Create Winning Formula for New Economy (for accounting firms) was previously published in The Bottom Line, Mid-September 2009.
As hope gradually emerges that the end of the current recession is near, the accounting profession faces a brave new world that will be defined by a changed, and perhaps, ever-changing economy.
Companies are running leaner. They have adopted a new value equation for accountants and other professionals.
Their concerns over business risk and cost-cutting have heightened. The widely available sophisticated accounting software products have commoditized many of the number-crunching activities formerly reserved for skilled professionals.
Collectively, market forces have created an expectation – and perhaps, a requirement – that accounting practices go above and beyond compliance requirements in the services they offer and deliver.
In short, today’s business owners are seeking accountants that will provide sound advice that contributes to the growth and sustainability of their businesses.
To complicate matters further, an unprecedented series of corporate and investment scandals that often implicate financial professionals has fostered a climate of scepticism and an unwillingness to trust.
The recession has become a catalyst for caution, far and wide.
And yet, a number of accounting practices will emerge as winners in these new, uncharted waters.
The question is, who will they be?
Stated simply, winning accounting practices will be those that understand and meet the new needs of this changed marketplace.
Successful firms will have a profound understanding of the behaviours, skill sets and systems that are necessary for their firms – and their clients – to successfully adapt to a changed economy. They will communicate this strength by leveraging branding and marketing to influence perception and to communicate these strategic shifts.
Let’s focus on the key factors to be considered by accounting practices positioning themselves to emerge as the profession’s success stories in the economy ahead.
Your firm’s authentic, unique and valued points of difference:
What type of problems does your practice solve for your clients? Do the solutions offered reflect the current mindset of your client base? Are they unique?
The development of a marketing plan does involve an element of risk. Firms seeking to avoid all risk by simply targeting the universal marketplace may have a hard time convincing potential clients that specific needs can be met.
A strategy that is vague, hard to believe, or too complex likely won’t work.
At the root of every marketing campaign there must be an authentic, unique and valued difference that drives client action and resonates on a deep, emotional level with the desired target audience.
The talent to foster the creativity, strength and vision to identify and deliver such a value proposition will become a powerful differentiator in this new economy.
This talent will, at least in part, depend on your ability to lead and listen to employees, clients and advisors – and on your firm’s readiness to use marketing to communicate what it has learned.
Branding that elevates the perception of value:
A well-developed brand creates the opportunity to communicate a strategic shift in your accounting practice, particularly in times of economic uncertainty.
Whether it is by design or by default, every accounting practice has a brand image and identity. It is found in the language, logo, tagline colours and design (or lack thereof) of its public face. It is the subliminal voice that telegraphs how prospective clients will be treated and implies the talent, knowledge, and skills that your accounting firm can and will deliver.
An original and fitting tagline and logo grants your firm extraordinary ability to communicate something compelling about your accounting practice on everything from your letterhead to your signage and website.
Marketing to reach and impact the desired audience:
Effective marketing plans begin with specific and measurable objectives.
Who are your efforts targeting? Where can this audience be found?
What are your priority practice development goals and how should your marketing campaign support them?
Are you focused on generating leads, increasing revenue or profitability, changing value perception, improving brand awareness, raising profile, establishing loyalty or engaging your network?
The specific articulation of these objectives will enables your firm to focus its energies on appropriate and cost-effective marketing opportunities that are aligned with your practice’s specific, broader goals.
Successful marketing plans have realistic budgets.
If your plans are aggressive, your practice is new or your firm has been set back by the economic downturn, your marketing budgets must be set accordingly.
You can build continuous improvement into your marketing plan by measuring and analyzing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Consideration will need to be given as to how each marketing initiative can deliver data that will enable you to measure results in relation to your original growth objectives.
Marketing vehicles suitable for accountants and most professional practices include:
- Business cards, letterhead and signage
- Brochures, newsletters and other marketing materials
- Business presentations
- Websites, blogs and social media marketing
- Print advertising
- Public relations
- Speaking engagements
In order to plan a marketing mix that is a good fit for your firm, you will need to closely scrutinize available marketing vehicles in terms of their ability to help you achieve your goals. Each marketing opportunity should be analyzed in terms of its ability to reach and impact your desired target audience.
There is no one size fits all branding and marketing solution. Each firm’s message and plan needs to be tailored to its specific talents, objectives and target audience.
Tempting as it may be, the optimal marketing plan need not include a slew of marketing initiatives – that would only serve to deplete valuable time and energy. If you concentrate your marketing efforts on a few, select programs, they will be better positioned to deliver the desired results.
What are your plans for your practice after the recession?
Accounting practices that emerge as winners from the current economic downturn will have done so because they have successfully adapted to a changed economy.
They will have demonstrated the creativity, vision and strength to identify and deliver a value proposition that surpasses expectations and wins over their client base. They will have effectively influenced perception with powerful, current and relevant messages about such strategic shifts, by way of suitable branding and marketing opportunities.
Winning accounting firms will start thinking today about the opportunity to prosper tomorrow.
Why not begin the work to position your practice to emerge as a winner in this new economy, starting now?