By Shannon Delmarle

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As a marketing strategist, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned throughout my career is that there isn’t always one way to reach your small business goals. I’ve worked with a lot of small accounting firms on digital and inbound strategies over the past decade, and the advice I have always known to be true is this: 

  • Don’t kill what’s already working
  • Get rid of what doesn’t work
  • Find new and innovative ways to complement your marketing strategies

A big struggle for most small accounting firms is having the time, budget, and resources needed to be able to execute on all of your business goals. With so many tactics flying around, how do you know which methods will work best for your firm?

Here is an approach that I like to call The Three-Legged Marketing Stool, which helps explain the different ways that you should be marketing your small accounting firm.

Leg #1: The Traditional Method 

My experience with smaller accounting firms is that traditional marketing strategies are always the best way to acquire clients and generate business. Accounting firms and certified public accountants (CPAs) rely heavily on this tactic because it has always worked! 

Whether it’s a referral, networking/sponsorships/event, or even one-to-one outreach, partners and managers are encouraged to “rub elbows” with businesses and individuals that could turn into clients. Without this leg of the marketing stool your firm could be losing out on dozens—or even hundreds—of qualified leads. If nothing else, this approach to networking should be treated as a way to organically brand yourself and your company. In other words, no one wants to meet the car salesman—they want to get to know the person. 

Leg #2: The Digital/Inbound Marketing Method 

It has to be said that this methodology is my favorite. Maybe it’s because I am a true believer in providing valuable experiences to visitors and customers through digital tactics, or maybe it’s because it’s how I pay the bills. Either way, if your marketing plans don’t have a digital or inbound component, then your stool will definitely come crashing down. Integrating a digital aspect to complement your traditional tactics—or using the inbound methodology to reach your target personas—is a good recipe for success. 

In a benchmark survey, the Hinge Research Institute worked with the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) to take a deep dive into how firms with high-growth rates are spending their marketing budgets. Interestingly, what they discovered was that high-growth firms tend to invest more of their budget in modern marketing methodologies and technologies, including online advertising, content creation, and marketing automation.

For inbound marketing strategies to be successful, especially for accounting firms, it's best to take a niche approach. In other words, people search the internet based on their pain points or keywords they want information on—not company or  brand names. So, unless you’re a Top 100 CPA firm, it’s best to leverage your digital marketing on a service-by-service level. 

For example, let’s say you have a small accounting firm called CPA4UandMe that specializes in forensic accounting, although you also have a small team of auditors and a killer wealth management partner. Would you spend your resources on creating a piece of content called “Why CPA4UandMe Is Your Go-to Small Accounting Firm” or “12 Tips to Prepare Your Business for a Forensic Accounting Investigation”?

If you picked the latter, then pat yourself on the back! If people searching don’t know your company’s name, the likelihood of them finding a piece of content that only talks about CPA4UandMe and reaching information about forensic accounting is nonexistent. Keep your content, website, lead generation, and lead nurturing specific to a niche and how that niche can solve a pain point. Whoa ... I feel that stool getting even sturdier!  Seventy-one percent of financial services organizations plan to increase their  digital marketing spend in the next year. Put a digital strategy in place to  stay competitive and drive account signups with our Intelligent Inbound  Bootcamp for Financial Services Marketers.      

Leg #3: The Paid Media Method

Okay, this is going to be super cliche … ready for it? In order to make money you have to spend money. Are you cringing? Paid media is a catalyst for getting the engine sparked and quickly generating traffic to your website, especially for small businesses that want to compete with the bigger competitors. 

According to SmartBug Media™ Senior Paid Search Strategist Jake Havenridge, “One of the most powerful things paid media can do for small businesses is driving big increases in traffic immediately. There's no waiting for your site to pick up steam organically, you can increase your traffic as much as you can afford from the get-go.” 

Smaller accounting firms will find it very hard to organically grow their leads and new business opportunities through traditional and digital tactics alone, because it’s too hard to compete with bigger firms. If you can round up some paid budget to support your inbound tactics and your traditional tactics, then you’ll have a stool that an elephant can sit on. 

Okay, not really, but it will help create a solid foundation for helping your firm get found online.

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Shannon Delmarle

About the author

Shannon Delmarle Shannon is a marketing strategist for SmartBug Media. She has been a HubSpot power-user since 2011 and believes in the right mix of pairing inbound marketing with traditional marketing strategies. Her experience in lead generation, lead nurturing and content marketing have helped many clients across a variety of industries. Read more articles by Shannon Delmarle.

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