Many tax and accounting professionals struggle to find the best way to leverage limited marketing resources to effectively position their firm in the marketplace. And the advent of social media, online networking and other digital strategies has further expanded the field of marketing activities for firms. For many firms, this adds to the confusion about the best way to invest already limited marketing resources. In many cases, firm partners and managers are not experienced marketers and are unsure how to best develop, implement, monitor and improve firm-wide marketing efforts.
Recognize Your Marketing Responsibility
Most small accounting firms do not have dedicated marketing professionals. This means that all marketing activities from strategy to collateral and copy development are the responsibility of partners or a marketing-minded staff professional.
Michael Tepastte, a partner at Wilber & Townshend, a 12-professional CPA firm located in Jenison, Mich., is all too familiar with this scenario. “Given our size, we do not have any dedicated staff for marketing,” he said. “Responsibility for marketing begins with each partner and is carried out by the entire team.”
Limited by time, resources and skill set, many firms look outside their offices for help. “Our firm outsources the marketing function,” said Marty McCutchen, CPA and partner at CPA Service Group, a three-professional firm located in Dallas, Texas. “The partners assume responsibility for managing the outsourced marketing function and ensure our efforts are producing results over the long term.”
Establish an Effective Strategy
Regardless of whether marketing services are delivered in-house or from an outsourced provider, an effective marketing program begins with establishing a strategy that allows a firm to meet its defined objectives. Once a strategy has been developed and agreed upon, it is essential to stick with it, or make a decision as a group to shift based on trends or other observations about opportunities in the marketplace. A common mistake many firms make is to take the “shotgun approach.” This is characterized by a quick decision to initiate a marketing program with little thought about expense, the drain on internal resources, or what is expected to come from the program. Unfortunately, with inadequate oversight and involvement from management, the results may be less than optimal.
“Marketing initiatives are led by the partners based on the strategic plan with input from observations of change in the market and networking partners,” said Tepastte. “Partners and professionals do the work of planning, research and defining ROI for each initiative. Support staff is involved with creating the final product whether it is an internal effort or working with a network partner.”
CPA Service Group takes a different, but no less effective approach. “We do not have a formal written approach per se,” said McCutchen. “However, I do plan out in advance what programs we want to implement and have a clearly defined understanding of what the firm expects to accomplish in terms of ROI and other metrics prior to launch.”
Set a Reasonable Budget
Equally as important to a well-defined strategy is an adequate budget. A firm needs to set a marketing budget that will allow marketing goals to be accomplished. While every firm has a different formula for determining a budget amount, the general rule is 2% to 4% of projected firm revenues. It is important to note that this figure should not include internal labor costs allocated to marketing. Most firms use the marketing budget to cover the cost of activities or tactics designed to market the practice. Some examples include sponsorships, association dues, advertising expenses (traditional and digital), website development, collateral development and newsletters. The key to developing a strong and consistent marketing program is to not only have a strategic plan, but also a budget that will allow you to accomplish defined objectives.