Marketing in a Crisis Environment: What Accountants Need to Know

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Marketing in a Crisis Environment:

WHAT ACCOUNTANTS NEED TO KNOW

Here are some excerpts from our Q&A with accountants wanting to market their firms effectively in this challenging business environment.

 

THE OPPORTUNITIES

From Los Angeles, California:

How can we take advantage of the COVID-19 environment to grow our firms?

There are definitely opportunities arising for accountants. We are recommending (a) focusing on existing clients, (b) emphasizing your specialization, and (c) building credibility through valuable content. The message should involve helping businesses build resilience (not just survival) since that will lead to long term advisory relationships.

But remember, growth means getting paid more. So, you have to turn this credibility into additional fees. We see a lot of firms working harder for no additional fees. Therefore, you need to surface the commercial aspects clearly and early.

 

COMMUNICATING IN A CRISIS

From Melbourne, Australia

How often [should we] communicate to clients during a crisis like COVID-19?

The question is more about QUALITY or communication and less about FREQUENCY. Communicating for the sake of it, misunderstanding the prospect’s situation and over-selling will not be welcome. On the other hand, frequent check-ins with updates, added-value material, and constructive ideas will be welcome.

Think also about how different clients want to receive information. Some are happy to see your emails, some like to receive phone calls, some want meetings, etc. Remember the old life adage: If you are unsure what to say, it is probably better to say nothing at all!!!

 

From Buckinghamshire, UK

Would you recommend specific marketing geared to COVID-19 or a broader brand value focus?  

Let’s look at how the business environment (or mood) has evolved in this recent period. It started with:

  1. Panic, uncertainty and a scramble to access government programs, with the quick realization that government programs would never be a COMPLETE answer to the evolving conditions. So the priority became:
  2. Managing through the crisis with a SURVIVAL focus. This is evolving to:
  3. What do things look like on ‘the other side’ and what does my business need to exploit all opportunities and mitigate any risks? Then, we’ll arrive at:
  4. Conventional Messaging along the lines of: ‘I understand what my customers need and can offer a solution’. And we keep reinforcing this core value proposition. That’s the longer-term play.

Right now, a focus on building RESILIENT businesses while planning for (4) above is sensible. Note, the ‘conventional’ marketing message may need to evolve because your target customers have evolved.

 

From Sydney, Australia

How will clients afford additional services? Don’t we look opportunistic?  

Selling during a crisis may feel uncomfortable. But let’s look at the factors required to make a sale.

  • Clients must have real NEEDS. For example, they may NEED to forecast cash in detail over the next 30 days. Or they may NEED to prepare documents for the bank to apply for a loan.
  • These NEEDS have to be PRIORITIES. Important enough that they will take action NOW.
  • You have to have the SKILLS (and time) to meet these needs.

With this combination, there is nothing opportunistic about recommending additional services. In fact, it would be irresponsible NOT to recommend services to the client. And, logically, because you are adding value, you should get paid appropriately. That’s business.

An entirely different question is whether the client can afford to pay. If not, you have the option to suggest payment terms or decline the work. But this question should not be muddled with the VALUE of the service you are providing.

 

From Ipswich, Australia

How often should you change your ad? I currently use radio as a promotional tool.

Let’s distinguish between the underlying CORE MESSAGE of your business: who you are, what you do, and how you are different. This does not change much though it will evolve over time to meet changing market conditions. It is foundational, a kind of ‘constitution’ for your business.

Then there is the STORY-TELLING which helps you explain the CORE MESSAGE, and attract attention. This should be creative, time-sensitive, emotive, and can take many different forms. It should always be fresh and current (while sticking to the CORE MESSAGE).

In radio, many listeners are distracted and ‘doing other things’ while they listen. A fresh, compelling message is really important.

 

BUILDING CREDIBILITY

From Gothenburg, Sweden

How to position yourself as an expert rather than just look like someone trying to make a sale?

This is fundamental and if I were to select my top three factors, they would be:

  • Develop a genuine understanding of your client’s BUSINESS, not just the financial aspects. Without knowing the context, goals, priorities, plans, and personalities, we cannot properly present ourselves as credible experts
  • Set out to ‘add value’ in marketing. By doing that, sales will follow
  • Get really clear on what you can offer (a specialization). Generalists will never gain the credibility required to attract lucrative advisory assignments. And the message around your specialization needs to be crystal clear.

 

From Melbourne, Australia

What kind of content will make people want to work with you?

Content can have so many forms, themes, tones, lengths, etc. But content that makes people want to work with you will:

  • Build Trust: The content makes you believe the author / publisher. You find them credible. They will be good for you and add value. They have your long-term interests at heart.
  • Be Relevant: They have something you need, maybe now or in the future.
  • Be Clear: You know what to do if you want to take the next steps.

One test to remember is: Good content is content people will share. The best endorsement you can get is when people forward your material on to others.

 

From Bristol, UK

Interested in building credibility as an advisor and tools to reduce the workload. 

You are correct that credibility is key to building a strong ADVISORY business. Marketing content is one way to demonstrate credibility through articles, guides, assessments, interviews, case studies, and so on. So the challenge is to release this high-quality, credible content slowly into the market building the reputation and brand over time. It takes a lot of planning, patience, and measurement to ensure you are gaining ground.

The challenge gets much easier the more you focus on a specific area. By specializing, you get much more specific with the content, and customers may find you more believable. We encourage accountants to build advisory businesses to develop their areas of specialty.

 

FINDING PROSPECTS

From Savannah, South Carolina:

In this business climate, what is the best way of getting qualified prospects other than referrals?

At the moment, prospecting is more challenging than usual (though it is always challenging!) That said, you may pick up new clients who are dissatisfied with their current accountant (perhaps because they’re not proactive). We are suggesting a focus on existing clients where there can be significant new revenue opportunities.

Personal networking will always be a source of leads. Even though the world of events is effectively suspended, most business groups and chambers of commerce are meeting online. Some accountants ‘network’ very well, i.e. they actively participate, have fun and ‘punch above their weight’. Others don’t… but may be able to learn these skills.

Remember, you create the relationship through networking but still need a strong set of marketing collateral to back you up. Once you’ve made an impression through a personal meeting, people will ‘check you out’ by studying your website and other marketing assets.

 

From Christchurch, New Zealand:

I like getting out and networking to find clients. How do I justify to my partners the time spent on that?

You won’t be getting out much for a couple of months (!!) but the case for networking is a strong one. Let’s say:

  • Your accounting business has revenues of $1 million
  • You want to get it to $1.2 million
  • The average revenue per client is $10,000 / year
  • You need another 20 clients (at $10,000 / year) to meet your revenue goals, right? (That assumes zero churn from existing clients).

First, get VERY clear on what these ‘target customers’ look like: size, location, industry, business needs, financial position, number of employees, stage of development, etc. The more specific the better because they’ll be easier to find.

Next, figure out where the decision-makers in these businesses hang out. What events do they attend? What do they read? Who do they know? (Maybe you know some people they know?) Hang out in the same places they do. The more active and visible you are, the more likely you will meet them and discuss business.

Let’s say, over one year, you meet 60 ‘target customers’. That’s five per month. (You will probably have to interact with triple that number – at least – who are NOT target customers in order to find the 60). And let’s say you can engage in business discussions and sell to one in three ‘target customers’ (i.e. 33% sales conversion) at $10,000 per annum. You now have your $200,000 incremental revenue (which continues into subsequent years, of course).

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. It’s not. It requires diligence, follow up, energy, persistence, clear messaging, etc. Many people don’t have the stomach for this.

Your business case forecasts the outcomes (as above) and incorporates the investment of time and money. Like all business cases, compare this to the next best option. Are there better ways to generate that additional $200,000? Through content marketing? Through advertising? Could you buy a firm?

The question is not whether your proposed approach is perfect or risk-free but whether it’s better than other methods.

 

From Melbourne, Australia:

Should we use marketing lists to locate prospects outside our client base? Doesn’t the prospect have to opt-in, or won’t we be guilty of spam mail? 

You are correct that contacting people who have not ‘opted-in’, could cause difficulties under the privacy laws, though these laws generally apply to ‘mass-marketing’ emails as opposed to one-to-one communications. The best lists are often those built from your own networking efforts and should be regularly kept up to date.

 

 

MARKETING CHANNELS

From Perth, Australia:

How much should we spend on a Google Ad to get consistent results?

There’s a question which precedes this: Should we invest in Google Ads at all? That will depend on your marketing plan and where you’ll get the biggest ‘bang for your buck’.

But if you consider Google Ads, the good news is you can test different approaches and then refine as you learn more. Before you start, have a clear sense of who your target customer is and what message will appeal to them. (That goes for ANY marketing activity). This will help you arrive at ‘keywords’.

Let’s say you want to test 10 keywords and the cost per click is $1. By spending $2,000 (roughly 200 clicks per keyword on average), you should learn which keywords are attracting the ‘right’ leads and whether your overall messaging is attractive. Then you try to improve. In theory, you get to the point where your messaging, landing pages, offers, keywords are ‘working’ so the more you spend, the more leads you get. In this case, you don’t want to cap your spending (unless you have capacity restrictions).

Advocates of Google Ads will tell you to focus on Earnings Per Click (EPC) not Costs Per Click (CPC). The former is calculated by taking the net revenue from these campaigns (i.e. fees less COGS) and multiplying that by the percentage of people who click through to becoming paying customers (conversion rate).

Let’s say, these customers buy a $3,000 per annum accounting package from you and it costs you $1,500 to provide this service. If your conversion rate is 2%, then your EPC is $30. In that case, so long as you are spending less than $30 (the CPC for your keywords), the campaign should be profitable.

All good in theory… but this assumes great messaging and targeting. Unless you get that right, no marketing campaign will succeed.

 

From Birmingham, UK

Which social media platform is best for accountants?

Certainly, social media offers a useful, inexpensive way to distribute your content. Which platforms? Well…who are your target customers? Where do they hang out? LinkedIn is the most common for businesses and has got better at enabling campaigns to target specific groups. Consumer-based services (retail, hospitality, etc.) will often emphasize Facebook.

Those are the obvious choices… and having a presence there cannot be a bad thing. But translating that into action (and leads) has proved challenging for accountants. As always, the quality of the messaging is key. Just being there is not enough.

 

MARKETING PROCESS

From Colorado Springs, USA

[What are] the best [marketing] tools etc. to promote to small business clients?

There’s a lot to say here… but the basics are pretty simple:

  • A clear message: who are you, what do you offer, how are you different?
  • Compelling content to get people interested and trust you
  • Effective distribution of the content through channels (ranging from social media to joining the neighborhood committee and attending weekly meetings!!)
  • A CALL TO ACTION which is appealing
  • Setting goals and measuring progress towards them.

Tools can help facilitate the above and there are thousands available to accountants. But the priority should be getting clarity on these ideas and then automating certain processes to create speed and efficiency.

 

From Auckland, New Zealand

How do people gain the confidence to return to workplaces post-COVID-19 lockdown?

Interesting (and big!) question!! There are a few different issues. Some people will feel worried about whether the risks of infection have really gone away so will want to avoid social contact. Others will say that the risks were never that big anyway and little has changed.

I imagine governments will work hard to reassure people because they want to restart commerce.

Separately, it will be interesting to see if this experience makes us change the way we work. Do we need to go to the office? Ever? Often? What for? For meetings? To receive clients? Each business is different and each person is different. Some people WANT TO go to the office and others don’t. Personally, I feel changes in how we work will be more significant than we imagine.

So watch this space!!

 

ABOUT

Mark Ferris
CHAIRMAN & CEO, PANALITIX

Mark Ferris is an entrepreneur who has founded, built and 'exited' numerous businesses realizing success for shareholders, employees, customers and acquirers. He has a particular interest in software, solutions and service businesses and frequently writes on related topics.

PANALITIX has developed software solutions, consulting projects and coaching programs that empower small businesses to achieve their goals. Learn more by clicking the box below.

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