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Attention grabbing email tips

Incorporating images and links into emails is an easy way firms can increase and maintain client engagement in their email marketing campaigns.

Using images in an email is a simple way to grab a reader’s attention, while also making an email’s design look stylish and consistent. But firms should be careful not waste an email space with useless, generic images. While inserting images does break up email content (making it easier to read), firms who use general images are ultimately directing their readers eyes to something that does not help sell products or convert prospects.

Call-to-action links are another great way to engage clients. However, firms must remain critical when choosing which links to incorporate into their emails. Links essentially take clients away from an email’s message to another page or site. Once clients have clicked on the link, it is highly unlikely that they will return to the email to read more.

Therefore, firms must ensure that these links have a purpose, and direct clients somewhere else for a good reason. For example, instead of directing clients to a firm’s website, a better link would direct clients to a custom designed landing page that speaks specifically to the targeted email audience.

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A bare bones marketing program

Some small firms may feel that they can’t afford to invest a large sum of money in marketing or that they won’t be able to use marketing in an effective way due to having simpler, less ambitious goals than larger firms.

But while their goals may be smaller and the marketing budget smaller still, a small firm can still develop an inexpensive but effective marketing program. Unlike the large and ambitious goals of the large firm, a small firm’s goals may be simply to make an impact in a new market or establish the expertise of the firm in a particular area.

A bare bones marketing program starts with planning. Firms need to have a clear idea of what they want to accomplish and the action needed to accomplish it. Since you can’t accomplish everything you want with the limited resources available, firms need to eliminate the add-ons found in more elaborate programs.

Firms should pick one specialty in one practice area as their starting point, as they can always expand their marketing efforts to the other practice areas later. Building a reputation for a single skill in a single target market can get results. That’s what bare bones marketing is all about. When choosing the practice area to focus the marketing on, firms should carefully examine the potential market, the commitment of their partners, the firm’s competitive strength, the marketing opportunities, firm resources and expectations.

The firm must be committed and willing to participate in the marketing program. Even if you have the best plan in the world, you won’t get it off the ground if the responsible partner sees the effort as a waste of time or sees marketing as something that somebody else should be doing.

A bare bones marketing also requires spending some money. When you know what you want and what you have to do to get it, figure out how much it will cost. Then work out if you can afford that kind of expenditure.

Even if you have planned the best marketing program in the world, if it is founded on unrealistic expectations, you are bound to be disappointed in the results. Your expectations should be clearly defined at the very beginning, not after the program is started.

Finally, firms need to elect who will lead the marketing program. To be successful, the marketing leader needs three sets of proven skills: marketing, business and people skills. Small firms need to decide if it is something a firm partner can do, or if they will need to contract outside professional help.

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Getting the most out of your surveys

Conducting a survey is one of the best ways a firm can collect meaningful data from clients. When carried out properly, surveys can provide firms with the kind of information needed to improve a firm’s services, products and interaction with clients.

But when they are poorly organised, firm surveys can be a frustrating experience for clients to finish, and often result in the creation of useless data. These surveys primarily focus on the need for answers, not on the kind of experience created for clients.

Below are four simple tips firms can use when creating their surveys to create a positive experience for clients as well as collect the information they specifically want.

  • Give a reason for the client to participate

When a firm requests that their clients complete a survey, they are ultimately asking clients to dedicate a segment of their time to help out. Firms should include a strong reason why clients should do this. If the survey is to improve a firm’s client service, make sure to include that in the introduction. Showing people how completing the survey will improve their interaction with a firm may make them feel more inclined to participate.

  • Set strong expectations

Tell clients exactly how long the survey will take them. This can help clients avoid rushing through or abandoning the survey because of time constraints.

  • Talk specifically to your clients

Do not include any accounting or financial jargon in the survey. This will only confuse clients. Use language that clients can easily understand and use in everyday conversation. The survey language should be engaging and prompt participants all the way to the end of the survey.

  • Take the survey yourself

When you have finished writing your survey, have a break, then come back and have a go at completing it yourself. This allows firms to check whether they have provided a good enough reason for why someone should take the survey, whether it is realistically able to be completed from start to finish, and if all questions are absolutely relevant to survey objectives.

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Segment your way to success

Firms looking to improve their email marketing response rate should consider segmenting their audience list.

Segmenting is the process of dividing an audience list into subgroups. It allows firms to send specific or targeted emails to a specific group or targeted individuals who may be more responsive to firm messages.

Even firms with only a small list of email subscribers should start segmenting. Creating categories and sending subscribers targeted information can come in handy as a firm’s contact list grows.

Segmentation is useful for a number of reasons. It allows firms to hone in on their most active email readers. Segmenting lists for those who regularly open and click emails gives firms valuable information that can be used to improve email campaigns. It also allows firms to target potential clients for a specific product or service sale, and avoid annoying those who may have already purchased the special.

If readers are more interested in just one area of what a firm sells, segmenting them into a list means that they no longer have to unsubscribe due to off-topic emails.

Firms can begin capturing information that is needed for segmentation as soon as subscribers opt-in to their email subscriber list. Simply asking one or two specific questions when clients sign-up can help a firm establish what kind of information the subscribers are interested in.

Firms can also create a segment of their email list for clients who regularly engage with their emails by opening or clicking on an email and its links. Subscribers who are not as responsive could be put on a less frequent list, or one that firms can try out different subject lines with.

Firms who offer a number of different services may find it useful to segment their clients based on the type of content they interact with. An example of this would be an accounting firm sending out different emails to their business clients, and entirely different content to individual taxpaying clients.

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To network or not to network?

Networking can be an effective marketing strategy for many accountants. It is the process of establishing personal relationships with individuals who could become clients or who are in a position to refer potential clients.

But despite its proven advantages, networking doesn’t always guarantee success for a firm. Although it can be an effective strategy, accountants should first determine whether it is the right strategy for their firm.

While good networking can build efficient relationships quite quickly, building personal relationships can sometimes be a difficult and time-consuming process. Occasionally, an accountant will ‘click’ almost immediately with someone due to common interests or similar personalities, backgrounds or education. In other networking relationships, it may take awhile for the firm to establish the right comfort level with a contact, and for them to view the firm as a “potential service provider”.

Just as a personal relationship needs constant care and attention to remain healthy, client relationships also need regular care and attention. Consistent follow-ups are required to help a firm’s network flourish. Accountants can do this by calling prospective clients and referral sources regularly, sending them articles of interest with personal notes or meeting with existing clients to review their level of satisfaction with your work. Not following-up can ultimately ruin all the work a firm has done to create that network in the first place.

Although networking can help accountants meet and establish connections with like-minded people, this marketing strategy requires time and high levels of dedication from a firm. It is not an ‘instant gratification’ style of marketing, and firms should carefully weigh up its benefits to determine what they will achieve from it.

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Selling accounting services

Most accountants already have a certain level of sales ability. Their client portfolio is a testimony to that. Accountants will acquire different clients based on their sales ability, and they will lose others if their communication skills need improvement.

Accountants do not sell services; they provide solutions that clients want and need. However, without some level of selling ability, accountants may find themselves limited to the same type and number of clients in the future as they have today.

Selling accounting services may be easier than first assumed as accounting services are rarely purchased on impulse. Rather, the purchase is usually carefully considered over a few months.

The decision to buy and the decision what to buy are made separately, often with a long gap between them. This means an accountant has more time and more opportunities to influence the decision with marketing and sales strategies.

Some accountants may be more confident selling services than others. However, if those accountants with less confidence can identify and improve their weaknesses, they can become just as good at sales as others.

Having some form of sales ability is important for accountants so it can support their professional skills. If accountants believe they offer the best services in their area, then selling those services may just be in the best interest of the others.

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Client service opportunities

Cross selling is an important revenue source for accounting firms. The concept of cross selling is simple: convince existing clients to use a firm in more than one practice area. Cross selling can result in additional revenue and help client retention by:

  • Allowing an accountant to establish more points of contact within the client’s organisation.
  • Increasing the accountant’s knowledge of the client’s business and operations.
  • Demonstrating the accountant’s ability to assist with other business challenges.

Despite its advantages, many firms find it difficult to cross sell their services to clients. To be successful, firms need to understand cross selling impediments and what needs to be done to overcome them.

The selling block: Some professionals think selling as unprofessional. The problem with this argument is the belief that an accountant needs to “flog” the firm’s other services to clients. The trick is simply getting clients to talk about the difficulties they face and for accountants to listen for an opportunity to help. If a firm has a good relationship with its clients and they are happy with the existing service, there is a high probability that an accountant will be asked for details on the firm’s other capabilities.

Incentive: If there is no incentive to market a firm’s services, most professionals will simply avoid doing it. But if professionals know that cross-selling activities will be considered in their annual salary review, they will take an active part in the activity. While there are many ways firms can calculate this incentive, a professional’s cross-selling activity must be factored into their level of compensation.

Credit: For cross selling to succeed, the concept of sharing credit for new work must also be part of the program. Cross selling only happens when professionals work in pairs or teams and the shared effort receives recognition.

Recognition: If new business comes from an existing client, this achievement may not be mentioned in any internal newsletter, new business report or memo. The failure to recognise and celebrate this type of new business can hinder a cross-selling program. Recognition is a powerful motivator. A cross-selling success should be headline news in the firm’s internal newsletter or on the Intranet.

Client ownership: Some professionals shun cross selling because they are reluctant to introduce another individual from the firm into their well established client relationship. This mentality can ultimately lead to a competitor getting the client’s other work, which is something that is much worse than having another person in your own firm do the work. Clients must be viewed as assets that belong to the firm and therefore must be shared by all professionals.

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Prospecting: Getting started

The first step for a firm that is targeting prospects is to identify the different groups of prospects, and decide how they are going to be targeted.

Directly targeted prospects
These are the small groups of companies that firms should personally target for approaching during the year. Firms need to select businesses they are familiar with and feel most comfortable approaching.

Passively targeted prospects
These are the indirectly targeted prospects that are referred to a firm by a firm’s network of clients and referral sources. Although a firm doesn’t target these prospects directly, a firm indirectly targets them when making clear to referral sources and clients, exactly what type of client they are seeking.

Non-targeted prospects
Since no firm has the resources to prospect every company in its potential database, the vast majority of prospects are non-targeted. Nevertheless, they remain prospects, and provide a pool from which future targeted prospects might be drawn.

To run a successful prospecting program, a firm needs knowledge of their prospects, information on other firms competing for these prospects and methods for reaching these prospects. To gain prospect knowledge, a firm should answer the following questions:

  • What does a prospect look for in an accounting firm?
  • Why does a prospect consider changing accounting firms?
  • When does a prosect consider changing accounting firms?
  • How does a prospect choose an accounting firm?
  • Where are the prospects?
  • Who should I speak with?

This “what, why, when, how, where, and who” is the key to successful prospecting.

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How happy are your clients?

It is quite common for clients to leave a firm for service delivery or work quality reasons. However, many clients will not openly complain about the service they are receiving. Instead, they will start asking how much you charge for services or simply take their work elsewhere when they believe they can obtain better value for their money.

A systematic client feedback program can provide early warning signals of unhappiness among clients. Many professional services firms use client feedback surveys to obtain information from a client on the quality of services they have received. Client satisfaction surveys are a useful marketing tool when a firm is involved in a competitive proposal situation or in a presentation to a prospective client.

A well-constructed client feedback system allows a firm to obtain meaningful feedback on the quality of service provided to its clients. Properly conducted, these programs can help highlight service or work problems. If a firm acts upon the information received from the program, the result can be a win-win situation for both sides — improved service for the clients and enhanced client retention for the firm. And even when a firm does lose a client, the feedback from the former client can help uncover areas in the service approach that need to be improved.

However, even though client satisfaction surveys and programs can be useful for firms, it is far more effective to have early detection systems in place to pick up on client dissatisfaction. Accountants should not overlook client warning signals, such as asking for fee quotes, petty complaints, late bill payments, or even providing an excuse as to why they had one task carried out by another accountant.

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Stand out in the crowd

Today’s accounting firms face a substantial multitude of information on how to establish and improve their current marketing programs. But since a firm’s competitors have the same access to the wealth of marketing information, it can be difficult for a firm to establish how they will stand out from the crowd. Accountants are a pretty homogenous group, and the majority of them engage in little or no marketing endeavours. Therefore, engaging in some kind of marketing strategy is better than doing nothing at all.

There are a number of effective ways to market a firm’s professional services, from traditional marketing tools, such as sending out newsletters and direct mail, to the latest online marketing strategies, such as websites and social media.

However, these tools alone are unlikely to win a client. All they do is lead to a contact with the prospect. Only the firm professional can win the client. Below are some suggestions for firms to help ensure their marketing program gets the intended results.

Set objectives
An effective and efficient marketing program is founded on clear objectives. Determine what you want to accomplish, make sure your goals are realistic, and then develop a game plan.

Focus on one service area
Focus your marketing program on one service area at a time and concentrate your efforts solely on that.

Target a mailing program
Build up a mailing list of prospects for sales. Try beginning with a program of periodic mailings of articles and other information of interest to this market segment. This kind of program allows firms to demonstrate their expertise and build brand recognition.

Keep it simple
Don’t make your marketing plans too complicated. It is easy to get caught up in the need to gather large amounts of data to ensure your plan covers every possible scenario. But it is more important that your plan is easy to understand and sets out simple steps for achieving your goals. A simple marketing plan may be missing some things but once it is up and running, it is always better than a highly detailed military-type plan that never leaves your computer’s hard drive.