[IMGCAP(1)]For many accountants, whether they're sole proprietors or managing partners at top 100 firms, managing the marketing efforts of their firm seems like a tricky proposition.

Let’s be honest, most accounting firms are led by accountants, and accountants aren’t exactly known for their creativity. But, as a managing partner or marketing director, you can focus your efforts on strategically directing your marketing and sales efforts, while leaving the creativity to your team or agency. Your responsibility is to organize, direct and manage marketing efforts in a manner that maximizes the results you achieve with a finite amount of time and resources.

So where do you start? Try utilizing these four simple steps to improve the results of your firm’s marketing.

Establish a Budget
The first step to effectively managing marketing is the establishment of a budget. If you believe in marketing, you need to make a financial commitment. A budget allows you to focus on “what” rather than “if.”

Firms without budgets often waste hours and hours of professional time arguing over every potential marketing initiative. Should we build a new Web site? Do we need to invest in our brand?

A budget will allow you to change the question from “Should we spend money on marketing?” to “How do we most effectively allocate our marketing spends?” If you are committed to marketing, the first question should already be answered with an emphatic yes. A budget is a commitment, and a commitment is the first step towards being strategic.

Segment and Allocate Your Budget According to Purpose
Once you have established an overall budget, your next step is to begin to strategically allocate your earmarked funds. Business-to-business marketing, and particularly professional service marketing, has several essential purposes including brand development, market awareness, service delivery, lead generation, and sales or new client acquisition.

Why is it critical to segment your budget? Segmenting your budget ensures you are allocating resources to all of the critical areas that work together to drive growth. The specific allocation of your budget among marketing purposes will depend on your market position, growth objectives, and internal strengths and weaknesses. Once your budget is segmented and allocated, you can identify specific strategic initiatives within each marketing purpose that you believe will help you achieve each purpose.

Set Expectations
Before you can make strategic changes to improve your marketing returns, you need expectations by which to judge your efforts. Identify specific measurable objectives for each of your “purpose” budgets. For instance, if one of your budget purposes is lead generation, you should set measurable expectations for lead generation. What constitutes a lead? How will you track opportunities? How many new opportunities do you require in order to meet your growth objectives? Setting expectations will allow you to judge your initiatives and strategically reallocate your budget.

For instance, if two of your objectives are lead generation and new client acquisition, comparing the actual results of your marketing efforts to predetermined expectations will allow you to understand where more attention is needed. If you discover that you are meeting or exceeding your objectives for closing qualified opportunities, but you are not identifying enough qualified opportunities, you may need to evaluate your lead generation efforts. Do you have the right initiatives? Should you modify your tactics? Or do your initiatives work, but simply require greater resources? In that case you may need to adjust your budget allocation to increase the funds earmarked towards lead generation.

Evaluate Results and Improve
With a commitment to marketing, the establishment of a segmented budget, and clearly defined expectations, you are now in a position to be strategic. There is a very clear formula that leads to sustained organic growth in a professional services firm. Your budget is your commitment to developing that formula within your firm. The allocation of your budget represents your efforts to balance this formula and maximize the results of your efforts. Your expectations will allow you to identify areas of achievement and weakness in your firm’s unique growth equation. With this foundation, you can now work to balance your marketing equation and increase the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Your primary marketing purposes must all be achieved in order to unlock your growth potential. If you have a weak brand or poor market awareness, it will be far more difficult and expensive to generate and close qualified opportunities. If you are failing to convert opportunities into new clients and increased revenues, the sales function within your firm may require additional attention. Reviewing the results of your marketing will empower you to modify both your tactics and resource allocations to achieve dynamic growth.

Expect more from your marketing efforts. Make a budget commitment and start being strategic. The results will follow.

Stephen Brunson is the managing director of Catalyst CPA Marketing, a full-service growth consultancy and marketing agency serving CPA firms. Steve and Catalyst help leading local and regional accounting firms across the country achieve their true growth potential by providing marketing and business development strategy and implementation.