Marketing has fundamentally changed. The Internet has made it a constantly evolving practice. Accountants and bookkeepers building cloud practices need to ensure they’re applying marketing strategies that will deliver results in today’s environment. Let's dive in and learn how to market an accounting or bookkeeping firm like a pro!
Marketing Has Changed
The Internet and its by-products – social media, blogging, online directories – have opened up many new channels for accounting and bookkeeping firms.
It’s no longer sufficient to rely solely on networking meetings or word of mouth to generate new clients. There are bigger channels and bigger opportunities out there that can help scale a client base and grow revenue.
Today, social media sites and blogs reach 8 out of every 10 U.S. Internet users, representing 23% of all time spent online. And, the reach of the Internet will only continue to grow. In 2016, Internet advertising spend surpassed television ad spending for the first time ever. It now ranks first in advertising spend at $72.09 billion vs the former heavyweight champion television ads at $71.29 billion.
The growth potential is huge and as a result, accountants and bookkeepers must be thinking about ways to take advantage of this and expand their business.
In this blog post, we’re going to cover eight digital marketing strategies across four core areas:
- Content marketing: Creation, Distribution and Lead Capture
- Social media marketing on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn
- Passive client acquisition channels that are easy to setup
- Leveraging webinars and branding to raise a firm’s profile
1) Content Marketing
There are three foundational questions relating to content marketing:
- What content to create?
- How does the content get distributed?
- How are leads captured as a result of people reading the content?
Content creation is the first step and in many ways, it’s the most daunting. Creating content is time-consuming and it’s important to get an ROI on that time.
There are two prongs to the creation process. One is, what kind of content should be created – blog posts, eBooks, newsletters, webinars, videos, etc. Then the other piece is determining the topics that should be covered and how they relate to the interests of your audience.
To do this, there are a few steps:
Clearly define your target audience
On the surface, this seems simple enough, but it’s a meaningful and foundational exercise to go through. As a starting point, let’s assume the SMB market is being targeted. This is a great place to start, but really digging in is where the most value can be extracted from this exercise.
Ideally, a target audience is defined at the following level of detail: e.g. brick and mortar retail SMBs with 10 to 30 employees doing between 1 and 5 million dollars in annual revenue. By focusing on more specific criteria to define the target audience, it creates the opportunity to better understand the challenges they face. And, that’s really the key to creating great content – pinpointing the types of challenges an audience faces and being the person and/or company that provides the solutions through content.
Identify sources of information for your target audience
By determining whether they rely on trade magazines, LinkedIn groups or their Twitter feed to get information, trends can be spotted with that content. Specifically, you can determine the content format your audience prefers – blog posts, YouTube videos, etc. This helps tailor the approach to content creation and sets it up for success.
Double down on what you’re good at
While deciding on the content format to focus on, consider what type of content you’re great at creating. Whether it’s writing blog posts, eBooks, creating video, target a style of content you’ll stick with.
In our case at Hubdoc, we experimented with writing blog posts and also did a few webinars. Through this, we realized our love of webinars because it allows us to do a deep dive on a topic. Then from there, we can repurpose that content, not only into high-quality blog posts, but various forms of content on multiple platforms.
The key to strong content distribution is engaging the audience in the discussion and then, maximizing the mileage from the content investment.
There are several keys to this:
Titles count for 80%
The most challenging part of content creation is that the title counts for 80% of a reader’s likelihood to read or consume the content. When considering the time invested in creating content, it’s vital to ensure the title of a content piece is excellent.
To ensure a high quality title, write out 25 different titles for a content piece. In the case of “8 Tips to Successfully Market Your Accounting Firm” we literally created 25 different titles for this post until finding one that got our message across and sounded worth reading.
What often happens in this process is that out of the 25, there are roughly four or five strong titles. It’s then a process of figuring out a way to combine them to create a title that will drive people to click through.
Have a presence where your clients engage
If the target audience is on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s vital to cultivate an audience on that platform. The focus of engaging on any platform should be, first, about adding value and second, about promoting content. This helps amplify promoted content because of the investment of helping others first.
Engage your target audience in discussion
That’s really what great content is – it’s something that sparks a discussion. For example, for our webinar on ‘How to Pick Great Clients and Excel at Client Management’, we asked our clients about their best practices for screening challenging clients, identifying great ones and managing their client relationships. Through these conversations, not only did we receive great content because they’re super smart people, we also engaged them in the process; increasing the chances they’ll promote it within their own networks.
Another tactic that can be leveraged is creating top 10 or top 50 lists, ranking types of businesses. Use the local area to benefit the content. For example, we’re based in Toronto, Canada, and could create “The Top 10 Retail Boutique Stores” as a post. On this list, we’d share what we like about their store and share some pictures of their store (we could be savvy and grab a few from Yelp or their website). Once this list is posted, we’d start emailing each retail store on the list, notifying them of the post and complimenting them on something they’ve helped create. You’ll be surprised how many people, just from being featured on the list, will then go and tweet that out to their network, share it on Facebook or post it on LinkedIn. It can be a great way to drive traffic.
Now, moving on to what we all view as the bottom line of content creation – how do you turn that content into leads?
Building an email list
By delivering high quality content, people will be more likely to want to stay in contact. The best way to capture that intent is to build an email list. We use Hubspot to do this. It does all the heavy lifting – simply create an email list and a form for your website. We do the same on Hubdoc’s blog (the one you’re reading! – see the form on the right). It’s a great way to keep in contact with people that like your content, nurture leads and drive long tail sales.
To drive email list sign ups, it’s always good to offer an incentive. When we ask for an email address, we offer our “How to Scale Operations at Your Practice” webinar as a free incentive. When readers sign up, it’s automatically emailed to them.
Gate content behind registration walls
For bigger pieces of content, like eBooks or webinars, it makes sense to use it as an opportunity to generate leads. This comes back to knowing the target audience and knowing what’s going to trigger them to want to submit their contact information. The content has to be high value enough for people to sign up.
The key to lead nurturing is consistency. Decide on a content cadence even if it’s just one to two posts per week or one to two posts every two weeks. The key is to just be consistent in quantity and quality. That’s what will get people to continually come back.
2) Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is not one-size-fits-all. Different platforms need different strategies.
Twitter - Select a niche and double down
The key is finding a topic of discussion that is engaged with consistently (read: there’s a high volume of tweets) and intersects well with your target audience. In the case of Hubdoc, we decided to focus our content narrative towards two niches: 1. #cloudaccounting; and 2. #smallbiz.
To check if a high volume of people are tweeting on a particular topic / hashtag, search for the hashtag on Twitter and take note of how often tweets are showing up on the page. A good litmus test is if new tweets are flowing onto the page within a minute or two of doing the search.
Be helpful first – share valuable content
This is about the value to marketing ratio. The goal is to share five interesting pieces of content for every post that’s related to your business. This comes back to building a community and goodwill around a firm’s brand. People want to see the firm as a great source of information whether that’s your information or someone else’s. This helps because no matter what’s being tweeted out, followers are going to be more likely to engage and that helps when pushing out your own content as well.
Promote advocates and engage the community
Do everything possible to help potential advocates. For any Hubdoc customer or sales prospect, we actively ask them to let us know when they launch a new website or new initiative so we can distribute the news to our networks.
Help people be as successful as possible because the more successful they are, the more they’ll be rooting for you and will look for ways to reciprocate.
Twitter is a great way to message prospects. By leveraging Twitter’s Direct Message functionality, it’s much easier to break through the noise filter since there’s much less volume on that channel versus email. Whether it’s to setup a demo or a meeting at a tradeshow, it’s a great way to start (and continue) a conversation with a sales prospect.
LinkedIn is the professional social network. Knowing how to take advantage of that aspect is key.
Join groups dedicated to your target market
There are many active LinkedIn Groups focused on professionals in particular industries. Find and join those that fit the profile of your target audience. Whenever possible, jump in and answer questions.
It’s such a great way to engage with your audience in a value added way, increasing goodwill and exposure for your firm.
Leverage the Publishing Platform
LinkedIn has over 500,000 people subscribed to the Accounting topic alone and almost 6 million subscribed to the Entrepreneurship & Small Business topic – a pretty phenomenal opportunity to get distribution.
Because LinkedIn posts are published under personal profiles, it’s important to be selective about the content being published. It should meet a high quality bar and be posted with a consistent frequency, though not over 1-2 times per week.
At Hubdoc, we repurpose long form content from our blog, like our article on Client Management, by splitting it up into 3-4 posts that we will then publish to LinkedIn (example). It’s a great way to gain exposure to prospects you’ve connected with or have yet to connect with on professional networks.
Distribute content with less frequency
On LinkedIn, most users are logging in two to three times a week on average, so it’s vital to post with less frequency to avoid flooding someone else’s LinkedIn newsfeed. Our rule of thumb is we share one piece of content per day at a maximum.
Humanize your firm through your Facebook Page
If LinkedIn is the professional network, Facebook is the personal social network. Use your company’s Facebook Page as an opportunity to humanize the firm.
Take pictures of your team having fun at social gatherings, golf trips, etc., and share them on your Page. It really shows people that you’re not just a company. There are people behind it, and that makes it easier for prospects to engage.
Create a community through Facebook Groups
Similar to the LinkedIn groups discussed above, find groups on Facebook that are focused on your target audience and if they don’t exist, create them and through meet-ups or your pre-existing client base, refer people to that Facebook group. Be the first to start a discussion and answer questions as much as you can. Start off being helpful and adding value and everything else will sort itself out.
Make your Facebook Page a news source
You want your page to pass the toothbrush test: People will want to visit it twice a day. That means when deciding to share content, ensure the content is interesting and valuable enough that your target audience will go out of their way to check it out.
3) Passive Client Acquisition Channels
Passive client acquisition is like passive income. It’s a beautiful thing once you have it going. We’ve seen a lot of cloud practices benefit from this channel. Luckily, it’s still early in the game and there’s still plenty of opportunity. Let’s talk through that playbook.
We’re in the early innings of cloud adoption among accountants and Bookeepers. Xero and QuickBooks Online have become the dominant accountant players in North America and are duking it out to establish their place for the long run. Because of the battle between these two companies, they are each spending millions of dollars to drive traffic to their sites. It’s an unprecedented opportunity to leverage. Our advice is to get listed on the Xero, QBO, Bill.com and ZenPayroll directories. See which ones are driving high quality leads to your business and then standardize on products to drive distribution.
The impact of doing this is huge. Many Hubdoc customers are Xero Platinum and Xero Gold partners and they’re driving, by being on the first page of Xero’s directory for their region, a significant number of leads each day. It’s amazing – the more you can standardize your practice on specific products the better your distribution will be.
Local business is in your corner
The nice thing about being a small business or a medium-sized business is that you instantly have this connection with other business owners. That applies even more for those in your locality. Connecting with local mortgage providers, lawyers and financial advisors in your region is significantly easier for those reasons.
Build relationships first
The core tenet from this entire discussion is: build relationships first. Before approaching local business owners, understand their needs and how you can help before asking them for referral business. It makes a difference to the longevity and strength of the relationship going forward.
Focus on service providers that love well-kept financials
Finding service providers, like financial advisors and lawyers, who have a vested interest in their clients having well-kept financials is hugely helpful in driving referral business. Nothing helps like having a mutually shared goal (you helping their clients with bookkeeping).
4) Leveraging Webinars & Branding
Webinars are a wonderful marketing tool for a number of reasons.
First, it’s a great chance to highlight your firm and expertise while adding value to attendees. For example, I’ve mentioned Hubdoc throughout this post and highlighted how we’re a great document management solution. The same principle can be applied for a webinar.
Second, deep dive content, like webinars, can easily be repurposed. At Hubdoc, we record each webinar, upload it to our YouTube channel and have the video transcribed. Then, we’ll turn that video transcription into a long form blog post of roughly 2,200 to 3,000 words and post it here (like this post for instance). And, on top of that, we split the content down to 3 to 5 posts to repurpose that content onto the LinkedIn publishing platform (example), as mentioned earlier.
Third, lead capture is built-in with webinars. To attend a webinar, it’s often mandatory that the attendee sign up in advance. Having lead capture occur upfront de-risks the content as well, because it proves the content is in demand from your audience.
Here’s how to leverage them:
Create landing pages using SaaS tools
We use a service called HubSpot. It’s a marketing solution focused on the SMB market. You can use it to create landing pages and they’re great about teaching best practices. Another handy landing page tool is Unbounce. They’re a Canadian company out of Vancouver and an excellent landing page solution. Using these tools, it’s easy to launch a landing page, enter content in their WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor and start to capture leads for a webinar.
Advertise on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook
Now, that you’re armed with compelling landing pages, it’s time to test out some ad campaigns. The key to doing this successfully is measuring results. Create ads on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and take note of which traffic sources are driving conversions. There’s nothing worse in marketing than spending money without knowing whether it’s delivering results.
Subtly promote your service
During webinars, it’s possible to maximize brand ROI by weaving your firm and service into stories that add value. The story not only identifies potential solutions for the listener, but also highlights that your firm can help solve that problem.
“Your website is the new lobby.”
In the past, having a nice office lobby was important. It was the first time a customer was engaging with your firm’s brand.
Today, that’s shifted with many virtual accountants and bookkeepers that don’t ever or rarely meet their clients in person. It’s to the point where a firm’s website is equivalent to their lobby. When it looks great, it presents the firm in a credible, professional way and instantly increases trustworthiness. It’s actually much easier to do that than most people might think. There are three things you can do in terms of branding to make that happen.
Professionally Design your Website
It doesn’t require hiring an expensive marketing agency for $5,000, though it can help. Instead, leverage many of the WordPress themes or HTML templates available. They can be purchased from sites like ThemeForest for $20 to $100. They’re pretty easy to get up and running. If hiring someone to do this for you sounds more appealing, it should cost in the region $400-1,000. Professionally designing your website can help raise your firm’s game.
Make yourself accessible
Highlight contact information – a phone number, email address and on social media. This can seem daunting because there’s some level of risk that people calling all day will monopolize your time. If this does happen, hire a virtual assistant. They can answer calls, take down information from the caller (as you requested) and then you can call back the lead at a time that’s more convenient for you.
Position yourself as a business advisor
It really helps to highlight any content created. It shows prospective customers that your firm is one with opinions and adds insight to important subjects. It makes a difference in helping them see you as a business advisor rather than solely a service provider.
Now You're a Pro!
We hope this post has shed some light on how to market an accounting firm in the digital age, using content marketing, social media, online directories, webinars, and branding. Good luck out there and let us know if you have any questions.