Remember the 1990s flick, What About Bob?

For those who do, you are familiar with the "baby steps" approach. For those of you who are not privy, no worries. This article will explain the concept in detail.

In the minds of most, "marketing" consists solely of referrals. And while a solid referral program is a strong component of a broader marketing plan, it only scratches the surface of a firm's marketing potential.

Because marketing is a foreign concept to many, it can seem overwhelming. However, like anything else, you have to move forward, educate yourself, and go through a bit of trial and error to get to a marketing plan that works for your firm. The good news is that you don't have to launch a full marketing program from Day One.

It's best to take it slowly, in baby steps.

The baby step method simply refers to taking your marketing implementation in increments, so it doesn't seem nearly as overwhelming. Just think about taking on a new client. New clients are a lot of work - setting up their account, reviewing the state of their current accounting data, facilitating initial meetings and conversations, creating their personalized portals, and developing all the custom documents required. This doesn't all happen in a day - you approach the tasks one at a time. Marketing is no different.

Of course, implementing a full marketing program is a much bigger "step" than setting up a new client, but the approach remains the same. There are distinct markers you can set for yourself as you begin to implement a marketing program. Just remember that it will take time, dedicated effort and, at times, a pretty big dose of patience.

KEY BABY STEPS

You know you want to move forward with marketing efforts. But like many firm leaders, you don't know where to start. Make it easy on yourself (and your staff) by focusing on a few activities and slowly growing your program as you become more comfortable with marketing. Rest assured that you will eventually fall into your marketing groove. It's at that point that you can move past baby steps and really start to run with your marketing efforts.

Start with a plan. You would not start a major home renovation without a plan, right? Otherwise, you're just tearing stuff apart randomly and hoping it will all come together in the end. A marketing plan provides a blueprint of what tasks need to be accomplished and the proper timeframe for each. A plan keeps you on track and your marketing goals realistic.

The plan doesn't have to be comprehensive; you just have to get something down on paper. For example, create a spreadsheet divided into quarters (Q1-Q4), and then begin to populate the plan with marketing initiatives you would like to accomplish by quarter (or even by month). Over time, you will start to see an organized plan come together - one with re-occurring campaigns based on a certain time of year. Before you know it, you have a standard annual plan that can be used over and over with minor tweaking.

Appoint a marketing point of contact. Marketing will always be put on the back burner if you don't appoint a key person to champion the cause. A dedicated POC can manage all marketing communications and follow-up to ensure that prospects and clients are kept engaged.

George Watkins, CPA and president of Watkins & Associates, in LaPlata, Md., tasked one staff member with all marketing-related activity to ensure proper follow-up with prospects. "We are slowly rolling out a marketing program here, and one thing I learned along the way was that we needed a process in place to make sure that prospects were being moved through the sales funnel," he said. "I identified a point of contact in my office to oversee marketing initiatives and follow-up communications, such as fulfilling prospect requests for more information on our services and scheduling initial appointments. I appointed a staff member with excellent communication and organization skills to take over this role."

Identify and begin developing key marketing collateral. It's difficult to run a marketing program if you don't have the proper resources to support it. You can talk all day about what you offer, but eventually, a prospect will request follow-up information, such as a brochure, services fact sheet, or a link to your Web site. Evaluate all the collateral you have on hand (including your Web site) and ask yourself: "Does it support my brand? Is it professional-looking, well-written, up-to-date?" and "What other pieces do I need?" Be sure that you have the proper marketing collateral in stock before you hit the streets.

Jump in with your first campaign. Don't be scared of hitting the ground running with a few small marketing campaigns. Do a little research first, of course. Know your audience and create a campaign, whether it's print or e-mail-driven, that speaks to that audience. For example, is it going to prospects or existing clients? Are you targeting a specific niche? You will have a very different message when speaking to clients versus prospects, and for different niches. Target your audience, create a message that is appropriate, and hit Send! With each new campaign you will identify areas for improvement. Marketing is trial and error. You will get better at identifying and developing marketing initiatives over time.

THE BIG PICTURE

These steps represent the big rocks of a sound marketing program. Starting with a defined list of tasks helps ease you into marketing and sets the stage for a full program rollout down the road.

Approaching marketing in baby steps also mitigates frustration for you and your staff. Learning how to run a program in phases allows everyone ample time to absorb new information and processes. It's also much easier to identify and correct issues when your program is small and confined, as opposed to launching a full-scale plan from the get-go. Most important, you are far less likely to abandon your efforts altogether if you take it slow. When people feel overwhelmed, it's human nature to retreat and avoid. Don't let that happen. Roll out your program in increments and learn at a pace that is comfortable for you and your staff.

So, the first step in becoming a marketing sage is to identify a few areas of concentration:

1. Create a marketing plan. Your plan is your roadmap. Follow it and reach your destination faster and with fewer obstacles.

2. Appoint a POC. Assigning a champion to oversee your marketing process is critical. A dedicated point of contact will help ensure that your program keeps pace internally, as well as ensuring proper, consistent follow-up.

3. Build your arsenal of collateral. You can't expect your efforts to be successful if you don't have the proper materials. Your marketing collateral, which includes printed and electronic pieces and your Web site, should be brand-tastic!

4. Pick your first campaign and go for it. At some point you have to stop questioning your marketing acumen. You can't become a skilled marketer if you don't try. Identify a niche to market to, define your communication and follow-up plan, then hit the Go button. Refine your initiatives as you move forward.

By implementing your marketing program in increments, you stand a much better chance of success. Your staff will appreciate being allowed to approach this unknown territory slowly and with caution-and you will find it far less overwhelming. You are also more likely to design successful campaigns when you focus on a smaller group. As your comfort level grows, so will your marketing efforts.

These tips are a good place to start, but it should be noted that this doesn't mean you won't feel a little lost from time to time. In fact, seeking the help of an experienced marketing professional may be a necessity at some point. For now, take those first steps. You can do it, baby!

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