What device are you viewing this on? Your mobile phone? A desktop computer? Your tablet? No matter where you’re reading from, one thing is certain: it’s online. In fact, much of our world happens online these days – especially in business – and it’s no different for tax and accounting professionals. The COVID-19 emergency has accelerated the digital transformation of how tax and accounting professionals work with and find new clients. So, in an age when much of our interaction, research, and decision-making occurs (at least in part) via the internet, how can CPAs, EAs and tax accounting professionals adapt so they aren’t left behind? It starts with understanding The Retention Cycle and what it means for your business. Gone are the days when a simple referral would lead to a new client with few actions in between.
The Retention Cycle for tax and accounting practices has six steps:
Step 1: AttractStep 2: ConsiderStep 3: ConvertStep 4: ServeStep 5: SatisfyStep 6: Advocate
When your practice is intentional about guiding prospects and clients through each of these steps, you can better shape the exact experience you want them to have. Over time, this will lead to a consistent pipeline of prospects turning into clients and, eventually, advocates for your business. Let’s discuss the six steps of The Retention Cycle in more detail.
Step 1: Attract
When you’re looking to grow your client base, the first step is to attract prospects. Without brand awareness, it’s impossible to move forward into the other steps – the ones that involve obtaining actual revenue for your firm.In the digital age, though, it takes much more than just a website to get found online. Clients are more technologically savvy than ever before. They are constantly connected to the internet in many ways, both within their personal and professional lives. Your goal as a tax and accounting professional is to consistently show up online in multiple channels. Your prospects (and current clients) are already spending time online – so your brand needs to have a presence that meets them where they’re at. Now, nearly 93% of all web traffic begins with search engines, but you’ll want to optimize your website and other channels for Google, which accounts for 76% of desktop and 86% of mobile search traffic. Google takes more than just your website into account as part of its algorithm. In order to beat out your competitors in search, there are some basic best practices you should follow to establish your brand online. These depend somewhat on your target market as well. Luckily, tactics for beating out the competition in search are also effective methods for attracting prospects at the same time. Here are some of the ways successful pros approach this process.
Tax & Accounting Practice Website
Odds are that you already have a website set up for your tax and accounting practice (if not, you should prioritize that immediately). The big question is this: Does your website accurately represent your practice, and does it make prospects want to work with you? When someone does come across your site, it should be easy for them to get a sense of the message you’re trying to get across – who you are, what you do, why you do it, and how you can help them with their challenges. Our article on “Referrals in the Modern Age” covered some basic tips: "When a potential client comes to your website, they should easily be able to understand the message you are trying to get across. It should match what you want them to think about you (without being dishonest, of course). Your photos and headshots should be current and professional. There should be several different options for how they can get in touch with you directly, whether by phone, email, or a form on your site to request an appointment or more information. Reviews from third party websites should be front and center on your homepage. Even if you build an exceptional website, however, there’s no guarantee that prospects will navigate to your page – even if you rank highly in search. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a major uptick in the “zero-click search trend,” which is when the searcher doesn’t end up clicking on any of the results. This may be because they can see the answer to their question right there on the first results page. In fact, about 34% percent of all desktop searches and 63% of mobile searches today result in no click. This shift means that businesses must prioritize more than just getting on the first page of search results: they also need to optimize their content in ways that will offer simple answers to common questions, earn featured snippets, or show their practice information accurately in a map result.
Referrals (one type of word-of-mouth marketing) have long been a staple growth technique for practices of all sizes. While word-of-mouth referrals aren’t necessarily a “digital age” tactic for acquiring new business – and they don’t necessarily affect your SEO – they are directly related to the other items on this list in another way: Disruption by the internet. The referral pipeline is different these days, and prospects will now rarely just take the word of family or friends when someone refers them to you. Instead, they’ll research you online before deciding whether to engage.This means that your website – and all the other items on this list – play a huge role in whether or not your referrals make it out of the “Attract” stage.
Marketplace sites in the tax and accounting space include TaxBuzz, CountingWorks, Yelp, and more. When it comes to attracting prospects to your practice, it’s vital to have a presence on the key marketplaces for several reasons:
- Marketplaces are some of the main hosts of reviews, which are crucial for building your online reputation
- Anyone searching directly on those sites for help has buyer intent
- They can directly funnel leads to your website or other points of contact
Purely from an “attraction” standpoint, it makes sense that you’d want your practice to have a presence on sites where visitors are viewing profiles for others in your industry. If your competition is present, then you should be too.
Speaking of meeting prospects where they’re at – social media is an obvious addition to this list. 45% of the world’s population uses social networks, with over a million new people joining these communities every day. Here at home, around 7 in 10 Americans use social media. If your prospects are spending time on these platforms (spoiler alert: they are!), then make sure your practice is present as well. Whether it helps you attract new clients directly from seeing your content, or they find you through a friend sharing your post, or they see one of your profiles listed in some Google search results – more eyes will be navigating to your brand’s web properties, and that’s decidedly valuable.
Directory Listings & Citations
Think of directories as being the modern day version of the phonebook. These sites compile large amounts of contact information for people and businesses from across the web, and you may even be listed on sites you’re unaware of. A best practice for directory listings is to prioritize staying up to date on whether the information they provide about you is accurate. Any profile that exists with inaccurate information about you and your practice can confuse both prospects and search engines. Additionally, you can seek out directories that may not have a listing for you yet and submit your information. If you’re a CountingWorks PRO client, we help take care of this process for you.
Google My Business (GMB)
Technically GMB is part directory, part marketplace, and part social hub. The importance of having an optimized GMB listing can not be overstated. 45% of Google searches include local intent, meaning Google is displaying top rated GMB profiles front and center on the Google search engine result page. The majority of GMB results that are acted upon are zero-click searches, meaning the searcher was looking for map directions or contacted a business directly based on the ranking and reviews. There is a secret to getting ranked higher on GMB, and we have been working in this area for many years. Contact us and we will share some insight on what tools will work best for you.
Articles & Content
In the current age, content creation is one of the leading factors in search engine rank and, by extension, attracting prospects to your brand and website. Creating relevant, accurate, and high-quality content for your blog and website increases your topical authority online.In other words, it shows the Internet – from Google and their algorithm to the actual people searching – that you know what you’re talking about and can be a trusted source on your areas of expertise.As an added bonus, writing original content from your blog helps you with the later stages of the retention cycle (beyond “attract”). Articles on timely topics with helpful information will keep people returning to your site to learn from you – and they make for great additions to your email newsletter as well.
The online landscape is continually changing, and video has emerged as one of the most effective marketing tools in recent years. Here’s how the Digital Marketing Institute sums it up: “Video is a versatile and engaging content format that not only gives us a real-life picture of what is going on; it’s also easy to share across multiple platforms. Consumers like it because it’s easy to digest, entertaining and engaging, and marketers like it because it can give a potentially huge return on investment (ROI) through many channels.” Creating video for your tax and accounting practice is an effective attraction technique that can reach your prospects across various online channels. It can also, however, be a huge (and expensive) undertaking if you approach it on your own as an independent practice.CountingWorks PRO marketing packages include customizable marketing videos that you can add to your website, social media, and more. You can easily add in your branding and even individualize each video for the viewer. Learn more about our video offerings here.
3rd Party Publicity
Having your name and expertise mentioned in a 3rd party blog or media story is highly valuable for your brand as well. Anyone reading their content will see your name, and your SEO gets a boost from the inbound links to your website.
Step 2: Consider
Once a prospect knows who you are (i.e. you’ve “attracted” them to your brand), then they can move to the “consider” stage.When a prospect is considering you as a potential tax and accounting pro, what will they do first? Research. As we mentioned earlier, the recurring guest star of this retention cycle is the Internet. It would be extremely rare for a prospect to go all the way from “Attract” to “Advocate” without having done some online research on you and your practice. What will they see when they Google your name? In these critical early moments, prospects will look to your reviews, testimonials, social proof, and more to see whether you’re worth considering. They’ll want to know what your other clients have thought about you. They’ll look to case studies and copy on your website to see if there’s proof of concept – in other words, that you have a demonstrated history of addressing the pain points they face. And, of course, they’ll look at any niches you specialize in and services you offer to see whether there’s a match.During this vital stage, your prospect will move from simple awareness of your brand to the verge of becoming a paying client.
Step 3: Convert
Here comes the trickiest part – the stage where many prospect relationships end before they have a chance to become clients.When a potential client is considering whether to choose your practice, just sitting back and waiting patiently probably won’t do the trick. You need to prioritize conversion. Here are some ways to motivate your prospects to convert to paying clients.
- Value pricing – While difficult to master, pricing your services based on the value you offer rather than the time you spend will exponentially increase your ability to scale. Additionally, it makes it easier to boost revenues quickly and also ensures your clients are thinking of your services in terms of the value they gain rather than the money they spend – making them more likely to stick around long-term.
- Conversion tools – The whole point of the internet was to interact online. Using interactive content can be a highly effective method for converting more prospects to paying clients. “Unlike ads, interactive content actually adds value to your clients’ and prospects’ lives. It answers their pressing questions, offers new and interesting ways to engage with your business, and gives them a sampling of your expertise and offerings right from the start.” You can learn more about interactive content and conversion tools here.
- Responsiveness – One of the highest valued traits for prospects searching for professional service providers is responsiveness, as we saw illustrated in our 2019 CountingWorks small business survey (although it applies to individuals as well). If you don’t respond quickly to inquiries via phone, email, website chat, or any other medium, prospects will not trust you to be responsive after becoming a client – and they’ll likely choose not to work with you at all.
- Nurture campaigns – It takes multiple touch points to convert leads to clients. Create nurture email campaigns to keep your brand at the front of their mind – and their inbox. Set it and forget it (if it’s automated).
- Easy onboarding – It shouldn’t be hard work to become your client. Offer a simple onboarding process through things like digital engagement letters, secure document sharing, online signatures (E-Sign), and VoIP calling so you can access client calls from anywhere.
Step 4: Serve
It’s your time to shine. You’ve gone through the long process of attracting prospects, proving yourself as a worthy practice to consider, and converting them to paying clients.Now, it’s time to provide outstanding service and earn their recurring business and that 5-star review.When it comes to serving your clients, start with thinking through how you would want to be served by a provider in your own life. For instance, say you work with an attorney for something in your personal life. What traits would be important to you?Here are a few that would probably be near the top of your list:
These were the top-ranked characteristics on the CountingWorks survey we mentioned in the last section, and they’re definitely applicable here. In order to provide 5-star service to your clients, make sure you’re knowledgeable: not only in the latest rules and regulations, but in best practices for their industry. Stay up to date with everything you need to know through ongoing education and resources like our TaxCPE Learning Center and Big Book of Taxes 365. Prove your trustworthiness: Stick to the deadlines you give, and always follow through on what you say you will do for the client. Show them from the very start that you have their best interests in mind – even if it means saying “no” to something they ask you to do that would be unethical or illegal. Prioritize responsiveness. The importance of this trait doesn’t stop after the “convert” phase. Prospects expect you to respond quickly to their inquiries, but so do clients (probably even more so). They’re paying you their hard-earned money to take care of their finances – and they chose you over the competition – so serve them well by being consistently responsive. Don’t forget: friendliness matters, too. Clients want to like the person they choose to work with. While many engagements end up being completely virtual in this day and age, you can still be friendly and patient in all your client communication – even if it’s not face-to-face. This is an easy way to serve your clients better than the competition and make them glad they chose you.
Step 5: Satisfy
Serving your clients is crucially important, but if you want to take it to the next level, it’s time to look for ways to satisfy them even further. This means going above and beyond their expectations in ways that will make them stick around for years to come. The specific methods you choose for this step will depend on your practice and your client base, but here are a few ideas that have been highly successful for pros we’ve worked with:
- Send automated messages or e-cards for important days, like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and more.
- Include relevant content (e.g. blogs) in your newsletters so your clients can learn from you throughout the year.
- Continue prioritizing an easy working relationship even after the onboarding process, through online document exchange and signing (E-Sign), a secure portal, and plenty of methods to contact your practice.
- Listen to what your clients have to say – both positive and negative. People want to be heard, and you can only fix issues with your practice if you know what they are. Ask for feedback and actually take steps to address it.
- Host Meetups or other events for your clients (and community members) to learn from you or discuss various topics with peers.
Step 6: Advocate
The final step in the retention cycle is “advocate.” Now, you will undoubtedly always be one of the biggest advocates for your own practice; if you weren’t, that would be an issue. But this step is about turning others into your advocates. Think about examples from your own experience: if you’ve ever posted a positive review online, you became an advocate for that brand. If you’ve referred a friend or family member to a service provider you liked working with, you became an advocate for that person or business. If you’ve ever joined a conversation on social media or an online forum and discussed a brand you’d engaged with in a positive way, you advocated for them. As a tax and accounting professional, advocates for your practice are immensely valuable. Your engagement with an advocate doesn’t end where the client work ends. They’re so satisfied with your service that they will go out and help you grow your practice – and they’ll do it without you spending your marketing budget. With the referral pipeline being interrupted by the internet in the digital age, public praise from advocates has increased in importance. Prospects will likely search for you online even if they receive a referral for you from a mutual connection. If they find reviews and other content from your advocates during their search, then they’ll see evidence of satisfied clients. That’s effective for conversion. By actively seeking out social connections, as well as asking your clients for referrals and reviews, you can cultivate an environment where it’s easy to become an advocate for your practice. Give them the tools they need to tell the world about you, and if you’ve succeeded through the other steps, they’ll go out and do it. As you can see, the retention cycle is not a short process. While it may seem like a lot of work, it’s the way the tax and accounting industry works these days. Your potential client pool has plenty of options when they’re choosing who to work with, what content to consume, and how to research. By following the best practices within each of these steps, you’ll build a pipeline that is more machine than one-by-one – and it will be easier to scale up so your growth and stability continue long-term.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the retention cycle and how to grow your practice through all six steps, contact us today at 1-800-442-2477 x3 or set up some time to speak with one of our digital marketing experts. We’re here to help!