Marketing is no longer an option, but an imperative for accounting firms. The urgency was clear at the Association for Accounting Marketing’s 2017 AAM Summit this June in Las Vegas, where marketing directors and business development pros shared the latest tools and strategies for practice growth.

Merely buying a web domain will no longer cut it in today’s competitive market. Listening to various experts speak at the Summit, we distilled down 13 lessons learned for the way accounting firms should be marketing now. (A list version of this article is available here.)

1. Be gradual. When it comes to innovation in marketing, start with insight and incrementally build it, with an open mind for what comes next, advised Scott Wayne, author and founder of organizational transformation company the Frontier Project.

2. Try something different. Some of Wayne’s suggestions to trigger innovative thought processes: change your commute to work, download a Ted Talk for a subject you’re not interested in, read a holy book of another religion, give up alcohol for a month.

3. Put the phone (and other distractions) down. Wayne does a lot of executive coaching, and he arranges his first meeting with clients at an art gallery, where he asks them to sit in front of a piece they like. But first: He takes their smartphone. “It’s a standoff for five minutes,” he shared. But, after 30 minutes of sitting still, huge life issues and epiphanies emerge. “When was the last time you sat quiet for 30 minutes?” he challenged.

4. Instead of being satisfied that things are working, find out what exactly is working. Practice growth efforts need to be shifted from reactive to proactive, said Raissa Evans, founder and chief strategist at management consulting firm Running Reload.

5. Ask why. If a customer says, “We need to build a bridge,” instead of jumping into the planning phase, Evans suggests starting with a question. “Dig deeper: ‘Why do you need the bridge?’ If the client responds, “I want to get across the river,’ counter with, ‘Well, there are other ways to solve that….’”

6. Draw them in. Inbound marketing – which pulls specific audiences in instead of the traditional, or outbound, method of widely broadcasting to them – has long proven to be more effective. According to Eric Majchrzak, shareholder and chief marketing officer of BeachFleischman PC, whom Evans quoted during her AAM Summit presentation, “If you’re doing your job right, 90 percent of leads are inbound.”

7. In fact, steer away from traditional marketing when possible. Content marketing costs 62 percent less and generates roughly three times as many leads as traditional marketing, according to Matt Seitz, senior marketing manager at Skoda Minotti.

8. “Make everyone an ambassador.” Advises Evans, “Because [practice growth] affects the whole firm, it needs to involve the whole firm.”

9. Don’t forget to celebrate the little things. “You need small celebrations, not just big wins,” Evans said, adding that an “Attaboy!” goes a long way.

10. Measure what matters. There are a slew of marketing metrics to track, from page views to social followers to subscribers and referral sources. “Pick the ones important to your firm and to your campaign,” Setiz said. “Know your audience.”

11. Make it competitive. At Skoda Minotti, they’ve built content generation into performance goals, encouraging everyone to create one to two pieces of content per year.

12. Repurpose your content. Seitz sees great power in re-using great content that has already performed well. For example, Skoda Minotti used some information from the risk advisory group on how to prevent data breaches to create a few long blog posts. Then, they grouped those together to publish a lead-generating ebook, which had enough good statistics for Seitz’s team to extract and turn into infographics they posted on the firm’s website and social channels.

13. Create a calendar. Set up a schedule for content marketing, digital assets, events and social media. You can use Excel for now, as Seitz at Skoda Minotti does, and upgrade to more sophisticated software, like Curata, later. The important thing is to map out the content so you can fill in gaps and establish a “regular cadence” of content, Seitz advised, which is a good general marketing practice, but especially great for Google’s SEO algorithm.

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Danielle Lee

Danielle Lee

Danielle Lee, managing editor of Accounting Today, previously served as technology editor of Accounting Today and editor-in-chief of Accounting Technology.