After years of being halted by accountants with their arms outstretched and hands spread wide (Stop!) when I approached them about their marketing plans, I finally realized what makes them so unwilling to market themselves: They are uncomfortable.

In many cases, they've been told what to do to grow their practice. Mentors, managing partners and others have shared with them how they achieved success.

Lead by example - right? Wrong.

The perfect marketing plan should pinpoint motivating factors that inspire professionals to achieve their specific goals in a way that offers them the freedom to be themselves, make genuine connections and establish authentic relationships.

So, while it may seem like a great idea to encourage professionals to participate in networking events and meetings, without thoughtful consideration and a dialogue with that individual about their comfort level and potential contribution, it might not yield desirable results. In fact, you may actually deter that individual from marketing!

No one wants to move outside of their comfort zone for fear of looking foolish, and no one wants to waste their time. CPAs are no exception. I have seen marketing plans with individual goals that read something like, "Mary will attend a speed networking event, and two lunch meetings each month, and will join a professional organization." I have seen lists of organizations distributed to staff for them to select an organization to join. Let's examine some results of this approach:

Lack of focus. The pressure is on the individual to find events each month that will fit into her schedule, rather than focusing on making a true connection with someone who will value her skills

Lack of motivation. The individual is tasked with finding someone with whom they share a common interest from a sea of individuals that have been gathered for the sole purpose of general networking.

No ownership of the commitment/activity. "What will I have to do if I join?"

It's not that having monthly goals is a bad thing, and perusing a list of organizations can certainly be helpful - it's just putting the cart before the horse.

INDIVIDUAL MARKETING PLANS

The perfect marketing plan for any individual should provide a safe, comfortable place for the professional to regularly communicate their value to a specific, targeted audience.

Work with your professionals to identify a group of people with whom they share something in common in order to foster a genuine interest in the group, as well as compatibility with its members. This should help facilitate authentic connections.

Remember Mary? Mary's individual marketing plan should be molded around Mary's specific abilities and interests. Her target group should offer something attractive to her. Mary's marketing director can assist her by finding out what she enjoys or what inspires her, and starting a dialogue with her about her favorite clients to identify the essence of what makes them so favorable. Then try to duplicate that nuance in the organization, venue or activities that are selected for her marketing plan. It might be acceptable for her to attend only four or five networking events throughout one year if she could truly bond with the members of the group.

In addition to networking events, Mary would be encouraged to communicate regularly with her new contacts individually. Mary would be more likely to do this because she shares a common interest with them. Mary may contribute an article for the group's newsletter or give a presentation. She might also ask a partner in the firm to address the group. Mary has ownership of her marketing plan because it is tailored perfectly for her and she is fully committed to its successful implementation.

GROUP MARKETING PLANS

When creating a group marketing plan for a niche or service area, use the same approach to make sure that everyone is comfortable with their contribution to the overall marketing plan. Everyone should agree on the type of client they want to attract - then, pinpoint the target group based on those criteria. Tailor the plan to include events throughout the year that members of the target group attend, publications they read, and other venues by which they receive worthwhile information.

The group plan should define key strengths and roles. Acknowledge the strengths of each of the key team members and clearly showcase these in all communications to the target group. All aspects of the plan should highlight these abilities and engage the target audience by demonstrating the value of these skills. The plan should extend over a period of time (one year or so) and be molded around the schedule of opportunities available to reach this target group regularly.

If one of the key members is highly technical, perhaps that individual can contribute the points of an article for an appropriate newsletter or publication. Perhaps that individual could write up a presentation that could be given by another member of the team at a regional or national conference. Another participant might enjoy research. That individual could be charged with providing current news or trends about pertinent topics that would interest the target group.

The group marketing plan should utilize the resources and talents of the entire group, so that all may participate. One month may see an informative networking event, the next a broadcast e-mail featuring a hot topic, the next an article in an appropriate publication, the next an appropriate sponsorship, etc.

The marketing director would be charged with the coordination of all events. With everything planned well in advance, each member will know what is expected from them, and be comfortable with their contribution. Opportunities will present themselves over time, as the firm develops a reputation of its commitment to that niche.

Everyone has strengths - and areas where they can improve. Your firm's marketing plans should take these into consideration. Any professional can successfully market themselves when they are at ease, confident and nurturing the right relationships - those that will yield the highest return on their investment.

Lisa Tierney is the owner of Tierney Coaching & Consulting and a certified life coach and marketing consultant. She is also president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association for Accounting Marketing. Reach her at lisatierney@comcast.net or (267) 470-4250.

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