Pitches and glitches: Tax preparers discuss marketing goofs

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Marketing goes with a prep practice like water goes with a lawn: When used right, growth happens. Of course, not every marketing plan succeeds.

Jeffrey Schneider, EA in Port St. Lucie, Fla., recalls his “two-year experiment in [newspaper] print advertising, which soured me,” he said. “I spent a lot and did not get a single client. I haven’t taken part in print advertising since then for tax prep.”

“Years ago I used to advertise in a regional phone book. I’m pretty sure I continued for five years or so,” said EA Terri Ryman of Southwest Tax & Accounting, Elkhart, Kan. “Also pretty sure I never had one client ever tell me that’s how they found me.”

“I’m in the very fortunate position where I’ve never had to market my business,” said Phyllis Jo Kubey, EA and solo practitioner in New York. “I do get a lot of inquiries from various online listings…”

‘Too costly’ and ‘talked into it’

Tax practices can make fundamental mistakes in marketing, often involving failure to track feedback or results of marketing or advertising campaigns.

According to a recent survey from the National Society of Accountants, about one in 10 practitioners market with newspapers ads and about one in 20 use radio or TV ads. About one in five use social media or Yellow Pages ads. And print ads seem to figure highly in preparers’ memories of failed campaigns.

“Advertising in the local newspaper … a long time ago in my early days of practice: It was too costly – I was talked into it – and I didn’t receive a single client from it,” said EA Twila Midwood of Advanced Tax Centre, Rockledge, Fla.

“After that experience and talking with other tax professionals, I’ve learned order to receive any benefit from newspaper ads, it’s best to have multiple ads each week,” Midwood said.

Best method

Sometimes a given market just seems ripe to a preparer, which can lead to discoveries both interesting and expensive.

“Since I had two employees who speak Mandarin, I advertised in local Asian-American newspapers last season,” said John Dundon II, EA and president of Taxpayer Advocacy Services in Englewood, Colo. Dundon found “that this ethnic community of taxpayers, generally speaking, in the Denver market are very price-conscious and really tend to not care very much if at all about the quality of the information being reported on federal tax forms.”

Word of mouth and his blog remain Dundon’s best source for new clients. “Underestimating the widespread appeal of my tax blog has been the biggest marketing mistake made to date,” he added, “as I haven’t been fully prepared for all the attention and business it brings.”

According to the NSA survey, two-thirds of practitioners market via referrals – the most popular method of advertising by almost two to one and the method almost all practitioners call the most useful overall.

“My business is fairly new (August 2012) and I think I’ve done well with an organic growth through client referrals alone,” said EA Manasa Nadig, owner of MN Tax and Business Services and partner in Harris Nadig, Canton, Mich. “I always wanted a boutique-like firm where I can give my clients personal attention. I think this model is working for me right now. So I can’t really speak to many marketing mistakes so far. Keeping my fingers crossed.”

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Tax preparers Marketing Referral marketing Tax preparation