Many marketing and accounting professionals are interested in learning about inbound marketing. After all, it's the latest and greatest thing to happen in accounting marketing, and many CPA firms are leveraging their digital presence to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in new opportunities on an annual basis.

It sounds great, but most are unclear what steps they need to take to create such a program at their own firm. Most contemplate where they should focus their limited marketing resources as they seek to develop an inbound marketing program. The information available on search engine optimization, social media marketing, and pay-per-click advertising is disjointed and doesn't seem to connect to a broader process.

In speaking to both marketing and accounting professionals across the country, it seems there is a great deal of confusion about the various aspects of inbound marketing. Is there a broader integrated process? How should they approach developing or refining their program? It appears that there is not a lot of information available on the topic, which makes it that much more difficult. To help make sense of it all, and to offer some guidance, areas where professionals should focus their attention are outlined below.

FOCUSING RESOURCES

In focusing their resources, firms with developing inbound marketing programs should do the following:

• Identify a champion. Anytime you launch a new initiative, it's important to have a champion. If you are a partner in a firm, you may be the champion, but it will serve you well to get buy-in and support from other partners. If you are a marketing professional, it's critical to have a partner-level champion to support the process.

The success of any firm-wide marketing initiative is attributed to two factors. First, the program is well designed, has key benchmarks, is analyzed and adjusted based on results, and delivers a strong ROI. Second, it has support from firm leadership. In any partnership structure, there are always competing interests for resources, and marketing is no exception. For this reason, it's critical to have buy-in from firm leadership to ensure that you have the high-level support needed to sustain the program. The most effective way to get this support is to identify a champion who will extoll the benefits of inbound marketing to their peers and those in positions of authority.

• Evaluate your Web site platform. When developing an inbound marketing program, it is critical to assess your Web site platform. You may be thinking, "What do I know about Web site platforms?" After all, you have a Web site and it works -- what else is there to know? Quite a lot, actually; while the Web site may be well-designed and exactly suit your specifications, there are other considerations. The most important question you should consider is the level of control you have over the site.

Generally speaking, the level of control and amount of flexibility a firm has is, in part, determined by the Web site platform the site is built upon. For example, open-source content management systems, or CMS, such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and CMS Made Simple offer a high degree of control and flexibility. These systems are designed to allow non-technical professionals the freedom and ability to create new pages, to add and edit content, and even to conduct basic SEO. Unfortunately, some firms are in a situation where they need to rely on their Web site development company to add and edit content, add basic functionality, or make other changes to the site. In many situations, simple content changes and other requests often result in steep corresponding charges. This is not sustainable in the long run and simply unnecessary given the platforms available today. Whatever your situation, clearly understand the limitations of your Web site platform before launching an inbound marketing program.

• Establish a content process. The most commonly voiced objection by CPA firms when discussing launching an inbound marketing program is content development. The reality is that most marketing professionals understand the basics of accounting but don't have the technical knowledge needed to write in-depth articles on various topics. Moreover, even if they were comfortable writing such articles, there needs to be an approval process in place for publishing each piece.

Given this challenge, it's important to have a content strategy developed either before or immediately after an inbound program is launched. This should include, at minimum, an agreement on what services/industries will be the focus, identification of contributing professionals (outsourced writers, internal writers or service professionals) from each segment, a schedule for content production and a content approval process. This will ensure that you have at least enough to get the process started.

IN PERSPECTIVE

Launching an inbound marketing process is a firm-wide effort that requires an understanding not only of Web technology, but also of key issues and trends affecting the firm's clients and prospects. If you don't have all the answers today, don't worry -- it's a gradual process that will evolve over time.

Brian Swanson is a partner with Flashpoint Marketing, a marketing and lead generation company focused on serving the accounting industry. Reach him at (612) 886-3561 or at bswanson@flashpointmarketing.biz.

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