Here we are, midway in 2020. The global pandemic has created a lot of inconvenience, disrupted plans and, more than anything, made us realize how vulnerable we are.
Accounting firms, like any business based on providing services, are battling change, some more than others. One of the reasons for this is that the accounting industry is generally slower to adoption than others. I say this with nothing but respect for the industry and the amazing work accountants and CPAs do.
Without hurting any feelings, consider healthcare: Doctors and other medical practitioners are constantly being challenged by new forms of surgery, treatments, drug discovery and more. What about the construction industry?
Architectural design and the use of technology to envision new designs, test new materials, use 3D printing and other developments have changed the way it works. Accounting, on the other hand, still relies on a 500-year-old system.
The path forward for any industry today is based on one pivotal thing: the pace at which new ideas are adopted. This is true for accounting as well. In the past three months or so, we have been through difficult times, and business has suffered, particularly those companies that failed to keep up with the times.
In the current business environment, my recommendations for CPAs to create a solid foundation right now are clear and practical. Many firms have adopted these rules and continue to innovate, but countless others are struggling to find the path ahead. In this article, I highlight what you should do, must do and absolutely must plan to embark on to be future ready.
Here are my top seven recommendations:
1. Engage: Create Your Own Digital Community
Engagement is about connecting with others. It encompasses sales, marketing, public relations, social media, and nurturing existing clients. As a firm, it is essential to enable mechanisms that help foster a community and create channels where you can communicate with your clients.
Firms that create communities of customers, clients and even industry peers will see growth by leading discussions and being part of conversations where people get value. Creating digital communities is much easier than before, as platforms such as Facebook and newsletter management systems such as MailChimp offer the ability to create tight-knit communities. More advanced systems, such as Slack, are ideal to build an ongoing relationship and grow your domain of influence.
2. Use Pay per Click to Drive New Business
Pay per click advertising is the backbone of digital marketing. Today, you can reach any customer base that has an online presence and target them with your offer through the multitude of pay-per-click platforms. Once you start thinking about adding value to your communities,
PPC advertising makes it much easier to get the message across and to engage. Get started with advertising that is tightly centered on the regions and geographies where your clients reside, and start experimenting. With the right approach and strategy in place, you may be surprised at the progress you can make.
3. Learn About SEO
If your firm doesn’t have a website, change that immediately. If it already does, make sure it has a compelling message about the value you can add. About 10 or 15 years ago, websites went from simply being a brochure to being the representation of everything you stand for, as well as an explanation of your success, values and, of course, why someone should do business with you.
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps your website be found organically when anyone is searching for something online. Imagine a potential client looking for best accounting firm in Houston and typing that into their Google search engine. If your website is using the keywords “best accounting firm in Houston” in its SEO, then there is a high probability it will be in the first few results, thus leading to more business prospects for you.
4. Use Authority Marketing
How do you then differentiate yourself from other firms? One way is to use authority marketing. This means you position yourself as a leading authority beyond just the professional who provides services.
For example, you could lead a networking group in your community, write a book, host a podcast and invite others as guests, create a YouTube channel to help educate others, contribute to industry publications and offer interviews to those writing articles and blog posts. Authority marketing has a very specific process, and providers and agencies that specialize in it can help you create a strategy that can yield some very impressive results.
5. Showcase Your Success by Elevating Your Brand
Today, we rely heavily on recommendations and reviews as part of our decision-making process when it comes to buying things. In the accounting profession, there’s a huge gap of opportunity in branding. Focusing on your brand can help you position your firm better against others and utilize the psychology of attraction to drive new clients and retain existing ones.
Elevating your brand is about delivering on the promise of your services and also showcasing to your clients that they have made the right decision and continue to do so while using your services. Try this brand-building exercise: Collect testimonials from your clients, ensuring that your visual identity is in line with your service offering and the market you serve. It’s also an opportunity to attract the new generation of clients who use mobile phone apps to communicate.
6. Bring People Together by Harnessing the Power of Events
While we battle COVID-19, it goes without saying that the world definitely will come back to a new normal after the pandemic has passed. Live events have suffered, anda a majority, if not all, in-person events across the world have been postponed and cancelled.
As we head into a world with new rules of operation, however, events will start to make a comeback. You can benefit immensely by organizing industry events at a local or regional level.
If you are part of an industry network you have probably already seen the relationship networks cultivate and business they foster. Start by organizing small breakfast meetings and lunch and learns at your firm. As you start putting people together in a learning environment, you will also see attention being driven to your services and professional expertise.
7. Remember: The Future is About Digital Experiences and Interactions
In the United States alone, 54.2 percent of US ad spending has become digital. Mobile advertising accounts for more than two-thirds of digital spending; $87.06 billion dollars have been spent so far this year alone.
Platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, and social media platforms, including Twitter and others, continue to drive engagement. Why? One of the reasons is the increased use of digital devices and decreased use of traditional media. TV radio and print advertising have significantly dropped in the last decade and continue to take a dive south.
In addition, traditional advertising is also being impacted by landmark events, such as COVID-19. We are buying fewer newspapers and utilizing digital media more than ever. This trend will continue.
For the accounting profession, it makes sense to enable digital marketing in all areas of business. Firms need to re-evaluate marketing and advertising budgets in the wake of the pandemic, as the rules of business have changed.
Traditional advertising methods, such as local newspapers, flyers and directories, may not come back for a while or might not return at all. Firms need to focus on ethical digital marketing practices and become future ready by showcasing the best of their abilities and professional services through media clients are now using.