Voices

How to prepare your firm’s marketing budget and plan

Every good marketing plan and budget is intrinsically linked to the firm’s strategic business goals. After all, you must understand what your business wants to be and where it wants to go in order to market it effectively.

A key component of this is knowing what segments of your accounting practice are prime candidates for growth — what areas of expertise are most valuable and to whom? What segments will be easiest to grow and offer the best value to your practice and your clients? Once you understand your firm’s strengths, weaknesses and direction, you’re ready to create your marketing program.

Here are six tips for researching and preparing your marketing plan and budget:

1. Research your target audiences. Your target audiences are the individuals or companies that are the best candidates for requiring and using your services. Their needs and ability to generate revenue for you align well with the services you offer and your pricing. If your practice serves a corporate clientele, be aware that your target audience is not just the final decision-maker, but any influencers who might affect the decision, such as partners, business committees and thought leaders inside and outside the practice.

There are two broad types of research to help you determine your target audience: primary and secondary. Primary research refers to studies you might commission to investigate what industries and types of individuals or organizations would be prime candidates for your services. Primary research has the advantage of directly addressing the critical questions that are most relevant to your specific circumstances.

Secondary research refers to utilizing research studies that have already been conducted by another organization. Trade associations or publishers often release studies about specific industries. Similarly, there are many organizations that sell relevant research on market size or trends.

A combination of these two types of research is the best solution for obtaining a comprehensive, well-informed view of potential target audiences.

2. Develop your marketing strategy. First, it should be noted that a marketing strategy is not the same thing as marketing tactics. The former describes the concepts and planning that go into creating a marketing plan. The latter involves the specific techniques and channels you’ll use to implement your strategy and engage your target audiences.

An effective marketing strategy should be informed by four key elements:

  • An understanding of your target audiences;
  • Your firm’s unique competitive advantages;
  • Your status in the marketplace (are you the low-cost firm, the high-priced boutique or a specialist?); and
  • Insight into the key messages your audiences need to hear — what will interest them the most?

3. Choose your marketing techniques. Some accounting firms make the mistake of starting with this task, mostly because an opportunity might present itself that’s hard to pass up, such as a discounted broadcast advertising campaign, or an attractive social media opportunity. This haphazard approach is a waste of time, money and effort.

Instead, your target audience research should reveal which communications channels they prefer and are already using. Even so, it’s important to balance your offline and online presence to ensure maximum reach (how many prospects you “touch”) and frequency (how often you “touch” them).

4. Set specific goals and determine how you will track them. Paradoxically, you’ll want to consider first how you will track your goals before you determine what those goals will be. Why? Because you might already be using some channels or techniques that lend themselves to tracking appropriate goals. For example, if you want to get 20 new LinkedIn shares each week, you have to know you’ll be using LinkedIn before you can set that goal. Modern technology makes some metrics easy to track, so when it makes sense and is appropriate for your strategy, take advantage of what is readily available to you.

Not sure what goals to track for your firm? Here are three areas of tracking that are appropriate for most accounting firms:

  • Business outcomes: Look at new leads and new clients acquired, revenue growth and profitability.
  • Visibility: The single most representative measure of visibility is external website traffic.
  • Expertise: Track how many people download your white papers, view your blog posts (assuming that your blog posts demonstrate expertise) or attend your speaking events. After all, people who consume your educational content are demonstrating an interest in your expertise.

5. Select frequency, effort levels, and resources. What needs to happen to ensure your marketing messages reach your target audiences? Who within your firm needs to be involved in the effort and what tools, resources and training might they need? Coordinating all of these activities can be quite a challenge, too. One tool that we have found helpful is a marketing calendar. This document lays out what you will be doing and when it will happen.

6. Develop your budget. The final step is to develop your marketing plan budget based on the work you’ve done above. Don’t make low cost your primary deciding factor. Many firms have wasted precious resources on “cheap” marketing tools that were woefully ineffective. Be sure to include one-time expenses like an updated website or new software tool as well as ongoing expenses such as online and offline media campaign costs.

If you find you need to reduce your budget, try eliminating one whole technique or initiative rather than trimming across the board. In our experience, it is more effective to do fewer things but do them better.

As you dive into your marketing plan and budget, remember the old saying: “The devil is in the details.” If you conduct the necessary research, develop the appropriate tools and content, create a reasonable budget, and implement your plan properly, you’ll be well on your way to being recognized as a marketing guru.