job of marketing your firm on to a professional, you avoid diluting your time and can keep focusing upon where you really add value: your accounting practice.
Q: Our firm is on a tight budget. How can we afford marketing?
A: At first blush, many accountants look at professional marketing as an extra; or even a luxury. The reality is that all the most successful firms proactively market and budget accordingly. If utilizing outside services provides the benefits and value they are seeking, there is no hesitation in doing so.
Occasional referrals and hits on your web site are fine, but aren’t enough to truly propel revenue to another level. Unfortunately, being a competent accountant isn’t enough if few prospects know about your abilities. Marketing and firm growth go hand in hand; to gain the reputation that leads to expanding and solidifying your market presence, you need to skillfully share the value and expertise your firm is offering with the potential clients who can benefit from them.
You don’t have to be a large firm with a huge marketing budget to benefit from professional marketing services. A competent and experienced marketing team that specializes in the accounting field can help you define goals and devise strategies for your firm, whatever its size. They’ll understand your competing needs related to budget and time, and work to help you achieve the desired results.
You can’t expect to see the world beat a path to your door simply by hanging out your shingle and waiting. Good marketing lets you make that shingle more appealing, well framed and better placed to reach the clients you need.
Q: Would it be more efficient to hire an in-house marketer?
A: Maybe. Let me explain “maybe” by noting that the senior tax partner at a large firm and someone who prepares simple 1040s at a franchise tax service both “do taxes,” but we know there is a huge knowledge gap between the two. Marketers have the same spectrum of expertise and the price to engage their services can be vastly different.
A truly skilled marketer might be someone a large regional accounting firm can afford, but not most small firms. So, if you can’t afford to hire that level of marketing talent, how do you obtain world-class marketing? You rent it, of course.
Experienced outside marketing firms which specialize in accounting practices bring a fresh and diverse perspective that is invaluable when devising and implementing strategies that lead your firm to new levels of growth. They’ve learned their lessons serving many other clients, which means at a practical level they know what will work for you and what won’t.
If anything, the rate of change in the business world is accelerating. Professional marketers know about what’s most effective in this rapidly evolving marketplace. Another important aspect they bring to the table is a perspective that makes them far less vulnerable to group-think, and to the (often disruptive) influence of partners who may have the firm’s best interests at heart but lack a real understanding of marketing and industry climate.
End of Part 1
In the second part of this topic (look for it next week) we will:
• address the question of what to look for in a marketing firm to maximize your ROI;
• examine some metrics you might consider to assess how things are going, and;
• see a real world story of how one firm made modest improvements in both marketing and converting their new prospects and literally doubled their rate of growth.
As always, please provide input. I’m especially always interested in hearing what’s worked for you so I can pass it on to other practitioners.