Marketing is critical for business success. Your accounting firm is up against a lot of rival firms, including a growing number of ‘out of town’ businesses as remote consultation grows more popular. To cut through that noise, you need a strong message.
Good, optimised digital marketing will help you grow your client base, attract clients that are a good fit, increase the average lifetime value of existing clients and help you find more high-value advisory work.
That can be easier said than done though – especially if you don’t have extensive in-house marketing talent, or a large budget.
In this article we’ll introduce you to everything you need to know to start digital marketing as an accounting firm. We’ll cover the basics, and provide resources for you to learn more as you grow – including a series of exclusive videos packed with marketing tips for accountants that we created with Karen Reyburn from the specialist accountancy marketing agency, PF.
What will you need to start marketing your accounting business?
What is it that you want to achieve? Cost-effective digital accountancy marketing requires an end goal – the thing that you want to happen to your business as a result of investing in marketing. Additionally, you must ensure that you’re able to tie this end result to actual ROI.
Try to be specific with your goal: e.g. your business wishes to achieve, say, a 20% increase in total number of clients, a 3x increase in average client lifetime value, or to add 200 new email subscribers). This overarching goal will guide everything else you do, and can help you choose between the different marketing channels listed below.
2. A good understanding of your audience
Good marketing is the right message in the right place at the right time. And as Karen Reyburn points out in the video below, if you can nail your messaging then everything else follows.
Of course, your messaging depends entirely on the audience you want to attract – and the needs they have. So before you go further with your marketing, make sure you can answer the following about your desired clients:
- What are their needs and wants?
- What are their challenges or pain points (which you can solve)?
- What is their budget appetite?
- What is their demographic?
- Where do they consume content?
You can get this information by talking to your team members and other in-house client experts, hosting workshops with existing customers, tapping into available global business data relevant to your sector, or asking for feedback through surveys.
3. A mapped-out customer pipeline
Now that you know who you’re hoping to talk to, you need to know exactly how they will interact with your accounting business – and when. This requires a mapped-out customer pipeline (also called a customer journey), from the initial point of contact all the way through to conversion and ongoing loyalty. Joining these dots from start to finish helps you understand how high-level activities – for example someone following your social media content or reading a blog – contributes to ROI later in the journey.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What is the first touchpoint between your brand and a potential future client? As in, when will they first become aware of your brand?
- What are all of the potential touchpoints that follow, were a prospect to continue the journey?
- How do they get from step to step? What actions does it require on their (or your) part?
- What is the time lag between each step?
- What happens after someone converts? What are the ongoing touchpoints? Mapping these out enables better post-sales marketing, which you may wish to do to increase client retention and total lifetime value.
- What are the easiest and most difficult points of the timeline? I.e. which points can a prospect sail through with little effort, and which require more engagement, a longer time span, and generally more effort on the prospect’s part?
Write all of this down, and plot it out into a timeline or flowchart. You might not be able to answer all of these questions perfectly yet – that’s okay! Add to it over time as you learn more.
In a high-functioning, cost-effective digital marketing system, data underpins all critical decisions; you can do a lot more with a lot less if you can seriously optimise existing assets before investing in new ones.
So, you’re going to need a system for gathering, maintaining and utilising marketing data, and even better if these systems can talk to each other to share information.
Platforms to look into include:
- A CRM system
- A marketing analytics platform
- A way to connect your sales and accounting systems to marketing
You may not be able to make some of these investments straight away, which again is okay. It’s something to improve over time. See below.
Why it’s important to improve your marketing incrementally
When it comes to marketing your accountancy practice, don’t try to do everything all at once. If you’re starting digital marketing for the first time, you’ve got a long way to go before you’re able to operate a finely honed, perfect system. Try to go from zero to 100 immediately and it will cost a fortune, while proving too complex to get results.
What almost all marketers tend to recommend is getting into a cycle of starting small, measuring results, making incremental improvements, and growing piece-by-piece from there.
So, all you need right now is a first step. Maybe it’s refreshed messaging on your website, a new social media presence, or some thought leadership vlogging. Just start there, measure results, make incremental improvements – then as you learn, add on a new marketing channel or expand what you’re doing (just a bit), measure again, and keep going step by step.
Why don’t accountants like marketing?!
That’s a gross generalisation, obviously – yet the basic idea holds true: Many accountants don’t like – or are wary of marketing – and believe they’ll be bad at it.
Ultimately this has to do with the importance of incremental marketing that we mention above – and the importance of taking a test-and-learn approach.
For many accountants this kind of thinking is anathema. Good accountancy requires following the rules – while good marketing can mean breaking them. In the least, the principles of marketing are more guidelines than rules – and accountants who find themselves marketing their services need to get comfortable with this open-ended, test-and-learn, approach.
Ten digital tools to market your accounting business
1. Your website
Good website design is often the first battle to be won in marketing, especially on a budget. Your website is the who, what, where, when, why and how of your brand, giving curious potential clients a place to go to learn more about your services and come to the realisation that you’re the accounting firm for them.
Many other digital marketing channels will point back to this website, so it’s vital that you get it right. Our guess is that it’s going to feature on your customer pipeline map a fair few times.
Important website user experience (UX) tips:
- Ensure the website functions properly on both desktop and mobile devices.
- Make it clear what your services are and how they will benefit the client – don’t just list what you do or what features you offer in a particular product, really home in on those business benefits. It’s far more engaging to say “You deserve to get paid on time – we can help with that” than it is to state “We offer late payment solutions”.
- Consider if you have the right pages to offer the information your potential audience will be after. For example, some people don’t want to read services pages, but rather pages on how you help a particular industry, or solve a particular business problem.
- Hire a graphic designer and/or branding expert (with experience in website design) to help you optimise the site from a visual and UX standpoint.
- Test everything. Ask people to use the new website, especially people who fit your client profiles, and note down any paint points, challenges or missing information they noticed in their experience.
2. SEO as a marketing strategy for accountants
SEO stands for search engine optimisation. It’s about optimising your website to help it rank higher in search engines like Google. The higher you rank for search terms related to your services, the more likely it is that potential clients will find you.
Key things to know about SEO:
- It’s a type of long-term, passive marketing. That is, it takes a while to get started, but once it gets going, it can deliver users to your website without you needing to pay for ads, make any sales calls, or anything like that. This makes it highly cost effective over a long period of time, but a poorer short-term solution for quick results.
- It’s both a technical- and content-related activity. It requires technical tweaks at the back end of a website as well as specific use of content (such as SEO-optimised web pages, blog articles, and so on) to help Google find, read and rank your site for a variety of search terms.
- It also takes some research. You’ll need to do ‘keyword research’ to find out what types of search terms people are even using to find services like yours. You may find, for example, that not many people search for your services directly, but they do ask questions about your field that you could answer with blog articles and other resources. See ‘content marketing’ below.
Effective SEO-based marketing takes serious commitment, as well as specialist know-how. However, it’s also the most cost-effective form of marketing in the long term. The old expression “the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, and the second best time is now” is something that applies equally well to marketing with SEO.
Local SEO for accountants and bookkeepers
Local SEO is a branch of search engine optimisation that’s all about making sure you’re found in searches where your physical location is important. It’s also particularly relevant for accountancy firms and bookkeepers.
That’s because, with relationships so important to the industry, many people will be looking for an accountant, bookkeeper or advisor who can meet them face to face. Google knows that, so when you search a term like “accountant” you’ll notice it displays a handy map of where you are, with the profiles of accountancy firms picked out with markers.
Setting up your local SEO properly will mean you’re findable by people close to you who turn to Google looking for accountancy help, or who search using terms like ‘business advisor near me’.
TIP: At a minimum, every accountancy firm should claim their free Google My Business listing, and ensure it’s filled out with the right phone numbers and website details, a compelling business description, some FAQs, and attractive photography.
Learn more about SEO: Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO
3. Content marketing
Content marketing does what it says on the tin – it uses different types of content to get in front of prospects, draw them towards your services, and turn them into clients.
Common types of content include:
- Blog articles
- Downloadable guides, whitepapers and report
- Case studies
- Interactive media, like games or calculators
How to know what content to produce
This is where knowledge of your customers and customer pipeline come into play. If you know your customers, you should ideally know what types of content they already consume. Additionally, you’ll know roughly where that content would fit on your customer pipeline, and how it will nurture users to each next step – leading eventually to ROI.
So, what type of content is right for your audience? They’ll tell you! As accountancy marketing expert Karen Reyburn explains in the video below, the questions that your clients and prospects ask you become ‘marketing gold dust’ if you can turn your answers into digestible content.
Some quick content marketing tips:
- Regularly published blog articles and guides are great for SEO.
- Most businesses write case studies about their top clients, to use as ‘social proof’ for potential new clients perusing their website.
- High-value content (high value from the audience perspective, that is) can be used to gather people’s email addresses, which you can then use for email marketing. See below. People have shown they are generally willing to exchange their contact details for useful downloadable guides and webinars. The operative word there being ‘useful’.
Learn more about content marketing: Search Engine Journal’s Ultimate Beginner’s Guide
4. Social media for accounting & advisory firms
Social media is a must-have for the vast majority of modern businesses, accounting firms included. These platforms offer an opportunity to directly connect with potential future clients, delight existing clients, provide thought leadership and education, build trust, grow your profile within the industry, entertain, and sometimes even sell products.
How to choose the right social media channel
Social media is not all made the same. These days, each channel tends to have a particular demographic skew. For example LinkedIn users are typically adults aged 30+ connecting as business professionals, Facebook users tend to be older and family oriented, people use Twitter for news and updates, TikTok has a meme-heavy younger audience, and so on.
So how do you know which one is right for your business? Well, as an accounting firm dealing a lot with other businesses, chances are it’s going to be LinkedIn. However, you can confirm that by referring to your audience profiles generated earlier in this article. Where do your clients like to hang out?
If you’re still not sure – ask around your industry!
How to know what to post
Accounting firms tend to post a lot of thought leadership and education content relevant to their sector, and their employees often use their own profiles to provide commentary on what’s happening in the sector, nation or globe.
A simple way to know what to post is to go to your competitors and see what they’re doing. What works and doesn’t? What gets a result and what passes without comment or engagement? This will provide a bit of a framework for you to follow.
A note on social commerce
Social commerce is the act of selling products directly through social media channels. Chances are as an accounting firm this won’t be relevant to your primary services, but it’s worth noting that there has been a growing trend for serious service-based industries moving their business model into the social commerce sphere. Psychological counselling and business coaching for example are now commonplace online.
Learn more about:
- Social commerce: What Is Social Commerce? [+ The Pros, Cons & Best Platforms]
- Social media marketing: HubSpot’s 39 Resources for Beginners
5. Paid digital advertising for accounting firms
Paid digital advertising covers any content you have to pay for to get the word out online. Sometimes you will pay for these with a lump-sum fee (i.e. sponsorships), sometimes you’ll pay based on the number of clicks (i.e. search ads, also called PPC or pay-per-click ads), and sometimes you’ll be asked to pay another way.
Common digital advertising channels
- Search Ads: Here you essentially purchase search rankings. Your ad would appear as a regular search result, usually above the organic results, and lead to a particular landing page or resource on your website. Google is the most popular search platform for advertising.
- Display Ads: Display ads are the images, GIFs and videos you will often see in articles, on websites, in apps, or before/during videos.
- Native Ads: A native ad is any ad which appears to mimic the style of content found on the platform. Sponsored articles on news websites are some of the most common, although technically paid search ads and influencer sponsorship (see below) are types of native ads too. Native ads are designed to blend into their surroundings, seeming less like advertising and more like useful content generally.
- Social media ads: Platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all offer in-platform advertising. Often offered on a pay-per-click basis, they allow you to get the word out to users as they scroll through their regular feed. LinkedIn also allows you to send ads to people’s direct message inboxes, which is generally expensive compared to other social media ad formats, but can be especially effective as it allows you to target particular industries and even job descriptions within those industries. This allows you to focus very tightly on your ideal clients.
- Influencer sponsorships: You can pay influencers and popular content creators for either a mention of your brand, or for an ad to appear within their content. Sometimes you’ll need to create branded content for the influencer’s audience, and other times they will just mention you in their regular content.
The pros and cons of paid digital ads for accounting firms
For the average accounting firm, paid digital advertising represents the easiest, fastest approach to marketing. However it comes with downsides too.
Many digital advertising models work on auctions, which means the more people who advertise against certain keywords the more those keywords cost. The most valuable commercial terms are quickly identified and attract multiple bidders. For example:
- One click on an ad served up against a Google search for “accounting firms” in the UK would cost you US$2.91, at the time of writing
- One click on an ad served up against a Google search for “accounting firms near me” in the UK would cost you US$5.58, at the time of writing
These costs accumulate quickly. It’s also important to note that as soon as you switch off your spend, the leads switch off as well, making this a dangerous lead source to rely on completely.
The importance of conversion rates with digital advertising
Anyone dabbling in paid digital advertising quickly realises the importance of conversion rates. Taking the example from above, if you ran a paid campaign on “accounting firms near me” and won 100 clicks to your site this would cost you US$558. If only 1% of those people became a client, your cost of acquisition would be $558 – which means you need to ensure you can bill for more than that cost over the lifetime of the client in order to break even on your marketing spend.
However you can dramatically improve your ROI by lifting your conversion rates – or in other words, by improving the quality of your leads.
Lead quality, ROI and your messaging
Imagine if you only deal with food and beverage clients, but don’t communicate that in your ad and instead opt for a generic message. In this scenario you will convert fewer prospects as they arrive on your website and work out your what your firm is all about – after you’ve paid to get them there.
However if you describe your business accurately upfront – perhaps with a “food & beverage advisory specialists” message – then your conversion rate will be much higher. If you convert 2% of your 100 visitors then your cost of acquisition would be $558/2 = $279. That gives you much more room to play with in terms of:
- The spend you need to recoup / what you need to charge (lower prices may help you convert more clients in a competitive space, while keeping the same prices but dropping your cost of acquisition leads to higher profit margins).
- Or the amount you can invest in digital advertising (halve your spend for the same result, or keep it the same for double the clients)
This rule applies to your website messaging as much as it does to your ad messaging. An attractive, compelling website that convinces visitors to become clients will ensure you get the best ROI from your ad spend. And the reverse applies to a bad site too: if you’re attracting leads with expensive digital ads, a dated, unprofessional website will see you convert less traffic – and cost you dearly.
For this reason, it’s important that your ad messaging and website messaging aligns. Sometimes, when you’re targeting a specific audience with a very specific ad, it will make more sense to create a dedicated landing page with matching messaging, rather than send that traffic to your home page.
6. Email marketing for accountants and advisors
Email marketing feels to many beginners like a dying medium – nobody likes spam, after all. But it’s actually alive and well, and an incredibly useful tool for connecting with an audience over a longer period of time.
But you won’t be dropping emails into anyone’s inbox without their consent. These days, there are two common ways email is used for marketing and both require users to freely give their email to you first:
An email nurture is a series of emails sent to someone over a period of time in order to nudge them towards a particular conversion point. Usually there will be a ‘trigger’ for the nurture to start sending, such as when a user downloads a particular guide or signs up to a webinar.
Basic example nurture (each email sent a week apart):
- “Thank you for downloading our guide”.
- Education on the same topic.
- More education on the same topic, with a call to contact your people for more help.
- Direct sales information related to a relevant service.
Email nurtures can contain just a few emails or potentially dozens, and can be combined with other marketing activities such as paid ads to reinforce the message across platforms.
They are usually at least semi-automated. For starters, the emails are sent automatically after the trigger point. Additionally, you’ll usually personalise each message with the recipient’s name and perhaps adjust the content they see based on certain details. Finally, if people don’t engage with the nurture then they may be automatically dropped out of receiving future emails. This prevents unengaged users from being ‘spammed’ with content.
Post-sales engagement and content distribution via email
The other way to use email marketing is as an engagement platform and means of distributing content to clients (or interested prospects, who may not have converted but might still be interested in your content).
Monthly newsletters are the most common example here, but it’s not all you can do. Sometimes businesses send useful notifications at certain times. For example, if a new piece of legislation is looming, or a tax change has been announced, you can use this as an opportunity to educate your audience, show your expertise and demonstrate your value, all while keeping your name and brand front of mind.
To know what to send your own clients, you’ll need to think about what value you’re offering their inbox, and what you’re hoping to achieve through email marketing.
Learn more: HubSpot’s Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing
6. How accountants and advisors should approach thought leadership
Thought leadership is about showing how you or your people are experts in their field – perhaps even the experts. The idea is that by showing your expertise and being helpful and interesting within your sector, you can build trust with potential clients. This is especially important for accounting firms, given the levels of trust involved in a successful client relationship.
Thought leadership is a type of content marketing, but it is usually designed to go much deeper than regular content. Instead of just providing surface-level advice or news, you should be digging into relevant topics, providing thought provoking commentary, and proving without a doubt that your people know their stuff.
Common types of thought leadership content are:
- In-depth articles
- Research papers
Writing your own book is the ultimate thought leadership!
Perhaps the ultimate form of thought leadership is authoring a book. This is a daunting task, but if you or your staff have an area of genuine expertise then writing the definitive industry guide to your topic area is a surefire way to stamp your authority on that space.
Books can either be self-published via a platform like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (which now allows for print-on-demand physical books as well as ebook publishing) or via a conventional local publisher.
Examples of accountants and advisors that have gone down this path include:
- Maria Pearman, a specialist US food and beverage advisor. Maria has authored popular books on distillery finance and small brewery finance, which have helped cement her as the authority in this field.
- Will McTavish and Reuben Sweeney, who co-wrote the book Everything you need to know about Xero Practice Manager as a way of promoting their app, Link Reporting, which runs on top of XPM.
“This has been by far our most valuable marketing resource,” says McTavish. “It wasn’t easy however. I estimate it took around 800 hours to complete over 12 months.”
7. Collaboration and guesting
We’ve lumped two types of marketing here together as they are roughly the same thing – getting your content, or people, hosted on another person’s platform.
Unlike paid sponsorships, these may not require any cost on your end. Brands often build collaborative relationships with other brands as they see a common goal in working together. For example, a software vendor who creates accounting software for small businesses may work with SME advisory and accounting firms as the two products are mutually beneficial.
What is content collaboration?
It’s where the two businesses work hand in hand to produce content or a wider marketing campaign, where both parties contribute. One may write content while the other promotes it, for example.
What is guesting?
This is where your people seek to become guests on popular content platforms, such as podcasts. In this case your people are contributing expertise to the content creator’s platform, while promoting your own brand simply by being there.
8. Guest posting in the accountancy community
Guest posting is a bit of a blend between collaboration and native advertising. It’s where your business produces content designed for someone else’s platform, usually a blog or magazine, making it clear that it’s your brand which wrote the content (usually in the form of a by-line).
This can extend your typical content reach by putting your words in front of someone else’s audience.
The reason this is its own thing rather than a type of ‘collaboration’ is because blogs and magazines will often charge for the privilege. But, as this is a “guest post” rather than a sponsored native ad, it may not be marked as ‘Sponsored Content’ on the host platform, which some users find off-putting.
9. Word of mouth
There’s no proof like social proof. Word of mouth (WOM) marketing is where clients or potential clients advertise your business simply by talking about it with one another.
WOM can have a huge impact on your brand by being, essentially, free advertising. No matter how much money you funnel into typical digital marketing channels, there will always be a subset of people who inherently don’t ‘trust’ it; no matter what you do or say, you’re the brand advertising yourself.
Through WOM, people talk to other people and this brings with it a sense of authenticity. Authenticity is something that a much wider range of users can trust.
How to generate word-of-mouth marketing as an accounting service:
- Deliver a great service. A lot of the time WOM comes from people who are happy with a service, and thus recommend it to their peers. Fix problems, delight clients, and do the best job you can. People will talk.
- Ask for reviews where relevant. Is your business on any type of review website? Ask customers for reviews if they’ve had a positive experience. Anyone researching your brand may come upon these reviews and read through them to get a sense of what you’re like to work with.
- Get testimonials and case studies for your website. Testimonials and case studies offer a similar sense of authenticity as WOM, especially videos that show real clients offering their real experience (as opposed to clients obviously reading from a script).
10. Specialist marketing firms for accountancy practices
If your organisation lacks serious in-house marketing experience, then even if you utilise the tools mentioned above you may struggle to gain results in a cost-effective manner. So you might be asking, who can help me with my marketing?
The answer is: marketing firms, especially those specialising in the accounting sector.
You could look for the assistance of a generic marketing firm, but they may not have much knowledge of the needs of your sector. When you’re dealing with money and business advice, you need to make sure you’re working with someone who can get all the wording right, and who deeply understands the needs of your audience.
There’s an association you could join to help your in-house marketing people grow and network. It’s called the Association for Accounting Marketing
- In the UK there’s PF and Whitefish.
- In the US there are firms such as Bridges or TheeDigital.
- In Australia/New Zealand there’s Bizink and Practice + Pixels.
Of course, you can also just Google “marketing agency for accounts in <your country>”.