As your accounting firm grows, so do the demands on your time. You may remember those halcyon days when you had the time to work on your business AND be active with business development. If your firm is now over £100k in turnover, you have probably run out of time. What used to be a great route to market, i.e. networking or actively participating in social media, feels like a huge drain on your time. This is why you are probably wondering how to put your marketing on autopilot… or outsource it to such an extent it no longer needs a large input of time from you personally. This article explores organic marketing strategies for accountants so that you can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend generating leads for your accountancy firm.
How to put your marketing on autopilot: was the exact question posed to me by members a few months ago.
Firstly, let’s have a dose of realism. If your accounting practice is between £50k and £500k, there will be large pressures on your firm’s cash flow AND your time. After all, this is often the point where you have to reduce the amount of client work you do personally and start to bring in a team to support you. This means you have a choice with the marketing for your firm: either outsource it or do your marketing yourself. It’s either going to take an investment in cash or your time. Each of which is typically in short supply.
The rest of this article will go through the steps and stages I took members through in a session about organic marketing, particularly how to put your marketing on autopilot.
1. Be relentless about delivering excellent client service.
I normally always ask new members how many client referrals they can typically rely on each month. If they have a very low level of client referrals and more than 30 clients, I investigate whether they are delivering a great client service. Yep, the easiest way to get more good client leads via autopilot is by delivering excellent client service to your existing clients. This IS organic marketing.
Therefore, if you are not already doing so, add these to your list to implement:
- Measure how many client referrals you get each month and from whom. If you find you have a core number of clients who regularly refer you, put these clients into special measures to ensure they always feel your firm's support.
- A client satisfaction score. This could be as simple as a google form for clients to fill in after your firm has completed their year-end accounts. The essential question to add to the form or client satisfaction survey is how likely are you to recommend us? If they score 7 or less out of 10, then follow up with the client to find out what the firm needs to do to score more.
- Measure the time it takes to complete a set of year-end accounts, VAT returns and personal tax returns. We recommend that the firm's aim is to have a set of year-end accounts ready to file within 3 months of a client's year-end date. If this turnaround time for year-end accounts is achieved, it suggests that your firm’s operation is running with capacity and slickly. Having VAT returns ready to file within 21 days of the VAT quarter end is another measure that helps you see how efficiently the bookkeeping team is working with their client base.
- Every weekly operational meeting with your team includes an agenda point on how to improve the firm’s client service or a system or process. Make sure that everyone in the meeting is aware that there is an expectation to come up with one idea per individual.
2. Stay in touch with your current client base.
In the summer of 2020, one of our members got in touch with me. Their client referrals and extra work from existing clients had dried up to nothing. He knew there wasn’t a problem with his client service. However, he needed to get his lead generation going again. When we looked at what he was doing, he was doing little or no contact with clients outside of the normal day-to-day affairs. So we instigated a plan to generate more business from existing clients. This looked like:
- Regular phone calls to check in with their ‘A’ clients or clients most likely to refer them
- A fortnightly useful newsletter to existing clients with content tailored to their requirements. Not content from a generic content feed for accountants to pass off as their own. This newsletter contained one short video - ‘Paul’s tough-talking tips’ and a blog post around the tip.
- Phone calls to clients who needed a different service level. E.g. they needed support with their bookkeeping.
As a result of this work we did, our member found that he now generates on average £5-10k of new work each month from existing clients. So much so that he has now stopped his social media marketing as he gets all the new work he needs from current clients. This is organic marketing at its best!
This just goes to show the power of staying in touch with your current client base. Given that most of this extra contact time can be outsourced to others in the team or external marketing help, this is something your practice can implement to put your marketing on autopilot.
3. Put in place processes to identify when clients need a higher service level or some ad hoc work.
Every time our advisory board member Paul Miller runs a client seminar, he comes away with at least two-thirds of the attendees spending more money with his firm. This is either for business planning or bookkeeping services. When he sells business planning services, his clients then normally take him up on his offer of regular coaching. He fills the seminar - typically for under 8 clients - by inviting clients when he does a quarterly or annual meeting with them. If this doesn’t get enough clients to attend, he will pick up the phone and call clients who he thinks may benefit from attending the seminar. Paul will also use his annual and quarterly review meetings with clients to spot opportunities for tax planning or other services, such as bookkeeping, which clients may require.
Paul has implemented processes for generating more work from existing clients for almost no extra marketing effort. His admin team can run the actual mechanics of running the event. I.e. this is organic marketing (a.k.a marketing on autopilot). Whilst you may not want to run events for clients, you can put in place an annual review meeting for clients. We suggest this takes place between months 9-11 of the clients’ financial year.
There are so many opportunities for identifying where there may be the potential to upsell more services to existing clients. For example, your bookkeeping team is well placed to identify an opportunity during an end-of-month-bookkeeping-health-check:
- Who may need access to finance or more cash?
- Whose books are not accurate or up-to-date enough?
- Is their business growing rapidly?
One word of warning: Your client-facing team may be reluctant to charge clients for doing work that is out of scope with the package of services they pay for. Our members have found this has helped their team members charge for extra services:
- The Practice Management System’s workflow for chargeable services has a task to complete to gain agreement for the extra fee from the client. Then a task to ensure that the task is billed when completed. This can be easily done if you use a Practice Management System like Senta or Karbon. Our AGC members who are new to Senta or Karbon get a 10% discount off the first 12 months.
- A rate card is printed out and given to the team members to see what the fee for these extra ad hoc pieces of work should be, e.g. mortgage certificate.
Do you need to do anything more to put your marketing on autopilot?
Everything up to this point can be done by most practices that have a client base of more than 30 clients. In fact, one of our former members built up a really successful practice by just doing these 3 steps. When your practice gets to nearly £500k in annual revenue, you may find - like some of our members - that just delivering great client service, taking the initiative AND staying in touch with your existing clients is all you need to do to grow by 4-8 new clients each month.
It’s all very well to say that this is all you need to do to put your marketing on autopilot. But what happens if you are under £500k in annual revenue, or your firm’s clients are not representative of the clients you want, or you want to grow quicker than just relying on client referrals? Then you are going to need to do more marketing activities to build your client base. Some of which can be easily turned into organic marketing activities with minimal input from you.
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Formal referral relationships.
There will be other professional advisors out there who share a similar target audience to your firm. For example, lawyers and financial advisors. A good way of putting your marketing on autopilot is to put in place a process where your referrers automatically introduce you to any new clients they generate. For example, a property/commercial lawyer may introduce you to their client if they are likely to need help financing a deal or purchase. This route to market takes a little bit of time investment to establish the relationship. But when it does get established, it can be a really easy way to generate good quality client leads with little or no input from yourself.
Use outsourcing to get your marketing on autopilot.
Business development - which is a mixture of marketing, sales and account management - can be seen as a series of processes to be completed. There is nothing to say that these processes all need to be done by yourself. In fact, training your team to make the sales conversations with new leads can be a great way to get completely hands-off with your firm’s business development requirements. As this article has already explained, getting your team to do the heavy lifting with account management is a really good way of transitioning to organic marketing strategies.
Outsourcing your marketing is a good way to generate leads without having to do the hard work to make it happen. For example, you could do any of the following:
Pay for leads
This could be from a site such as ‘vouched for’ or ‘Bark.com’. Or potentially a specialist accountancy lead generator site. These leads are often for the smaller type clients. If you have the time to respond quickly, e.g. within the hour or receiving a lead notification from one of these sites, you stand a good chance of winning the work. However, the question is whether you actually have the time to respond promptly.
Many telemarketing companies now work differently from the cold-calling telemarketing companies back in the old days. They will often utilise the web to identify warm leads and then call on their clients' behalf. Once again, their bread-and-butter is often the smaller type client or price-sensitive type of client.
Social media and content marketing
Many of our members utilise the marketing materials we make available to them. In fact, some of our members pay for the services of AGC Digital, to help them regularly post valuable and relevant content on their blogs and social media platforms. This can work really well if you are prepared to come up with ideas for content and give a full brief. Then, others can implement this brief for you so you can consistently build your credibility and visibility online.
Pay-per-click, SEO and Facebook advertising
With these forms of lead generation, we would always recommend that you utilise the services of a well-regarded professional. When they are done well, they can be a really useful source of good quality leads.
Email marketing is an underutilised route to market for most small accounting firms. Indeed we get most of our leads as a result of the goodwill and reputation we have formed by regularly sharing high-value information with people on our email marketing list. I am not proposing that you buy an email list. This is a quick way to get your email address blacklisted. But what can work really well is if you have a strategy to (a) get people on your mailing list and then (b) regularly send them valuable information. These two things can be outsourced to marketing professionals. Many of our members use the club’s white labelled marketing materials to take the heavy lifting out of having to provide regular high-quality content.
Organic marketing = less time + more impact
Organic marketing strategies will give you more time to work on your business AND be active with business development if you do it right. First, focus on delivering excellent client service, staying in touch with clients and identifying when clients need more from you, and then try to outsource as much as possible to external professionals or your team members.
When you put your marketing on autopilot, you will be generating leads for your accountancy firm without personally having to put in a fraction of the time and energy you invested previously.
Never leave business on the table!
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