It seemed like yesterday that it was the summer months in accounting, when CPAs were spending the least amount of time in the office as humanly possible, interns were running around, and performance evaluations and compensation discussions were a miserable experience for many.
But just like that, summer is over. And all of a sudden, your firm is wrapping up Tax Season 2.0.
Clients need your advice now more than ever. So how do you get it to them in a quick, concise, and informative way?
Yep, posting blogs on your firm’s website is one good way. Another is emailing your clients alerts. But there’s one tried-and-true marketing tool that lets you include links to your most recent tax-related blogs and alerts on tax deadlines, as well as a bunch of other stuff.
That tool is an email newsletter. You know, like the Going Concern Accounting News Roundup e-newsletter that landed in your inbox recently, which enticed you to click on that article about the ex-KPMG partner who’s going to jail. If an e-newsletter can drive traffic to a smart-alecky website like Going Concern, it can definitely help bring traffic to your firm’s website.
OK, now that I have your attention, this post will explain why e-newsletters are still a thing, how to get started on your e-newsletter journey, and what you should include in your firm’s first e-newsletter.
A two-pronged tool for firms
Publishing an e-newsletter is still one of the top five hottest branding tools for professional services firms, according to a recent Hinge Marketing report. And it’s a tactic used by firms of all sizes. Here’s why, according to Hinge:
Including an e-newsletter subscription form on your website can be an effective way to build your email list. If the content you send is educational and valuable to subscribers, an e-newsletter is a proven way to nurture prospects.
You’re killing two birds with one stone by educating your clients while attracting new ones.
“Clients expect to receive something from their CPA firm; they count on us to tell them what they need to know,” said Brunella Reid, marketing director at Atlanta-based Moore Colson CPAs and Advisors. “For prospects, it shows thought leadership and expertise in important and/or trending topics. If they come across your article, and it resonates with them, they might reach out to you and ask for help.”
In-house or third-party provider?
One of the first major decisions your firm will need to make is whether you have the staff and content to produce a regular e-newsletter in-house or whether you need to subscribe to a third-party service, which will take care of all of that for you. Each one has positives and negatives:
Doing it in-house
This is the preferred way to produce an e-newsletter, as your firm can provide a weekly or monthly update that’s specifically geared toward your brand and the services you provide.
Also, by highlighting the unique content from your firm’s blog, you can boost your site’s SEO rankings, attracting visitors (i.e., potential clients) who are searching for advice on certain topics.
For example, at Tempe, Ariz.-based Henry+Horne, the firm’s SEO rankings have improved, website visitors have increased, and its bounce rate has drastically decreased. This is because the content in its e-newsletter drives traffic to H+H’s website, according to Jaimi Koechel, the firm’s director of marketing.
In addition, doing the e-newsletter yourself will usually cost your firm less than using an outside provider because you won’t have to pay for the content.
“Our newsletter features unique content and positions our professionals as thought leaders. All our team members have been trained on the firm brand and therefore know how to write in the brand voice,” Koechel said. “Purchased content cannot show your brand values and personality traits.”
But putting an e-newsletter together on a regular basis can be time-consuming and challenging, especially for sole practitioners and smaller firms. Will it impede a project from being completed? Could it cause other disruptions in your office? And do you have enough new content on your website—either blog posts and/or firm news and announcements—to fill a weekly or monthly e-newsletter?
These are all the questions you’ll need to consider before kicking off a newsletter program.
Using a third-party provider
If you don’t have the staff, time, or content to develop a regular e-newsletter, using a third-party service could be your best option—at least to start.
You’ve heard of Thomson Reuters Checkpoint, right? Well, the folks there develop e-newsletters for accounting firms that focus on topics of interest for their clients. Checkpoint Marketing for Firms offers industry-specific categories of content that you can choose from, written by its experts. And its newsletters are customizable: firms can choose their e-newsletter template by color, font, and layout.
Other outside e-newsletter providers for accounting firms include:
Costs for accounting firms to produce their own e-newsletters are usually limited to paying for an email marketing platform, such as MailChimp, Sendinblue, and Constant Contact (though some platforms offer pretty decent free plans). Firms typically have to pay more for the content and suite of services offered by third-party e-newsletter providers.
Another knock on using an outside service is you can’t provide that personal touch like you can with an in-house newsletter.
Do a Google search for “accounting firm” and “newsletter,” and links to several firms’ newsletters appear in the results. And a majority of those firms’ newsletters look exactly the same because they use the same third-party provider. (Don’t believe me? Click here and here and here.) Your clients might feel like they’re more of a “subscriber” than a customer.
BUT! Paying an outside provider for content can be a stepping stone to eventually putting out an e-newsletter chock-full of your own content.
“If you are currently purchasing content, know that it is OK, you are not alone, but that you should start thinking about the future and put steps in place, even if small, to get you to content independence,” Reid said.
Make it worth their time
Let’s say your firm is going to do its own e-newsletter and is using MailChimp to create it. Great! Now it’s time to fill it. And you have a lot of possible options, according to accounting firm marketing directors.
At Pleasanton, Calif.-based Sensiba San Filippo, its biweekly client e-newsletter links to blog posts that cover such topics as accounting rule changes, best practices for business owners, key tax deadlines, and big changes or announcements at the firm, said Jennifer Cantero, SSF’s marketing director.
“When you present an article, it needs to bring value and have a ‘so what’ factor. If they are going to take the time to read your newsletter, then it must be worth their time,” she said. “It must have strong action items or a compelling story to showcase a solution to an issue. Just talking about an issue without providing a solution will not do and you’ll lose your readership.”
Henry+Horne’s monthly e-newsletter includes links to three articles that support a theme for the month. The top article also includes an infographic that gives the reader a quick glance at what the article is about.
Moore Colson mixes purchased content from a third-party provider with the latest news at the firm, like when an employee is promoted or receives an award, for its e-newsletter, which is sent out every two months, according to Reid.
Other tips from marketing experts
Here are some other things to consider while you’re starting on your e-newsletter journey:
Brand it well
Make sure the e-newsletter is a good reflection of your firm’s brand, Reid said.
“This is a client touchpoint and part of their experience. It should feel connected and in harmony with everything else that they see from you. Is it aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate? Good design goes a long way,” she said.
Get buy-in from your firm’s leadership
Once your managing partner gives it the green light, they will help hold the people at your firm accountable for the content you need them to write, Koechel said.
“Make sure you have a marketing culture that supports a monthly e-newsletter,” she added. “There’s nothing worse than starting a newsletter and then not getting content created from your professionals. You will find yourself stressed out and frustrated. A supportive marketing culture is created from the top.”
Have a content strategy
Koechel recommends putting together a strategic content calendar for the year that answers the following questions:
- What is the theme for each month?
- Who will the author be?
- Is the author writing the content or is it being ghost written for them?
- When is the content due?
“Let the professionals know ahead of time about deadlines and the amount of time they are expected to dedicate to the e-newsletter,” she said.
Include a call to action
When a client finishes reading an article and they have a question, are you making it easy for them to contact you?” Reid said.
“That may look like a sentence at the end of the article that hyperlinks to your contact form or a button to click that says ‘contact us,’” she added. “If the article was written by a thought leader at your firm, it could be a photo with their contact information.”
Measure your engagement
Don’t launch an e-newsletter without being able to track data, such as open rates, bounce rates, and total clicks, and having a goal in mind, Cantero said.
MailChimp, for example, has a built-in dashboard that provides that data, as well as the top links clicked for each individual e-newsletter sent.
Sensiba San Filippo uses its own marketing automation system to send its newsletters “so we can track how our readers are engaging with the content, what they like reading, and what they don’t,” Cantero added.
Push it out on social media
“Once your content is posted on your website and you have sent your e-newsletter to your subscriber list, make sure to share your content on social media,” Reid recommends. “You can share your entire newsletter at once, push out the articles individually, or both. Then have people at your firm share it to increase engagement.”
Putting a newsletter together doesn’t have to be a slog. Have some fun with it!
If your firm just posted a video on YouTube, embed the URL in the e-newsletter. Add photos of a staff lunch you recently had together. Embed a tweet that links back to a blog post that provides timely information. This breaks up the copy and makes it pop more for the reader.
An accounting newsletter can be an effective marketing tool. Any firm can use it to stay in touch with clients year-round (not just during busy season) and give them the advice they need to make better financial decisions.
Your clients will think that’s pretty cool. And hopefully potential clients will too.