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The purpose of marketing.

In today's business world, hiring a professional accountant is no longer considered a necessity. The remarkable advent of the personal computer has created a new anomaly--the small business person who believes accounting functions can be accomplished with a few megabytes of RAM and a $39.95 "accounting" program. The same applies to tax preparation. It is apparent to all that the age-old image of the accounting practitioner with the green eyeshade has gone the way of the dinosaur. Today's picture is not much better. The profession is finding that many practitioners are being surpassed technologically by their clientele! Is there a solution to this problem?

The Solution is SERVICE!!

Create additional services and professionally market them for your firm. Marketing has and must become as necessary to the accounting practitioner as their research library. Don't be afraid to market and sell yourself, your practice and your services. It's not enough for you to know what skills you have--the prospective client needs to know of their availability as well.

Many clients are unaware of their accountant's total package of services. After I made the decision to implement an extensive marketing plan; redesigned my stationery, business card and yellow page ad; and sent my clients a letter on the new stationery and enclosed the new business card, I found new business within my current clientele! These clients became aware of the extensive array of services we offered. Several clients we had been seeing on an annual tax return basis became monthly write-up clients.

It's important to note that the services we listed are in the realm of what all practitioners offer: monthly accounting, all types of bookkeeping services, tax planning and preparation, payroll services, business management consulting, business plans and projections, litigation support, estate and retirement planning, etc.

Most practitioners indicate only their name, address, phone/fax and professional designations on stationery and business cards. Consider taking advantage of the fact that your stationery and business cards are seen continually by your clients and prospects and utilize them to the fullest. They can promote your practice. The majority are not designed to do that. Consider changing your color scheme on these items. Using the same design and colors for these items for the life of your practice is not always the wisest idea. Show current and prospective clients that your practice has moved into the '90s.

A professional marketing firm can help you change your image. You will be surprised at the change in your clients' attitude toward you.

Develop a Marketing Attitude

Develop a professional marketing attitude. Begin by understanding that all your business thoughts, actions, work performance, financial statement presentation, tax preparation, and office procedures need to include a marketing attitude. Put yourself in the place of your clients. Enter through the front door of your office not as the boss but as a client or prospective client. See what the first impression feels like. Look around you--the walls, the furniture, the employees, the feel of the room. Are you satisfied with this first impression? Assess the type of clientele you are seeking and be certain that first impression is suitable for them.

Make it a point to sit in the client's chair opposite your desk once a month. Look around your office through their eyes--notice what is on the walls behind the desk, any clutter, etc. This experience can be a real eye-opener.

Once you have settled on your "niche of clients" as a practitioner, then proceed to assess your client's comfort level and your professional marketing approach. The first impression is the most important. Be sure it is the best impression you can convey.

Lobby Resume

A lobby resume is a valuable addition to your office. It can prove effective not only to the new client but serve as a reminder to current clients.

A new client has come to your firm. They are waiting in your lobby for their appointment and taking in that all-important "first impression." A lobby resume available on a table or a wall in the sitting area tells them much more about you personally. It need not emphasize the practice itself but rather focus on you! It should have a professional picture of yourself, list your business philosophy, your education, community involvement, professional designations, etc. Frame it and display it proudly.

Getting the Calls

Whether it be through a well-designed yellow page ad, a direct marketing plan, presentations to local civic groups or a client referral program, getting them in the door is number one.

The Yellow Pages

Take a long hard look at your yellow page ad. Is it professional, is it noticeable, does it stand out? While there are practitioners who doubt the effectiveness of yellow page advertisements, it has proven valuable to many. It is not unusual for small business owners to look first in the yellow pages under "accountants" when the need arises. If you are seeking to build your small business client base, place your ad under "accountants," provided there is no prohibition under state law. The bookkeeping category will only bring you limited success--that is, small businesses seeking someone who will come to their office for a few hours a week or who will pay their bills. You are looking for professional business. Advertise for it in the proper place.

Does your yellow page ad emphasize your name or your services? Most professionals have followed the tradition of emphasizing their name on stationery, business cards, yellow page ad, etc. Your ad can accomplish significantly more. Mr. or Ms. Businessperson didn't wake up one morning and decide to call a specific accounting firm. They woke up realizing they needed a professional to help them, and if they looked in the yellow pages, they looked for firm offering the services they needed. Put your ego aside (along with your name) and let your services sell you. Services, not your name or the name of your firm, should be the most noticeable item in the ad.

Create a "slogan" or a professional message that, in a few short words, will summarize your firm to the prospective client. Look at your competition in the yellow pages--what are they saying? I'm willing to bet you'll find they are emphasizing their name first and a few (if any) services secondarily.

Consider putting an "eyebrow" on your yellow page ad. If you have a particularly convenient location, emphasize it! This can be an attractive selling point. White lettering on a dark background is ideal for this eyebrow.

Think twice about adding color to your ad. Color is costly and does not necessarily increase response. Getting the ad noticed won't prompt the call. Listing valuable services, however, will.

Consider placing your photo in the ad. This can be done quite professionally and we've had successful results. Make the size of your ad bigger than your competition's. Your yellow page rep will gladly help--remember, they work on commission.

It is always important to keep your competition in mind. Depending on your area, it could be the accountant down the block or five miles away. In an urban area, most clients are looking for someone convenient and close by. A practitioner five miles away is generally not your competition.

Don't waste your money on a map to your office. If prospective clients want to come in, they will call. Yellow page dollars are far too important to waste on maps.

Frequent Referrer Program

Reward your clients for referring others to you. In my practice, we reserved a room in a very nice restaurant in our city and invited to dinner all clients who referred at least one business client or two tax clients during the year. Publicize this referral dinner idea in your client newsletters throughout the year. I instituted this program with instant results.

We discovered clients competing and working specifically to be invited to the dinner, setting up competition as to "who will be there next year." Costly? Not when you consider the benefits you receive.

At the conclusion of the dinner, I hand out a gift. While it should be an attractive gift, it need not be expensive. Last year it was silver-plated salt and pepper shakers. The concept is to give them something that will make them think of you when it is used. A gimmicky office promotion gift with your company's name embazoned on it isn't the same. Give them something special that isn't a sales gimmick.

Each time a newly-referred client leaves the office, send a thank-you letter to the person who referred them. Let them know of their standing for the current year's "frequent referral program." This is a unique program that has paid dividends to my practice.

New Client Orientation Kit

A prospective client comes to your office to "interview" you, talk about their needs, your capabilities and then leaves the office with ... what? In most cases, nothing but a business card. You know how memory retention is--short. Let them leave with something more--something that tells them all about you and the firm.

A new client orientation kit should include: a list of your firm's services, a copy of the lobby resume, a fact sheet regarding your hours, staff, telephone and fax numbers, and anything else pertinent to the practice. It should also include copies of any newspaper or magazine articles about or by you. NSPA also produces several public information brochures--include some of these. The client leaving with this type of material is much more likely to retain you than another accountant who lets him leave the office emptyhanded. Put it in a special binder, plastic cover, etc. Make sure it looks professional!

Direct Mail

Direct mail marketing can result in growth if done correctly. The best targets for direct mail are new businesses and new homeowners. Look in the yellow pages under direct mail and purchase a mailing list or contract with a direct mail firm to work for you. Plan on mailing every three months to new home owners--you need to have your name in front of them when they make the decision to find a tax professional in their new location. This approach works best in a market with an influx of at least 50-100 new residents per zip code per month. Be sure to follow up new client calls immediately. Make your impression fast--before they are encouraged to find another practitioner by their neighbor, co-worker, etc.

Professional Alerts

Help other professionals help themselves. With 96 million taxpayers in America, every professional needs to help their own clientele in every way possible. Insurance agents, financial planners, bankers, attorneys all need to be more informed about tax matters concerning their clients and their own particular business. Generate a newsletter to other professionals (don't ask for referrals--they will come later) and let them know you want to help them help their clients. Do it on a regular basis--two-sided, two-color and already three-hole punched. This lets them know they have someone to contact regarding tax matters--someone with whom they will feel comfortable referring their clients.

Client Survey

Periodically ask your clients to tell you how you are doing. Former New York Mayor Ed Koch used this method with his constituency to find out how he was doing. Send a short note to a sample of current and former clients along with three lined blank sheets in a large envelope with a stamped return envelope. This works far better than a formal survey. If a person gives you a numerical grade, is he really telling what he thinks about your telephone manner, service, promptness, financial statement presentation, etc? Not really. Let them tell you in their own words. You need to know what you're doing right and what you're not doing so well in order to improve. This also lets the client know you care. It is difficult for professionals to ask former clients about the quality of their services. However, if you don't ask, you'll never know why they left.

A Complimentary Visit?

Another extremely difficult thing for a professional to do is give away time! When you send letters out to prospective clients, add a P.S. at the bottom (generates 15-20% higher response). Invite them to call for a complimentary visit. You don't have to do a complete tax or business workup on this visit--it is strictly get-acquainted time and need not extend past 30 minutes. Your chance of acquiring them as a client increases in direct proportion with the time you spend with them.

These are just a few of the many avenues available to accountants to help take their practices into the '90s. You can choose to have a practice that continues on with "business usual." Or you can elect to make your mark as a service-oriented firm, being the best you can be to your clientele and the community. Growth and increased revenue is your reward.

Julie Froning, an NSPA member, has been in the accounting field for 25 years. Her practice is located in Bellevue, Washington. She has served as NSPA District IX governor and currently chairs the Education and Professional Development Committee.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Society of Public Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:accounting firms
Author:Froning, Julie
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:2181
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