Do you want to know how to market your firm effectively?
Like most things, a great marketing strategy starts with a plan. Just like in accounting, you’ll take data, numbers, and research into account. But unlike accounting, there’ll be a lot more gray areas. Improvisation, adaptability, and foresight all come into play on a marketing team. Having a solid strategy makes it easier to refine and realign to what your overarching objectives are.
Gusto is committed to helping you in every aspect of your business. We’re thrilled to teach you how to develop a marketing plan, create marketing goals, and set a marketing budget. Our hope is that by the time you’ve finished this series, you understand the basics of how to build a marketing plan.
Gusto partnered with CPE Academy for the webinar “What Is Marketing, and Why Is It Important for Accountants?” featuring Gusto editor-at-large, Caleb Newquist. Besides being an exceptional writer and editor, Caleb was the founder and editor at Going Concern, a leading accounting news publication featuring breaking news, developing stories, and industry insights in the accounting field. A skilled marketer and teacher, Caleb covered everything from where to find free marketing plan templates to best practices for setting goals.
Getting started with your marketing plan
To begin with, you’ll need to figure out when you’ll do the first planning session and how often you’ll revisit it. There are no hard and fast rules for this. Simply consider the needs of your business. How big is your firm? How big is your marketing team? What does your year ahead look like?
Generally, the bigger and more complex your firm is, the more marketing you’ll need, so you’re probably going to want to do monthly or quarterly planning sessions. If you’re a smaller firm or team, you might consider biannual or quarterly meetings. It’s really up to you. As long as you’re on track with your goals and taking into account any new developments, new customer segments, and changes in your industry, you’re good.
You’ll also need to find a template for the plan. You might consider HubSpot’s free template, or maybe Canva suits you better. There’s no shortage of templates on the internet, so it’s easy to find what works for you.
A good marketing plan template will have these key components:
- Executive Summary: A high-level overview of your objectives, goals, and activities
- Mission Statement: A specific statement about your overarching goals for the organization
- Target Market: Who you’re trying to reach
- Buyer Personas: Profiles of the customers you’ll be reaching, based on research
- Objectives: Specific, timely, measurable goals for your marketing efforts
- Performance: Methods for collecting data and analyzing performance
- Budget Strategy: How you will allocate resources
- Distribution Strategy: The channels you’ll be marketing through, be they print, digital, or both
How to build a marketing plan
What would a marketing plan be without goals and objectives? Since the reason you’re creating a plan is to reach your goals, it’s best to define them right away. But how do you know what your goals should be?
“Perhaps you’re offering a new service, or maybe you are working on establishing a niche. … You should have both short-term and long-term goals in this marketing plan. Those goals should have metrics attached to them. They should be specific. They should be relevant, and they should be timely. They should be achievable in a given amount of time, so you can track the results and gauge your progress.”– Caleb Newquist
So, set smart goals based on what you want to achieve in your firm. Here are some ideas of common goals in an accounting firm:
- Retain X amount of new clients for tax season
- Achieve a higher growth rate than the previous year
- Diversify revenue
- Reach new clients through partnerships with banks and credit unions
- Promote a new service
- Target consumers in a demographic you’ve defined
Now that you’ve set goals, look at what is already happening in your firm. What trends do you see? What do you notice about your client base?
You’ll want to take note of who your clients are, whether it’s entrepreneurs, small businesses, or families. Look for trends in their profession, income, demographic information, and preferred services. Identify who your current clients are so you can better understand how to market to them and reach more clients like them.
You’ll be designing a plan based on this target market. Whether it’s the way you craft your messaging to what channels you put it out on, it all hinges on who you’re reaching. Likewise, if you see gaps that you’d like to fill in with new types of clients, you’ll need to figure out how to reach those demographics.
Next, look at the revenue generated by your services. Which areas of your client base are growing? Which area of your service offerings is growing? What does that mean for your future? To meet your financial goals, you’ll need to identify where you need to expand, with whom, and how.
Just like with any other goal-setting, you’ll want to come up with specific actions. How will you increase revenue from the year before? Will it be through new clients or existing clients? What is financially more feasible for you?
If it’s a new market, which niches hold the most promise? Maybe it’s single millennials, in which case you should have an excellent social media strategy. Are you doing Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or all three? How often will you post, and how will you measure results? Consider also how much time and money you should invest in each goal.
Analyze your trends, refer to your objectives, and find the most sustainable or profitable solution for you. Of course, this all depends on the unique needs of your firm, but the general rule is you should set clear goals that can be measured.
“Once you’ve got these goals set and you have done some homework or you’ve dug into the trends of your firm, you’ll want to identify the actions that you’re going to take to … take advantage of [these trends]. How do you capitalize on them? And how do those work towards achieving your goal? So as usual, it’s important to be specific about the actions you will take. So how will you get people interested, … and how will that work toward your goals?”– Caleb Newquist
Starting with a plan helps ensure the actions you take are well-thought-out and intentional. You’ll find that once you’ve defined your goals, you’ll have more flow and direction as you take concrete steps.
Sticking to a budget
You’re in the accounting profession, so you clearly know that you need to stick to a budget. Still, it’s worth mentioning that you’ll want to keep within this budget and revisit it regularly.
“Set a preliminary budget for a given time period. Look at the results. Try to calculate an ROI of some kind, and then do it all over again and see how you’re doing, whether that’s quarterly or monthly or even beyond that. Maybe it’s an annual or even farther out than that. Your budget should [consist of] short term and long term budgets.”– Caleb Newquist
Another important note? Don’t sacrifice long-term goals for short-term gains. You want to build your revenue in a sustainable way—this will take time. Some strategies, like content marketing, can create lasting trust and brand authority. It’s one of the best ways to create long-term interest in a brand. Yet the payoff may or may not be immediate.
This brings us to the last point—stick to the plan consistently. It’s better to do less but on a regular basis than do more every once in a while. This is the only way you’ll be successful in your strategy.
“That does not mean don’t make any adjustments or changes. If something isn’t working, I think it’s very logical and prudent to change tactics, if needed. Sticking to the plan really means persevering and not wavering during your busy times and giving up when you don’t see immediate results, and that’s probably the hardest thing. … Following through on these plans is always the most difficult thing.”– Caleb Newquist
So, if you’ve planned for one blog post a week, do it—even if you’re not seeing results yet, even if you think it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it.
Learn more about marketing for accountants
Knowing how to write a marketing plan will make or break your strategy. In order to stay on track with your marketing goals and stick to your marketing budget, you need a solid backbone to work with. Luckily, creating one is pretty straightforward. Anyone can get a free marketing template on the internet and adjust it accordingly. Apart from basics like your executive summary and mission statement, you’ll need to have specific, measurable goals. You’ll want to identify trends in your office. Your actions and objectives should reflect both of these things. Remember that not every strategy works immediately—some take time. Be consistent, and stick to your schedule in order to really gauge how effective you are.
Here at Gusto, we want to support your firm in every way we can, including helping you reach new customers. Be sure to check out our upcoming article based on this webinar: “Marketing Channels for Your Accounting Firm.” And take a peek at “What Is Marketing and Why Is It Important for Accountants?” based on this webinar, if you haven’t already.
Our goal is always to create a world where work empowers a better life. Becoming a partner with us means you can earn CPE credits through CPA Academy, which hosts a variety of live educational webinars.
Participating in our Gusto Partnership Program will give you the tools to help you expand your accounting practice and offer your clients new insights, plus a free payroll subscription for your own accounting firm. Sign up today!