Independent Accounting Firms: Stop Marketing Like it’s 1999!

by Debra Andrews | September 29, 2014


Cause they say two thousand FOURTEEN

Party over, oops out of time


ACCOUNTING FIRM like it’s 1999  


Sorry, Prince, for using a “tweaked” version of your “Party Like it’s 1999” lyrics to kick off my blog about accounting firms using musty, unimaginative marketing tools, tactics, and campaigns. While the song brings back pleasant college memories for many of us and makes light of ineffective marketing, it actually is a serious matter with potentially grave outcomes for independent accounting firms. Why do I care about this topic?  More importantly, why do you need to put down what your doing and read this post? The short answer is I care about your firm’s longevity, and so should you.

The consolidation of the public accounting firm industry continues at a rapid pace. This Accounting Today M&A recap should give managing partners of all independent, small and mid-market accounting firms a big dose of reality.  Big accounting firms are just getting larger and stronger while many independents are struggling to retain larger clients, win new business, and are sadly, dying.

There are many reasons for this dynamic, but the one I’m addressing in this post is old-school and stale, dry toast marketing.  So, to quote Prince one more time, “Let’s Go Crazy!”  Turn your marketing around. Here’s how to start the party:

  • Don’t Copy Your Larger Competitors:  One advantage (likely among many) that you have over the industry giants is your ability to have a true brand that is based on something that is uniquely your firm’s. Think about it. What does the new firm of Baker Tilly + ParenteBeard stand for?  Who the heck knows as both those firms are the combination of many other firms.  Work this to your advantage.   Don’t try to blend by copying larger players’ websites.  Be proud and showcase your differences! Put your people front and center as you hand selected them and know who they are, both professionally and personally.
  • Ditch the Canned, General Newsletters:  In today’s era of modern marketing, your clients can gain access to original, authentically helpful and relevant content with a simple Google search.  Your competitors are blogging, producing videos, creating e-books and more.  And they’re sending this content to your clients. This is why they won’t take time from their busy schedules to read anything general and unoriginal, even if it’s coming from their trusted advisor.
  • Stop Pushing “About Us” Messages:   Prior to the Internet and advances in search engine algorithms, potential buyers had to wait to receive product and service messages through direct mail, cold calling. advertisements, and other outbound, “push,” methods.  Accounting firms had to hit potential buyers at exactly the right moment when they were ready to engage.   Now, all the power is with the buyer. They block spam, overlook ads, screen cold calls and unsubscribe to emails. Your firm now has to earn the right to communicate with potential clients using inbound, “pull,” marketing methods. Inbound marketing involves providing ridiculously helpful content in the right places, including smart phones, tablets and social media platforms such as LinkedIn.  
  • Give-up on Using Your Time & Billing System as a CRM:  I know, it would be convenient to have all your client, prospects and referral sources in one place.  The problem is I’ve never seen this model work.  Firms don’t really want to clutter their client database with other information.  And, time & billing CRM modules aren’t user friendly.  The data simply doesn’t get collected.  Having clean contact information for clients, prospects and referral sources is a necessary building block for any marketing – inbound or outbound.
  • Don’t Over Promise Sector Specialization:  Many small-to-midsized companies feel compelled to list as many sector specialties on their websites as their larger competitors.  Please don’t! Just because you have a client or two in a particular sector doesn’t make you a thought leader.  Promote and market only those sectors that your firm has equivalent or better knowledge of than your competitors. Otherwise, savvy buyers will see through the (innocent) deception and recognize that your sector knowledge is thin. All things being equal, buyers will choose a specialist. It’s expected and okay that smaller firms have less areas of specialization.

It is easy to stop doing everyone of the marketing miscues above. Specialize. Write.  Be Original. Invest in your accounting firm and its future before you’re “out of time.”  Market like it’s 2099!

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