[IMGCAP(1)] If you look at the history of any firm that dominates a niche market, you will often find one or two people who became the famous “go-to” people in that industry. Everyone in the industry knows that when you have certain kinds of problems, you “go to” this certain person. The go-to person is quoted in the press about the industry, asked to speak at industry events and has a high profile with local and national associations.

A lot of firms are marketing within niches, but very few have cracked the fame code. As more firms work at niche marketing and as communications channels change, it’s going to be harder to stand out and get noticed. Here are some ways to improve your standing as a go-to CPA or firm.

The most basic approach is visibility.You show up (this does not mean sign up, it means show up), at target industry events and meetings.You meet people, write an article, serve on a committee and offer to speak.You sponsor an event and you advertise in the niche market newsletter or publications. If you are personally charismatic and connect well with people, this may be enough to gain some measure of fame. If you are not, you need to rely on smart and strategic and focused ideas.

It now takes an average of 14 touches with your firm to convince prospects that you might be the go-to advisor. I say might, because if they are happy with their current firm (or the go-to person at that firm), they won’t call you unless something changes. However, visibility will keep you in their minds.  

Whether you choose to speak, write, sponsor or press palms, you won’t create traction unless you do it consistently. This requires a proactive plan as opposed to a reaction to the latest speaking submission deadline or responding to the occasional media call.

While CPA firms are getting more sophisticated with their strategic marketing and public relations efforts, rising to the level of go-to firm requires a commitment to consistency. That means putting in the effort even when billable work is piled up and even when budgets are tight. In our experience, it takes a minimum of six months to start seeing traction in a public relations campaign. It takes three to four years of consistent public relations to hear your firm name mentioned in casual conversation.

An annual marketing plan is an obvious choice to ensure consistency.You can take it a step further, however, by developing an internal speakers’ bureau, a niche public relations plan and a business development strategy that leverages all of these.

For example, most CPAs speak in order to develop business for their firms, but then end up giving away the store, with nothing left for their audiences to desire. Decide how you will develop leads from speaking. For example, your topic should be tied directly to a service you sell without being a “hard sell.”You are still sharing your expertise, but it should be aligned with a service you want to grow. Then, give the audience a reason to contact you or visit your website by offering a “bonus” item or consulting opportunity.

Finally, qualify your audience and your leads before you commit. Start with your end in mind clearly or you will be giving away a lot of nice, free information to people who never buy your services.

This brings us to the credibility factor. Firms that do the “hard sell” are never taken seriously as “go-to” advisors. Prospects and clients can quickly see through the sparkle to their bottom line agenda. But this very fear of being seen as “hard sell” is why many CPAs shy away from the spotlight because they don’t want to be seen as pushy.

At the same time, in client interviews we’ve heard frequent criticism for firms that don’t provide proactive advice and information that will help clients run their businesses more effectively or make better financial decisions. Waiting until that annual planning session or until a client calls you with a question does not result in go-to fame.

As I said earlier, you can gain fame through sheer charisma — a certain ability to connect with almost anyone and gain their trust. Eventually, you have to deliver the goods. In addition to great client service, you gain credibility through smart, insightful articles and media quotes; top-notch speaking, informative website content and personable bios and client success stories.

In the long run, charisma can only get you so far. Clients appreciate nice and helpful CPAs, but they mainly need an advisor who understands their situation, can solve their problems quickly and help them save money.

The go-to advisor is one who serves clients diligently but also serves the firm and the industry by sharing information in the public eye with integrity and intelligence.

Why is credibility — and fame for that matter — important in the public eye? It is the nature of how our communication channels are changing. They are evolving from channels where information is pushed out to people (television, radio, e-mail, the Internet) to channels through which people pull their choice of information (blog and book readers, phone applications, social media).  

In the future, if your firm is not one of the chosen channels through which your target audience pulls their information, your marketing efforts and messages may be wasted.

Building a culture of visible, consistent, credible communications in your niche markets today will help your firm remain a contender in this changing competitive environment.

The days of hunkered down CPAs relying on the loyalty of their clients is long over. So go-to it!

Wendy Nemitz is the founding principal of Ingenuity Marketing Group, which focuses on the people of professional services, including CPA firms nationwide. She can be reached at 651-690-3358 or wendy@ingenuitymarketing.com.