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Free Webinar! Conquering CPA Firm Marketing Challenges

Free Webinar! Conquering CPA Firm Marketing Challenges

Three Marketers Divulge Their Secrets to Success

Register Today!Have you registered yet?

You won’t want to miss this insightful and informative session!


1:00-2:00 PM U.S. EST

Join our savvy panel of accounting firm marketing directors from three leading CPA firms as they share their secrets to success for overcoming the biggest content marketing challenges in the profession.

  • Cindy Scott — Jackson Thornton
  • Amy Stark — Councilor, Buchanan & Mitchell, P.C. @cbmcpa
  • Delene E. Taylor, CPA, CGMA — DMLO CPAs @dmlocpas

Watch Invite Video

Firms big and small alike will benefit from this behind-the-scenes look at real-world approaches to developing, documenting and tracking accounting firm content marketing strategies.

  • Do you strive to reach more niche service area markets?
  • Do you need a better way to manage editorial calendars?
  • Do you have enough content to meet the demand?
  • Do you struggle to keep your social media fans engaged?
  • Do you seek more extended visibility and new prospects?
  • Do you want to maximize your ROI with video marketing?

Key CPA Firm Marketing Takeaways:

You’ll take tangible tips away from this interactive session and be able to instantly implement strategies to help you improve marketing efficiencies, effectiveness and return on investment, including:

  • Effective, tactical accounting firm content marketing strategies
  • Enlightening success stories with step-by-step recipes for implementation
  • How to drive more leads with thought leadership content
  • Harnessing social media and video to amplify your reach on a tight budget with limited resources
  • Practical ways to get professional staff involved in meeting the ever-increasing demand for content
  • Growing your online footprint through social media engagement
  • Creating quick and easy in-house videos to get more bang for your marketing buck

PLUS, earn 1 hour of CPE credit!
Register Today!

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Posted in: CPA Firm Marketing, Marketing Best Practices, Marketing Strategy, Online Marketing, Prospecting, Social Media Marketing, Targeted Marketing

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Why Do We Need Quality Marketing Content?

Why Do We Need Quality Marketing Content?

In my last post, I talked about what quality content is and discussed the importance of three key ingredients: helpfulness, entertainment value and emotional impact. But why is quality marketing content a big deal?

What’s the point of publishing quality content? Why would we want to generate it? Why is it important to the success of our marketing initiatives or business development efforts? Consider the following:

Quality content is a social opportunity for new business

With the rise of social media, particularly in the professional services industries, marketers are able to reach and influence new markets with their messages. As social beings, we “share” content, “tweet” content, “like” content, “Digg” content, “forward” content to our friends. As marketers, we cross our fingers and hope that others will do the same with our content. We would love it if they would shout it from the rooftops, too. But we need to give them something worth talking about in order for them to repeat it. Quality content is share-worthy if it meets the criteria (i.e., it’s helpful, entertaining and/or emotionally impactful). Remember to make it easy for others to share your content. Use “share this” links in your email newsletter and on your blog, along with appropriate calls to action. With 1.11 billion Facebook users and 225 million LinkedIn users as of June 2013, the opportunities for new business are seemingly endless on social media platforms.

Quality content differentiates us from our competition

Google lists nearly half a billion results for “widget”. There are over 10 million results for “CPA Firm.” As the availability of content on the internet grows, so does our need to distinguish our services, products and information so that we are separated from the rest. Quality content is one step in the right direction. Make sure you dress your content up the right way. And add a touch of personality to give your quality content the stamina for the content marketing marathon.

Quality content generates loyalty and builds top of mind awareness

Business owners, partners and managers want to see tangible results from each and every message you send out. They assume that the best way to accomplish this is to send out offers, promotions or other transactional content that request a response. Marketers know that transactional content has inherent limitations because they will never apply to (and provide value to) 100% of the recipients, no matter how awesomely segmented your list may be. By providing quality content in all of your messaging (and limiting transactional content to timely occasions), you will benefit from top of mind awareness and long-term loyalty. Readers and recipients will appreciate that you do not demand anything of them, that you provide some form of value, and will continue to look for and forward to your messages. When the time comes for them to need something that you provide, they will think of you.

3 quick tips for quality marketing content

If you missed our blog post that revealed tangible examples of quality content that you should be thinking about as you draft your editorial calendar, check it out. Meanwhile, here are some super quick tips that will help you draft share-worthy content:

  1. Start with what you have. If you haven’t really given content much thought before, begin with what you already have on hand. It is likely that you have content lying around that may be repurposed for your newsletter, blog, social media, email, etc. Review the inherent value in your content before distributing to check for the key ingredients.
  2. Aim for applicability that lasts longer than a week. Advice on how to best implement your widget has a longer shelf life than a listing of upcoming widget conventions. Both offer value and could be considered quality content if presented correctly, but one requires constant maintenance and updating in order to remain current, while the other will remain relevant and viable as long as the widget implementation procedures remain the same.
  3. Recycle, repurpose and reuse. A quote from a client could turn into a 30-second video testimonial and both could turn into Facebook posts. The “User’s Guide to Improving Widgets” could be turned into a series of short blog posts. A collection of positive tweets from customers could be turned into an email blast. And, of course, there is no rule that says you can’t republish that brilliant article you wrote in 2002 when you launched your first e-newsletter.

Quality content is the key to share-ability, loyalty, top of mind awareness and differentiation. Check back soon for more tips on how to generate quality content.

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Posted in: Business Development, Content Marketing, Email Marketing, Lead Generation, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Newsletters, Online Marketing, Prospecting, Social Media Marketing

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5 Ways To Debilitate Your Marketing Plan – What To Avoid

5 Ways To Debilitate Your Marketing Plan – What To Avoid

There is a recognizable, concerted effort that goes into crafting your marketing plan. You have likely developed a well-formed plan of action for communicating your brand and your value to your clients and prospects. However, pitfalls, obstacles and distractions along the way can derail you from your path. It is important to be aware of some common missteps that can make your marketing strategy stumble.

There are many common mistakes that can undermine your effectiveness, but here are five hand-picked winners that are guaranteed to debilitate your marketing efforts every time:

1. Jump Without a Chute

You wouldn’t rely on blind luck and jump from a plane without a parachute. Before you even board the plane, you are given an overview of what to expect and what to do throughout the entire skydiving experience. Instructors tell you how to steer, when to pull the rip cord, and what to do when landing in the designated area.

Every endeavor has a plan behind it. Entrepreneurs know that business plans should be laid out well in advance of execution so that they may serve as a foundational map, regardless of the inevitable financial and market fluctuations that may rock your business. Without a map, how will you know where you are going? Without a parachute, how will you land safely? And once you’re in the air, don’t pull the rip cord too early, and definitely don’t pull it too late. Getting distracted, alarmed or being tempted to veer off your marketing plan’s course is normal, but staying on track is as vital as pulling the rip cord at the proper time.

Ask DeBeers if a diamond is forever, even in a floundering economy, and the answer will be a resounding, “Yes!” DeBeers has maintained a rock-solid marketing plan with its bedrock-solid branding and has succeeded in reaching out two distinct demographics (men and women) since 1947. Ads like, “She wants you to send more time with her. You want more time for friends and beer. NEGOTIATE. A diamond is forever” have demonstrated how DeBeers is able to maintain relevance in the marketplace and simultaneously reinforce their branding on a consistent basis. DeBeers has a well-laid plan – and they stick to it.

2. Brand for Branding’s Sake

Even the most successful companies forget that sometimes the best strategy is to stick to what they do best. Coca-Cola is one of the most widely-recognized brands that attempted to rebrand for branding’s sake in the 1980s with its “New Coke” marketing campaign. Although the campaign has gone down in infamy as a textbook marketing blunder, Coca-Cola is not the only soft-drink giant to make this particular debilitating mistake. Pepsi flunked out in the early 90s for a very similar reason: there was no real need for Crystal Pepsi (just as there was no reason for Coke to change its highly successful formula). Both Coke and Pepsi have rebounded from their branding missteps and remain the front-runners in the soft-drink beverage industry.

The moral of the story? Don’t fix what’s not broken. Definitely try new things, but keep your branding consistent (unless it isn’t working) and avoid the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality when it comes to marketing. Just because Pepsi has a “New Generation” product, you don’t have to have one, too, Coke (their teen-specific soda “OK” was one of the shortest-lived new products on the market). Competition is healthy, but focus on what you do best and maximize your own brand.

3. Advertise for Advertising’s Sake

Marketing plans, including advertising campaigns, must be strategic and targeted. Launching a direct mail campaign simply for the sake of getting your name and brand delivered into a million mailboxes can be costly and ineffective, ultimately serving as landfill fodder. Know your audience. Segment your market. Listen to your customers.

An example of a widely successful marketing campaign that targeted its audience and built consumer loyalty was Mountain Dew’s “Dewmocracy” campaign, in which fans were invited to vote on the next new flavor to be launched. Social media platforms played an integral role in the campaign. Snail-mailing only came into play when the “Dewmocrats” opted to receive three flavor pouches, sample them, vote and become a part of an online social community that collaborated on the launch of a new flavor.

Because the plan was focused and involved active participation from loyal consumers, Mountain Dew was able to reinforce its value to its faithful following while simultaneously obtaining high levels of public exposure (and new customers) with its cutting-edge, interactive marketing campaign.

4. Over-brand Promotional Items

Having a recognizable brand can be as valuable as having cash in your pocket. However, money becomes less valuable when it saturates the economy, resulting in inflation. The same can be said for inflating your promotional efforts. Slapping your company logo onto every pen, coffee cup, laser pointer and jump drive you can find risks bleeding your budget dry without getting the impact (or return on investment) you were looking for. Just ask Neosporin how effective their “Neosporin Tote” campaign was and you will discover how badly a promotional campaign can go. Thousands of tiny little red totes are likely rotting in a far-off warehouse somewhere…

Just like with other communication efforts, promotional items need to provide value to your customers. You need to have the right tools, the right time and the right place for the distribution of promotional items to be effective. Consider limit the use of promotional items to social media giveaway campaigns, industry trade shows and charity events. Having control over the inventory of your promotional items can open up room in your budget for more substantial business needs – possibly even someone to help identify and coordinate the most relevant products for your segmented and targeted promotional campaigns.

5. Fail to Live Up To Your Own Hype

When competition is rigorous, service can be the key to continuing success. Marketing your quality service is necessary to remind customers of that excellence when they aren’t with you. However, if your marketing message shouts that you have “state of the art service”, like Circuit City’s did, but you don’t live up to the hype when your customers are in the door, you’ve set up your marketing plan (and your business) to fail.

As Circuit City floundered and ultimately failed, they blamed the economic climate for their downfall. However, with Wal-Mart and Best Buy bustling and booming at the same time as Circuit City’s demise, can the economy really be to blame? Nope. The Circuit City enterprise died because of service failure – what happens when your customers don’t receive the kind of service they expect from you.

Service failure is relevant to your marketing plan in two ways: your marketing plan does not include the proper customer service policies and procedures for your market, or your marketing strategy does not have the proper controls in place to keep service failure from occurring.

Stay on Course

Businesses with successful marketing plans can thrive in a recovering economy. Reducing your business’ marketing budget and refusing to evolve with the changing marketplace can be damaging to your business. Instead of pulling the funding plug on your marketing efforts, try more competitive alternatives to traditional strategies. Email marketing, website development, and social media have emerged as cost-effective and engaging solutions for modern marketing initiatives. Inject electronic communication strategies into your marketing plan to get more bang for your buck, but don’t stray off your overall marketing path. If you implement e-marketing into your long-term plan, give those efforts the same attention as other, more traditional methods. Half-hearted efforts will only result in less-than-desirable returns.

Don’t Debilitate Your Marketing

Successful marketing plans map out your strategy, are flexible enough to meet the fluctuating nature of the market and serve as a foundation for growth. Even though some marketing efforts may fail, there is no reason to step out of the game. Your marketing plan should include fail-safes (or at least a little padding) to overcome any minor missteps. Remain consistent with your branding, don’t reinvent the wheel, target your audience, increase brand loyalty and focus on delivering quality service.

Your business lives and breathes on your marketing plan and your ability to follow it through. Avoiding the common mistakes noted in this article while monitoring and maintaining your efforts (especially in channels like email newsletters and social networking), will ensure that you reap the rewards of brand recognition, customer loyalty and business growth. Avoid debilitating your marketing and continue to enhance your relationships for long-term continuity and success.

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Posted in: Advertising, Branding, Marketing, Marketing Strategy

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Exciting Changes Are on the Horizon: We’re Becoming Checkpoint® Marketing for Firms!

Exciting Changes Are on the Horizon: We’re Becoming Checkpoint® Marketing for Firms!

This spring, BizActions and PDI Global will become Checkpoint® Marketing for Firms.

You will thrive in your retention, lead generation and revenue growth goals when we leverage the deep insight and resources of our Thomson Reuters Checkpoint® brand and pair them with our innovative, informative client communication and marketing solutions. All of our enhanced programs, products and services will reside on a single, user-friendly website for your convenience.

Social media changes are also underway.

We will also be consolidating our existing social media presences into existing Checkpoint® platforms to provide you with a better experience. Fans and followers will be asked to follow our Checkpoint® pages in the coming weeks. We’re confident that you’ll continue to find value in our ongoing social media communications through our Checkpoint® brand. In the mean time you can start following the existing Checkpoint® social media pages today to stay in the loop:

Our current Twitter handle will become @CheckpointMktg – but you won’t have to do anything new in order to keep following us on Twitter. We’ll do all of the heavy lifting for you.

You’ll have access to even more quality content marketing and client communication products.

You’ve come to trust BizActions and PDI Global and the solutions we provide. You need not worry that your favorite, most effective newsletter, tax guide, or content package will be retired. Our existing products won’t change (other than receiving great enhancements to help you be more efficient and successful). In addition, we will continue to offer new and impactful ways for you to connect with clients and prospects. BizActions customers will see a rebranded user interface within the customer account platform as well as some exciting new enhancements in a few weeks. Both BizActions and PDI Global customers can continue to expect the same high quality content marketing solutions and customer support that you have come to rely on from us, but you’ll soon enjoy access to the full breadth of our comprehensive marketing resources in one integrated platform. The exciting enhancements being released this spring include:

  • User-friendly interface, with intuitive navigation and updated back-end
  • Improved, real-time reports, with visual guides, charts, and multi-level data options
  • Several new easily-customized, modern and sophisticated email newsletter templates to choose from

Connect. Inform. Thrive.

Checkpoint® Marketing for Firms will help you unlock your firm’s potential and reign supreme in your market. CONNECT with clients through communications that lead to enhanced retention rates and more cross-selling opportunities. INFORM prospects with educational content that keeps your firm top of mind when needs arise. THRIVE and achieve your business development goals by reaching niche prospects and targeted segments with highly relevant communications. More details will be released soon. Stay tuned for additional announcements about the existing changes on the horizon.

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Posted in: Company News, Company Promotions, Marketing, Upcoming Events

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Is Your CTA MIA?

Is Your CTA MIA?

If your readers love your content, but don’t have the ability to do anything other than read it, then your message might be missing a call to action (CTA). Every piece of content you distribute should contain a clear CTA. Don’t let your messages miss out on the chance to give your audience a worthwhile next step.

Readers perusing your email, website or blog post might want to download your latest report, find your social media channels, or take some other action. But without an obvious pathway toward this information, the pursuit of information may be abandoned. It can actually be quite frustrating for visitors to go hunting through a website or message – unable to find what they are looking for. Clear CTAs help your readers avoid frustration and help you capture opportunities.

What is a CTA?

CTA Example 1The CTA is the cornerstone of inbound marketing lead generation. A call to action is simply any type of graphic or text that a prospect can utilize to take a next step. CTAs can be as subtle as a “Visit our Website” link at the top of your email newsletter, or as overt as an image inviting readers to “Download Our Guide by April 30th and Receive a Free Travel Mug.”

Good CTAs point readers in the direction of your valuable resources, better CTAs capture contact information in exchange for a downloadable item, and the best CTAs accomplish both these tasks while also grabbing attention, enticing readers and succinctly offering exactly what your readers want or need from your message.

CTA Examples:

  • CTA Example 2Free consultation offers
  • Downloads
  • Sign-ups
  • Enticing give-aways
  • “Buy now” offers
  • Polls and surveys
  • Opportunities to learn more

Why include a CTA?

Your content marketing strategies are basically ineffective without CTAs. Your content exists to establish pathways back to your front door. Without a call to action, that pathway can dissolve causing your readers to start looking elsewhere for more information or additional resources. When you have a reader already looking to your content to help them solve problems, seize the opportunity to light the way to your next offering.

What does a CTA do for me?

CTAs route readers to your ancillary communication channels and additional resources: blog, social media, online resources, website, and so on. This helps drive traffic to your various marketing initiatives. They can also help you build your list by capturing contact information or new opt-in email subscribers. Most importantly, CTAs help you generate leads. When a prospect responds to your CTA and downloads your latest report, whitepaper or other nifty resource, you capture their contact information. Prospects who actively choose to receive the communications and resources you offer are your highly-engaged warm leads. This means they already have you in mind when you follow up with them through drip campaigns, follow-up calls or other nurturing efforts.

CTA Example 3How can I incorporate effective CTAs into my messages?

It is worth your time and energy to plan and track your calls to action. After all, this planning comes back to you in the form of engaged prospects, and impressed onlookers convert into new clients.

Take these six simple steps, and you will begin taking your messages from CTA MIA to actionable:

1. Brainstorm

Think about what you would like your CTA to accomplish and how it will achieve that objective:

  • What do I want my readers to do?
  • How will my CTA get them where I want them to go?
  • Is there a deadline for responding?
  • Do I have an incentive to offer?
  • Am I capturing contact information, and if so, how much?

2. Create

CTA Example 4Incorporate visual cues, such as graphics, images and succinct text, into your CTA in an aesthetically pleasing and stimulating manner. Be sure your use of color, typeface and imagery cohesively blend with your brand specifications. Here are some things to consider:

  • Is the CTA attention getting?
  • Is the CTA visually appealing?
  • Does the CTA quickly, clearly communicate my objective?
  • Is the CTA at or near the top of my message (above the fold)?
  • Does the CTA make sense with the message content?

Also keep in mind that your readers will become overwhelmed if you are asking them to go in too many directions at once. Make each CTA relevant to the message at hand. Avoid cluttering your messages.

3. Test

You will also want to test the basic functionality of your CTA. Have you ever clicked on a website link that did not work or tried to access something in an email message that directed you to a wrong page? Then you understand the impression that a “broken” CTA can give. Make sure your CTAs are functional. Beyond function, you may also want to perform A/B tests to determine which wording, placement, color scheme or other factors work best in your messaging.

4. Capture

CTA Example 5All of your CTAs should capture click activity, contact information or both (depending on the purpose of your CTA). Be sure the lead source is tied to these records and consider other data you might like to associate with these new database members: inception date, prospect location, campaign name, A/B test identifiers, etc.

5. Respond

If your CTA is for a newsletter sign up, whitepaper or report download, be sure to deliver your resource as soon after form completion as possible. If an email newsletter, welcome message, or a responsive email message, lands in a recipient’s inbox days after the opt-in form was completed, that message runs the risk of being mistaken as junk mail. Your CTAs should quickly deliver on their promises.

6. Track

Don’t do all that work and then forget to follow up on your opportunities. Track the responses from your CTAs and further nurture your prospects with relevant drip campaigns, additional offers or even a phone call.

Make sure your CTAs are not missing in action. After all, the CTA is the essential element of your inbound marketing strategies that helps you generate new leads and offer crucial next steps to your engaged prospects.

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Posted in: Content Marketing, Email Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Best Practices, Marketing Strategy

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Four Types of Stories That Will Help You Earn More Business

Four Types of Stories That Will Help You Earn More Business

The title on this blog post was originally “Four Stories That Will Help You Sell More Services”. Do accountants, attorneys, payroll providers and bankers sell services? It sounds so tawdry. Ask any of your peers if they sell services and their unfiltered, off-the-cuff response will likely be “no” – until they think about it, and then grudgingly concede that yes, in fact, they do actually sell services.

Cringe if you must, but it is a fact that CPAs and other business advisors sell professional services. You must “sell” your expertise, your knowledge base, your ethics, your years of education and experience, your skills, your creativity, your ability to solve problems, your capacity for listening, your empathy, and your trustworthiness. When dealing with existing clients, where the bond has already been established, all you have to do is maintain the relationship. When you are actively seeking new business, however, it can often be particularly challenging to establish the necessary rapport to get a prospect in the door.

You have to tell a story.

In my last post , I discussed why stories are effective in marketing and sales. Incorporating stories into your marketing and business development will help you bond with your prospects, nurturing them and earning their trust. Trust is an essential step in the buying lifecycle, particularly when it comes to selecting an accountant (or an attorney, payroll provider, banker, etc).

These four stories really do help you earn more business.

In this post, I review which stories will help you sell more services, earn you more business and boost your bottom line. Consider how you can thoughtfully incorporate these fory types of stories that have been proven effective time and again into your marketing strategy.

1. Personal Stories

I started off this blog post with a personal story. Did you notice? If you’re still reading, it was at least moderately effective. One of the most successful ways to reach out to prospects and show them that you are their best choice for their estate planning needs is to profile yourself, your staff and your current clients in the form of a personal story. People respond to people, particularly if sincerity is palpable. Stories come in many shapes and sizes, so don’t be shy about recording one on video, jotting one down on your blog, drawing a cartoon, or sharing one on your Facebook page. Use first person whenever possible to establish that connection with your readers. Infuse emotion into the story so that your readers can relate and begin bonding with you on an emotional level. Anecdotal stories are frequently the easiest to draft, as the memories are yours. If story telling is new to you, start with a personal anecdote and go from there.

2. Success Stories

Success stories are just a twist on personal stories. Rather than using yourself as the main character, use your clients. They all have a story to tell – the story of how you helped them through a particularly painful situation. Success stories persuade, even when a sale is not the primary objective. While protecting your clients’ privacy, tell the story of their struggle. What was the issue? Why was it such a big problem? How did it affect the client’s life, business, family, perspective, financial resources, status in the community, relationships, reputation or success? Be specific. Be poignant. And then focus on the positive – the outcome, the success.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies conducted a youth-oriented anti-smoking campaign that was highly effective because they used success stories that included the initial struggle to overcome the addiction. The ads evoked empathy in addition to fear. Empathy was the winning trait. “Personal testimonial ads rely on emotional appeals that may enhance message relevance and credibility… there is increasing evidence that ads using personal stories are effective.” If success stories can convince teenagers not to smoke, couldn’t they be used to convince your prospects to hire you?

3. Pop Culture Stories

Pop culture is a great communication starter. At parties, we meet new people and discuss celebrities, television shows, pop culture happenings, politics and other current events as ice breakers. Use the same ice-breaker concept to break into your prospects’ hearts and minds. Tell the story of a known celebrity who has experienced a similar pain point as one your prospects might be facing. There are dozens of tragic stories of wealthy Hollywood types who “forgot” to plan for their estate, or failed to maintain and update their plans that resulted in family feuds that lasted for years. These kinds of stories are fodder for a “don’t follow this example” story that might resonate with your prospects. Consider adding how you would have handled and resolved the matter had you been involved, infusing yourself and your product or service into the story. As long as your prospects understand that it is a hypothetical situation, you may introduce yourself as the would-have-been protagonist.

4. Historical Stories

Persuading prospects to consider you for their estate planning needs can often come with stories from times of yore. The historical story might take a bit of additional research, but the time spent collecting data to support your case will likely be worth it when you get new business from it. On last summer’s television hit show Franklin & Bash on TNT, the partnering lawyers have a reputation for using both personal and historical stories in their courtroom antics with tremendous success. Their behavior may not be traditional or conservative, but it is effective. They use stories in each case to persuade and connect with the jury. While these are fictional characters in fictional courtrooms, the show’s writers developed the characters’ behavior based on standard neuromarketing research – stories have an emotional impact and can generate the desired response if told properly.

The relationship between accountant or other professional advisor and client is a complex one. It is professional, yes, but there is a personal element as well. Perhaps this is due to the client’s need to divulge sensitive or intimate information. Perhaps is it due to the nature of the work. Regardless of the reason, prospects have to get to know you, trust you and maybe even like you before they take the plunge to hire you. Using stories, you will create a bond with prospects that will help you win their trust and earn more business.

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Posted in: Business Development, Business Growth, Client Development, Content Marketing, CPA Firm Marketing, Lead Generation, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Prospecting, Social Media Marketing

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Design Your Website Around Your Clients to Earn More New Business

Design Your Website Around Your Clients to Earn More New Business

Don’t simply design your website as a marketing tool. Instead, consider how designing your website around existing clients can help your accounting firm land more new business.

If you are considering a strategy for refreshing your current website, or perhaps designing your first website, here is some contrarian advice: do not design it as a marketing tool. Let’s face it, most business people will not select an accountant based on a Google search. Referrals are still the most prolific and effective lead source for accounting firms. So why not design your website around the people doing the referring – your current clients?

Here is a simple way to design a world-class website for a tax or accounting firm in three simple steps.

First, make it your website.

Include items that are specific and unique to your firm.

  • Show pictures of your location and your staff.
  • Include imagery of your logo.
  • Include a listing of your services.
  • Include directions and a map.

Second, make your website a valuable resource for your clients.

Provide information and resources to your clients to help them with business and financial issues.

  • Newsletters and articles on recent tax changes can be informative.
  • Financial calculators, such as lease or purchase analysis, mortgage calculators, and retirement target calculators are surprisingly easy to find and add to your site.
  • Links to agencies that your clients might need to contact are also helpful. These can include the IRS, state and local government and taxing agencies, EEOC, SBA, Department of Labor, etc. If a client asks your advice on who to contact for an issue, or how to contact a specific agency, add that agency to the Links section of your website.

Third, provide personal, online services to your clients through private, secure portals.

While online services have become a business requirement for banks and investment services, they can also offer a strong competitive advantage for accounting services.

  • Clients will value the convenience of 24/7 access to their financial statements and tax returns.
  • Providing profitable payroll services to your clients is easy and cost-effective, and the internet makes it easier than ever. Clients enter payroll information and receive PDF copies of paychecks online that they can then print out. It’s more convenient for them and it significantly lowers processing costs for you.
  • By aggregating your clients’ investment and financial information into a single secure location that your clients access through your website, you can increase traffic to your site.

So, here’s the ironic twist. By not designing your website as a marketing tool and instead focusing on how better to serve your clients, you will increase client satisfaction. This will most likely result in more referrals, which in essence, will make your website a more effective marketing tool.

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Posted in: Client Service, CPA Accounting Firm Management, CPA Firm Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Marketing Technology, Online Marketing

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Why Design is Critical in Email Newsletters

Why Design is Critical in Email Newsletters

Let’s face it, we are a visual culture. Visual appeal affects every aspect of our lives. From choosing a potential romantic entanglement to choosing a breakfast cereal, that initial eye-catching image has a lot more to do with who and what we choose than most of us are willing to admit. Visual appeal is an equally important element of good design, and email newsletters need to be as well-designed as they are informative and educational.

Without a harmonious balance between the black and white words on the screen and the visual design elements of your piece, you run the risk of getting overlooked by your readers.

Why is design critical to the success of your email newsletter campaign and how you can get involved in the design process?

To prove the case for good design, I have the law on my side. Attorneys can tell you from experience that many of us fail to read the fine print. A good number of us are only paying attention to the information that was called out for us in in some way. There are also a few of us who pay little attention to anything that does not call us to take action, such as the “Sign Here” line at the bottom of the document.

Why do we hate reading the fine print even though we know there may be some important information hiding in the tiny text? Why do vital pieces of written information frequently get missed? This is due to the fact that about 65 percent of the population is comprised of visual learners. (Source: Pearson educational publishing.)

Knowing this, you can assume that visual learners represent roughly half of your newsletter readership. Visual learners won’t automatically read into a written message in detail. Instead they glance through a piece looking for information they feel is of relevance or importance to them. They are looking for visual cues to help them engage in your content. At least one out of every two people viewing your email newsletter content will benefit from strong design elements.

Effective Design Elements:

  • Sidebars
  • Quotes
  • Charts & Graphs
  • Calls to Action
  • Numbered Lists
  • Changing Typography
  • Images
  • Cartoons
  • Video

Why else is design critical?

As a professional service provider, you have an obligation to keep your clients informed and up to date on matters affecting their businesses and their lives. However, well-laid design can transform your content from run-of-the-mill information updates into an interactive, engaging resource that will help you generate new business growth.

Well-executed design allows you to tap into your clients’ various learning styles. Some readers will want to skim your article, some will want to absorb every minute detail, and even some others will want to hear it in a podcast. Design coupled with innovation gives you a means of establishing a connection with any learner.

Provide your audience with points that call out information and then guide them through your content. Your article titles are the first pieces of information that can draw your audience in, followed by sub-headings, quotations, numbered lists, sidebars, charts, graphs, images, captions, sound bites, video and so on. Design tools should complement your content and can be used in various combinations to draw readers of all types into your email newsletter.

Here are five additional points to consider in the case for good design:

1. Recognition

A critical element of your overall email newsletter design is your readers’ ability to immediately recognize and connect with your brand. You work hard to establish your brand in the marketplace, and the overall design of your email newsletter can further build that image. Your brand is a recognizable visual identity that your clients, prospects and referral sources mentally connect with your firm’s reputation and value. A repetitive, yet relevant and solicited, stream of informative communications coming from your firm will serve to strengthen and enhance your brand, build top of mind awareness and reinforce your firm’s credibility.

2. Action

Design can move your readers into action. The “call to action” is essentially the integration of design and content to provoke contact from your readers. If a call to action is done well, it leads your readers down a path where there next obvious action would be to either contact your firm directly or find another relationship-building interaction with your firm. For example, you might have a simple request for interested parties to attend your next seminar. Your call to action would begin with the event announcement, follow through in the body of the message with relevant details about what information will be gained from attending, and then achieve the goal of action when the “register today” request results in a completed registration form. Good design can be employed to direct potential event registrants sign up through the use of graphics, images, bulleted lists and a strong call to “register soon”.

3. Enjoyment

Design helps your readers to engage in your email newsletter and can provide a sense of enjoyment. When your readers find themselves enjoying your content, it can help elicit positive emotion. These somewhat emotional interactions can actually build an impression and increase the likelihood that your reader will remember your article.

Type treatments and styles will help your readers better understand your content, and increased understanding inherently leads to enhanced enjoyment. Add an image or two along the way that support or reinforce your message content, and you will create a lasting impression. Readers who are prone to scanning will also dig more deeply into your message if they have a couple images or other visual cues and stylized text to help them along.

4. Attention

Your readers are constantly being bombarded by messages. Attention-grabbing design helps get you noticed in an over-stuffed inbox. In this day of information overload, design can help take the stress out of the experience for your readers. If they remembered enjoying your last email newsletter, can easily recognize your brand, and can quickly spot a few pieces of information relevant to them — then you have won the battle against the delete key. Your design can give your recipients a visual note that your content is important, yet accessible. It can tell them in just a few seconds that they can trust your message, and that they will appreciate the knowledge you have to share.

5. Focus

Design focus can be accomplished in two ways: first as a means of drawing your readers further into your content, and secondly as a method of communicating with a targeted audience. Design can improve reader focus through the process of creating a visual and informational hierarchy. Part of capturing that highly-engaged focus is having an understanding your audience. Targeted communications are a highly effective means of honing in on a subset and speaking directly to them. It is important to identify any niche industries that you serve and communicate directly to their pain points in your targeted email blasts. Communications focused on the needs of your subscribers will lead to enhanced client relationships and prospect conversion.

If you haven’t already begun to consider your business goals and what you want to accomplish through your communications — think about these things now. Lay out a plan for what you want to say and how often you want to say it. Arm yourself with a solid strategy and get involved in the process of designing your email newsletters.

Every designers’ dirty little secret is that they copy other designers’ work. They see work they like, and they imitate it. Rather cheekily, they call this inspiration.” –Aaron Russell

Whether it is email newsletters or other e-marketing tools, it may be helpful to consult with a designer prior to embarking on a campaign. You can also employ a designer to help breathe life into a stagnating campaign. A designer can recommend distinctive methodologies that will draw greater attention to your content marketing and help you achieve your goals. Make a plan to be a part of the process with your designer.

How to get involved in the process:

  • Know your goals, know your objectives, know your audience
  • Make sure your partners and/or senior management are on board with these goals
  • Clearly communicate your needs to the designer
  • Adhere to a schedule for approvals and deliverables
  • Clearly communicate all proofs and revisions with the decision makers at your firm and return feedback in a timely fashion — multiple revisions can add time and cost to a design project

Good design is a critical component to the success of your newsletter campaign. You may be considering seeking out professional design services, or perhaps you are thinking about integrating some new design elements into your newsletter. In either case, it is important to remember that beyond looking great, your content needs to provide real value to your readers. With the marriage of great content and stellar design, your email marketing efforts are sure to reap you the rewards of highly engaged clients and new business opportunities.

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Posted in: Advertising, Email Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Strategy, Newsletters, Online Marketing

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4 Stages Of Maturity For An Accounting Firm

4 Stages Of Maturity For An Accounting Firm

I’ve been discussing the four stages of maturity with accountants at trade shows, seminars, and conferences for so long that I’m not quite sure where I originally heard about them. They’ve stuck in my mind for all these years mostly because they’re fun to talk about. But I’ve found that they can also be a useful way to think about your business.

What stage are you at right now, and where would you like to be?

Stage 1: “I will do business with anybody.”

This is where most new firms start out. Hungry to get work from any clients (and in some cases, just plain hungry), you’ll take work from anybody, under any conditions.

Stage 2: “I will only do business with clients that actually pay me.”

Armed with the experience you gained in stage one, you are now able to look at potential clients and assess their ability to actually pay you for your work. Instead of asking, “How can I get this client to work with me?” you’re now asking, “Can I make money by working with this client?” This is the first step towards creating a sustainable firm, and it is the most important stage to progress to, if not through.

Stage 3: “I will only take on new clients that operate in my preferred business method.”

At this point, you’re becoming an expert at determining what kinds of work your firm will do best and how to run your business for maximum profit. And because you have a relatively stable client base, you can be a little more selective about which new business you choose to take on. Is there a certain software system you prefer your clients use? Do you like to bundle services in a certain way? Do you prefer clients who will work with you via online portal? At this stage, you can use your experience as leverage to move new clients to your way of doing business. It might sound a little presumptuous, but it often results in better service to the client, less hassle for you, and higher profits.

Stage 4: “I will only do business with clients that operate in my preferred business method.”

Though many firms never make it to stage four, it’s a great place to be. You have a strong client roster. You’re a respected expert in your field. And perhaps most importantly, the business model you established in stage three is working like a well-oiled machine.

Still, you probably have a few rogue clients hanging around from stages one and two. They don’t fit your business model and you’re dedicating a disproportionate amount of time to serving them. This is the time where you begin asking yourself whether it’s worth keeping them around.

You may be able to bring them around to your business model. Chances are they’ll be happier in the long run. But if they won’t adapt, it might be time to end the relationship. You probably know a few firms in stages one and two that would love to have the business.

There you have the four stages of maturity for an accounting firm. Getting to stage three or possibly to stage four can make life a lot easier and more enjoyable, but knowing all the stages can make it easier for you to think about the growth of your firm as you consider the types of clients you would like to attract and your stage of firm maturity. Not to mention giving you something fun to talk about at conferences and cocktail parties.

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Posted in: Business Development, Business Growth, CPA Accounting Firm Management, CPA Firm Marketing, Marketing, Operations

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