5 Tips to Create Practical Marketing Plans For Accounting Firms
A marketing plan is vital in business because it provides direction and strategy, and defines the resources the firm will invest to reach key goals. However, when they are busy running their practices and handling client issues, few accountants have the time or expertise to write a formal marketing plan.
The good news is you don’t need significant marketing expertise or strategic knowledge to develop a practical marketing plan for your firm. You already have all the information and expertise you need. In as little as one to two hours, you can develop a practical plan that will drive your firm’s efforts, maintain focus and ensure resources are properly directed into effective marketing programs.
These simple tips and steps can help make the marketing planning process easy and more effective:
#1: Establish Goals
Determine what marketing goals you want to accomplish in 2012. Whether launching a new service, expanding a current offering or looking to develop referral relationships, it’s important to define the end result. Sometimes firms articulate marketing goals that are quite vague. It’s better to get specific when developing each marketing goal to include quantitative information such as number of new clients or a percentage increase in new revenue. Finally, establish both short- and long-term objectives and benchmarks. As the year unfolds, you can use these metrics to assess progress.
#2: Identify Targets
Once you have set goals, the next step is to identify the prospective targets to pursue for each goal. In this exercise, it is important to be as specific as possible. Sometimes there is a tendency to be overly broad in the targeting process. For example, assume a firm wants to expand its small business accounting practice. A knee jerk reaction is to assert that the firm should target every small business in the market. Unfortunately, this approach often leads to less than optimal results. A more effective approach is to analyze the existing client base and look for key trends. Are several clients in the same industry? Are there commonalities in terms of geography, location or size of the company? The answer to these questions will help define where the firm should be focusing its marketing efforts. If the firm works with several restaurants, it makes sense to focus on these businesses first, since documented experience and industry references will already be available. Consider following the same targeting process for each aspect of the plan.
#3: Set Specific Actions
For a marketing plan to be effective, there should be a set of specific actions (tactics) that will be leveraged to accomplish each goal. Whether you are launching a newsletter program to introduce a new service, taking established referral partners to lunch or sending out a direct mail piece to prospects, it’s important to clearly define each action item. This will allow you to identify the steps and amount of time it will take to implement each tactic. For example, a direct mail initiative may include design work, content development and prospect list acquisition. Additional considerations include the resources needed to print and prepare the piece for mailing. Be sure to also include a timeline of when each action should be implemented. This will be helpful in getting organized and staying on track throughout the year.
#4: Set a Budget
Marketing expenses can add up quickly! If you are like most business owners, then you don’t have an unlimited amount of resources to invest in marketing. As a result, you should set aside a specific dollar amount for marketing by month or quarter. This will help keep your marketing efforts on track and on budget. Also, don’t be afraid to periodically review expenses to see if an adjustment based on results is warranted. You may want to increase or decrease the amount you are spending based on the ROI experienced.
#5: Be Consistent
Consistency in marketing is a challenge that every firm struggles to maintain, regardless of size and revenue. The deadline-driven nature of the business often results in the lack of time to focus on marketing during specific times of the year (i.e., tax season or year-end). Although it can be difficult, you should make every effort to continue marketing during the busy times. Prospects, clients and referral partners need to be constantly reminded that your firm is there and can help them address specific issues they may be facing. To manage both, it’s extremely important to do some prior planning to ensure whatever actions you have set can be accomplished when things get busy.
Take a Little Time to Plan for the Year
Remember, having a marketing plan is about preparing to keep efforts focused, profitable and on track throughout the year. While you don’t have to spend hours upon hours developing a marketing plan, it is helpful to have a short written strategy on hand for how to market the practice. Using the tips highlighted above, you will be able to easily develop a plan that will help direct labor and resources and provide a springboard for your marketing efforts throughout the year.