Starting up an accountancy firm with marketing

How to utilise marketing to attract clients in a cost-effective manner

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To get clients, your accountancy start-up needs marketing. To pay for marketing, it needs money. And to make money… you need clients. How do you break that vicious circle?

In our recently published guide to marketing for start-up accountancy firms,we suggest some non-negotiables – things you must cover from day one. The good news is these are mostly low or no-cost one-off activities.

We also tackle head on what has become a bit of a myth in the industry: you don’t need marketing – you can do it all easily and for free via LinkedIn!

Let’s look at these in more detail.

LinkedIn isn’t magic

At PracticeWeb, we love social media - and LinkedIn especially.

It’s refreshing to have a place where businesspeople can be frankly self-promotional – generally frowned upon in Britain – without being tutted at. People are there specifically to make business connections and talk about what they do and there’s no shame in it.

Some people have what it takes to become LinkedIn celebrities with thousands of followers. They boast of securing work worth millions of pounds, all through regular updates and videos. And, for just a small fee, can teach you how to do the same.

There are three problems with this:

  1. there’s only room for a few people at the top of that tree
  2. managing social media isn’t free – the cost is your time
  3. not everyone has the necessary energy or personality.

Or, to put it another way, if you don’t love hanging out on LinkedIn – if you find posting updates a chore, or even a little embarrassing – you won’t get those amazing results.

By all means give it a go – and do persevere. You might find that with practice, you really take to it. In which case, happy days.

For most of us, though, it makes more sense to treat it as one part of the marketing mix. Make sure your practice has a page and that you, as firm founder or partner, post regularly on your own account, make connections and comment on other people’s posts – perhaps investing 10 or 15 minutes per day.

Day one non-negotiables

Obviously, the more you can afford to invest in marketing from day one, the better. Just look at start-ups in other sectors, such as Uber or BrewDog, and it’s obvious that they don’t scrimp when it comes to branding and advertising.

At the same time, the reality is that most start-up accountancy firms don’t have bottomless pockets. They have to make careful decisions about everything, with marketing sometimes seen as a lower priority compared to, say, growing the team, or convenient premises.

With that in mind, here are a few things every firm ought to do – and ought to be able to afford – from the off:

  • A decent name. It doesn’t need to be one you’ll have forever but should be something you can live with for at least a few years. If in doubt, keep it simple to begin with.
  • A logo. You can get one online for a fiver but it will probably be both poor quality and off-the-peg – don’t be surprised to see a version of it on the side of a plumber’s van at some point. It’s worth spending at least a few hundred pounds with a professional designer you can actually talk to.
  • A properly hosted website. Yes, there are free website hosting services and a free website is better than nothing, but in accountancy – an industry built on trust and reliability – a proper .com or address is worth the money.
  • A basic presence on social media. Make sure you claim your practice’s name on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on. Include up-to-date contact details, logo and brand imagery. Even if you can’t post regularly, this sends signals that your practice is real.
  • Claim your Google my Business listing. This is what populates the business info boxes that appear alongside Google search results. You can upload photos, address information and more. It’s a simple, easy way to help potential clients find you.

Nice to have ASAP

Once you’ve got those bare bones in place, where should you invest next? This is where it gets complicated because until you try, monitor and measure, you won’t know what works best for your firm.

In the early stages of a practice’s life, the most important thing is raising awareness and, specifically, raising awareness with your ideal clients. With that in mind, pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimisation (SEO) can be worthwhile.

PPC will immediately put your firm’s name at the top of Google search results, with minimal effort, but considerable cost.

SEO is a longer-term solution which focuses on improving the performance of your website and the quality of its content to attract clients through ‘organic search’.

It’s quite common to invest in both with SEO slowly taking over from PPC as the firm becomes established in Google’s search engine.

If you want to build credibility and authority in a certain sector or specialism, content might be a good investment – especially as it will naturally improve your website’s search performance and provide fuel for social media posts.

You might consider a website upgrade sooner rather than later. A beautifully designed, high-performing website will convince those who find you through search, social media or referral that your practice is, indeed, serious, credible and permanent.

Or, finally, you might decide to concentrate on your brand. This is about more than logos and colour palettes – it’s about defining what makes your firm better than the equally professional, equally friendly, equally proactive practice just up the road. Why should your ideal client choose you, not them?

Whichever you choose, give it, say, three months of steady investment before changing tack. Constantly chopping and changing your approach to marketing is the easiest way to waste a limited budget.

An iterative process

In practice, what often happens is that start-ups do what they can to begin with and invest in marketing whenever they can.

Arguably the most important step you can take is: once a quarter, or once a year, pause and reflect. Does your marketing reflect what your firm wants to be? Is the website good enough? Are you being found by the right people, searching for the right things?

Treat marketing as a long-term process rather than a one-off event and you won’t go far wrong.

Download the complete guide to marketing for start-up accountancy firms.

Ray Newman – head of content and insight, PracticeWeb