We’d like to challenge your perception of marketing if you’ll allow us. 

Because, there’s a trope—that of the wheeling and dealing Mad Men executive who’d sell cigarettes to school children if asked—and it’s only holding you and much of the accounting profession back.

The great majority of marketers are very different. They’re highly ethical, truth-bound proponents of their clients. They’re people just like you. 

Of the 29 million businesses in the U.S., some 25 million are considered “small” (under 20 employees), and every one of them markets themselves. Most do it while spending only 1% of their revenue on ads, and without bragging or exaggerating. How? They do it through the most effective medium: word of mouth, or doing such good work that customers tell their story for them.

Today, we explore how to market yourself and your firm without having to market, for accountants and bookkeepers who want to grow their firms without feeling ethically compromised. (It’s all drawn from our newest guide, “11 Marketing Tips for Accountants Who Hate Marketing.” Want to jump to the good stuff? Skip ahead and download your copy now.)

Step 1: Nail your brand to become remarkable

The first rule of marketing is that you must stand out. You must have what marketers call “a unique value proposition.” That’s that one thing you offer that nobody else does. 

To create yours, simply fill in the blanks: “I’m the __ accountant / bookkeeper for __.”

Very often, you’ll see businesses with value propositions that sound hokey. Or exaggerated. Usually they involve terms like “best,” “greatest,” “number one,” or “full-service.” The reason for that hyperbole is they don’t actually have an underlying value. When you’re the same as every other restaurant, you have to say you’re the best. But this is where accountants shine. 

Every accountant or bookkeeper has a valuable niche simply by virtue of doing their work. You help people build wealth, start businesses, put their kids through school, work their way out of medical debt, and so much more. 

Your brand or niche is that group of people you help, plus how you do it. When you fill in the blanks above, write it down, memorize it, and work it into how you explain your work, you become more than just another generalist. You become someone with a story that’s worth remarking on. You become “remarkable,” and far easier to refer.

(For more on how to build your personal brand, get your copy of the guide.) 

Step 2: Make it known that referrals help your firm

As someone who spends all their time helping others, you probably have trouble asking for help yourself. But you’ll be amazed at the sort of reception you get when you finally do. 

One of the greatest ways to start marketing is to politely tell all the people in your universe how they can help. Rather than see it as a burden, or an ask, they’ll see it as an opportunity to give back, and be delighted. If you’ve been building up goodwill for years, which I’m certain you have, many already secretly feel indebted. By letting them do you a favor, you’re the one doing them a favor.

Simply add the copy “We welcome referrals” to a few key places that your happy customers are likely to see:

  • On your letterhead
  • In your email signature
  • On your website
  • On your business card

This way, the message is there as a passive but persistent reminder, and they’re more likely to think of you when someone mentions needing an accountant. (And especially an accountant with the sort of niche you’ve told them you have.)

Step 3: Tell your clients’ stories

With the first two steps down, you’re on a roll, and this third one is fun: Tell your clients’ stories on your blog, social media, or whatever medium feels natural to you. While it’s good to insert some “you-ness” into this story, and a bit about your niche, you can primarily focus on the problem, cause, solution, and benefit you provided. 

Beyond saving you from feeling like you’re bragging, client stories have lots of benefits. For example:

  • They’re more credible
  • They’re subtle proof you have clients happy enough to let you tell their story
  • They’re reusable in lots of places, including as “pocket stories” on calls
  • They teach your entire firm all about why clients hire you
  • Your clients may even thank you for it

That last point is worth expanding upon: Your clients don’t have time for their own marketing either. By taking the time to tell their story, you’re helping them. It’s free promotion. And if you post it on a social network like LinkedIn, it’s an opportunity for their network to celebrate them. 

(For a step-by-step on how to record client stories, get your copy of the guide.)

Changed your mind about marketing yet?

Not all marketers are smarmy, used car salesperson types—most of those are Hollywood inventions. The vast majority of them are humble, hard-working people who happen to run their own businesses, and market out of necessity. They’re the sort of people with strong ethics and aversion to self-promotion, but who nevertheless market themselves because they know it’s how they’ll help more people.

Want more marketing insights? Download your copy of the full guide: 11 Marketing Tips for Accountants Who Hate Marketing.

Christine Farrier I lead Gusto's channel marketing and communications efforts focused on audiences like accountants and ecosystem partners. I'm an NYC-based urban explorer whose social media handle ought to be "boring but exceedingly relevant." Connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/christinefarrier/.
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