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Preparers Tackle Pre-Season Marketing

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Preparers have a few days left to market their practices before plunging into tax season. Some rely on established marketing methods almost on autopilot. Other preparers try new methods using tools from computers to community.

EA John Spellman, president of the Tax Team of New England in Nashua, N.H., said his firm’s marketing this season remains the same -- and started long before January.

“I advertise locally and do business expos throughout the summer and fall,” Spellman said. “I continue to gain clients through referrals from current clients and other business owners in my area. I’ve found the best thing to do is talk with people and discuss their needs. Once you find out their needs and concerns, you can discuss your skills and business practices and ultimately obtain them as a client. I’ve been averaging five to 40 new clients each year with these marketing tools.”

The annual plethora of tax changes -- pronounced again this year -- offers another opening. “Our existing and prior clients received a mailing from us in December,” said CPA Brian Thompson with Bailey & Thompson Tax & Accounting, in Little Rock, Ark. “We plan to list some of the tax changes as well as present some health care-related information. We’ll continue to post relevant tax information on Facebook that can be shared with potential new clients. I also have an opportunity to speak at a dinner to a homeowners’ association in our area, which will provide an excellent marketing opportunity.”

“Word of mouth by satisfied clients is by far the best marketing,” said Steven Hanson, a CPA with Minnesota-based Piehl, Hanson, Beckman, where the “formal marketing strategy” includes an advertising campaign in local newspapers. “We have training for all of our staff in customer service, office etiquette and other such topics right before the busy season hits.”

“I haven’t advertised for over 15 years. No change foreseen,” added Eric Hansen, RTRP, at Hansen Accounting in Omaha, Neb. “I accept new clients by referral only.”

Referrals still reign

The best advertising -- which takes more time to build than any other kind -- remains good work and happy, talkative clients. Some preparers use this to the exclusion of other marketing. “I’m doing very little traditional advertising,” said John Stancil, a CPA in Lakeland, Fla. “I just use one-on-one contact and referrals.” 

“Client referrals are the best and only real way to get a client in here calmly without gimmicks and varied promises,” said Belton, Mo.-based senior tax specialist Bruce McFarland, who added that over the past 16 years of practice he tried “various means” of marketing. “In this business, dealing with a client’s money and all that they must provide to a preparer, they’re looking for testimonials from friends and family, not TV commercials.”

Educating the public on preparer qualifications also often helps. Lawrence Walkden, an EA and RTRP at Snohomish & Monroe Accounting in Monroe, Wash., for example, plans to advertise his ACAT credentials and memberships “and the constant training I and my staff go through,” he said.

Word power

Brian Mock, EA, of Mock & Associates, Peoria, Ariz., said his firm markets with door-hanging flyers. “We have a local company distribute [them], focusing on homes within five miles of our office,” he said. “We started this last year as well and received a very strong, immediate response. The only thing I regret is that we started the campaign a little late in the season last year, but we plan to have them go out in January this year.”

“[We use] ads in a local church bulletin, ads in neighborhood newsletters and a sign out front with the National Association of Tax Professionals logo on it,” said Philip King of Crown Tax Service in San Antonio.

Kathy Hallford, EA and owner of Kathy’s Tax Service in Gilbertown, Ala., said she regularly advertises in her weekly local newspaper. “During tax season, I run a 3-by-5-inch ad,” she said. “The rest of the year I have a business card-size ad weekly that I try to change at least monthly.”

Tech tools

Technology continues to gain traction as a preparer marketing tool. “Our main marketing strategy for next season revolves around our company Web site,” Mock said. “We recognized a number of years ago that most consumers were looking online for our services, so our goal is to create a strong online presence. Last year we hired a local marketing firm to handle our Web site [search engine optimization] … and we saw an increase of 230 percent in new clients, year over year.”

Mock’s firm also offers current clients a $50 gift card for every referral that ends up doing tax prep with the firm.

Teddy Prioleau of The Tax & Mortgage Shop of America in Hunt Valley, Md., is considering “advertising heavily for the first time in about 17 years. I’ll even do a little social networking on the business level,” he added, “so those who’ve never used my services and are using those media more and more will know I'm available.”

Prioleau also called social media “one of the fastest-growing and least costly ways to reach the public.”

“Having a Web presence is our second-best (marketing) approach,” McFarland said. “Build a blog, post regularly and clients find you in time, then, over time, they’ll come.”

Though she reported “no problem acquiring new clients” after 22 years in practice, Cynthia Jeanguenat, an EA with Horizons Unlimited Tax & Business Services, in Virginia Beach, Va., did tout her firm’s online marketing and the power of quick and frequent contact with clients. “We have a Facebook presence that’s working great for us,” she said. “We post tips and tax news throughout the year and our clients have found us there and ‘like’ us. It’s a great way to keep in touch.”

Other avenues

Prioleau also intends to take the podium. “This coming filing season, I will accept more public speaking engagements than in every other tax season I’ve gone through except this [immediate] past year,” he said. “I’ve learned that public speaking engagements give the potential client a good look at the professional, up close, as opposed to that two-dimensional figure they see talking on the television or that one-dimensional figure talking through radio speakers.” Attendees are mostly glad to “soak up the free information” that will help them decide whether to engage you professionally, he added.

Jamaal Solomon, an EA at J.S. Tax Corp. in New York hopes to use his recent ebook, A Good Guy's Tax Journey to “reach some people while promoting EAs. Also, I plan to become more involved in my community. I need to establish myself as a trustworthy tax expert [and] may look to partner with another tax professional.”

Javier Solis of New York-based Los Taxes Inc. takes what called “a different approach” to market to some 60 million Latino taxpayers. “After studying the Latino market for several years, we came to the conclusion that traditional corporate marketing doesn’t work for us,” he said. “We came up with a new and innovative approach called ‘community activism marketing,’ a combination of corporate marketing and community service. This marketing strategy is given to all our tax centers and we’ve seen positive results.”

Los Taxes staffers attend monthly meetings of a local clergy coalition to provide financial information to more than pastors. “I did it in good faith because a lot of churches weren’t complying with IRS reporting regulations and they asked me to make presentations on individual taxation, business services and other topics,” Solis said. “I didn’t print my office information in my materials because I wanted to do this as an educational presentation and I didn’t want them to think I wanted to sell my services. I did the same with community-based organizations.”

“My goal was to educate the taxpayer and build a trusted relationship with community leaders,” he explained. “After over 18 years, they refer me a lot of clients.”

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