[IMGCAP(1)]It’s never too late in the season to keep up your advertising -- either for the rest of this tax season or the beginning of next -- without spending a lot of money. The trick, preparers said, is to know what works.

Big questions

Preparers try a variety of active-season marketing, from passing out promo items with logos and hiring workers to pass out flyers, to hitting online markets such as Craigslist on off hours. Some methods are tried and true, others tried and not-so-true in bringing in prep clients.

“Over my years in business I hate to think of the many thousands of dollars I have wasted on marketing and advertising,” said Lennox Boush, EA with Heritage Income Tax Service in Portsmouth, Va. “At the same time that I was wasting that money, however, I was learning the hard way how to make my marketing more effective.”

“The first and most important thing in building your business is to ask yourself this question, ‘What do I offer that makes me so different from the others out there, so much different that a new client would want to come to me instead of the others?’ Unless one can provide a compelling answer to that question, one will always have difficulty building a business,” he added. “It is not enough to make generic statements such as ‘I am better’ or ‘I am cheaper.’”

 “All of the traditional means of advertising are pretty much a waste of money,” Boush maintined. “I include in that newspapers, radio, TV, billboards, Yellow Pages and so on. As many have said long before me, the best results come from referrals.”

Also critical, he said, is “the lifetime value of the client, instead of just what the client pays just the first year … I have heard business owners say many times that they quit advertising in a certain way because it only brought in twice what they paid for the advertising. In my opinion, for a tax business getting $2 for every $1 you spend would be fantastic results,” Boush said.

Boush offers these suggestions for building referrals:

  • “Many years ago, I purchased 500 magnetic rulers imprinted with my name on them. They cost 37 cents each, for a total of $185. That was over 20 years ago and they are still on refrigerator doors and I still get referrals from them even though the phone number was disconnected in 1995 when I sold my business. This year I finally bought 2,000 more, this time in full color [and] with a current phone number … Some people have said to me that they thought they would just get a magnetic business card. Certainly that would work, but a ruler is more likely to be kept since it is something they can use, as opposed to a business card that is just advertising. Further the cost really is not that much different.” (You can see his ruler here.)
  • “I work with a local Chick-fil-A restaurant to give away sandwiches to my clients. No purchase is required by the client. Clients would normally have to pay $3.09 for the sandwich and, at least around here, everybody loves them. If they have a Chick-fil-A in your area, it is an incredibly inexpensive way to create significant goodwill and get your clients to talking about you,” he said. “While it may be different from franchise to franchise, my local Chick-fil-A only makes me pay for the cost of printing the coupons. Since they are custom printed, I have my own business information printed on them as well as the coupon. I not only give them to clients but I go around to nearby businesses and ask if I can give them to their employees. I attach a small flyer to them with a coupon for my services. I also go to the nearby nursing homes and give one to every employee with the same coupon attached. At a nickel apiece, I can afford to be pretty free with how I give them away.” (He added that other chains might be willing to make a similar deal.)
  • Boush said he’s also furnished “nice color menus” to a local mom-and-pop eatery  “in exchange for placing my ad on the menu … My total cost was less than $100 and that will keep my ad in their restaurant for at least a year.”

Other tips

Among other tips from the LinkedIn discussion group “Tax Business Owners of America”:

Keep up Craigslist ads (particularly under the categories “Small Business” or “Services/Financial”) during the offseason to pick up late filers;

Run a weekly ad in the local shoppers’ news, local paper or even placemats at a local diner;

  • Network with local bankers and brokers for referrals;
  • Consider Thumbtack, a referral site that gives a preparer’s info and two or three competitors. Listings are free. Use that, Angie’s List and Yelp, and encourage clients to write reviews for you.
  • Touch base with clients more often than just at tax time.

For more advertising tips, see Part I of this article.

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