Missing the Mark in your Marketing

A few weeks ago, my neighbor Frank, who had been in poor health for years, passed away. In the last hours on the last day of his estate sale, my husband and I walked up the street to see what was still there. It would have been a bonanza for someone with an eBay business selling collectibles: whole rooms filled with ceramic Hummel figurines, elegant Japanese geisha dolls in glass cases, stacks of hand-painted porcelain plates with portraits of every dog breed imaginable, rows and rows of tiny ceramic dogs and cats. Bookcases in every room were filled with an eclectic mix of hard-back books from the 1950s.

And since it was the last day, everything was 50% off.

Yet the truly valuable items remained unsold. A dealer of collectibles could have made a fortune re-selling those figurines and painted plates and dolls. And my neighbor’s estate would have also profited.

What went wrong? Surely it wasn’t that no one knew of the sale. For days, our quiet street had been lined with cars of strangers eager to find treasures. And most of the furniture, kitchenware and tools were gone by the time we arrived.

The problem was that the advertising for the sale hadn’t reached the right audience. There was no strategy behind their tactics.

The tactics were limited to posting hand-drawn signs on hot pink poster board pointing the way from the main street of this small rural town. A brilliant strategy would have alerted antique dealers and eBay resellers across the state. All those goodies would have been swept away on the first day of the sale.

Without strategy behind the tactics, advertising is just a shot gun approach, and can be a complete waste of money.

Putting out print ads blindly with little consideration of who exactly you want to communicate with is the same as posting those pink signs on street corners and hoping the right people will stumble across them. Thinking about who your best customers are and putting signs where they will see them is strategy. Growing by accepting every client who comes in the door is a tactic. Growing by accepting only the clients you want to work with and that you can serve best is a strategy.

Here are five steps to make sure your marketing has strategy and isn’t just tactics.

  1. Take time as a firm to define your ideal client. Do you have special expertise in a particular industry? Does it seem like you have an awful lot of attorneys or veterinarians or restaurants in your practice? And are those the kinds of clients you enjoy working with? How do you want to grow your business? It’s a worthwhile exercise to consider the strengths of your firm and what makes you different from the other accounting firms out there.
  2. Assess the skills and knowledge you have now, and fill in the gaps. Do you have the expertise to offer those clients additional value beyond tax returns and financial statements? Do you read the trade journals of their industry? Do you have tools that give you industry benchmarks to compare to your clients’ performance? You may need to invest time and money to learn what you need to know.
  3. Craft a message that speaks to your ideal client. Too many accounting firms put out bland, impersonal messages that sound the same. What are the special concerns of your clients’ industries? What keeps those business owners up at night? How can you help your clients beyond the tax return and the financials? What are the benefits of working with you as opposed to the firm across town?
  4. Get your message out where your target audience will see it. Does your firm specialize in attorneys? Do you have an ad in the magazine for your state bar association? Are you experts in real estate? Have you offered to speak at local chapter meetings for the Commercial Real Estate Development Association? Have you considered partnering with an attorney or financial planner serving the same client base and offering a class on tax or financial planning? Do you have an ad in the trade magazines your veterinarian clients read? You may be able to trade articles in magazines for free advertising.
  5. Measure and track your results, and adjust accordingly. Whenever you get a new client, ask them how they heard of your firm, and track the responses. If a particular marketing campaign is getting great results, see if you can make it even better. Ditch those methods that don’t do anything, or tweak them and see how that change affects results.

Putting strategy behind your marketing tactics is the most important thing you can do to grow your firm. Without strategy, you might as well be waving signs on street corners, like many of the low-cost tax preparation offices do during tax season. Strategy in your marketing will ensure that you’ll find clients who value your expertise and are willing to pay top dollar for that expertise.

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